Tag Archives: illustrators

Books By The Banks, 2017

12 Nov

Every year along the banks of the Ohio River, Cincinnati hosts a huge book festival. Well actually, it’s downtown in the convention center, so it’s literally closer to banking institutions than to the river banks, nevertheless it’s an event you can bank on every year! And every year, I meet more new and wonderful people – authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, parents, kids, friends, volunteers.

This year I attended a panel of ‘authorstrators’, author/illustrators. These talented people both write and illustrate. I was inspired by Loren Long, Rafel Lopez, Ben Clanton, and Amanda Driscoll. Look at this small sample of their work. Amazing!

Each artist has his/her distinct style. Without looking at the names or even knowing the artists, I’m sure you could group these books into four piles based solely on the art. These books present readers both windows and mirrors to see themselves and others in literature. Of the many things discussed, I think the key message is to be fresh, different, unique, and true to yourself.

I was particularly in awe meeting Rafel Lopez. He spent several minutes talking with me even though there were other people in line waiting to meet him. We discussed his work, and the importance of bringing diverse books into the world. He chuckled with me at the trouble I sometimes have convincing people I am spanish because I don’t fit their stereotype. And he encouraged me to continue writing and submitting. “There is a place for all our work,” he told me. I will treasure my copy of Maybe Something Beautiful which he autographed for me.

 

And then, I had the pleasure of listening to the award winning author and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Kate di Camillo speak. I just wanted to curl up and never leave her funny, warm, human spirit. She spoke directly to my writer’s heart and my reader’s soul. She talked about connections, about making connections with the world around you and writing toward the connections with others. She also talked about keeping everything open so you don’t miss a thing. Keep your eyes and ears open. Keep your heart and mind open. Keep your brain open. Allow creativity to find you and inspire you to write, or draw, or dance, or sing, or do whatever it is that connects you to the world outside yourself.

 

Even though the line was looooooooong, she took a moment to look up and smile for each and every fan wanting a picture taken with her. What a genuine kind person she is!

 

And last, but not least, I took a few minutes to stop by the bookmobile parked outside the front doors of the convention center. Actually, the bookmobile is part of my former school district and I wanted to pop in and say ‘HI’ to the wonderful folks who work tirelessly to put books into kids’ hands. There is no checkout system. Kids are free to browse the shelves, sit and read, and take home any book that speaks to them. They don’t even have to live in our district. Our librarian was calling out to families passing by, “Come on in. Pick a book to take home.” And they did. They climbed up the steps to the brightly painted, remodeled school bus, designed by nationally renown author/illustrator Loren Long, into the inviting reading space filled with books, stuffed animals, cushioned benches, and friendly faces of Princeton City School employees. My heart was bursting to see the happiness a few pages could bring to those kids and their parents.

If you have any gently loved children’s books laying about the house, please consider a donation to this or many other organizations in your neighborhood.

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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.

 

Franklin IN Conference: Tricks and Treats of the Trade

14 Nov

October brought gorgeous leaf color on a beautiful college campus. The Franklin Writing Conference was a one day intimate gathering for authors and illustrators. About fifty SCBWI participants joined a four panel faculty for a day of learning and camaraderie.

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Pictured from left to right. Jennifer Zivoin, illustrator of multiple picture books and early readers including Big Red and the Little Bitty Wolf (Jeanie Franz Randsom); Andrea Hall, editor at Albert Whitman; Shannon Baunach Anderson, author of several children’s books including Penelope Perfect and Coasting Casey;  Tina Purcell Schwartz, founding agent of The Purcell Agency.

First of all, I was super excited to meet my agent Tina Schwartz in person! Although we have communicated through email, text messages, and Face Time, it was great to have dinner with her and chat informally.

Secondly, I made a connection with Andrea Hall who is reviewing one of my stories for publication. Fingers crossed!

Thirdly, I met up with Facebook connections Kathryn Powers and Teresa Robeson. Both lovely ladies and talented illustrators.

And last, but not least, I spent quality time with one of my critique partners, Emmie Warner. We carpooled, shared a room, and supported each other through our second conference together. Thanks Emmie!

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My Top 10 Tricks and Treats of the Trade:

(in no particular order)

Be prepared to meet agents and editors with your best work. Have it polished and shined to a sparkle. And lead with your strongest work.

Research submission guidelines and follow then to the letter. Do not make the mistake of losing your masterpiece in the rejection box because you failed to follow directions.

Do your own market research before submitting. Know where your work fits on the shelf. What are some similar titles? How does yours stand out?

Take revisions seriously. If your agent or editor asks for revisions, consider what isn’t working and how to improve it. Don’t rush your revisions, it’s not intended to be a quick fix.

Use market guides such as The Book Markets for Children’s Writers, Writer’s Market Guide, and Children’s Writers and Illustrators to find agents and editors who are the best fit for your work.

Don’t take rejections personally. There are many reasons why an agent or editor may pass on your work which may be more due to their own needs and wants rather than your talent.

Your characters need to visually carry your story (picture books). Let your characters distinguish themselves.

Focus on creating visual movement between scenes.

Work with peers to polish your work. Be open to constructive criticism. It’s easier to swallow a ‘no, that doesn’t work’ from your writing partners than it is to get a ‘no, that doesn’t work’ from an agent or editor.

If something isn’t working, keep trying.    Revise.    Resubmit.   Repeat.

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.

 

2015 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.

2. 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!

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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!

6. 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!

7. 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.

8. 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!

9. 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!

10. 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!

 

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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