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True Story Blog

True Story: Sakamoto’s Swim Club—How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory

My parents were born and raised in Oahu, Hawaii, so I am familiar with some of the Hawaiian legends—from the pranks of the tiny Menehunes to the wrath of the volcano goddess Pele. But I had never heard of the true story of Maui's Three-Year Swim Club from the 1940s until I read Sakamoto's Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory.


When children of plantation workers were being reprimanded for playing in the sugar field's irrigation ditches, a local science teacher stepped up. Soichi Sakamoto took responsibility for the kids every day after school and trained them in competitive swimming, using the ditch's natural current to improve their strength and speed. Coach Sakamoto also taught his team about commitment, hard work, and believing in themselves. By transforming the Maui ditch swimmers into international champions within three years, Sakamoto became a local hero and one of Hawaii's true legends.


Today author Julie Abery takes us into the writing process for her picture-book biography, Sakamoto's Swim Club, beautifully illustrated by Chris Sasaki


Was there one aspect of Soichi Sakamoto's life—a specific scene, quote, or image—that guided you throughout the writing process?

Yes!! As a teacher myself, I was deeply moved by Sakamoto's unfailing commitment to the children he coached, and his life-long passion to give them the opportunity to be the best they could be—many of his swimmers went on to be accepted by U.S. universities on sports scholarships. He shaped the lives of so many in such a positive way.


While researching this book, which fact surprised you the most?

Probably that Coach Sakamoto wasn't the best swimmer, but taught thousands of children to swim, and achieved so much throughout his coaching career!


Why do you think kids can relate to Sakamoto's Swim Club?

 I think most kids find a sport they are passionate about and can relate to the hard work and dedication of Sakamoto and his students, while at the same time being inspired by the success of the swimmers.


Which sources were invaluable to writing this biography?

I was lucky to find a wealth of newspaper clippings collected by the Hawaii Swim Club to mine for facts, with many articles written by Coach Sakamoto and his swimmers. I was also fortunate to connect with Coach Keith at the club, who worked alongside Coach Sakamoto.


You write in rhyming verse. Do you create a draft in prose and then convert it to rhyme or is the rhyme in the first draft?

This is a funny story! When I started drafting the story I intended to write it in prose, but before long, spare rhyming verse ideas began to emerge in my text. I shared this once before, but I think it is worth sharing again:



On Maui, also known as the Valley Isle, streams rush down lush mountain slopes. In the 1930s, water tumbled to the valley and flowed into irrigation ditches that nourished the island's sugar plantations. As the sugar cane industry on the islands had grown, so an influx of migrants had arrived. They toiled dawn to dusk, often leaving their children to fend for themselves.


Became this…

Valley Isle,

Lush terrain,

Migrant workers

cutting cane.


Dawn to dusk

they toil away,

Children left

alone to play.


Once I had these two verses, I continued in verse. I loved the rhythm. Reading it aloud I heard the strokes of a swimmer and the rhythm of cutting cane. It felt like a perfect way to tell the story and so, with my 'voice' set, I wrote the story.


How did you select the timeframe for your book? Was there a version that began with Soichi as a child or that character was always and adult in your book? 

In my mind I could visualise the story arc to be swimming in the ditches, becoming a coach, the formation of the Three-Year Swim Club and on to the 1948 Olympics in Wembley when Bill Smith won two gold medals. Even though Sakamoto is an adult MC I never envisioned a version where he was a child. For me, he was always the golden thread in this story for children about children.


How did you determine if elements should be included in the story or the backmatter?

As I mentioned, I was very clear what my story arc should be, but with such a pared-back text I felt the story needed a very detailed author's note, which acts as another chapter to the book. It fills in more story details, clarifies time passing, the meaning of the Three-Year Swim Club, Pearl Harbor, the war, and fighting for your country. Finally, the editor and I were thrilled to acquire a black and white photograph of the team courtesy of the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum to complete the book.


What's your number 1 tip for writing true stories?

The key to the writing process for me is being clear on the story I want to tell. I sometimes write a key phrase to keep me focused, this is what I wrote for Sakamoto's Swim Club: Science teacher turned swim coach, Sakamoto, takes a group of sugar-cane workers' kids from the irrigation ditches in Maui and trains them into Olympic swimming champions.


What other books would you recommend to readers who love Sakamoto's Swim Club?

I'd like to stay in Hawaii with Surfer of the Century (by Ellen Crowe, illustrated by Richard Waldrep) and Ohana Means Family (by Ilima Loomis and illustrated by Kennard Pak) and then head back to swimming with When You Can Swim by Jack Wong.




An inspiring read aloud with stunning illustrations, this book is on three shelves in my TrueStory Bookshop:

  • True Stories~Athletes
  • True Stories~Olympics
  • True Stories~Asian and AAPI Stories


To take a peek inside the book, checkout my BookTok.


Every day is a good day for a true story but here are some special tie-in dates for Sakamoto's Swim Club:

  • May 24: National Learn to Swim Day (date varies in May)
  • July 27-August 11, 2024: Summer Olympics
  • August 6: Soichi Sakamoto's birthday 
  • September: Hawaiian History Month


A former preschool teacher, Julie Abery is also the author of two other biographies, Yusra Swims, and The Old Man and the Penguin: A True Story of True Friendship, as well as the Little Animal Friends board book series and the Baby Dinosaurs board book series. To learn more about Julie and her work, visit her website.



A note from Karlin Gray:

Like the rest of the world, I was horrified to learn about the devastation and deaths caused by the fires on Maui this summer. How can we help? West Maui has opened back up to tourism--if you are able to travel to Hawaii, consider Voluntourism. To learn about other ways to help, visit Maui Strong.



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True Story: Niki Nakayama—A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites

When I was 10 years old, my dad's job moved us from California to Japan where we lived for four years, two in Okinawa and two in Yokosuka. Even though I was a picky eater at that time, I couldn't resist the delicious rice and noodle dishes prepared at the outdoor markets. Just thinking about them today still makes my mouth water. So reading Niki Nakayama: A Chef's Tale in 13 Bites is a special treat for me. This book tells the true story of a girl who loves to cook and travels from her Los Angeles home to her family's home in Japan. Throughout her journey, she learns the true meaning of kuyashii and the art of kaiseki—two key ingredients she pours into her Michelin star restaurant today! 


Beautifully illustrated by Yuko Jones, this picture-book biography proves how delicious determination can be. Today authors Debbi Michiko Florence and Jamie Michalak share their experiences creating Niki Nakayama.

You don't often see co-authors on picture books. How did that work—did you each write individual drafts and merge them into one manuscript? Or were you responsible for writing different sections of the biography?
DMF: Neither of us had co-authored a book before we decided to write NIKI NAKAYAMA together, so we pretty much made up the process as we went. I felt like we worked really well as a team. To be honest, while I do like researching, it's not the thing that brings me the most joy, so I really appreciated that Jamie did the bulk of the heavy-lifting there. She shared an early draft along with all the resource information and I got to do the thing I love most - revise! From there we went back and forth, revising and sharing, discussing and collaborating until we had a draft we were both proud of.

JM: I first saw Chef Niki's story back in 2015 on the Netflix Chef's Table series, and her story unfolded to me like a picture book. It was inspiring and moving. Plus, Chef Niki's food is visually stunning and her kaiseki dishes tell the story of the season. The combination of a strong woman, nearly impossible dreams, and storytelling food hooked me. I wrote to her asking if she might be willing to be interviewed for a book—and she said yes! After interviewing Chef Niki and dining at her restaurant, n/naka, I did a lot of research (and eating) and wrote the story. But I eventually realized that another framework would work better — the 13 Bites structure — and wrote a new draft. This was perfect timing for partnering with Debbi. She's equally passionate about Chef Niki's story and food, and she's a wonderful writer. She brought fresh eyes and new insights. One great aspect of writing with a partner is that you have a built-in editor for your work, and vice versa. So she'd revise and I'd make suggestions, and she did the same for me.


Was there one aspect of Niki Nakayama's life—a specific scene, quote, or image—that guided you throughout the writing process?
DMF: There's a line from the book that perfectly encapsulates the connection I felt to Niki Nakayama's life that I carried through in my heart and head as we wrote this book: "Outside of Niki's house was Los Angeles. Inside her house was Japan."

     I'm third generation Japanese American and I was born in California and raised in Los Angeles not far from where n/naka is. Growing up, I spoke a mix of Japanese and English with my parents and my grandmother who lived with us. Inside our house were a lot of decorations from Japan. Like Niki, I ate a mix of Japanese foods and American foods. In fact, it wasn't until middle school that I learned not everyone ate spaghetti and pasta with a side of rice. We had Japanese rice with almost every meal. But outside of the house, I felt as American as the next kid. It was this blending of cultures that I wanted to carry through in this book.

JM: The aspect of Niki's life that drew me to the story is her fighting spirit. In Chef's Table, she said, "In Japanese, there's this word called kuyashii, which is when somebody puts you down or says you can't do something and you have this burning desire to prove them wrong." Throughout the book, whenever anyone doubts her, she uses it as motivation. Since I'd never written a picture book biography before, I sometimes doubted myself during the research and writing process, and then Chef Niki's own words pushed me along: "No matter what happens, I can do this. At some point. you need to trust yourself." It's a great message for readers of any age.


While researching this book, which fact surprised you the most?
DMF: Because I first learned about Chef Niki and her amazing journey on the Netflix show Chef's Table, I can't say I was super surprised by anything I learned from researching. I was, however, continually impressed and amazed by Niki Nakayama's fortitude, perseverance, and determination to make her dreams come true.

JM: I was surprised to learn that she originally wanted to be a pop star! That didn't make it into the book, but I love the idea of her being a professional musician. The snacks she made as a kid were also fun to hear about. Her childhood recipe for wonton pizzas is in the book, and they're delicious.


Why do you think kids can relate to Niki Nakayama?
DMF: I think almost every child at some point feels discouraged. Even as an adult, I was (and still am) inspired by Niki's journey to success. Kuyashii! I'll show them is a soundtrack in my head, now. So I hope that kids can relate to Niki's journey and be encouraged to follow their dreams.

JM: Kids can relate to being discouraged and also doubted. It's difficult to know what to do with other people's doubt when you're a kid—or even as a grown-up. What I hope young readers take away from this story is that they don't have to let other people's opinions get them down. Instead they can take that doubt and use it as fuel. They can dream big and work hard to accomplish anything.


Which sources were invaluable to writing this biography?
DMF: Jamie! 😀

JM: Obviously the Chef's Table episode, which I watched many times. But the most important source was Chef Niki herself. She was gracious with her time, and I interviewed her over the phone, in person, and via email when Debbi and I had follow-up questions. Also, reading a ton of picture book biographies—too many good ones to name—helped when selecting the best moments to string into a story.


How did you select the timeframe for your book?

JM: It begins with Chef Niki as a child because kids are interested in reading about other kids their age. So we start when she's in about second grade and end with the moment after n/naka becomes a huge success. 


What's your #1 tip for writing true stories?
DMF: For me it's about passion. I need to feel passionate or at least some kind of connection to the subject/person in order to write about it/them.

JM: Find the heart of your story. It's probably what drew you to it in the first place. What's the emotional center that will resonate most with readers and make them think, "I've felt that way, too"? Keep your story tightly focused. Even a most interesting moment might not make the cut if it doesn't support the heart of your story. But that's what backmatter is for.


If you could pick the ideal place for a Niki Nakayama storywalk, where would it be?
DMF: The Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles CA.

JM: Ooo, that's a good one. Any elementary school would be great, too. 


What other books would you recommend to readers who love Niki Nakayama?
DMFMagic Ramen by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz; Soul Food Sunday by Winsome Bingham, illustrated by CG Esperanza; Ramen for Everyone by Pat Tanumihardja, illustrated by Shiho Pate, Sandor Katz and the Tiny Wild by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, illustrated by Julie Wilson

JM: Yes to all of those. Also, Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee, illustrated by Man One; Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence, and illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic; and A Girl Named Rosita: The Story of Rita Moreno by Anika Aldamuy Denise. 



  • This book is on three shelves in my TrueStory Bookshop:
  • Women's History
  • Foodies
  • Asian and AAPI Stories


To take a peek inside the book, checkout my BookTok.


Every day is a good day for a true story but here are some special tie-in dates for Niki Nakayama—A Chef's Tale in 13 Bites:

  • January 1: Japanese New Year
  • March: Women's History Month
  • March 8: International Women's Day
  • May: AANHPI Month
  • June: Pride Month 

 To learn more about their books, check out the websites for Debbi and Jamie.

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True Story: Hope for Ryan White

Before I read this book written by Dano Moreno and illustrated by Hannah Abbo, I associated the name Ryan White with tragedy. A teen who was diagnosed with AIDS after a blood transfusion, Ryan was told he had six months to live AND THEN he had to face discrimination from his community and the education system. But Dano's book reminded me that Ryan lived five years longer than expected and he chose to use that time to educate others about the disease because "the more people knew, the less they feared." Since reading this biography about the young activist, I now equate Ryan White's name with hope—hope that his legacy lives on, inspiring young people to fight fear with facts.


Today Dano Moreno discusses how he tackled a tough subject while honoring a young hero in Hope for Ryan White.

Ryan White's life was too short—passing away at 18 years old. How did you turn such a sad subject into an uplifting children's book? 

I kept young readers in mind as I wrote Hope for Ryan White, and I focused on Ryan's life—which was short, but heroic. Ryan knew that if he was kept out of school for having AIDS, others would be too. This motivated him to become an advocate and a public figure, educating and inspiring people all over the world. My goal was to amplify Ryan's voice and remind young people that we all have the ability to create a more inclusive world.


While researching this book, which fact surprised you the most? 

I enjoyed learning about the White family's friendship with Sir Elton John. I also loved learning about Jill Stewart, the student body president at Ryan's high school. She played a pivotal role in ensuring Ryan would be welcome at his new school and in the broader community.


Was there one aspect of Ryan life—a specific scene, quote, or image—that guided you as you wrote this biography? 

Yes! There's a photo of Ryan that came to mind many times while I wrote. It shows Ryan speaking with the media. He's happy, confident, and surrounded by adults with microphones who are eager to hear what he has to say. I love this image because the traditional power dynamic between children and adults is flipped. This photo also inspired the cover of Hope for Ryan White, illustrated by Hannah Abbo.


Why do you think kids can relate to Hope for Ryan White? 

Ryan's story is about the need to be accepted, heard, and treated fairly. It's about challenging misinformation and discrimination. These are relevant themes for kids today. 


Which sources were invaluable to writing this biography? 

My primary source was Ryan White's autobiography, Ryan White: My Own Story, coauthored by Ryan White and Ann Marie Cunningham. I read old news articles and watched interviews with Ryan and his mother too.


How did you choose the title for this book—was it your working title or did it change over time? 

I landed on Hope for Ryan White as the title early on. Though I revised the story countless times, I knew I wanted to convey a sense of hope in both the title and the story. Hope is a common and important element in children's books. They're wonderful tools for opening up conversations about difficult but important topics.


What's your #1 tip for writing true stories? 

The main character's emotional journey is just as important as the events that occurred. We're better able to learn from our history and our heroes when we connect with their humanity.


If you could pick the ideal place for a Hope for Ryan White storywalk, where would it be? 

I'd love to see a Hope for Ryan White storywalk anywhere! If I had to suggest one place, I'd choose a park in Cicero, Indiana—the town where Ryan found acceptance.


What other books would you recommend to readers who love Hope for Ryan White? 

Two of my favorite picture books that address challenging topics with hope and sensitivity are That Flag by Tameka Fryer Brown and Nikkolas Smith and Nina: A Story of Nina Simone by Traci N. Todd and Christian Robinson.


True Story Tidbits

Inspiring and educational, this book is on two shelves in my TrueStory Bookshop:

  • Activists
  • Science

To take a peek inside the book, checkout my BookTok.


Every day is a good day for a true story but here are some special tie-in dates for Hope for Ryan White:

  • August 18 (1990): Congress passed the Ryan White CARE Act, creating programs that provide health care for people living with HIV. 
  • December 1: World AIDS Day—unite in the fight against HIV, show support for people living with HIV, and commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness.
  • December 6 (1971): Ryan White's birthday


Dano Moreno is also the author of Our Wish For You: A Story About Open Adoption, illustrated by Ryan O'Rourke.


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True Story: Door By Door—How Sarah McBride Became America’s First Openly Transgender Senator

When I'm writing a biography, I always search for the thread that starts from a childhood moment, weaves its way through challenges, and ties into an accomplishment later in that person's life. So I was delighted to spot that thread early on in Door by Door: How Sarah McBride Became America's First Openly Transgender Senator by Meeg Pincus and illustrated by Meridth McKean Gimbel.


At a young age, Americans learn about the country's presidents. But do most American toddlers use their building blocks to create a model of the White House? Do most American kids request a podium for a holiday gift? Do most American teenagers work on a gubernatorial campaign? No, but Sarah McBride did. She knew politics was her destiny. But what she didn't know was "why her body didn't match her brain and heart." Born with a boy's body, Sarah longed to be seen as a girl. Heartfelt and engaging, this is the true story of Sarah's McBride's quest to become her authentic self—an American leader working to improve the lives of others.


Today author Meeg Pincus discusses creating Door by Door—How Sarah McBride Became America's First Openly Transgender Senator:


In the back matter, there is a wonderful note from Sarah McBride. How involved was she in the process of making this book?  

Sarah has graciously been involved from the very beginning of this book, before it was a book and before she was a senator, in fact! I approached her about writing her story for kids when she was still at the Human Rights Campaign and had been the first openly transgender person to work at The White House and to give a national political convention speech. I wouldn't have written it without her, and we are grateful that she has worked with us throughout the process – commenting on drafts and illustrations, contributing her beautiful note, and launching the book with us.


Was there one aspect of Sarah McBride's life—a specific scene, quote, or image—that guided you as you wrote this biography? 

I actually think it was the image of her asking for a podium for Christmas as kid! That quirky fact of her life just illustrates so powerfully how strong the dream was for her to speak up for others, to make a life in government and politics. She knew from such an early age how she wanted to help the world, just as she knew her gender (which was different from what she was assigned at birth) but she felt she could not achieve her dream and also live as her true self. To me, this is the heart of Sarah's story, especially for kids, as it was a struggle she had since childhood.


While researching this book, which fact surprised you the most? 

Learning about how active and impactful she was in politics as a youth was surprising – you don't hear of many kids devoting themselves so fully to local political campaigns, but Sarah did. She gave a televised public speech introducing Delaware's governor-elect when she was just a teenager.


Why do you think kids can relate to Door by Door?
I think kids may relate to several parts of Sarah's story. For some, it will be her feeling different and her worries about not being accepted as her true self by her loved ones and others in her life. For some, it will be her passion for a dream she's not sure she will ever get to accomplish. For some, it will be her desire for a more inclusive culture, where everyone is embraced for who they are. At its core, I think kids will relate to Sarah's emotional journey – her fears, her dreams, her sadness and relief – as all humans have these emotions.


Which sources were invaluable to writing this biography?
Sarah herself was the most invaluable source, both in real time and in all the writing she has done and interviews and speeches she has given. I read the articles she wrote when she came out as trans in college and later as a young adult. I watched her political speeches and the interviews she gave at bookstores and on talk shows after the release of her memoir. I read her memoir at least three times all the way through. Sarah is one of the most eloquent people I've ever encountered, and her own words were the key sources for this biography.


How did you select the timeframe for your book? 
I knew the book had to begin in her childhood, as the story is so much about what she knew from when she was a child. In my original version, I had started the story with her asking for a podium for Christmas and then ended it with her at the podium at the Democratic National Convention. But it took a while to sell the manuscript, so by the time it sold to Penguin Random House, I needed to end with her becoming a state senator, and my editor wanted even more focus on her childhood, so I went earlier than the podium to her building The White House out of blocks as a very young child!


What's your #1 tip for writing true stories?
Beyond the typical (and important!) advice to research deeply and thoroughly, use primary sources, etc., for me the #1 tip is to tap into the underlying emotion of a true story and find a way to connect readers to that heart. Whether it's a biography or a STEM story, there needs to be something emotionally compelling to draw in a reader, from compassion to curiosity.


If you could pick the ideal place for a Door by Door storywalk, where would it be?
Definitely Delaware! Probably around the state house, where Sarah serves as the nation's first openly transgender state senator, and the area where she grew up.


What other books would you recommend to readers who love Door by Door?
I recommend several nonfiction picture books about LGBTQ+ role models and history in my "Solutionary Stories" Bookshop list. Gayle E. Pitman and Rob Sanders have been groundbreaking authors in this niche, and luckily we are adding more books (by them and other creators) to this list each year.



Both uplifting and informative, this book is on two shelves in my True Story Bookshop:

  • Activists
  • LGBTQ+ Trailblazers 


To take a peek inside the book, checkout my BookTok.


Every day is a good day for a true story! But here are some special tie-in dates for Door by Door—How Sarah McBride Became America's First Openly Transgender Senator:

  • Election Days – both federal and local election days – are a huge and important tie-in to this book, especially in these times when politicians have been attacking the rights and freedoms of transgender and other LGBTQ+ Americans through discriminatory laws, banning books, and the like.
  • June: Pride Month
  • March 31: International Transgender Day of Visibility 
  • Oct. 11: National Coming Out Day 
  • Nov. 20: Transgender Day of Remembrance 


Meeg Pincus is the author of several "Solutionary Stories"—nonfiction & informational books that inspire kids to make a difference—such as Miep and the Most Famous Diary and So Much More to Helen! To learn more about her work, visit her website.

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True Story: Rena Glickman, Queen of Judo

It's been almost three years since my last blog post so I'm excited to kick off my True Story series with Rena Glickman, Queen of Judo by Eve Nadel Catarevas and illustrated by Martina Peluso (Kar-Ben Publishing, 2022). 


Rena Glickman, known professionally as Rusty Kanokogi, was a Jewish girl from Coney Island who grew up to become a judo master at a time when the sport was strictly for males. Disguised as a man, she entered and won the 1959 YMCA Judo Championship but was forced to give back her medal when it was discovered that she was a woman. Never wanting that to happen to another female, she set out to make women's judo a popular sport around the world. Her fight for equality resulted in the first Women's Judo World Championship and turning women's judo into an Olympic sport.


Since Eve is one of my critique partners, I was lucky enough to be an early reader of this project and so thrilled to see her hard work pay off with her debut book. One fearless, determined woman writing about another fearless, determined woman! Today Eve answers my questions about Rena Glickman, Queen of Judo: 


Was there one thing—a specific scene, quote, or image from Rena's Glickman's life—that guided you throughout the writing process?  

It was a quote. Rusty (I've always used Rena's nickname) always said, "In life you're either the hammer or the nail. Be the hammer." It doesn't get more straightforward than that!


While researching this book, which fact surprised you? 

Rusty was so committed to holding the first Women's Judo World Championships (at Madison Square Garden) that she mortgaged her own home.


Why do you think kids can relate to Rusty? 

Girls today are taught to go after what they want. That wasn't a general precept in the 1950s, but that's exactly what Rusty did. Obstacles didn't deter her. Rusty forged ahead.


Which sources were important in creating this biography? 

There were no books on Rusty. I used every magazine, newspaper and online article I could find. Thankfully, I found Rusty's daughter. She was invaluable.


How did you select the timeframe for your book? 

Rusty's childhood was so rife with drama (a lot of it didn't make it into the book – too dark), I knew I had to start there. The culmination of the story was women's judo becoming, at long last, an Olympic sport.


How did you determine if information should be included in the story or the back matter? 

Ooh, that's a good question, Karlin. I can't tell you how often I put in and take out information during the writing process. In one draft it's part of back matter, next draft it's part of the text, and finally it's out altogether. But not really because I'll have a change of heart and back it goes, just written differently. Back matter is where I put elements that are relevant to the subject's life story, but don't serve the story. It's where I house statistics or inroads made beyond my subject's lifetime.


If you could pick the ideal place for a storywalk for this book, where would it be? 

The streets of Coney Island where Rusty grew up, the place that helped her become an independent, strong-willed woman who would stop at nothing to achieve her dream – and to encourage others to do the same.


What's your #1 tip for writing true stories? 

Ferret out as much source material as you can. Dig, dig, then dig some more. You never know when you're going to come across that stop-you-in-your-tracks quote or anecdote—the one that pulls the whole story together.


What other books would you recommend to readers who love Rena Glickman, Queen of Judo? 

Her Fearless Run: Kathrine Switzer's Historic Run by Kim Chaffee & Ellen Rooney and Billie Jean!: How Tennis Star Billie Jean King Changed Women's Sports by Mara Rockliff & Elizabeth Baddeley.


Thank you, Eve, for being the hammer (wink!) and for taking the time to chat about this kick-butt biography!



Spirited and empowering, this book (with its "Kapow!" cover) is on four shelves in my TrueStory Bookshop:

  • Women's History
  • Athletes
  • Activists
  • Jewish Heritage Stories 


To take a peek inside the book, checkout my BookTok


Every day is a good day for a true story! But here are some special tie-in dates for Rena Glickman, Queen of Judo.

  • February (first Wednesday in February): National Girls and Women in Sports Day raises awareness about the positive aspects of sports and the continued need to promote gender equality in every way.
  • June 23 (1972): The day Title IX was signed into law. Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or any other education program that receives funding from the federal government.
  • July 30 (1935): Rena Glickman's birthday.
  • August 21 (2009): YMCA gives Rusty back the medal she was stripped of 50 years earlier.
  • September 25 (1988): First Olympic Women's Judo competition (This was a demonstration tournament with no medals. After that, Women's Judo became a full medal Olympic sport.) 
  • October 28: World Judo Day celebrates the martial art and the birthday of its founder, Kanō Jigorō. 


Eve Nadel Catarevas is also the author of Wonderful Hair: The Beauty of Annie Malone, illustrated by Felicia Marshall and published by Creston Books. To learn more about Eve and her work, visit her website.
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Illustrator, web designer, and rabbit lover, Abi Cushman writes about sassy animals on her two websites: My House Rabbit (yes, rabbits are verrry sassy) and Animal Fact Guide, which was named a "Great Website for Kids" by the American Library Association. This month she celebrates her author/illustrator debut with #firstpicturebook Soaked!—"a great story about finding joy in the moment, whatever it might be, and learning to let go of your expectations.... A sure hit for any kind of weather, and every kind of story hour." (School Library Journal)


Q. Was SOAKED! the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?
A. No, the first picture book manuscript I ever wrote was a meta alphabet book in 2015, which landed me an agent. We went on sub with it to a handful of editors, but unfortunately, the market was completely saturated with meta alphabet books (and probably still is). So that one got shelved. SOAKED! was the fourth story I wrote, and the third one that went on submission.


Q. What inspired SOAKED!?
A. In August of 2017, I was on a walk with my family about a mile from home when a torrential rainstorm struck. Normally, we would have started running. But unfortunately, I was 8 months pregnant at the time and I was down to one option: waddling. I told my husband to go ahead and run home with our daughter without me. What I realized on my slow, soggy walk home was that once I was completely soaked, the rain was actually kind of nice. I thought it would be fun to show a character having that same realization in a picture book.


Q. How did you pick the title of your book?
A. "Soaked" was a word that was pretty prominent throughout the story. It seemed simple and to the point, so it stuck. I realized later that my book shares its title with some other books on Amazon that are slightly more... salacious.

Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?
A. I mostly write by hand. I start with sketches and snippets of text in my sketchbook. Then I move to thumbnails, and then to a rough mini-dummy. After revising it with my critique group and agent, I will create a more polished dummy using Adobe Indesign. I type in the text then and also scan in tighter drawings.


Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft?
A. My favorite part of the book is the spread where Bear's looking for his blue bumblebee umbrella and Badger says she could only find her blue bumblebee umbrella. It was a part I added in during my revision process. And I liked it because it helps develop Badger's storyline and character. Plus, it gives the reader something to consider- did Badger steal Bear's umbrella or does Badger happen to have the exact same taste in umbrellas as Bear?

Q. How did you select the names for your characters?
A. Bear, Badger, Bunny, and Moose don't exactly have the most unique names. :) But I did choose a badger and a bunny as characters because I liked the alliteration of B sounds in my opening scene, which is then interrupted by the appearance of a Hula-Hooping moose.


Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first person?
A. Writing the story in first person meant I could reveal who the narrator was in a page turn. When I was first brainstorming the story, I thought about revealing the narrator at the end, similar to THE BEAR ATE YOUR SANDWICH or SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR, but I abandoned that idea and revealed the narrator (Bear) in the second spread. I also really liked the idea of an unreliable narrator where you could see in the pictures that Bear's recounting of events did not always match reality. It allowed for a lot of humorous moments.


Q. Did you write the story first, then illustrate it? Or did the images appear before the words?
A. The images came first. I played around a lot with the image of a drenched, miserable bear who then finds joy in splashing around in puddles in my sketchbook.


Q. Did SOAKED! receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?
A. My agent submitted it to two publishers, and it received one rejection and one revise-and-resubmit. After submitting the revision, we got an offer from Viking!


Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on SOAKED!.
A. I was about to head into a meeting with a library director about their website (I've been a web designer/developer for 15 years), when I got an email from my agent. She said that the editor and art director at Viking loved my revision and more details would be forthcoming in a couple weeks! I was so excited that I told everyone at the meeting that I got a book deal. I called my husband and my mom from the car after the meeting and emailed my siblings when I got home that it was finally happening! Everyone was ecstatic. The next day, it occurred to me that I didn't actually see the word "offer" anywhere in the email.
So for the next two weeks when people congratulated me after hearing the news from my family, I'd say, "YEAH!! I GOT A BOOK DEAL! I mean, PROBABLY I THINK... IT LOOKS LIKE I COULD... MAYBE!!!"


Q. How long was the publication process for SOAKED!—from the time you received an offer until it was printed?
A. I got a verbal offer mid-May 2018 and signed the contract that August. I started edits and final art in December and finished everything up in September 2019. It pubs on July 14, 2020. So a little over two years from offer to print.


Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?
A. No, Tracy and Jim, my editor and art director, really got what I was trying to do with the story. So their input only made it better. When I first got their edit notes, Jim had told me, "Don't worry, it's not that bad." and I opened the document and their comments said, "Combine these spreads so you have room for a new ending. We don't know what it is, but we're sure you'll think of something good." And I thought, "Yes. Sure. Just need a completely different ending. Great. Great." But it turned out to be fine, and I actually appreciated their trust in me, and the fact that I was both the author and illustrator of the book because I needed to add words to make it work.


Q. Is there an author secret in the book?
A. I don't think there's necessarily a secret in the book, but I really enjoyed giving Bunny and Badger their own little side stories in the pictures, with Bunny putting on Bear's shrunken sweater and Badger appearing with a suspiciously-similar umbrella to Bear's. I hope readers will have fun picking up on details like these in the illustrations.

Q. Did you create any book swag for SOAKED!? If so, what kind?
A. I made some stickers to include with signed books for a preorder campaign with my local indie, Bank Square Books, and I also created an activity guide and craft which you can find at my website.


Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?
A. Make a dummy. Even if you're not an illustrator and just use stick figures or art notes on each spread, it will help you with the pacing, the word count, and page turns.


Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?
A. I never start writing by typing up a manuscript on the computer. Instead, I keep what I call an Ugly Sketchbook. It's where I put all my ideas down, either written or doodled. I don't worry if it's a good or bad idea or if the drawing looks nice or not. I just allow myself to record all my story ideas in the sketchbook and capture them in the quickest way possible, in words or doodled facial expressions or roughly-drawn scenes. In doing so, I'm able to think visually and in a non-linear way. Later, I can go back through my sketchbook and put the pieces of the puzzle together to create a story.


Q. What are you working on now?
A. I am working on the final art for my second book with Viking, ANIMALS GO VROOM! It challenges readers to guess what goes roar, hiss, and honk and has little peekaboo windows. I'm excited to share it with everyone in the summer of 2021!

Q. Is there a public launch for the book (reading/party at bookstore, library, etc.)?
A. I was planning on having a big launch party at my town's community center. But unfortunately, plans for that have been put on hold due to the pandemic. But I hope everyone will help me celebrate virtually by following along on the Soaked! Blog Tour!




Q. Where can people find you on social media?

My newsletter: http://eepurl.com/dCUjeH (For totally top secret sneak peeks, wombats, and giveaways)
My website: abicushman.com [https://abicushman.com/]
Twitter: @AbiCushman [http://twitter.com/AbiCushman]
Instagram: @Abi.Cushman [https://www.instagram.com/abi.cushman/]



Congrats Abi on your author/illustrator debut! If you have read SOAKED!, please consider writing your review on Goodreads.

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5 Favorites from . . . Hayley Barrett!

Author Hayley Barrett

Hayley Barrett is the author of Babymoon (Candlewick) and What Miss Mitchell Saw (Simon &Schuster/Beach Lane Books). Two more books, Girl Versus Squirrel (Margaret Ferguson Books/Holiday House, Aug. '20), and The Tiny Baker (Barefoot Books, Sept. '20), are on the way soon. 

Hayley lives outside of Boston with her husband John. Their two terrific kids have flown the coop.


So what are Hayley's 5 Favorites?:


My favorite place to write:

I love to write while standing at my kitchen island. 


My favorite mentor text:

I don't use mentor texts often, but I'm a dedicated re-reader of books I love. I recommend returning to childhood favorites. Read them again and ask yourself a few questions. Why did you like this book when you were a child? Do you still see now what you saw in it then? What do you admire about it?


My favorite writing tip:

Don't throw a good idea or turn of phrase away. If it won't work in the project at hand, tuck it someplace safe for future reference. It may belong in a different book. 

My favorite marketing tip:

It's important to network outside the children's literature community and share our books with those who might find them particularly appealing. Have you written a tennis book? Find the tennis people!


My favorite book event of the year:

Attending local book launches for my friends and colleagues is always a blast. 


To learn more about Hayley and her work, visit her website.

As always, if you have read the author's work, please take a minute to review them using the above links.

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PBbio Picks for Kids Who Love Tennis, Bunnies, and Television.

Giving children biographies to match their interests 

This year I'm highlighting 2020 picture-book biographies that are inspiring, informative, and match a child's specific interest. Do you know kids who love tennis, bunnies, or television? Then these new releases are the perfect #pbbiopicks for them:


For kids who play tennis

Althea Gibson: The Story of Tennis' Fleet-of-Foot Girl

Megan Reid and Laura Freeman

She couldn't just sit around. Althea was off to travel the world! 

Forehands in France, ground strokes in Germany, backhands in Burma, serving in Sweden!

In the 1940s, Althea Gibson was known as the quickest, tallest, and most fearless athlete on Harlem's Play Streets—an area closed to traffic for kids to play outside during the summer.  One fall, after the streets were reopened to traffic, Althea discovered a rare tennis club allowing African Americans to join. Working in exchange for lessons, Althea started her journey to making history. She travelled the world as a competitive tennis player but Althea had her heart set on Wimbledon. Kids will love seeing how Althea's big personality, confidence, and athletic skills served her well whether she was ruling the Play Streets of Harlem or battling racial discrimination. And kids who play tennis will give an extra cheer when Althea aces the "biggest and best tournament of them all."


For kids who love bunnies

Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit

Linda Elovitz Marshall and Ilaria Urbinati

On the third floor of a London Town house, a young girl sketched pictures of her pet rabbit,

Benjamin Bouncer.

Certainly this biography on author/illustrator Beatrix Potter would be a gorgeous gift for the young artists in your life. But also, if you know kids who are crazy for all things bunnies, see if they can resist this story about the creator of Peter Rabbit. With bunnies on almost every spread, this book shows young readers how Beatrix's childhood pet bounced his way into her art, stories, and children's hearts. The Tale of Peter Rabbit made Beatrix so successful (at a time when women weren't supposed to have careers!) that she was able to purchase four farms and 4,000 acres of countryside, saving it from developers, caring for its people and animals, and preserving it for future generations. Now that's some serious bunny power!


For kids who love TV

Fred's Big Feelings: The Life and Legacy of Mister Rogers

Laura Renauld & Brigette Barrager

To Fred, television had potential.... 

What if a TV show could leave someone feeling welcomed? Loved? 



As a child of the '70s, I spent a good chunk of time in front of a TV that only had a few channels. Thankfully Mr. Rogers was on one of them.  Calm yet playful, Fred Rogers welcomed children into a safe world where they could learn about all their feelings. Today there are countless shows and networks for children. But do your kids know how one of the most popular and longest-running children's television show started? The candy-colored illustrations will pop them into the story of how Mr. Roger's Neighborhood was created—from its inspiration to behind the scenes to legendary scenes (Koko the Gorilla!)—and how Mr. Rogers saved the show from being cancelled. So the next time your child asks for more screen time, snuggle up and read about Fred Rogers and the TV show that made millions of children feel special.


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PBbio Picks for Singers, Gardeners, and Curious Kids

Give children biographies to match their interests 

This year my blog will focus on matching picture-book biographies to children's specific interests. Each month, I will highlight a few inspiring and informative biographies that connect readers with a beloved activity—one that they share with the main character. Do you know kids who are passionate about singing, gardening, or asking questions? Then these January releases are the perfect #pbbiopicks for them:


For Kids Who Are Singers

A Voice Named Aretha

Katheryn Russell-Brown and Laura Freeman

"Aretha's voice had magic tucked inside. And that magic could work a spell."

If you know a girl or boy—especially a shy one—who loves to sing, this biography of the Queen of Soul is for them. Illustrated in gorgeous royal purples, reds, and golds, the book shows young readers how Aretha Franklin evolved from being a shy girl afraid to step on stage into a superstar who used her powerful voice to advocate for civil rights as well as entertain the world (including President Obama!) Bonus: if kids read the backmatter, they'll be delighted to know that the illustrator hid images of crowns throughout the book.


For Kids Who Are Gardeners

The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver

Gene Barretta and Frank Morrison

 "George decided to create his own classroom in the woods

and studied the subject he loved most—nature."

Born into slavery, George Washington Carver grew up to be a celebrated botanist, scientist and inventor. But did you know that, as a child, he had a secret garden? It was there that he taught himself about plants, especially flowers. Soon he became known as the "Plant Doctor" in his community, taking his neighbors' sick plants and healing them in his garden. The book covers the many challenges and successes of Carver's life but comes full circle with a celebration of his greatest childhood love—caring for his secret garden. If you have young gardeners in your home, let them dig in to this beautiful book.


For Kids Who Are Curious

Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You.

Sonia Sotomayor and Rafael Lopez 

 "Instead of fearing our differences or ignoring them,

we can shed light on them and explore them together."

It would be easy to say that this book is a lovely gift for kids with special needs. Beginning with little Sonia Sotomayor's story of how she manages her diabetes, the book then weaves through the experiences of other kids who each describe the challenges—and powers—that come with living with asthma, blindness, deafness, dyslexia, autism, speech impediments, Tourette's syndrome, ADHD, food allergies, Down syndrome, and using a wheelchair. But really, this book is for every kid who meets someone who seems "different" and wants to know more. And because children are curious by nature, that makes this book a must-have for every kid.



What are your favorite PBbios for singers, gardeners, and curious kids?


As always, if you have read any of these books, please take a minute to review them using the links above. 


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Dorothia Rohner combined her love of science and art and earned a degree in Biological and Pre-Medical Illustration from Iowa State University. After working in scientific illustration, animation, and graphic design, she illustrated two children's books, Numbers in a Row, An Iowa Number Book, (Sleeping Bear Press) and Effie's Image (Prairieland Press). But next month marks her author debut with her #firstpicturebook I AM GOOSE!—"[A] honking good tale"—Kirkus Reviews.


Q. Was I AM GOOSE the first picture book manuscript you ever wrote? If not, what was the first picture book you wrote and what happened to it?

A. Hi Karlin, First of all, thank you for inviting me to talk about my upcoming book! I Am Goose!. (Feb, 18, 2020, Clarion Books—HMH Kids, Illustrated by Vanya Nastanlieva) To answer your question, no, this was not the first book, or second or third. I have a drawer full of dummy books. Some will stay in that drawer forever and some are under revision. The first dummy book I ever made was called "Monsters for Ari". It will stay in the drawer.


Q. What inspired I AM GOOSE?

A. I volunteer at Head Start here in my town. My official job is to play and talk with the
children. Whenever we head out to the playground, they almost always ask, "Do you want to play Duck, Duck, Goose?" The story idea came from watching, playing and interacting with the kids. They are hilarious and the animals in the book are based on the different children's personalities. 


Q. How did you pick the title of your book?

A. The title had many iterations— Cluck, Cluck Goose, Never Play Duck, Duck Goose with the Moon. I love to draw the moon, but I had to change this because it just didn't work. Because Goose is so self involved, I Am Goose! fit the best. My editor didn't change it, so the title stuck. 


Q. Do you write by hand or on the computer?

A. I start with notes in my idea book. I started doing this when I participated in Picture Book Idea Month, now called Storystorm. I have pages of various ideas and sketches. When I decide which one I want to work on, I develop the sketches and start writing notes. When the story begins to take on clearer focus, I translate all my scribbles onto the computer and begin to revise.The last step is making the dummy book. 


Q. What is your favorite part of the book? And was that part in the first draft? 

A. The squirrels commenting on the game, as if Duck, Duck Goose was a spectator sport, cracks me up. At one point I took the squirrels out because it was slowing down the pacing. But in the end I put them back in by shortening their comments. I also like Rabbit. She tries so hard to be nice but slowly looses her cool because Goose won't follow the rules. And of course, the ending, where Goose learns what goes around, comes around.


Q. What made you decide to tell the story in first, second, or third person?  

A. This whole book is told with dialogue. It seemed the most immediate way to present the characters and the situation. 


Q. How much of the story did you know when you began writing I AM GOOSE? 

A. When I started, I only knew that I wanted to have a Goose playing Duck, Duck, Goose and cause a ruckus. Initially the rabbit was a boy with overalls and an accent.  With each revising, the animal personalities emerged. It went through many iterations before the final manuscript was submitted. 


Q. Did I AM GOOSE  receive any rejection letters? If so, how many (ballpark)?

A. My agent at the time, Laura Biagi, sent the manuscript out to about ten or twelve publishers. We got a few rejections before we got two offers. 


Q. Describe your reaction when you received an offer on I AM GOOSE .

A. I was super excited, but when the offers came in, they both wanted to choose a different illustrator. That was a little hard, because I had spent quite a bit of time coming up with illustrations for the manuscript.  But in the end, I was really happy to have my first manuscript accepted. I wrote a post about my experience here at the kidlitartistsblog: http://kidlitartists.blogspot.com/2018/04/im-illustrator-but.html.


Q. What kind of input did you have in choosing an illustrator for the book? 

A. They chose a few illustrators, and I was able to chime in on my preferences. 


Q. What jumped out at you when you saw the first sketches and jacket cover?

A. I never saw any sketches during the process. The first time I saw the book was when the uncorrected proof was sent to me. It was wonderful seeing it in my hands. The illustrations worked perfectly for the age group. 


Q. How long did I AM GOOSE  take to be published—from the time you received an offer until it was printed? 

A. I Am Goose! was acquired in 2016. It will be released on Feb. 18, 2020—4 YEARS! 


Q. Was there a part that you really loved but had to edit out? Or did you think of something later that you wanted to add?

A. It was a little tricky having so many animals and the squirrels talking. As I mentioned earler, I took the squirrels out to make sure the story wasn't being slowed down. But it wasn't as funny,  so I added them back in. 


Q. When you read I AM GOOSE to kids, which part of the book gets the best reaction?

A. They giggle when Goose has a tantrum and tries to convince everyone that he should be 'it". They liked the ending too. 


Q. Did you create any book swag for I AM GOOSE? If so, what kind?

A. I've ordered bookmarks and will be giving away t-shirts as door prizes for my first book signing at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines. I have a few paper coasters that I've been leaving with bookstores, libraries and teachers.

Q. What is your #1 tip for picture-book writers?

A. Write and illustrate what makes you happy. Stay connected with other picture book makers online or in person. Keep learning and honing your craft. Join SCBWI. Be patient.

Q. Do you have a favorite writing exercise or marketing tip that you can share?

A. One thing I do when I'm pacing out a picture book is to use index cards for a quick dummy book. It helps to have the words written on the card to flip through to see the page turns. We illustrators do this, but I think it is also really beneficial for writers. 

Q. What are you working on now?

A. I have two manuscripts that are out on submission. I'm finishing up another dummy book and it is almost ready to send to my agent. I've been working on a new technique for this next story that I'm really excited about. 

Q. Is there a public launch for the book?

A. My first event will be at Beaverdale Books, Des Moines, Iowa, on Feb 18th, 6:30 PM.

I'm planning on contacting book stores in the Midwest, Boulder, Colorado and Austin, Texas where I have friends and family. I'm researching some book festivals too. All of the event details will be posted at my website: www.dorothiarohner.com


Q. Where can people find you? (Website, Twitter, Instagram, etc.)


Website: www.dorothiarohner.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dorothiar

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dorothiar/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dorothiarohner.illustration

Book trailer: https://www.dorothiarohner.com/i-am-goose


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