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Peggy Reiff Miller and The Seagoing Cowboy



It’s always very special to be able to share good news and a new book by a writing friend, but especially so when it’s such a great picture book. I learned about the Heifer project and the seagoing cowboys from Peggy Reiff Miller when we met through our critique group for children’s writers in Northwest Indiana. Since that time, through her research and interviews with former seagoing cowboys, she has become an expert on their history. Peggy has had several magazine articles published about the subject, as well as a DVD documentary, A Tribute to the Seagoing Cowboys. Her first picture book The Seagoing Cowboy, was released earlier this spring. Peggy has also had children’s stories published in Highlights for Children and in My Friend and Lighthouse. Please welcome, Peggy, as she tells us a little bit about her book and her passion for writing it.

What was the inspiration for your book? Why did you feel a need to write it?

My grandfather was a seagoing cowboy to Poland in 1946, but I never heard him talk about his experience. When I got interested in writing, I thought the topic would be great for a YA novel. I had an envelope of photos from Grandpa’s trip that my father had given me, and I knew some men who had been seagoing cowboys, so in 2002, I started interviewing them. I realized this was a lost, but important, history that needed to be told; and I’ve been telling it for all ages in as many ways as possible ever since.

What kind of research did you do before writing your book?

I started with the interviews of men who had made the livestock trips to Europe after World War II. One cowboy led to another, and another, and I’ve interviewed nearly 200 of them and have been in contact with about that many more. For my novel (still unpublished), I did a lot of reading about the organizations involved in the livestock shipping, the ships, World War II on the home front, Poland’s history, etc. I read books written and watched movies made during that time period. I collected copies of diaries and photos of the seagoing cowboys and studied those. I made trips to several archives to find the historical materials behind the story. So I was able to draw on all of this research for the picture book, which is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the larger story but, at the same time, is a composite summary that captures the seagoing cowboy experience.

What kind of marketing did you do—was it easy to find an editor who wanted to publish this book?

I’ll answer the second part of the question first. I had seven rejections before Brethren Press bought the manuscript. The story is a piece of Brethren history, so they were the natural fit for the book. The kind of marketing I did pre-publication is the reason Brethren Press was willing to take on this project. I had been researching, writing magazine articles, and speaking about this history for ten years before I received my book contract. In addition, I had produced a DVD photo-story documentary from the photos cowboys had shared with me, which I had successfully marketed; and I had created a seagoing cowboys website. With this platform, Brethren Press knew I would be actively involved in marketing the book. Had I not had any of that past involvement, I seriously doubt they would have taken the chance on it, as they are a small press and picture books are quite expensive to produce.

What were the challenges in bringing your book to life?

The biggest challenge was finding and creating a concise story line that did everything I wanted the book to do. With so much research behind me, it was hard to let go of the nonfiction “telling.”

What encouragement helped you along your way?

Our writers’ critique group, The TaleBlazers (we miss you since you moved to Missouri!), and another critique group I was in at the time gave me incredible encouragement and support. As did my husband and daughters and my church family.

What kind of networking do you do as an author?

I belong to SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and I’ve made many wonderful contacts through that organization, networking not only with other writers, but also with publishing professionals. Because of having submitted my manuscript for a marketing critique by the wonderful Blue Slip Media team at an SCBWI conference, and then recommending Blue Slip to my publisher, Brethren Press hired them for some promotional work that has gotten the book into places that would have been hard for us to reach without their help. I’ve also done a lot of networking among seagoing cowboys and their families, as well as within Heifer International, the development organization of which the seagoing cowboy history is a part.

What projects are you working on now?

I’m serving as a historical consultant to Heifer International and doing research for a German author who has been contracted by Heifer to write a book about their shipments to Germany throughout the decade of the 1950s to help Germany recover from the war. I’m also gearing up to write an adult history of the beginning decade of Heifer. An adult book about the seagoing cowboys has long been in the works, and I blog twice a month about this history on my seagoing cowboys website. I also have another picture book manuscript related to Heifer’s German shipments that I’m ready to start submitting. More than enough to keep me fully occupied!

Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?

The seagoing cowboys are my inspiration. Sitting in their homes and hearing stories from a very formative time in their lives has been an honor and a privilege. As for the future, I keep telling my friends that I have enough work to keep me busy until I’m 110 (I’m currently 68). So my plans are to keep doing what I’m doing, but hopefully at a slower pace than I’m currently managing. When my husband retires at the end of this year, we’ll want to make more time in our lives for our married twin daughters, their husbands, and two little grandsons to whom the book is dedicated.

What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given about writing?

Not to take rejections personally. Revise when needed and re-send.

Do you have any advice for beginning children’s writers?

Persistence pays off. There are many talented writers who are never published because they give up when the rejections start coming in. And there are many mediocre writers who become good writers because they continue learning at every opportunity and persist in sending out their work. It’s not a profession for the faint-hearted. But the rewards of hearing from satisfied readers or watching a child hug his or her new book makes it all worth the effort.

Thank you for your insight and inspiration, Peggy! Peggy lives with her husband, Rex, in Goshen, Indiana. You can find out more about Peggy and her book on her author website. Read more about the cowboys on Peggy’s Seagoing Cowboy website and her Seagoing Cowboy blog.

The Seagoing Cowboy, Brethren Press 2016
by Peggy Reiff Miller, illustrated by Claire Ewart
ISBN: 978-0-87178-212-0
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Book Love—A Blog Hop!

I love sharing good books with other readers, in person and online. But I don’t do it often enough. Thanks to Carrie Finison for the push to blog about books that I love this month!

I read about the Book Love Blog Hop on Carrie’s blog, Story Patch. I hope you’ll join me in blogging about books that you love this month.

BOOK LOVE Blog Hop Instructions:

1. Pick some books you love (any genre) that you think deserve more attention than they are getting.

2. Post reviews for the books you chose on Goodreads, or any social media. The reviews can be brief - even posting a short review helps. Posting on Amazon or Shelfari is great, too, or Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc. The more places you can publicly proclaim your love, the better!

3. If you want, you can also post the reviews on your own blog, or link your blog back to your reviews on social media.

4. Feel free to display the BOOK LOVE badge on your blog - and if you want, link it back to this post so your visitors know what it's all about.

5. Tag some friends to do the same! Tag friends through their blogs, or on Facebook. That's it! If you don't want to wait to be tagged, you can jump right in and start reviewing and tagging yourself.

Here are some of the most recent books that I’ve read and loved.

THE THREE BILLY GOATS FLUFF, by Rachael Mortimer, illustrated by Liz Pichon (picture book)
Opening line: “Trip-trap. Trip-trap. How was he supposed to sleep?” The story plays on the well-know tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff. The problem: Mr. Troll can’t sleep with the goat children trip-trapping across his bridge all the time. Kids will love how the goats end up solving the problem and make a friend in the process. Illustrations are big and colorful, adding to the experience. Scholastic 2010

DOUG UNPLUGS ON THE FARM, by Dan Yaccarino (picture book)
Opening line: “This is Doug. He’s a robot.” On the way to visit a farm, Doug’s parents plug him in so he can learn all about farm things. But when Doug gets un-plugged, he learns about a farm first hand, and picks up some things that you just can’t get any other way. Alfred A. Knopf 2014

BIG BAD WOLVES AT SCHOOL, by Stephen Krensky, illustrated by Brad Sneed (picture book)
Opening line: “Rufus was a young wolf who spent his days turning over rocks, rolling in the grass, and running like the wind.” Rufus’ parents send him to the Big Bad Wolf Academy to learn more about being wolf-like. He is not exactly the best student. In the end he saves the day just by being himself. Simon & Schuster 2007

ONE THOUSAND TRACINGS, HEALING THE WOUNDS OF WORLD WAR II, by Lita Judge (picture book)
Opening lines: “When I was three, Papa left home to join the war. When I was six, the war was over.” Written in a lovely poetic voice, this follows the true story of how one family helped to ease the suffering of many Europeans following World War II. Double spreads are captioned with titles and dates. This story is a picture of how seemingly small efforts make big differences. Hyperion Books for Children 2007

TOP SECRET FILES: THE CIVIL WAR, by Stephanie Bearce (middle grade)
Opening line, chapter 1: “Railroad baron Samuel Felton knew a terrible secret—one that could change the course of history.” If you think you don’t like history, this book will change your mind! No computers in the 1800’s? No phones? No problem! Find out how men, women, slaves and even young boys worked together for a cause that they believed in. Readers will be caught up by these true stories about people, and events that happened in the Civil War. Then they can try out their own spy skills with the activities provided throughout the book. Prufrock Press 2014

Tag, you’re it, Sue B. Edwards!

Tag, you're it, Margo Dill!

Tag, you're it, Joyce Ragland!

Ok, blog friends. I tag you! February is Valentine’s Day, but the love doesn’t have to stop there. So hop on, and share some of your favorite books!  Read More 
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Onomatopoeia—Showing Sounds in Picture Books

Nature's Heart

When I walk, my favorite places to go are those where you are surrounded by nature—plants and flowers, lakes and ponds, and squirrels, deer and other creatures that live there.

I love the peaceful atmosphere, and the sounds of the things around us. Earlier in the spring at a near-by park, before they filled in the swampy area with wood chips, you could listen to the bullfrogs harmonize. This month the cicadas are in full chorus. And in any season, birds are always tweeting back and forth.

If I were to put these sounds into words, called onomatopoeia, I’d spend a lot of time thinking about it before I found the right words. For example, cicadas kind of buzz, but not like bees do. It’s more of a beeeeze-it, or something. And I’d want to think of a word more original and real than croak for the bullfrog sound.

Kids love to hear the sounds that things make in books. Not only animal sounds, but things like the sound of the wind (whoosh!), an old truck (rucka-rucka), or a flower pushing up through the ground (pffft!), too.

Here are some examples of sound words used in some of the books on my shelves.

Robert Munsch is great at using onomatopoeia to add humor to his books. MMM, COOKIES! is full of ‘sound’ words—“…sprinkled it with sugar—Chik, Chik, Chik, Chik, Chik.” He “…washed out his mouth. Burble Burble Splat Splicht Bwahhh.” Kids crack up when hearing those words.

In SITTING DUCK Jackie Urbanovic uses words like WHOOMP! and Boing, Boing! to bring sounds to life.

In THE PERFECT NEST by Catherine Friend you’ll find CRACK! and Crackety-Snap! and Crackety-Crackety Boom! to show baby animals coming out of their eggs.

In DRUMMER BOY by Loren Long you can hear the little drummer boy playing his drum with a Boom pump pum boom pum and Boom pat pat boom tat.

And in GRANDDAD’S FISHING BUDDY by Mary Quigley, the simple plop of the fishing line landing in the water places you in the scene.

I’ve discovered that there is help on the web for those of us who need it when it comes to finding words that imitate sounds! Here are a few websites that I came across.

At Written Sound How to Write the Sound of Things: onomatopoeia and words of imitative origin, you’ll find an explanation of the term, a list of topics to click on for different kinds of sounds, examples of children’s poetry using onomatopoeia, and more about words that are used to imitate sounds.

At Song Written, a website meant for song writers, the post Sounds Good: The Art of Describing Ambient Sounds in Lyrics can help you zero in on the sounds that you hear, which can be helpful to writers, as well.

On Word Object, you can find a list of the Six Families of Noises. Another post on the site lists Words Commonly Used to Describe Sounds.

Reading out loud is one of the things that make picture books so great! When you’re revising your manuscript, you might want to try using some onomatopoeia to help bring your story to life.  Read More 
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Picture Book Walk at Quail Ridge Park


My husband and I like to walk. One of our favorite places to go walking is at Quail Ridge Park in Wentzville, Missouri. It sports a beautiful paved walking trail which is about three miles long if you go from the parking lot to the end of the loop. You can make it longer or shorter depending on how you do it.

Our walks take us through sunny and shady areas, past several playgrounds (one featuring a sculpture of two children and a rabbit), a dog park, and one fairly challenging uphill climb. But one of the most beautiful and serene areas is over a bridge and around a small lake. We’ve seen turtles, ducks and squirrels, a snake, fish, and once a deer that crossed our path. It’s peaceful and inspiring, and good exercise.

But there was an added dimension this summer with the posting of the pages from Peter Brown’s picture book, The Curious Garden. On the first board was the title page from the book, along with the following message:

Welcome to the Picture Book Walk at Quail Ridge Park, a partnership between the St. Charles county Parks Department and the St. Charles City-County Library District. You’re about to read The Curious Garden by Peter Brown, a Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator and author of books for children. While you walk around the trail, enjoy the story of Liam, a young boy who turns a dreary industrial area into a beautiful garden. Savor the story and its lovely illustrations as you enjoy being in the beauty of nature.”

For a children’s author, what could be better than combining a picture book about a garden with nature itself!

"The picture book walk begins at the paved trail below the Quail Ridge Lodge and wraps around the picturesque lake. The nearly one-mile-long walk features 17 numbered signs which encompass all 32 colorful pages of Brown's popular children's book. The walk was designed for families with young children in mind, and is convenient for strollers and bicycles to easily maneuver around the lakeside path." --from the St. Charles County Parks department website

"The picture book walk promotes the love of reading with the enjoyment of the outdoors," says Parks Director Bettie Yahn-Kramer. "It's a free, festive, educational program that appeals to all ages."

If you live in the Wentzville area, west of St. Louis, you can still enjoy this outdoor experience which will be in place at the park through August 31. Quail Ridge Park opens daily at 7 a.m. and closes a half hour after dusk.

The Curious Garden, written and illustrated by Peter Brown, is a NY Times bestseller, an ALA Notable Children’s Book (2010), and received the E.B. White Read-Aloud Picture Book Award (2010) and the Children’s Choice Illustrator of the Year Award (2010). Visit Peter Brown’s website for more information about the author/illustrator and his books.

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 2009,
ISBN 9780316015479  Read More 
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Join the Blog Hop--check it out!





Check out my friend, Cynthia Reeg's blog celebrating Blog Hop!

While you're there, look around her site for some great posts for children's authors and for young readers.
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Day 2, December 23rd: Christmas Lights


Day 2: December 23rd—Christmas Lights
Christmas lights are so beautiful! In the evening the tree inside the house gives you a warm, cozy feeling. But I also love to see all the outdoor decorations that people display. They’re like greeting cards to the neighbors and those passing by.

Our books might be like those twinkling lights at Christmas. It feels warm and cozy to have finished writing a book and be able to share it with others. But there are so many other books to look at! So many there for us to enjoy.

One new book that I discovered this Christmas is A CHRISTMAS GOODNIGHT by Nola Buck, illustrated by Sarah Jane Wright, Katherine Tegen Books 2011. A child says goodnight to the people and the animals at the first Christmas, then to the things in nature. Later illustrations show the child in his own home with his own nativity, again saying goodnight to the baby Jesus. The illustrations are colorful and simple, with smiling faces and sometimes sleepy eyes. This is a beautiful addition to my collection of children’s Christmas books.

Do you have a favorite children’s book of the season? Perhaps you’d like to share it here.
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American Library Association Announces Award Winners

On January 10th the American Library Association announced the 2011 awards for best books, videos, and audiobooks for children. Selected by judging committees of librarians and other children’s and young adult experts, the ALA awards encourage original and creative work. Following is a partial list of the winners.

Award Winners for Children’s Books 2011

The Caldecott Medal, awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children:
A SICK DAY FOR AMOS McGEE, illustrated by Erin E. Stead, written by Philip C. Stead, a Neal Porter Book, published by Roaring Brook Press

The John Newbery Medal, given for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature:
MOON OVER MANIFEST by Clare Vanderpool, published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House Inc.

The Michael L. Printz Award, for excellence in literature written for young adults:
SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi, published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

The Coretta Scott King Book Award recognizing an African American author of outstanding books for children and young adults:
ONE CRAZY SUMMER, by Rita Williams-Garcia is the 2011 King Author Book winner. The book is published by Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

DAVE THE POTTER: ARTIST, POET, SLAVE, illustrated by Bryan Collier, is the 2011 King Illustrator Book winner. The book was written by Laban Carrick Hill and published by Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

The Schneider Family Book Award for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience:
THE PIRATE OF KINDERGARTEN, written by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by Lynne Avril and published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, for children ages 0 to 10.

AFTER EVER AFTER, written by Jordan Sonnenblick and published by Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc, for middle-school readers (ages 11-13).

FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB, written by Antony John and published by Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., for teens (ages 13-18).

The Andrew Carnegie Medal for excellence in children’s video:
Paul R. Gagne and Melissa Reilly Ellard of Weston Woods, producers of THE CURIOUS GARDEN. The video is based on the book of the same name, written and illustrated by Peter Brown, and is narrated by Katherine Kellgren, with music by David Mansfield.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children. The 2011 winner is TOMIE DE PALOA, author and illustrator of over 200 books, including: “26 Fairmont Avenue” (Putnam, 1999), “The Legend of the Poinsettia” (Putnam, 1994), “Oliver Button Is a Sissy” (Harcourt, 1979) and “Strega Nona” (Prentice-Hall, 1975).

The Odyssey Award for best audiobook produced for children and/or young adults, available in English in the United States:
THE TRUE MEANIING OF SMEKDAY, produced by Listening Library, an imprint of Random House Audio Publishing Group. The book is written by Adam Rex and narrated by Bahni Turpin.

The Robert F. Sibert Medal for most distinguished informational book for children:
KALAPO RESCUE: SAVING THE WORLD’S STRAGEST PARROT, written by Sy Montgomery. The book features photographs by Nic Bishop and is published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

The Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished beginning reader book:
BINK AND GOLLIE, written by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee and illustrated by Tony Fucile. The book is published by Candlewick Press.

The YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults for the best nonfiction book published for young adults during a November 1 – October 31 publishing year:
JANIS JOPLIN: RISE UP SINGING, written by Ann Angel. The book is published by Amulet/Abrams.

Congratulations to all of the winners of the 2011 ALA Awards for Children’s literature!

And now we’ve got some reading to do!

For a complete list of winners and runners up, go to: http://ala.org/ala/newspresscenter/news/pr.cfm?id=6048.
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The Extra Perks of Attending a Writers conference

Attending a conference for children’s writers and illustrators has more perks than you might imagine. It’s about talking to people who you know and also to those you don’t know. Here are some of the extra perks that I got when I attended the SCBWI conference in LA that didn’t come from the conference itself.

--was able to put faces to names from the listservs I belong to for children's writers
--re-connected with old friends
--met new friends
--met new and re-connected with other SCBWI members from Indiana
--met the manager of the children’s department of the largest independent bookstore who knew my books without my showing them to her
--met some great people from Japan and Australia and other countries
--shared the flight out to LA with another author/conference attendee who I’d just met, and shared websites to look at and books to read, and made a new friend
--shared a room with two of the best roommates at the conference
--met lots of dog-loving, book-loving people
--met a librarian who also does reviews for SLJ
--met Verla Kay of the Verla Kay message board for children’s writers, and got an informal personal guide to working my way around the message board from her
--met Alice Pope of the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market book, and now the head of the SCBWI Team Blog
--sat next to an editor who gave me his card after looking at my picture book
--talked with Lin Oliver and Steve Mooser, founders of SCBWI
--got to tour the SCBWI offices
--shared some birthday cake for another author
--got tips on networking and school visits from other authors
--got to see the ocean, the beach, the big city buildings, and the mountains all in one view
--got a head shot, video shoot, and a website consultation
--got more websites to look at
--got tips on holding conferences and events
--got tips on promoting my book from other authors
--was able to purchase books personally autographed by the author or illustrator
--was able to sell and autograph my books along with other PAL published authors on Friday evening
--got a special gift for someone special
--sat in a whirlpool tub and talked about writing
--attended the Heart and Soul celebration with the best costumes ever
--shared illustrations for our books with another author at the airport
--had some great meals that I didn’t have to cook
--met a man from Hawaii at the airport whose wife is a teacher
--enjoyed meeting a woman from Texas and her granddaughter at the hotel when my flight was delayed another day, and shared e-mail information
--met a young lady who was traveling to Ireland on her birthday
--laughed a lot and had fun
--was totally inspired by everyone that I met and saw there

The next time you are trying to decide whether to attend a conference for children's authors and illustrators, keep in mind the perks that are waiting for you along with the information that you'll get from the conference itself.  Read More 
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Writing--A Lonely Job?: Part II

Instead of the word 'lonely,' let's substitute 'solitary.'
You certainly can say that 'writing' is a solitary job. The story is yours alone. The characters, the setting, the voice. No one can write it just the way that you can. So you sit with your pen and paper, or at your computer, alone. And you write the story that's in you head, and in your heart.

Once your story is down on paper, however, there are many ways that you as a writer can connect with others to help you along  Read More 
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Oh the Possibilities!

For the past 17 years we been blessed with Esther Hershenhorn, Illinois SCBWI RA, whose catchy enthusiasm, positive thinking, and insight into the world of children's books has helped many children's writers and illustrators move forward. She encouraged us to tell our stories, pointed us in the right direction, and helped us to connect. Lucky me, that her generosity spilled over into Indiana.  Read More 
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