Getting started: Picture Book writing for Student Authors.

Dear Wonderful Teachers:


On Monday, I talked to a class of Student Authors who are writing their own picture books, and weren’t sure how to get started. It reminded me of the Picture Book Unit that was always a hit with my students.

Have you ever tried this?

  1. Pair up Kinders or first graders with your Student Authors.
  2. Student Authors interview their buddies using a Children’s Book interview worksheet (see below) to gather ideas about their characters and story. 
  3. Student Authors write books starring their new buddies. 
  4. Meet back with the buddies for a Book Party and have Student Authors read and present their finished books.

But let’s back up here.

Some students will have ideas right away.  

Most have NO IDEA where to start. 

Here’s the interview sheet I use: 

In Section I, the Student author gathers information about the characters.

I. Main Characters

  1. Name/ Nicknames:                                                                                                                     
  2. Best Friends                                                            
  3. Who do you live with? Mom ? Dad ? Grandparents? Aunt or Uncle? Guardian
  4. Sisters & Brothers? (Older or younger? )
  5. I share a bedroom with: (This might be a great conflict!)
  6. Do you have any pets? (What kind? Names? Who is your favorite?)
  7. **What kind of pet would you LIKE to have?**What would you name it?


Section II helps the Student author brainstorm about possible settings. 

  1. Where do you live? Where would you like to live?
  2. What does your dream home look like? (Color? Two-story? Ranch? Apartment?)
  3. If you could go ANYWHERE in the world, where would you go? (Be sure to ask for details.) Why? Who lives there? What would you do?


Section III gives the Student author ideas about the story itself. What situation will or protagonist find himself/herself in? 

  1. Favorite food:
  2. Least favorite food:
  3. Favorite book: (Be sure to ask about the main character, what happens, etc.)
  4. Favorite toy/ Least favorite toy:
  5. What would you like to be when you grow up? (What do they do?)
  6. Favorite t.v. program? (Ask for details if you aren’t familiar with it.)
  7. If you could do anything–or be anyone– in the whole world, what would you do? Who would you be?
  8. If you were a Mom or Dad, what would you tell your kids?
  9. What kind of rules do you have at home?
  10. The best thing about Kindergarten/First grade is:
  11. The worst thing about Kindergarten is:


Section IV provides details to help the Student author illustrate the book. 

Describe the child you are interviewing–or draw a quick sketch/stick figure. Be sure to note:

  1. Hair: ( color; style, length, curly?)
  2. Height: (Average? Tallest kid in the class? Shortest?)
  3. Personality: (Quiet? Shy? ENERGETIC ? Confident? Mischievous? )


Section IV E may generate other ideas for the book–plus it’s fun to ask the Kinders/first graders these questions. ; ) 

Have him/her answer these questions:

  1. I have freckles. Yes   No              
  2. I wear earrings. Yes   No              
  3. I lost a tooth. Yes                 No               *Did the Tooth Fairy come? What happened?
  4. I like to climb. Yes               No              
  5. I like to laugh. Yes                No              
  6. I like school. Yes                 No              
  7. I like recess!!!!! Yes               No              
  8. I like to dance. Yes                 No              
  9. I like to take baths. Yes               No              __________________________________________________
  1. My favorite color is: .
  2. My favorite ice cream flavor is:
  3. My favorite song is:
  4. My favorite game is:
  5. I am good at: (sport? art? activity?)
  6. My birthday is: (Date, if possible)
  7. This is what I’d like to do on my next birthday:

Added perks of this unit: 

  1. The cross-age element is just as amazing for the big kids as their buddies. 
  2. Middle grade and high school Teachers and Student Authors have an excuse to read, read, READ the amazing picture books that are out there! Bring in as many as you can. Have a read-a-thon. Have Student authors analyze their favorites and use them as mentor texts. Ready, set–GO.
  3. Your Student Authors will actually complete this assignment. WHO COULD DISAPPOINT THEIR BUDDY?  

I can’t recommend this cross-age activity enough!

If you try it, give me a tweet @ErinDealey or leave a comment below.

*If you would like a pdf of this interview worksheet, let me know. 

Go for it, my friends.

Raising writers = Raising readers.

PS If you’re using DECK THE WALLS for your annual holiday program,


I would love to see video or photos!  

Kindergarten #tbt Show and Tell –part 17

Our final #tbt Show & Tell is from

Nancy Castaldo.

This adorable kindergartner grew up to be an educator, SCBWI Regional Advisor, and #kidlit author of nonfiction books for children, including TWO 2017 releases:

SNIFFER DOGS: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World

(HMH Books for Young Readers)

“An exemplary presentation of information in a lively, engaging way—readers will be left feeling awe for their canine companions and enthusiasm for their abilities.”
Kirkus, STARRED review

BEASTLY BRAINS: How Animals think, Talk, and Feel

(HMH Books for Young Readers)

“This eye-opening, cogent, and well-structured volume will enlighten students to both the richness of the animal kingdom and the nature of intelligence itself.”
 Booklist, STARRED review

It’s no wonder Nancy’s kindergarten memory is about nature walks!

“This is me getting off the school bus on my very first day of kindergarten. The best thing about kindergarten for me was not mandatory nap time (Nap? There’s too much to see, learn, and do!) , but going on the nature walks outside with my teacher. I can remember filing down the long path into the woods near my elementary school and loving every minute – even when we reached the old, abandoned house and all took off running back to the school. If it was up to me we would have stayed and explored!”

As parents and teachers, sometimes we forget that there are lessons to be learned everywhere and time spent exploring the outdoors is never wasted. 

Who knows?

Maybe the young explorer in your backyard will grow up to write non-fiction picture books for the next generation.

To learn more about Nancy Castaldo and her books go to or follow her on Twitter at @NCastaldoAuthor.

And look what’s coming next:


(Release date: April 2018/ HMH Books for Young Readers)

Castaldo details the successful efforts of scientists to bring threatened animals back from the brink of extinction. This book is sure to interest animal lovers and reluctant nonfiction readers alike.


My sincere thanks to Nancy for sharing her Show & Tell and her wonderful books!

 Thank you, Thank you

to all who have hopped aboard our #Kindergarten blog series bus.

( CLICK THIS LINK to meet the other kindergartners.)

And thanks to all for your kind words about K IS FOR KINDERGARTEN!

Here’s a new review:

“The alphabet frames this collection of activities for kindergarten, highlighting 26 (and more) words and challenges for youngsters anticipating the highlights of a school day. As rhyming verse introduces each activity, a sidebar lists Countdown and Challenge activities for more adventurous readers and their parents. ..VERDICT: …this well-organized book will encourage readers to practice new words, learn through hands-on creativity, and face new challenges.” —School Library Journal 

Happy Reading–and exploring!



Kindergarten #tbt Show and Tell –part 16

Today’s #tbt Kindergarten Show and Tell is from

 Jill Santopolo. 

I LOVE the little hearts on her tights! Pretty sure my daughter wore some just like these every chance she could… : )

This sweet kindergartner grew up to be an author of both #kidlit and adult books, the Editorial Director of Philomel Books (Penguin Young Readers) with TWO #1 bestsellers in 2017 (!), and an adjunct Creative Writing professor.
Did I mention Jill Santopolo has
TWO new books of her own out this year too?


–the tenth and final installment in her Sparkle Spa chapter book series.

(Aladdin / Cathi Mingus, illustrator)

“Girls are sure to enjoy the concept of a kid salon and the everyday activities of sisters, family, and school situations. The simple, easy-to-read text flows effortlessly…”

Library Media Connection /All That Glitters



(G.P.Putnam’s Sons)

Jill Santopolo’s NATIONAL and INTERNATIONAL Best Selling

debut novel for adults,

now available in over 30 languages!

“A beautiful and devastating story that will captivate readers.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“It’s the epic love story of 2017 and the ending is one you’ll be feeling for months to come.” —Redbook

One Day meets Me Before You meets your weekender bag.”—The Skimm

Here is a sample page:

As Jill said recently at memorial event on September 11th,

“…story is a bridge between people with different backgrounds. “


It’s no wonder that this is her Kinder memory:

I don’t remember a ton of things from kindergarten (it was so long ago now!), but I do remember that we had a piano in our classroom, and my kindergarten teacher played the piano for us while we sang. I couldn’t tell you what songs they were, but I do remember that I loved the sound of her playing and the whole class singing along, together. No one ever misbehaved during song time.

TOGETHER is the key word here,

and in my opinion, we need this more than ever.

Music does indeed bring kids (& grown-ups) together–

no matter our differences.

I firmly agree with Jill, that story does this too.


As the Editorial Director at Philomel,

Jill Santopolo has helped to shape many wonderful books. Her list includes authors Amy Ephron, Lisa Graff, and more,

not to mention… 

the #1 New York Times

bestselling picture book, 


Thirteen American Women Who Changed the World

by Chelsea Clinton

(Philomel Books/illustrations by Alexandra Boiger)


the #1 New York Times bestselling

GIRLING UP: How to be Strong, Smart, and Spectacular

by Mayim Bialik, PhD.

(Philomel Books)

Congrats to all!

To learn more about Jill Santopolo, go to 

and follow @jillsantopolo on Instagram and @JillSantopolo on Twitter.  


My sincere thanks to Jill and all who have contributed and joined us on this #Kindergarten blog series project.

(Go here to see how it started.)

And check back next week for our final #tbt Show & Tell from

Nancy Castaldo,

educator and #kidlit author of nonfiction books for children, including Sniffer Dogs: How Dogs (and Their Noses) Save the World, Deserts, Rainforests, and River Wild.

Kindergarten #tbt Show and Tell –part 15

It’s kindergarten #tbt Show and Tell again,

and today’s post is from #kidlit author Dashka Slater.

This Kinder kid grew up to write amazing books in many genres

and there are incredible new ones on the way!

Her picture books include:


(FSG, illus. Sydney Hanson)

Escargot’s voice is parfait, an airy blend of ego and need masterfully balanced in witty and well-turned sentences that leave plenty of room for audiences to get the joke…”

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review


(Dial Books/illus. Valeria Delcampo)

“A sophisticated romp.” — Publishers Weekly

“Humor and wordplay…sit alongside the danger.” — Kirkus Reviews

And check out this beautiful book–released this month:


(Beach Lane / illus. Terry Fan & Eric Fan)

An inquisitive fox sets off on a seafaring voyage with a crew of deer and pigeons in this enchanting tale of friendship and adventure.

Kirkus review here. 

THE ANTLERED SHIP is currently a  in Children’s Fox and wolf books on Amazon!

Here’s Dashka’s memory:

I came to kindergarten already knowing how to read, the byproduct of having spent the previous year traveling with my parents while my father was on sabbatical. Since I didn’t have other children to play with, my mother had decided to teach me to read and by the time I arrived in kindergarten, I’d had plenty of time to practice.

I was young for my grade — the result of having a late-November birthday — and having this one precocious skill meant that my schoolteachers thought I must be some sort of genius and treated me a bit like a performing seal.

I remember my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Egan having me read a book to the rest of the class for story-time. It felt both wonderful and strange to sit in the teacher’s chair with the other children clustered around me on the floor. The chair was too big for me, and my feet didn’t reach the floor.

I liked Mrs. Egan quite a lot — she was young and glamorous seeming, with a very tall and fancy beehive hairdo — and I remember her being extremely nice. But I also remember feeling a bit peculiar about all the attention I was getting for being able to read, which would persist through first grade and would eventually make me fairly unpopular with the other children. It was a relief when everyone else caught up!

As parents and teachers, it’s good to remember that our amazing, precocious children, early readers, math whizkids, do not always immediately fit in with their age group.  

As much as we may have prepared them for academic success,

the social aspect is equally important. 

Keeping the dialog open between parent & teacher as well as parent & child can help to smooth this transition. 

To learn more about Dashka Slater go to and follow her on Twitter @DashkaSlater

I’m equally excited to share Dashka’s non-fiction narrative based on a true story (and a fabulous piece she wrote for the NYT magazine)

of two Oakland teenagers.


A True Story of Two Teenagers and the Crime That Changed Their Lives

“The text shifts from straightforward reporting to lyrical meditations, never veering into oversentimentality or simple platitudes. Readers are bound to come away with deep empathy for both Sasha and Richard. VERDICT Slater artfully unfolds a complex and layered tale about two teens whose lives intersect with painful consequences. This work will spark discussions about identity, community, and what it means to achieve justice.”

SLJ starred review

“With a journalist’s eye for overlooked details, Slater does a masterful job debunking the myths of the hate-crime monster and the African-American thug, probing the line between adolescent stupidity and irredeemable depravity. Few readers will traverse this exploration of gender identity, adolescent crime, and penal racism without having a few assumptions challenged. An outstanding book that links the diversity of creed and the impact of impulsive actions to themes of tolerance and forgiveness.”

Kirkus starred review

Using details gleaned from interviews, social media, surveillance video, public records, and other sources, Slater skillfully conveys the complexities of both young people’s lives and the courage and compassion of their families, friends, and advocates, while exploring the challenges and moral ambiguities of the criminal justice system. This painful story illuminates, cautions, and inspires.”

PW starred review

You can pre-order it here. 

To meet the other Kindergartners who have contributed to this Kindergarten 

SHOW & TELL series, start here.

Thank you to ALL who have helped K IS FOR KINDERGARTEN earn a ribbon too!

Children’s Humorous Poetry 


And check back next week to meet the kindergartner who grew up to be

#kidlit author (GLAM OPENING/Sparkle Spa series, plus adult novels like THE LIGHT WE LOST too!) and editor (SHE PERSISTED by Chelsea Clinton) 

Jill Santopolo.

Kindergarten #tbt Show and Tell –part 14 #windowsandmirrors

It’s kindergarten #tbt Show and Tell again,

and we’re celebrating


with important books that are windows and mirrors

in our world.

Meet this week’s kinder, who grew up to be

#kidlit author and educator

Gayle E. Pitman.

By day, Gayle teaches Psychology and Women/Gender Studies at

Sacramento City College.

By night, she writes awesome–and much needed–children’s books like


(Magination Press/ illus. by Kristyna Litten )

Winner of the


2015 Notable Books for a Global Society Award

“This beautifully illustrated book is a great addition to a school or personal library to add diversity in a responsible manner without contributing to stereotypes about LGBT people.” –School Library Journal

Click HERE to view the awesome book trailer. 

Check out the Study Guide. 

Pitman’s most recent picture book is


How Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Built a Community

(Magination Press/ illus. by Christopher Lyles)

Extensive information about Lyon and Martin’s activism, marriage equality, and San Francisco itself (contained in a readers’ note) offers a useful overview of LGBTQ history and women’s rights. —Publishers Weekly

A great conversation starter and a rare non-fiction book about LGBTQ equality for the younger age group. —Bay Windows

**Did you know activists Phyllis Lyon & Del Martin are now a required part of CA 4th grade curriculum? Pitman has a Teacher’s Guide. 

Pitman’s forthcoming non-fiction title: FEMINISM FOR A TO Z

(Magination Press)

is scheduled for release in October.

Pre-orders have started –Right Here! 

Feminism from A-Z takes readers on an alphabetical journey through the basics of feminism. Each chapter features writing and action exercises geared specifically for the tween and teen reader, along with suggestions and resources for how readers can take feminism to a higher level.

Here’s Gayle on her first day of Kindergarten, at Riverview School in Denville, NJ.

Gayle’s Kinder memory:

I can remember walking from my house to the bus stop every morning. The bus stop was a few blocks away from our house, and I always walked by myself. What a different time it was back then!
I remember learning how to tie my shoes in kindergarten, Mrs. Hoffman, my kindergarten teacher, rewarded us with M&M’s every time we tied them correctly. That’s something else that would never happen today!
A river ran behind my elementary school. Our first field trip was a walk to the river to feed the ducks. It was probably a five-minute walk, but it felt like a big deal at the time.
(The duck field trip made me think of
 And yes–it was a “different time.”
Did you know that Pitman’s wonderful book, THIS DAY IN JUNE, was the target of book banning and censorship recently? THANK YOU to all who spoke up about this, and to the Chicago Library Who Voted To Keep the Book on their shelves. This book shows acceptance. Inclusion. It does NOT have any sexual content.


Yes–Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, my friends. If you do not want your child to learn about others who are “different,” that’s your choice. When you go to the library or book store, actively help your child to pick out books you approve of. But –like children–let’s make room for ALL books, different or not, on the shelves.

It’s that simple.
In my opinion, we need to do all we can to make sure today’s children (and adults) grow up to be kind, empathetic, inclusive citizens of the world.
 To learn more about Gayle Pitman and her books, go to You can also find her on Twitter @GaylePitman and Facebook.
Check back next time to meet the kindergartner who grew up to be #kidlit author (ESCARGOT; DANGEROUSLY EVER AFTER; THE 57 BUS–and more!), journalist, and poet Dashka Slater.