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The #NewIn19 Speak to Readers

November 30, 2018


Have you heard of New In 19? They're a group made up of debut trade picture book authors and illustrators of 2019. I was invited to moderate a #NewIn19 Twitter chat with the members back in October. I'll be sharing a post each day this week using the five questions from the chat. (View other questions through the NewIn19 keyword.) Today we'll here from eleven 2019 debut picture book authors about hopes for how their stories will connect with readers.


I've included a link to the #NewIn19 archive here for my first question, What do you most hope readers will find in your debut story?

I've also included some screenshots like these between the guest posts below that I hope you'll enjoy.


Mia Wenjen

I see a lot of cultural appropriation and stereotyping in children's books related to Japanese culture. Ninja picture books are really trendy recently. But ninjas are not really these figures sneaking around in black garb. Ninjas are closer to undercover agents who have stayed undercover for generations. Can you imagine that? Undercover for generations working as farmers, merchants, dancers, or household maids. Because that is the best way for spies to get information.


I feel like sumo is similar to ninjas. Everyone THINKS they understand sumo. They are those fat guys in diapers. Humorous. Comical. Harmless. Nothing could be farther than the truth. They were warriors for the Japanese nobility. The sumo rituals stem from their connection to the Shinto religion which a defining pillar of Japanese culture.


My hope is that readers will discover a fun and relatable story of siblings that square off in a playful match of sumo versus aikido. I hope they also get a sense of the dignity of the sport of sumo. With Japan hosting the 2020 Olympics, I hope sumo will be shown as part of the games as an exhibition sport so the world will get a peek into this sport that, like the Shinto religion, connects between present day and its ancient past.


Elizabeth Brown

I hope readers will find empowerment to follow their own creative paths and pursuits, lead with vision and purpose, and stay true to themselves.


It’s my wish that my debut picture book, DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR: THE STORY OF HELEN FRANKENTHALER (Abrams, 2019), will offer all children inspiration and help them achieve success. Helen Frankenthaler, an abstract expressionist painter in the1950’s, fought many obstacles on her journey to becoming an artist. She refused to let others stand in her way or hold her back. Frankenthaler kept experimenting with her art until she achieved her own style and sparked a new movement in painting (Color Field).2


Picture book biographies can serve as imagination builders, and I hope that children will findDANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR helpful in the development of their own creative artistry, no matter the genre or method, and that it will act as a navigator as they continue to grow and explore more in their creative endeavors. I hope that reading this book will demonstrate to children how others before them overcame the odds and fought adversity. I also hope it will help children realize that trying something new in their art exploration is okay, and that they must never stop believing in their own vision.


Most importantly, picture book biographies can aid in community-building and cross-cultural understanding, and I hope this book will do the same. At the end of the book, there is an art project, based on Frankenthaler’s techniques, which can be done as an individual work of art or as a community/classroom project. Enjoy creating art! Embrace the journey! Become inspired!


There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is all about.” – Helen Frankenthaler


Kim Tomsic

I hope readers will walk away with more power to honor their curiosity, believe in their dreams, and persevere!


GUITAR GENIUS: How Les Paul Engineered the Solid Body Electric Guitar and Rocked the World is for anyone who has ever had a dream! It’s a true perseverance story about facing obstacles, rejection, tragedy, and ridicule and still having the grit to bring a dream to fruition. Lester never gave up—when he was a young boy, his piano teacher told him he’d never be musical, but that didn’t stop him. His brother thought he was a weirdo, but that didn’t stop him either. Little Lester was curious and took everything apart to see how it worked—the player piano, the telephone, the radio, etc. Les experienced a lot of try-fails on his journey to invention—he shattered his right arm, he electrocuted himself, and he was laughed at. When he finally figured out how to master the guitar sound that he was looking for, the executives at Gibson Guitar Company told him “no thank you”. Still, he did not give up.


Les Paul persevered and later proved his music teacher dead wrong. The kid who she told would never be musical went on to receive seven Grammy nominations and to have a blockbuster career in music and inventing. Most non-musicians don’t know about Les Paul’s huge influence in music and inventing, for example Les conceived the 8-track tape recorder and worked with Ampex to refine and manufacture the equipment. True musicians, however, whether they are young or old agree that music as we experience it today would not exist without Les Paul. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame website says Les is responsible for “…developing revolutionary engineering techniques such as close-miking, echo delay, overdubbing, and multitracking.” I hope readers of Guitar Genius decide to honor their curiosity, to ignore naysayers, and to persevere and never give up on their dreams.


Hayley Barrett

I hope with all my heart that BABYMOON will encourage families welcoming new children to slow down and take time to fall in love together. This goes for any growing family and any child, of any age.


The term "babymoon" isn't mine. It was coined by anthropologist and birth activist Dr. Sheila Kitzinger to encourage quiet cocooning after the arrival of a baby. She knew that all over the world, such time is set aside—respected and protected—for the adjustment to family life. In our hustle-bustle, bounce-right-back culture, we sometimes forget that peace, quiet, and a yummy casserole are beautiful, deeply nourishing baby gifts. Juana Martinez-Neal understood this from the start. Her illustrations for BABYMOON portray one family's quiet day together, and she captures all the tender, funny, perplexing moments new parents encounter. I recognize myself and my family in her illustrations, and I know others will too. I believe every growing family deserves the support of their caregivers, loved ones, and communities as they make this life-changing transition. Whatever their family constellation, whether they welcome a healthy newborn or one home from the NICU, whether they adopt a tiny baby or a much older child, they deserve time to rest together and fall in love. They deserve a babymoon, and I hope this book encourages them to plan one.


Ashley Franklin

What are books if they are not treasures? These treasures are unique in that not only are they priceless, but they have the ability to help readers identify what makes them a treasure as well. In NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE, the main character, Tameika, is a passionate performer and is used to shining brilliantly on stage. However, it’s not until her internal light dims and she has to overcome self-doubt that she is able to fully realize her worth. We’re all entitled to pursue our dreams and to thrive once we’re put into positions to obtain them. I hope this resonates with readers.


Deep down, I think we all initially believe that we can do or be anything, but that confidence gets lost along the way. NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE highlights the importance of self-confidence but takes an earnest look at what happens when that confidence is shaken or lost.Readers will see that mental struggles can be just as (sometimes even more) challenging than physical struggles. Internal struggles are real, and they can happen at a young age. Readers will get a sense of validation and recognize that no matter what they’re going through, they don’t have to go through it alone.


Each child is a treasure and deserves a chance to shine. It’s my hope that readers recognize the value of believing in yourself, having a strong support system, and believing in your dreams. We’re all stronger than we know, and we shouldn’t allow others to set limitations over our lives. This is the knowledge and sense of empowerment that I hope readers find in my book.


Amanda Jackson

My debut picture book, MY SHAPE IS SAM, came from my deep hope that readers will embrace both the beauty and messiness of learning themselves. That they will find the freedom to challenge expectations and grow beyond them. And that they will be willing to take risks that honor their hearts and lean into the blunders along the way.


Sam is a square who has the same jobs all squares have: he stacks, steadies, and measures. But Sam longs to roll, spin, and push like the circles. He musters the courage to take a risk, in the hopes he’ll discover his truest shape.


Everyone’s born with a need to fit—with other people and within themselves. But in the process of trying to fit, important things are often squished, muted, or lost. What we like. What we want. The building blocks of who we are.


MY SHAPE IS SAM is a love letter to anyone who needs to feel more at home within their own edges. Anyone who needs permission to learn (or relearn) their own heart.


Cathy Breisacher

I love potatoes and I love puns, and I am especially fond of potato puns. In my book, CHIP AND CURLY – THE GREAT POTATO RACE, Chip dreams of winning a Golden Bushel Award at the Annual Spud City Sack Race. But when Curly shows up with a spring in his step, Chip fears his dreams of winning will be mashed. I enjoyed thinking of words associated with potatoes to use in this book, and I hope readers will have fun keeping an eye out for those words as the story unfolds. I also hope readers of all ages will see how much fun it can be to play with words and language. The illustrations by Joshua Heinsz are colorful and fun, so readers will want to keep their eyes peeled for the variety of potato characters that appear on the pages. Finally, and probably most importantly, this book touches on the themes of friendship, competition, and the idea that winning isn’t everything. I want readers to think about how good it feels when we practice good sportsmanship. This is a valuable topic to discuss with children, especially in light of today’s climate. CHIP AND CURLY, THE GREAT POTATO RACE will release on May 15, 2019 and is published by the incredibly talented team at Sleeping Bear Press.


K-Fai Steele

I have three picture books coming out in 2019 which feels very cool/wild. Probably the most exciting part is that they’re all being championed by editors who believe in picture books that honor the intelligence, awareness, and emotional capacity of young people.


A NORMAL PIG (my writing/drawing debut with Balzer + Bray, June 2019) is about a spotted pig who grows up in an all-pink pig town. It’s about the meaning of the word "normal", and who gets to decide what normal means. It’s also a deeply personal story about the moment in childhood when I realized I was different from the community I grew up in.


Much of my education both in and out of school was binary; it trained me and my classmates that knowledge and people should and can be easily categorized and classified. But if you exist outside of the category of people who are in power, this practice of classification is often damaging and dangerous, and can cause you to question the validity of who you are as a person. I hope A NORMAL PIG offers an opportunity to talk about nuance and accepting people on their own terms, and celebrating the multitudes that we all hold.


NOODLEPHANT by Jacob Kramer and illustrated by me (Enchanted Lion Books, January 2019) is is a story about an elephant and her friends who band together to overthrow the kangaroos that run their town. It’s about who makes the rules, and who must break them. It’s about noodles and resistance, laws and lasagna. NOODLEPHANT shows us that laws are not set in stone; like pasta, laws are just another thing that people make.


I honestly believe that this is maybe the most radical book we’ll see in 2019. It also has a lot of fun drawings and puns. We’re going to be launching it at ALA midwinter in January in Seattle followed by a west coast tour ending in Southern California, then we’ll be at the Tucson Festival of Books in March.


It’s been a hard few years to be a creative person/person in general in the world when it feels like everything is falling apart. Making NOODLEPHANT with Jacob and Claudia Zoey Bedrick and the team at Enchanted Lion Books renewed my hope in collective action. As in A NORMAL PIG, I was thinking a lot about how individuals respond to and engage in a larger world when that larger world is not interested in protecting their rights. There’s a principle in critical race theory defined by Derrick Bell called interest convergence; it’s about how people who hold power will only support racial justice efforts to the extent that they themselves benefit from it. If we want change, we need to see outside our own immediate needs, connect across movements, and insist on change happening for everyone.


And finally, OLD MACDONALD HAD A BABY with words by Emily Snape and drawings by me (Feiwel & Friends, fall 2019) is a book about care, love & community around raising a baby. There are two dads in the story, which I’ve been honored to draw, and it’s been an amazing process to workshop these drawings (because drawings are the visual story, right?) with GBT dads I’m friends with and have met. I’m personally excited about this book because it’s light-hearted and fun, and I hope it will add to the growing list of picture books that show a wide range of families. Again, we hold multitudes, and our shelves should reflect and celebrate that.


Kim Chaffee

HER FEARLESS RUN: KATHRINE SWITZER’S HISTORIC BOSTON MARATHON is a story of how one person changed people’s perceptions with one brave act. When confronted on the course by not one, but two race officials who wanted to prevent her from finishing and strip her official numbers right off her shirt, Kathrine turned her fear into fuel and finished the 26.2 miles. My hope is that this story will inspire all readers- boys and girls- to find their own courage to challenge what others may deem impossible, wrong, or strange. Kathrine didn’t set out to make history that day. She was just a girl who loved to run; a girl who stayed true to her beliefs and persevered. I want readers to believe in their own inner strength and that they, too, have the ability to make an impact on the world.


Candice Marley Conner

When my daughter was one (she’ll be eight in a week!), we went for a stroller-ride in our neighborhood. While we cooed along with the birdsong and collected pretty leaves, a squirrel darted toward a fallen acorn before scampering off to the next oak.


“That’s the scrawniest tail I’ve ever seen!” I exclaimed.


“Ggggh-mmfph,” my daughter agreed.


We discussed this bristle-tailed squirrel for the rest of our walk. Is it clumsy since squirrels use their tails for balance? Does it have a hard time communicating since squirrels are loquacious with their tail dances? Do squirrels care about things like glossy fur and volumizing fluff?


But then I thought: without a huge tail creating drag, I bet that squirrel could be really fast on the ground. And that’s when I found the message I’d been looking for.


In the years since, I’ve tried to teach my children about perspective, about how the world is as you choose to see it. One can see a clumsy, misunderstood, scrawny tree-rat. Or one can choose to see how our unique characteristics make us special.


And that’s the golden acorn I’d like readers to take away from Sassafras’ story. We ALL have our quirks, some on the outside and some on the inside. But instead of hiding those differences, what if we could make the world a better place because of them? What if what makes us unique could actually make a difference? How awesome would that be?!


Bea Birdsong

In I Will Be Fierce, a young girl takes on the world like a brave explorer heading off on an epic fairytale quest. By adopting a fierce attitude, our hero successfully overcomes the obstacles in her path and finds the extraordinary in her everyday life. To me, having a fierce attitude means being intentional about what you want. It means maintaining a positive outlook and being willing to persist in the face of challenges. To live this kind of purposeful life, not allowing yourself to be brought down or swayed by outside influences, takes wisdom and strength. I hope my debut story will help readers recognize their inner fierceness. I hope it will help them feel empowered to chart their own course as they go forth to explore new worlds.


Through books, we can learn about the world, but the most important thing books help us learn about is ourselves. I was a quiet, shy, anxious child. The one place I felt free—where I was not afraid to answer the call to adventure—was in the pages of books. Stories helped me feel seen and heard. They helped me know I mattered. This is the power of books. I hope my story will help all readers know they matter, too. I hope it will help them understand that it is not only okay, but necessary, that they take an active role in their lives and in their communities. When readers turn the final page and close this book, I hope they will feel confident, courageous, and ready to take on the world. I hope they will be FIERCE!

Contributors to this post:


Mia Wenjen blogs on diversity children's books at She co-created Multicultural Children's Book Day, coming up on January 25, 2019. She co-authored HOW TO COACH GIRLS with Boston College Women's Soccer Head Coach Alison Foley. SUMO JOE, illustrated by Nat Iwata, is her debut picture book out May 2019. See her at KidLitCon 2019in Providence! Connect with her @PragmaticMom on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. 




Elizabeth Brown is a writer, college writing professor, and professional violinist. DANCING THROUGH FIELDS OF COLOR: THE STORY OF HELEN FRANKENTHALER is her debut picture book. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, and she lives with her family in the Chicago area. Twitter: @ebrownbooks Website:




When Kim Tomsic was in school, she loved to play four-square, volleyball, and the flute. She never learned to play the guitar, but she’s the mother of a guitar genius! Kim believes in miracles, magic, and music. Beyond writing, she is also a yoga teacher, a pet wrangler, and the Co-Regional advisor of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). Kim’s debut novel, The 11:11 Wish released with Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins in 2018. GUITAR GENIUS: How Les Paul Engineered the Solid Body Electric Guitar and Rocked the World is her debut nonfiction picture book (Chronicle Books/April 9, 2019) 



Hayley Barrett is also the author of WHAT MISS MITCHELL SAW (Beach Lane Books, fall 2019) and GIRL VERSUS SQUIRREL (Holiday House, summer 2020). She and her husband John live near Boston. They love to travel to California and Texas to visit their two grown-up kids. 



Ashley Franklin writes stories for and about kids with big hearts and even bigger imaginations.She is an African-American Muslim writer, mother, and adjunct college professor. Ashley currently resides in Arkansas with her family. Her debut picture book, NOT QUITE SNOW WHITE, will be available July 9, 2019 by Harper Collins. You can follow Ashley on Twitter(@differentashley) and Facebook: ( 



When Amanda Jackson isn’t writing, she’s exploring rainy Portland with her husband, crocheting, baking, drinking coffee, or doing yoga (to recover from the coffee). She has worked with lots of awesome kids, in and out of the classroom, and currently as a nanny. Amanda graduated from Warner Pacific College with a degree in Human Development. She is a member of SCBWI and the Authors Guild. Her debut picture book, MY SHAPE IS SAM (Fall 2019) will be illustrated by Lydia Nichols and released from Page Street Kids. You can find her on Twitter at @Amanda2Jackson or at



Cathy Breisacher spends her days surrounded by books working as an elementary school librarian. In the company of books and children she finds a ton of inspiration for her own story ideas. When she is not working or writing, she enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with her husband, family, and friends. Her two forthcoming picture books are: CAVEKID BIRTHDAY, illustrated by Roland Garrigue and CHIP AND CURLY, THE GREAT POTATO RACE illustrated by Joshua Heinsz. Visit Cathy online at and on Twitter at @CathyBreisacher.  



K-Fai Steele has three picture books coming out in 2019: A NORMAL PIG is her author-illustrator debut with Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Childrens (June 2019). She’s illustrating NOODLEPHANT by Jacob Kramer with Enchanted Lion Books (January 2019); and OLD MACDONALD HAD A BABY by Emily Snape with Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan (Fall 2019). She’s currently a Brown Handler Writer in Residence at the San Francisco Public Library. Follow what she's up to on Instagram.  



Kim Chaffee is a former elementary school teacher turned children’s author. She lives in NH with her husband, two kids, and two cats. Her debut nonfiction picture book, HER FEARLESS RUN: KATHRINE SWITZER’S HISTORIC BOSTON MARATHON (Page Street Kids) releases April 2, 2019 followed by her fiction picture book debut, NOTHING WEE ABOUT ME! on November 12, 2019 (Page Street Kids). Visit her website or connect on Twitter @Kim_Chaffee 



Candice Marley Conner lives with her husband, two children—Mermaid Girl and Dinosaur Boy—and a tiny-but-ferocious tiger-cat at the bottom of Alabama where the antebellum lady rests her feet in the Gulf of Mexico. Her debut picture book Sassafras and Her Teeny Tiny Tail releases with MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing in 2019. A member of SCBWI, her work is found in Babybug Magazine; collections such as Under the Full Moon’s Light: An Owl Hollow Press Anthology, Pieces: A Mobile Writers’ Guild Anthology, Fireflies & Fairy Dust: A Fantasy Anthology, Chicken Soup for the Soul; and online at Mothers Always Write, Mamalode, and The Good Mother Project. You can find her on Facebook at @CMarleyConnerAuthor, tweeting at @candice_marleyc, and haphazardly blogging at



Bea Birdsong is a former teacher whose time in the classroom left a lasting impression of the awesome power of books to educate, entertain, and empower. Her debut picture book I Will Be Fierce, illustrated by Nidhi Chanani, will release on April 23, 2019 from Roaring Brook Press. Connect with Bea on Twitter: @BeaBirdsong


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