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Studying Art Notes

3 Mar

 

If you’re writing picture books, you’ve certainly heard these words more than once.

Leave Room for the Illustrator.

One of the most important aspects of  illustrations is how much information the reader gets from the artwork that is not narrated in the text of the story. Picture book readers trust that the illustrations tell the story as much as the text, and often times more than the text. Illustrations convey emotion, definition, story arc, plot twist, and surprise elements.

In studying picture books which do this well, it’s helpful to practice writing  your own art notes where you think it’s important to the story that the illustrations depict a specific element. I sometimes mark the page with a post-it note to show where I might have added a note if I were the author. Then look back over these notes and try to word them so that my meaning is clear without interfering with the illustrator’s work. Later I can rewrite these in a notebook or just stick the post-it note in my writing journal.

Shutta Crum must be an expert art note writer. Her books Mine! and Uh-Oh! are written using only one word each! If not, how were these nearly wordless picture books written since she is not also the illustrator? Although I have heard that some writers write in a side-by-side column, with the text on one side and the art note on the other, I cannot say with certainty that this is how Shutta submits her work. But it is a good exercise for us to practice.

Look at these spreads and think about what is necessary to put in an art note and what can be left to the illustrator’s imagination.

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Notice that it isn’t always important to leave a note. Do the children need to be siblings or friends? No. Is the specific collection of toys important? No. Is it important that one toy get left behind? Yes. Is it important that there is a dog in the scene? Yes. (That comes out later int he story.)

Note: There are more of these than you realize.

I wonder how many, and what kind of art notes Tammi Sauer included in her first manuscript for Your Alien. I’m thinking there weren’t as many notes as in the example above, simply because there is more text in the story. The illustrator is an adult who can visualize a scene without help.

Take a look at this scene. Was it necessary to say exactly what the alien should be eating (or even doing) on this page?FullSizeRender

I don’t think so. The alien could be eating popcorn, bananas, or pizza. He could even be zipping around the room or playing with the cat instead of eating. Either way, it doesn’t affect the outcome of the story. This is purely up to the illustrator to decide what ‘other ideas’ the alien has on this page.

Even books which are written and illustrated by the same person, must have a certain element of art notes even if they are not specifically written out since the work is submitted as a whole unit, not in pieces.

My guess is that Chris Haughton either jotted down ideas in words or sketches before he produced the final art for his story, Shh! We Have a Plan.shh2

Before he began illustrating, he knew that the littlest character was a different kind of hunter than the others. He was kind and friendly. He was always the first to spot a bird and instinctively attracted the birds to himself. He didn’t carry a net or a ladder, but used bread crumbs to charm the birds.

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As a writer of picture books, balance is the key. Tell your story in a way which allows your reader to be an active participant. Give enough information to feed their imagination while allowing them to make their own connections.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day

13 Feb

A word to the wise, when shopping for Valentine’s Day picture books check out the newest publications in addition to your old favorites. And, by check out, I mean your library shelves first. Then, check out your local bookstores before ordering online. Why? Because this year I found three terrific new books at my library went to the bookstore for my local shopping AFTER I did my online shopping for my out-of-town valentines. To my disappointment, only ONE of these brand-new books was available at the brick and mortar store. And since I waited until two days before Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t get my top picks for my hometown valentines. It turned out okay though, because I was able to pick up some wonderful titles anyway.

Click on the titles for a link to my Goodreads review of each book.

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Be A Friend

written and illustrated by Salina Yoon (2016)

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Here Comes Valentine Cat 

written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Claudia Rueda (2015)

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Worm Loves Worm

written by J.J. Austrian and illustrated by Mike Curato (2016)

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Hedgehugs

written by Steve Wilson and illustrated by Lucy Tapper (2014)

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Penguin in Love

written and illustrated by Salina Yoon (2013)

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I Wish You More

written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (2015)

Paying It Forward, Starting In My Own Community

12 Feb

Author, Lauri Fortino is paying it forward with proceeds from her debut picture book. Check out her blog and support her mission or your own community in your own way.

Lauri Fortino's Frog On A (B)log

Little Man Asleep_Peddlers Bed Scene from The Peddler’s Bed illustrated by Bong Redila (Ripple Grove Press, 2015)

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Even before my first children’s picture book, The Peddler’s Bed, was published, I knew I wanted to help people. But how? After the book was released, I began to research non-profit organizations that might be a good match. And although there are many extremely worthy causes out there, it didn’t take long to realize that the best match was right here in my own community: The Syracuse Rescue Mission.

Since 1887, the Syracuse Rescue Mission has been helping people in need by providing food, clothing, and shelter. Though they have evolved over the years, adding more services, programs, and locations, the values of faith, hope and love continue to form the foundation of their mission.

This is what the SRM is all about: Putting an end to hunger and homelessness for men, women, and children in…

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Be A Friend

10 Feb

February 11th is National Make a Friend Day. Two years ago I added this day to my Celebrate Every Day With A Picture Book tab. This year I’m excited to find a brand new picture book friend to celebrate this day.

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Be A Friend by Salina Yoon (Bloomsbury, 2016)

Dennis expresses himself through mime. But not everyone appreciates Dennis’s unique form of communication. He is often alone and lonely. Then one day Joy notices him and he has someone he can give his heart to. They find that being different is okay and soon so does everyone else. This is a great example of how actions speak louder than words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outside the Box

12 Jan

When the American Library Association thinks outside the box,open empty cardboard box 3d illustration

this is what happens…

A picture book is awarded the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature, the John Newbery Medal winner is https://julianaleewriter.com/books-alive/l/last-stop-on-market-street/ by Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson.22521973

A 56 page story is awarded the most distinguished American picture book for children, the Randolph Caldecott Medal winner is https://julianaleewriter.com/books-alive/f/finding-winnie/ by Lindsay Mattcik and Sophie Blackall.24819508

An autobiography and ‘celebrity’ picture book is awarded The Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award. The winner is https://julianaleewriter.com/books-alive/t/trombone-shorty/ by Troy Andrews and Brian Collier.23167689

This is the first time in the history of the ALA Youth Media Awards that the same person won both the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award and the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievment in the same year. Congratulations to Jerry Pinkney! Pinkney’s newest picture book this year was https://julianaleewriter.com/books-alive/g/the-grasshopper-and-the-ants/20839547

Other picture books taking home ALA awards this year are….

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Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls  won the Schneider Family Book Award for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience.

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The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy by Beatrice Alemagna won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award for an outstanding children’s book translated from a foreign language and subsequently published in the United States.

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Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle and Rafael Lopez won the Pura Belpré (Illustrator) Award honoring a Latino writer and illustrator whose children’s books best portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience.

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Funny Bones by Duncan Tonatiuh won the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children.

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https://julianaleewriter.com/the-cybils-2015/easy-readers/dont-throw-it-to-mo/ by David A. Adler and  Sam Ricks won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished beginning reader book.

Fifteen Faves of Twenty Fifteen

2 Jan

imagesI’ve read hundreds of picture books this past year! My main goal was to discover the newest published picture books and share the ones I liked with an audience of teachers, parents, and anyone who reads to children. I feel so fortunate to have read and learned from over 360 books! Of course, as I read, I would stop and think ‘I love this book’. I would close my eyes and imagine reading it again to my granddaughters or to a room full of uplifted faces. Some books touched my heart, some tickled my funny bone, and some simply wormed their way into my mind and wouldn’t let go! These are the books I added to my list of mentor texts to inform my own writing.

 

FastFiftyNumber15Not using any specific criteria, these became my top picks for 2015. Below are my Fifteen Faves of Twenty Fifteen listed alphabetically (by title). You can click on the title of each book to read my summary of the story and see the activities I chose to go with each book.

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Bear and Bunny by Daniel Pinkwater and Will Hillenbrand

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The Blue Whale by Jenni Desmond

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Bunnies! by Kevan Atteberry

22484277I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

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Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney

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Leo, A Ghost Story by Marc Barnett and Christian Robinson

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Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins

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Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds and Matt Davies

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The Peddler’s Bed by Lauri Fortino and Bong Redila

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A Rock Can Be… by Laura Purdie Salas and Violeta Dabija

22750405Seaver the Weaver by Paul Czajak and The Brothers Hilts

22749702Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld

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Those Pesky Rabbits by Ciara Flood

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Yard Sale by Eve Bunting and Lauren Castillo

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And just because 15 is too hard to choose… here are the 5 runner ups making my list Twenty Fifteen!

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Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed by Leslea Newman and Amy June Bates

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Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats by Alicia Potter and Brigitta Sif

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One Word From Sophia by Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail

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Soon by Timothy Knapman and Patrick Benson

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Books Alive!

31 Dec

unnamedYay! I did it!

I promised myself this year that I would read as many new picture books as I could. I got my recommendations from friends and from my library, thank you Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County! Every week I would look at my library’s website and find the new releases and put them on hold for me to read. Today is the last day of 2015 and I have reviewed 360 picture books on my BOOKS ALIVE page! I actually read many more, but these are the one that made the cut for my page.

I quickly realized there were going to be more books than I could possibly read in one year, so I set a few parameters for myself.

First of all, I read almost exclusively fiction because this is what I write. Although I couldn’t pass up a few non-fictions recommended by friends, these are very few of the total number of books read.

Secondly, I only reviewed the ones I could honestly give 3, 4, or 5 stars to. If I didn’t want to reread a story or buy it for my grandchildren, I didn’t review it.

Thirdly, I steered away from commercial characters. Even though I love Winnie-the-Pooh, Curious George, and the Disney franchise, I had to limit my reading and this was one way to do it. I love a good series as much as the next person, but I was really looking for what I could learn from the stand alone picture book to inform my own writing.

Lastly, I stuck to traditionally published books because this is the route I would like to take myself and part of my quest included learning about what sells. So basically, if I couldn’t get my hands on it in my library system I didn’t read it. Although, I have put in purchase requests online for books that were getting a lot of media attention and which were not in my public library.

In total I reviewed… 360 picture books in Books Alive! This does not include the books I read and did not review. It also does not include the books I read that were not published in 2015. Sometimes I would find an author I liked and went back and read more of their work.

Top 10 Things I Learned About Writing Kid Lit from BOOKS ALIVE!

1. There are no hard and fast rules! Yes, publishers are buying and selling rhyming text… good rhyming text. Yes, publishers are buying and selling ‘quiet’ books.

  1. Diversity matters! Even though the We Need Diverse Books movement started last year, I found that there was more diversity in children’s books than I first realized. These books were written and acquired several years before they were published and therefore were in the works before the movement started. I think this issue has been n the forefront of publishers’ minds for longer than we realized. These titles include gender diversity, racial diversity, cultural diversity and diversity in the authors and illustrators who produce these books. And, yes we still have a long way to go… so let’s get busy!

  2. Animal characters still make up the core of picture books. I think children relate well to animal characters and as adults, authors are more apt to tell a ‘difficult’ story one step away from a child protagonist. Also, in going back to the diversity issue, any child can identify with an animal since there is no obvious human trait of gender, race, or culture that makes them different from the reader. Readers can then see themselves as friendly, helpful, brave, adventurous, frightened, etc instead of different from the kid in the book based on physical appearances.

  3. Opinions are like noses, everyone has one. And not everyone can see past their own. Just because someone else did not like a particular book, does not mean that you will dislike it as well. Some of my favorite books are the ones that were overlooked by the media. Conversely, not all the hype about a book coincides with your own opinion. As a matter of fact, I try to generally be positive in my reviews of a book and stay away from those I don’t care for. There are some books out there that you may hate, but remember someone liked it enough to publish it. And you may read a book I have reviewed and think I was crazy to give it 5 stars… again that’s just my opinion. In the same way, agents, editors, and publishers have opinions. There are things they like and things they don’t care for. Just because your work gets a pass from one of these people, does not mean that your work is no good… it’s just not their cup of tea. Try someone else. Research who you submit to so that you can increase the likelihood that they will want your story.

  4. Not all wordless picture books are written by the same author/illustrator. It must be difficult to get your idea across to an agent, editor, publisher, or illustrator if you want to tell a story through pictures exclusively or almost exclusively and you are not the artist. But I have seen it successfully accomplished time and time again. So take your vision and go with it!

  5. There were no books (that I found) beginning with the letter X. That may or may not mean something to a writer out there, but I just thought it was interesting. I might consciously try to write something with an X as the first letter… Xavier’s Puppy? X-Ray Vision? X Marks the Spot? Hey, I kinda like that one… dibs on X Marks the Spot!

  6. Speaking of titles. I can’t tell you how many books I read with the same or almost the exact same title as another picture book. After reading, I would go to Goodreads to record my books read (Which by the way, if you don’t add the date finished, Goodreads will not count it as a book read this year! Guess when I found this out? Last week, when people started posting how many books they read this year and went to look up mine and I had two, TWO. Aiye!). Anyway… while searching for the book by title I would often find more than one with a similar title. Usually this occurred within a few years of each other. But sometimes within the same year, but with different publishing houses. So just because there is already a book out there like yours don’t give up, it might be exactly what someone else is looking for.

  7. Along the same lines, there are hundreds of books with similar themes… friendship, loneliness, fears, lost items, first day of school, bullies, etc. But those that are getting published are new, different, exciting! So what if there are a lot of monster books? Make sure yours is unique… a monster story that only you can tell! Sometimes I’d pick up ‘another bear book’ with dread, and then WOWZERS the author would knock my socks off with the clever jokes, the deep meaning, or the lovely illustrations. And I’d have to remember, THIS is what the publishers want!

  8. Whenever I reviewed a story, I did my best to connect in some way with the author and/or illustrator. I liked their page on Facebook, I sent a friend request, connected on Twitter, looked up their blog. This personal connection gives you another layer of rapport. I found that kid lit people are extremely friendly! They enjoy hearing from fans, they appreciate good reviews of their work on Goodreads, Amazon, and blogs. Many become instant friends, others merely acquaintances. Each connection is another chance to learn from someone who has already made it in the business. Take advantage of personal relationships, these people are your allies in the writing field!

  9. And speaking of making connections… meet as many pros as you can. I love nothing more than to find a great new book and have it signed by the author. Some of the books I reviewed here are a direct result of meeting the author and or illustrator at a workshop or signing event. SCBWI events, Books by the Banks in Cincinnati, and writing workshops are great places to meet the pros. Nothing beats personal connections. I have found them to be wonderful people. They are open, honest, kind, generous, and insightful! This includes the booksellers, librarians, and teachers in your area. Luckily for me, I do know a lot of teachers. For awhile I knew more teachers than an other profession. Now that I’m retired, we still get together for lunch or coffee. It’s important as a writer to remember your audience, parents, teachers, and kids are top on the list! When you check out as many books as I have in the last two years, the librarians get to know you. When you attend book signings, booksellers begin to recognize you. These people can steer you in the right direction when you’re looking for something specific and will be important contacts to have when you are published and ready to go out in public for the first time.

Bonus… give them something, make their life easier, make them remember you. The most important things I did for my readers had nothing to do with my writing journey. The notes I took for myself, were not recorded on my blog, those I keep in my journals. What I did for the readers was simply to give the a quick overview of the story, yes spoilers and all, so they could first see if this was one that met their needs. And then I gave them a few ideas they could use with their children to extend their reading. So whether a parent, grandparent, teacher, or daycare worker, needed a book and an activity to go with it, I tried to give them something they could use. Pinterest became my best friend this year! It takes time to find arts and crafts or easy recipes that are age appropriate without duplicating them too often. But I hope these little things make someone else’s life easier. Many times parents and teachers are too frazzled at the end of the day to think of one more thing. I hope they will come back to my blog once in a while and type in a key word to search for a just-right book and activity for the next day.

Now, off to rest for one whole day before 2016 begins with all its new resolutions! See you on the other side!

 

Newest Christmas Picture Books of the Year

17 Dec

The library and bookstore shelves have been looking very festive for quite a while now.   Many are filled with classics we still adore… A Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Polar Express, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and T’was the Night Before Christmas, to name a few. But right up front you’ll find the pick of the season… the brand-new releases. Browse the titles. Drink in the artwork. Taste the flavor of the text. I bet you’ll go home with one or two new favorites this year.

Happy Reading!

Below are six new picture books I summarized for you, along with a few fun activities you can do with your little readers for each story. Be sure you click on the title of each one for the link to that page.

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The Christmas Quiet Book 

by Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska

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Dear Santa, Love Rachel Rosenstein

by Amanda Peet, Andrea Troyer, and Christine Davenier

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How to Catch Santa 

by Jean Reagan and Lee Wildish

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The Knights Before Christmas

by Joan Holub and Scott Magoon

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Over the River & Through the Wood

by Linda Ashman and Kim Smith

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Waiting for Santa

by Steve Metzger and Alison Edgon

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by Linda Bailey and Genevieve Godbout

Five Minute Mentor

9 Dec

28530025-Vector-illustration-of-five-minutes-stopwatch-on-white-background-Stock-VectorFive minutes. Not a lot of time. But when someone shares their expertise with you, five minutes is invaluable. And when you’re lucky enough to get more than five minutes of someone’s time… well, that’s just phenomenal.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Will Hillenbrand, author and illustrator, for taking time to talk with me personally about writing, children, books, education, schools, publishing, and so much more! I watched while he set up for a presentation at The Blue Manatee, a local bookstore and he invited me to sit on the step with him and chat. What an wonderful gift of his time and know-how. He is the consummate gentleman and educator. I learned so much from him before he even began his formal presentation.

Just a reminder for myself, and anyone out there who has even five minutes of time to spend with someone who is just starting out… spend it thoughtfully and completely with that person… it will mean the world to them. Thank you, Will Hillenbrand!

Quote of the Day

Things are not untrue just because they never happened. -Will Hillenbrand

Photo Gallery

This beautiful framed artwork is the cover from Bear and Bunny written by Daniel Pinkwater and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand. You can read more about the story HERE.IMG_2249

Will signed his new book for my granddaughter and posed for a picture with me. IMG_2250

Sometimes a writer just needs to act like a kid! IMG_2253

Read more about Snowman’s Story by Will Hillenbrand HERE.

Bridging the Generations

14 Nov

When writing for children, especially picture books, we need to remember the adult as well. We’ve often heard, it’s the adults who are the gatekeepers to children’s literature. Will they read this book repeatedly? Will they purchase this book? Today I want to add one more, Will they find themselves in this book? Today I did just that.

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Little Tree is a book about holding on and letting go. It’s a book about facing an unknown future. It’s a book about growing up.

It’s written for children. It’s written for adults. I’ll bet, it’s written for you.

For a summary of the story and suggested activities for Little Tree look HERE.

I met Loren Long, author and illustrator of Little Tree this morning. He was kind and giving with his audience. He shared his story of a little tree with us. It’s a story of watching his firstborn embark on his school career. Not once, but twice. He retold how frightening those experiences were for him as a parent watching his son go off to kindergarten… and then to college. And, we got to meet his son the college student and inspiration for the story, and see what a wonderful relationship they have and watch them work together on a piece of art for the bookstore.

 

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Here’s a picture of Loren sharing my favorite page:

“As his last leaf floated to the ground, for the first time Little Tree felt the harsh cold of winter.”

The artwork is stunning. And the text reminds me that when you finally let go of something that’s been holding you back, it can be cold and scary. But in the end, you know you that in order to grow… you must first let go.

Think back to the times it was hard for your little ones to let go… let go of their binky, let go of diapers, let go of their afternoon naps, let go of your hand in the school parking lot. It was a cold and scary time for them. You were there to dry their tears, give them comfort, help them through it.

And think of the times it was hard for you to let go and watch them grow. I think about the times when they fell and scraped their knees, when they boarded their first school bus, when they wanted to be dropped off at the mall without me, when they got their hearts broken for the first time, when they moved out of town. It really did feel like a harsh cold winter. I thought my heart was dying. But each time they came back to me taller and stronger… more of who they were and less of who I was. And it felt good.

See, what I mean about writing across generations? Loren Long has done that beautifully. I hope you pick up a copy for yourselves and feel the splendor of letting go as a wonderful thing.

 

 

 

Leave Room For The Reader

12 Nov

As writers we are constantly being told to leave room for the illustrator. Basically, that just means that we don’t put every single detail in the text. The illustrator can show most adjectives and adverbs in the artwork, and many times better than we might have imagined ourselves because they use another part of their brain when telling a story. We each have our own talents and we respect each other enough to leave the other room to tell their part of the story.

After a Facebook conversation this evening, I want to talk about the most important, person in the reading experience… the reader!

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The reader brings much to the reading experience: prior knowledge, emotions, and bias. That’s why everyone who reads a book has a different idea of what it is about, and feels differently about it  than anyone else. Of course there are some common generalities too… Is a book funny, sad? Does it make you feel happy, insignificant, proud? Will it affect a change in how we think of things?

Children are no different than adults in this respect. Children’s literature evokes deeper understanding of a theme (friendship, fear, sibling rivalry, loneliness, kindness, change) or concept (animals, new baby, trucks, bedtime, grandparents, school, the environment, holidays) for young readers.

When writers and illustrators leave room for the reader, they open new avenues for learning and growing.
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The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg, allows children the freedom to believe or not, yet leaves them with a sense of hope and wonder.

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In a Cloud of Dust, Alma Fullerton and Brian Deines empower children to show compassion and make a difference in someone else’s life by the example of the characters in the story.

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Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton encourages children to dream and be imaginative, but also to look at ordinary things as extraordinary.

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Those Pesky Rabbits by Ciara Flood lets children discover that when you accept change you open the possibility for new and fun opportunities that you might otherwise miss out on.

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Feet Go to Sleep by Barbara Bottner and Maggie Smith give children a moment, right before they go to sleep to talk about their day. As the main character recounts her daily activities, the reader can make connections to themselves by reciting bits and pieces of their own day as well.

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Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley does not specifically say what happened to the missing parent, leaving the experience within reach of many children who are missing parents through divorce, military, death, incarceration, or abandonment. Readers are left to fill in the blanks for themselves.

Children can be taught critical thinking skills through good children’s literature. Excellent stories provide just the right amount of text and illustration for the reader to grasp the meaning, and just enough freedom to make their own connections and experience deeper understanding. Children who think critically, do more than restate the text or describe the illustrations, they interpret the story given their own life’s experiences. They make inferences about what was left unsaid and unshown. And they make connections with themselves, the world around them, and other books.

And all of this happens when we leave room on the page for the reader.

The 7 Levels of Children’s Literature

12 Oct

I was having dinner with my husband’s cousins this weekend and the topic turned to my writing. “So, what are you working on?” I went on to describe a couple of my stories which are ‘out there’ waiting for representation and the new work I’m doing on the CYBILS Easy Reader and Early Chapter Book panel. The latter was met with cocked heads and furrowed brows. It wasn’t the Award that was confusing, it was the difference between Easy Readers and Early Chapter Books.

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It’s actually a look I’m quite familiar with; many of the parents of my second graders had the same look when I introduced them to the genres past picture books. Most of these parents, and I believe the general public, think there is one giant step their children make from picture books (which them deem as ‘too easy’ for their kiddos) to chapter books (which they erroneously believe their budding geniuses should be reading). I can’t tell you how many parents want their kids graduating from Dr. Seuss to Harry Potter in one fell swoop. And, as the gate-keeper to the class library, I should be the one to put these books in their hands. But I digress…

So, back to the confusion between the levels of children’s literature. Although someone else may have more or fewer, depending on how they organize their thinking, I’d like to discuss seven stages of children’s literature which correspond to children’s levels of reading development. These are categories which can be identified in most libraries and bookstores and are agreed upon terms by the kid lit community. Now, the tricky thing to remember about readers is that no one is totally in one category or another. Children often flow between two or three categories at a time, and should be encouraged to do so.

What I’ve done here to help ‘outsiders’ understand the differences, is to give an example of how the writing changes for each category. Beginning with a story told completely with illustrations and ending with a story told with no illustrations, topics of increasing maturity are presented to the reader.

1. Wordless: No text. (full illustrations)

2. Near Wordless: Duck. Worm. (full illustration)

3. Picture Book: Duck and Worm are friends. (full illustration)

4. Easy Reader: This is Duck. This is Worm. Duck and Worm are best friends. Duck likes to fish. Worm likes to draw. Worm drew a picture of Duck. “You are a great artist, Worm,” said Duck.   (some illustration)

5. Early Chapter Book: “Hey, Worm,” Mallard called to his little brother, Wesley. Mallard picked up his rod and reel. “Shake a leg.  We need to leave now if we want fish for dinner tonight.” Wesley yawned and threw his covers back. “I’m coming,” he said. (fewer illustrations)

6. Middle Grade: Mallard and Wesley marched into Coach Goliath’s office after football practice. Middle School is hard enough without having to deal with the social hierarchy forced upon them by the likes of the knuckleheads on the gridiron. It’s about time someone stood up for the rights of the little guy. And, with Mallard at his side, Wesley felt taller than his 4 foot 9 inches. (illustrated sporadically)

7. Young Adult: It’s unnatural. At least that’s what the demonstrators outside Oak Park City Hall claimed. Wesley shrank away from the chanting crowd. If anyone saw him, there would surely be a lynching tonight. Oak Park’s old guard wasn’t ready for high school prom queen like Wesley. And he wasn’t ready to provide them with one either. He clutched his carry-on bag in one hand and his ticket in the other. He darted toward Mallard’s waiting car at the edge of the parking lot. (text carries the story)

As you can see, the main differences in the levels are in the subject matter, vocabulary, sentence structure, and dependence on illustrations. Each one has a unique function and fills a need in children’s literature. Do not be tempted to rush a child you know through the levels. Take time. Savor the stories. Allow children to become confident, fluent readers who read for enjoyment… not to reach the next landmark… and you will have a happy, life-long reader.

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CYBILS Awards

9 Oct

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As many of you know already, I have the honor of being one of the panelist for the CYBILS Awards for Children’s Literature this year. CYBILS is an acronym for Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers’ Literary Award.

This means that I will be spending almost every waking moment reading or blogging about books here. For this reason, I have dedicated a tab at the top of my page to share my thoughts with you.

Under the main tab, The 2015 CYBILS, I have started two other pages Easy Readers and Early Chapter Books since those are the two genres I will be reading and reviewing. On each of those pages, I have described my definitions of Easy Readers and Early Chapter Books. These may differ slightly from those of other panelists or professionals in the field, but I believe they are substantially accurate. As I read, I will add a page to one of the two categories giving the title, author, publisher, year of publication, ISBN, summary, literary merit, and kid appeal for each book.

As with my other reviews, I will only comment on books that I really like. I hope that you will find these posts helpful in choosing books to read to your children, grandchildren, students, family or friends. Please feel free to make your own comment about any book you find on my website. 

Good luck to all the participants in this year’s CYBILS Awards!

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I will also end each post with the circular icon and a reminder that all of the opinions on my page are my own and have not been influenced in any way by any other parties.

13 Notes on the Magic of 13 SCBWI Conference

30 Sep

2015logoMagicof13It’s been 13 days since The Magic of 13 conference in Cleveland this month. I’ve had time to review my notes and relive the magic. And it was magical! On Friday, I was able to participate in an intensive class with Jodell Sadler of the Sadler Children’s Literary Agency and have a one-on-one manuscript critique with Nikki Garcia, Assistant Editor for Little Brown Books for Young Readers. Then I spent the full day, Saturday, attending workshops with Jodell Sadler again; and Marie Lamba, Associate Literary Agent with the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency; Kendra Levin, Senior Editor with Viking’s Children Books, the Penguin Young Readers Group; and Victoria Selvaggio, Associate Agent with the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency. What a lineup! I talked with wonderful authors like Mary Kay Carson, Miranda Paul, Shutta Crum, Michelle Houts, and Liz Coley. However, there were other wonderful authors and illustrators I missed, like Denise Fleming, Gloria Adams, and Sophie Cayless… the days were just to full to see everyone! And of course, I met and worked with countless other writers and illustrators who attended the workshops. Oh, how I wish I had a week with these extraordinary people!

With the passing of 13 days since the Magic of 13, I want to share 13 things I learned with you. Hopefully these 13 tricks will help you get where you want to be in your writing and publication.

  1. Tell your story. Begin at the beginning. Go until you get to the end. Then stop.

2. Be on every page with the reader. See what they see, hear what they hear, smell what they smell, feel what they feel.

3. Use vivid words to paint a picture in the reader’s mind. Use fun and interesting language. Make your words work hard, make them pull double duty when engaging a reader.

4. Determine your character’s core values. These will guide his/her actions. Apply the emotional truths of what you know to new situations for your characters. You may never have been lost in a jungle like your character is, but you do know what it feels like to be lost. Use that to guide your character through unfamiliar territory.

5. The road to publication comes from employing plot, poetry, pauses, and personality. 

6. Form allegiances with other writers. Support each other. Champion each other to do your best.

7. Study your craft. Find mentor texts and professionals to guide you along the way.

8. Find inspiration in those who have gone before you.

9. Forge your own processes. Don’t be afraid of doing things differently than what ‘everyone else’ says you should be doing.

10. Have a strong hook. Your story must be easy to pitch. Prepare a one sentence log line, a description that can be used to promote your work. It must evoke feeling.

11.Stay current on today’s market and know where your book fits. Yours should be the same but different. It must fit into a market audience.

12. Be aware of your social media presence. Contribute to the promotion of yourself. Be professional. Be positive in your social interactions at all times.

13. Have fun! If you’re having fun, your reader will have fun!

…and now for the magic…

Abracadbra… Poof!

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In Like a Lion

5 Mar

UnknownTrue to its reputation, March is coming in like a lion. But right around the corner, spring is ready to pounce. This weekend we will move forward one hour. Next week we are looking forward to warmer temperatures and melting snow. The following week we will look for four leaf clovers, leprechauns, and pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. And before you know it, we’ll celebrate the official first day of spring with singing, dancing, and frolicking in the streets. Let’s look back just a few short months. What good has come out of this past winter? Has being homebound brought you closer to loved ones? Helped you organize your closet or deep clean at least one room? Given you the time to focus on your craft? Forced you to eat home-cooked meals? Provided solitude for meaningful meditation? Inspired you to learn something new? Offered a creative outlet? For myself, I’ve polished two manuscripts and sent them out to five industry professionals. I organized another critique group. I’ve started a number of new writing projects, one which is very promising. I’ve been invited to be one of the administrators on the Debut Picture Book Study group on Facebook. I completed last year’s picture book review challenge, Celebrate Every Day with a Picture Book.  And I embarked on this year’s challenge to keep up with new picture book publications, which includes reviewing picture books and offering some fun kid-friendly activities for each one on my new page, 2015 Books Alive!

 Check out some of these titles on my new page.

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