2023 Picture Book Rising Stars

The second annual 2023 Picture Book Rising Stars ⭐ Mentorship Program is an amazing opportunity to grow and learn as a writer. Authors Kailei Pew and Ebony Lynn Mudd began the program with a tweet and received an overwhelming response from picture book creators.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi, author and illustrator, interviewed Ebony and Kailei in March 2023.

The PB Rising Stars Mentorship program started with a tweet, a huge response from the KidLit community, and two picture book authors looking for ways to pull other creators up the turbulent publishing ladder.

During the month of April, I read each of the mentors’ bios and wish lists to see who may be a good match to support my writing. The application process opened on April 17 and closed on the 27th. I completed seven applications for consideration to the following mentors:

Ebony Lynn Mudd

Kailei Pew

Sara Holly Ackerman

Lissette Norman

Naaz Khan

Maria Marianayagam

Lisa Varchol Perron

The 2023 PB Rising Stars sent an email on May 10th with a request from Maria Marianayagam to see additional writing samples. “We understand that you’ve sent over your completed manuscript with your submission, but Maria would love to see 2-3 more works in progress (even if they are not completed) that you’d potentially like to work on with a mentor this summer, if selected. Please send to this email address by the end of day May 12th, and we will send them along to Maria.” Not wanting to get my hopes up and shared three additional stories for Maria to consider as she made a tough decision to choose the just right mentee who she felt she could best support.

On May 25the the official 2023 Picture Book Rising Stars mentee, runner-up, and honorable mention announcement was made via a Twitter.

The 2023 PB Rising Stars Mentorship Program included 25 mentors. There were 2,589 applications. As Ebony shared, Your art is the prize.” An email from Ebony and Kailei, “Some mentors didn’t select certain applicants because they thought they were near ready to query.”

While I was not selected to partner with a mentor, I will continue to read, write, and create as I continue along my writing journey. The application process was very thorough and thought-provoking which encouraged me to dig deep into why I am a writer.

I wish all the 2023 Picture Book Rising Stars mentors and mentees a successful partnership during the next three months as mentees are guided to take their writing to the next level.

Thank you, Ebony and Kailei! You both are stars! ⭐

https://www.kaileipewbooks.com/ https://www.ebonylynnmudd.com/ https://www.pbrisingstars.com/

Happy Book Birthday!

Happy Book Birthday to The Memory Jar!

Title: The Memory Jar

Author: Debra Daugherty

Illustrator: Victoria Marble

Young Dragons Press, April 11, 2023

Caring for and understanding the needs of a loved one with memory loss can be difficult to navigate for adults. For young children, it can cause uncertainty and confusion. With a unique idea and determination, Amelia creates a clever way to help Grammy revisit memories from days gone by. Readers will acquire a better understanding of memory loss through this sweet story that shows love and care as America and Grammy revisit their beautiful memories.

Read all about this beautiful multigenerational family picture book and an interview with author Debra Daugherty.


Thank you, Debbie, for sharing your lived experience and writing about what can be a tough topic for many families. Wishing you all the best as you continue to read, write, and create kidlit stories.

Spring Fling 2023


By Suzy Leopold

In a patch of soil, Garden Girl sows seeds.

Sunflower Seed peeks through a cellophane window on the seed package.

“Wait! What about me?” Why doesn’t Garden Girl hear me? 

“Plant me!” Seed shouts.

Garden Girl attaches the seed package to a garden stake. 

Tap! Tap!

“I don’t want to be a garden marker. I want to be a garden flower!”

Garden Girl doesn’t hear Seed’s pleas. 

Days grow longer.



Left behind, Seed peers through the window at her seed pals.

One morning, a gust of wind snatches the package off the garden marker.

The package twists and twirls. 

Swoosh! Whoosh! 

Seed falls out. 

Plunk! Kerplunk!

Where am I? Sniff! 

“Aww! Sweet, earthy fragrance!” 

Seed snuggles into a compost pile. 

Down with roots. Up with shoots. 

By summer’s end, Seed grows taller than her seed pals. 

Garden Girl celebrates a state fair blue ribbon.

No longer left behind.



Claire Brodsy GIF


Thank you, Ciara O’Neal and Kaitlyn Sanchez for hosting the 5th Annual Spring Fling Contest.

Picture Book Critique Partners

As a whole, the picture book community is supportive and encouraging. Critique partners and groups are invaluable. Writers who exchange manuscripts should consider doing so as a professional reciprocal relationship of giving and receiving.

Writers acquire new knowledge when giving and receiving critiques.

Giving constructive critiques improves a writer’s own manuscripts.

“No time spent writing or giving critique is ever wasted.”, –Mary Kole, Good Story Company

Photo by S. Leopold

WHO is the ideal critique partner?

Exchanging picture book stories for critique is an opportunity to grow as a writer. Sharing stories is part of a writing journey to grow and learn as a writer. Participating in a critique group is a commitment.

Writers spend time and energy on projects to craft stories for children that meet the definition of a picture book and include specific elements to hook a reader. Therefore, similar time and energy must be considered and expected when giving a critique. It’s best to exchange manuscripts with like-minded writers with similar goals along the path to publication. Swapping stories with writers who read currently-published picture books (within five years) and write in a similar genre is best.

An ideal critique partner is a trusted individual who offers honest, meaningful feedback and suggestions for improvement of a manuscript, along with encouragement and support. The advice should be positive and include ideas, and thoughts about where to make improvements. Respect the author’s voice and vision for the story you are critiquing. The critique should offer pointers for a writer to consider to move into the next step to revise and polish a story.

Critique partners who are active participants know you well and can give targeted advice.

A picture book is a story intended for the youngest of readers, in which the illustrations and the text work together to tell the story. Picture books are usually read to children, not by children. They are meant for children who are not yet able to read, and help them develop a sense of storytelling, plot, and language recognition.” ~Brooke Vitale, Children’s Book Editor

Together the text and pictures support each other to tell an engaging story.

HOW to be a valuable critique partner

Established expectations for rules of engagement are essential to creating and sustaining a successful writing group. The goals of the group must be clear and supported by all. As a group develops and evolves adjustments may need to be made for continued success.

Recognize and celebrate writing successes with critique partners.

Be grateful and express common courtesies. A simple, “Thank you, for reading my story, or I appreciate the critique.” is expected.

But writing is a great equalizer. Everyone is learning and growing every day. So a good rule for how to be a good critique partner is that you are no better or worse than your partner or their work.” –Mary Kole, Good Story Company


Consider the Sandwich Method of giving critiques. For more information read this GROG Blog post:


WHAT a critique partner is not

A critique partner should not be expected to make line-by-line edits, nor rewrite and clean up a manuscript shared for feedback. A partnership is a collaboration of reciprocity. When a writer requests a manuscript critique always reciprocate.

“. . . a CP is not is an editor, rival, or lackey.” ~

A critique partner should is not a competition.

Requesting feedback for a story is not a one-way street.

A partnership is a collaboration of reciprocity. When a writer requests a manuscript critique always reciprocate.

HOW to find critique partners


For additional information read a post I wrote on the GROG Blog, Building, Creating, and Sustaining Ideal Critique Partner Relationships.


#50 Precious Words with Vivian Kirkfield


By Susan Leopold

America grew all around me. 

Could I grow, too?

Would my roots dig deep?

Would my branches reach for the sun?

A new beginning, freedom, and hope.

Despite neglect, severe weather, and vandalism, I stood strong.

I grew. I survived. 

I stand strong.

America’s oldest fruit tree–a national treasure.

The Endicott Pear Is North America’s Oldest Fruit Tree
Free Stock Photo by Alen on Stockvault.net
Photo from Kids Discover

Sharing my gratitude to Vivian, the judges, and the many editors and authors who donated prizes. Wishing all writers the best with their entries. Read. Write. Create.

March 20th Update: My entry, THE ENDECOTT PEAR TREE, for #50 Precious Words was recognized as an Honorable Mention in the category of STEM.


Nonfiction Fest 2023

Nonfiction Fest is a month-long writing event for picture book creators in February.

The 2023 Nonfiction Fest is dedicated to the remembrance of Pat Miller–the creator of the Nonfiction Ninjas.

Remembering Pat Miller

The event is hosted by the Nonfiction Ninjas:

Stephanie Bearce, Nancy Churnin, Lisa Amstutz, Susie Kralovansky, Christine Liu-Perkins, Linda Skeers, and Peggy Thomas.

If you missed the Nonfiction Fest check out the informative posts beginning with February 1st:


On the final day of the event, an announcement was made about a writing contest that includes prizes– a three-month mentorship and feedback from judges and a literary agent. More information is forthcoming.

Storystorm 2023

Many kidlit creators look forward to Storystorm hosted by Tara Lazar every year. This event began in 2009. The first time I participated was ten years ago.

What is Storystorm? It’s a month-long brainstorming event to create and generate story ideas during the month of January. There are daily posts from authors, illustrators, and kidlit industry folks who share inspiration and encouragement.

Yes, I realize tomorrow is the first day of March. When January arrived I participated in Storystorm 2023. I acquired new knowledge and information. I generated new story ideas and wrote revisions for my WIPs.

Today Tara announce the grand prize winners of this event. While I am not a grand prize winner, I am a winner because I am a writer.


Mighty Kid Lit

There’s a new platform for kidlit creators. Michele Ziemke, author, illustrator, and host invites you to Mighty Kid Lit. Come grow and learn with authors and illustrators–both published and pre-published. 

To learn more about Mighty KidLit–the who, what, when, where, and why, read the GROG Blog.


To become a member of Mighty Kid Lit and all that it has to offer connect with this link:

Percy the Mascot

Michele, Percy, and I are anxious to welcome you.

Happy Valentine’s Day

What will you give to loved ones on Valentine’s Day? Cards, chocolates, flowers, kisses, and hugs are always appreciated. How about books? Share the love of literacy with your sweethearts. Give picture books. You are never too old to read children’s literature. Books share the love well beyond February 14th.

Sharing four book recommendations.

10 Things I Love About You

10 Things I Love About You Written by Danielle McLean; Illustrated by Grae Habib, Tiger Tales, November 2022.

This rhyming board book with 22 pages is written for ages 2-5. Filled with tenderness and joy.

Viking in Love

Viking in Love, Created by Doug Cenko, Viking Books for Young Readers, December 2021

Stig the Viking does not like the sea. How can that be? Vikings live on the sea! This 48-page book will have you chuckling. It is written for preschoolers through 2nd grade.

Love Is My Favorite Thing

Love Is My Favorite Thing, created by Emma Chichester Clark, Nancy Paulsen Books, December 2020.

This fall-in-love book is based on the author’s dog Plum. Also known as Plumie loves bed, treats, sticks, and more. Sometimes Plum can be over-the-top enthusiastic which causes trouble. Plum loves her family and her family adores her.

The Valentine Mystery

The Valentine Mystery, written by Kathi Daley, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018.

In White Eagle, Montana, Tess and Tilly are busy delivering Valentine’s Day cards along with the daily mail. Together the amateur sleuths work with Tony to solve a mystery of a vehicle accident.

Watercolor creations by Suzy
Sugar Cookies made by Suzy

What books will you share and give on Valentine’s Day? Hope you receive treats and books on Valentine’s Day.

Unknown creator of these lovely Valentine Stamps.

Finding Family: The Duckling Raised by Loons

Did you know there are unique relationships where one species forms a close bond with another species?

Finding Family: The Duckling Raised by Loons, written by Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis is a nonfiction narrative picture book that shares a true story of a duckling raised by loon parents on a Wisconsin lake.

The author captures this unique and amazing story discovered by scientists. Researchers of the Loon Project were amazed to find a pair of loons caring for a duckling, not a loon chick. Loons usually drive off mallards but these loons adopted a mallard duckling and were raising it.

This thirty-two-page lyrical picture book supports the STEM curriculum with facts, a timeline, beautiful illustrations, and back matter. The Venn diagram is an excellent tool to compare the similarities and contrast differences between a Loon and Mallard.

Reading nonfiction helps bring the world into perspective for readers and nonfiction picture books celebrate the joy of storytelling through photographs and illustrations.

Laura also wrote a creative nonfiction book Secrets of the Loon, a poetic, scientifically accurate picture book in 2022.

The Loon Project website states: “As scientists, we commonly use the very powerful words: ‘we do not know.'” Director Walter Piper and his team observed and documented the behaviors of this family of three.

The Loon Project

Thank you, Laura, for the signed f & g (folded and gathered) copy of Finding Family: The Duckling Raised by Loons and bookmarks.

My f & g copy
An amazing true story.

Laura is the author of more than one hundred books for children. Loon-related resources are included on Laura’s website.

Small Reads for Brighter Days

The illustrator, Alexandria is a fine artist and illustrator.


Finding Family: The Duckling Raised by Loons is scheduled to make a debut on March 7, 2023.

April 4, 2023 Update: Read an interview with Laura Purdie Salas on Picture Book Builders with Jill Esbaum.

Book giveaway! FINDING FAMILY – The Duckling Raised by Loons + an interview with Laura Purdie Salas