lottery balls


If you want to get rich, pick another industry. Seriously.


Do not write about your dog, your grandkids, horses, rainbows, puppies, feelings, or fairies. Be careful about wizards too.


Get a [good] agent.


Work with a professional editor.


Work with a professional book designer.


Assume the publisher will assign the illustrator.


Know that it’s a numbers game.


Writing a book is much harder than you think.


There is no such thing as a shortcut that works in children’s publishing.


Get comfortable with rejection.


When you think you’re finished, cut 200 pages.


Understand the difference between guerilla marketing and gorilla marketing. The first is okay; the second is not okay.


Seek to broaden your understanding beyond writer’s societies.


Become a prospective bookseller.


Become a prospective publisher.


Know that the market over-publishes, and only the strong survive the first printing.


Understand the difference between frontlist, backlist, and midlist.


Don’t call yourself a publisher unless you have more than six different books by different authors in print and you own the ISBNs.


Present yourself professionally.


Don’t try to start a viral campaign under an assumed name.


If you self-publish, expect skepticism.


Invest in professional design for your website.


Even award-winning authors have trouble moving books.


Publishers and booksellers talk; your reputation for difficulty will precede you.


Stop reading bestsellers if you want to write.


The way to the universal is through the deeply personal.


None of this $#%@$! matters unless you write a good book.



Savvy by Ingrid Law

Penguin; May 2008; 352 pp; $16.95 HC


Core Audience: Readers 12+ and folks who love predicting award winners

Strengths: Completely original from cover to cover and then some

Twelve-year-old Mibs Beaumont has been counting down the days till her thirteenth birthday—the day her “savvy” will make itself known. Will she be able to create hurricanes like her brother? Or capture wonderful sounds in canning jars like her grandmother? Then Mibs’ father has a terrible accident just before her birthday, and Mibs feels sure that her savvy will be to help her dad. When she stows away on a traveling salesman’s pink bus to try to get to her father’s distant hospital, she finds herself on a madcap odyssey in the heartland of America—one that is as full of unexpected adventure and friendship as Mibs herself. Like some of my other favorite offbeat books of recent years, this story is absolutely original, with detail and a richness in the writing that paves its own way. This novel is also remarkable in the fact that it combines matter-of-fact bible belt imagery and fantastical super-powers in the same story in a way that manages to be neither off-puttingly dogmatic or overly fantastical, but rather sort of dreamy and lyrical. A book as unexpected as its main character and anyone who reads it seems to love it, no matter where they are coming from.

Rating: 9.0

IB logo

Buy this book from your local independent bookstore

Patron Saint

The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante

Bloomsbury; April 2008; 304 pp; $16.95 HC


Core Audience: Girls 14+ and adult crossover readers

Strengths: Timely subject, amazingly perceptive writing, and unflinching honesty

If you haven’t yet read this book personally, move it up your pile, because this is one of the best reads I’ve chewed through this year. This book is timely in that it centers on two girls being raised in a fundamentalist religious cult, but this book completely steers clear of sensationalism. It’s told in alternating voices of two childhood friends: one girl who now buys the party line, and the other who chafes under it like a wet wool blanket. It is an amazing piece of writing about finding one’s voice, conformity, the nature of family, identity during adolescence, and it has a satisfying and redemptive ending. There were a couple of harrowing moments in the reading where I was so emotionally invested that I had a hard time remembering that I was not actually in the book. The unflinching honesty probably comes from the fact that the author herself was raised in a cult, and has had many years to come to terms with her family’s experience. (The first draft of the book was a memoir which was deemed too dark for sale.) Because of the topic, many folks may need a handsell on this book, but they will not be disappointed. This is a great one for mother-daughter book clubs, and will offer much fodder for discussion.

BONUS: This book will raise may questions about the nature of fiction and memoir for readers, and Cecilia Galante has put some substantial thought into her website where she thoughtfully answers the questions readers often ask.

Rating: 9.5

INdie Bound

Buy this book form your local independent bookstore

Handmade tag

If my blog had a wash-and-wear tag it would say:

Slight imperfections, bumps, and color variations are characteristics of handcrafted projects, and they enhance the beauty of this garment.

Why do I say this?

I’m just back from an extended Book Expo hiatus, which is a three month marathon for me, during which I literally have time for nothing else, including food and sleep.

It’s nice to be home.

In recent link-backs some of you blogeratti have very tactfully pointed out that although I post infrequently, what I have to say is interesting, or relevant, or at least not-irrelevant. I appreciate your circumspection.

But here’s the thing I have noticed about being a blogger. I’m sure you other bloggers will understand. If I’m not careful, blogging begins to feel an awful lot like work. And, as many of you know, I have plenty of work already.


How many of you saw the 4/6 article in the NYT titled In Web World of 24/7 Stress, Writers Blog Till They Drop? Actually, that’s probably a stupid question, since we are a pretty self-referential bunch. I’m sure the blogosphere was alight. Anyway, it talks about bloggers dropping dead from overwork. Most of us kid lit bloggers are nowhere near that level of ridiculousness, but I did have to make a decision early on to pace myself.

It’s easy to see how it can get away from you. Starting out, I got a little thrill each time my blog was mentioned by another blog, especially ones with lots of traffic. I obsessed over my metrics. I lost sleep to write. “They like me! I’m included! MUST-WRITE-MORE!”

My initial experience of blogging suddenly felt very much like high school. Who are the taste-makers? Who are people talking about? What do I want to say about what they’re saying? If I wasn’t writing, I felt compelled to read everything, just in case.

After a few weeks I suddenly thought “Wait a minute! I already went through high school. I am SO over it. Duh.” (Sound of forehead being slapped.) I still check out what’s being talked about, but now I appreciate that reading less insures that what I’m writing about is coming from an original and organic place.

Which brings me to my next point. I also recognized very early on that there are two types of blogs. Those that generate original content and those that serve as a clearinghouse by aggregating lots of interesting information from other blogs/cyberspace in one place, often with added commentary. Aggregating content seemed like a great way to generate traffic, but too much of a treadmill. I guarantee that those recently deceased bloggers in the NYT article were spending lots of time on that same treadmill.

So, original content it is. It suits my creative nature anyway.

I’m a marketer by profession. I know the rule that regular posting=more traffic. It’s true, if traffic is all you care about, and you actually have something relevant to say. It’s possible to bootstrap your way to industry fame through this technique.

But here’s what I care about: writing about whatever interests me, whenever it interests me. Writing about it in depth, and being realistic about everything I have to do. In short, going for authenticity and substance over popularity. (Again, like high school.)

So, I am unfurling the banner of the Idiosyncratic Blogger, and making my confession. I am an inconsistent poster. I may go for quite some time without saying a thing, and then I will post in a clump. I occasionally will apologize to you, my readers out of a sense of guilt. I may make excuses. I hereby give myself permission to have a life beyond this desk. I’m going deep, and I’m in it for the long haul. If nothing else, I promise to be authentic, even in my inadequacy.

Want to join the IB club? I’d love company! I give you permission to be imperfect too!

dad in the mirror

I’m about to cross the 100,000 hit mark here at pixie stix.

I don’t know 100,000 people, so I must be doing something right.

During my childhood, my (slightly eccentric) father had a ritual when his long suffering truck would hit a 100,000 mile odometer reading. (Several of his trucks have made this marker 2 or 3 times, as in 300K.) No matter where he was, he would stop the truck, get out, and circle the truck three times. Could be a busy four lane highway, or it could be a dusty back road. Then, without a word, he would keep driving.

I want to take a moment both to thank the many great people who have linked to me in praise of a post, or those that have been clearly passing the word.

If you were here with me, you would see me circling the desk three times.

Now let’s keep going.


At BEA recently, I was facilitating a panel on the Gen-Z reader, (as in Gen x, gen y, gen z), and one of the threads the conversation turned to was whether the publishing industry can use the music industry as an example for the future. In particular whether artists/authors will take control of the medium as they have in music, thereby cutting out the middle man. The panelists were not convinced that the model went that far, given all the complicated things that have to happen to make a book a book. I myself am pretty sure that we will see increasing examples of this, given that consumer control over pretty much everything is the wave of the future. I definitely think that the readers and authors of the future will be much more empowered and DIY about things.

It’s already happening.

I give you Tikatok, an online publishing service for the young authors of the moment. Started by a mom, this is basically a site where, for less than $20, children can self-publish their own paperback or hardcover book. Using “story sparks” or completely from scratch, they do it all using the template based system. They can upload art directly to the site or mail it in. The whole thing is very well designed, clean, and easy to navigate. They even offer packages to schools and libraries for group orders. (This might be a very cool project for a children’s bookstore too!) The site is very family centered, and has an awesome and well-thought-out privacy policy.

And, the above handmade example aside, there are several examples on their site of books with fantastic art and photographic treatments. It’s possible to come up with a very credible product. Especially if you’re a second grader.

Yes, there have been self-publishing projects for kids in the past, but never have they been so kid-centered, user-friendly, or so interactive. Seriously, this is something an elementary kid could do pretty much on their own. Certainly, not every tikatok author will run their own publishing house in the future, but it’s not a far leap from here to web publishing, blogging, and all other manner of communication. I do think the youngsters of today will have a VERY different idea about communication when they hit adulthood.

As a mom, I think this is pretty cool.

What do you think?

Agate cover

Agate: What good is a moose? by Joy Morgan Dey, illustrated by Nikki Johnson

Lake Superior Port Cities; April 2007; 32 pp; $17.95 HC


Core Audience: Children 4-8; Anyone who has ever felt outshined

Strengths: Luminous artwork; great message

If you have been reading pixiestix for awhile you are probably aware of my feelings about marginal books that are either self-published, or that are produced by small presses that don’t quite get how to put the total package together. I receive hundreds of unsolicited pitches every year for these kinds of books, and when you combine that with the thousands of mainstream books that flow across my desk in a given year, it really takes something to make me sit up.

And this, my friends, is that something.

Meet Agate, the hero of this wonderful and unexpected picture book from a pair of artists and a small regional press from Duluth, MN. Agate is in a metaphysical quandary. “What good is a moose?” he asks when he compares himself to all of his other “birthstone” friends, like Garnet the Crocodile, Emerald the Lion, and Sapphire the Hippo.


He has a big case of the inferiors, and any child who has ever felt dull will recognize themselves here. At the back of the book, there is a nice appendix that talks about birthstone gems. The writing and rhymes here are very sweet, but what really makes this book is the incredible watercolor illustration presented on a sparkling white ground.



These are just quick scans. For the full effect, get a copy and check out how eye-popping they really are. I particularly like the way Nikki Johnson has let the natural flow of the paint create the rich texture of the animals in motion.

This book really has it all: clean uncluttered design, a nice story, a good message, a eye-catching cover, fresh art, and the element of surprise. This proves the point that a small press with no background in kid’s books really can do a great job. Amazing books can come from anywhere, which why it is SO important that people setting off to make a picture book (or indeed any book) for the first time really understand what it takes, and know the market.

Apparently the author and illustrator brought the project to the press. Bravo to Lake Superior Port Cities for recognizing that Agate really is a gem of the highest order.

agate stone


Rating: 9.0


Buy this book from your local independent bookstore


Okay, this wins my award for best sideline of the year.

Developed by a mother of three, this is the ultimate in monster defense. The spray itself is made of English Roman Chamomile, High Altitude French Lavender and Italian Mandarin essential oils, but its psychological mojo comes from the empowering feeling kids get by running around their room at bedtime, spraying it anywhere and everywhere monsters lurk. Then, once all the meanies are vanquished, all that lovely calming fragrance will help youngsters sleep sweetly.

torrey's monster

Extra bonus: parents of stinky children everywhere will rejoice at the added nasal benefits.

At $10.00 per bottle retail, it seems a small price to pay for a smooth bedtime. It’s unclear if she offers wholesale terms, but there is a volume discount. Order directly from the mom in question.


duck for pres

I have found my candidate!

I have loved him from afar for years and years. I can’t believe that in this moment of national crisis I didn’t think of him sooner.

This arrived in my box today:

Undecided Voters Flock to New Candidate

Barn Party Announces Duck as Presidential Nominee

NEW YORK (January 30, 2008): In a mass migration from established party politics, undecided voters are flocking to a new political party that promises change—real change. The Barn Party offers Americans an agenda of domestic goals supported by children’s booksellers and librarians, first and second graders, and the cracked corn industry. Leading the party’s charge for more reading aloud, recess and protecting the family farm, is Duck, an Avian-American who is making a splash among independent voters across the country.

Duck, a farmyard hero, has declared his entry as the Barn Party’s presidential candidate for the election of 2008. Previously holding elected offices as Farmer and Governor, Duck is seeking the Presidency to present a new face of the United States to the global community. “This election will be a quack heard round the world,” said the Barn Party campaign chairman, Paul Crichton of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.

Duck’s authorized biographer, children’s author Doreen Cronin, says, “Duck’s time has come. He worked hard on the farm, and even harder as Governor. Hard work brings change, and Duck is a choice for change.”


It’s not as if we don’t have the lamest duck in the office now. And the barn is a fairly egalitarian place, as far as I can tell. Maybe we’d all be better off in the long run. I hope I get a pin or placard for BEA.

Cluck, cluck, cluck.

Find out more:

essential compressed

Often I hear parents lamenting, discussing, debating, or downright ranting about tolerable “kid’s music” or the lack thereof. Given the massive industry that is churning out an avalanche of crap entertainment for kids, you’d think that there would be a better and more coherent source for helping parents sort out the good stuff. A Rolling Stone for kids, of sorts. Perhaps we could call it Rolling Pebble?

I digress.

Before getting into publishing, I was in the toy business, and I spent nearly seven years working in a variety of different positions in one of the best independent toy businesses in the US–Henry Bear’s Park–headquartered in Cambridge, MA. Day in and day out I logged thousands of hours in those stores, and just about every minute of those thousands of hours was filled with kids music. Some good, and some–well–let’s not go there.

My criteria for great music for kids is pretty simple: it must stand up to repeated playing, over and over and over, without making the adult listener a) want to commit suicide because it’s so mind-numbingly saccharine, or b) bash their head into the wall because they can’t get the songs out ’cause they’re too damn catchy. Raffi, who I think is one of the most genius songrwriters for kids ever, falls into this latter category and so isn’t recommended below. Let me say for the record, however, that the song Baby Beluga is one of the most perfect kids songs ever written. Seriously. Kids love it, and it’s a blast to sing it to them.

Anyway, here is an essential dozen list of CDs I can confidently recommend, plus some extra stuff. They are great, everyone will enjoy them, and there’s quite a genre range so you can pick your poison. Many of the CDs are from series with additional offerings so you can go out and explore. I’m sure you have your own favorites that aren’t listed here, and if they pass the 1,000 play test, feel free to chime in below. Although I always support buying local if possible, I am including the Amazon links to my suggestions, because there you can listen to samples of every track. Enjoy!

One last note: There is nothing wrong with playing “real” music for kids. In fact, I think it’s a critical part of their cultural education. Why play a CD of kids singing reggae when you can just play great reggae? Like reading, kids will grow up loving music if they’re raised with lots of it around. Share what you love.


These first two are from a great series by a company called Music for Little People, and they are compilations of original music, so no saccharine kiddie pap. They have a bunch of Genre CD’s also, “A Child’s Celebration of” Show Tunes, (singer)Song(writer), Dance Music, Classical, Silly Songs, Jazz, etc. These two are a good start but every CD in the series is awesome.

cco folk

A Child’s Celebration of Folk

Music for Little People

ASIN: B000002M7Z

Favorite track: Garden Song by David Mallett


cco song

A Child’s Celebration of Song

Music for Little People

ASIN: B000002M5Q

Favorite Track: St. Judy’s Comet by Paul Simon


I love Dan Zanes. He used to be in the Boston indie rock band the Del Fuegos, but he has seriously hit the big time with his CDs for kids. His theory as a musical pro with kids of his own was play good music that everyone will love. He’s right on, and he gets plenty of great musicians to go along like Cheryl Crow etc. It sounds just like an old fashioned hootenanny would sound if a rocker got it together. His song choices range far outside of traditional kid’s songs and his enthusiasm is infectious. (Even his hair is excited.) If he ever happens to be touring near you, it’s worth it to go, if only to see the legions of adoring five year olds in the mosh pit. Any of Dan’s CD’s are good (I particularly *heart* his sea shanty CD with kids singing about “beer and tabbaccy” below) but these two are a nice introduction:

rocketship beach

Rocket Ship Beach

Festival Five Records

ASIN: B000051ZNR

Favorite Track: Brown Girl in the Ring


sea music

Sea Music

Festival Five Records

ASIN: B000QMU214

Favorite Track: All for Me Grog


On a completely different vibe is Tony Bennett’s kid’s album. So smooth and hip you could play it at a cocktail party, and your guests might not even notice that he’s singing duets with the likes of Kermit the Frog and Rosie O’Donnell.

the playground

The Playground


ASIN: B00000C285

Favorite Track: (It’s Only) A Paper Moon


Many people don’t know that Woody Guthrie wrote a large body of songs for his kids, and they are all really charming. His son Arlo has recorded many of them on this excellent CD which also includes some of the original recordings by Woody.


This Land is Your Land


ASIN: B0000003H1

Favorite Track: Howdi Do


There are a ton of lullaby CDs out there, and they are not created equal. I am a total sucker for this album, both because it is so great musically, but also because all the songs were recorded and in some cases written by famous male musicians for their children. The album has a subtle old style country bluegrass feel, but it’s not at all hokey—okay—the song Little Hands IS hokey, but you can play around it.

daddies cd 150

Daddy’s Sing Goodnight: A Father’s Collection of Sleepytime Songs


ASIN: B000000F3B

Favorite Track: Nolabye by Jerry Douglas


Ah, the Putumayo Kids Present CDs. These comps of World Music by genre are completely awesome. There are many, many of these, all equally wonderful from all over the world, including Africa and Asia, so they can just pick what you like by genre. Bonus: because these are compilations, you can discover whole new areas of music by picking up the full titles by the artists on these albums you particularly like. These are a few of my personal favs:

world playground

World Playground


ASIN: B00000JT4P

Favorite Track: Bongo Bong by Manu Chao






Favorite Track: Durme Durme (Brazil) – Fortuna


french playground 150

French Playground



Favorite Track: Chatouiller Le Ciel Avec Toi – Alain Schneider


raggae playground

Reggae Playground



Favorite Track: Here Comes The Sun – The Burning Souls


And last but not least, this one speaks for itself all year round:


A Charlie Brown Christmas



Favorite Track: Linus & Lucy


An alternative for our Non-Christian Brethren:

A Boy Named Charlie Brown


ASIN: B000000XDH


BONUS: As I look back on this list I realize it’s weighted more heavily to the folk end of things than rock. There are plenty of great original rock albums that are awesome for kids just as they are. Here’s a few suggestions, but any upbeat album with clean language will do the trick:

The Beatles: 1 (the singles)

The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

Jim Noir: Tower of Love

The Jackson 5: The Ultimate Collection

Various: Motown’s Greatest Hits

Wilco: Sky Blue Sky

Harry Nilsson: Greatest Hits

Various: Pure 80’s

(This last album does include some innuendo, but it’s very fun overall. You might want to skip over Centerfold by J. Giles and avoid the inevitable explanation scene you will have to deal with eventually. But hits are hits for a reason and greatest hits collections are usually awesome for kids.)


For those of us non-adopters who prefer our books the old fashioned way, the Italian design company Nobody&Co has made it so that we don’t even need to leave our comfy seat for our next read. This bibliochair chair holds nearly 16 1/2 linear feet of books, and comes in six different finishes and cushion covers so it’s basically a sit-alone library. My only concern? Where do you put your arms to rest?

Oh well, fashion hurts. Your reading corner never looked so mod.


Welcome to pixie stix kids pix, the site for reviews and opinions about new and interesting books for children and young adults, by a professional in the children's book industry.

What rates?

When I read books they get rated on a 10 point scale. What I like is subjective, but basically I look for great content, excellent design, and fresh ideas. Generally, only books that receive a 7.0 or higher make it on to the site.

Got a comment or question?

Send it to Kristen

Or come say hi on MySpace

Follow me on Twitter

Browse by category