Nov 17

The Village Behind My Book Deal

by Hannah Holt »


Balzer+Bray has acquired my debut picture book Diamond|Man! Hooray! I’m so thrilled it’s hard to know where to begin talking about it.

This project is my heart in 700 words. It compares the life of my grandfather, H. Tracy Hall, to the natural process of changing graphite into diamond. It’s two stories with one beautiful ending.

My grandfather’s life was like a diamond furnace—born into poverty, bullied by peers, working at an early age; however, he took his unique skills and became one of the brightest inventors of the 20th century, eventually building a machine that made diamonds.

arthur ashe

I’ve been working on this project for many years. It’s been a long journey, and I haven’t done it alone. Here’s a brief {reverse} person-by-person path leading to my book deal:

  • Kristin Daly Rens at Balzer+Bray extended an offer for my grandfather’s biography, Diamond|Man, in 2016.
  • Kristin extended an offer because Laura Biagi (my agent) sent her my manuscript.
  • I met Laura through Michelle Hauck‘s online Picture Book Party contest.
  • I found Michelle’s contest through Julie Hedlund‘s 12×12 Writers’ Facebook Group.
  • I met Julie Hedlund at an SCBWI conference when I lived in Colorado.
  • I joined SCBWI because Elizabeth Glann encouraged me to.
  • I met Elizabeth Glann (my very first critique partner) by sending her a message on JacketFlap.com.
  • I was on JacketFlap because I was trying to find other writers in my area.
  • I was trying to find other writers because I read in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books that critique partners are helpful. (Note: I knew no other writers at this point.)
  • I read The Complete Idiots Guide to Publishing Children’s Books because it was one of the resources listed on Harold Underdown‘s website.
  • I found Harold Underdown’s website because I googled the phrase “How do you publish a picture book?”
  • I googled the phrase “How do you publish a picture book?” because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. (2008)

This is just one branch on my publishing journey–a limb on the tree of my writing experience. I couldn’t possibly name all the people I’ve met along the way, but here are few other key experiences for perspective:

  • My cousin Erin Bylund encouraged me to write the earliest drafts and inspired me to keep going.
  • Many critique partners offered feedback on the more than eighty drafts I wrote of this story. You are my heroes!
  • I know I already mentioned my agent, Laura, above but she deserves double mentioning. She worked on a revision with me for three months before we went on submission. I’m pretty sure she’s thought about every word in this story (as has my editor-extraordinaire, Kristin).
  • The Rutgers Council on Children’s Literature provided a generous scholarship that allowed me to attend their One-on-one Plus Conference.
  • Kate Jacobs, my mentor at the One-on-one Plus Conference, gave me excellent career advice that jump started my queries for agents.
  • My many writing friends who have given me advice and inspiration along the way.
  • My kids for their endless faith and energy.
  • Finally, my husband Josh has always being my biggest cheerleader.

When I signed the deal, I took a moment to reflect on all the people who helped me get here. A HUGE thank you to everyone whose been with me on this long but wonderful journey. It was worth the wait!

Jun 16

Paper dolls: Congresswomen Make a Law

by Hannah Holt »


A few months ago, I went to pick my girls up from preschool and was stopped at a road block. Police cars and firetrucks surrounded my daughters’ school, and all I could do was pray, “Please, don’t let it be another mass shooting!”

I managed to park my car and run closer to the scene. Fortunately the incident was only a structure fire across the street from the school. No one was harmed and after not too long, I was able to pick up my daughters. However, when I reflect on that day, I can still taste the panic of not knowing whether or not my children were safe.

My deepest sympathy goes out to the Orlando victims and their friends and family.

In the wake of this tragedy, I had a dream. It’s not as beautiful or poetic as MLK’s, but it’s a dream nonetheless.

I dream of a world where children play in peace: a world where we don’t need Lock Down Drills in elementary school. I have a dream that semi-automatic weapon won’t be easier to purchase inside the United States than chocolate eggs.*

Image result for kinder eggs

I dream that children can be children for as long as possible, and that they grow up to respect people of different faiths and beliefs. I dream of a world where Republicans and Democrats can put aside their differences to pass sensible gun legislation.

So how can laws be changed? I created a paper doll with some very basic information:

Congresswoman dolls

Here is the pdf.

When I feel overwhelmed about the problems in the world, I think about what I can do. I can vote. I can let my elected official know what is important to me, and I can put as much beauty out there as possible. :) Possibly the best thing I can do is to hold my children close and teach them to be kind. Hopefully their strength and kindness will lead to a better, safer, and more compassionate world tomorrow.

*(Kinder Surprise are chocolates with toys on the inside. In the US, they are illegal because they are considered too dangerous.)

Jun 12

Teacher Gift: Seed Packets, Thanks For Helping Me Grow

by Hannah Holt »


As I wrote on my Facebook Page, my husband broke his back this winter. Fortunately there wasn’t any nerve damage, but having a broken back still isn’t much fun. It will be a few more months before he can do certain things (like running or heavy lifting), but for the most part life is back to normal. He’s is doing much better. Thanks for your thoughts and well wishes!

I’m glad I took the time off to take care of him and my family, but I’ve missed blogging. So hello again! I’m super excited for summer. Are you?

I’m kicking off summer with a simple and healthy end of the year teacher gift.

Garden Seeds Teacher Gift

teacher gift seeds

Supply list:

  • a piece of card stock
  • paint: green, red, yellow (I used acrylic)
  • a paint brush
  • a seed packet
  • tape or staples


  1. Paint the message, “Thanks for helping me grow!” or “Thanks for growing with me!” and the flower stem on the paper. Older kids can do this themselves, but younger kids might need a parent’s help.
  2. Let the children finger paint the leaves of the flower and the petals.

teacher gift seeds painting

3. Staple or tape the seed packet to the paper, and have the child sign their name.

teacher gift seeds final

Feb 22

The Basic Five: Five Things Every Writer Should Do Before Querying A Publisher

by Hannah Holt »



1. Read at least five recently published books by that publisher and at least fifty books in the genre (recent means—in the last five years).

Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” Reading gives you a sense of the market. Is your book a good fit for the publisher’s list? Is it too similar to something they’ve already published? While you should never write to the market, you should have a basic idea of where you book fits in the market. It’s okay to write something out-of-the-box, but be self-aware about it. At the end of the day, all books need to fit into some type of box…preferably one that can be mailed to customers, libraries, and retailers.

2. Read at least five books on the craft of writing or take five classes.

However you learn best (auditory, visual, kinetic?), invest in some of that for your craft. Get to know your genre from an academic standing. Examine word count, pacing, character arc, and plotting. Know when and when not to break the rules. For example, a story 7,000 words long will not sell as a picture book. I don’t care how brilliant it is. It’s no longer a picture book at this length. Now, a picture book 1,000 words long might sell, but it will probably be difficult. How do I know this? Experience. Take advantage of someone’s hard-earned experience the easy way—through a book or class.

3. Have at least five writing peers (aka: not family members) read your story and give you objective feedback.

Does your mom love your story? Great. Now get someone else to read it. Critique groups are a great way to get free feedback on your stories. You may or may not agree with their advice but at least hear your partners out. Fresh eyes catch things that might surprise you. Did you changed your main character’s name in every chapter but Chapter 3? Did you switch your verb tense halfway through Chapter 6? Did you use the word “pretty” fifteen times on the first page. Does your side character feel like a one-dimensional stereotype? These are just some of the things an objective reader can help identify.

4. Write at least five drafts of your story.

No one writes his or her best draft the first time through. No one. Dig deeper. Think beyond your first thoughts. Rephrase. Refresh. Re-see. That’s what revision means: re-vision. Even if you end up liking an earlier draft better (and I recommend saving each draft as a separate version for this reason), you’ll have confidence knowing you have explored every option. Revise. A lot.

5. Let you story rest in the drawer for at least five weeks before submitting it.

Hooray! It’s finished! Now put it away.

Let the enthusiasm cool. Let the revision epiphany stand the test of time. Here’s how my revision roller coaster usually goes:

Week 1: This is brilliant! Ha! I’m so clever.

Week 2: Oh no! It’s terrible—the worst thing I’ve ever written.

Week 3: Hmm. It’s not as bad as I thought.

Week 4: If I did X, Y, and Z, it might be salvageable.

Week 5: I’m ready to rewrite with a fresh perspective.

If after five weeks you look back on your story and still love it—congratulations! You are ready to go on submission.

Dec 17

101 Cheap or Free Activities to do with a Toddler in the Winter

by Hannah Holt »

one comment

My son turned ten last week.

Asleep Logan running

That went quick! Around ten years ago, my boss called during  my maternity leave and told me I needed to return to work full-time or find a new job. Three months earlier, we had agreed I would return to work half-time, so this was a drastically new plan. It would require me to find a different child care provider for starters. Add to this, I was hormonal and sleep deprived. Suddenly, I didn’t feel super motivated to return.

So I took a part-time, work-from-home editing job and left the world of engineering. Within a matter of weeks, I went from a go-go-go career to having my days almost completely unplanned. It was slightly terrifying for a Type A personality like myself.

It was also the middle of winter, and the weather was terrible. We needed things to do together, so I started creating “go lists.”

Fast forward ten years, now I have four kids and still work from home. I can’t remember the engineering height requirements for a bridge over a railway, but can I entertain a toddler in the winter? You betcha!

So when my sister-in-law asked me for a list of things to do with her toddler, I was like–YES! Yes, I have a list of things to do. In fact, I have many lists! And because there’s nothing worse than planning something expensive and having a toddler melt down in the middle of it, I keep everything free or cheap.

Here’s my giant list of 101 Things To DO With A Two-year-old In The Winter:


  1. Make paper chains
  2. Finger paint
  3. Roll out clay snakes
  4. Make a chunky pasta necklace (rotini is a good size for little fingers). If you want to be FANCY about it, here’s how to dye pasta.
  5. Collect a few large cardboard boxes and cut out doors and windows. You have a play house! Ta da!
  6. Make animal masks out of paper plates and string
  7. Cut out paper snowflakes
  8. Glue cotton balls on paper to make snowmen

10 day of xmas

9. Using two cups and a string, make a telephone

10. Check out the “Kid Craft” category of this blog for more ideas


11. Have a dance party

12. Splash in the bathtub

13. Jump on the bed…you know you want to

14. Build a blanket fort

15. Create an indoor obstacle course

16. Have a tickle fight

17. Ask the child twirl in a circle ten times and then have her run across the room (remove any furniture with hard edges first)

18. Sing simple action songs, like a) Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes, b) The Wheels on the Bus, c) Ring Around the Rosie, d) The Noble Duke of York, e) Baby Bumble Bee, f) The Itsy-bitsy Spider, g) Where is Thumbkin

19. Do yoga together

20. Have a strength and flexibilty competition: see who touch their toes the best, jump the highest, etc.


21. Make up a puppet show

22. Dress up like your favorite movie characters

23. Pretend to be community helpers and rescue the stuffed animals

24. Pull out a bunch of pots and pans and make a drum set

25. Get out dolls and play house

26. Write your own theatrical play and perform it

27. Go camping in your living room

28. Set up a teddy vet clinic

29. Decorate the laundry baskets like race cars and push them around the house

30. Listen to Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals and dance like you are the different animals: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBGEf4urGNo

(or just pretend to be your favorite animal)


31. Read stories

Logan reading

32. Listen to music

33. Play The Sleeping Lion (Mom lies on the floor with her eyes closed, and the child tries to get as close as possible before Mom grabs her)

34. Brush Daddy’s hair/Brush child’s hair

35. Watch a movie

36. Make a nest out of pillows and pretend to be birds

37. Sing gentle songs: Hush Little Baby, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, All the Pretty Little Horses

38. Hang up Christmas lights and turn off the overhead ones

39. Sip hot cocoa or herbal tea together

40. Paint each others nails and have a spa day (just be sure to put down lots of newspaper first)


41. Play I Spy

42. Become “Shape Detectives” and go on a shape hunt

43. Sing Old MacDonald to practice animal sounds. If this becomes too easy for your child, sing the sounds wrong on purpose and watch for the righteous indignation of a two-year-old correcting you!

43. As you read books together, search for specific letters or objects on each page.


44. Practice counting by placing mini pom-poms in cupcake pans

45. You can also sort mini pom-poms in a cupcake pan by color

46. Say Mother Goose poems and have your child guess the rhyming word, “Jack be nimble. Jack be quick. Jack jump over the candle____.”

47. Play the Preposition Game. Ready, set, get ON the couch. Ready, set, get UNDER the couch. Now run AROUND the couch, etc.

48. Practice the alphabet song

49. Trace the first letter of your child’s name on paper and have them try to place beans on the lines

1 day of xmas

50. Teach your child a new gymnastic move, like how to tumble, twirl, do a cartwheel, or jump on one foot


51. Make your own playdough

52. Bake cookies. Everybody likes cookies!

53. Put a little flour into a cake pan and let the child play with it while you make dinner

54. Pull out the dried rice and beans and some measuring cups to create a sensory tub


55. Fill a shallow pan with baking soda and give the child droppers fill with food coloring tinted vinegar

56. Have the child fetch items you need as you are cooking, “Can you find an egg for me?” “Where are those tomatoes?”

57. Pop some popcorn using this trick: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mFtCDKU7As

58. Make a smiley faces in yogurt with raisins

59. Build robots out of everyday kitchen items

robot craft1

60. Check out the “Kid Kitchen” category of this blog for more ideas, or see this post: 20 Kitchen Ideas for a Rainy Day


61. Have the child help with simple clean up tasks like putting socks in a drawer or placing blocks back in a box

62. Hand the child a colorful feather duster and let her have at it

63. Give the child a piggy-back ride while you vacuum

64. Have the child fetch toys from under beds

65. Give the child a broom and let her “sweep” (just don’t have high expectations)

66. Give the child a cloth and let her wipe the baseboards (just don’t expect her to stay on task for too long)

67. Let the child unload the dishwasher by handing you plates and cups

68. Let the child put rinsed spoons and plates into the dishwasher when it’s time to load

69. Help the child clear the table

70. Fill up the sink with soapy water and let the child “wash” some toys


71. Pull out toy cars and make a race track with masking tape

72. Play tag

73. Play hide-and-seek

74. Play peek-a-boo

75. Try simple card games like Snap and Go Fish

76. Hide the Object (you can play Hot and Cold or just give hints)

77. Tint shaving cream with washable food coloring and paint in the bath


78. Set up ten plastic water bottles at the end of a hallway, grab a rubber ball, and go bowling

79. Build a city out of wooden blocks or Duplos

80. Blow bubbles and chase them. These no-spill containers are my favorite.


81. Cut out little construction paper hearts and hide them all over someone’s room

82. Create a crepe paper maze in the hallway

83. Place balloons over someone’s doorway, so that the balloons will fall when the door opens


84. Hide a plastic mouse in the silverware drawer

85. Draw a love note for someone on the bathroom mirror with dry erase markers

86. Put a plate of cookies on a friend’s front steps (attach a string to the plate). Ring the door bell and hide around the corner. When your friend reaches for the cookies, pull the string and make the plate move.

87. Using a toothpick, leave a message in the top of a freshly opened jar of peanut butter

88. Hide all of someone’s clothes while they are away at school or work

89. Blow up a balloon (but don’t tie it) and release it in a room when someone least expects it

90. Switch the ingredients in the sugar and salt shakers. See if your child notices a difference. 😉


91. To the library for story hour

92. To the store and let the toddler pick out the fruits and vegetables for the week

93. To the children’s museum (I think a membership to at least one museum is an investment in your sanity. I have one membership and rotate it annually so I don’t get too tired of any one place.

Billy goat Ethan

94. To a fast food restaurant with a play place

95. To a friend’s house

96. To city hall or a fire station (you might need to plan ahead for this)

97. To the mall to run around

98. To do some touristy thing local to you, like touring the Federal Mint in Denver or Temple Square in Salt Lake City or Powell’s Books in Portland

99. To the pet store to watch the fish and puppies

100. To a toy store with a play area

101. Bundle up and GO OUTSIDE!

Bundled 2