Taking a Moment

In the midst of book launches, school visits, library readings and marketing, I forgot what it was that brought me here in the first place.

It’s been a whirlwind six months of promoting my picture book Arabella and the Magic Pencil that was released in September 2019. I’ve been thinking about, talking about and obsessing about it for what seems like an eternity. From drafting a marketing plan to visiting bookstores and shipping review copies, I lost touch with how I ended up here in the first place. I actually got a bit sick of seeing my own face and the book I was so proud of splashed across social media. But in the quiet days after the holidays, in a fog of jet lag, I took a moment to sit down with the book I’d been shamelessly promoting to simply read it for myself.

First, I gazed at the cover and end pages. I traced Arabella’s steps as she waltzes in her whimsical world and noticed how Wish, a sweet little bird that was an invention of the illustrator, hops along the inside cover beckoning readers to follow.

Flipping through the pages, I giggled at the hidden details — Stephanie’s Story Tent, Arabella reading her own book and a banner advertising “Magic Happens” that I hadn’t actually noticed until now. And I couldn’t help but laugh at the flashy flamingoes who flamencoed as Word still insists that it’s not a word!

I remembered how feedback from my critique group changed a boring page turn to a dramatic moment with a well-placed ellipsis. Then I quietly observed Arabella as she stands with her back to me drawing with her magic pencil.

I marveled at my physical reaction to the change in color palette when Arabella realizes what she has done. I flipped back to the bright pages that conveyed her happy life and found myself searching for colors on the muted pages that follow.

Finally, I stared wide-eyed at Avery’s dinosaur — not the one that I imagined when I wrote the story, but the one the illustrator painted that just happens to be my favorite.

I find that I’ve been smiling the entire time I’ve been reading. Am I fan-girling myself? No, not really. This isn’t my book. It may be my story, but this thing in my hands has been created by many. People around the world now experience my words together with expressive artwork all wrapped up in a perfect package.

What once was just an foggy idea is now an actual book that will live on bookshelves and archives long after the marketing fervor has died down. It was nice to remember that I still love the story that I originally wrote so many years ago, even after reading it for the gazillionth time. And that seems like a pretty good reason to savor the moment.

5 Great Kidlit Podcasts

I’m late to the game when it comes to podcasts. But recently, I found a slew of entertaining and informative shows that have made me convert. Here are five podcasts that children’s book readers and writers should have a listen to.

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The Happy Book: A Children’s Book Podcast with Tania McCartney

My latest discovery is a brand new podcast (now in Season 2) by Australian author, illustrator and all around fabulous kidlit creator, Tania McCartney. I love this podcast for so many reasons but it’s by far the most informative for those that are writing and/or illustrating children’s books. With 30+ years of experience, Tania McCartney tells it like it is (with a charming Australian accent) and with specific, relevant stories from many areas of the kidlit industry. A bit of the information is specific to Australia, but the large majority is relevant across borders so give it a go. Available on iTunes, Spotify and Whooshkaa and there’s a Facebook page too – https://www.facebook.com/TheHappyBookPodcast/.

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One More Page: A Podcast for Lovers of Kids’ Books

This is the podcast that got me into podcasts. It’s fun, funny and full of interviews with popular kidlit authors. But what sets it apart from others is that they actually talk to kids about kids books. Brilliant, right? And it’s hilarious. In its first year, One More Page was a Finalist in the Australian Podcast Awards. Well worth checking out. Available on iTunes, Castbox, Pocketcasts, Spotify and iHeartRadio.

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The Children’s Book Podcast with Matthew Winner

This might be the most comprehensive podcast about children’s books available. There are over 500 episodes and some with the most successful children’s authors in the world. Matthew Winner’s long-form interview style gives creators ample time to share their journeys. I’ve picked up some incredible wisdom by simply tuning in and tuning everything else out. Plus, Matthew’s sheer joy and gratitude about the world of children’s literature is infectious. It’s an absolute pleasure to listen to this multi-award-winning, highly acclaimed series. Check out the website for all of the details, http://www.matthewcwinner.com/podcast.

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So You Want to be a Writer

Practical advice for writers of any genre, Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait share their wealth of experience as writers and authors. Plus, there are interviews with a wide variety of authors. I search for relevant kidlit authors, but occasionally I’ll try an adult or non-fiction author and invariably learn something I can use in my own writing. With 275+ episodes, there is something for everyone. Available on iTunes, the Australian Writers’ Centre website or Stitcher Radio.

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Middle Grade Mavens: The Podcast

A relative newcomer, this podcast specifically focuses on a middle grade books. Middle Grade Mavens reviews books, interviews publishers and authors working in this genre and discusses everything related to the genre. If you’re writing middle grade, check out this podcast for the most relevant and timely information about this wildly popular kidlit genre. Available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and Radio Public.

I’d love to hear what you tune into, so please leave a comment with a link to your favorite kidlit podcasts.

Happy listening!

Happy Valentiny Day ❤️

It’s the 3rd Annual Valentiny Writing Contest from Susanna Leonard Hill, picture book writer extraordinaire. This year’s theme is ‘with a hopeful heart’. Here’s my attempt at the challenge and entry for the contest.

The Note
Stephanie Ward
Word Count: 212

Olivia carefully wrote with her sparkly red pen and folded the valentine just so. She glanced at Miss Crabapple and then tossed it to Aidan.

Just then, Emma stretched out a yawn and the note caught in her long, curly hair.

Emma pulled the card from her curls and read it. Then she giggled and passed it to Mateo.

Mateo loves a good secret. He opened the note and scanned the class. Then he passed it to Nora.

When Nora read the valentine, she blushed from head to toe and dropped it on the floor.

Levi snapped it up, folded it into a paper airplane and sent it flying.

Connor fell out of his chair trying to catch it. Miss Crabapple heard that and sent Connor to a time out in the corner.

Chelsea snatched the paper off Connor’s desk. She whispered to Maggie, but Maggie didn’t know who wrote it. So, Chelsea tossed it over her head.

It landed in front of Hannah’s nose. She looked up, read it, and smiled at Olivia. Then she gave the note to Aidan.

Aidan opened the note and read: “Will you be my valentine?” He smiled and wrote something. Then he handed it back to Olivia.

Olivia slowly opened the valentine and read: “Always.”

♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥  ♥

Join in the fun by posting a story on your own blog that’s 214 words or less by the 14th of February and then sharing the link on the contest page. There are fabulous prizes available including critiques by publishers and authors as well as writerly resources. Most importantly, it’s fun.

Hope you all have a lovely Valentiny Day!

The 5th Annual Halloweensie Writing Contest

Well-love children’s author Susanna Leonard Hill is hosting a fun writing contest this week for Halloween. Here are the rules: Write a 100-word Halloween story appropriate for children using the words costume, dark and haunt. Your story can be scary, funny or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those three words (or variations of those words) and is 100 words or less. Sounds easy, right? Ha!

Oh yes, there are some wonderful prizes up for grabs too. For details about the contest (and to enter, there’s still time!) visit: The 5th Annual Halloweensie Writing Contest – aahhhrrrooooOOOOO!!!!

Needless to say, I’m in. My story is posted below. You are seeing it here first….my official entry into the highly-anticipated 5th Annual Halloweensie Writing Contest. Happy Halloween!

An Alien Goes Trick-or-Treating
Stephanie M. Ward
98 words (including dark, costume and haunted)

Allen the Alien has landed on Earth on a cold, dark October night.

“Cool costume!” shouts a princess.

“Take me to your leader,” quips a vampire.

“Beep. Boop. Bop,” greets a robot.

Allen is confused.

“Where did his mother find that outfit?” remarks a witch dragging along a little ghost.

The Earthlings are playing dress up!

Allen puts on his costume – jeans, t-shirt, cap, sneakers. Aliens love to dress up as Earthlings.

Allen follows four ninja turtles to a haunted house.

“Trick or Treat!”

“Poor kid doesn’t have a costume,” whispers the ogre handing out candy.

Allen smiles.