Show Me How! with Vivian Kirkfield and Sweet Dreams, Sarah

Folks, we’re back with another wonderful Show Me How! post from kidlit author and friend Vivian Kirkfield. This post is number three in Vivian’s three-part Frog on a Blog series, in which she shares a summary of one of her picture books, followed by a Positive Parental Participation Note, then a craft, and finally, a recipe, just like she does in her book Show Me How! Build Your Child’s Self-Esteem Through Reading, Crafting and Cooking. (For more information about Show Me How! and to read my review, click HERE.)

Two weeks ago, we showcased Pippa’s Passover Plate. Last week, we talked Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book.

Today, I’m excited to feature the picture book biography Sweet Dreams, Sarah!

But first, let’s hear a little about the book’s journey to publication.

Sweet Dreams Sarah: The Journey

I am so thrilled to have another opportunity to share a little bit more about my journey to publication. I’m blessed to have five book deals…with five different publishing houses…with five different editors…with five different illustrators…and of course, each of the manuscripts is different.

I wrote Sweet Dreams, Sarah in July 2014, the month after I took an online class in writing nonfiction picture books. I’d always been a fan of nonfiction….as a child, I read the Encyclopedia Britannica for fun. 😊 The teacher of that class encouraged us to surf the internet to find interesting topics…the first this…the first that. And I found Sarah E. Goode, one of the first African American women to get a U.S. Patent. I researched…there was almost nothing about her – and that spurred me on to dig for more because it makes me so sad when someone back in history does something amazing and they are forgotten…or worse, never even recognized in their own time.

sweet-dreams-sarah-text waiting and wondering

Image from Sweet Dreams, Sarah

Reaching out to librarians (HURRAY FOR LIBRARIANS!) and checking census records, I was able to amass enough information to write a story. And here is the process I used to refine it. I gave it to a few critique buddies. Then I revised based on their feedback. I sent it to Rate Your Story. It got an ‘8’. ☹ I revised as per their feedback and gave it to more critique buddies and revised based on that. And sent it to Rate Your Story. It got a ‘3’. Then I revised again and sent it to more critique buddies and polished based on their thoughts. And entered it in the Rate Your Story annual contest, won second place, and knew I had a strong story that I could send out to agents and editors. Which I did. It was Sweet Dreams, Sarah that garnered interest from four different agents. I signed with Essie White of Storm Literary Agency in late 2015, she sent it out immediately, and we had a book deal before the end of the year.

But every book has its own journey, right? Some are quick out of the gate and then slow to be published. Others take time to find the right home and then everything is golden from then on. The journey to publication for this book fell into the former category. There were many frustrations for me as the author because I felt an obligation to honor the subject of my story and I felt responsible to make sure the book was authentic and true. It was a long haul, but I’m happy to say we now have a beautiful book that is getting excellent feedback from the major reviewers. And I’ll be presenting it to four elementary schools and a bookstore in the Chicago area (where Sarah lived and worked and had her store) next week!

Sarah cover

SHOW ME HOW!: Sweet Dreams, Sarah

SUMMARY: With freedom in her pocket and hope in her heart, former slave Sarah E. Goode comes north to Chicago. She opens a furniture store, but after listening to her customers, she realizes that much of the furniture sold is too boxy, too bulky, too big for their cramped living conditions. And then, Sarah not only builds a unique cabinet bed that saves space, but she also applies for a patent. Remember, this is 1885, a time when most women don’t even own anything, much less a patent. They can’t vote and many times, they don’t control their own wages. But Sarah was a trailblazer and her courage and ingenuity will inspire young children today.

sweet-dreams-sarah-patent received

Image from Sweet Dreams, Sarah

*Positive Parental Participation Note: We all have hopes and dreams – and young children are no different. We can encourage kids by listening to them and by respecting their thoughts. We all need a cheering committee and parents are a child’s biggest fans. Is your child interested in art, science, math, sports, nature, reading, or maybe carpentry, like Sarah? Join together in activities that validate your children and their passions.

CRAFT ACTIVITY: Make a Build Your Dream into Reality” Chart

There are many simple woodworking crafts to be found in books or online and I hope you will check those out to try with your children so they can be builders like Sarah.

But here’s an idea that may help your children build their dreams into reality.

  1. Talk about dreams. What are their dreams? A trip to Disneyland? A camping weekend with friends? A room make-over? Becoming a cartoonist or a major league baseball player?
  2. Make a chart on a piece of poster board or paper. Detailed instructions are here:
  3. List the steps to get to the goal. Your children may have to do research to find out what steps they need to take. Earn money for the trip? Clear out clutter for the make-over. Take art classes/join a team/practice for the life goals?
  4. As the weeks pass by, check progress on the chart together.
  5. Goals can change…and we can have more than one goal.


I don’t know if Sarah E. Goode ever made oatmeal raisin cookies for her children, but I know I did. And I also know that oats were an important staple in Chicago, and the Quaker Oats Company still has a factory in Illinois that produces granola bars and cereals.

For a detailed ingredient list and instructions, please go to:

I’ve made these and they are GREAT! I hope you all get to try them also.

Thank you so much, Lauri, for having me…it was fun stopping by Frog on a Blog. And now I’m off to prepare my presentation for four schools in the Chicago area next week. I’ll also be at the Andersons Bookstore in La Grange on Saturday, June 8 at 11am, reading Sweet Dreams, Sarah. But before I fly off to Chicago, I have a bookstore event in Dedham, MA at Peter Reynolds’ Blue Bunny Bookstore…it’s on Saturday, June 1st at 1pm…I hope if your readers are in either area, they’ll bring the kiddos and stop in for a story and a craft activity…and the kids will get a free Otters activity book.

If you’re going to be in the Chicago or Dedham, MA areas while Vivian is there, I highly recommend you stop in to see her. You won’t be disappointed!

Thanks so much, Vivian, for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit with us here at Frog on a Blog, not once, but three times! We are lucky indeed. 🙂


Writer for children – reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. She’s got a bucket list that contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing and banana-boat riding. When she is not looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books that she hopes will encourage young kids to become lovers of books and reading. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House, Feb 2019); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (PomegranateKids, March 2019); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books, May 2019); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020); From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020). Vivian lives in the quaint New Hampshire town of Amherst where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. You can visit Vivian on her website, Picture Books Help Kids Soar, where she hosts the #50PreciousWords Writing Challenge every March. Or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, and just about anywhere people are playing with picture books.


Interview Alert: Robin Newman

Today, I’m excited to feature an interview with one of my long-time kid lit pals, author Robin Newman! As many of us do in the kid lit industry, I met Robin virtually, when she became one of Frog on a Blog’s very first followers, and she has remained one ever since. She’s watched this humble space change (through at least four WordPress themes) and grow over the years, and she’s been so kind to share my posts.

Robin’s fourth book NO PEACOCKS! was recently released. And it’s the perfect time to learn more about the book, about Robin, and about the beautiful peafowl who inspired her.

peacocks Cover_FINAL

Q. I know that you were once a practicing attorney. When did you decide that writing children’s picture books was what you really wanted to do? And what do you like best about writing children’s books?

R.N. I had gone from being a miserable Workers’ Compensation attorney to editing energy and environmental treatises and journals. Both jobs helped me realize that I enjoyed writing. Around the time when I was a legal editor, I started writing short stories. My twin sister worked at John Wiley & Sons, Inc., and they sponsored one of the short story writing contests at Symphony Space. I entered and lost. Year after year. Rinse and repeat. But I was writing. After my son was born in 2006, my husband suggested I take a writing class—my first writing class. I signed up for a children’s fiction writing class and as soon as I walked in, I knew I had found my people.

I’ve always loved the creative aspects of writing. And a big part of that creativity, especially when you write for children, is trying to figure out how my writing will get young readers excited about reading and writing. (This includes my own son who is one tough customer to please.)

Q. You’ve based No Peacocks! on three real peacocks that live on the grounds of The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. How did these feathered celebrities inspire your story?

Peacock on truck

This is Harry or Jim or Jim or Harry. Harry is named for a former dean, The Very Reverend Harry H. Pritchett Jr. and Jim is named for the dean of The Cathedral, The Very Reverend Dr. James A. Kowalski.

R.N. From the moment I saw the peacocks, I knew I wanted to write about them. Every day at school drop off and pick up, I would watch them—as did my dogs, Madeleine and Cupcake, who were just as excited to see them as I was. (I wish I could say it was reciprocal for the peacocks, but they HATE dogs.)

Robins dogs

Peacocks are obviously beautiful, but they are also wonderfully quirky, stubborn, and mischievous. They are extremely protective of their food, not to mention, they’re omnivorous foodies.

White peacock

This is Phil. He’s named after Phillip Foote, the former head of The Cathedral School.

So, even though I knew I wanted to write about the peacocks, I still needed a story. One day while I was attending a meeting for the school’s book fair, one of the administrators interrupted the meeting to ask—“Did anyone leave a stroller on the porch with a sandwich? Because one of the peacocks just ate it.”—And at that glorious ah-ha moment, I knew I had my story.

Q. I’m really, really curious—are the real Phil, Jim, and Harry friendly, and can the kids who attend The Cathedral School interact with the birds?

R.N. The peacocks are extremely sociable. Either Jim or Harry loves to hang out on the school’s porch right in front of the door at pick up time making it impossible for the kids to get out unless he’s shooed away.




The peacocks also enjoy hanging out with the kids in the schoolyard. I’ve seen them on top of the jungle gym. They also will investigate the piles of book bags in the hope of finding a snack or two. All that said, they do keep their distance from the kids. They’re definitely not pets.

Q. This is your second book illustrated by Chris Ewald, yet the books are by different publishers. How did this come about and were you able to collaborate with him on No Peacocks!?

R.N. Chris and I are both represented by the amazing Liza Fleissig at the Liza Royce Agency. When I was asked if I had any thoughts on an illustrator for No Peacocks!, I suggested Chris.

When Chris came up to New York for the Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep launch party, he met me one day at school pickup to see the birds and to get a feel for the grounds and the neighborhood. In terms of collaboration, I have made some suggestions to Chris but ultimately it’s up to Chris to decide whether he wants to use those suggestions or not.

Q. Tell us a bit about your writing life. Do you have a routine or a favorite place to write? Where do you usually find inspiration?

R.N. Everything revolves around my son’s schedule. As soon as he’s off to school, I head to my tiny office to write. Later in the day, when I hear the door open and slam shut, followed by the thud of a book bag hitting the floor, and my son’s version of “Hi Mom! I love you.” Translation: “Mom, I’m hungry. Where’s the ice cream?,” I know it’s time for me to put away my work.

Like most writers, I get inspired by books, newspaper articles, kids (especially my son!), teachers, librarians, school, cartoons, childhood memories, siblings, dogs, food, etc. In a nutshell, I get inspired by just about everything. Not until I sit down and write a draft and bring it to my critique groups, do I realize if those “ideas” are worth pursuing or not.

Q. What are your favorite childhood picture books?

R.N. Madeleine, Babar, and Pierre in The Nutshell library were some of my all-time favorite childhood books.

Q. Why do you believe picture books are important? 

R.N. Picture books (and in this category I also include board books) are a child’s entrée to reading. They help children learn about social relationships, develop language skills, understand their environment, and expose them to real and imaginary worlds that are far from their own reality. They help children better understand their feelings, conquer their fears, inspire creativity, encourage social responsibility, and hopefully help them on the path to becoming lifelong readers.

Q. Where can fans connect with you online?

R.N. Website: 
Twitter: @robinnewmanbook

Q. Is there anything else you’d like to share? What’s next for Robin Newman?

R.N. I am constantly writing and revising my journey as an author. I’ve been working on the third book in my Wilcox & Griswold mystery series, and on a number of picture books. Stay tuned.

Thank you, Robin! We will definitely be watching eagerly for your next book!

Robin Newman

About Robin Newman

Robin Newman was a practicing attorney and legal editor, but she now prefers to write about witches, mice, pigs and peacocks. She is the author of the Wilcox & Griswold Mystery Series, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake and The Case of the Poached Egg, as well the picture book, Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep, illustrated by Chris Ewald. She lives in New York with her husband, son, goldfish, and two spoiled English Cocker Spaniels, who are extremely fond of Phil, Jim, and Harry.