For Parents

Query Cowbells, Yard Art, and Other Ways Authors Celebrate (and Why)

I’ve been reminded lately that celebration is something we should do more often. In the writing world, we are happy when we get to make big announcements – book deals, releases, signing with an agent. Those announcements almost always lead to a celebratory dinner, a launch party, a champagne toast, or a hearty round of “Huzzah!” on social media.

But those BIG announcements can be a long time coming. Some writers are still waiting and working toward them.

That’s why I was so excited when critique partner and illustrator Jane Dippold presented our critique group members with Query Cowbells.


According to Jane’s detailed instructions for use, one should:

  • Ring the Query Cowbell once with extreme exuberance upon hitting “send” on any email query. Twirl in a circle like a puppy and settle into your favorite spot. You did it!
  • Shake the Query Cowbell vigorously two times upon receiving any form rejection: once for perseverance and once for your amazing, but not yet accepted, manuscript.
  • Upon receiving a personal rejection with vague but important revision suggestions, put the Query Cowbell down and REVISE!  Ring the Query Cowbell softly, once, when you finally go to bed at 3 A.M.
  • There are many more Query Cowbell instructions, but you get the idea. If you are submitting, you have reasons to celebrate! 


Author Sarah Aronson has one of my favorite reasons for celebrating. “Every time I get to page 100 of a draft, I make this soup,” she says.  100-Page Party Soup. Why not? Click here for her recipe and you can make it yourself.

Author/Illustrator Lita Judge celebrates in really BIG way. She explains, “I have always felt a strong connection to Stonehenge and other ancient rock circles. I fell upon the idea that I would erect my own stones, adding a pillar each time I finish a book. When I step into the yard or look out my windows the pillars remind me of all the projects I have been fortunate enough to create. Each one is hard won and will stand for my lifetime. They are my special way of celebrating this rich life of creating.” 

Lita’s husband Dave sets an 800-pound stone in their yard.

Lita poses with three of her celebratory monuments.

Author Nancy Roe Pimm also celebrates each book with an addition to her garden.  “I always loved concrete lawn ornaments, even before the well-dressed geese began making appearances on lawns throughout the country. I would never buy a lawn statue for myself, because let’s face it- it’s not a real “need.” When I found the winged fairy reading a book, it suddenly felt like a need. I had two books out that year, Colo’s Story and the Daytona 500 book. I decided to celebrate and treat myself to the book reading fairy.”
There are so many reasons to celebrate.
You finished a draft.
You started a draft!
You conquered that revision.
You found a critique partner.
You’ve signed up for your first writing conference.
Don’t wait for the big stuff. Celebrate every step along the way.
This has me thinking. I’ve just completed a blog post!
Champagne, anyone?

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit Still Relevant

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

When beloved children’s book author Judith Kerr passed away in May at the age of 95, I’d been about two weeks into reading to my two sons her classic and still relevant middle-grade novel When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.

This was a seminal book for me as a child: I read it over and over again and vividly remember parts of it to this day. I had great feelings—and memories— for the book, but never particularly thought about who wrote it. When I moved to London 25 years later however, I discovered that in fact its author, Judith Kerr, is the creator of some 30 picture books. This includes one of the most classic children’s books here in England: The Tiger Who Came to Tea which I had immediately fallen in love with.

Two Sequels

In that first year we lived in London, I made another surprising discovery, at least to me: When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit actually has two sequels—Bombs on Aunt Dainty which is more upper middle grade or possibly YA, and A Small Person Far Away, which I would also classify as YA or possibly even adult. They’re all fictionalized versions of Judith Kerr’s own story of being a refugee from Germany as Hitler came to power. 

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit starts when its main character, Anna, is nine, and ends when she is 11 going on 12, which is roughly my own age range when I read this book over and over again. Now an adult myself, it was fascinating to read the continuation of Anna’s life into adulthood. And in essence the three books together are a bildungsroman: the story of the artist as a young woman. But while I greatly enjoyed discovering and reading the two sequels, something held me back from re-reading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit as an adult. I think I was probably afraid—what if it didn’t hold up to how I remembered it? And when considering a beloved childhood book to read to my kids there is always the extra risk of them hating it, not getting what’s so great about it, or finding it BORE-ING!

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit Still Relevant

But the story in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, which was first published in 1971 and takes place in 1933-36, seems highly relevant right now and I sensed my sons were at a good age for it —at least to try. In any case, I needn’t have worried. The two boys, ages eight and ten, were enthralled. Every night they would literally beg me to read, and read more! In fact, the book not only holds up to how I remember it, but is even deeper.

There were several occasions on reading it—and not ones that I remembered from childhood—in which I was moved to tears. And reading the chapters each night with my sons provoked great questions and discussions. The story is not only so relevant now because of the refugee crisis, but it introduces children to Hitler coming to power and to anti-semitism—as well as the idea of racism—in a forthright and age-appropriate way. It “talks up” to them in a way that both the ten-year-old and the eight-year-old could handle and appreciate.

Pink Rabbit and Writing Craft

But it’s as a writer now myself that I marveled most.

Children's Book Still Relevant Today

I can’t find the cover image I remember from childhood but I adore this one from the edition I read with my sons

Judith Kerr expertly crafted When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit yet with the lightest of touches so it’s only now that I realize what a feat the book is.

She is telling the story of her life and her family’s experiences, but instead of it being a series of “this happened,” “and then this happened,” it is all harnessed to a cohesive story that has a beautiful narrative shape. She writes in an afterward that although she “filled in the gaps with invented detail” and was writing in the third person about a girl called Anna (because she felt that as a middle-aged English woman she was no longer the same little German girl that had fled the Nazis) she decided early on in the project “that all the important things must be true—the things that happened, how I felt about them, what we, our friends and the places we lived in were like.”

I have recently been reading many books on writer’s craft as I work on a major redrafting of my novel, and I am struck and awestruck at how Judith Kerr accomplished this. For one thing, there is an efficiency to each vignette so that no episode is random (even if it might delightfully seem that way at first) and each comes together in service of the greater story or theme—which is that Anna doesn’t feel like a refugee because as long as her family has stayed together that is her home.

For another thing, Judith Kerr has a way of mining the quiet moments for their drama and humor, while what is truly frightening or deeply upsetting (especially read through the eyes of an adult) are handled with a feather-weight dexterity so that they are not made light of but they are not so scary so as to no longer be appropriate for a children’s book. I think a lot of this comes down to her success at seeing everything through a child’s eye and staying true to that perspective. She doesn’t shy away from depressing moments, that sometimes one feels low, or that bad things happen. But through it all there’s a general positivity and the assurance of grown ups.

Overall, re-reading When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit with my sons, I experienced both nostalgia for how I felt about it as a child, a re-ignition of my love for it, and an all-new feeling of admiration and aesthetic connection. It gave me great joy to read. I wish I could write like her! I will continue to study her novels and figure out just how she did it. Judith Kerr’s work is a huge inspiration to me and children’s literature is richer for her legacy.


Inside the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival with Dawn Greenberg

Dawn Greenberg and Sally Cook

  THE SEVENTH ANNUAL CHAPPAQUA CHILDREN’S BOOK FESTIVAL brings together exciting authors, favorite characters, and heartfelt stories for children and teens. This small, welcoming town is the place to make a lasting connection between young readers and books. How did this wonderful event come to be? I asked founder, Dawn Greenburg that question–and lots of others.


Q.      What was the intent of the original Chappaqua festival?  How, if at all, has it changed?

DG      We remain focused on our original intent with the Chappaqua festival: to connect authors and readers.   I probably didn’t fully grasp what that meant originally, but in truth there is something so special about seeing a kid chatting away unguarded to an author they only met before in the pages of a book. We want kids to love books but we also want them to realize that the act of writing is as simple as putting pen to paper and letting your mind go. In having our authors explain how and why they write what they do, I think it greatly expands our kids view of what they can capture with their own words.

The beauty of our festival is that the excitement is palpable as those connections happen. I hear from so many parents and community members their gratitude and relief that we have shown that books still matter in our digital world — and that we bring so much excitement to our sleepy town one day each year.


Q.      Can you remember a book that made an impression on you in middle grade?

 DG      I was a voracious reader and had read all of the Nancy Drew books by second grade. From there, I think I graduated to Agatha Christie.  I grew up in a small town and much like Miss Marple, I fancied myself able to see the intrigue beyond the picket fence.


Q.      In October, Chappaqua will host its seventh annual book festival. Does any year stand out as memorable to you, and why? Do you have a story to share about a glitch, dilemma, or mini crisis that popped up in any year?

 DG      Every year I say the festival was the best ever and we’ll never top it. I log almost 20 miles on festival day making sure our authors are happy and that everything is glitch-free. We’re on our feet from 5 am to 8 pm when the last box is packed away. We try to present a “what me worry?” face to the world, but we fuss over every detail to make sure the day works. However, there is always, without fail, one book that doesn’t arrive. We work on our order for months and go line by line with our fastidious book handler and yet we still manage to have a shipment that doesn’t come.  The first few years, it would absolutely ruin my day, but I’ve learned to take it a little more in stride.


Q.      What advice would you give adults about attending the fair with their kids?

DG   My best advice on festival day is to have a plan using our website author biographies, but allow for a lot of serendipity. With this many authors, you should try to make a list of the top ten or 15 that are “must sees” for you. We are trying to help that process greatly with more maps and color-coded guides this year, hopefully even an app. But you’ll be amazed at the authors that you’ll find just by wandering.   Our area is so very rich with marvelous and celebrated authors! You should keep your eyes open and your energy high for chance encounters. You should prioritize authors who aren’t from our immediate area — Jarrett Krosoczka, Cece Bell, Cynthia Levinson, Kate Messner — because we can’t guarantee they’ll be back next year.


Q.      Do you have any great tips for authors about how to be a success at a book fair?

DG      For authors, I’d suggest arriving rested and relaxed.   The first 30 minutes can be a bit overwhelming as everyone rushes to find their table, but you’ll settle in soon. In fact, we ask our local orchestra to provide a three-piece ensemble from 9-10 am to keep everyone’s nerves under control. Authors who bring something cute and eye-catching seem to do well with the youngest readers. For example, Diana Murray’s unicorn horn is a huge hit.  But giveaways aren’t necessary. A colorful pile of books and a warm smile is enough.


Q.      I read that you’ll be hosting 145 authors this year. Last year there were 90. What are the challenges of putting together such a huge fair? What innovations can we look forward to?

DG   In addition to adding almost 50 authors, we will have a kick off keynote address by Jarrett Krosoczka and three author panels. We were given the approval to expand our “footprint” on the school fields, so we’ve taken the opportunity to add even more authors we admire — including SIX Project Lit Club authors — and to add panel discussions.   Additionally, we’ll be closing the street in front of the field, which will allow a bit more of a flow for our families as well as easy access to the town gazebo where we’ll hold our author readings. We’re also thrilled that KidLit TV will be on hand and authors will be interviewing each other and streaming live from the festival!  We hope to create a lot of wonderful content from those interviews. We love when our authors have time to catch up and discuss future collaborations.

Mark your calendar for Sat, Oct 5th, 2019 @ Bell Middle School in Chappaqua, NY 10514. Rain or Shine.

#chapbookfest   @chappaquabookfestival

DAWN GREENBERG and a group of friends founded the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival in 2013. Since then it has grown from 65 authors to 145 from all across the northeast.  In her professional life, Dawn managed international rights for United Feature Syndicate and Warner Bros./DC Comics. She is the mom of two boys, 16 and 13. She believes books can change lives.


Author Phyllis Shalant (aka Annabelle Fisher) and reader find an amazing connection at Chap Book Fest