When We Were Twelve—EMUs’ Advice To Their Younger Selves

All this week on the blog we’ve celebrated the launch of Elly Swartz’s debut middle grade novel, FINDING PERFECT.


FINDING PERFECT’s sweet, sensitive main character, twelve-year-old Molly, wishes her life was perfect, but family and school problems keep her in turmoil. She attempts to counteract these upsets with comforting rituals, only to find that these same rituals, bit by bit, begin to control her. As her anxiety escalates, it becomes clear that Molly needs someone to advise her, to assure her she is capable of positive change, and to help her look forward to stronger, better days.

Perhaps the best person to guide Molly would be her older, wiser self. With the perspective that comes with years, an adult Molly would know how to be supportive while encouraging growth. With this in mind, I asked the EMUs what advice they would give their twelve-year-old selves.

We’ll start with the author.  Elly’s advice to Elly Junior? “Be brave. Be kind. Be curious. And always stay true to who you are.”


Isn’t Elly Junior adorable? See the light of creativity and compassion in her eyes? Bet this kid will grow up to be a writer or something.

The Debbi Michiko Florence of today advises her younger self, “Don’t worry so much about following trends like Farrah Fawcett feathered hair – really, it doesn’t work on Japanese stick-straight hair.”


(I admire you, Debbi, for even trying. While my sister expertly wielded her round brush and can of AquaNet every morning, I slept in.)

Debbi goes on to recall a relatable tween dilemma with all its requisite drama. She asks her younger self, “And that gold belt trend you just had to follow? Remember how you begged and pleaded with your mom to get you that gold belt and how you lost it the first day you wore it to school? And remember how you convinced the teacher to let you go look for it and then convinced your friend’s teacher to let her leave her class to help you look for it? And how you looked and looked and couldn’t find it and you were so afraid you were going to get in trouble and you were freaking out? Then upi found it. The belt had slipped under your shirt and you were still wearing it! Don’t sweat the small stuff ! Or even what you think is the “big stuff.”


I don’t have a picture of Debbi  back then, but I know she was much, much cuter than a sleepy desktop ducking.

PierceHeadshotUCLA (2)little-terry

Like the seasoned picture book writer she is, Terry Pierce is superbly succinct. She advises young Terry to, “believe in yourself, be courageous and strong. Stand up for yourself if someone wrongs you. Don’t let others define you. You’re bright, a hard worker, and have a kind heart, and that will take you far in life.”

IMG_2512 - WEBJason Gallaher gives his former self a real pep talk, exhorting him, “to not stress out so much about how things are going to turn out in life. Everything is going to be just fine, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

Right now, dear 12 year-old, you’re quirky, a bit gangly, and your suspicions about liking boys are correct. But don’t worry about that because everything turns out better than fine.Keep focusing on your dreams because they will come true. And I know you’re going to roll your eyes and say, “Everybody says that.” But I’m not just saying this like your teachers or guidance counselors say it. I’m saying it knowing this for a fact about you, about us.

Every dream you have comes true: You move to a big city, your quirky talents get appreciation from people in a legitimate industry (publishing, in case you’re wondering), you *finally* get past that horrible middle stage when you grow out your hair and find out what it feels like to have long locks (You’re robsessed with it. Also, when Robert Pattinson becomes a thing you’ll understand the term “robsessed”), and you find love.

So keep trucking along. Love yourself, which I know will be a struggle, but in times when you feel down, know that even now, nearly two decades later, I love you and wouldn’t have made it here if not for you.

Sadly, Jason didn’t provide a tweenage picture of himself, so I’ll just leave this here.



Oh, and this:


Only one more, I promise.


Darcey Rosenblatt says, “I would tell myself there will come a time when you truly treasure all the things that make you weird and different than the normal kids – really – trust me.”


Spoken like a true environmental planner/scuba diver/mother/artist/story farmer/hiker/conference founder/wife/costume-maker/ soon-to-be published author, Darcey. You put the actual in self-actualized!

EMU Elaine Vickers advises her young self to value friendships, saying, “There are great things ahead, 12-year-old Elaine! You will soon outgrow this hairstyle and this shirt. But the friends you make this year will stay with you. You’ll laugh and grow and travel together. One will sing at your wedding, another will help deliver your babies. And one day, they will take you out to dinner the night before your first book launches. Hang on to these friends.”


Stay true to yourself. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Stand up for yourself and be kind. Love yourself. Treasure what makes you different. Hang on to good friends.

Good advice for FINDING PERFECT’S Molly and everyone else. Congratulations and thank you, Elly!!!

Enjoy the day,



Curriculum Guide for FINDING PERFECT:


A Teacher’s Guide For FINDING PERFECT


A Teacher’s Guide For FINDING PERFECT About the Book To twelve-year-old Molly Nathans, perfect is: • The number four • The tip of a newly sharpened No. 2 pencil

To purchase Finding Perfect:




hayley-at-12Hayley's Author Photo

I write for young people and live to make kids laugh. My picture book BABYMOON celebrates the birth of a new family and is coming from Candlewick Press. WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW, a narrative nonfiction picture book, is coming in spring 2019 from Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books and will be illustrated by Diana Sudyka. I’m represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.


Filed under Advice, Anxiety, Book Launch, Character Development, Characters, Inspiration, Launch, Panic, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

My Traveling Companions

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”
― A.A. MilneWinnie-the-Pooh


Today, my heart is overflowing with gratitude. On Tuesday, my debut novel, Finding Perfect, found its way into the world, into the hands of kids, teachers, moms, dads, and grandparents. Today, Molly’s story is a shared one. But, it didn’t start that way. Molly’s story started with an idea, then morphed into words on my computer, then into a book. It started with me, but I never traveled this path alone.

And, so today is about all those who traveled with me. All those I want to thank.

My husband. Wow. Not even sure where to begin. You have been with me on every step of this 15 year journey. And at no time did you waver in your steadfast belief in me. You are the love of my life and I am so grateful to have you by my side. Always.

My sons. Two boys, endless inspiration. Through the years, you have inspired me to write, to go for my dream, to work hard, to be better. Your belief in me, allowed me to believe in this dream and believe in me. I am so lucky to be your mom. You make my heart happy every day.

My family near and far. I love you all with all of my heart. Thank you thank you thank you.

My friends. You may never know how impactful your support has been. You gave me hugs and wine and walks and talks and candy, all at exactly the right moments.

FSG. Joy and the entire FSG team thank you for taking a chance on me. For believing in me and my story.

My agent. Trish the amazing. Honestly, so thankful to have you at the helm, helping me navigate these waters and always having my back. You are so much more than my agent. You are my friend. And, for that, I am grateful.

EMLA. You guys rock. I never knew getting an agent, meant I was also getting a writing family.  Love you guys.

Sweet 16ers. It’s been one heck of a year. Thank you for sharing this ride with me. You are kind and supportive and, obviously, sweet.

Educators. You seamlessly welcomed me and Finding Perfect into the kidlit world before the book had even entered the world. You made me feel like Molly and I belonged. You are kind and gracious and dedicated. I wish every kid has a lifetime of teachers like you.

To all of my traveling companions, thank you for being a part of my journey. It’s been one amazing ride!



IMG_9552  Elly Swartz is a middle-grade author. Her debut novel, FINDING PERFECT (FSG October, 2016) is about a twelve-year-old girl named Molly, friendship, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. It took thirteen years, numerous drafts, many Twizzlers, loads of hugs, and much unconditional love, to find her way to YES. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts with her husband, two sons and beagle named Lucy. If you want to connect with Elly or learn more about what she’s working on, you can find her at www.ellyswartz.com, on Twitter @ellyswartz or Facebook.


Filed under Celebrations, Happiness, Writing and Life

FINDING PERFECT Launch Week: Interview with Agent Tricia Lawrence

We’re continuing the launch of Elly Swartz’s touching and heartfelt Finding Perfect. Up today, an interview with Elly’s agent, EMLA’s own Tricia Lawrence.

ellyandtrishWelcome, Trish! First question: How did you and Elly find each other?

Elly was a referral from my colleague and fellow agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette.

What was it about FINDING PERFECT that grabbed your attention?

Elly has a very smooth and heartfelt writing style. I felt as if I was in capable hands. The main character, Molly, drew me in right away. She still draws me in on the nth reading. I always fall right back into the story each time too! (And I know what happens!)

Do you have a favorite line or scene from the book? A favorite character?

I think it’s at the end when everyone really comes together to support Molly. It’s this cathartic moment that I can’t get enough of. I also adore Molly’s friends and family. They all feel so real to me.

finding-perfectIs there anything else we should know about Elly or her awesome debut?

Elly is incredible. I am so lucky to be working with such a professional. She’s kind, extremely hardworking, and honest about everything. I’m delighted to see her emails in my inbox, so proud of her as her writing has only gotten stronger (stay tuned!), and I cannot wait to see how Molly’s story helps readers, impacts lives, and inspires all of us to be better, to do better. It’s a great week this week, especially being OCD awareness week, for Molly, Elly, and FINDING PERFECT to be introduced to the world. I’m so proud of Elly and Molly. I think they have great lives ahead of them.😉 Really glad to be a part of both.

Thank you, Trish! And be sure to check out Finding Perfect, available now at these fine retailers (and your local library!)

Amazon               Barnes and Noble               Indiebound



Filed under Book Launch, Interviews, Launch, Uncategorized

What Does Perfect Mean to You?

To continue the launch of Elly Swartz’s FINDING PERFECT, we’re examining just what “perfect” means. Molly Nathans, the protagonist of Elly’s book, struggles with reaching perfection as her OCD starts to affect her life in increasingly harmful ways. But as the audio trailer for Elly’s book shows, perfect is so subjective. Take a listen to what different children describe as perfect for them:

As Elly puts it, “[T]here is no such ‘thing’ as perfect…. The point of the story is to share the notion that no one is truly perfect and to understand that perfect is a moment, an experience, not a thing.” In that spirit, we in the Emus Nest are sharing what types of moments or experiences are perfect for us.



Finish this sentence: Perfect is…

Hayley Barrett: Perfect is a freshly mucked stall, a full hay rack, and a clean bucket of water.

Terry Pierce: For me, personal perfect is when I’m with my family, all of us together, preferably somewhere in the outdoors, laughing and loving life. Professional perfect is when I’m writing for very young children, using sparse text and rich language, a cup of licorice spice tea nearby, and warm cat snuggled beside me. Can’t get much better than that (well, if someone buys the manuscript but that’s another story!).

Darcey Rosenblatt: Perfect for me is a whole long day in front of me with an excellent book either far away from the City or next to a crackling fire. Le sigh.

Elaine Vickers: Perfect is waking up to the creak of my bedroom door and then feeling my kids’ warm little bodies snuggling up beside me.

Katie Slivensky: Perfect to me is a cabin on a lake, with good friends in adirondack chairs lined up on either side of me, as we read together, laugh together, and watch the way the sun gleams off the water. Oh, and there’s probably a dog jumping in that water, too.

Andrea Wang: Perfect is baking a tasty treat from scratch in a cozy kitchen with my kids and nieces, with music on in the background and laughter and chatter and flour all around.

Jason Gallaher: Perfect is a day on the beach, a book in my bag, my pup snuggled up next to me, with my partner by my side.


Perfect is also reading Elly’s FINDING PERFECT! You can grab a copy starting today at IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or your favorite bookstore. A curriculum guide can also be found here.


IMG_2512 - WEBJason Gallaher is a picture book and middle grade writer who loves to create stories that mix the flamboyantly whacky with the slightly dark. His debut picture book, WHOBERT WHOVER, OWL DETECTIVE, releases in Summer 2017 from Margaret K. McElderry Books. When not writing, Jason zips about Austin, Texas. He would also describe perfect as meeting Anjelica Huston and becoming BFFs. Jason is a self-described Hufflepuff, and he is actively looking for an Andalite friend. (Photo Cred: David-Gabe Photography)


Filed under Book Launch, Uncategorized

Finding Perfect, Finding Understanding!

finding-perfect-2It is launch week for my friend and agency mate Elly Swartz’s FINDING PERFECT. I was lucky enough to read an advanced reader copy of this book and I LOVED IT. This book is one of those books that is going to be life changing for some kids. Elly’s main character Molly is in middle school and dealing with worsening symptoms of OCD. The book is sweet and funny and truly sensitive to Molly’s situation. I know it’s going to be a lifechanging book that helps some kids understand themselves better and others to be more compassionate. To commemorate the launch of this special book I asked other Emu’s about books that changed their perspectives when they young.

As a kid, Debbi Michiko Florence loved reading – from Charlotte’s Web to the witch books by Ruth Chew and Judy Blume as well. When she was in 5th or 6th grade she came across FAREWELL TO MANZANAR by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston, about Jeanne’s experience being interned as a Japanese-American during WWII. It was the first she’d heard about this event. This led to ask questions and she learned from her dad that he and his family had been interned. Debbi said, “It was the first book I’d read that was about and by a Japanese-American. While it was a story that saddened me, it also made me feel connected, gave me a sense of my own history. Until I had a Japanese-American teacher in 4th grade who set me straight, I actually believed my ancestors came over on the Mayflower, because that’s the way we were taught in elementary school back then. I was grateful then as I am now for Jeanne’s honest and heart-breaking portrayal of life in the internment camp, but also for the strength of those who tried to make the best of a horrible situation.” Debbie recently bought the book for her college-age daughter.

Andrea Y. Wang told me that even though Anne Shirley was nothing like her on the surface, reading about her in the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES books made her feel less alone and more hopeful. Anne was an outsider who was often teased by her peers, yet she had an inner strength that Andrea admired and tried to emulate. “Anne showed me that all I needed was one or two kindred spirits and I would be fine.” I felt the same way!

For me Madeline L’Engle’s WRINKLE IN TIME was hugely important. Meg Wallace showed me a character that felt like I felt – awkward and different from all the other kids I knew, but in the end resourceful and strong, partly because of those differences. I think that’s why both these books have lasted through the decades.

Like Debbi’s experience with FAREWELL TO MANZANAR, I’m sure FINDING PERFECT will inspire empathy and understanding and Molly will bring solace and inner strength to the many kids who see themselves in her. We are thrilled and proud to send FINDING PERFECT on its way!

Darcey Rosenblatt’s debut novel will be published by Henry Holt/MacMillan in August 2017. LOST BOYS, an historic fiction, tells the story of a 12-year old Iranian boy sent to fight in the Iran Iraq war in 1982. With her critique group she runs the Better Books Workshop – an annual small deep craft conference held in Northern California. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her fabulous husband and perfect daughter, some fish, a cat and the best dog in the world. By day she is an environmental planner and when time permits she paints and costumes for a 5-8 year old theater.


Filed under Uncategorized

We LOVE Our Furry, Feathered, and Finned Friends!

To round out EMU’s Debuts’ launch of Donna Janell Bowman’s STEP RIGHT UP, we’re posting pics about our fave pets. Be sure to read to the end for a very special photo by the author herself! And, if you add a Comment, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a free copy of the book.

While you’re savoring the photos, let’s remember that Jim Key wasn’t Doc’s pet; I suspect that, given his own history, Doc didn’t even think he owned Jim Key. The heroes of Donna’s book, both two-legged and four-, were partners, which is the way many of us feel about the beloved animals in our lives.

Elly Swartz (whose EMU’s Debut of FINDING PERFECT takes place next week!) says about Lucy, her family’s two-year-old beagle, “We had agreed to visit the pups but not necessarily bring one home that day. Needless to say, an hour later, we had a new addition to our family!”


Katie Slivensky’s Galileo is nine. Darwin (don’t you love their names?!) came along because Galileo’s vet said he could use a companion. “Living with them is like living with Pinky and the Brain. Galileo is a diabolical genius who loves getting into trouble, and Darwin is an innocent snowflake who spends most of his life vaguely confused.”

P1010887 Kate.JPG

Andrea Wang has gone out on a limb and under water with her pets. “At various times I had a parakeet, a gerbil, several fish, and a cat. But I always wanted a dog.” This is Mochi, a rescue from Puerto Rico.

IMG_7570 Andrea.jpeg

Debbi Michiko Florence’s pets are definitely unusual. Please meet Darcy and Lizzy.

IMG_4692 Debbie.JPG

And here we have Jason Gallaher’s Pomeranian, Pom Brokaw, and his friend’s French bulldog, Edward. Jason says, “We were discussing men’s fall fashions together.”

Emus Pet Picture.png

Appropriately, we also have an EMU’s pony, saved by kindness. Hayley Barrett says that Trish “was a true miracle in my life. We bought her from the man who rescued her from an abusive situation. I taught her to trust again. The power of pure, childlike love.”

Hayley and Trish.jpg

Finally, from Donna: “This is Kat, my late father’s King Ranch stallion—a cherished member of our family— “signing” the contract for Step Right Up. It was both a tribute to my roots and to my dad. Kat passed away a few months ago, on the day I learned of the book’s Junior Library Guild selection. He was forty-years-old.”

Kat signing Donnas contract copy.jpeg

STEP RIGHT UP and comment for a chance to win a book!



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Jim Key Pledge of Kindness


The launch week for Donna Janell Bowman’s STEP RIGHT UP continues! Between roughly 1898-1906, around two million people signed the original Jim Key Pledge of Kindness towards animals, which you can read the introduction of above. Most of the signatures were from kids! Today, our EMUs share personal moments of kindness towards animals. Be sure to read all the way to the end to check out Donna Janell Bowman’s revised Pledge of Kindness! And also, of course, for a chance to win a copy of her debut!

Little Jason Wanted to Rescue a Dog

I was a persistent little thing when I was a kid. When my family decided to move out of the big city of Spokane, Washington, to the small town of Deer Park, WA, I was convinced we needed another dog to go with all the extra acreage. My parents were pretty neutral about the idea, so I said, “Why don’t we just go to the shelter and *look* at dogs. We don’t have to get one.” In my mind, however, I was thinking, “I’m not walking out of that shelter without a dog,” which in hindsight I’m pretty sure Mom and Dad knew. I walked through the front door of that shelter, pointed at the first dog I saw, and said, “I want that one.” I don’t even think I fully saw what the cute canine was, I just really, REALLY wanted a new puppy. I’m so glad the first dog I saw was Shilo. She was the sweetest border collie/black lab mix with a heart of gold and a tail that could do more damage than a baseball bat. Like, Carrie Underwood should have trashed that truck in the music video of “Before He Cheats” with Shilo’s tail. – Jason Gallaher

Hayley’s Sister Spent the Night in a Kennel

My look-a-like sister spent 24 hrs. in a kennel recently to raise money for Cape Ann Animal Aid. There’s a picture too! – Hayley Barrett


Terry found an unexpected friend at the beach!

My problem is figuring out which rescue animal to choose from. All but one of our pets are rescue animals, but the one that truly needed rescuing because she was homeless was our 14543720_10210872113177661_6213554251607200980_odog, Rin. We had driven to a favorite windsurfing site for a week of vacation. After we’d parked, we opened the door, and a dog jumped in our van, right on my 6-year old son’s lap! We asked around trying to find the owner. Finally, one of the local windsurfers told us that the week before, he saw someone drive up, open their door and kick the dog out; then drove away. I was so angry at their cruelty! But it was soon tempered by the kindness of the local windsurfers, who had been taking care of her, trading off “dog duty” until they could find someone to adopt her. In that week, she and my son were inseparable. She was sweet, smart, loyal and affectionate, and I still can’t figure out why anyone would have abandoned her like that, or how they could be so cruel to just dump a her. But Rin soon became a member of our family and we loved her until she passed away at age 17 (the vet estimated she was a year old when she came into our lives).

After Rin passed away, we adopted two cats from a rescue center, one of which has vision problems and allergy issues…he soon became my “co-author” cat! (See, I could go on and on…). – Terry Pierce

Debbi rescues raptors!

When I was in college (a long time ago), I spent 3 years volunteering at a raptor rehabilitation center. I helped care for injured and orphaned owls, hawks, vultures, and eagles. I did education programs visiting area schools and organizations with (unreleasable) raptors. It was especially rewarding to release rehabilitated raptors back into the wild. That was many years ago. But three years ago, after we moved to Connecticut, I was sitting in my writing studio that overlooks a pond, and saw an osprey in the water! I was so excited! I ran to get my camera, hoping she wouldn’t fly away. She hadn’t. I snapped photo after photo. After awhile though, I wondered why she hadn’t flown away and waIMG_0353sn’t moving at all. I realized belatedly that she was in distress. The pond is mucky and I didn’t have waders so I asked the guy mowing our lawn for help (he had waders). We got the osprey out of the pond and into a carrier and I took her to the nearby rescue center. Turned out she was fine, just waterlogged. After rest and hydration, she was released and she flew away. YAY! – Debbi Michiko Florence

Katie became a Mouse Mom!

In my late teens, I worked at a zoo and one day came in to find a surprise. My coworkers had found a stranded baby mouse in the pony yard the day before. Clearly one of the barn mice mothers had lost a kiddo! It barely had fur, its eyes and ears were shut, and I was pretty sure it was dead when they showed it to me. They’d left it overnight already in a box with no warmth, no milk, nothing. But for whatever reason, they were sure I would be the one to bring it back to life. My coworkers begged me to take charge of it.

cheezitmeasureSince it wasn’t dead yet, I felt I had to at least try. I spent all day holding it, trying to warm it up, and trying to get it to drink at least a lick of milk. At the end of the day, I was about to give up and sadly place the mouse in the bushes to let nature take its course. But just then–a tiny pink tongue stuck out and took a small sip of the milk I’d been offering it. It was alive after all! And in a single moment, my heart was stolen.

We named him Cheezit because the box he was originally kept in, and after research told me he wouldn’t survive in the wild if I released him as an adult, he became my little buddy for nearly four years. Video here. – Katie Slivensky

Being kind to animals is something everyone is capable of. Doc Key knew this, and created his pledge to encourage others to embrace kindness over cruelty. Here is Donna’s updated and more inclusive version of the pledge. Soon, it will be downloadable, with original art, from Donna’s website.  Let’s make this a thing again, friends!

The Jim Key Pledge of Kindness

I promise to step right up and choose kindness.

I will respect the needs and feelings of others, including

furry, feathered, and finned friends.

I will share kind words, do good deeds, and help those in need—

because kindness can change the world. 


 Kindness, kindness, and more kindness—that’s the way.”

                           –William “Doc” Key


You can grab your own copy of Donna Janell Bowman’s STEP RIGHT UP on October 15 at IndieBound, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Donna is also giving away a signed copy of her book! All you have to do is comment on any of the posts celebrating Donna’s launch this week, and a winner will be randomly selected.


Filed under Uncategorized

Interview with STEP RIGHT UP editor, Louise May

The launch of Donna Janell Bowman’s STEP RIGHT UP continues with an interview with Donna’s editor, Louise May of Lee & Low Books! Scroll down to read about literate horses, nonfiction editing and African safaris!

Step Right Up cover hi res

Jason Gallaher: What drew you to Donna’s portrayal of the story of Doc and Jim Key and made you want to acquire it?

Louise May: First of all, the topic of the story was just too amazing. A horse that could read, write, and spell, among many other things! Who wouldn’t find this intriguing. Donna’s portrayal stood out because of the completeness of the story, the evident research behind it, and Donna’s commitment to telling Doc and Jim’s story in the best way possible. We knew kids would love this story.

JG: How does editing nonfiction differ from editing fiction in picture books?

LM: Editing nonfiction generally differs from editing fiction in the amount of research and vetting required. As an editor, you rely on your author to do all the primary and secondary research necessary, but to edit nonfiction effectively, you also have to educate yourself about the subject. And after all that, it is still necessary to have experts vet the manuscript and for a sensitivity reader to review it. It’s an incredible amount of work, but well worth the effort. Our goal is to present both an accurate and engaging story for readers.

JG: Daniel Minter’s illustrations are so vibrant. What about his illustrations made you think they were perfect for this story?

LM: The period feel, the dramatic compositions, the vibrant colors, the strong graphic quality—all these aspects of Daniel’s art work together to create images that bring Doc and Jim to life. When looking for an illustrator for this book, as soon as we came across Daniel’s work, we knew he was the one we wanted to illustrate Donna’s book.

JG: Finish this sentence: This picture book is perfect for…

LM: everyone! There are so many appealing themes in this book; there is something for everyone who enjoys a good story.

JG: Doc and Jim’s story carries a wonderful message of compassion and kindness toward animals. What’s the most remarkable or special animal you’ve ever encountered in your life?

LM: I am not a pet person or especially keen on domestic animals in general, but I have a love of wild animals in their natural habitats. I have been to southern Africa three times on wildlife safaris. The first time I was on safari we set out on our first game drive, crossed through a low river, turned a corner—and there was the most amazing, gigantic giraffe alongside the road. I will never forget the thrill of that first encounter.

Thank you so much for your time, Louise!

You can grab your own copy of Donna Janell Bowman’s STEP RIGHT UP on October 15 at IndieBound, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Donna is also giving away a signed copy of her book! All you have to do is comment on any of the posts celebrating Donna’s launch this week, and a winner will be randomly selected!


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Interview with STEP RIGHT UP author, Donna Janell Bowman

This week on EMU’s Debuts, we’re celebrating the release of STEP RIGHT UP: HOW DOC AND JIM KEY TAUGHT THE WORLD ABOUT KINDNESS, written by fellow EMU, Donna Janell Bowman. In today’s world, there seems to be a need for more kindness, towards fellow humans and animals. Donna’s amazing picture book biography shows how one man and one horse began an entire movement, the humane movement to treat animals with kindness. Please join us in celebrating Donna’s debut picture book!

Step Right Up cover hi res

What inspired you to write about Doc Key and Jim?

Oh, gosh, there was so much to be inspired by! Initially, I was drawn to the story because of the remarkable things the horse Beautiful Jim Key was purportedly able to do: spelling, writing, calculating math problems, filing letters, making change from a cash register, and more. That was all so fascinating! As I researched, I became even more enamored with William “Doc” Key, a formerly-enslaved man—the trainer behind Jim’s remarkable kindness-based “education.” Ultimately, I realized that the deeper significance to the story was the duo’s relationship and how, together, they made a profound difference in the humane movement. In a word, this was a story about kindness—a subject that we need more of these days.

Daniel Minter’s artwork is stunning and a perfect match for your story. What did you think when you first saw the artwork for the book?

It is stunning, isn’t it? When I first saw the art, I oohed, and aahed. I might have gotten a bit misty-eyed, too. It felt a bit like meeting Doc and Jim for the first time. What’s interesting is that I’d had a vision of the characters and setting (mostly photo realistic,) in my head for many years before art was done. But, when I saw Daniel’s lino-cut and acrylic illustrations, with a color palette and style that reflect the period, I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the world bringing Doc and Jim to life. Just as my heart is woven into the text, Daniel’s is etched and painted into the images.

You did a fabulous job of showing Doc Key’s core belief of kindness throughout the story. Can you talk a little bit about that? Was it evident in your research? How did you keep the focus tight as you wrote the story? (I ask because this can be challenging when writing nonfiction picture books)

This is a great, multi-layered question. One of the challenges with writing about a historical subject is finding common threads in documentation that help the writer determine the focus. Kindness was a common thread that appeared in promotional pamphlets, quotes by Doc, and newspaper accounts about Beautiful Jim Key performances—all emphasizing that Jim had only ever been treated with kindness. That was in stark contrast to the way most animals were treated in the 19th century. The theme was solidified when I learned of the sponsorship of humane societies, the creation of new humane societies, donated proceeds, the Jim Key Pledge of Kindness, Doc’s Service to Humanity Award, and Jim’s Living Example Award. I even found a photo of a Jim Key horse ambulance, funded by Jim’s performances. This is simplifying it, of course, but you can see how evidence supported the kindness theme.

The other part of your question about focus…well, that’s the biggest challenge of all when writing a picture book biography. Without a tight angle, writing about a notable man’s entire seventy-three years, in the limited space of a picture book, would require the broadest strokes of exposition. For Step Right Up, I chose to focus tightly on the relationship between Doc and Jim, primarily during their training and performance years.

The Author Sources included at the back of the book is extensive. How long did you research before you actually began writing the first draft?

Oh, if only you could see my full list of sources, which is about three times as long as the select list that landed in the back matter. I researched quite a bit before I wrote my first draft back in 2006, and I never stopped researching, right up til the week the book went to print. It’s been so long since my first draft, but I want to say that I put first crappy words on the page about six months into research. The meatiest research came after that first draft. I donned white gloves to peruse crumbling scrapbooks in state library archives, I squinted through microfilm (I even bought my own microfilm copy,) I read hundreds of 1876-1912 newspaper articles, and I travelled to Tennessee for onsite research. And that doesn’t count the books I read about the humane movement, slavery and reconstruction in Tennessee, and animal behavior. In a way, Doc and Jim prepared me for all other books to come.

You were inspired to launch a fundraising effort in conjunction with your book. Tell us about that.  

Yes, I did. What I didn’t mention earlier is that I grew up on a ranch and spent all my free time training for horse shows. I have a deep and abiding love of horses and all animals. They have enriched my life in countless ways. So, with Step Right Up, I saw a way to give back through two efforts. With Lee and Low’s support, I am reviving the original Jim Key Pledge of Kindness, which will be featured later in the week. The second effort is to raise money for an equine humane society. When law enforcement seizes starved, abused, neglected, and stray horses (I’m lumping mules, ponies, donkeys here, too.), they can’t simply take them to the local animal shelter. Large animals are a unique challenge.  It can cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars to rehabilitate a horse nutritionally, medically, and with training. My hope is to use Step Right Up as a way to shine a light on the problem of abuse while helping a worthy organization. I’ve set up a Crowdrise account, benefiting Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society. I think Doc would be pleased. Here’s the link: Step Right Up and Help the Rescued Horses of Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society.


I’m going to steal Jason’s final question in Megan Weber Lloyd’s interview, which he stole from Elaine Vickers interview with Pat Zietlow Miller. Finish this sentence: The perfect reader for this book would be…

The perfect reader for this book would be myself at age nine or ten. Seriously, I would have loved learning about Doc and Jim when I was a kid, which is why I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is my debut picture book. But, your question is about other readers, so I think the perfect reader for this book is any kid or adult who loves animals, inspiring stories about perseverance and overcoming obstacles, and stories about the power of kindness.


PierceHeadshotUCLA (2)About Terry Pierce…

Terry writes picture books, easy readers and board books and is whittling away at a middle-grade adventure novel. She lives in the California desert but avoids the summer heat by retreating to Mammoth Lakes every summer to hike, bike, write and dip her head in high mountain sky. She’s a Vermont College of Fine Arts graduate and teaches online children’s writing courses for UCLA Extension (go Bruins!).




Filed under Book Launch, Interviews

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Last week, Facebook reminded me of a memory. On September 29, six whole years ago, I posted that I had just finished a first draft of a chapter book.


Less than a year from now, on July 11, that chapter book, Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen, will be published by FSG. Not only that, but a second book in the series, Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth, will also be released at the same time. AND, there are two more books in the series.

When I finished that first draft, I had no clue how long it would take me to revise and then sell that book. I accumulated many many rejections over the years. I share details of that journey here: The Long Bumpy Road. It’s more than a dream come true to have a series!

Since signing the contract with FSG, I’ve been working with my editor, the fabulous Grace Kendall. Let me tell you, it was well worth the wait to partner with Grace because not only does she love and understand Jasmine, Grace makes me a better writer.


This journey has been heady, exciting, and thrilling with so many pinch-me moments. Since spring of 2015:

  • Received editorial letter and completed revisions with Grace
  • Found out that the talented Elizabet Vukovic is the series illustrator
  • Viewed rough sketches of Jasmine and her family
  • Completed copyedits of Mochi Queen
  • Viewed spot illustrations of Mochi Queen
  • Received draft of the cover art of Mochi Queen (kudos to designer Kristie Radwilowicz who did an amazing job)

I’m still in awe. I sometimes can’t believe that any of these things are happening. In fact, I’ve welled up with tears of joy at each and every step. I can’t wait to share illustrations and the cover art. I love Elizabet’s drawings of Jasmine and her family. As a not-very-visual writer, I had a vague idea of what Jasmine looked like. It wasn’t until I saw Elizabet’s illustrations that I knew what Jasmine looked like. Does that make sense? Now I can see Jasmine and her family and friends in my head.


As soon as I’m able, I will share illustrations/cover art here!

I’m currently waiting to see the spot illustrations and cover art for book 2. I’m giddy! And soon I’ll be revising books 3 and 4 with Grace’s fabulous and wise feedback. I am seriously loving each and every step of this journey. I might sound a bit “Pollyanna” about this process, but believe me, prior to making this sale, I had plenty of doubts, plenty of bad days, plenty of down days. I’m truly grateful to be where I am now. I am looking forward to the next steps on this path!

web_edit6xx8t3624Debbi Michiko Florence writes full time in her cozy studio, The Word Nest. Her favorite writing companions are her rabbit, Aki, and her two ducks, Darcy and Lizzy.

The first two books of her debut chapter book series Jasmine Toguchi will be coming out from Farrar Straus Giroux on July 11, 2017, with two more books to follow. She is also the author of two nonfiction children’s books.

Before she started writing as her career, Debbi worked at a pet store, volunteered as a raptor rehabilitator, interned as a zookeeper’s aide, taught fifth grade, and was the Associate Curator of Education for a zoo.

You can visit her online on her web site and her reading blog. She’s also on Twitter.


Filed under Dreams Come True, Editing and Revising, Faith, joy, Thankfulness