With Picture Book Author Jamie A. Swenson

Jamie Swenson

September 22, 2017

The ABC song is one of the first fun songs we teach our children to sing. Why? Because the alphabet is the backbone for learning to read and write. For some people, reading and writing is not fun at all. Which is how I came up with my ABC game. My new series, ABC’S OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD offers a new way to have fun with the alphabet. Every week, a children’s author, illustrator, literary agent or editor will share their ‘Top of the head’ answers to the ABC category list they were given, A to Z. Following their answers, I ask a few questions to gain a little insight into their world.

Feel free to play along, maybe your answer off the top of your head will match theirs. Enjoy!

Our ABC game contestant today is Jamie A. Swenson, author of big hit picture books,

Big Rig               Boom Boom Boom  If you were a dog

Below is Jamie’s ABC Game sheet.

Author:  Ann Bausum

Bird:  Roller Pigeon

Color:  Purple

Day of the Week:  Monday

Exercise:  Hiking

Flower:  Daisy

Game:  hopscotch

Holiday:  Halloween

Ice Cream:  Chocolate

Jellybeans are:  hideous (except for licorice/black jellybeans and some brands of red)

Know how to:  accept personal faults and work to change them

Liquid:  water

Month:  October

Non-fiction Book:  The March Against Fear by Ann Bausum

Onomatopoeia Word:  Arrrrroooooooo!

Prince:  Purple Rain

Quote:  “It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”
― A.A. MilneWinnie-the-Pooh

Reptile:  Leonardo DiGeckeo (our Leopard Gecko)

Synonym for great:  Fantabulous

Television Show:  Northern Exposure

Unusual Animal:  Axolotl

Vacation Spot:  Sanibel Island, FL

Weather Term:  Turbulence

X Word:  Xylophone

Year and Why it’s important:  1986 – I met my husband

Zodiac sign:  Scorpio


ME: Welcome Jamie! As I read your answers, I smiled, I laughed, and I paused as I pondered them. In times of turbulence, author A. A. Milne, knew how to lighten our hearts. “It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”
― A.A. MilneWinnie-the-Pooh

I agree with Pooh. We all know how much he loves lunch, breakfast, dinner, snack time, any time he can eat honey. What is your favorite food indulgence?

JS: Easy answer – peanut butter toast. I often take a pb toast break midmorning, or midafternoon, or midnight…

ME: Great choice!

Besides being a fantabulous picture book author, you are also a fantabulous children’s librarian. You know your children’s books! You named Ann Bausum in both the author and Non-fiction category of the game. Can you give us a brief description of her book, THE MARCH AGAINST FEAR and how that title came to mind?

JS: Ann Bausum is one of my author heroes. She is the type of writer who, when faced with a challenge, not only doesn’t back down – she may help change the world so other people do not need to face that same challenge. In today’s world, I can’t help to have Ann’s amazing civil rights books on my mind. THE MARCH AGAINST FEAR covers events surrounding James Meredith’s peaceful march protest in 1966 through Mississippi that resulted not only in Meredith being shot (he lived), but planted and watered the seeds of many of today’s movements. While the book highlights our history, read without context, one might believe it was about current events. I firmly believe that we must understand our past if we are to learn from it and make the world better for everyone.

ME: I just added THE MARCH AGAINST FEAR to my mustread list. Thank you for the recommendation.

You gave me a research opportunity (YAY!). I was not familiar with the breed of roller pigeons so I looked them up. They are a domesticated breed of pigeons that are raised and sold for their ability to tumble and roll in the air. roller pigeon

[Photo credit: ‘Birmingham Roller Pigeon’.]

I am intrigued with this new knowledge. What else can you tell us about them?

JS: I can tell you they are messy eaters – seeds everywhere – as they pick through for just their favorites, my word. They are also funny, affectionate, mischievous and bold. Our birds were rescues – they never did any racing – and will one day go back to live with my college-aged daughter (I’m just the babysitter!).

ME; Wow! Lucky birds. Speaking of unique/unusual animals, you named axolotl.  Not only are they adorable and the cheeriest small aquatic animal, they are on the critically endangered list. Is there a specific reason axolotl came to mind so fast?

axolotl                                        [photo credit:]

JS: Both of my girls have dedicated their lives to animal/environmental education, welfare, and rehabilitation. Axolotls are endangered – as are many, many other amazing animals that we simply don’t think about very often. As an animal educator, my older daughter has, on occasion, cared for unusual creatures in our home. When this happens, I learn A LOT about their well-being, what it truly takes to care for them, and what we can do to help them out so they can remain in their own habitats. Namely – we need to help preserve their environments so they can continue to live in the world – instead of only in zoos or wildlife care centers – or history books. That’s why I picked axolotl. Someday I’ll tell you about the turkey vulture that spent the afternoon in my front hall while waiting to be transported to a rehabilitation facility …

ME:  Name the day for story time about the turkey vulture. 😊

You and your family inspire us. We need more people like you and your daughters in the world who care about the animals and keeping them around for the benefit of the earth, not the benefit of humans so much. Zoos and wildlife care centers are fine for short term but I believe like you do that animals belong in their natural environment. Humans need to cease taking over every piece of land.

We are fast approaching October, which coincides with three of your answers:




Are you a Scorpio and are Halloween and October favorites for you in their categories? If so, what about them makes them your favorite? (p.s. My zodiac sign is Scorpio).

JS: I am an October baby. My birthday is close to Halloween – and often my parties included costumes, haunted houses, and lovely fall cakes. As a children’s author and librarian, I spend an awful lot of time talking with parents about the importance of play – not only for children, but for adults as well. Young children thrive when they see their adults having fun – reading, singing, playing – especially around books! October, with its costumes and focus on kids having fun, is a natural tie-in for make-believe and playfulness. While I picked October – I believe in playing year-round. Grin.

ME:  Agreed! Year round playtime is necessary for the mind and spirit. 😊

Two of your answers surprised me and made me grin. You wrote PURPLE RAIN for the PRINCE category and NORTHERN EXPOSURE for the TELEVISION category. You thought outside of the box with your Prince answer. LOVE PURPLE RAIN AND PRINCE!  I think you get two points for that answer. 😊 And not many people would think of NORTHERN EXPOSURE off the top of their heads. Elaine Miles played Marilyn Whirlwind who was my favorite character for her wit and Native American ways. What do you remember about this show?

JS: First off, when you say Prince – I think Purple Rain and the 80s immediately! Those were my middle school years and my friends and I loved Prince so much that we even did an air guitar, lip syncing tribute to him in front of the whole school. This was a huge mistake because none of us had any actual talent. Even our air guitar was terrible. From what I was told immediately following the performance, it was painful to watch (middle schoolers are honest to a fault). In fact, people still ask me if I remember that time I did air guitar to Purple Rain … um… yes… and I sort of wish I didn’t … but hey. We loved Prince!

NORTHERN EXPOSURE was quirky. The music was amazing (I wore my cassette tape soundtrack out) – and the characters were so real (even as they were exaggerated and sometimes mystical things happened to them). That show was packed with these amazing, strong women – Marilyn knew who she was period. Maggie and Ruth Ann made their own ways in the world. Even Shelly – one of the youngest – followed her heart. IN fact, the fictional town of Cicely, Alaska was even founded by some bad-ass women. I was in college watching this crazy show with all these great women characters, and it meant something to me. I still think to myself, “It’s not the thing you fling, it’s the fling itself” that matters!

ME:  You have more guts than I did in middle school. Regarding NORTHERN EXPOSURE, it ended too soon. But I am happy it had an impact on you… clearly coolness stuck with you.

Geckos are some of the coolest animals around. We would love to hear more about Leonardo DiGeckeo (fantabulous name by the way).

JS:  Leonardo was named during my younger daughter’s Leonardo DiCaprio phase (most of us have had a Leo phase, haven’t we???) Leopard Geckos are the essence of cool, in my opinion, and Leonardo is no exception. Leonardo came to live with us around the time my younger daughter counted the creatures in our house and discovered she was two or three behind her older sister and needed to catch up. I do not mind creatures with two to four legs. Too few legs – it had better be a fish – too many – and it had better stay in its home!

ME:  Yup, anything with more than four legs is not allowed in my home either.

Thank you Jamie for playing this week! In addition to the books mentioned above, you have a big autumn coming up. MEET WOOF & QUACK and WOOF & QUACK IN WINTER both published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) come out!! And in 2018, WINDFALL BALL, published by Carolrhoda, debuts. Please share more about these books here:

meet woof & quack            woof & quack in winter

JS: I’m so excited to be working on an easy reader series with HMH. Woof and Quack are level one readers perfect for those just beginning to read on their own. As a librarian, I have always enjoyed funny easy readers with their gentle humor and just right plots. It’s important to give kids books at their level that they’ll want to read. Humor is often the key to this, so I knew that if I were to write at this level – it would need to be humorous. Then, when I thought about the characters of Woof and Quack in MEET WOOF AND QUACK, I thought about unlikely friends – and how sometimes we make assumptions about new friends and are surprised when we learn more about them. I wanted to take this concept of stereotypes and make it accessible to little people – to help them see that just because we think someone is one way – that doesn’t mean that they ARE that way. Woof is a dog who does not like to fetch things. This surprises Quack. Quack is a duck who loves to fetch – and that surprises Woof. In WOOF AND QUACK IN WINTER I play a little bit with expectation, but also with what it means to have the type of friend who is willing to stay in the cold and snow to be with you instead of flying south to the nice warm weather!

WINDFALL BALL (that’s the current title, but it may change) is basically my ode to autumn (the season I love the most). I have seen some early sketches and can say that the illustrator, Chiara Fedele, brings such beautiful movement into the book with her art – I can’t wait to see the final version and share it with everyone next year!

Thank you for inviting me to play with you, Traci – it was a lot of fun! And, hey, that Purple Rain air guitar thing – you’re not going to tell anyone about that – right??? GRIN.

ME:  Nooooooo, I’m not going to tell anyone. 😉 

Thank you reader for stopping by for this weeks’ edition of ABC’S OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD. If you would like to know more about Jamie, you can find her on:


Facebook :


Have a fantabulous weekend!

#justkeepwriting #justkeepwriting





9/11, HARVEY and IRMA

Out of respect for this weeks events including remembering that horrible day on
Sept. 11, 2001 in which over 6,000 people lost their lives to hatred and insanity,


[photo credit:]

and the devastation from Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, I will not be posting my ABC game on Friday.

The newest installment of ABC’s OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD will be instead posted on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017.

Donations for the victims of both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma will still be needed for the next several months so please consider donating to the relief funds that best help out these victims. Reliable information about such charity organizations can be found at these links:

Hurricane Harvey Victim Charities

Hurricane Irma Victim Relief

Also, please remember to check each charities credentials as there are hundreds of scam sites out there eager to take your money which benefits only the scammer. Each of the above links tells how to discern which charities are legit.

Bless you all!

Until next week,





With Author/Illustrator Shennen Bersani Shennen Bersani photo

September 8, 2017


Starting last Friday, September 1, 2017 I kicked off my ABC Game. Now every Friday, a children’s author, illustrator, literary agent or editor will share their ‘Top of the head’ answers to the ABC category list they were given, A to Z. Topping off their answers will be a peek into their world.

I invite you to play along. Maybe your answer off the top of your head will match theirs. Enjoy! 

Today we have illustrator (and recently author too), Shennen Bersani, who has twenty-eight books in print. I am a huge fan of her work so I asked her to play the ABC game with us.

ME:  Shennen, thank you for playing the ABC game with us by filling in the blanks below to each category A-Z.

SB:  Oh Traci, thank you for asking me! The answers just popped out of my head!  Lots of fun, I hope others enjoy my responses.


ARTIST:  Andy Warhol

BERRY:  blueberry

COLOR:  Chartreuse

DESSERT:  Dulce de leche

EVERY CHILD:  should own a well-worn book

FUNNY WORD: shenanigans

GAME:  Twister

HOBBY:  gardening

INSECT:  dragonfly

JAMMING SONG:  BARRACUDA, performed by Heart. It makes me want to sing like I’m 16 again.

KITCHEN UTENSIL:  My essential kitchen appliance, espresso machine.


METAL:  platinum

NUMBER OF BOOKS PUBLISHED:  illustrating #29


PIRATE NAME:  Captain Hook

QUICK, A ‘Q’ WORD:  quick!

RHYMING WORDS: jump, bump, lump, dump, thump


TREE:  mimosa


VIRTUE:  curiosity

WISH:  World Peace

X WORD:  xylophone

YELLOW (SOMETHING):  butterfly

ZANIEST THING YOU’VE DONE:  Kissed a two-headed snake. Or maybe hanging off a cliff by a branch while I photographed a waterfall in Hawaii. Actually, I’ve got a long list of zany things I’ve done in order to research my books. 

ME: I’ve read many of your illustrated books, my favorites being the animal stories. Your illustrating style is candy for the eyes, I love it! Achoo! I also read your debut author/illustrator book, ACHOO! WHY POLLEN COUNTS. You have a knack with your illustrations in showing us something new. And you carried this knack into your writing with ACHOO! Using that special knack, what is one colossal thing about the pika that you can tell or show us?

SB: climate change is killing them off. the glaciers are melting Pikas have thick fur and require cooler climates for survival. The one I illustrated for ‘The Glaciers are Melting!’ lived high in the mountains of Montana. Sadly,fires in Glacier National Park are threatening their existence. Peter Pika

 ME:  Thank you for bringing attention to this. Climate change is real. Our earth is reacting, but not for the better of all life forms on it.

 Something lighter: BARRACUDA brings back good memories for you. What was your favorite thing about being 16 and do you still sing along with it when you hear it?

SB: Yes, I always sing along once I hear that first riff!  My 16-year-old memories are from summertime, sitting on my dad’s boat, painting watercolors of ocean scenes and sand dunes. shark baby  sharks, big bigger Taking my friends out on my sailboat.   

ME: I’m guessing this is when your love of sharks started. 

Espresso for you just in the morning, or at any time?

SB:  Americanos with a shot of espresso, morning, noon, and night. 🙂Shennen coffee addiction with elephant.JPG



ME:  GHOSTBUSTERS makes you laugh. Me too! But for me, it’s the original; I have yet to watch the remake of it. Do you mean the original, the remake or both?

SB: I haven’t seen the remake, I’m all original.  Many years ago my middle daughter and I met Bill Murray, he was hysterical in person!  I laugh like crazy when I watch the original movie. 

ME:  Lucky duck! Good to know his humor carries off-screen as well as on. 😊   Speaking of humor, when was the last time you played Twister?

SB:  Hahaha. I don’t recall.

ME:  The last time for me was when my daughters were in middle school.

In reading your category answers, three of them stood out for me, your ‘F’, ‘V’ & ‘Z’ category answers. Curiosity is a must have to be a writer and an artist and you are both. Shenanigans is indeed a funny word to say and coincides with your zany list of things you’ve done for your craft. Art in all forms takes guts, ingenuity and creativity. I would say from your answers, that curiosity has fueled some of your shenanigans/experiences. Have you thought of writing a children’s book about them?

SB: Yes, definitely, in a graphic novel format.

ME:  That format is hot right now and keeps growing. I think your graphic novel full of your zany experiences will be a huge hit whether the reader is a graphic novel fan or not. 

Finally, are you able to give one hint about book #29 that you are illustrating?

SB:       hint Shennen Bersani

ME:  Awwwww! This is adorable. I’m already hooked and excited to read this book!!!

But for those who want something new from you now…next week, NIGHT CREEPERS by Linda Stanek and you, published by Arbordale Kids will be released!!!!! night creepers

Thank you for the sneak peek into your world and upcoming projects, Shennen! And for playing the ABC game with us. I hope you had as much fun playing it as I did reading your answers. 

SB:  Thank you Traci. You are doing a great job with your ABC Game, ABC’S OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD. You are putting fun into reading!  Sometimes creative people – young and old – face a block in their creative flow.  For budding authors I’d suggest taking the weekly answers and trying to write a story using as many of them as possible.  For budding illustrators I’d suggest creating visual alphabet flash cards using the weekly words as inspiration. It would be great to see how others interpret the weekly words. Maybe posted on FB or Twitter?

ME: Fantastic ideas Shennen! Maybe a future book will be sparked from your list of words. 🙂 Final thoughts?

SB: Looking forward to reading next week’s and future weeks’ game. 

To learn more about Shennen and her books, you can find her at her website and social media:

Twitter: @ShennenBersani



Here are a few more book cover teasers of books Shennen has illustrated.

snakes long longerhome in the cave  once upon an elephant  

To you readers, thank you for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed this edition of the ABC Game, ‘ABC’s Off the Top of YOUR HEAD’.

May it inspire you to play it with your friends or just spark your creativity. 

Have a colossal weekend!

#justkeepwriting #justkeepwriting






With Susanna Leonard Hill                               Susanna Hill

By Traci Bold

The ABC song is one of the first fun songs we teach our children since the alphabet is the backbone for learning to read and write. For some people, though, reading and writing is not much fun. Which is how I came up with the ABC game. My new series, ABC’S OFF THE TOP OF YOUR HEAD offers a new way to have fun with the alphabet. Every week, a children’s author, illustrator, literary agent or editor will play the ABC game by answering each ABC category off the top of their head from A to Z. Following the answers, I asked a few questions to gain a little insight into some of those answers.

Feel free to play along, maybe your answer off the top of your head will match theirs. Enjoy!

Helping me kick off this new weekly feature is the talented, animal loving, picture book author and owner of the wonderful website,, Susanna Leonard Hill!

Susanna recently published three children’s books back to back,

the road that trucks built when your elephant has the sniffles when your lion needs a bath

keeping her exceptionally busy, but she happily agreed to be my first contestant.

ME: Susanna, thank you for playing the ABC game with me by filling in the blanks below to each category A-Z.

Susanna: My pleasure!  It was tons of fun! 


ANIMAL:  horse   

BOOK:  Anne of Green Gables  

COLOR:  purple     

DOG BREED:  mutt J  

EVERY CHILD SHOULD HAVE:  love and books

FISH:  clown fish (is that what Nemo is?)

GARMENT:  blue jeans




KNOW HOW TO:  bake

LUCKY:  penny

MOVIE:  Love Actually



PLACE:  Blueberry Hill

QUICK, NAME A ‘Q’ WORD:  quilt

READING IS:  escape

SYNONYM FOR GREAT:  stupendous

TOY:  pogo stick

UNUSUAL COMBINATION: video games and live bait

VEGETABLE:  zucchini

WATER:  yes?! 

X WORD:  xylophone


ZANIEST THING YOU’VE DONE:  believe I can be a children’s author 


ME: Did you enjoy the ABC game and how long did it take you to fill out the answers?

SLH: I enjoyed it immensely and since it said “top of your head” it took me about 2 minutes… which was partly why I enjoyed it so much! 

ME: Believing you can be a children’s author has paid off for you. Not only are you a beloved published children’s author of many books, you also run a successful, creative blog,, based on your love of writing for children. Teachers, parents, writers, illustrators, etc. love your website and all it has to offer. (For me personally, your website is bookmarked as a favorite). Do you have a favorite section of your website and why?

SLH: Oh gosh!  That’s a hard question!  I don’t know if I do have a favorite.  I like everything for different reasons – Would You Read It, Perfect Picture Books, Oh Susanna, Short & Sweets, Making Picture Book Magic (which probably qualifies as my favorite because I love teaching)…  If there was something I didn’t like, I’d stop doing it.  But I do love running the writing contests.  I think they foster a nice sense of community and encouragement, I get to meet a lot of new writers, and I love seeing the level of creativity that people reach – so amazing and impressive, and there’s so much talent out there!

making picture book magic

ME: Your writing contests are stupendous fun to participate in; I’ve done a few! And the stories written…! They encourage writers to think in a different way. Your HALLOWEENSIE writing contest is coming up the end of October!

ME: I gather from two of your answers that you like horses. Will you elaborate please?

SLH: I was one of those girls who was just born loving horses.  I have no explanation.  I grew up in New York City – not a place where you see horses on a daily basis, not exactly conducive to owning a horse or even to riding.  But there is something about horses that has always called to me.  I was lucky enough to eventually get a horse when I was 15, and I was a serious competitor in Three-Day Eventing for many years.  But I don’t have to ride to enjoy horses.  I like just being around them.  They’re such old souls – warm and solid and comforting.  I like their company.

ME: Wow! Equestrian competitions are no easy feats, no doubt you did well in them. I am in awe. Myself, I like to be around them, just not ride them. As you said, they are old souls and are indeed comforting to be around. 

ME: Do you play the piano? If so, when did you learn to play?

SLH: I DO play the piano. I started on my own at age 3, climbing onto the piano bench and picking out tunes by ear.  So my mom assumed I had a yen to play and signed me up for lessons when I was 4 with Mrs. Knerr who lived across the street.  Then when I was 6 I moved to Diller-Quaille School of Music and took lessons from Miss Weed until I went to college.  Pretty much all classical except for some Scott Joplin and some Rogers & Hammerstein. I was a complete trial to poor Miss Weed, who was about 80 when I started taking lessons from her.  She was determined to teach me discipline and make me read music, and I was just as determined to play for fun and do everything I could get away with by ear.  I’m afraid I won most of the time. Nowadays I don’t play that much because there are books all over my piano.  But occasionally I pile the books on the floor so I can lift the lid and make some music.

ME; I sense a picture book here. 😊 Playing for fun and by ear sounds perfect. 

ME: Your quick ‘Q’ word was quilt. Is there a story behind that word choice?

SLH: Hmm… Interesting question.  I didn’t really think about it – just quickly chose a “q” word as instructed… But I do LIKE quilts.  They’re beautiful and cozy.  And I loved all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books when I was growing up (well, I still love them, truth be told) and they were always sewing patchwork quilts.  I also love How To Make An American Quilt (I confess I haven’t read the book, but if you haven’t seen the movie I highly recommend it!)  So maybe it was a subconscious choice based on a secret desire to be able to make quilts .

ME: Makes sense. Thank you for the book/movie recommendation!

ME: I love the song, BLUEBERRY HILL. Based on the lyrics, I always wanted to go there, wherever it is. Is this a fictional place or real place for you?

SLH:  There’s a song???  Really???  I’ll have to look into that!  Of course most kidlit folk probably think of Blueberries For Sal when they think of Blueberry Hill, but for me it’s a real place.  It’s where I live!

ME:  There is a song! Fats Domino sang BLUEBERRY HILL. And the fact that you live in Blueberry Hill is seriously sweet. 😊 

ME: Last question. What is one thing you would like people to know? (This category is wide open.)

SLH: About me: in my opinion, the best candy bar ever invented is Snickers!

       About writing: do it for yourself, first and foremost, not for fame or fortune, and if you want to be published keep writing and improving and never give up!

       About life in general: there are few things that can’t be made better by a good dog! 

ME: My go to candy bar is a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup but Snickers is an excellent runner up. Your ‘about writing’ answer is spot on and you are correct: there are few things that can’t be made better by a good dog.

Thank you again Susanna for helping me kick off this new series!!  I am happy you had fun and am joyful that you continue to write and that you keep us writers and readers coming back to your website!

SLH: And thank YOU, Traci, for inviting me to participate in your wonderful new series!


You can learn more about Susanna, her books, writing contests, and her blog at:

Susanna Leonard Hill Children’s Author

You can also find her at:




If you are a children’s writer and would like to learn more about writing picture books check out her picture book writing course at :

Making Picture Book Magic 

Thank you reader, for taking the time to read this blog. I hope you stop back each week.

To all of you who enjoy writing…

#justkeepwriting #justkeepwriting













Reading Out Loud to…myself?

Researching for two new books I am working on (a PB and a YA), starting a new job outside of home, and taking summer writing classes have kept me away from creating any new entries for this webpage. However, with this flurry of old and new activity my webpage theme ‘IT’S ALL ABOUT THE WORDS’ resonates new writing processes which I am applying to my writing.

My largest take away from everything these past few months is that while writing or revising or editing, is to read it out loud.

This I have failed to do lately as my favorite read aloud buddy and beloved dog, Brittie (she was always home with me while my daughters were away at college and hubby was at work) passed away two years ago. I read picture books to her and from her reaction I could tell if she liked the story or not. Brittie 7 Interested in what I am reading. 

10-982E3EE5-1163373-960 Snoozefest.

Ears perked up, eyes bright, meant she was listening and liked the sound of my voice. Ears drooping, eyes averted meant she was bored. From her reactions, I learned to an extent to gauge my own while reading to her. Did I agree with her? Usually, yes. Why? I realized if I could bring out a positive reaction from her as I read, then the context of the book was easy for me to bring out positive emotion while reading.

Some of her favorites: if you were a dog cover you nest here with me good night little sea otter


On the other end of the spectrum, if my reading out loud bored her, I reread the book again, aloud, and if she had the same reaction I realized the book lacked something and I studied it to figure out what I thought it lacked.

I did the same thing with my stories. I read them to her and gauged her reaction. Quite a few she was bored with. Even in the several revision stage readings she was bored with some and I knew those needed extra special work. When I could get a positive reaction from her, I knew I was on the right track.

After Brittie passed, I relied solely on my family: two college daughters, when they were home and my husband, to listen. But that was sporadic and none of them have the same reaction abilities to gauge as Brittie did.

Since both of my daughters recently left the nest permanently to pursue their own dream careers, I stopped reading aloud altogether.

Until now. What I was missing while reading aloud to my dog or my family is that I failed to listen while I read. Listening while reading aloud makes a huge difference!

Now, I no longer feel lost but engaged with my read aloud ability for when my books become published and am booked for story time with children. I remember how I felt as I read to Brittie and my responses to her. Now I will do what she did and LISTEN to the words as I read them aloud. If I do not give that childhood sense of wonder, then I have a lot more work to do. If I do get it, I am on the right track.



photo credit:

Good luck with your writing and if you don’t have a read aloud buddy or crew, you still have yourself which is important in the way of listening.


#justkeepwriting #justkeepwriting


Oh, Susanna! What Verbs Should I Avoid And Why?

A fantastic blog about verb usage for picture book writers by Susanna Hill!

Susanna Leonard Hill

Hey, Everyone!

What an exciting day it is!

It’s time for . . .

(cue dramatic soap opera theme music 🙂 )

. . . the long-awaited return of Oh, Susanna! (your picture book questions answered!)

Today’s question comes to us from BoldWriter who wonders:

In writing picture books strong verbs are a must. My question is this,
‘What are the most common verbs to avoid using, if possible, and why?’

BoldWriter, I’m so glad you asked!

As writers, it is our goal to express ourselves with the strongest, most articulate, most evocative language we can muster.  We use our words to bring stories to life for our readers.  In addition, as writers of picture books, our word count is extremely limited and we never want to use two or three words where one will do… and do a better job!

We’ve probably all seen those blog posts or articles…

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Ort: A Perfect Mouseful

[ and Merriam-Webster Learner’s Word of the Day selections; photo credit-Merriam-Webster Learner’s Word of the Day]

ort – noun


  1.   Usually, orts. a scrap or morsel of food left at a meal.


mischievous – adjective

[mis-chuh-vuh s]

  1.   causing or tending to cause annoyance or minor harm or damage

2.   showing a playful desire to cause trouble

      3.   intended to harm someone or someone’s reputation


Cat was angry at Mouse. Mouse was laughing at Cat because Mouse had just won his third game against Cat. Cat slunk off to figure out how to beat Mouse at Mouse’s games.

I have to slow down Mouse or trip him up somehow, Cat thought. Visions of glue, tape and food danced in his head. With the glue, Mouse was begging for help reaching out to be pulled from the glob of glue gumming up his paws. Cat shuddered at the thought. No glue.

Tape took over, tacking Mouse to it who was desperately trying to escape. Tape won’t work either. I don’t want to hurt my friend. 

While Cat was contemplating his next move, Mouse was mulling over how to help Cat win a game. A mischievous idea formed quickly.

Mouse made a maze in the middle of the yard. To help Cat win, he made Cat smiley faces on each turn leading the way out. Whoever got to the end of the maze first would win.

Tap, tap, tap.

Cat whirled around, surprised to see Mouse.

“I don’t want to play anymore of your games. I think we should play one of mine,” Cat said.

“Sure, but can we play one of yours after this last game of mine? I worked really hard at creating it,” Mouse said.

Cat’s whiskers twitched. “What’s the game?”

“I built a maze in the yard. Whoever gets to the end first wins and can choose the next three games to play.”

Cat shook his head. “Since you made the maze, you know how to go through it. That’s not fair.”

Mouse sighed. “You have a point, Cat. I will wear a blindfold to even us out.”

Cat thought about this. “We should each choose a winning treat for the other to place at the end of the maze. Whoever makes it through the maze and finishes their treat first, wins.”


Together they scoured the house for the perfect treat.

Mouse found part of a tuna sandwich and carried it out.

Cat scoured the kitchen but there were no orts about, not even one crumb. All he could find was a small pink glob under the table. It was a little big for Mouse to eat but Cat planned on winning.

Treats in place, Cat and Mouse took their spots at the beginning of the maze. Cat was haunched in start position while Mouse was blindfolded and ready to go.

“Go!” Cat shouted.

Cat darted away turning this way that, into a dead end. “Drat!” He looked for Mouse. No Mouse around. He listened for Mouse. He could hear scurrying ahead of him.

Mouse twitched his nose letting him guide him to the end. He bumped into wall after wall but the strawberry smell was getting stronger.

Cat turned right, then followed straight. He turned left and left again into another dead end. He sat down and pouted. Doggone Mouse! He’s going to win. As a tear rolled into his whiskers, he noticed a smiley cat picture on the opposite wall. Oh sure, rub it in Mouse! 

Cat ran to the picture and scratched it out. He sulked through the maze scratching out each Cat Smiley he found. He was so busy looking for these smiling Cats, he didn’t realize what he had done.

I. Smell. Tuna! Cat’s nose twitched and his tail swished. He followed his nose right to the end of the maze. Mouse was already there, chewing and chewing.

Cat’s ears drooped. Mouse had won again.

“You won Mouse. But I’m going to enjoy this sandwich anyways.” He took a bite, then another.

Mouse said nothing but kept chewing away.

Cat finished his sandwich. “This was a great treat Mouse. Thank you.” Cat licked his paws.

Mouse just chewed.

“I said, ‘Thank you’ Mouse.” Cat stared at Mouse.

Mouse inhaled deeply.

As he breathed out, a bubble formed and grew and grew. Then…


Cat jumped straight into the air.

Mouse’s mouth still full he muttered, “Clever cat, giving me this ort. Not supposed to swallow gum. I lost.”

Cat blushed. “Mischievous mouse. Drawing those Smiley Cat faces to tease me. If I had seen those sooner I would have…Hey!”

“Won sooner,” Mouse said still chewing.

“You said a mouseful.” Cat laughed.

The next three games were Cat’s choice and he lost all but one.



If you enjoyed this story, take the challenge and write your own story in 60 minutes and edit it. The idea is to #justkeepwriting #justkeepwriting.










[photo credit:]

This is my 50 words or less children’s story in honor of Dr. Seuss’s Birthday and for Vivian Kirfield’s #50PreciousWords contest. 50 Precious words Enjoy! Thank you Vivian for this opportunity. You rock!


(50 words)

By Traci Bold

Winter is coming!

Squirrel must bury his food.

In a place…

Just right.

Or I’ll forget.

Let me help. Near a shrub.

Which one?

Under the fir.

Not my fur!

By the house.

Humans will find them.

Among the garden.


Below the trellis.

Good spot…

Perfectly center.

Just right.

Rex’s Big Words

Wow! I have not done a Word of the Day story on here in months.

To you the reader, if you are not familiar with my Word of the Day posts, I take the word of the day entries from, Learners Dictionary or Merriam Webster  (I may use all or just one or two) and create a story for children which have to include the words I post below. I give myself one hour to write and edit the story before posting it. The reason behind only the one hour is to give writers the incentive to just write, as the hardest part of writing is getting started. My story will never be perfect when it is finished in this time frame, but it is not supposed to be and in this case, I went over by nine minutes to finish editing. Feel free to leave comments at the end. I hope you share this story with your child and spark a conversation or a writing project. Enjoy!

scapegrace – noun


  1.   a complete rogue or rascal; a habitually unscrupulous person; scamp.


kudos – noun

[koo-dohz, -dohs, -dos, kyoo-]
      1.   fame and renown resulting from an act or achievement : prestige
      2.   praise given for achievement

This story can be summed up with it’s end…

Kudos to Rex for keeping the light burning in Olympus Theatre. Her ongoing crusade to raise enough money to restore it and get it declared as a Historical Landmark will keep theatre alive and thriving for many years to come. To Rex! May you someday be on that stage, but not in a boxing ring on it!”

But if you always read the end first, you miss the fun and excitement of the beginning and the middle and end up wondering what happened. Like, why would Rex be in a boxing ring? This is how it all started

“We are finished for the day. Thank you for coming in to help us set up the fundraiser. That scapegrace, Pinche, has a fight on her hands,” said Mr. Torres, owner of the Olympus Theater which was in danger of being condemned and torn down by the city.

Lottie, Rob, Arnold, and I packed up our flyers, loaded our backpacks and met outside.

“We did good today,” I said.

“We did well,” Lottie corrected.

“We done did good,” Arnold snickered.

“Yup,” was all Rob said.

“Hey Rex, we need to divide up the town between us to hand out the flyers. Which section do you want?” Arnold asked.

“Makes the most sense to cover the areas around each of our schools, right? Grab as many people as you can to help distribute them.”

Lottie, Arnold, and Rob nodded in agreement.

“If you need more flyers, Mr. Torres said he would be at the Olympus tomorrow evening.”

Again, everyone nodded.

Rob hopped on his bike, Arnold took off walking and Lottie and I waited for our rides.

“See you all on Saturday,” I said.

Lottie waited until Rob and Arnold were out of sight.

“What happens if Mrs. Pinche gets her way?”

“We need to make sure that doesn’t happen,” I told her.

Our rides pulled up next to the curb.

“That scapegrace has no chance against us!” I said fist in the air.

“You and your big words Rex,” Lottie said rolling her eyes, playfully.


“Rebecca, your dinner is in the oven,” my Mom said the minute I walked in the door. She’s the only person I know who won’t use my nickname. Even my grandparents call me Rex.

“Thanks Mom. I have homework to do so I’ll eat it in my room,” I told her as she followed me into the kitchen.

“Good try Rebecca, you can eat at the counter or at the table but not in your room. What kind of homework?”

I fumbled with the hot pad and the plate of food in the oven.

“I have to write a one page paper about a local historical landmark or a place that should be saved and considered as one. I chose the Olympus Theatre.”

“That should be easy since you’ve been volunteering there for months now.”

“Hope so,” I said, mouth full of food.


Upstairs in my room, I gathered my resources. In my notebook, I wrote notes and points of interest. Next, I wrote my paper. I read it over twice, crossed out words and added words like my teacher told us to do and rewrote it neatly. Something was missing. My older brother Mike, is in ninth grade and in his paper for English, he had to write a closing statement. That’s what my paper was missing. I raced to his room.

“Hey Mike, what’s a closing statement for a paper?” I asked him.

He stared at me like I was an alien. “Since when do fifth grade papers need closing statements?”

I rolled my eyes, but not playfully. “Since right now,” I shot back.

Mike raised his eyebrows but told me anyway.


At school, I was the first to read my paper in class.

“In closing, the Olympus Theater has been a part of Pepper Grove for over a hundred years. Letting the Olympus get torn down is like letting your grandparents home get torn down with them in it. It is a historical landmark and needs your help. You can help me by handing out these fliers today after school.” I waved a handful of flyers around.

“Nicely done Rex. A little dramatic but nice,” Mr. Buckley said.

A hand shot up in the back of the class. Stephanie Pinche. Bully extraordinaire and only child of Mrs. Pinche.

“Go ahead Stephanie,” Mr. Buckley said.

“Who cares about that smelly old place. My mom says it’s a dump and unsafe and theater is dead. Everybody watches Netflix now or rents movies. Tear it down, a gas station will be a gold mine there.”

The room erupted in noise.

My face burned hot.

“Stephanie, Rex made a nice case for the Olympus and why it should be a historical landmark. You can read your paper next.” Mr. Buckley said.

I walked down the opposite row of Stephanie to avoid her.


After school five kids met up with me and we walked the neighborhood around school and handed out all flyers that I had. They agreed to tell their parents about how important the Olympus is and I promised them cookies if they brought their parents to the fundraiser on Saturday.

I stopped by the Olympus on my way home and picked up more.

“Yours are gone already Rex?” Mr. Torrres asked when he saw me.

“Yup. I need more. I recruited friends from school to help me hand them out.” I told him a big smile on my face.

“Well done. You are an activist already,” he said, his toothy grin hidden partially by his mustache.


The next day after school Stephanie chased me to my house.

“T-Rex, would you stop running so I can tell you something?” she hollered behind me.

I stopped and turned around. “What do you want?”

Out of breath, she huffed, “I can hand out some of your flyers if you need help.”

My eyes popped right out of my head. (not really)

When I popped them back in, I narrowed them at her. “I thought you said the Olympus should be torn down.”

“My mom wants to share them at the Historical Society committee meeting tomorrow night. She said it would be good to know more about it since you researched it and all.”

I didn’t quite buy her story but I gave her a few flyers.

“Thanks,” she said and left.


Thursday, Lottie, Rob, Arnold, and I met Mr. Torres at the Olympus and helped him clean the lobby. We scrubbed the counters, swept the floors, scrubbed the floors, cleaned the glass and shined up the staircase until the entire lobby sparkled. When we finished, we took the last of the flyers and headed home.


Friday morning, Stephanie grabbed my arm. “My mom loved the flyers. Said they helped her make her point at the meeting so you can have them back.” She handed them to and sneered. “Good luck saving that dump.”

When I opened a flyer, everything looked good.


On Saturday, people from all over Pepper Grove turned out at the Olympus Theater. Mr. Torres was strutting around, handing out cookies and coffee to the adults, while Rob, Arnold, Lottie, and me handed out cookies to the kids. The five kids from school were there along with their parents so I gave them extra cookies as I promised.

Mr. Torres walked onto the platform to give his speech. He glanced around then smiled and started. He answered questions and when no one had any more to ask, he held up his hand and shouted, “Can the Olympus be saved?”

The crowd replied, “Yes!” and waved their flyers.


Mr. Torres dropped his hand.

Mrs. Pinche rushed onto the platform. She held up a flyer.

“Mr. Torres stated in the flyer, ‘Olympus Theater has served its community and in its current state of disrepair, I recommend it be torn down and the lot sold. To remember it in its glory days, I will donate photos and memorabilia of the Olympus to the library for all to enjoy.’”

People held up their flyers.

Mr. Torres grabbed the flyer from Mrs. Pinche’s hand. He scanned it and his face turned beet red.

The crowd started booing.

Lottie nudged me. “Do something Rex!”

Without thinking I ran up to the platform and shoved Mrs. Pinche away.

“The Olympus Theatre was home to the first performance…” I read from the flyer in my hand.

The crowd quieted. I read some more.

“We already heard this speech by Torres,” came a snotty voice from the front.

Stephanie sneered up at me. She started chanting, “Tear it down. Tear it down.”

Some older kids in the front joined her.

I watched Mr. Torres slump his shoulders forward.

Now adults joined in the chant.

“HEY! NO SCAPEGRACE IS GOING TO TEAR DOWN THIS HISTORICAL LANDMARK!” I shouted into the microphone, creating an ear-splitting ring.

The crowd covered their ears but stopped.

I recited my paper and ended with this, “Olympus Theater is a historical landmark and needs your help. Pepper Grove will lose its fame if the Olympus gets torn down. Instead, help us bring it back to its former glory. How many of your grandparents came to shows here when stars of their day took to the stage? How many of you performed here when you were in school? Does Pepper Grove need a gas station right in the heart of downtown?”

A buzz started in the crowd. People looked at each other.

“Open your flyers.”

People opened them.

“Does your flyer have a quote from Mr. Torres on the bottom of it?”

People checked and rechecked the flyers in their hands.


“That’s because you have the original flyers, not the ones Mrs. Pinche copied and remade with her added fake quote.” I went on to explain about her and her gas station idea.

Finally, Mr. Torres, Mike, my parents, Rob, Lottie, and Arnold flooded the platform next to me. We held hands and raised them.

“Are we going to save the Olympus?” I asked fist pumping in the air.

A few people mumbled yes.

“ARE WE GOING TO SAVE THE OLYMPUS?” we shouted together.


“Is Mrs. Pinche going to build a gas station here instead?” I shouted.

“No!” the crowd replied.

“Save the Olympus, save the Olympus!” I chanted.

Soon everyone was chanting it.

Mr. Torres grabbed the donation box and held it over the side of the platform. People lined up and dropped money and checks into the box. Our town mayor pushed through the crowd, held up a fistful of fifty dollar bills and dropped them in.

The crowd cheered.

When the event was over, Rob, Lottie, Arnold, and I along with our families, sat in the lobby while Mr. Torres and his staff counted the money.

“We have enough money to start renovations.”

“Yay!” we cheered.

“And this was in the bottom of the donation box.” Mr. Torres held up a sealed envelope. He tore it open, read it and sucked in his breath.

He read it out loud,

‘Dear Mr. Torres,

Your request for consideration of the Olympus Theater to be a recognized Pepper Grove historical landmark has been approved. Attached is the documentation form for you to fill out and to mail to the state Historical Society. You will receive official paperwork from the state upon receipt of the completed form.

To help ensure the Olympus is ready for a public announcement of its inclusion into the Historical Society, we have set aside money to help offset restoration costs.



Pepper Grove Historical Society’


We cheered and whooped and hollered.

Mr. Torres gave each of us kids a big hug, and thanked us for our help.

Lottie whispered in my ear, “big words.” Then she held up my hand like a champion and said, “Kudos to Rex for keeping the light burning in Olympus Theatre. Her ongoing crusade to raise enough money to restore it and get it declared as a Historical Landmark will keep theatre alive and thriving for many years to come. To Rex! May you someday be on that stage, but not in a boxing ring on it!”









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