This is reprinted from the Spring 2018 University of Hawaii Alumni Newsletter. Click here for link:

UH Mānoa alumna Roxie Munro is the author/illustrator of more than 40 award-winning nonfiction children’s books, 14 New Yorker magazine covers, three interactive game apps for iPhone and iPad and more. Here she gives an insider’s glimpse into the process behind publishing children’s books, or “kidlit.”

1. It all starts with a query letter

When publishing a children’s book, you generally send a short snappy query letter to publishers or agents asking if they would be interested in looking at your book project. You do NOT send the whole manuscript before you get an answer to your query. If they are interested, you send the proposal, and for a picture book (other than nonfiction) you send the whole manuscript; if it is a chapter book, middle grade, or YA (young adult) you send the proposal and synopsis and maybe a couple sample chapters to show writing style.

2. It takes about two years to publish a children’s book

From the time you sign the contract for a picture book to when it appears in the bookstore is generally two years, by which time you’ve practically forgotten about it!

3. Having an agent is key

These days you need an agent, which is as hard to get as a publisher. Most children’s book publishers do not take unsolicited projects. Agents have also now taken on an editor’s role – they often suggest edits and changes before they submit to publishers.

4. Matching illustrations with text is a delicate art

If you have written a children’s book and are not an artist, and want to submit it to an agent or publisher, DO NOT

  1. Do the art yourself
  2. Ask a talented friend or relative to do the art
  3. Hire an illustrator

It is the editor’s job to match illustrator and writer. They will judge the manuscript on its own merits, and assign an illustrator, who brings an extra level and/or enhancement to the work, and is often more well-known than the writer. Unless you are also an artist, it is a sign of naivety to submit it already illustrated, regardless of what your “vision” is.

5. Publishing companies vary

Publishers have identities and brands, just like shoe designers, retail stores, car companies, etc. So those who publish children’s books specialize in various genres: some do nonfiction; some do trade books (for the institutional market [schools and libraries] and are sold in bookstores) and others do mass market books (sold in Walmart, for example); some do fantasy or YA (young adult); some do fiction and maybe splashy picture books; some do educational publishing (text books, reference books and the like); some do novelty books.

6. Following pre-established formats

Trim sizes, formats, word-count, number of pages, and so forth are pretty formatted, depending upon the genre. A picture book is usually 32 pages. YA (young adult), MG (middle grade), chapter books, and some nonfiction vary in number of pages. The trim size of the book is also somewhat formatted. For example, if it is too big (say, taller than 11”) it may not fit on most library or bookstore shelves.

7. Royalties explained

If your book is bought by a mainstream publisher, you get an advance against royalties. Usually 50% when you sign the contract and 50% when you hand in the finished work. Royalties are generally 10-12% of cover price, and are usually sent out twice a year. The first couple of years the publisher holds back a percentage of your royalties, called a “reserve” – payment for books that have been shipped to stores but may be returned. Unlike dresses or shoes, stores can return unsold books!

If you have written the book and someone else illustrates it, you share the royalties and advance…not always 50/50 – it depends upon who is the most famous!

8. The reality

Less than 10-20% of kidlit authors earn out their advances. They can supplement income with school visits, presenting at conferences, selling their illustrations, licensing excerpts of OP (out-of-print) books, selling rights for merchandising, repurposing content for apps or games, and sometimes teaching.

9. An extra! Most people don’t realize it, but authors have to buy their own books! When I had my first book published, I thought I’d get boxes of free books. Wrong. I get ten; 15 if I fight for it in my contract. Those go to your mom and maybe other family members. Any more books, we have to buy (usually at a 40% off discount, plus shipping).  Autographed-book raffles, auctions, and fundraisers are very popular. I must have gotten on some kind of a list! I get dozens of donation requests every month (sometimes two or more in one day!). By the time I buy my own book, pay shipping, store it, and then respond to the request via email, get the book out of storage, sign, package it up in a jiffy bag I buy, and pay to ship it out to a request (either going to the Post Office or UPSing it), it costs me maybe $22-30 per book sent, not counting time and hassle. Several times a week – it can be hundreds of dollars a month! As a result, many authors don’t provide free autographed books to individual schools and organizations, unless they have a personal connection with them.

About Roxie Munro

Roxie Munro is the author/illustrator of more than 40 nonfiction and concept books for children, many using “gamification” to encourage reading, learning, and engagement  (including Mazescapes; Amazement Park; the Inside-Outside Books: New York City [New York Times Best Illustrated Award], Washington DC, Texas, London, Paris, and Libraries; Gargoyles, Girders & Glass Houses; Mazeways: A to Z; Go!Go!Go!; Inside-Outside Dinosaurs; and the KIWi Storybooks nonfiction series). Her latest books are Masterpiece Mix, a book about art, and Rodent Rascals, which has received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly.

Her books have been translated into French, Italian, Dutch, Chinese, and Japanese.

For more on Munro, click here.





Recently, Publishers Weekly did a post on great illustration for nonfiction children’s picture books (“A Golden Age Of Non-Fiction Picture Books Is Here, Apparently“). Nonfiction is no longer the neglected stepchild of children’s publishing. Vicki Cobb, writing for the Huffington Post, did a follow-up article, “The Latest Trend: Beautifully Illustrated Nonfiction Picture Books,” which I’ve adapted below.

Vicki Cobb is the award-winning author of more than 90 children’s books, and the founder of Ink Think Tank (an organization of approximately 35 well-known nonfiction children’s writers and illustrators) and The Nonfiction Minute (a short 400-word piece, written by individual iNK Think Tank authors on a variety of fascinating subjects, with audio and images, free every school day). Vicki Cobb’s classic book, Science Experiments You Can Eat, has been revised and reissued in 2016 by HarperCollins. Her website:

Here’s Vicki’s post:

Many years ago I wrote a book for young children called Lots of Rot. The illustrations by Brian Schatell were in two colors, orange and green, and black. The orange and green could be mixed to produce a nondescript brown. Full color printing was way too expensive for this step-child genre.

Recently, Publishers Weekly posted a blog on The Golden Age of Nonfiction celebrating a host of new nonfiction picture books that are gorgeous as well as engaging reads. Finally, we nonfiction authors merit illustration in full color by the best artists out there.

Roxie Munro is a visual thinker who illustrates and writes award-winning nonfiction picture books. Her art has graced the covers of fourteen New Yorker magazines and many children’s books. She knows, as well as anyone, the special challenges of art for nonfiction. I decided to interview her for this blog.

What advantage does illustration have over photography, the traditional way of illustrating nonfiction?

Art gets to the essence of the subject. What doesn’t add, detracts from the message. So clutter or irrelevant content is unhelpful (there’s a reason why medical books use illustration; they want clarity). Photographs can work well sometimes. But there are lots of subjects in which they shouldn’t or can’t be used. For example, many books about history before about 1850 (which is a LOT of time!) need to be illustrated with art; there were no cameras. And biographies – there may be only one bad photo available, or a painted portrait of the subject, or maybe just a written description of the person. So an artist has to read about their physical look, do research at a museum to check out the clothing they might have worn and so forth, to do a decent period picture book. Some science content needs illustration, like the inner organs of a bug or what tunnels that rodents make are like (a challenge I am working on – no lightbulbs down there!). To explain how things work often needs illustration – how an elevator functions, tools and machines, the inside of a skyscraper, or even a human body. Subjects at night are often hard to photograph well, as is the deep ocean. Photographs can be really useful, but lots of nonfiction subjects require more.

Just looking at something is not “seeing” it. When we “see,” we use an active mind, we use perception. There is the “primary experience of knowing by seeing,” to quote Rudolf Arnheim in Visual Thinking. “The discipline of intelligent vision” requires that the artist decides what matters and what is relevant. It can’t just be a reproduction; it must be what the artist sees and understands. “The decision of how much to reproduce faithfully and how much to simplify requires educational experience and visual imagination.” (Arnheim)

Great illustration should have a balance – a reduction to the essence, as well as visual interest and a seductive charm – dare I even say, beauty? At a school visit a few years ago, after I showed some books from my Inside-Outside series, a young girl asked, “How do you make them so pretty?” Children appreciate and recognize good art – we should not talk down to them visually.

A bit on process:

There is such a thing as “visual thinking” – a form of cognition. Can one think without images? Probably not. Most editors want a manuscript to edit first, and then you can do the art. I always do the images first. That’s my creative process – molding the concept. Then I write. Have had to persuade a couple editors to let me do this, but it has worked so far.

What is your primary responsibility to the reader of your books when it comes to the illustrations?

They need to be “true.” That is why when I research a book, I have to completely understand the subject, and wrap my mind around it. You can’t fake it. Artists do years of figure studies. We learn about muscles, bones, movement; you can’t just draw the visible form created by the exterior. We have to understand what is going on – to know the structural features. Later in life, after one has developed a personal style, it is often less “realistic” than what we can actually do, but you have to know the rules in order to break them. My very good realistic drawings from college days are “better” than what I do now, but they don’t have the uniqueness that a mature artist brings to their art by years of working, developing, and problem-solving.

Do you use different styles for different subjects? If so, why?

Not really. I’ve often thought that there are two kind of illustrators: those who experiment with many tools and techniques, using a different style for each book (which can be very creative!), and those like me, who have a distinct style (or “voice” as my art editor at The New Yorker used to say). I sometimes think of Flaubert’s words: Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work. Adapting that to art, I like to use the same pen, paper, and paints that I have used for years and with which I have total control and experience. That way, I can manipulate composition and space, play with color and pattern, create cool page-turns and not have to waste brain power figuring out the medium.

There is a such a rich variety of illustrators working today. Some use various forms of realism; others do great nonfiction books using a cartoon-y style; some do computer art, or highly stylized illustrations. The best have a truth to them, regardless of style.

It is content filtered through an individual human consciousness.






Open Table

Open Table

The 4th Annual 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference was just great (June 10-12 at Iona College in New York) …the faculty and attendees are really excited about the direction nonfiction is taking.

Planning programs

Choosing 21CNFC programs

The Conference began early with five 3-hour Intensives on Friday, including content on Basic Children’s Nonfiction, What’s Happening in Digital, Writers Working with Educators, the Publishing Process, and Publicity, Promotion & Social Media, which I did with Julie Gribble (KidLit TV) and Kelly Leonard (KLO Assoc).



There were five hosted Open Tables (conversations on Book Awards, the Sibert Medal, book Back Matter, Branding, more), plus 1-to-1 Consultations, a panel on NF Trends, and a fun outdoor barbecue. The weather was perfect the whole weekend!

Friday evening Barbecue

Friday Night Barbecue

Saturday had lots of workshops, including information on Agents, Writing and Illustrating for NF magazines, YA & Teen NF, Indie Publishing, How Libraries & Teachers Choose Books, Multimedia, and lots more, including Diversity & Multiculturalism presented by Lesa Cline-Ransome, James Ransome, and Domenica DiPiazza.

James, Lesa, D copy

Lesa Cline-Ransome, Domenica DiPiazza, James Ransome

Workshop attendees

Rapt attendees

Also very popular was Creative Narrative: Nonfiction Research & Writing with Candace Fleming and Steve Sheinkin. Susannah Richards asked the questions.

Susannah Ricards, C Fleming, Steve S

Susannah Richards, Candace Fleming, Steve Sheinkin

The Publishers Panel with trade and educational publishers…

Publishers panel

Publishers Panel

Six more Open Table conversations with Vicki Cobb, Jennifer Swanson, Heather Montgomery, Mary Kay Carson, and others, plus more 1-to-1 Consultations.

An elegant and fun Celebration Dinner wrapped up the evening.

On Sunday, Cyndi Giorgis (NCTE) gave a talk on Literacy and Nonfiction. More workshops: Graphic Nonfiction; Science Standards; Finding NF Work; Permissions for using Text, Image, Video Files, others.

I did two workshops – Marketing, Building Your Brand, Videos with Julie Gribble  and Taking Work Crossmedia with Sarah Towle of TTT&T.

Roxie Munro & Julie Gribble Workshop

Roxie Munro, Julie Gribble

Here’s a 6-second Vine video Julie Gribble did of our first Intensive, with Kelly Leonard. Julie taught the class about Vines…

Here’s another 6-second Vine of me teaching:

It is a particularly warm and friendly conference. Attendees, many of whom have come for several years, mention often how accessible the faculty is. It isn’t a conference for beginners – most participants (teachers, librarians, writers, illustrators) have published in some media, are mid-list authors, or are accomplished in another field and want to migrate into nonfiction children’s books. Lionel Bender and Sally Isaacs do a fabulous job of organizing it all…everything runs very smoothly.

Sarha Towle and dinner winners

Sarah Towle and Winner’s table!

All in all, a really helpful, fun, and energizing experience.

(All photos: Bo Zaunders)

Here’s a short fun video overview of the Conference done by KidLit TV on YouTube:


Doing some casual research on copyright before signing a book contract recently, I found out something really cool, which may be useful to authors who have had a book in print for a while.

In 2003 the US Copyright Office made a change in the 1978 copyright law. Authors can get their copyright back from their publishers (a one-time chance) after 35 years. You need to set the wheels in motion from ten to two years earlier (at 25 to 33 years after you signed the contract). The contract must have been signed after 1978. There is only a five-year window at 35 to 40 years of publication, and, again, only one shot at doing it.

But for some longtime authors who may have signed away rights when they were starting out, or were desperate to publish, it is great – you can get your copyright back, or renegotiate your contract for better terms.

Below are helpful links. I am not a lawyer, so for more information please read the articles, or ask your lawyer, agent, or even your publisher.

At any rate, this is good news for published authors, artists, musicians, and other creative folks who may regret doing a bad deal early on. Rather charmingly, the Supreme Court noted that “authors are congenitally irresponsible, [and] that frequently they are so sorely pressed for funds that they are willing to sell their work for a mere pittance.”

Excellent piece:

US Copyright Office:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries article:

NY Times article (if I read the other three links correctly, the NY Times writer is wrong when he says it was in the 1978 law; it was added in 2003):

I just got an invitation to speak at an international Children’s Media Conference overseas (yay!), and walking to my studio this morning was thinking about the subject, which involves working in and presenting children’s content in new media and multimedia. It occurred to me that many of my children’s author/illustrator colleagues who do print books work in much more media than we think….most of us disseminate content crossmedia whether we realize it or not.

For example, I belong to a group of about three dozen established nonfiction children’s books authors called InkThinkTank. Some of these authors are in a division of the group called Authors on Call – they do live videoconferencing, teaching in schools all over. That’s new media. Some also participate (including me) in The Nonfiction Minute – a neat and very timely idea: a fresh new post with lively engaging content is available on the web free every school day to any school, comprised of a 400-word text piece on a particularly interesting nonfiction subject, an audio recording of the text by the author, and several relevant visuals, available for downloading. Again, multimedia – taking content across several platforms.

Another cool new (less than a year old) project in which many authors, illustrators, librarians, publishers, and others in the children’s book industry talk about their work and distribute content is KidLitTV, which also has a YouTube channel and a robust social media presence. So the author or illustrator not only shows the physical print book, they may read from it, do a sketch or another activity, and talk about and expand upon the book’s subject. They are distributing information via media other than print.

I have some print books adapted to or converted to interactive apps – that’s crossmedia. And I work with a publisher doing giant child-size walk-in and desktop-size fold-out picture books (K.I.W.i. Storybooks), with custom-built apps (as well as curriculum) for each of nine subjects. Again – more than one media.

If you have a blog or a website, or do videos or Skype, in which you share content, ideas, or activities, you are working in multimedia. You are also when you do school visits or lectures using PowerPoint or Keynote. Some authors and illustrators put interesting content from their books on their social media sites…again, multimedia.

So, it’s not just making apps and other fancy electronic (or not) creations. Most of you are more involved in new media and cross-platform content distribution than you may think.


K.I.W.i. (Kids Walk-in Interactive) Storybooks:
Authors on Call:
The Nonfiction Minute:
YouTube KidLitTV:

So, kind of like when a person finally gets a diagnosis – a name – for an illness, this is a great relief.

Sometimes I have had moments of doubt when trying to categorize my own books. Usually I call them nonfiction – they’re about real things. My nature/science (birds, bugs, snakes, and dinosaurs) and biography books fit snugly into the basic nonfiction category. But some others, for example the lift-the-flap paper-engineered books, like Go! Go! Go! (about transportation), Circus, Rodeo, and Doors (you learn about what’s in a doctor’s office, horse barn, boat, train, mechanic’s garage, space station, etc), are a little quirky and are occasionally even considered “novelty” books. They don’t fall neatly into the nonfiction category. And books like Market Maze and Ecomazes: 12 Earth Adventures use “gamification” and educational devices not typical of nonfiction books. Some are concept books (for instance, Mazeways: A to Z – an alphabet book that shows real-life things and their environs, like an airport, boatyard, highways, etc). Then there are nonfiction ideas that are wrapped around a finding/counting/naming format, like Desert Days, Desert Nights and Ranch.

Turns out there’s a name for these works… Informational books!

You could call informational books a subset of nonfiction. Nonfiction includes any content or text that is factual. However, not all nonfiction is considered informational. The main purpose of informational texts is to inform or instruct the reader in some way.

Informational text often teaches about the social and natural world (and frequently, in my case, the man-made world). A biography is a classic form of nonfiction; it teaches us about an individual’s life, and certain points in history, but it is not considered “informational.” A procedural or how-to text tells one how to do something; it doesn’t convey information about a particular topic. Other forms of nonfiction may be narrative (like a memoir). Informational text differs from other types of nonfiction in purpose, features, and, often, format.

There are many benefits, besides learning facts, to children when they are exposed to informational books. Understanding new words is one. From So Much More Than the ABCs: The Early Phases of Reading and Writing by Judith A. Schickedanz and Molly F. Collins:  “Because informational books contain many sophisticated technical words and explain them explicitly, reading this kind of book helps children learn higher-level vocabulary.” The illustrations, and sometimes charts and other imagery in informational picture books, enhance learning, thinking, and contribute to increased comprehension… they can be a form of visual cognition for some children.

Informational books often address children’s specific interests and questions about the world. Librarians tell me that these are the books most often asked for; their young patrons want to learn about and understand how things work, are built, what they look like, where they come from. The various ways in which writers and illustrators create these informational works make for some engaging books which enlighten and inform children, often in lively, accessible, and fun formats.

Here’s some more info:


I’ve been wondering what this new 3-D printing thing is all about. Well, in keeping with its name, the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference, which just concluded in New Paltz at the State University of New York, had a cool demo of it. SUNY has state-of-the-art 3-D printers. Daniel Freedman, the Dean of the School of Science and Engineering, gave a brief luncheon talk about it. Sally Isaacs and Lionel Bender, conference co-chairs, wanted a faculty member for a demo, and after the Dean’s talk, asked me if I’d volunteer to model for it.

Sure, says me. I’ll try anything once. So a couple hours before the demo I wander over to the table in the registration area to observe the machine. It’s a glass-enclosed rectangular box about 15” high. Okaaaay, I thought. Gulp. I guess I stick my head in that box and get it scanned, kind of like a MRI. A little undignified, but anything for science. Or is that, anything for art? Either one.

Main concerns: (1.) Will it fry my brain right away, or will the damage show up in 20 years; (2.) Will the head come out looking like those little shrunken heads we were so repelled and fascinated by as kids.

1.nonfiction_74 copyAt the appointed time I show up, as does the professor, his nice assistant, and a bunch of conference attendees. Ah! Great relief. The box is where the “printing” occurs, not the scanning. I sit on a chair, super still, and they’ll use a hand-held scanner. Scanning goes on for about 1-1.5 minutes, with the lady scanning sides, top and front of my head in maybe 2-3 passes, with the scanner held about 30 inches away.

2.nonfiction_87 copy4.nonfiction_90 copy6.nonfiction_93 copySoon, the glass box starts to make some noise and comes alive, and slowly, over about 30 minutes, in thin layers, prints the “image.” I had a choice of red or white for it. Chose white –  red would be too creepy. The white material, a kind of light-weight poly substance, was wrapped around a spool behind the machine – it was like thick  thread (diameter maybe 1/8”). Lots of substances can be used, including gold (for jewelry!). Apparently, this technology is already being implemented to make crowns for teeth. And you CAN actually make a gun, but after a couple of shots the heat and action distorts it. But, hey, a couple bullets may be all that is needed. :-((

nonfiction_96 copy8..nonfiction_103 copyThe tiny Roxie “sculpture” has a flat back, where it was lying on the bed of the printer, and was built up from there – ending on the nose. (Although, you can see below that the nose was a little cut off…) The 3-D print can be made larger, but that takes longer. The larger it is, the better the quality, up to almost full head size; then as you make it even larger, quality decreases.

Roxie_Munro_3-D(Thought we should have two largish ones made and they could be used as Roxie bookends. Or a big one for a doorstop. Except they are really lightweight – there is a honey-comb interior.)

Roxie-Munro 3-D

So this was a bit of an adventure – no harm done (“…yet,” she says grimly), and we learned a lot. Very cool of the Nonfiction Conference folks to have arranged this.

I’ll have a more extensive report on the Conference, which was totally fabulous!, in another post.

(This post was written for The Book App Alliance, an organization of leading authors in the publishing industry who create interactive books for kids. See:


To engage children and keep them interested, and to impart information in a fun way, many app creators use simple forms of “gamification”: lift-the-flap activities, mazes, guessing games, inside-outside concepts, search-n-find, ABCs and numbers, puzzles, matching games, Q&A, hidden objects, word/noun object recognition, and so forth. The games have to be logically associated and integrated with the subject – not just put in gratuitously.

I don’t do fantasy or digital video-type games. I make mainly nonfiction apps. However, many subjects lend themselves to these sorts of game-like interactive formats. It’s great for Common Core. For learning about concepts, people, animals, a historical period, science, a workplace, you can cast the content in an interactive way – children can look under flaps to discover things, answer Q&As (and earn points), play matching games, find and count items, look for hidden ABCs, solve a maze…often in collaboration with others.

Some of my apps with games, all built by OCG Studios:

Roxie’s a-MAZE-ing Vacation Adventure” (games: solving interconnected mazes, out to the goal and back to the starting place, through 16 screens; finding various items like a recurring penguin, other animals, designated vehicles, numbers, alphabet letters, more; score is kept; up to five players):

17.iPhone players screenOCG copy

RAVAScreen02 copy

RAVAScreen04 copy

Roxie’s Doors” (games: seek-n-find objects behind flaps, doors, in drawers, under/inside things, etc; naming/vocabulary [word highlighting]):

Roxies-doors04 copyRoxies-doors02 copy

Roxie’s Puzzle Adventure” (game: 16 interconnected jigsaw puzzles/screens – choose between 6 and 260 pieces per puzzle/screen; choose rotation, hints, music; up to five players):

Roxies-Puzzle-Adventure2 copyRoxies-Puzzle-Adventure3 copyRoxies-Puzzle-Adventure5 copy

Coming out in September 2014: a series of 11 AR (augmented reality) apps designed to work with KIWiStoryBooks (giant interactive walk-in picture books; themes: Rainforest, Dinosaurs, Space Station, Coral Reef, Farm, Maze, Castle, Fire Station, more):

34. Rainforest KIWiStoryBooks copy33a.KIWiApps copy35.Rainforest app copy37.Rainforest app copy36.Rainforest app copy

“Seek-n-Find.” Matching game; with iPad camera, match images found in backdrop (here, Maze and Farm):

Screen shot 2014-06-04 at 12.03.42 PM copyScreen shot 2014-06-04 at 12.04.05 PM copy

“Make Some Noise.” Click on images, hear the sounds, and record your own (here, Fire Station and Space Station):

Screen shot 2014-06-04 at 12.04.28 PM copyScreen shot 2014-06-04 at 12.04.35 PM copy

“Explore & Learn.” Q&A with information and fun multiple choice answers with rewards, games, hidden details/scratch off (here, Rainforest, TV Station, Castle, and Dinosaurs). Activated by scanning markers/stickers placed on KIWiStoryBook:

42.Rainforest app copyScreen shot 2014-06-04 at 12.34.39 PM copyScreen shot 2014-06-04 at 12.34.51 PM copy

“Movie-making.” Use iPad camera and supplied frames to make series of 1-minute videos. Combined/edited into 8-minute movie w/kids’ own voiceovers/narration (here, Coral Reef and Wild West/Native Americans):

Screen shot 2014-06-04 at 12.36.15 PM copy

“Puzzles.” Activated by scanning markers/stickers placed on KIWiStoryBook (here, Desert and Fire Station):

Screen shot 2014-06-04 at 12.36.52 PM copy

Engaging in games helps children with concentration, setting goals, problem-solving, working together and collaboration (many allow multiple players), perseverance, and celebrate achieving goals. Many games, and mazes in particular, also help children learn decision-making and critical thinking skills. They make them think ahead and plan steps in advance. Mazes teach alternative ways to solve problems and judge spatial relationships. For younger children, they help develop fine motor skills; for older children, maneuvering through mazes helps improve handwriting. Game formats are particularly suited to reluctant readers, special needs children, and boys (although girls are rapidly catching up).

So, using games in apps enhances learning, engagement, and collaboration. And, of course, they’re fun!!!

More info, see Gamification post below on interactivity in print books, and

Using games in the classroom:



People don’t always think of print books as being interactive, or using games, but they are and they do. I write mainly nonfiction and concept books, as well as interactive apps.  To engage children and keep them interested, and to impart information in a fun way, much of my work uses a form of “gamification”: lift-the-flap, mazes, guessing games, inside-outside concepts, search-n-find, ABCs and numbers, puzzles, matching games, hidden objects, word/noun object recognition, and so forth.

EcoMazes: 12 Earth Adventures uses mazes to explore and understand ecosystems, to see the vegetation and geology, and a finding/counting game to learn about which animals live in the habitat. In Hatch! an egg or a clutch of eggs is shown. Children try to guess what kind of bird it is from hints (“The bird that lays these eggs is found on every continent except Antarctica.” “This one never drinks water” “…fastest running two-legged animal on Earth. But it can’t fly.”). In Busy Builders children see the giant bug, and then turn the page to check out the unusual kinds of structures certain bugs make, and why. In Slithery Snakes they are encouraged to try to figure out what kind of snake it is from the close-up scaly skin patterns shown, along with tantalizing facts about the critter: “Its common name comes from its skin pattern (like a precious stone) and its unique tail (which sounds like a child’s toy).” Turn the page and the answer appears, visually, with its name, and more fun facts – you see the snake in its home, with other creatures that live in the same habitat. In Mazeways: A to Z, the letter of the alphabet forms a maze … A is for Airport (ever been to Heathrow or JFK? They really ARE a maze!), H is for Highway, L is for Library, R is for Ranch, and so on –  you are playing, but also learning more about the places and how they work. In Market Maze (Holiday House, Spring 2015) children explore where food comes from and how it arrives at their town greenmarkets. All of these are nonfiction subjects, with a structure that encourages play, learning, and engagement.

Many subjects lend themselves to these sorts of game-like interactive formats. Authors and illustrators of children’s nonfiction materials should consider these devices. For learning about a person, an animal, a historical period, science, a place, or even a fictional character, you can start with a question, and note fun facts that may allow the child to guess who or what you are interested in, before they get to the satisfying answer. Or in a more interactive way, they can lift flaps, play matching games, find and count things, solve a maze…

Engaging in games helps children with concentration, setting goals, problem-solving, working together and collaboration (many allow multiple players), perseverance, and celebrate achieving goals. Many games, and mazes in particular, also help children learn decision-making and critical thinking skills. They make them think ahead and plan steps in advance. Mazes teach alternative ways to solve problems and judge spatial relationships. For younger children, they help develop fine motor skills; for older children, maneuvering through mazes helps improve handwriting. Game formats are particularly suited to reluctant readers, boys, and special needs children. And they’re fun!

(FYI, in June, I’ll be doing a workshop at the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference on “gamification” [primarily for interactive apps] with Kellian Adams Pletcher, founder and senior producer at Green Door Labs.)

In the educational community, and among parents, learning via games has gained credibility, respect, and lots of interest in the last couple of years.

If you want to learn more about the “gamification” of children’s materials, here are some great links:

Three Keys to Gamification for Education

The Gamification of Education

Four Benefits of Gamifying Education in Your Classroom

Vegetables or Candy? Digital Book World looks at the Gamification of Children’s Books

Games Based Learning Analysis and Planning Tool

Gamification and Education: The Core Principle

Game-based Learning: Analyzing a Rising Sector

Using Gaming Principles to Engage Students

The importance of Play in raising inner-directed (“intrinsic”) children (rather than “extrinsic” more materialistic kids)











Recently, on Facebook, I did a “small rant on a snowy day,” and thought I’d post it on this blog…

“I wish more of my children’s book illustrator friends would do apps. You are needed! The ‘art’ in most kids’ apps these days (particularly the ones purporting to be educational) looks so much alike – computer-generated, bright primary colors, cartoon-y… Children recognize good art, and deserve it. Children’s book artists have so much more style and variety.”

To expand a bit: Art makes content. Kids love and appreciate beauty. Why shouldn’t they have well-crafted and elegantly-made visuals, seamlessly integrated?

An anecdote: On a school visit once, after the program, we had a Q&A. Later, as I was packing up my materials (which included big spreads of the original art – this was before Powerpoint), a teacher came up with a 3rd grade girl, and said, “Ellen had a question – you didn’t call on her.”

“Oh,” I said, “What is your question?”

Ellen asked, “How do you make them so pretty?”

I almost teared up, and kept her question on a post-it in my studio for years. I have never forgotten that girl.

Do not underestimate the power of beauty.

Here is a quote from a great recent post by the app developer and author, Sarah Towle:

“…However, lacking in the above equation, I felt, was the time-honored lesson to be drawn from the world of children’s publishing: that the visual element serves a valuable role too, and one often neglected in today’s interactive media for kids.

As a children’s author and a connoisseur of picture book art, I was shocked by the low visual quality of some of the media products we studied at Dust or Magic. Many of them, I’m sorry to say, were just plain ugly, with illustrations that looked little better than clip art.

Anyone working on behalf of children must appreciate the role that great illustration plays in communicating with and teaching children. In illustrated books, the story and images weave seamlessly together to create something better than the sum of their parts. Indeed, great illustrations tell at least 50% of the story and can make an already great text shine even brighter.

Yet, this is not often the case in today’s digital products.

Not all children’s digital media will contain story. They don’t all have too. But digital media are nothing if not visual. It is imperative, therefore, that we developers make our products visually appealing. To make them works of art.”

You can read the rest of her post here:…/26/j07i91um0k19nt0aeuku4avd5xx3as

The 13th Annual Dust or Magic Institute: Magic-Making Factor #4

So lots of illustrators and authors responded to my FB mini-rant (we also need better and well-edited writing in apps! I’ve seen purported “educational” apps with spelling and grammatical mistakes.). They are very interested in doing apps but many don’t know where to start. Here’s a kind of “basics” post I did about a year ago for Digital Storytime…of course, things have changed in the last year, including the fact that you now get 100 free promo codes with each app publication and update, and I now have a new app out based upon the maze app, called “Roxie’s Puzzle Adventure.”

An a-MAZE-ing Transition: Roxie Munro Talks about Print, Digital & Lessons Learned

But the main problem, of course and sadly, is money. There are various issues re ROI (return on investment) – a few, of many (also discussed in the Digital Storytime blog, above):  development costs are high/price point for apps is low; marketing is very difficult; discovery is an issue; there are too many kinds of devices out there which require different platforms, and so on …

And children’s book authors and illustrators, who have so much to offer the app world in creativity and originality, have to eat and support themselves, their families, and their art too.

But, I just wish more of these talented folks could make apps! The industry needs them.