October 2023 Feature Interview with Children’s Book Author Heather Stigall, Conducted by Kidlit Writer, Blogger & Librarian Chelsea DiCicco

Hello, and welcome back to yet another wonderful Feature Interview. If this is your first time visiting, let me tell you a little about what makes these segments so unique.

What’s the big deal with Feature Interviews?

Feature Interviews are an INVALUABLE resource for writers and illustrators at every stage of their publishing journey. Not only are they a great way to stay current on market trends and learn more about the industry’s ins and outs, but they also give readers an up close & personal look at the world of publication from the perspectives of a diverse collection of creators.

Every month, I sit down with members of the writing community, and we discuss everything publishing.

Here are some of the things we talk about:

  • Writing Workshops & Resources
  • Diversity in literature and Why it matters
  • Where to find support & community
  • How to improve writing craft & set goals
  • How to deal with setbacks/disappointments & WAITING
  • Helpful tips & suggestions for aspiring authors & illustrators
  • Querying agents, contract negotiations, book deals & time frames
  • And of course- NEW BOOKS!

So, now that you know what to expect… let’s get into our interview. This month, I’m talking to Children’s Book Author Heather Stigall.

Heather Pierce Stigall: Bio

Heather Stigall uses her experience with children and her degrees in Child Development, Psychology-based Human Relations, and Social Work to create stories that speak to kids. She is the Critique Group/Meet & Greet Coordinator for the Eastern PA SCBWI Chapter, a member of the 12×12 Picture Book Challenge, and a wife and parent to five children and one pup. When she’s not writing, you can find Heather hanging out with her kids (hopefully at the beach), reading, eating chocolate, baking, or creating all sorts of treasures. Her debut picture book, PAISLEY’S BIG BIRTHDAY (Clavis Publishing) was released in August 2023 and is/will be published in five additional languages. Her second picture book, GILBERT AND THE GHOST, (Beaming Books) is due out fall 2026. You can connect with Heather through her website, HeatherPierceStigall.com, and her social media links at https://linktr.ee/HeatherStigall.

The Beginning: First Drafts & Querying Agents: Timeframe & Challenges

For a lot of us writers and illustrators who have been involved with the industry for a while, we know that publishing takes a loooong time. I mean, a REALLY long time. And waiting can be difficult.

Something common I've noticed with new aspiring writers and illustrators who are just beginning is that many  have the idea that publishing is easy, anyone can do it, and that as soon as you start putting in the work, things will automatically just take off. And of course, when that doesn’t happen, it can be discouraging. So, I wanted to start our conversation today with the early stages- the first drafts and querying.

Can you share a little bit about the beginning of your writing journey? What did your first drafts & querying stages look like?

Thank you for having me on your blog, Chelsea. You are so right! Publishing often takes a very long time, and my path to publication story is no exception. I have always loved children and picture books and even jotted down ideas for stories over many years, but it wasn’t until my youngest child was in preschool that I decided the time was right to get serious about a writing career. That was ten years ago! I started out slowly by learning about writing picture books and children’s publishing, joining SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), joining a critique group, and doing a lot of writing and revising. I gradually became more involved with the kidlit world. My first drafts were, of course, terrible. They often still are! But, over the years I’ve learned more about how to make them better, and I think the magic comes in the revision. I heard so much advice about not querying too soon, that I was nervous to query at all. But I finally felt ready when I had three picture book manuscripts that had been through multiple revisions, critiques, and gotten the stamp of approval from my critique partners.

**Ahh. Those words are so true. For anyone reading this, please take note: THE MAGIC COMES IN THE REVISION. Remember that. It will help you down the road.**

How long did it take you to finally get your agent call?

My agent and publishing journey has been quite a roller coaster ride. To summarize how I got to where I am today: 

2018 - I started querying agents. 
2019 - In addition to agents, I began querying one story to a few smaller presses who accepted un-agented submissions.
2020/21 – In addition to agents, I queried a few more stories to a few more small presses. 
March 2021 - I was offered a book contract (while I was un-agented) for PAISLEY’S BIG BIRTHDAY (expected publication date spring 2023; that got pushed to August 2023)
October 2021 - I received an agent offer (after querying a different story) and accepted; we went out on submission very shortly after.
April 2022 - While agented, I was offered a book contract for GILBERT AND THE GHOST (expected publication date fall 2024).
October 2022/January 2023 – My agent submitted another picture book to two rounds of editors.
March 2023 – My agent gave me the sad news that she decided to not represent authors any longer, but she will rep me on the story still on submission if it ever gets an offer.
May 2023 – My GILBERT editor shared cover sketches.
June 2023 – I began querying new agents; My GILBERT editor informed me her position at her publisher was eliminated; her replacement informed me the book will now not be published until fall 2026.
August to Present Day – PAISLEY’S BIG BIRTHDAY published. I’m actively querying agents, and I’m still waiting for word from a handful of editors who still have the book my former agent submitted.

I told you it was a roller coaster ride!

Whew! That's quite the list. What were some of the challenges you faced during those early stages, and how did you overcome them?

I encountered the usual challenges: struggling to find time to write, difficulty “justifying” the time and money on writing-related things on a “maybe” career; and rejection. As for how I deal with them, I have an amazingly supportive family and critique partners who have all cheered me on and helped give me the time and space I needed to devote to writing. For example, my mom took care of my youngest child at least one day a month so I could attend my critique group meetings. She gradually increased the frequency of her grandma duties so I could use that time to write. One fun thing I did, and continue to do, to help me deal with rejections is to use a “rejection jar” (I wish I knew who to credit with this idea!). Every time I get a rejection, I put a dollar in a jar. When I get a “yes,” I spend the money on something for myself. When I got my first book contract, I used the money in the jar for a massage. I got to empty the jar again when I received my agent offer and again with my second book contract. Now the jar is filling up waiting for the next “yes.”

Resources & Advice for Aspiring Writers & Illustrators

What are some of the best resources you’ve come across & how have they helped you on your writing journey?

Oh, so many! Probably the best thing I did was join SCBWI. That put me in touch with my local region of children’s writers and illustrators which opened my eyes and doors to so much more. Through that one resource, I found an amazing critique group, learned about writing and the kidlit industry by attending conferences and webinars, connected with industry professionals, and learned about many other resources out there. It also led to a fulfilling volunteer position with my region, the Eastern PA Chapter, and a great group of fellow volunteers who have become friends. As for other resources, I have actually compiled a list for children’s writers and illustrators that you can access through the Resources page of my website HERE.

Looking back, is there anything you would do differently in those early stages of the writing & querying process?

I really don’t think so. Any “mistakes” I might have made along the way I consider things I needed to do to learn from them.

I love that! What suggestions would you like to share with aspiring writers and illustrators?

Rely on the four “P”s: Prepare, Practice, Positive attitude, and Persist! 

Book Deals: Time Frame & Contract Negotiations

So, we talked about the querying timeframe. Now, let’s dive into book deals. We’ve landed our dream agent- YAY! (In your case- Beth Marshea of Ladderbird Agency!) Now what?? How long did it take you to get your first book deal? And what was that process like?

As I mentioned above, my first book deal came about while I was un-agented, so I’ll share both stories about my debut picture book contract and my second book contract that came about while I was represented by Beth.

By 2021, I hadn’t had any luck signing with an agent, so I made it my goal to not only query agents but also small presses that allowed un-agented submissions. One of those presses was Clavis Books, a well-established, reputable company that publishes authors and illustrators from around the world. During the pandemic, Clavis posted several read-aloud videos, so I got a feel for their tastes and wondered if a story I had written several years prior might be a good fit for their list. I pulled PAISLEY’S BIG BIRTHDAY out of the virtual drawer, made a few small changes, and submitted it to them in February 2021. A month after submitting to Clavis, I received an email from the CEO. I scanned it quickly and read, “It is a nice and sweet story, very close to children and told from their perspective.” I expected the rest to read the typical, “but, unfortunately, it isn’t a fit for our list.” But it didn’t say that. Instead, it said, “So, we would like to consider publication.” After so many rejections, I could hardly believe what I was reading!

All the while, I was actively querying agents with other manuscripts. One of those manuscripts was about a boy who wanted to befriend a ghost he believed lived in his neighborhood. That story is the one that landed me my agent in early October 2021 and was also the one we went on submission with at the end of that same month. Beth had a couple of very minor suggestions to tweak the manuscript and the pitch, and then it was ready to go. She subbed it to a round of 11 editors. Of those, eight passed and three never responded (so we assumed passed). In February 2022, we went out on a second round to 10 editors. In March, an editor at Beaming Books said she wanted to share it with her team. A week or two later, she came back with some questions, which I answered, and then in April she extended an offer!

A lot of people who are just starting out in publishing wonder, “Why do you have to have an agent?” So, leading into that question, I want to talk a little about agents and book deals. Can you tell us, from your experience, about publishing contracts & negotiations and explain why having an agent is so important?

You certainly don’t “have” to have an agent, but being represented by an agent does have several advantages. For example, agents can submit your story to publishing houses that are otherwise closed to un-agented authors and illustrators (unless by referral or conference connection). Often these houses are the ones that offer larger advances and print runs. Agents can also often negotiate better deals than authors/illustrators can on their own. Comparing my two contracts, one with a small house that accepts un-agented submissions and the other negotiated with an agent, I can tell you that I got a better deal with the agent-negotiated contract. Part of an agent’s job is to form relationships with editors so they can get a feel for what stories might be the best fit for which editors and publishers. Plus (and I love this) the agent is the one doing the research, submitting, monitoring, following up on submissions and payments, negotiating contracts, etc., so the author/illustrator can focus on the writing and illustrating. An agent-author relationship is a partnership and, of course, I was kept aware of what was going on and had input into all the decisions made, but it was such a relief to know Beth was dealing with all the stuff I didn’t want to stress about.

Throughout the publishing process, were there any challenges you experienced? If so, what were they, and how were you able to overcome them?

I think my roller coaster timeline above covers the challenges I’ve experienced in the last couple of years. I try to have a positive attitude, and the rejection jar helps, but I also think leaning on my critique partners when I’m feeling low helps tremendously. Find your people!

Fantastic advice. I couldn't have put it any better myself. 

The Best & The Worst

If you could sum up the best and worst parts of publishing, what would they be?

Worst: Publishing picture books is very competitive. And I don’t mean in a cut-throat way at all. There are so many wonderfully talented writers out there who all want, and deserve, to have their book published. But there is only so much space on the shelf and money in the pockets of publishers, so even the best-written and illustrated story might not get into the hands of young readers.

Best: I love the kidlit community! Just about all the writers, illustrators, agents, editors, educators, and, of course, young readers that I’ve encountered have been so friendly, encouraging, and supportive. 

In your opinion, what makes the journey worth it?

I just had my book launch party and, I have to say, reading a book that I wrote to a group of children is pretty darn great!

Any words of encouragement for your readers?

Focus on the things you can control (learn your craft, write, revise, read in your genre, join a critique group, research, submit, etc.), find your community (writing partners, a support system, cheerleaders), and persevere! The only guarantee to not being published is giving up, so keep at it!

Books, Illustration & Inspiration

Okay, now it’s time to talk about my favorite thing. Books! Tell us about your books & your inspiration behind them.

The origins of PAISLEY’S BIG BIRTHDAY began nine years ago when I picked up my youngest child from preschool on his birthday. He climbed into his car seat, wearing a glittery birthday crown and a slight frown. The conversation began something like this:

Birthday Boy: “When is my birthday?”
Me: “Today!
Birthday Boy: (shakes his head) “No. When is my real birthday?”
Me: “Today is your real birthday!”
Birthday Boy: “It doesn’t feel like it.”

My mind began to spin. Why didn’t he feel like it was his birthday? Did something happen or not happen at school? What would it take for him to feel like it was his “real” birthday? A few questions later, I realized that he believed that on his birthday, he would instantly “feel” older; he would magically be able to do things he wasn’t able to do the day before. But I kept the conversation going during the ride home, through lunch, and for some time after that. I asked lots of questions and listened as he shared evidence for why it was most definitely not his birthday. I was enamored with his reasoning and determination, while underneath it all, I felt his disappointment that this day, one that was supposed to be special, didn’t meet his expectations. Not long after, I wrote a draft of a story about a bunny who hops out of bed the morning of her birthday, expecting to be all things “big bunny.”

As we know, in Kidlit, half of our story is in the illustration- so let’s talk about pictures! Can you share a little bit about your illustrators and how they helped bring each story and character to life?

Clavis always produces beautifully illustrated picture books, so I knew I would be in good hands, but I really hit the jackpot when they chose Natallia Bushuyeva as the illustrator! I think her sweet art style is the perfect fit for PAISLEY. Unlike most U.S. publishers, Clavis makes it a practice to connect author and illustrator so they may collaborate if they wish. But I have no business telling an illustrator what to do, so I put my full trust in Natallia, and I think that worked out beautifully. I only included two art notes in the manuscript, which were to suggest actions that might not be understood in the text. The publisher shared illustrations with me at several points along the way: interior sketches, first color illustrations, proposed Dutch cover, final cover, full interior, and later, the English cover and full interior. Natallia had some suggestions for tweaking the art before approving it to go to print, and I asked them to move some text to another page. Clavis agreed to all our requests. It was a very collaborative process.

Do you have a favorite spread or image in your books? Which ones and why?

I love all of Natallia’s illustrations, of course, but I guess I’m partial to the spread of spot illustrations where Paisley is getting ready for her party. I love the little details like Paisley’s face peeking through as she blows up the balloon and Pip observing nearby (with a worried expression) when Paisley spills the punch. I especially love the expression on Paisley’s face in the last vignette. Natallia perfectly captures the frustration Paisley is feeling at that moment. 

Thank you so much, Heather, for all of your insightful feedback. We’re so grateful to have had you with us today. Before we end our interview, we have one last item on the agenda. And it’s a big one…

October 2023 Giveaway Prize

This month, Heather will be giving away a choice of EITHER a signed copy of PAISLEY’S BIG BIRTHDAY OR a written critique of a fiction picture book (up to 750 words) as a giveaway prize.

How can you enter?

During the month of October 2023:

  1. Subscribe to the blog (via email or WordPress)
  2. Like this blog post
  3. Leave a comment below with your prize choice

And that’s it!

Please note: in order to qualify, you must follow 1-3 during the month of October 2023. Window: October 1st-31st. Deadline: October 31st. That means you have to get those subscriptions, likes, and comments in BEFORE November 1st in order to qualify for the October 2023 Giveaway Prize. ** If you were already subscribed PRIOR to October, you do not need to subscribe again. Simply LIKE the October Feature Interview and post your comment below.**

Did you enjoy this interview? Support this author by purchasing her book below! Did you know… using the direct purchase link HERE also supports this blog?!

Connect with Heather

Email: HeatherStigallCM@aol.com

Website: www.HeatherPierceStigall.com

Facebook: Heather Pierce Stigall

X @heather_stigall

Instagram: @heather_stigall7

July 2023 Feature Interview With Children’s Author, Aya Khalil, conducted by Chelsea DiCicco

Hello again! Welcome to the July FEATURE INTERVIEW. This month I'm excited to introduce you to a special guest, Children's Author, Aya Khalil. Aya is such an inspiration and I cant' wait for you to get to know her a little better. For those of you who might already know her- I'm sure you already know. For those who don't yet- you're in for a treat! So, enjoy the interview. And don't forget to scroll to the bottom to see this month's giveaway prize and how you can be entered to win!

Aya's Bio: Aya Khalil is the award-winning author of The Arabic Quilt: An Immigrant Story, which is an NCTE’s Charlotte Huck Award Recommended Book and the winner of the Arab American Book Award, among other honors. She's also the author of Our World: Egypt and forthcoming picture books: The Night Before Eid and The Great Banned Books Bake Sale. Aya holds a master’s degree in education and works as a freelance journalist, whose articles have been featured in The Huffington Post and Brit & Co., among other publications. She immigrated from Egypt to the United States when she was young and currently lives with her partner and three children in Northwest Ohio. Aya invites you to visit her online at: ayakhalil.com

The beginning to publishing:

When did you first know you wanted to pursue writing? Was it something you always loved and envisioned for yourself, or did it begin later? 

I've always loved writing. I loved writing poetry and writing in journals. In high school, I really wanted to pursue writing more professionally when I graduated. I graduated from college with a BA in communication and English Literature and also went to get my master's degree in education later.

When and how did your professional journey toward publishing begin? 

It wasn't until I had my own kids, and my oldest was about four years old when I knew I wanted to become a children's book author after finding it so hard to find books with Arab and Muslim characters. So, this was about six years ago. I was also working at a diverse school and wished there were more diverse books that represented the diverse student population. So, I got to work. 

What were some of the first steps you had to take? 

I joined a local SCBWI critique group and spent hours at my local library reading new picture books. I listened to publishing podcasts, YouTube videos and did a lot of googling. Later I joined 12x12 and took classes at Highlights and InkedVoices, and Writing Barn. 

For authors/illustrators who may be just starting out, do you have any suggestions on first steps or recommendations on sites/groups they could visit/join? 
I wish I had taken more craft classes during those earlier years with Highlights or Writing Barn or joined 12x12. But I didn't know about them! Those places are truly gems, and there are affordable options as well! There are also great resources online, like Josh Funk's Free resources and Storystorm. 

Road Bumps, Tips, Encouragement:

Throughout the publishing process, are there any challenges you’ve personally had to face and if so, how were you able to overcome them? 

I faced a ton of challenges. Contrary to some belief, as an Arab American Muslim, it was very hard breaking into the industry. It's also still challenging being on submission, and I still get a lot of rejections. It's still part of the industry and part of the job. It's not personal. You write, you submit, and you get rejected. No matter how many awards your book has gotten or if your previous book was bought at auction. 

Also, my debut picture book, The Arabic Quilt, illustrated by Anait Semirdzhyan was on a banned list in 2021. There's more information about it here. 

But right after that, my publisher told me that two districts bought a total of 22,000 copies of the book! So, I knew the problem wasn't the book. They also asked me if I would be interested in writing another, and I was thrilled. I wrote The Great Banned Books Bake Sale, which comes out on August 1st. 

Do you have any people in your life who have been especially helpful in offering support? 

Yes, so many. I'm not sure where to start and don't want to miss anyone, but I have great support from author friends, and I don't know where I would be without them. We get on calls together at random times, send voice notes to each, and even send WhatsApp messages to each other at odd hours throughout the day. I am extremely grateful for them all, and you know who you are!  I am also grateful for my Kidlit in Color team and Highlight Foundation Muslim fellows.

We all know that publishing is a very special industry in which a lot of beauty and excitement await us. But there are also many slow moments… and sometimes disappointment. For people who may not have friends/family who are familiar with the inner workings of the publishing industry and who don’t yet have a writing community to lean on for advice/encouragement, do you have any motivational words of wisdom or recommendations on how to handle the discouraging moments of publishing? 

It's very discouraging and just part of the process, so always remind yourself of that. Sometimes it's okay to take a step back and say okay, I'm getting a ton of rejections with similar feedback; let’s fix this. Then go back to your critique partners, take more craft classes, and work on it. And also, sometimes, it's okay to set books to the side and revisit them later. Maybe a few years from now, you'll find an agent or editor who is looking for a similar concept. So it's okay to be upset about it, but just keep writing.

Books, inspiration, and illustration:

I always love talking with authors about this subject. It’s always such a happy thing to share! So, I know this year had three books scheduled to come out. One is already here and two are on their way. Can you tell us a little bit about them?

Yes! The Night Before Eid, illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh came out in March of 2023, and it's about three generations bonding of Eid treats. It's such a special picture book for many different reasons, but especially because it's the childhood Eid book of my dreams.  

The Great Banned Books Bake Sales comes out in August and is a companion to The Arabic Quilt and illustrated by Anait Kanzi and her classmates find out that the new diverse books are not in the library, and so she and her classmates come up with a plan: a protest and bake sale to get the books back on the shelf! 

My First Book of Arabic Words comes out in October and is illustrated by Chaymaa Sobhy and is an ABC book on Arabic Language and Culture which I am so excited about as well. 

What was your inspiration behind these stories? 

The Night Before Eid's inspiration was all of the joy and love that's connected to Eid and the night before Eid in our family. The Great Banned Books Bake Sale's inspiration is loosely based on true stories of when The Arabic Quilt was banned, and I talked about it in the backmatter.  For My First Book of Arabic Words, the publisher approached me, and I was thrilled because I would've loved to see something similar to this growing up in a bilingual Arabic-English household, plus my kids are also bilingual English-Arabic speakers, and I think they'll love it, especially Chaymaa's vibrant illustrations. 

Let’s talk a little about illustration. I’ve had a lot of people ask me about illustration. Many people who aren’t in publishing are surprised to learn that picture book writers don’t always illustrate their own stories and they also don't get to pick them *usually*. Since you are a writer, not an illustrator, I’d love to hear a little about what that is like. 

Yes! Publishers usually do choose the illustrators. For The Arabic Quilt, Anait did an incredible job, and she's an immigrant herself! With The Night Before Eid also, Rashin's work is stunning. For My First Book of Arabic Words, I actually recommended Chaymaa Sobhy to the editor as I was a huge fan of her work, and I was so excited when she was available! Plus, she's Egyptian, so it's very exciting to work with her. 

Here's a question for my readers who are still in the query trenches: 
What is the querying process like when sending queries to an agent as just a text writer? 

It's challenging, and we see many agents saying they only want author-illustrators. It's been a few years since I queried, but I hear it's even tougher now. I would say just keep working on your craft and connect with other writers who are also querying so you can talk/vent about it! 

For my readers who are newly agented with a publishing deal but haven’t yet had their manuscripts matched with an illustrator, what is that process like? 

Sometimes that takes a really long time! I'm talking months and months. So just wait and know that editors and trying their best to match your beautiful words with the best illustrator for it. They're investing a lot of money into everything and pay attention to all of the detail. 

You need a lot of patience in this industry. Querying, being on submission, waiting for your contract, waiting on being matched with the illustrator, waiting for the illustrations, waiting for it to be printed, and the list goes on. It's a long process, but it's worth the wait. 

While we’re talking about illustration, I wanted to take a moment to mention your illustrators: 

What was your experience working with them individually? How involved were you, if at all with the illustration side of things? Did you have an opportunity to offer any input? Examples? 

I was sent sketches and asked for feedback. I sent some minor suggestions and tweaks here and there for both. I think for the Eid book, I did have in the text that Zain had curly hair, but the sketches weren't too clear if his hair was clear or straight, so I wanted to make sure it was curly. 

This question goes along with the last question, but I wanted to list it separately because I think this is an area that deserves specific attention. What are your thoughts on art notes? Do you use them? If so, how much and how often do you implement them? 

I do as needed! I tend to write longer picture books, so I try to use them to make my word count shorter (haha)! I don't think I used them that much for The Night Before Eid, though, or The Great Banned Books Bake Sale. 

Were there any things that surprised you about the illustration process? Explain. 

That it's really hard to change things once the colors go in! So really take many looks during the sketches and early illustrations. And this isn't surprising, but illustrators do so much research themselves too and a lot of work goes into it all.

Do you have a favorite spread in each book that you’d like to share? If so, what’s your favorite part about them and why? 

The last spread of The Night Before Eid is so cozy and like a big hug, but I love it all. The Great Banned Books Bake Sale there are many, but I love all the ones where the classmates are together because it shows unity and solidarity, especially at the end! 

Any final words of encouragement to share with our readers today? 

Keep reading current books in the genre you write, take craft classes, it's okay to put work to the side for a bit (or for years or forever), and believe in yourself and your work. 

Such a great interview, Aya. Thank you for sharing your inspiration, wisdom, and encouragement. And congratulations again on your new books! I will make sure we have all your books ordered for my library. 

Connect with Aya Khalil

Website: www.ayakhalil.com
Twitter: @ayawrites 
Instagram: @ayakhalilauthor

Did you enjoy this interview? Support this author by purchasing one of their books below! Using these direct purchase links also supports this blog.


Now it’s time to talk prizes…

For the month of July, anyone who:

1.Leaves a comment on the July Feature Interview- before or by July 31st…
2.And likes & subscribes to the blog…
Will automatically be entered into the GIVEAWAY PRIZE DRAWING!

It’s that simple.

This month, Aya is offering an exciting prize!
A FREE copy of her new book, The Great Banned Books Bake Sale, scheduled to come out in August of 2023.

So, what are you waiting for? Get those comments/likes/subscribes in!


Thanks for reading!

Speaking of readers…

Is there anything you’re dying to ask an author?  

Leave your suggested question in the comments section below for a chance to see it answered in a future Feature Interview!

AUTISM AWARENESS MONTH: book recommendations!

Hello, hello!

As many of my neurodiverse friends know, April is AUTISM AWARENESS MONTH. 

Being neurodiverse myself, and being a librarian, of course, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by… I just had to come up with a list of wonderful books for the occasion. In honor of Autism Awareness Month, I decided to branch out on all spectrums of neurodiversity.

So, without further ado, here are over 100 book recommendations, ranging from children's picture books and middle-grade stories, teen and young adult fiction and adult reads!
For Children’s Picture Books 

1.	Up and Adam by Debbie Zapata
2.	ADHD and Me by Chelsea DiCicco
3.	All My Stripes: A Story for Children with Autism by Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer
4.	How to Build a Hug: Temple Grandin and Her Amazing Squeeze Machine by Amy Guglielmo and Jacqueline Tourville
5.	It Was Supposed to Be Sunny by Samantha Cotterill
6.	Juan Has the Jitters! by Aneta Cruz
7.	The Girl Who Thought In Pictures: The Story of Dr. Temple Grandin by Julia Finley Mosca
8.	Big Truck Play Date by Laurie Carmody
9.	Rowdy in the Library by Yvonne Fletcher
10.	Cory Stories: A Kid's Book About Living with ADHD by Jeanne Kraus
11.	The Playground Problem: a Book about Anxiety by Dr. Tracy Packiam Alloway
12.	The Perfect Project: a Book about Autism by Dr. Tracy Packiam Alloway
13.	The Classroom Mystery: a Book about ADHD by Dr. Tracy Packiam Alloway
14.	My Friend has Autism by Amanda F. Doering
15.	Some Kids Have Autism by Martha Rustad
16.	Aurora's Gift: Children's Autism Awareness Book for Kids by Emily Bunny
17.	A Friend for Henry by Jenn Bailey
18.	Dyslexia (A True Book: Health) (Library Edition) by Ann O. Squire
19.	Balloons by Rainbow Mosho
20.	Dyslexia: My Health Series by Alvin Silverstein
21.	The Abilities in Me: ADHD by Gemma Keir
22.	Dyslexic Brains Are Beautiful Brains by Kaitlin McCartny
23.	My Wandering Dreaming Mind by Merriam Sarcia Saunders
24.	A Walk in the Words by Hudson Talbott
25.	Different- A Great Thing to Be! By Heather Avis
26.	When Things Get Too Loud: A Story About Sensory Overload by Anne Alcott
27.	When Oliver Speaks by Kimberly Garvin
28.	Me is Awesome: The Story of my Dyspraxic World (Dyspraxia) by Terri Lamberton
29.	My Friend Josh has DCD: A Picture Book to Help Your Child Understand Developmental Coordination Disorder by Christine R Draper
30.	What Your Friend With Apraxia Wants You To Know by Laura T Bruno
31. Masterpiece: An Inclusive Kids Books Celebrating a Child on the Autism Spectrum by Alexandra Hoffman
32.	Beyond Words: A Child's Journey Through Apraxia by Dana Hall
33.	My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete
34.	Dyslexic Legends Alphabet by Beck Feiner
35.	Mindfulness Workbook for Kids with ADHD: Engaging Activities to Help Children Clam, Focus, Self-Regulate, and to Promote Health and Wellness in Children by Jennie Miller
36. Finding My Superpower: A book for dyslexic thinkers by Sarah Prestidge
For Children’s Middle-Grade

1.	The Spaghetti Detectives by Andreas Steinhöfel
2.	A Perfect Mistake by Melanie Conklin
3.	The Brave by James Bird
4.	Tune it Out by Jamie Sumner
5.	The Summer of June by Jamie Sumner
6.	Roll With It by Jamie Sumner
7.	One Kid's Trash by Jamie Sumner
8.	Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse by Susan Vaught
9.	Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (Twenty-First Century Medical Library) by Bruce Hyman
10.	The Autism Acceptance book: Being a Friend to Someone with Autism by Ellen Sabin
11.	Best Kept Secret : The Third Generation by Ann M Martin
12.	Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery
13.	Calling All Minds: How to Think and Create Like an Inventor by Temple Grandin
14.	Get a Grip by Cohen Vivy 
15.	Real by Carol Cujec
16.	Bad Best Friend by Rachel Vail
17.	The Someday Birds by Sally Pla
18.	The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson
19.	Can you see me? by Libby Scott
20.	A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll
21.	Nobody's perfect by Marlee Matlin
22.	Superstar by Mandy Davis
23. Focused by Alyson Gerber
24. Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
25. Wonder
 by R. J. Palacio 
26. Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
For Young Adult/Teens

1.	Compulsion by Heidi Ayarbe
2.	Stuff That's Loud: A Teen's Guide To Unspiraling When Ocd Gets Noisy Ben Sedley
3.	Obsessed: A Memoir Of My Life With OCD by Allison Britz
4.	Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
5.	Six goodbyes We Never Said by Candace Ganger 
6.	The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison
7.	Cryer's Cross by Lisa McMann
8.	The Easy Part of Impossible by Sarah Wones Tomp
9.	The Anxiety Survival Guide For Teens : CBT Skills To Overcome Fear, Worry & Panic by Jennifer Shannon
10.	Don't Touch by Rachel M. Wilson
11.	A List of Cages by Robin Roe
12.	Slider by Pete Hautman
13.	Somebody Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer
14.	Kids Like Us by Hilary Reyl
15.	The Spectrum Girl's Survival Guide : How to Grow up Awesome and Autistic by Siena Castellon
16. The Social Survival Guide for Teens on the Autism Spectrum: How to Make Friends and Navigate Your Emotions 
by Lindsey Sterling 
17. The Awesome Autistic Go-To Guide: A Practical Handbook for Autistic Teens and Tweens
 by Yenn Purkis
For Adults

1.	A Thorn In My Pocket: Temple Grandin's mother tells the family story by Eustacia Cutler 
2.	Down Syndrome by Salvatore Tocci
3.	Just This Side of Normal by Elizabeth Gerlach
4.	Unraveling The ADD/ADHD by Fiasco: Successful Parenting Without Drugs by David Stein
5.	Finding Ben : A Mother's Journey Through the Maze of Asperger's By Barbara LaSalle
6.	Louder than Words : A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism by Jenny McCarthy,
7.	The Asperger's Answer Book : The Top 300 Questions Parents Ask by Susan Ashley
8.	Thinking in pictures : And Other Reports From My Life With Autism by Temple Grandin
9.	Visual Thinking : The Hidden Gifts Of People Who Think In Pictures, Patterns, And Abstractions by Temple Grandin
10.	Unraveling The Mystery Of Autism And Pervasive Developmental Disorder : A Mother's Story Of Research And Recovery by Karyn Seroussi
11.	With the Light : Raising An Autistic Child by Keiko Tobe
12.	Neurotribes : The Legacy Of Autism And The Future Of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman
13.	Getting the Best for Your Child With Autism: An Expert's Guide To Treatment by Bryna Siegel
14.	ADHD in Adults: What the Science Says by Russell Barkley
15.	The Autism Sourcebook: Everything You Need To Know About Diagnosis, Treatment, Coping, And Healing by Karen Siff Exkorn
16.	OCD : A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed by Michael A. Tompkins
17.	Against Medical Advice : A True Story by James Patterson
18.	The Brain That Changes Itself : Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge
19.	Asperger's Syndrome : A Guide For Parents and Professionals by Tony Attwood
20. LIVING WITH OCD: Triumph over Negative Emotions, Obsessive Thoughts, and Compulsive Behaviors (The OCD Breakthrough Series) by CROSS BORDER BOOKS
21.	Developing Talents : Careers For Individuals With Asperger Syndrome And High-Functioning Autism by Temple Grandin
22. Talking ADHD - The Breakthrough Guide To Understanding, Empowering, and Communicating Without Judgement 
by Esther Goldberg 
23.	Dyspraxia Developmental Co-ordination Disorder by Dr. Amanda Kirby
24. Mindful Parenting for Autistic Children: Understand ASD, Overcome the Challenges, and Successfully Parent Children with Autism Through Practical DBT Skills and Mindfulness Activities
 by Catherine L. Abbott 
25. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Simple Techniques to Instantly Be Happier, Find Inner Peace, and Improve Your Life
 by Olivia Telford 
26. Unlocking Happiness with ADHD: Learning to Thrive with Practical Exercises; Developing A Healthy and Fulfilling Life Style 
by D.W. Sawyer
27. Women with ADHD: The Complete Guide to Stay Organized, Overcome Distractions, and Improve Relationships. Manage Your Emotions, Finances, and Succeed in Life 
by Sarah Davis

A few other honorable mentions:

1. Listening to My Body: A guide to helping kids understand the connection between their sensations (what the heck are those?) and feelings so that they can get better at figuring out what they need by Gabi Garcia
2. Find Your Calm: A Mindful Approach To Relieve Anxiety And Grow Your Bravery (Growing Heart & Minds) by Gabi Garcia
3. Acceptance is my Superpower: A children’s Book about Diversity and Equality (My Superpower Books) by Alicia Ortego
4. Teen Girls Anxiety Survival Guide: 10 Techniques to Overcoming Teen Girls Anxiety, Worries, Social Stress, Academic Pressures and Social Media by R ROBINSON 
5. The Highly Sensitive: How to Find Inner Peace, Develop Your Gifts, and Thrive by Judy Dyer 
Interested in learning more about Autism Awareness Month and what it means? 
Check out some of these cool articles below!

Autism Awareness Month Highlights Connection Between ASD and ADHD

World Autism Awareness Day 2023: History, Significance, Theme and Important facts on Autism

World Autism Awareness Day

Thanks for reading! Enjoy this post? Make sure to like- and subscribe to the blog for great new recommendations!


It’s been a little while since I’ve made a post. Here’s what I’ve been up to…

For the past few months I’ve been gathering information, doing research, attending webinars, and working vigorously toward starting a non-profit Homeschool Group for families in need in my community. And I’m happy to announce, it has been a great success!

I’m so excited to share this news with you, so let’s dive right in!

What is Homeschool Group?

Homeschool Group is a place where families can come together and socialize, and kids can engage in self-paced, hands-on learning in a relaxed and creative environment. Right now, my group is open to ages 7-10, but I may look at expanding those age brackets as time goes on and I get a better feel for the specific needs of my community.

Where and when is Homeschool Group hosted? How can I attend?

Great question! Homeschool Group is being hosted in the Hendersonville Public Library in Tennessee. This group is held on the first Monday of each month at 2 PM. Sign-up sheets can be found in the Children’s area. For other cool events we have going on, check out our Facebook page or Instagram feed for updates and calendar info!

My personal goal with Homeschool Group is to inspire creativity and encourage social emotional learning while exposing children to the five elements of STEAM education; science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.

Around the room I have activity tables set up for kids to visit, imagine, and explore the wonders of reading, science, building, writing, creating, socializing, inventing, and playing!

Each of our tables is inspired by STEAM concepts, and is designed to encourage creative thinking and problem solving, enhance motor skills and social-emotional learning, and inspire children to find connections and explore the realm of imagination in a safe and fun environment.


Throughout the building process of this project, I was able to get some fabulous inspiration and ideas from several webinars, a few that I will mention here.

The two that stood out among the rest were STEAM in the Public Library: Programs & Services for Children and Creative Spaces and Family Engagement in Libraries, both available on Webjunction. Now, for those of you who may not know this, in addition to being a children’s book writer, I am also a Children’s Librarian. And, being homeschooled for the majority of my childhood, I have extensive knowledge of what it’s like to be in that position. How hard it can be to make connections within the community. Finding the right resources. Finding places to go. And forget about costs! You can’t find a “cheap” homeschooling program or event to participate in, and free? Free is unheard of. Everything costs something, and most often, it’s a higher price than the average family is looking to spend. Especially when you have more than one child. And that’s not a slight at pricing. It’s very possible that the price is justified and appropriate for whatever services are being offered, but nonetheless, many families simply can’t afford it.

Prepping our activities!

So naturally, coming from a place of understanding, I wanted to offer a service to these families that wouldn’t dip into their pockets. And after some well thought out planning and a trial run, we were finally up and running!

Back to the wonderful Webinars I was able to enjoy. Here are a few of the notes I took from Creative Spaces and Family Engagement in Libraries, that really made me think about why art is such an important role in a child’s life.

The arts are not just expressive and effective. They are deeply cognitive. The arts develop essential thinking tools:

Pattern recognition and development.

Mental representations of the observed/imagined.

Symbolic and metaphorical representations.

Abstraction from complexity.

Cross wiring of brain areas.

Engagement with an art trains the brain to FOCUS, improving learning

* Interest in an art form leads to sustained attention when practicing that art form.

* Engaging in art involves resolving conflicts among competing possible responses.

* The ability to resolve conflict among competing responses is also a crucial aspect of attention training.

Arts integration improves learning

Studies consistently show:

* Greater emotional investment in classes.

* Work more diligently and learn from each other.

* Parents become more involved.

* Teachers collaborate more.

* Increased cross-curricular learning.

* Curriculum becomes more authentic, hands-on and project-based.


Whew! That was a lot to type up. But, well worth it. In fact, I loved it so much, I printed it all out and laminated copies for personal inspiration and reminders as I plan each group.

A few other points I took from this seminar that I really appreciated; I want to share with you below.

Art is a form of self-expression.

Art experiences should not invite sameness. Art should not require an instruction sheet. Art should not have a deadline. Art should encourage creativity, not conformity.

Think of setting up an art experience in the same way you would think of setting up a science experiment.

Encourage tinkering. Invite inventiveness.

Art is not a team sport.

Most often, artistic creation is solitary. Group art WILL leave some kids feeling rushed and compared.


Yes, yes, YES, to all of the above! If you don’t believe this to be true, I suggest taking a look at my book, ADHD and Me. Yep, shameless self-promo. But I wouldn’t try to sell you if I didn’t think it’s true. And I happen to know it is because it was inspired by a real young lady, who went through the same everyday challenges as Malory. Who was that young lady? Me.

About the book: ADHD and Me is an SEL (social-emotional learning) book about a young girl named Malory who has ADHD. Throughout her neurodiverse journey, she is encouraged to express herself using art, by her art teacher Ms. Julie, who was diagnosed as a young girl with Autism. With the help of her fabulous support system, including friends and family, Malory is able to find the joys in life and embrace her differences.

Now for my notes on STEAM in the Public Library: Programs & Services for Children with guest speaker Amy Koester and blogger, “THE SHOW ME LIBRARIAN.”

A little bit about Amy. Amy is a Learning Experiences Manager of a Public Library. She serves as a vice president of ASLC, and she’s a big supporter of her library and community. To see more about her click here.

Amy is a kindred spirit and fellow supporter of all things STEAM. And, her blog is simply AMAZING. Here is a link to visit her blog, THE SHOW ME LIBRARIAN.

So, a few things that I took away from this webinar are listed below.

  • American children are lagging behind other countries when it comes to creative thinking.
  • School and life success isn’t just about reading.
  • Creativity is a top work skill. Today, big companies are looking for outside-of-the box thinkers and problem solvers. It is a highly valued and sought after trait in today’s workforce. And understandably so. Children who are adept learners and creative problem solvers statistically fair better in all avenues of life.

Now, a few of the suggestions that Amy gives are:

  • Set up activity stations (check!)
  • Observation station (check-check!)
  • Sensory lights (FUN!)
  • Sand (PERFECT!)
  • Rocks (LOVE!)
  • Glow in the dark (Who doesn’t love glow in the dark stuff?)
  • Grow plants (Check!)
  • Root gardens (Fantastic idea)
  • Incorporate living things (100%)
  • Butterflies/ant farms- and tie in books that fit your experiment! (yes!) While we are on that topic, see if you can sprinkle in non-fiction books too!
  • Snails/worms (yes)
  • Use recyclables (ALWAYS!)

A few other helpful tips to make your programming fun and engaging for your young participants:

Ask Questions!

Encourage them to make something.

Get your hands dirty!

Include things that will involve motor skills.

Make STEAM displays fun: one suggestion Amy gave was a globe! A globe is great because kids can both look at it AND play with it. It spins!

And last but not least, give children the tools to succeed!

Special Author Event at the Gallatin Public Library in Sumner County, TN- September 18th, 2021

Calling all local Sumner County TN residents! Are you a parent or educator? Visit us on September 18th at the Gallatin Public Library.

We’ll be discussing special needs in education, neurodiverse learning differences and how to build healthy support systems within the family unit and tackling how to identify and assess problems and acknowledge and validate your child’s emotions.

Guest speakers: Local Children’s Author & Blogger, Chelsea DiCicco, Autism Tennessee Community Ambassador, Indie Author & Co-Host of Amazon Live Special Needs TV show, Mary Elizabeth Jackson, and Jason Scruggs, Children’s Crisis Counselor. (Read more about similar local Sumner County, Tennessee events in the article published here.)

Who is this event for?

  • Parents
  • Children
  • Educators
  • Family & friends

If you’re elementary school teacher, PLEASE stop by and pick up your FREE LESSON PLANS, GRADES K-3RD GRADE (or simply download them HERE.)

Don’t live local? No problem! Download your free interactive lesson plans, worksheets, color pages, spot the difference sheets and other fun freebies and resources under the TEACHER CORNER tab of my website.

We hope to see you, September 18th, 2021! 10:00am-2:00PM Gallatin Public Library