Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Story Behind the Story of Captain Green and the Tree Machine

by Author Evelyn Bookless

Jacket Flap Copy from Book:

Captain Green is back and this time he’s creating a gadget to help save the planet. As he fine-tunes his invention, disaster strikes. Hornbill’s tree has been chopped down and there’s tree trouble for Elephant and Orangutan too. Captain Green scrambles to finish his invention - a TREE MACHINE - and zooms to the rescue! ZAP! ZOOP! ZINK! Trees pop up all around until… BANG! Oh no! How will Captain Green save the animals now?

CAPTAIN GREEN AND THE TREE MACHINE (Marshall Cavendish) is the second story in an eco-adventure series (illustrated by Danny Deeptown), featuring a young superhero on a mission to help keep the planet clean and green. In the first story, CAPTAIN GREEN AND THE PLASTIC SCENE, the Captain sets off to save some sea creatures in trouble with plastic. [Ad: Click on Links to buy book.]

This time around, he is attempting to create a gadget to help save the planet. As Captain Green fine-tunes his invention, disaster strikes. Hornbill’s tree has been chopped down and there’s tree trouble for Elephant and Orangutan too. Captain Green scrambles to finish his invention - a TREE MACHINE - and zooms to the rescue! ZAP! ZOOP! ZINK! Trees pop up all around until… BANG! Oh no! Captain Green must find a new way to save the animals.

Join Captain Green by purchasing a book HERE

Deciding on the topic for Captain Green’s second eco-mission took some time. I had drafted a story focused on climate change, set in the Arctic. I batted with it for a while, and then one day, decided to take elements from it (like Captain Green's FREEZE MACHINE) and use them in a new story about deforestation (now with a TREE MACHINE). It is said that nothing is wasted in writing! The initial draft seemed to just write itself, and it felt right and more the story I wanted to tell.

Forests have always been special for me. I played for hours in the trees at the back on our house growing up in Ireland. Thirty years ago, my father decided to grow a forest that is now maturing nicely. I love to visit it when I return home and learn about the different trees, plants and animals living within it. I am proud of this little green ‘lung’ that my family have nurtured. While living in Asia for 10 years, where I worked as an international school teacher, I had the opportunity to visit Borneo and other parts of Indonesia and witness some of the intense deforestation of ancient rainforest, often to make way for palm tree plantations or farm land. Aspects of my childhood and travels have definitely fed into this story. And, of course, we all know that tress are vital to our survival – I hope this story will inspire more trees to be planted and protected. The back matter shares some simple facts about deforestation and real ways that children can help, which as a teacher and Mom, I hope will be useful for little superheroes everywhere.

Thanks for having me Lynne Marie. 

Keep It Green everyone!


Evelyn Bookless grew up on a farm in the west of Ireland where she loved to make forts and play in the trees with her siblings. She is a nature lover, mum, teacher and writer. Evelyn spent ten wonderful years living in Asia but was saddened to see beautiful rainforests cut down during her travels around the region. She recently moved to the Netherlands, where she enjoys cycling her blue bike, Betty. Her favourite place to be is in the sea, preferably somewhere warm. 

Her first picture book, CAPTAIN GREEN AND THE PLASTIC SCENE, also illustrated by Danny Deeptown, won a Northern Lights Book Award for Children’s Environmental Fiction.

Website Link

Social Media Links  Twitter: @evelynbookles  Instagram: @evelynbookless

Facebook @evelynbooklessauthor

Monday, February 22, 2021

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY: The Hawk of the Castle

The Story Behind the Story of: 

The Hawk of the Castle - A Story of Medieval Falconry

by Danna Smith

Pop Quiz! Which of the following is true of my childhood?

1.      I once took my favorite of our 300 snakes to school for show and tell.

2.      Hawks often perched next to me on a kitchen chair while I ate my snack.

3.      One snowy night, I diapered a motherless baby deer and sneaked her into my warm bed.

4.      All the above.

If you guessed "all of the above," you are correct! My father was a falconer who also raised, bred, and rehabilitated animals. It was not uncommon to have bobcats, monkeys, alligators, or vultures at my home. When I was a child, spending time with my father meant spending time with a menagerie of creatures. He never sat down in front of the television at night without perching a hawk on his fist. I learned early on that this one of the ways a falconer tames his hawks. It was an unconventional childhood, but it felt normal to me. I didn't know it back then, but as I went hawking with my dad and helped him care for the animals, I was gathering a nest of ideas for the writer I would become.

The Hawk of the Castle is based on my father and the time we spent hawking. I chose to set the Story in medieval times because I am fascinated by falconry history, which dates back to China and the Middle East more than 3000 years ago. Plus, castles are pretty cool! I learned a lot about the art and sport of falconry firsthand, so most of my research was on the book's medieval aspect.

When I sold the manuscript to Candlewick Press and illustrator Bagram Ibatolline was hired to bring my text to life with his beautiful artwork, I was ecstatic!

Around that time, my father was diagnosed with dementia. I feared he would not be here with me to enjoy publication day. His long-term memory was still in tack for much of that year, so it was great to ask him hawking questions, share parts of the book, and listen to his falconry stories of long ago.

A year later, upon receiving a copy of the book, my dad had slipped deeper into dementia. I read it to him, and as I turned the pages, I watched his face for clues of understanding. He had become a man of few words, but as he looked at the pictures, tears filled his eyes. I knew then that the dad I grew up with was there somewhere, and I like to think he is proud of our Story.

The Hawk of the Castle is told in rhyme with nonfiction insets and extensive back-matter. Young readers get a sense of what it is like to "fly" a raptor while learning about the equipment and falconry skills.

I hope the book will bring you as much joy reading it as it did for me to write it.

Danna Smith is a poet and an award-winning author of seventeen books for children, including Balloon Trees, Swallow the Leader, Mother Goose’s Pajama Party, and four Little Golden Books. Her nonfiction picture book, The Hawk of the Castle: A Story of Medieval Falconry, received two starred reviews, is a Junior Library Guild Selection, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Books of the Year list, and more. Danna is currently living in northern California, where she is hard at work on her next book. For more information about her books, upcoming releases, and teaching activities, visit her website at

Buy The Hawk of the Castle HERE

Saturday, February 6, 2021

EVENT: Bright Lights and Night Lights - Evaluating Ideas

                                             JOIN THE PICTURE BOOK MECHANIC


Ideas that Shine and Ideas to Put to Bed

Many of you have completed 2021 Story Storm or gathered story ideas for January. Congratulations! But now, what do you do with them? There's certain criteria that must be met when deciding which idea is the brightest and shiniest and merits pursuing. We will discuss these in an interactive setting where all with gain valuable tools for mining ideas. 

WHAT:         On-the-spot Idea Critiques and Discussion 

WHEN:         February 17, 2021

TIME:           6:30 pm EST

COST:         $5.50 for RYS Members, $7.50 for Non-Members

WHERE:     The Picture Book Mechanic's Zoom Room


To sign up for this event:

Pay the Webinar Fee of $5.50 (RYS Members) or $7.50 (Non-Members) to E-mail your receipt to me at: 

Enter the Zoom Room above between 6:15 an 6:30 PM EST. 

Several/many participants will share a few of their ideas and we will discuss the criteria for pursuing or moving on. 

Listen and learn! 

Any questions, please e-mail me at:


This month, the Judges are sharing the Book Love with our Readers (and the world). Click on the links to buy books and support both our authors and our book chat through the Amazon Associates program. #Ad

Brenda Sturgis: Author of STILL A FAMILY. I would have to say my most favorite picture book of all time is John Lithgow’s MiCawber. It is a visual feast, and the word choices are sublime. It teachers the readers about art and famous artists while using fabulous words like peregrination. Rhyme is incredibly difficult, but Mr. Lithgow creates a read that is spectacular on every level. I never get tired of reading it and learning from it, any time we can sprinkle new words in front of children, is in my opinion, a way to expand their vocabulary palate giving them a more voracious appetite for language, but as far as the craft of writing, I would have to say Lisa Wheeler taught a class that I hosted and I learned so much from her about picture book writing, how a character has to earn their name, and leaving lots of white space in your manuscript.

Lynne Marie, Author of LET'S EAT! MEALTIME AROUND THE WORLD, is absolutely *head-over-heels* for Blake Snyder's Save the Cat 6-Book Series! I love the art of story conventions and these books are absolutely brilliant for understanding log-lines (pitches), characters we can identify and root for, structure, plot beats, and MORE! Best, his wonderful examples bring what he is saying to life.

Katie Frawley, author of TABITHA AND FRITZ TRADE PLACES. The first book I read on the craft ofwriting picture books was Ann Whitford Paul's aptly named WRITING PICTURE BOOKS! It is a wonderful book for beginners. Writing picture books is very different from any other form of writing. There is a lot of PB-specific knowledge you need before you can really start honing your manuscripts. If you're a newbie in the world of picture books, I highly recommend it.

Kirsti Call, Author of MOOTILDA'S BAD MOOD. I first read WRITING DOWN THE BONES: FREEING THE WRITER WITHIN by Natalie Goldberg when I was a teenager. It's still one of my very favorite books for writing exercises, motivation and inspiration in my writing. This book helps me understand my compelling reason for writing and makes me a better writer as well!

Laura Roettiger, author of ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON. I’ve been studying Cheryl Klein’s THE MAGIC WORDS at the suggestion of a mentor and dear friend. The main reminder I have posted is characters need to DO THINGS. I’m using this for writing MG.

Linda Elovitz Marshall, author of ANNE FRANK: THE GIRL HEARD AROUND THE WORLD. Successful picture books need a BIG story - something universal, something that deals with a truth about life, about the world around. I find that Ann Whitford Paul's WRITING PICTURE BOOKS: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication is helpful for both new and experienced picture book authors.

Amy Houts, author of MAYE'S MARCH FOR WOMEN'S VOTES, highly recommends reading Lisa Cron's book, WIRED FOR STORY, which using brain science to hook readers. Each chapter focuses on an aspect of the brain and how it relates to story. While Ms. Cron's examples feature novels, screenplays and short stories, her amazing revelations and strategies can be applied for any age group. This book will make your ability to write grow by leaps and bounds. 

Rosie J. Pova, author of SUNDAY RAIN. It's hard to pick just one book on craft because I have several that I really like and have been very helpful to me in the past, but since I'm supposed to mention just one, I'll go with CREATING CHARACTERS KIDS WILL LOVE, by Elaine Marie Alphin, because a strong, well-rounded character is a must, and this book's main focus is to help writers create those characters. The book has lots of practical advice and exercises with every chapter, and also explores every aspect of the character through multiple angles. And for a full list of some other craft books that I recommend, visit the About/Resources page on my website:

Lauren H. Kerstein, Author of HOME FOR A WHILE, loves WRITING WITH PICTURES: HOW TO WRITE AND ILLUSTRATE CHILDREN'S BOOKS by Uri Shulevitz. I love the way Shulevitz sheds light on the visual process of storytelling. This book truly helped me look at my picture book manuscripts through visual eyes.

We hope that everyone will find these books helpful while you navigate your craft. If so, please let us know! And please feel free to take advantage of our "Ask An Author" Feature in the Rate Your Story General Newsletter. 



Written by Linda Elovitz Marshall

Illustrated by Lisa Anchin

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2020


In 2012 – thanks to an SCBWI program – I became aware that by writing non-fiction for children, I could combine many of my interests: research (which I adore), travel (another love), and writing (which, for me, is like breathing). 

Immediately, I made a list of things to write about. My list grew (and continues growing…I add to it almost daily). 

Jonas Salk, M.D., one of my earliest heroes, headed the list. 

I was four or five years old, growing up in Boston, when polio ravaged our community. I heard news reports, overheard adults talking, learned about kids in my neighborhood who had polio. It was scary. We couldn’t go to the movies, go swimming, or play with friends for fear of catching the dread disease.

It seemed there was less polio where my grandparents lived. We stayed with them for a while. But, eventually, there was polio everywhere. No one was safe. No place was safe. We returned home. And hoped for the best.

Then came the polio vaccine, developed by Dr. Jonas Salk and his team.

We got our shots! Slowly but surely, the epidemic ended. It was a story of hope, a story of hard work, of diligence, of science triumphing over disease. It was a story I had to share. I was there. I remembered. I also realized that, soon, few would be around who – personally – remembered the disease.

I began researching what became The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine in 2016, with a trip to the Salk Institute. I contacted Dr. Jonas Salk’s son, Dr. Peter Salk, who was wonderfully helpful to me in my research. Then I read and read and read. I watched video clips of Dr. Jonas Salk. I immersed myself in all-things-Salk and all-things-polio. And when, at last, I felt I had a good understanding of both Dr. Salk and the polio virus, I began writing.

My agent, Christa Heschke of McIntosh & Otis, placed my manuscript with an amazing editor – Karen Greenberg at Knopf Books for Young Children, a division of Penguin Random House. Karen guided me, asking questions, helping me work out details, and choosing a wonderful illustrator – Lisa Anchin.

Together, we’ve created a very important book – one that is ever-so-timely. 

I hope everyone will read The Polio Pioneer: Dr. Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine. It’s the story of hope, of a medical triumph. It’s also the story of a child of immigrants – and the good he brought America and the world.

Now, in 2021, in the midst of the Covid pandemic, hope is what we need. 

“Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality.” – Dr. Jonas Salk.

Hope: it’s the thing called vaccine.

Linda Elovitz Marshall
 grew up near Boston, graduated from Barnard College, and raised four children and a flock of sheep on a farm in the Hudson River Valley. The author of several picture books, Linda still lives on the farm with her husband, Bob. To learn more, visit

Friday, February 5, 2021

FAST PITCH with The Picture Book Mechanic




and Get Ready to Throw Your Best Pitches! 

WHAT:         On-the-spot Pitch Critiques 

WHEN:         February 10, 2021

TIME:           6:30 pm EST

COST:         $5.50 for RYS Members, $7.50 for Non-Members

WHERE:     The Picture Book Mechanic's Zoom Room


To sign up for this event:

Pay the Webinar Fee of $5.50 (RYS Members) or $7.50 (Non-Members) to E-mail your receipt and your Pitch for reading at the Webinar to me at: 

Enter the Zoom Room above between 6:15 an 6:30 PM EST. 

Listen and learn! 

Any questions, please e-mail: 

CRAFTY CORNER TIP from RYS Judge Katie Frawley

 Keep It Moving, People!

by Katie Frawley 

Last week a friend asked me what I like so much about writing picture books. I told him, “I think what keeps me coming back to picture books is how darn HARD it is to write them. I’ve always liked a challenge!” 

His reaction was typical of someone who doesn’t write picture books. “Is that right? They’re so short, you would think it would be EASY to write one!”

Well, it might be easy to write a bad picture book, but that’s not why we’re here, is it? I told my friend it is the job of the picture book writer to create a memorable character, give her a relatable problem, build tension, infuse emotional resonance, surprise and delight the reader with the ending, and don’t forget to tug on those heartstrings…IN ABOUT 500 WORDS!

Easy? I think not.

In order to accomplish this Herculean task, we must make sure that every sentence in our manuscript is doing one of two things:

1) Characterization (a.k.a. making clear the distinct personality of your character)

2) Advancing the plot (a.k.a. keeping the action moving forward toward the end)

Let’s take a look at a page from my book TABITHA AND FRITZ TRADE PLACES. 

My main characters, a cat named Tabitha and an elephant named Fritz, do a vacation home swap and exchange letters. Here is Fritz’s first letter to Tabitha after the swap begins.

Do these lines characterize Fritz? Yes! Fritz refers to Tabitha’s owner as “an adorable little human” and to the town swimming pool as “a watering hole.” This tells us that Fritz is coming to this new experience with a positive, open attitude. We also infer that Fritz will relate to this foreign environment in unexpected (and hilarious) ways.

How about the postscript? Does it advance the plot? Yes! By introducing Rocky, the African Rock Python, in this way, the reader gets a hint that a troublesome antagonist will be slithering his way into the story soon. This creates tension which will encourage your reader to keep turning those pages!

If your manuscript is running long or feeling sluggish, read through it and make sure each and every line either contributes to characterization or advances the plot. Bonus points for lines that do BOTH of these things simultaneously! If you identify lines that are doing neither of these things, sharpen your axe. It might be time to kill some darlings.

And when a friend tells you one day that writing picture books looks easy (and I’m telling you, it is GOING to happen), take it as a compliment. A well written story SHOULD feel effortless to the reader! You don’t want kids and parents plodding through your story, struggling to reach the end. It should be a breeze! A delight! A smooth and joyous ride! Only you and I will know how much blood, sweat, and tears went into honing that beautiful text. And we understand that the challenge is what makes the effort worthwhile!


--- Katie Frawley is a Rate Your Story Judge (, as well as the author of TABITHA AND FRITZ TRADE PLACES. You can learn more about her at:


This month, I'm pleased to Interview Helen H. Wu! Helen is also the Guest Guru for the Month of
February over at This means that she will be reviewing, rating and giving feedback on four (4) manuscripts from our Members Only!  

1. What do you LOVE about children’s books?

Children’s books have the potential to pass on the joy from generation to generation. Children’s books are one of the channels that children can learn about the world when they snuggle on the laps of parents and grandparents. It’s a magical format that I feel can perfectly encapsulate a feeling, a moment, a subject, a place and time. As an art lover, I also find it’s very entertaining and soothing to simply enjoy the artwork of children’s books. 


2. What brought you to children’s books? 

I’ve been passionate about writing and drawing since I was a kid; however, I never thought it would be a career option growing up in China. Back then, there were mostly black and white comic books. Picture books were introduced into China about 20 years ago. 

After I graduated from the University of Georgia with a master’s in Economics, I landed a job in the marketing field. To make attractive marketing materials, I learned how to use Photoshop. Then, I found tutorials on how to draw in Photoshop. I was amazed by what could be done in the program. I did some digital drawings and put up a portfolio online. To my surprise, someone asked me if I could illustrate their picture book. I rediscovered my passion for art and storytelling. Gradually, I illustrated more picture books for other authors, and I began considering writing my own story. With all the fear and lack of confidence, I still took the leap and wrote, illustrated and self-published my first picture book in 2014. Positive feedback from readers encouraged me to do more.

At the beginning of 2018, with more than 10 picture books that I wrote and illustrated under my belt, I realized it takes teamwork of professional editor, designer, art director, marketing specialist and printer to produce quality picture books. Traditional publishing was the route to take. I started taking classes, joining critique groups and attending conferences to hone my craft and connect with editors and fellow authors and illustrators.

In August 2019, I attended SCBWI conference in Los Angeles and met Mr. Zhang and two editors from Yeehoo Press. They were looking for someone to take charge of the US division of their publishing house. They wanted someone who had experience in children’s book publishing in both the US and China and had connections with authors. My background was a perfect fit for Yeehoo’s criterion, and I joined the team shortly after the conference. 

After working at Yeehoo Press for more than a year, now I have a deeper understanding of the business of children’s book publishing and I really appreciate being able to work with an awesome team of editors, designers, especially authors and illustrators. It takes a village to publish a children’s book, and every book is the fruit of faith, love, and teamwork.

3. What do you look for in a project to acquire for Yeehoo Press?

Yeehoo Press publishes 15–20 new titles a year in the US and China. Starting with the US and Chinese markets—two of the largest children's book markets—our goal is to find common ground between different countries and cultures and provide books with universal interest and appeal for readers worldwide. Basically, we are drawn to projects with kids relatable topics, universal messages, and multiple hooks.


4. What drew you to My Monsterpiece? 

When I first read MY MONSTERPIECE, I immediately fell in love with it. Amalia’s art style is very unique and the story has universal messages and multiple hooks. The adorable art with entirely engaging hand-drawn cutouts provides a 3D effect with interesting texture and details for little eyes to discover on every page; it’s a perfect mix of humor and critical thinking, with just as much heart as it has wit, this book will make kids laugh and think all at once; this book also provides teachers, educators, and librarians the opportunities to discuss stereotyping, bias, and point of view in the classroom; the monster theme with sounds like RAHHHH and GRRRR is perfect for storytime and Halloween theme tables; most importantly, the illustrations that Amalia created with basic materials that children use in making art encourage children to make their own monster creations. 


5. What is a common issue with the submissions you receive?

Some submissions didn’t follow the submissions guideline. We prefer query or cover letter pasted in the body of email with the manuscript sent as attachment. If it’s an art submission, we’d like to see a link to an online portfolio, instead of separate images as attachment. If the submission includes a dummy, a formatted PDF instead of an online gallery of separated images will be much easier for us to present to our team.

6. Please share a revision Tip for our Members. 

Write a one-line summary of your manuscript. This sentence can be a useful revision tool because it encapsulates the essence of the story. Look at the theme and the heart of the story, and think about if the setting and the characters are the best fit for such a theme. Think about if there is any way to add another layer to the story.

7. Please share a submission tip with our Members. 

Do your research. Before submitting a manuscript, please review our catalog and get a sense of what we publish. And we are unlikely to acquire new titles on already-covered topics.

Keep submitting. This is a very subjective industry and every editor has their own taste. Publishing is a long journey, as long as you keep writing and keep submitting, there is always hope and opportunity there. 


8. Name a subject you would like to see in your in-box. 

Character driven stories with humor, strong voices, fun, clever and unexpected twists at the end.

9. Name something to avoid sending to your in-box. 

In the US, as we’re a new imprint, we only publish picture books at this moment. In China, we’ll publish the simplified Chinese editions of board books, novelty books, picture books, middle grades, and graphic novels. 

We update our manuscript wish list every few months. As long as you think your manuscript is a good fit for our list, send them along!


10. Share a fun fact about YOU! 

The first picture book I ever wrote was a rhyming book, GOOD NIGHT, GOOD NIGHT. Back then I didn’t know anything about meters, beats or patterns. Part of me was embarrassed and part of me was pretty proud that I wrote a rhyming book even before I had the concept of these rules. Sometimes it just takes passion and courage to start a journey!

To learn more about Helen, visit: