Author Spotlight: Deborah Diesen and a Giveaway!

KidLit411 is delighted to present to you the lovely New York Times best selling and award winning author, Deborah Diesen! Deborah is the author of such picture books as the THE POUT POUT FISH,
PICTURE DAY PERFECTION as well as many, many more.  Enter below to win an autographed copy of her newest book, THE POUT POUT FISH GOES TO SCHOOL by entering the Rafflecopter and leaving a comment about a "first day of school memory."

And just for our KidLit411 picture book writers, there's an additional prize! Deborah has generously donated a rhyming picture book CRITIQUE! (Trust us, you're going to want to win this rhyming picture book critique! Her critiques are incredible!)

This awesome giveaway ends at noon, Friday, July 4th, so hurry!


Tell us about your journey to publication. How long did you write before getting a contract? How did you get your big break? 

I’ve always loved to write. My writing journey can be traced back to a rhyming poem about a butterfly that I wrote in 3rd grade. But despite my lifelong love of writing, as an adult I set aside most of my writing aspirations. That changed when my kids (now 15 and 12) were young and I was immersed in children’s picture books.  Reading dozens of stories out loud daily reignited my interest in writing, and led me to decide that I’d like to try writing children’s stories.

I didn’t feel very confident of my abilities, so I kept my writing to myself for many years. But in 2001, I joined SCBWI and found a critique group, of which I’m still a member. I continued to write, and in 2002 wrote the first draft of THE POUT-POUT FISH.  Input from my writing group helped me with my revisions to that story and with my confidence in being ready to submit it to publishers.

The Pout-Pout Fish swam his way into slushpiles beginning in 2003, and I received lots of form rejection letters. In 2004, I submitted the story to Farrar, Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers, and was delighted to receive a call offering me a contract in 2005. Dan Hanna was chosen as illustrator, and the book was published in 2008.

All in all, it was a very long process, and not without its moments of frustration. Even a few moments of deciding to give it all up! But I’m glad I didn’t. Luck and timing are 99% of the formula for getting published, but luck always favors the persistent.

What was your inspiration for the POUT POUT FISH?

One day when my elder son was a preschooler, he was having a grouchy sort of day. I made an exaggerated mopey face at him to try to amuse him. He smiled, and then made a pouty face right back at me. We got to laughing about it, and I said, “We look like fish. Like pout-pout fish!”

As soon as I said that out loud, it became a story idea. I jotted the idea down, and later that week began to work on it. I seem to recall that the first draft came together relatively quickly. It went through several revisions over the next year or so, but there weren’t any major plot, character, or structural changes. It’s been rare in my writing to have something come out in first draft so close to what I ended up with. I wish it were always that easy!


Do you feel that you have a natural aptitude to write in rhyme? 

I think I have at least a natural inclination toward it. Through a lifetime of exposing myself to the kind of writing that I’m drawn to – that is, by reading and enjoying rhyming poems and stories in verse – I’ve honed it a bit more. I’m definitely not infallible, and I’ve got plenty more developing to do as a rhyme-writer; but at this point I think my affinity for rhythm and rhyme is now hardwired in me.

Maybe a shorter answer would be to just blame my parents. They’re the ones who read me all those Dr. Seuss books!  ;)

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently trying to come up with another adventure for The Pout-Pout Fish.  I’m also working on a non-rhyming story about a tree.

Do you have a writing ritual? Is there something that you can share with KIDLIT411 that no one else knows?

I’d love to say I’m a disciplined writer with an inspiring writing ritual and a regular routine, but the truth is, I’m a catch-as-catch-can writer. My non-author job, plus the non-writing parts of my author life, plus family life, all keep me pretty busy, sometimes a little too much so. I often go for months without working on any of my writing. Then, just when I’ve reached the point of knowing that This Time The Well Really Is Dry And I’m Officially Finished As A Writer, an idea will take hold and I’ll find myself working on it like crazy, caught up in the fun and frustration of taking a story from idea to fully-formed first draft. Each time it’s a surprise and a joy to be absorbed by the experience. It buoys me.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors?

First, I would advise them to develop a writing ritual so they’ll have a better answer to the previous question than I did! 

Other advice would include finding a writing group (I wouldn’t be a writer without mine) and, for rhymers, investing in a couple of rhyming dictionaries (my favorite is The New Comprehensive American Rhyming Dictionary).  

Above all, write because you love to write, and write the things you most enjoy writing.  Getting published might or might not happen – most of the deciding factors are out of your hands; and luck and timing do truly prevail. But if you write because you love doing it, then you will discover your best writing, you will enjoy the experience, and you will create something that only you could have created.  

So grab your pen, and go write!

Deborah Diesen is the author of several children’s picture books, including the brand new THE POUT-POUT FISH GOES TO SCHOOL, illustrated by Dan Hanna. The Pout-Pout Fish, the first book in the Pout-Pout Fish series, was published in 2008 and spent two weeks on the New York Times bestseller list for children’s picture books. A sequel, THE POUT-POUT FISH IN THE BIG-BIG DARK, came out in 2010.

Debbie is also the author of a new series of mini-adventures for The Pout-Pout Fish.  The mini-adventures are short board book stories created especially for babies and young toddlers. The first of these, SMILE, POUT-POUT FISH, was released in January, and will be followed by SWEET DREAMS, POUT-POUT FISH next year. Debbie’s other children’s books are a rhyming story called THE BAREFOOTED, BAD-TEMPERED BABY BRIGADE (illustrated by Tracy Dockray) and a non-rhyming story called PICTURE DAY PERFECTION (illustrated by Dan Santat). Previously a bookseller and a reference librarian, she now works at a small nonprofit organization.  She and her family live in Grand Ledge, MI.  She blogs at, and her web site is

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  1. My first day of school memory is from when I was in kindergarten. That day I remember all of the kids crying to go home, and I remember that all I wanted to do was go look at the big pile of picture books on the floor. Picture books sucked me in very early!

    Thanks so much for the interview, Debbie!

  2. Thanks for sharing your story- very encouraging, like Miss Shimmer cheering," You can do it, Mr. Fish," ;)

  3. "Luck always favors the persistent" - great motivation. Nice to get to know more about the bird lady - I love Debbie's photos

  4. My first day of school memory: I hid behind my mother's skirts, hoping she wouldn't REALLY leave me there.

    Thanks for an encouraging interview, Deborah! :)

  5. I never knew anything about Debbie's writing/publishing background so this was extra fun to read because I adore Debbie! I'm buying the The New Comprehensive American Rhyming Dictionary...sounds like a great resource. And even though I've won a critique from Debbie before, she is SO FREAKING AWESOME at critiques, I'm going to be a pig and enter for a chance to win another. LOL!

    Thanks, Debbie and KidLit411!!

  6. I remember posing in front of my favorite willow tree in a new dress...the rest of the day is a fog, except for one poor kid who wet her pants. Great to hear the story behind your story!

  7. Thank you for your insight! The only thing I remember about my first day of school was that it was fun and I wasn't crazy about naps!

  8. My first day of school memory: I thought I was a BIG SHOT because my mom let me walk the TEN blocks to school down in Florida. I later found out that she followed me the entire year ducking behind bushes so I wouldn't know.

    What a great interview. Thanks so much, Deborah! And thanks Kidlit 411.

  9. Thanks for an encouraging, positive interview!

  10. My first day of school memories are awfully similar to Holly's (above). Yes, we actually took naps during kindergarten way back in the day!

    I loved this interview with Deborah - her honesty is refreshing and her advice is excellent. Thank you!

  11. First day of kindergarten my best friend and I wore the same dress!

  12. I never went to kindergarten because in those days, not everyone got to go - it was not mandatory. Maybe that's why I became a kindergarten teacher - I felt I had missed out - or more likely it is because I loved picture books so much, I wanted to be able to keep reading them forever. :)
    Thanks so much, Debbie - I love writing in rhyme - but it is darn hard to do it right.

  13. I was able to attend kindergarten with my already-best friend. But, what I remember most was Kevin. I was going to marry him - I wonder what ever happened to him :). Rhyme rocks! Rhyming books are my go-to favorites for tutoring. Thanks for an inspiring post. I need to constantly be reminded of the amount of time it often takes. Keep writing!

  14. Great post. I enjoy finding out the back story of stories. :-D

  15. I enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for the chance to win a signed book and critique!

  16. My first day of school is branded in my brain. I was in the lunch line and Michael Terai in font if me said we have to eat everything on our tray. Then the principal came by and confirmed Michael's declaration. THEN...I saw the creamed corn. My stomach began to flip, but a good student does what the principal says, I was told. It only took one spoonful. My lunch and breakfast and all the meals for the last four days came up right then on the first day of school. From then on I took my lunch.
    Great interview...sounds like a perfect book, Deborah.

  17. Great post! I remember choosing the clothes I was going to wear weeks in advance of the first day of school.

  18. A month or so after I went into third grade (on Halloween, actually), I moved to a new house - and thus a new school. I trick-or-treated in both my new AND old neighborhoods. Met my next-door neighbor. I was nervous about starting a new school - especially after the school year had started - but was VERY happy that my next-door-neighbor ended up being in my class!!

    Loved this interview, by the way. So encouraging and fun. Thanks, so much, Debbie!

  19. Gee, I'm so old I can't remember a 1st day of school as a kid. But I can remember 1st days of school as a kindergarten teacher, especially "meet the teacher day" right before the 1st day of school. Speaking to parents and then meeting the kids.

  20. On my first day of kindergarten, I cried when the teacher told us it was time to go home. It was over too soon! She pulled me aside and asked what was wrong - I am sure she was worried about why a kid would cry at the end of the day instead of the beginning!

    Great interview Debbie - thanks for the tips!

  21. I can't remember my first day of kindergarten, I just remember I was very shy.
    I taught kindergarten for a long time... the first day of school was so scary for the kids (and me!). I remember once a little boy was just sitting quietly, and all of a sudden he threw up all over his desk.
    I like the second day of school much better.

  22. My most vivid first day of school memory is my son's first day of First Grade. He was so upset, thanks to me going on and on about how he would be going to school for the "full day!" I think I terrified him. He cried every morning for two weeks. It was tough. Finally, he turned a corner one day and didn't cry when I dropped him off in front of the classroom. That's when I started to cry! :) The first day of school is rough on Mom's too!
    Thanks for the interview, Debbie!

  23. Thanks for the great interview! While I can't remember my first day as a student, I can remember my first day as a teacher. I had an 8th grade home room that was under construction so we had to meet in the snack bar. We did not have announcements or a flag so we pledged to the juice machine. It really broke the ice. After that, I felt like I could handle the day!

  24. I don't have a lot memories of first days of school. I'm not sure if that is good or bad. I just remember that, for a long time, I needed my mom to do my hair a certain way and, if she didn't, I would simply cry and not go to school. After a while this craziness stopped. I am just glad my daughter is not like that.

  25. I remember the first days of elementary school because I kept going to the wrong classroom.

  26. I really enjoyed reading the school memories. And thank you for all the kind comments! It was fun to be on KidLit 411. What a welcoming community. Thank you!!

  27. I'm a catch-as-catch-can writer some days and disciplined writer others. Just depends on what I have going on that month...

    Great post!


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