No Guts, No Glory

This is a story-behind-the-story post, but it’s also for those of you who are waffling over attending a writing conference in 2015. Consider this your sign.


Why? Because wondrous things happen at conferences, specifically SCBWI conferences. Just ask my friend Sarvinder Naberhaus, who submitted a stack of poems for an editorial critique a few years back. One of them eventually became Boom Boom, her debut picture book (this is the GLORY part).

boom boom

Here’s what School Library Journal had to say about Boom Boom (illus by Margaret Chodos-Irvine, Beach Lane 2014):

“This large, brightly colored picture book … revolves around a class of preschoolers experiencing the four seasons. The thunderstorms of spring give way to the sun and flowers of summer, then to the fall leaves and winter snowflakes. Pictures have been created from various nontraditional materials, including textured wallpaper, stencils, plastic lace, and vinyl fabric, set against mainly white backgrounds. They show the children exploring the outside world as the weather changes. Text is minimal, limited to the sound of the outside world: “drip drip,” “crinkle crinkle,” “swirl swirl.” Tying everything together is the underlying growing friendship between two of the children—a shy boy and an outgoing girl—depicted wordlessly through the illustrations.”

Nice! Now take a look at some of Ms. Chodos-Irvine’s lively and adorable illustrations:

BB 12-13 final cropped 72





BB 22-23 final cropped 72





BB 26-27 final 72






















Lovely. Can you imagine what a great read-aloud this would be with a group of pre-schoolers? I asked Sarvinder a couple of questions that she answers below.


JE: Picture books with seasonal themes are plentiful, but your minimal text (32 words!) makes yours stand out. How did you settle on this format?

Sarvinder_Naberhaus_1200SN: I remember my thinking process clearly, even though I wrote this many years back. I love the 4 seasons because I love patterns when I write. Perhaps this goes back to my songwriting background. Once you figure out the rhythm and melody for the first stanza and chorus, all you have to do after that is fill in the blanks for the rest of the song, because it repeats. A pattern is an outline, a frame on which to hang the rest of your story.

I remember sitting at my computer desk early in the morning, after sending the kids off to school, I stole some time to write. I wanted to write about the seasons, but there are sooo many books on that topic. I started asking myself questions. I reasoned with myself, and thought about the 5 senses. I asked, “What hasn’t been done with the 5 senses?”  I knew writers often left out smells and sounds. So I asked myself, “What if I did the sounds of the seasons?”  The sound of a thunderstorm popped into my head, “Boom, boom, boom!”  So then I asked myself, “What if I only did sounds?  What if I only used those words?”  So I started writing down and repeating sound words, because I thought that was different. As a songwriter, it came out in rhyme, and that was fine with me.

When I finished, it ended up being a poem, although I never saw it that way. I always pictured it as a picture book. I envisioned it starting out with a wide-screen shot of a thunderstorm, but when it came down to “splash splash splash” I pictured the camera zooming in on a single child splashing in a puddle. It was lovely seeing that image come to fruition after 8 years.

This is how I explained my vision to my editor as well, starting out with a wide angle shot of the season, at the beginning of each stanza, but zooming in on the individual child on the last line. That took it out of the status of poem, and moved it into the realm of picture book, because it could be illustrated. The pairing of words didn’t obviously lend themselves to illustrating, so it was a little bit out of the box, which was my aim to start with. It’s so difficult to think of something that hasn’t been done before.

JE:  Explain why you didn’t include illustration notes (this is the GUTSY part). 

SN: This particular manuscript did not come with illustration notes, only because I happened to meet the editor face to face. I was able to discuss my vision for this “poem” with her during our critique session at one of our SCBWI conferences. During our time, I jumped in and was able to explain to her what my vision was for the piece. I had actually left plenty of room for an illustrator to interpret my sparse text.  I feel lucky she was able to see inside my vision.

After meeting with Allyn [Beach Lane Editor Allyn Johnston], and explaining what I saw in my brain, she asked to hold on to my manuscript (the poem). I was elated, and I think she was excited too, to suddenly have this turn-around with what seemed to be a simple poem. And Allyn does “simple” beautifully. I was fortunate that she had edited many books, and I was able to check them out and “research” them to see what works I had that would match her style. I came up with one thing — Boom Boom Boom, and it was a fit. She called me six months later and offered me a contract.

Allyn matched up the book with illustrator Margaret Chodos-Irvine who did a marvelous job not only at illustrating, but at creating a storyline and characters to live through a year of the seasons. She added many subtle touches that you have to dig to find. She created nine characters, two main characters, and named them all. I also appreciated the diversity of the characters, representing a nice slice of America. She told a nice tale with her award winning artistic style.


Picture books are discovered in a variety of ways. But boy, I love a good conference success story, don’t you? Because I was at the above conference, I know that Ms. Johnston was paging through Sarvinder’s poems and about to flip the page on what was then called  Boom Boom Boom when Sarvinder jumped in. See? Gutsy! And they all lived happily ever after.


P.S.  Linda’s post last week, Starting Over, had me taking a look at my “in progress” files. I made the mistake of counting them….
In my “pb ideas” folder: 64
In my “need revision” folder: 23
On my desktop (the ones that are top priority): 6
New year, new energy? Hope so. Good luck, everybody!









Jill Esbaum

Jill Esbaum has been picture book crazy since her 3 kids were little, and especially so after her first was published in 2004 (Stink Soup). Recent titles: Bird Girl - Gene Stratton-Porter Shares Her Love of Nature With the World, Parrotfish Has a Superpower, Stinkbird Has a Superpower, Sea Turtle Swims, Kangaroo Hops, Jack Knight's Brave Flight, We Love Babies!, Where'd My Jo Go?, Frog Boots, How to Grow a Dinosaur, Frankenbunny, If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party, Elwood Bigfoot– Wanted: Birdie Friends!, Teeny Tiny Toady, I Am Cow, Hear Me Moo!, and more. Coming in 2025: Polecat Has a Superpower!, It's Corn-Picking Time!, Giraffe Runs. She's also the author of many nonfiction books for young readers, as well as an early graphic reader series, Thunder & Cluck. Learn more at


  1. I love reading stories about conference attendance. And, this book is perfect for my preschooler and I love studying short text.

  2. I was contemplating going to a conference this year, and this is the perfect inspiration! Thank you for sharing.

  3. I love this post! And that book? It sounds (ha-ha) adorable.

    I have had a few conference success stories of my own–one of which involved Allyn. 🙂 Years ago, I signed up for a manuscript consultation at the national SCBWI conference. My ms, PRINCESS IN TRAINING was paired with Allyn. She ended up taking it to acquisitions at her previous house and the manuscript got the YES.

  4. Great post and an excellent reason why you should attend a writing conference. Love BOOM BOOM!

  5. Terrific post and terrific book! Writing is a creative process, yes, but it’s interesting how deliberate Savinder’s actions were from finding time to write, coming up with the concept (seasons overdone, but sounds not…aha!) to pitching the finished manuscript. Deliberate and deliberately persistent.

  6. Interesting–and inspiring!

  7. Wonderful post. This book looks so sweet. Will have to add it to my TB (to buy) list. Great things happen when we get serious about writing. Loved your P.S. Same here. 🙂

  8. It was wonderful meeting Sarvinder! Thank you for sharing. I love how Boom Boom came about. Such an inspiring come-to-creation story! I’d LOVE to attend the SCBWI conference in my region. It’s just so hard, because it’s over 5 hours away and I have 4 kiddos. 🙂

    • That does make it more difficult, Sheri. But until you can get to a conference, 4 kiddos gives you LOTS of story inspiration. 🙂

  9. This book looks totally charming! I, too, owe my first book sale to an SCBWI conference — and Allyn. She was very lukewarm about the manuscript she critiqued, but said I could send her more. I did, and one of them became BABIES ON THE GO.

    By the way, I’m AMAZED at your manuscript tally in your PS. You’re so organized! My file drawers are packed with multiple idea folders filled with little scraps of paper as well as nearly-finished mss that aren’t quite submission-worthy. The thought of classifying/counting them makes my head spin . . .

  10. Wow, Allyn’s had some fantastic luck at conferences, eh?
    My files aren’t in drawers (well, I have those, too, but not for ideas). Mine are on my computer desktop. Yeah, counting them has left me sort of depressed. Especially when I can’t work on any of them right now (work-for-hire commitment).

  11. What a sweet and wonderful success story – I look forward to seeing the book! I haven’t had a sale directly arise from a conference, but I met my agent at one and I’ve had important and timely words of encouragement from editors.

  12. Fingers crossed for you, Patty. 🙂

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