The Creative Life

22 Jun

When thinking about creativity and creative people we often think of artists, musicians, or inventors. But really, when you get right down to it, we are ALL creative beings.  Merriam-Webster defines creative as ‘the ability or power to create’, and create as ‘to bring into existence something new’ and ‘to produce through imaginative skill’. Everyone from the boardroom to the maintenance room has the ability to create something new through imaginative skill at work and at home.

Children do this instinctively. Given an empty box, a child will create a whole new world, a new mode of transportation, a home for imaginary animals, or quiet place for contemplation.

French sculpture, painter, and pioneer of modern art, Henri Matisse defined creative people with these words:

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As writers, illustrators, publishers, and more we are well aware of the power of imagination and the creative souls of individuals. We make it our business to provide, enhance, nurture, model, and shape new ideas.

Today, I’m taking Matisse’s words to heart. Working on a new story idea, I need to be all these things (and more).

What do you need to reach your goals?

 

 

Title Comparison

2 May

What do two bunnies and carrot, four kids and four toys, one toddler, a baby, a dog and his toys,  one greedy ghost, and two brothers and one dinosaur all have in common? Their inability to share. Look at the book covers below. What else do all these stories have in common? The same title.

MINE!

Pictured in descending publication order:

25785748 written and illustrated by Susie Lee Jin (Simon & Schuster, 2016)

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written and illustrated by Sue Heap (Candlewick, 2014)

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written by Shutta Crum & illustrated by Patrice Barton (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011)

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written by Mathilde Stein and illustrated by Miles van Hout (Lemniscaat,2006)

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written and illustrated by Kevin Luthardt (Atheneum, 2001)

But what’s more important is what makes them different.

Let’s take a look at the uniqueness of these seemingly identical picture books. The theme of sharing is evident by the title and artwork on the covers, it’s what’s inside that makes these stories more unlike one another than simply the characters on the covers.

Three out of five of the books are nearly wordless, meaning the illustrations carry the story. Luthardt‘s story comes in at 30 words and Jin‘s story is told in only 19 words. Both Luthardt and Jin are author/illustrators meaning the complete storytelling experience is their own. Everything the reader experiences is a result of their text and art. Which brings us to the only book which has a low word count and is illustrated by someone other than the author. Crum‘s story comes in at only 8 words, even fewer than the two author/illustrators. Several page spreads have no text at all. How is that accomplished? Art Notes! Much of the story is told to the illustrator, Barton, through art notes. Barton then uses those notes to guide but not dictate her work. Not only is this important for writers and artists, but also for parents and caregivers. When ‘reading’ these stories with young children, be sure to leave room for the child’s story and their own interpretation of the story on the page. Ask questions, allow them to discover meaning and thus ‘read’ it for themselves.

The other two books are wordier. Heap‘s story is told in 224 words and Stein‘s story is told in a whopping 508 words. And contrary to popular opinion these are not the two oldest books, which generally have  a higher word count than today’s books. Are non-illustrator authors dependent on more words to tell their stories? No, Heap is an author/illustrator, only Stein is an author only. Her story is illustrated by van Hout whose artwork adds whimsy and humor to the text.

So, what about these stories with the same title makes them unique? They all discuss the theme of sharing but it’s how the theme is revealed that is unique. The low word count stories are targeted to a younger audience. In Crum‘s 8 word story a toddler of unidentified gender tries unsuccessfully to keep his toys away from a younger sibling but ends up losing all his toys to the dog. Jin‘s 19 word story replaces children with bunny rabbits who find one carrot, one top hat, and one very sad snowman. And Luthardt‘s 30 word story is about brothers who receive a stuffed dinosaur in the mail and end up ripping it in half before they learn that they need to share in order to play with their repaired gift.

The two books with the higher word count are geared for a slightly older and more mature audience. Both main characters are of preschool or school age. Heap‘s 224 word story centers around an older friend or sibling who finds it hard to share with three other younger children. It’s not until she sees how sad the baby is not to have one of her toys that she learns to share. This added a layer of empathy is more appropriate for older readers. Stein‘s 508 word story features a greedy ghost who arriving in a new home, insists on claiming everything from the toast to the toys as his own. The older girl protagonist sees only the bright side of his greediness allowing him to have whatever he wants and finding something else for herself. When the ghost sees that she is happy with what she has, but doesn’t want to play with him, he learns to share so they can have fun together. The change in the ghost’s attitude actually turns him into a ghost that the owner of the mansion up the hill doesn’t recognize. This measurable character change is a sign of maturity the older reader is working toward.

Same titles. Same theme. Different stories.

This is truly an example of what your mother always taught you: Don’t judge a book by its cover.

 

Lord of Books

24 Apr

Can you imagine not having access to a library? José Alberto Gutierrez of Columbia can. So he’s doing something about it.

José is know as the Lord of Books in his poor Colombian neighborhood of Bogotá.

He started picking books out of the garbage 20 years ago. On his rounds as a trash collector in the wealthy neighborhoods of Bogotá, José noticed books in good condition being discarded on a daily basis. His first rescue was a copy of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. He began bringing home 50 to 60 books a day. Now his home houses upwards of thirty thousand books reaching up to the ceiling!

José learned to read on his mother’s lap. She could only afford to allow him to go to school up to the second grade. The rest of José education came from her. His mother, and later his father, read to him every night, instilling a love for stories in a largely illiterate environment.

Columbia’s capital of over 13 million citizens, has only 19 libraries. Most of them are in the wealthier neighborhoods, leaving the poor neighborhoods without service and the people who need it most, without.

15 years ago, José opened his home library to his friends and neighbors. He calls his library The Strength of Words. His community library is now open every weekend to the citizens of southern Bogota. His neighbors come with bags to collect books to take home with them. Each bag, each book, each word, is strength for a population of people hungry for stories, news, education. As he is fond of saying, “reading is a tool for life”.

Now, José and his brother-in-law drive around town with boxes of books to distribute to the people of Bogotá who cannot come to him. This modern day bookmobile provides access to literature for hundreds of people per trip.

There are many videos on YouTube about José Gutierrez. Here is one of the most recent ones.

 

904b3364f397a7670b02538fe5c794ccv1_max_755x566_b3535db83dc50e27c1bb1392364c95a2“Books are one of humanity’s greatest inventions.” -José Alberto Gutierrez

Spring Training

26 Mar

lucy-psychiatristWas your winter writing as depressing as mine? ACK!

The story accepted by an honest-to-goodness editor in a real publishing house was turned down in the acquisitions meeting.

But I pulled myself together in time for the new year. And what a fun-filled, jam-packed year it’s been so far!

I spent January gathering ideas with Tara Lazar in Storystorm (aka PiBoIdMo). February brought a blizzard of information at the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York. And March has been a whirlwind of reading mentor texts with Carrie Charley Brown in ReFoReMo.

Now, with a fresh arsenal of writing ideas, information, and mentor texts I’m ready to take on a new season.

CharacterSpring Training is upon us and I’m going to be ready for the big game!

 It’s time to get off the bench and stretch those writing muscles. fce54108a076897bcd7844d5c2ad99ab

Write.

Write.

Write.

I’m working on honing my craft, developing those mad writing skills…

until I hit one out of the ballpark!  bfb5b5cf1817b81725091347991476b8

And when I finally get that call…

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all that training and practice and diligence will have paid off! your-a-good-man-charlie-brown-baseball-game-youtube-o3Vo6x-clipart

 

Special thanks to Charles M. Schulz, creator of the Peanuts characters, for his wisdom, creativity, inspiration, and many years of humor.

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16 Feb

photo-26It’s a common enough question. One I’ve asked children countless times… at the end of the day while we waited for dismissal and around the dinner table when the conversation was lagging. I was just asked this question myself at our local SCBWI meeting after my trip to New York for the national winter conference. I answered with a few of the ‘big ideas’ I’d garnered, but here I’d like to share more general observations.

Let me begin by saying this was my first national conference and I was quite awestruck. I had attended several regional conferences before this one, but I quickly learned that a national conference is much more overwhelming than the regional conferences. I did my best to soak in all the combined knowledge and talent surrounding me. I took copious notes, which I highly recommend. You know, you think you’re going to remember every syllable just to walk out the door and be in fan shock over seeing a ‘celebrity’ and completely forget everything you just heard. Not saying that happened to me. (Not saying it didn’t happen, just not saying it did.)

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I recommend you attend as many functions as possible. It’s not only beneficial but also economically sound. After all, we paid a lot of money to attend, why not squeeze every ounce of  the experience out of the opportunities afforded. This particular conference offered more than 30 workshops and 55 faculty members. (Read all the materials carefully before registering. Diligence is key in making your selections.) In addition to the workshops, there are keynote addresses, panel discussions, and various formal and informal gatherings. Take in as many of these as you can.

Have a plan. Know what you want to get out of this experience. Are there specific questions you’d like to have answered? What contacts do you especially want to make? Is there something new you’d like to try? Knowing what you want will help you focus your energy in the right direction. img_1446

Relax (if you can) and enjoy the ambiance. There are superstars all around you!  Make connections. You never know who is sitting next to you until you ask. I had lunch right next to Tomie dePaola and across from Jane Yolen. I listened to, and cried with, the multi-award winning illustrator, Bryan Collier   and got my picture taken with him. I ran into many Facebook friends and made new friends. No, you won’t get to see and talk to everyone (there were over 1000 participants this weekend), but you will get to meet some very interesting people.

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Take advantage of the opportunities to submit your work to agents and/or editors. This is one of the perks of attending a conference. Many of the editors in particular are closed to submissions except for these special circumstances. If you have something ready, do that immediately. The window of opportunity is small, don’t miss out. Be sure to research the recipient’s tastes and wish list before sending it out. Follow their guidelines to the letter. You don’t want to waste your time or theirs.

Enjoy yourself. No matter where you go, take in a local experience. In NYC I didn’t have time to do the  typical ‘tourist’ things, but I did ride the train and eat the cheesecake!

Half the Fun

10 Feb

Getting there is half the fun, right? RIGHT!

I never thought I’d get to an SCBWI national conference, but this year I took the plunge with my friend and writing partner, Jennifer.

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We departed on a bright sunny and unusually warm day in Ohio, knowing that nor’eastern Nico was predicted to hit that night. After our first sighting of a NYC road sign, we stopped for a celebratory DQ Blizzard. I named mine, Nico. Then I ate it!

We drove just more than halfway to make the next day’s drive easy. As we settled in for the night the snow fairies came, promising a blizzard of their own making.

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Luckily, we were prepared with an ice scraper, shovel, boots, and a de-icer.

Patting ourselves on the back we headed out. But our luck was short lived. We ran into a traffic jam sitting behind a long, long, long line of trucks. No one was moving. We crept along two miles of highway before being detoured off the road. Sadly, we weren’t the only ones having a slow start that day. A trucker had careened off the road, closing the highway, and on the exit ramp we saw another unfortunate trucker sidelined.  img_1362

Two hours later we were enjoying the views of a small riverside town. It was actually quite beautiful in the snow.

Once we got back on the highway and the rest of the trip was easy-breezy. Crossing the Hudson at dusk, I knew we had finally made it! img_1408

***

Now, fast forward 24 hours and I’m sitting in a cozy corner of the Ballroom level of the Grand Hyatt in New York City. Jennifer is engrossed in her intensive course she’d signed up for and I’m reflecting on my first day in the big apple. No, I didn’t go see the sights. Instead, I met a cousin I hadn’t seen since I was a very young girl. He brought me family photos and we talked and talked and talked! We spent several hours at one table and then moved into the restaurant for lunch and spent another couple of hours reminiscing and catching up on our new lives. fullsizerender

So until tomorrow, when I attend my first SCBWI Winter Conference, I know that getting here was half the fun!

Open Worlds, Open Minds

2 Feb

A picture book is a magical thing. It can entertain, educate, and persuade. It can make you to think, feel, and imagine.

Every year the writing community gets together and chooses the best of the best. These are the ones which are adorned with shiny stickers. These are the coveted titles. This year is no exception. Let’s take a look at the Caldecott winners of 2017.

Randolph Caldecott Medal Winner

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Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

Written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (son of John Steptoe, author of 1988’s Caldecott Honor winning Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters).

Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Art and story work together to inspire and delight readers.

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Caldecott Honor Books

27414464Leave Me Alone!

Written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol

Roaring Brook Press

Pure entertainment. Family relationships, wild animals, and space travel are knit into a rollicking story.

28250952Du Iz Tak?

Written and illustrated by Carson Ellis

Candlewick Press

A story of homes and relationships all told in a strange inventive language. Here, the artwork does the heavy lifting. Discovery and imagination blend with a healthy dose of nonsense.

28101612They All Saw A Cat

Written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

Chronicle Books

Questions what you see and what you think you see. It’s all about perception and understanding truth from individual viewpoints.

25785628Freedom in Congo Square

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie

Illustrated by Freddie Williams Evans

Little Bee Books

Historically accurate account of slave and free blacks in New Orleans told in lyrical language depicting the soul of humanity.

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