SCBWI Grow Your Picture Book Garden Recap

I have been having a lot of fun on what I have been calling “my writing adventure”, and I am always seeking new ways to improve my writing. I have learned a lot, but I am still learning. There will always be room for me to learn and improve more!

I had the opportunity to attend an SCBWI Adventures in Nonfiction Conference earlier this year to learn about nonfiction children’s books. Lately, I have been talking about the SCBWI Grow Your Picture Book Garden Conference, which I had the pleasure of attending this past weekend. This was another great learning opportunity for me.

grow picture book conference

This was a great conference for me to attend since it focused solely on picture books. I came home with 10 pages of handwritten notes in a notebook, worksheets with more handwritten notes, and a lot of information to digest.

Some topics discussed at the conference include:

  • rules of three
  • types of words to use
  • tips to create a great character
  • showing vs telling
  • brainstorming ideas
  • word count
  • tips for humor
  • illustrator notes
  • how to hook readers
  • tips for titles
  • hyperbole
  • allegory
  • thinking pictorially
  • tips for text to flow
  • benefit of having manuscript read aloud
  • benefits of constantly writing
  • revising, revising, and revising more
  • pagination
  • information to include with manuscripts
  • tips to creating great page turns
  • description of literary agent
  • what to look for in an agent/ red flags of an agent
  • scenes of book
  • openings
  • how to show internal thought

I’m only providing you with the topics covered, but not all of the inside conference details. If you are a children’s writer and/or illustrator (or hoping to become one some day), I recommend finding an SCBWI division near you if you are able. SCBWI members are given access to The Book: Essential Guide to Publishing for Children, which is a wonderful resource for children’s book writers and illustrators. SCBWI also offers various conferences throughout the year and information on meetings to attend with other local authors and illustrators.

At the conference, we also had an award ceremony for Sarvinder Naberhaus who won the SCBWI Midwest Division Crystal Kite Award for the beautifully illustrated book she wrote entitled Blue Sky White Stars. (affiliate link)

I enjoyed listening to all of the presentations, learning all of the information, and being able to ask questions. There is definitely a lot to digest now that I am home from the conference!

Is there something you hope to learn more about?

Events · Ramblings

17 Books to Prepare for Upcoming Conference

I had the pleasure of attending the SCBWI Iowa Adventures in Nonfiction Conference earlier this year, which I really enjoyed. I read multiple nonfiction children’s books written and/or published by the speakers before attending the conference. Obviously, this is not a requirement, but it made me feel more prepared and gave me an idea of the various writing styles of the speakers.

Well, I have been busy doing some preconference research again in preparation for the SCBWI Iowa Grow Your Picture Book Garden Conference, which is already less than a week away! More information about the upcoming conference can be found on the SCBWI Iowa’s website here.

To prepare, I went to my local library and checked out all the fiction children’s books I could find written by the speakers. I was disappointed I didn’t find Chicken Wants a Nap by Tracy Marchini at my local library, but I did enjoy reading through Tracy Marchini’s blog posts on her website. I even signed up for The Quacktory.

Below is a list of the books written by the upcoming speakers I was able to check out and enjoy from the library.

I added a short summary of each of the books below their cover and title for you to have a little more information. Unfortunately, my summaries aren’t nearly as creative or interesting as the descriptions you will find listed within each of the books. For that reason, I have added links to Amazon for each of the books where you can read their descriptions and reviews.

Just so you know, these are affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you if you choose to click on them and make a purchase. With that being said, you may be able to find them at your local library to read for free.

I dare you to read all of these books without laughing out loud at least once!

Fiction Children’s Books by Jill Esbaum 

How to Grow a Dinosaur

An older dinosaur sibling learns all about welcoming a new baby dinosaur to the family. Baby dino eats, burps, sleeps, and even poops, but she needs help learning how to do a variety of activities such as playing peek-a-boo and roaring.

If a T.Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party

This book will help you be prepared in the event a T. Rex decides to show up at your birthday party. A T. Rex may not be very good at some of the games such as water balloon toss and swinging at a pinata thanks to those little arms, but he does do a great job creating a mess and scaring away some guests.

I am Cow, Hear Me Moo! 

Nadine is a fearless cow, or so she tells her friends. She even offers to prove it, which leads to some unexpected adventures through the woods. Is she really as fearless as she claims to be?

I Hatched!

A baby killdeer hatches and discovers its new surroundings while learning more about itself. It runs, examines itself in a pond, sings, admires its feathers, attempts to get lunch, and plans to teach its newly hatched sister all it had learned on its first day in the world.

Elwood Bigfoot Wanted: Birdie Friends!

Elwood Bigfoot does many things alone, but he wants to be friends with the birdies. He attempts to befriend the birdies, but he does not have any success no matter how hard he tries. Being a large creature can be scary for little birdies. Finally Elwood Bigfoot and the birdies become friends, and he is no longer alone.

Tom’s Tweet

Tom the cat thinks he sees a treat in the grass, but he decides the little bird is too small to eat. Thus begins Tom’s adventure of trying to rescue the poor little creature, much to the dismay of the little bird’s protective momma. Doesn’t the momma know a cat must carry a bird in its mouth while climbing a tree?

Teeny Tiny Toady

Teeny watches helplessly as her momma is caught and placed in a bucket by a young human boy. She hops, flops, plops, and slops as fast as she can to tell her big brothers the news. They go to rescue mom but also end up in trouble. Teeny realizes even though she is a tiny toad, she doesn’t need to be big or muscular to come up with a great idea to rescue her entire family.

Fiction Children’s books by Tammi Sauer

Chicken Dance 

Marge and Lola are two chickens determined to win the barnyard talent show which offers the coveted grand prize of tickets to Elvis Poultry. Unfortunately, Marge and Lola don’t know what their talent should be. That doesn’t stop them from trying and failing many not-so-well thought out ideas. Finally, they decide they will have to “wing it” at the talent show. Thankfully, they are not too “chicken” to “bawk and roll” onstage. Even though they don’t officially win the talent show, they earn something even better.

Mr. Duck Means Business 

Mr. Duck enjoys a schedule and his time alone. He gets bothered when all the other barn animals want to jump, splash, and be noisy in his peaceful pond. After a while, though, he realizes being alone all the time can get really lonely. Schedules are good but so is time spent having fun with friends.

Princess in Training 

Princess Viola is not like all the other princesses. She splashes, karate-chops, and skateboards, but that is not how a proper princess should act. Princess Viola enters Camp Princess to learn proper princess etiquette. Being prim and proper doesn’t seem to work for Princess Viola, and she worries she is a “royal failure”. That is until her skills come in handy and save the day.

I Love Cake! 

Moose and his friends love cake. Unfortunately, Moose loves cake so much he eats it all by himself without sharing. This, of course, does not make his friends happy especially since the cake was a birthday cake for a friend (not him). Will Moose be able to restore his friendship with his cake-loving friends?

Your Alien

What would you do if an alien landed in your yard? You would want to keep him, wouldn’t you? This would lead to some fun adventures (after you tell your parents, of course) along with a few messes. Once you are all tucked in to bed with your little alien, you will realize he is homesick. Thankfully, you are brilliant (just like your lights), and you are able to get his parent’s attention for an “out of this world” family reunion.

Me Want Pet!

Cave boy really wants a pet. No matter how hard he tries to find the perfect pet, there is always some excuse for him to not be able to keep it. That is until all of his past attempts prove worthy of being a part of the family.

Ginny Louise and the School Showdown

Truman Elementary has a bunch of troublemakers who wreak havoc on the school. They are destructive critters who do not know what to do when little Ginny Louise becomes a new student. She is nothing like them. She doesn’t scowl or growl. She paints, sings, learns, and hears things in her own way. Her kindness and actions turn the bad bunch into a pretty good bunch of students and friends.


A young boy claims to be a fierce dragon, but a couple of real dragons inform him he isn’t really a scary dragon. They even go as far as to say he is “really cute”, which makes the young boy upset. He wants to be toothy, fierce, and fire-breathing. The dragons comfort him by telling him all of the things he is able do. Unfortunately, the dragons realize all of those things are things they can’t do because they are dragons, which makes them upset. Thankfully, the boy is able to figure out some activities all three of them can do together as more than just a boy and two dragons.

Fiction Children’s Books by Charlotte Gunnufson


Halloween Hustle

A rhyming story of a clumsy skeleton dancing the Halloween Hustle as he travels to a Halloween party. He is joined by all the other monsters along the way. The skeleton’s clumsiness leads to many falls, repairs, and a new friend.

Prince and Pirate

Prince and Pirate are two fish completely content in their own fishbowls until “the dreadful journey”. They are plopped into the same fishtank. Prince and Pirate each have their own lingo, and they don’t get along with each other at all. That is until a dogfish enters the tank.

Reading through all of these books made me even more excited for the upcoming conference. These ladies are all very talented and creative. I am really looking forward to learning something from each of them.

Have you ever been to a writing conference? If so, what is one tip you learned?


Jobs of a Preschooler · Ramblings · Writing Appearances

Science Experiments to Try at Home

(This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission at no extra charge to you if you click on them and make a purchase.)

My daughters and I have done a lot of science experiments together over the years. Science can be a lot of fun – even if I don’t understand all of it!

I am definitely not an expert scientist, but that hasn’t stopped me from teaching science to my daughters. Who says I can’t learn with them? We’ll see if that changes as they get older and science lessons becomes more advanced, though.

To encourage science exploration, my daughters have a “science bin” that includes safety glasses, goggles, a small net, journal, bird guide book, experiment supplies, magnifying glasses, binoculars, and more. Their rock kit, skeleton model, human body model, and various other science kits are stored near their science bin. They also have numerous science type books throughout the house.

Science Fun Basket

Even though we are done with our school year for the summer, my daughters and I continue working on some science lessons together. One wall in my house displays some of our recent studies of human anatomy and physiology, which we have been studying using Apologia Human Anatomy and Physiology.

The large body poster is from a Magic School Bus kit. The skeleton replica is from The Giant Science Resource Book, which is a resource book I have used over and over again with my daughters for various science lessons. It was definitely worth the $2 I paid for it at a rummage sale! I use painter’s tape when I hang the items so the paint (hopefully) doesn’t peel when the items are removed from the walls.

magic school bus human body poster

My daughters have enjoyed science so much, one of my daughters even decided to have a science themed birthday party one year. (I have really enjoyed throwing inexpensive, yet entertaining themed birthday parties for my daughters!)

During the science themed birthday party, my living room became a science museum, and all of the guests became scientists. We had a lot of fun performing experiments (in my kitchen), exploring the hands-on science museum (my living room), and enjoying a cake decorated as a cell.

Each of the kids went home with goggles, a test tube filled with candy, a homemade scientist ID badge, and their own scientist shirts I had purchased from The Dollar Tree (only $1 each) and decorated ahead of time.

I saw the idea for this shirt somewhere online years ago, although I can’t remember where I had seen it.

science t-shirt

Another result of our love for science experiments is the number of science kits we have accumulated over the years as gifts from family.

We have enjoyed each of the science kits we have received; however, we would not have nearly as many science kits if they weren’t given as gifts. Some of the kits can be rather pricey especially since most of them still require extra supplies not included to complete the experiments.

For that reason, I have compiled a list of 50 simple science experiments that use basic household supplies, which was recently posted on Hands On As We Grow. No science kit required!

Some of the science kits my daughters currently own and have used are shown below incase you are interested.

Smart Lab: It’s Alive Slime Lab

This one requires batteries and other ingredients that are not included in the kit.

It's Alive Slime Lab science

Smart Lab: That’s Gross Science Lab

I recommend putting a bag around the top part of the toilet in this kit to protect the button from all of the messiness. Again, additional materials are needed to do the experiments in this kit.

That Gross Science Lab

Magic School Bus: A Journey Into the Human Body

This is the kit the poster on our wall came from. My daughters placed the organ stickers that came with the kit on the human body poster as we discussed them.

We ended up with a horrible stench when we attempted Tim’s Experiment #1 described within this kit. Maybe if we had cleaned the chicken bones (not included) better, the stench wouldn’t have been as bad.

Magic School Bus science kit

KidzLabs Human Organs and KidzLabs Glow Human Skeleton

You could try to make a fake lung as seen on Science Sparks if you are interested in demonstrating how lungs work and don’t want to spend the money on the human organs kit.

The magnets included in our human skeleton kit were not strong enough to hold up the bones we created with the kit, but it was still fun to build a human skeleton.

KidzLabs science

Science Wiz Chemistry and Science Wiz Inventions and Science Wiz DNA

This picture only shows the books that came with the kits, but there are other materials within each kit. The DNA kit was my favorite of these three!

Science Wiz kits

In order to complete each of the science kits my daughters receive, we intentionally schedule our own at-home “science days”. Before the science days, I prepare by reading through the supply lists and gathering all of the needed supplies.

Making mistakes and having experiment failures are part of being a scientist, right? In that case, I’m a great scientist! Experiments definitely don’t always go as planned.

Do you enjoy doing science experiments? Have you had any science experiment mishaps? I would love to hear from you!

Jobs of a Preschooler- I'm a scientist...

“I’m a scientist experimenting…”



Pickles, Pickles, I Like Pickles · Ramblings

Pickle Making During National Pickle Month

(This post contains affiliate links. If you click on the links and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.)

I had a lot of fun celebrating National Pickle Day last November, but I really haven’t done much to celebrate National Pickle month this year. You do know July is National Pickle month, right?

Well, my family and I had the opportunity to can some pickles the other day just in time for National Pickle month. This is a family activity I enjoy doing that we didn’t get a chance to do last year. This year, we planted cucumber seeds, but we have only been getting enough cucumbers to pick and enjoy fresh with our meals or to quick pickle in small amounts. We simply haven’t had enough cucumbers picked all at one time to justify digging out the canning supplies.

Thankfully, we know someone who has been blessed with an abundance of cucumbers this year who was gracious enough to pass some on to us.


I was excited to finally be able to can again even though it took me a little while to find my canner* and canning supplies in some boxes in my basement. I am certainly not a canning expert, but I have enjoyed canning pickles, jalapenos, peaches, pears, and salsa in the past with my family. Online recipes and information are great!

My favorite pickles (practically the only pickles that I actually enjoy) are bread and butter pickles. I absolutely love my grandma’s homemade bread and butter pickles. She makes refrigerator bread and butter pickles with her recipe (no canner or extra equipment required). I adjust her recipe a little when we can the pickles so that the ingredients fill the jars and are safe to store on a shelf until eaten at a later date.

We began our pickle making process (once the canner and supplies had been located) by washing all of the canning equipment and cucumbers. We divided the amount of water needed in the canner between the canner and another pot so the water heated up quicker. Heating the canner filled with water can take a lot of time! It doesn’t help that I somehow manage to fill the pots with more water than needed, which takes even more time to heat and remove when steaming hot.

My daughters often have the job as “cucumber taste tester”. Essentially, they taste and approve or disapprove a small slice of each cucumber before we put them in the jars. They get a healthy snack while helping with the pickling process.

They are now getting older and were promoted to cucumber slicers as well as cucumber taste testers this year. I cut a few of the cucumbers, and then they cut the rest. They also helped add the slices of cucumbers to the jars once each cucumber was approved. Just incase you are wondering, all of the cucumbers were approved this time around. I also cut and added a few slices of onions to each of the jars.

I tried pushing the cucumber slices and onion slices down into the jars as much as possible. Then, I added 1/4 tspn tumeric, 1/4 tspn celery seed, and 1/4 tspn mustard seed to each of the jars. I filled my kitchen sink with some hot (not boiling) water and set all six of the quart sized jars in the sink so the outsides would not be cold when placed in to the boiling bath of water in the canner. I don’t want the sudden change of temperature to cause the jars to burst open.

While the jars were being filled, I heated and mixed 8 cups vinegar, 8 cups sugar, and just over 2/3 cup canning and pickling salt. Once the sugar and salt was completely dissolved, I let the vinegar mixture cool slightly.

From there, my husband and I added the vinegar mixture to each of the jars, making sure to leave some empty space at the top of the jars. We had a little bit of the mixture left over, which I poured into a separate jar to make refrigerator pickles with future cucumbers we pick. We wiped off the tops of the jars, placed the lid inserts (which had been warmed in a small pot) on each jar, and then carefully tightened the rings on to each of the jars.

We removed the jars from the kitchen sink where they had still been sitting in hot water, shook them a little to mix all of the ingredients, set them in the canning rack (included with our canner), and placed them gently in to the canner (after removing all of the extra unneeded hot water from the canner). Our daughters don’t get to partake in this part of the process since it involves very hot water and jars that could break.

Once the filled jars sat in the boiling water for 15 minutes, my husband removed the jars from the canner one by one and placed them on a towel on our counter. All six of the lids sealed within a few minutes. I love hearing the sound of them popping as they seal!

Don’t they look yummy?

Canned Bread and Butter Pickles

I dated the lids and shook the jars around some more to allow the ingredients to mix together. These will be stored out of direct sunlight and eaten some time in the future. I’m excited to see how they will taste – hopefully delicious!

Have you ever made pickles? If so, what kind of pickles do you like to make?

(* This links to the canner that I use; however, I have had it for many years and did not pay what it is currently listed for. If you are interested in canning, there are other canners available at a lower cost. Unfortunately, I do not have any experience with any other canner, so I wouldn’t be able to make a good recommendation.)


Jobs of a Preschooler · Ramblings

Nature Walk: What Interesting Creatures Will Your Scientist Find?

(This post contains affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you if you click on the link and make a purchase.)

I had mentioned in a previous post that your little ones can become scientists by taking a nature walk to make some interesting discoveries.

Some specific findings I have written about in past posts include animal tracks and nests. Today, I have decided to show you some interesting creatures my daughters and I have discovered. I hope these posts encourage you to explore the world around you. I would love to hear about what you are able to find while out and about!

Last year, my daughters were chasing each other around in our yard when one of my daughters noticed the grass had eyes. Ok, so the grass didn’t really have eyes. My daughter had actually seen the top part of this praying mantis.

Praying mantis

Isn’t the praying mantis such an intriguing insect? I have seen kits to raise praying mantises, which I think would be a really interesting science lesson. A praying mantis egg case can contain over 100 tiny praying mantises at one time! I’m not sure I’m up to the challenge of containing that many little creatures. My family has raised caterpillars (using the Insect Lore Butterfly Kit) and tadpoles, but we probably won’t be raising any praying mantises in our house any time soon.

Did you know the babies may actually eat each other? What a way to be welcomed into the world!

praying mantis

My daughters moved the praying mantis to a nearby tree so they could continue running around in the yard without accidentally stepping on it.

praying mantis

The noise of cicadas can be deafening near our house in the summer. They are out and want everyone to know it! We have found quite a few cicada exoskeletons attached to trees since they molt as they grow. My daughters found this noisy little fellow in a tree in our yard. They caught him and released him back in a tree.


Here is another noisy cicada we found in a tree by following his noises. Can you find him on the tree branch? Talk about camouflage!

cicada on tree

A few years ago, we were walking on a trail at a state park when we found this large millipede crossing in front of us. I have to admit, I didn’t know there were millipedes this big in Iowa until we found it. He was at least five inches long!


This guy was fun to watch and take pictures of, but we did not touch it. Look at all of those legs!

We were on a trail at another state park when we found this walking stick on one of the signs. He wasn’t as camouflaged on the sign as he would have been in the trees, which made me wonder how many of these guys we walk past unnoticed.

walking stick

What interesting creatures will you find and learn more about?