Dec 15

Two Holiday Playdough Recipes: Peppermint Snow and Gingerbread

by Hannah Holt »



These two sensory rich playdough recipes will keep little fingers and imaginations busy this winter season. Each recipe makes about two cups dough and may be doubled if desired.

Gingerbread Playdough


  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 packet unsweetened orange Kool-Aid (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil


  1. Combine the dry ingredients in a medium sauce pan.
  2. Add the wet ingredients and mix until a thick batter is formed.
  3. Cook the mixture over low/medium heat until the dough comes away from the edges of the pan and it becomes difficult to move the spoon.
  4. Remove from heat, and let cool until it can be handled.
  5. Place on wax paper and kneed until smooth.
  6. Store in an air tight container.

Peppermint Snow Playdough


  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 Tbsp blue or silver glitter
  • A few drops of peppermint oil (or 1/8th tsp mint extract)
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water


  1. Combine the dry ingredients in a medium sauce pan.
  2. Add the wet ingredients and mix until a thick batter is formed.
  3. Cook the mixture over low/medium heat until the dough comes away from the edges of the pan and it becomes difficult to move the spoon.
  4. Remove from heat, and let cool until it can be handled.
  5. Place on wax paper and kneed until smooth.
  6. Store in an air tight container.

Enjoy! Happy Holidays!

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.