I’ve belonged to a writer’s critique group for nearly a decade now, and I find the feedback invaluable. We are all members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). We represent a wide range of ages and genres, from picture books to young adult novels and from historical fiction to fantasy to realistic stories.

For nearly a decade, we have met monthly in a local library (or more recently through Zoom). Members who want feedback on their work submit a picture book manuscript or chapter from a novel about a week ahead of time. Typically, between two and four of us submit material for review each month. We provide round robin verbal critiques during the meeting, along with written comments that we each share with the author.

Feedback from my critique group friends helped me improve two picture book manuscripts that later got accepted for publication—One Leaf, Two Leaves, Count with Me! (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2017) and my latest book, Raindrops to Rainbow (Penguin Workshop, 2021). I never submit anything until it has been vetted by the critique group. As writers, we get so immersed in our projects that sometimes we need objective, outside feedback.

Our critique group also serves another important role—we provide a support system to one another. We celebrate when a member gets something published, and we offer support when a pet project gets rejected. We have become friends, and we often travel together to writing conferences or writing retreats. Critique groups may not be right for every writer in every circumstance, but for many writers they fill a vital role. If you are interested in forming a critique group in your area, your regional SCBWI representative may be able to help you identify some prospective members. Happy critiquing!

On March 2, I was pleased to celebrate the “Book Birthday” of my latest picture book, Raindrops to Rainbow, published by Penguin Workshop. This gentle, rhyming picture book shows how color can be found all around us, whether there are raindrops falling or a rainbow high above. Bright, adorable illustrations by Charlene Chua provide the perfect complement to the text. (I love the Corgi!)

We celebrated this “Book Birthday” with an online Storytime reading hosted by the Hockessin Book Shelf. It was a real treat to share Raindrops to Rainbow, One Leaf, Two Leaves, Count with Me, and poems from Beach Fun: Poems of Surf and Sand and Daddy Poems with kids of all ages. Through the power of Zoom, friends and relatives from afar joined in the fun. If you couldn’t participate on March 2, you can access the video through the Hockessin Book Shelf’s Facebook page.

The celebration continues with a Zoom visit with students at Cooke Elementary School on March 18, and I have future Zoom visits planned with students at Maclary Elementary School and Gallaher Elementary School. I truly enjoy sharing my work and my love of writing with young people, and I hope to schedule more Zoom visits with schools and/or day care centers.

March also marks my birthday month, but at this point in my life, I’m much more excited about “Book Birthdays” than my own! Copies of Raindrops to Rainbow are available locally at the Hockessin Bookshelf, The Palette & the Page, and online from Penguin.

I enjoyed launching Raindrops to Rainbow with a Storytime reading sponsored by the Hockessin Book Shelf.

I wrote my first book when I was 8 years old. It was called Tubby the Pig on the Moon. The 20-page story, created painstakingly on a manual typewriter, told the tale of a talking pig and his barnyard friends who built a rocket ship and flew to the moon. It wasn’t the type of story that got published, but it showed even then that I was dreaming of being a writer.

I love to tell that story when doing school visits, and then I read my poem “The Keeper of Dreams” from my Mommy Poems book. The poem talks about what we might dream of being when we grow up (and sharing those dreams with Mom). I tell students how I made my dreams come true through practice and persistence, and I encourage them to dream big and to follow those dreams—wherever they may lead.  

Back in the “good old days” before the pandemic, my school visits were live, and they were often done in the form of writing workshops. In these workshops, I would get elementary students writing poetry, persuasive pieces, or research-oriented nonfiction. It’s fun to watch students get excited about writing and see the pride they take in their creations. That worked well in person where I could circulate throughout the classroom as students wrote, offering suggestions and support as needed. Then students eagerly shared their work at the end.

This past fall and winter I started doing Zoom visits. In this format, I’ve discussed the different genres of writing I do. I share cool stories from my biography books, fun facts from 125 True Stories of Amazing Pets, and poems from my Beach Fun and Daddy Poems books. I describe how I got the ideas for my picture books One Leaf, Two Leaves, Count with Me! and Raindrops to Rainbow, and I outline the publishing process.

Next I share tips for young writers, do a fun facts quiz about writing, and answer questions. Sharing a PowerPoint via Zoom isn’t as much fun as presenting in a classroom, and seeing thumbnails of students’ faces isn’t nearly as rewarding as seeing them in person, but it’s part of the adaptation process all of us have faced during the pandemic.

I look forward to the time when in-person school visits are once again possible, but in the meantime, Zooming my way into classrooms is a reasonable substitute! To learn about scheduling a Zoom visit, check out my website at www.JohnMicklosWriter.com and click on the “Services” button or contact me by email at jjmj197@comcast.net.

Coming Up Rainbows

As did many self-employed people, I found 2020 challenging. Some of the educational publishers I work with postponed new series because of the uncertain school market for books. My school visits were cancelled (although I did start doing Zoom visits in the fall). All in all, it was a difficult year, but I count myself blessed that I remained healthy—as did all of my immediate family.

And after the storm comes the rainbow—literally in my case. I have a new picture book titled Raindrops to Rainbow coming out from Penguin Workshop on March 2, 2021. In simple rhyming text, Raindrops to Rainbow tells a color-focused story about a young girl who experiences a thunderstorm and learns that only after a little rain can we see the rainbow. The girl is initially disappointed to be stuck inside on a rainy day. Her mother helps her make the best of it, and eventually they get to go outside, splash in puddles, and enjoy a rainbow’s beauty together.

Whereas One Leaf, Two Leaves, Count with Me (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, 2017) was a counting and seasons book, Raindrops to Rainbow is a “color” book. Various colors are highlighted throughout the text, culminating in rainbow colors near the end. Charlene Chua’s lively, bright illustrations, featuring an adorable little girl and her Welsh Corgi, provide the perfect complement to the text. Here is the book’s page on the Penguin website: Raindrops to Rainbow by John Micklos, Jr.: 9780593224090 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books.

I am excited to be part of the Penguin Workshop line-up. Their books include Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors, Eric Carle’s Love from The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Henry Winkler’s Here’s Hank series, to name just a few. I will post further updates as the publication date for Raindrops to Rainbow draws closer.

I’m also planning to launch a brief author newsletter soon. The newsletter will contain news about my writing, a list of upcoming events (school visits and appearances), writing tips, and more. Sign up to receive the newsletter by sending an email to me at jjmj197@comcast.net.  

Best wishes for a “rainbow year” for all of us in 2021!

Like many people, I have been mesmerized by the Netflix series Queen’s Gambit. In addition to being a fascinating character study of chess prodigy Beth Harmon, the series paints an interesting and fairly accurate picture of how chess tournaments operate. I played tournament chess throughout high school and college (obviously not at Beth Harmon’s level), and the series brings back many pleasant memories.

There’s a second reason I view Queen’s Gambit so fondly. I took a creative writing class from Walter Tevis, who wrote Queen’s Gambit in 1983, while I attended Ohio University in the late 1970s. Several of Tevis’s novels have been adapted into successful movies or series: The Hustler, The Color of Money, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Queen’s Gambit.

I was fortunate to have two top-notch authors as creative writing professors at Ohio U. Both made me a far better writer. Daniel Keyes (Flowers for Algernon) gave me a C+ in the first creative writing class I ever took, the lowest grade of my entire college career. He helped me by showing me I wasn’t nearly as good a writer as I thought I was, which bruised my ego but encouraged me to hone my craft. A year later, Walter Tevis helped restore my confidence while also emphasizing that I still had far to go in my development as a writer.

Tevis invited me into his home in Athens once or twice to critique my writing. He was actually a C-rated tournament chess player, the same as me, and I knew he played. I wonder if perhaps we talked about chess or maybe even played a game or two. It would make a better story if I could describe a game we had played, but I simply don’t remember.

I do remember how he looked—glasses, short hair (for the 1970s), a short beard flecked with white, and a warm smile. I also recall that he smoked a lot. He was friendly and approachable, even though he was a best-selling author.

I also remember some of the great writing advice he gave me. He talked about drawing from life experience when writing, as he did with The Hustler (and later Queen’s Gambit, which he hadn’t yet written). He talked about creating rich characters by getting at the heart of what makes them tick, as he did with pool shark “Fast” Eddie Felson and chess shark Beth Harmon. Finally, he talked about the importance of constantly practicing and getting better at the things you love, whether that be playing pool, playing chess, or writing. That’s good advice that I continue to follow more than 40 years later. Thank you, Professor Tevis!

Helping a Great Cause

When I was invited to visit Oldmans Township School in New Jersey in December 2018, they asked me to talk to their 6th and 7th-grade students about persuasive writing and specifically about the research process for gathering information to support their points of view. I asked if they were studying about anything in particular and learned that they were interested in petitioning to do away with plastic straws in the school cafeteria.

With that in mind, I gathered some interesting facts and stories about plastic straws to share with the students. I talked with them about how to go about finding sources of information when researching a topic and some tips to help determine if a source is reliable. We talked about what to do in cases where there are conflicting facts. The students were highly engaged, and I could tell they were passionate about their topic.

I found out later that the students followed through and did indeed get the school to do away with plastic straws. But that’s not all! That was just one component of the students’ Go Green! campaign. Students also launched a campaign to recycle milk cartons from the cafeteria. They went before the school board with their proposal and gained their approval.

Earliest this year, Artistic Hands Productions produced a video describing the students’ efforts to help the Oldmans Township School “Go Green.” The 9-minute video interviews several students and does a great job of describing the process the students went through to present their findings and recommendations to their principal and the school board. I was also delighted that the students had credited me with helping them “find credible research to support our persuasive essays that then helped us create something we presented to the board.”

Thanks for the shout-out! I am pleased to have contributed in some small way to the campaign’s success. Furthermore, seeing these students get passionate about a project such as this and see it through to fruition gives me faith in the future of our nation—and the world. See the video here.

As I reflect on the past ten years, I realize what a wonderful decade it was for me as a writer. In April 2011, I left the security of a full-time job as editor of the International Literacy Association’s Reading Today newspaper to devote more time to book writing. It worked out better than I could have imagined. I had more than 30 books published during the decade, with another nine currently in various stages of production. For my career, I’m up to 56 books either published or pending. That far exceeds my wildest expectations when I embarked on this journey.

Over the past few years, I have had an opportunity to research and write about a variety of fascinating subjects. I contributed stories about some really fascinating animals for National Geographic Kids’ best-selling book 125 True Stories of Amazing Pets. I wrote educational books about a wide range of history and social studies subjects for Capstone, Cavendish Square, and Enslow. I learned about and wrote about everything from the Revolutionary War to the space shuttle Challenger tragedy, from Native Americans to the 1918 flu pandemic, and from understanding propaganda to understanding our legal rights.

In addition, I got to write biographies about Muhammad Ali, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elvis Presley, and others. I even experimented with self-publishing two books: The Sound in the Basement and Beach Fun: Poems of Surf and Sand. One of my most gratifying experiences was seeing my picture book One Leaf, Two Leaves, Count with Me get published by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin in 2017 to strong reviews and become a selection in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. I was also pleased to do author visits to schools in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, and Texas.

My writing dreams truly did come true over the past 10 years. So, what’s next? In the coming decade, I look forward to doing more picture books, and I hope to have news to share about one of those books very soon! I also look forward to visiting even more schools and conducting writing workshops with students. I love sharing what I have learned about writing with young authors!

The past ten years have been exciting and fruitful. My hope is that the decade ahead will bring even more new writing opportunities and the chance to work with even more young writers. I remain grateful each day for being able to do work that I love, and I look forward to continuing that work in the years ahead!


Having worked on the periphery of education for many years, I tend to view time in terms of school years almost as much as calendar years. As I think back over the past year, I realize that some of my most pleasant times were spent in classrooms working with children.

During the past school year, I had the opportunity to visit a number of schools, sharing my writing with students from kindergarten through eighth grade and working to get them excited about their own writing. I have many fond memories of these visits, but here are a few highlights.

In March, I visited Rupert Elementary School in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. I grew up in Pottstown, and that’s where my dreams of being a writer were first formed. It’s always a thrill to be able to share my work with the town’s next generation of young writers. I really enjoying seeing their eyes light up when I told them about my first attempt to write a book in second grade and that I have since gone on to publish 50 titles. I encouraged them to follow their own dreams, for who knows what may happen?

This spring I made my annual visit to work with second- and third-grade students at Newark Charter School. I worked with the second graders on poetry and with the third graders on persuasive writing. I am always amazed by how much these young writers already know about the writing process and how enthusiastic they are. I also did a poetry workshop with 6th through 8th grade students at Mount Aviat Academy, and it was fun to see some of the sophisticated poems they created. These students also sent me a package of “Thank You” poems that showed how they were putting what they had learned into practice.

Last December, I worked with 6th graders at Oldham School District in New Jersey on persuasive writing. They were arguing that we should do away with plastic straws. They impressed me with their passion and with some of the interesting facts they found to support their position.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, on February 1st I worked with United Way to help students at Bancroft Elementary School celebrate World Read Aloud Day. Throughout the year, I also took part in Reading Nights, Poetry Week events, and other celebrations of books and reading. In every case, I found myself impressed by the students and teachers I interacted with.

Like students and teachers, I will take time off from school over the summer and concentrate on some book projects I want to finish. But when the school doors open again in the fall, I look forward to scheduling more school visits and sharing the love of writing with more students!

May is always one of my favorite months, and my annual trip to Tennessee is one of my favorite weeks. For nearly 20 years, I have served on the Book Selection Committee for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library project. To date, the program has given away more than 120 MILLION books to preschool children across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. To learn more about the program, visit the Imagination Library website.

Of all her many honors, Dolly Parton has said she appreciates her title of “The Book Lady” most of all. Growing up poor in the mountains of Eastern Tennessee, she credits reading with showing her the wider world and dreaming of the life she might one day lead.

Children in participating communities receive a book a month from the time they are born until they turn five. They enter kindergarten owning a personal library of 60 books, including award-winning titles, classics, and books from some of today’s most popular authors.

For several days each May, Book Selection Committee members read and discuss more than 100 new books from Penguin/Random House, which supplies all the titles for the program. After examining the writing and illustration quality, racial and gender diversity, appropriateness for the intended age range, and other factors, we decide which of the current year’s selections should receive further consideration for inclusion. We then look at the current books in the program and decide which titles at each level should be updated.

Our discussions are lively and intense. We each bring unique perspectives, and we each look for specific things as we read the books. Over the years, we have all become good friends who look forward to our annual “working reunion.”

Sometimes, when Dolly is in town, she visits us while we are meeting. This year she stopped by on our final day and complimented us on our work. The next day, several committee members, along with other friends of the Dollywood Foundation, Dolly’s nonprofit wing, were invited to attend the grand opening of the Wildwood Grove attraction at Dollywood. What a cool experience!

Then, one by one, we got photos taken with Dolly. After the photo, she thanked me for all I was doing to support the Imagination Library program and children’s reading. She’s given away 100 million books, and she’s thanking ME. That truly brought a lump to my throat.

Each year, I look forward to this meeting. Each year, I’m sorry when it’s over. This year was even more special than usual. I’m already looking forward to next year.

February 1 marked World Read Aloud Day. I was fortunate enough to be able to celebrate by sharing my books with 75 fourth and fifth grade students at Bancroft Elementary School in Wilmington. Through the generosity of United Way of Delaware, I was among several authors who traveled to schools across Delaware to share the love of reading. In addition, United Way purchased nearly 40 copies each of my books The Sound in the Basement and Beach Fun: Poems of Surf and Sand. This meant that every student received a signed book to take home.

For decades, research has indicated the importance of reading aloud with children. We often think that such reading should stop when kids are old enough to read on their own. Teachers know better. Students can understand stories that are far beyond their capability to read on their own. Reading aloud to elementary—or even older students—allows teachers to introduce higher-level concepts and vocabulary.

One of my fondest memories of elementary school is my third-grade teacher reading aloud to us each day from a biography of Wild Bill Hickok. I don’t remember much about the book. In fact, I don’t think it was even a particularly good book. But I do know that I looked forward to hearing her read aloud to us at the end of each school day.

That’s the beauty of reading aloud to children. It’s our enthusiasm about a book and our joy in reading that matter even more than the titles we choose. So let’s celebrate World Read Aloud Day all year long by sharing our love of reading with children. In a world that far too often revolves around electronic stimulus, the sharing of a real printed book with children is a greater gift than ever before.


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