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Somehow it's already February and we're slogging through the actual "winter" of Texas with lots of rain and cold temps in the 30's. I hope the month with a lot of focus on love is keeping all of you warm and cozy!


I'm absolutely honored to feature Laura Gehl on the blog this month to discuss her upcoming picture book "Grandpa's Window" (Flyaway Books, 2023), a beautiful book on grief and loss. Kirkus Reviews called the book a "touching window into a child's mourning process."


Laura Gehl is the author of more than forty popular board books, picture books, and early readers. Her books include One Big Pair of Underwear, the Peep and Egg series, I Got a Chicken for My Birthday, My Pillow Keeps Moving, Except When They Don’t, Apple and Magnolia, Donut, and the Baby Scientist series. Laura’s books have received many awards and honors, including Kirkus best picture books of the year selection, Junior Library Guild selection, Indie Next List, CCBC choices selection, ALA Notable selection, Booklist Editors’ Choice, Amazon Editors’ Choice, Charlotte Zolotow Highly Commended Title, ILA Honor Book, and the Mathical Award. Laura lives in Maryland with her husband and four children.


Laura, thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. Your children's books span from silly to heartwarming and everything in between. What inspired you to write Grandpa's Window?


I wrote Grandpa’s Window after my mom died. I was dealing with my own grief while trying to help my four kids through their first loss of a grandparent, and all of my emotions poured into my writing.


What a cathartic process that must have been for you. What was the process like from inspiration to publication?


As I mentioned above, I began writing Grandpa’s Window after my mother died. As a result, I originally envisioned the grandparent in the book as a grandmother. However, my dad died a few years after my mom, and I was revising the story while grieving my dad. Grandpa’s Window sold first to a UK Publisher (Bonnier), and my editor at Bonnier asked if I would consider changing the grandmother in the book to a grandfather. It felt very right to make that change, given that my kids had just lost their grandfather.


There are aspects of the story that very much remain tied to my mom’s illness and death. For example, when we see in the book that the grandfather can’t breathe without the help of a mask, that was something we experienced with my mom during her long illness. But there are also aspects of the book that really ring true to my kids’ experience losing my dad, their grandfather. The bond between the grandfather and granddaughter in the story, and the part that art plays in their relationship, is something very true to life. My dad kept all of my daughter’s artwork and displayed it proudly. So the finished book has pieces of my mom and my dad in it, and I hope the story resonates with anyone who is dealing with illness or loss…whether of a grandparent, another relative, a friend, or a beloved pet. Another interesting piece of the publication process was that my US publisher (Flyaway Books) asked to change the title from The Window (the UK title) to Grandpa’s Window, in order to further emphasize the grandfather/grandchild relationship.


What a beautiful tribute to your parents. I'm sure having those real life aspects woven in was also difficult to bring back up for you at times as well. Grief is a hard process for anyone, adults to children. The inclusion of the window as a source of escape but also processing was a beautiful idea. Was it important to you to keep the book hopeful?


Yes, I definitely wanted the book to feel hopeful and to include the idea that our loved ones stay with us after they die. The changing scenes we see through Grandpa’s hospital room window…which provide a way to process emotions, and to escape from reality a bit…were in my story from the beginning. So was the twist ending. Still, when I asked trusted writer friends for feedback on early drafts, they told me that the book felt too sad. As I worked on later drafts, I was able to find the right balance between love and loss, grief and hope.



How can parents, teachers, or counselors use your books to engage in deeper conversations with kids?


I’m glad you asked that! A reader’s guide to accompany Grandpa’s Window will soon be available to download for free, both on the Flyaway Books website and on mine. I also have free discussion guides, including conversation starters and activities, for many of my other books, including Apple and Magnolia, The Hiking Viking, and Who Is a Scientist? These can all be found on my website under “Educator Resources.”


I'm looking forward to that reader's guide! Do you have any advice for authors who want to write about tough topics?


I think the best books on tough topics come from authors who are writing from their own experiences…whether that means struggles with anxiety, or food insecurity, or divorce. But it can be really hard to stay objective about a story when the heart of it is your own pain. That’s where wonderful critique partners come in. Ask other writers to read your drafts and help you avoid the pitfalls that come along with writing from personal experience. One pitfall might be making the story too sad, as I did. Another pitfall can be trying to write a story that is exactly true to your own experience. While an autobiography for adults might need to be exactly accurate, most picture books about tough topics are not actually autobiographies. Instead, a picture book author can start with their own experiences and then try to craft a story with a relatable main character, a captivating narrative arc, and a satisfying ending. In other words, details may change from real life in order to make a story that is engaging and meaningful for many kids with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.


Where can we find you to keep up with your work?


My website is lauragehl.com, and you can subscribe to my newsletter (with frequent giveaways!) under the contact tab on my website. I’m on Facebook, twitter, and Instagram at @AuthorLauraGehl and would love to connect with other readers and writers there.


Laura, thank you again for taking the time to be on the blog. I had the chance to read a copy of Grandpa's Window and it was moving and beautifully illustrated. Pre-order your copy here before it's March 14th book birthday!


Laura has gracious agreed to giveaway a copy of her upcoming book Grandpa's Window for blog readers! To enter, comment on the blog by February 23rd. Winners will be announced February 24th.


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It's the first blog post of 2023 and I have so many exciting things in store for the year! My debut picture book Lena & the Dragon goes on sale February 28, 2023 and is currently available for pre-order. We have great authors lined up for Picture Book Therapy Thursday and I'm looking forward to getting the blog rolling again.


The last few months of 2022 were a blur as I ended up having a big change in career by starting my own private practice (something I would not have seen coming at all in January of 22!). That pulled me off track with the blog but I'm looking forward to getting regular posts going again. I am aiming for monthly posts here.


Without further ado, let's jump into our latest Picture Book Therapy Thursday feature. For January, we are starting strong with a different take on the "picture book"-- a Middle Grade interactive guidebook! Jessica Speer joins us this month to discuss her book "BFF or NRF".

Jessica Speer is the award-winning author ofBFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships and Middle School – Safety Goggles Advised. Her interactive books for preteens and teens entertain readers while exploring social-emotional topics. Blending humor, a dash of science, stories, and insights, her writing unpacks the social stuff that peaks during adolescence. She has a master’s degree in social sciences and explores topics in ways that connect with kids. Jessica is regularly featured in and contributes to media outlets on topics related to kids, teens, parenting, and friendship. For more information, visit www.JessicaSpeer.com


Jessica, thank you so much for joining us for Picture Book Therapy Thursday! What inspired you to write BFF or NRF? When my daughters entered their tween years, friendship struggles started to emerge. This reminded me of my struggles and the experiences of so many. As a social scientist, this piqued my curiosity. What is it about early adolescence that intensifies social struggles, especially for girls? I dove into books and research on the subject. I talked to experts. What I found was a confluence of events that create an environment primed for social struggles. Tweens learn how to navigate complex social groups alongside the physical, emotional, and intellectual changes that go along with puberty. And all of this happens as peer acceptance grows in importance and confidence levels drop. During my research, I uncovered insights about friendship that I thought would help tweens. To make sure these ideas resonated with girls, I started an after-school friendship program focused on social-emotional skills and awareness. The honest feedback, stories, and voices from program participants shaped BFF or NRF from start to finish.

What was the process like from inspiration to getting published? The process was long, which is typical for traditionally published books. From start to finish, including research, running a program, writing and rewriting the book, pitching it for publication, editing to bookshelves---the process was over seven years.

BFF or NRF utilizes a wonderful format of interactive guidebook. There are lots of illustrations and interactive pieces. How did this format come about?

This book dives into tricky topics, so I knew it had to be fun, relatable, and interactive. When I was a preteen, I loved quizzes because they helped me discover things about myself and my world. The girls in my program also enjoyed the quizzes, so that is an important component of the book. The illustrations, activities and fun colors also help to bring emotions, insights, and stories to life.



Do you have a section in the book that was your favorite to write? I loved writing the quizzes. The first chapters of the book include two quizzes: How Healthy is My Friendship and How are My Friendship Skills? These quizzes help readers get to the heart of what might not be going well in a friendship and how to improve the situation. The quizzes also connect us with our shared humanity. We all have different skills and needs when it comes to relationships. Your quizzes remind me of the teen magazines I used to get growing up but I love that these offer things to help improve friendships and not just let you know who is secretly crushing on you.


Why do you think this book is so important for kids to have on the shelves? Whether you are 9 or 99, relationships can be tricky. BFF or NRF is filled with friendship truths and insights on how to navigate the inevitable bumps in the road. My hope is that kids and families go back to the book in times of struggle. It helps them know they are not alone and offers ideas on how to move forward. How do you think parents, teachers, or counselors could use your book and the guide to engage in deeper conversations with kids? Since the book grew out of a program, it offers a framework for groups, classes, and families. I've heard from parents and school counselors that the Friendship Pyramid and nine Friendship Truths a go-to resources that helps kids navigate friendship. Every chapter includes activities and discussion points. There is a list of discussion questions at the back of the book too. Friendship requires a variety of skills that take time and practice to develop. It’s a messy process filled with change, mistakes, and misunderstandings. My hope is that BFF or NRF serves as a warm and compassionate guide as girls journey through their social world.


Jessica, thank you again for taking the time to answer our questions! Readers, be sure to pick up your copy of "BFF or NRF" here and share it with the teens and tweens in your life!

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Lori Fittner joins us today on Picture Book THerapy Thursday to discuss her book "Goodbye Bad Dreams".

Lori always had her head in a book when she was little, and knew books would be a big part of her life. Lori's first career was in the managing editorial department of Simon & Schuster, where she got to correct mistakes in books before they ended up in children’s hands. She then became a teacher, and now writes full time while being a mom to two amazing kids. Lori loves humor and tris to put that into everything she does. She finds it so rewarding to teach kids while they think they are just having fun. Lori has published two adult books, Teaching to the Child and Welcome to Motherhood, and three picture books, No Place Like Earth, What Do You Do with a Doodleloo?, and Goodbye Bad Dreams. All keep up with her mantra of teaching through humor and silliness.


Goodbye Bad Dreams is the story of Hanna, a young girl who has bad dreams and a great imagination. She learns how to use her imagination to turn her bad dreams into good ones and you can too. If you are tired of waking up to cries of "I had a bad dream," this book can help you and your little ones finally get a good night's sleep.


Goodbye Bad Dreams uses a known therapeutic strategy to help children overcome bad dreams, and is a fun book for any child who likes art. A blank page is often scary for an adult to look at, but kids see blank pages as canvases waiting to be filled. In this book, kids are not only allowed to, but encouraged to draw on the pages. Children love getting to draw in this book, and then reading it again and again with their art telling the story.


What inspired you to write "Goodbye Bad Dreams'?


I still remember the first time my daughter woke up with a bad dream, when she was about 2. When she was about 5, she began having them pretty frequently. She would yell for myself or my husband, but when we sat with her, she wouldn’t tell us anything about the dream. I learned that kids with big imaginations often have bad dreams, and this was definitely true of my daughter! Before I even knew it was a strategy used by therapists, I decided to use Hannah’s imagination to help change the bad dreams into good ones. We started with some of the silly ones in the book, and this encouraged Hannah to then tell us about her real dreams. Before we knew it, she was helping herself get back to sleep instead of calling for us! I knew I had discovered something I wanted to share with others because we all need a good night’s sleep!



What was the process like from inspiration to publication?

I used some of Hannah’s real dreams in the book, and she helped me come up with the silly resolutions. When I had a finished product, I tested the book out with parents of children of different ages and genders. I got some great feedback and made a few changes. At first I planned to have the entire book illustrated, but then had the idea of an “I create art” book where kids draw the pictures that go with each dream description. For the cover art, I reached out to a local 14 year old artist, and I am amazed by her talent and what she came up with. Right before publication, I was honored to receive a glowing review from a certified trauma specialist, confirming my belief that this fun, silly book could actually help children.

Do you have a scene in the book that was your favorite to write or see illustrated?


I love the cover image which shows a huge dinosaur pulling on the child’s bed. Hannah says, “There was a dinosaur. He was so big and my whole bed was shaking!” How does Hannah turn this into something silly? At first we had the dinosaur wearing a pink tutu, and dancing is what was causing the bed to shake. I still laugh out loud at the text that became the final version. “What if the dinosaur had too much water before bed . . .” Mom started. “and my bed was shaking because he was doing a pee pee dance, “ Hannah finished, laughing. So now, if Hannah has that dream again, she just has to show the dinosaur where the bathroom is. When I read this out loud, I always get a laugh, something about a grown up saying the words “pee pee dance” gets the kids every time.


Tell us about some of the techniques used in the book.


The book begins with a bad dream (but not too scary). At the bottom of the page is a rhyming refrain to encourage children to imagine the bad dream away. We turn the page and see how the dream was changed into something silly. This pattern continues, with an example of a bad dream, the reminder to imagine it away, and the resolution. Each time, the child in the book gets more confidence to do this on her own. She first works the dream out with mom, and is slowly encouraged to solve the dream herself while mom goes from sitting on her bed to standing in the doorway, etc. By the end, mom thinks Hannah didn’t have a bad dream that night, and Hannah is so proud to get up in the morning and tell mom she did have a bad dream, but she imagined it away all by herself! This technique of addressing the bad dreams, I find, is better than other strategies we’ve all heard. If you check under the bed, or spray monster dust, you are telling your child monsters are real, which is pretty scary! Telling them “it was just a dream,” doesn’t help either because while it is true that the dream isn’t real, the scary feelings associated with it are very real, and we don’t want the child to feel discredited, or that their feelings don’t matter. I believe in this strategy of addressing the bad dream and giving the child the power to change it.



How can parents, teachers, or counselors use your books to engage in deeper conversations with kids?


When I read this book with kids, I have them give me their ideas about how to turn each dream around before we turn the page to find out what Hannah does. This engages them and makes them active participants. When the reading is finished, children then take their colored pencils or crayons and begin illustrating the dreams from the book, or they use the blank pages at the end to illustrate their own bad dreams. I will never forget my first time doing a reading like this and seeing a little girl drawing a house with fire coming out of it. That was her own bad dream and not one from the book. Her mother was surprised to see this, and now knew what was troubling her daughter. If she was able to do this in a strange setting with strange people, imagine the success she could have at home! Some children will be able to jump right into sharing their own dreams, some will find it easier to first draw and discuss the dreams given to them in the book. Art is such an amazing tool for kids to show how they are feeling and to open the doors for deeper conversation.



Do you have any advice for authors who want to write about tough topics?


As a parent, I always turn to books when my kids are struggling with something. When I can’t find a book that suits my needs, sometimes I write one. My personal technique is using humor and silliness to help kids with tough topics. This may not work with every topic, but find what works for you, and go for it. If you as a parent have a need for a book, chances are others will find it useful as well. And if you’re not sure you’ve hit your mark, test the book out with your target audience, both the parents and children who you envision benefiting from your book.


Where can we find you to keep up with your work or order your books?


My website, LoriFettner.com, has more information about me and my books. You can also find me on Facebook. If you purchase Goodbye Bad Dreams, I would love to showcase some of your child’s artwork on my website!


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