Tag Archives: picture books

30 Seconds

11 Feb

I’ve long said that picture books are the commercials of novel writing, meaning that like TV commercials picture books tell a complete story in a short amount of time.

I ran across this marketing article which provided more information on why shorter is often better.

Super Bowl Ads Were Short This Year: Here’s Why That Worked

 

In it (an ironic 10min read), the author @PamelaBump reports that ads of 30 seconds or less have become the norm. As a picture book writer this grabbed my attention. And so I began reading it with an author’s eye, finding similarities between these successful commericials and picture books.

Here are a few things I noticed:

  • “These brands also had to create content that would memorably stand out in a chaotic stream of other insanely high-priced ads.”

A picture book manuscript must also stand out in the crowd. Agents and Editors receive hundreds of submissions monthly (some daily). Therefore they have to be very discerning, because when it comes right down to it their audience is also very discerning and not willing to part with less than $20 for a book that doesn’t stand the test of time.

  • “Even if you’re highly skilled in creating videos that are 30-seconds or less, you might also worry about the research-backed fact that the average viewer only pays attention to online content for eight to 12 seconds.”

Eight to Twelve Seconds! I’m assuming this is the scrolling attention span, but nonetheless… wowzers! In the picture book world these are the adults. The gatekeepers. So almost at a glance a decision will be made to pick up and read the whole 32 pages. This is also true of the intended audience 4-8 year olds!

“This year, while many brands that bought Super Bowl ad slots of 30 seconds or less relied on quick celebrity cameos, extreme stunts, nonsensical humor, and insanely expensive special effects to grab attention, some companies actually delivered bite-sized commercials that boosted brand awareness with clever, informative, or incredibly memorable storylines.”

I’ve noticed an increase in ‘celebrity’ authors, as opposed to celebrity authors, authors who have become celebrities through their volume of work. Pop stars, Hollywood stars, Political Stars etc. bring instant name recognition to a project and exposure that even well known authors can not. Celebrity authors may not have the staying power of kid lit authors, but they bring in quick cash. And after all, publishing is a business. Additionally, picture books rely on many of the same devices employed by the 30 second ads… nonsensical humor, special effects, clever, informative, or memorable storylines.

Pamela Bump went on to showcase seven successful Super Bowl ads from this year. You can read the full descriptions in her article. Paraphrasing Bump, I’m going to mash up the commercial with a writing tip.

  1. Hulu: Tom Brady’s Big Announcement … suprise ending! Just when you think you have the story figured out… surprise!
  2. Mountain Dew: As Good As The Original? Spoof the nostalgic. Convince the skeptic that the new is better than the classic. To do this well, you have to know the classics first. Read widely. Read currently. Read classically
  3. Olay: #MakeSpaceForWomen Poke fun at outdated stereotypes. #empowerment is more than just a hashtag. Empower children to be more, be better, be themselves.
  4. Cheetos: MC Hammer Where It All Began Unseen moment in history… tell an interesting story that no one’s heard before (even if it’s not true). Historical fiction plays a big role here.
  5. Weather Tech: Lucky Dog Tell a story you are passionate about. Find your passion. Write your passion. Share your passion. You might be surprised to learn that others have the same passions.
  6. Pop Tart Fixes the Pretzel Innovation. Revitalize a traditional problem/solution (or any other) format. Use humor, satire, wit to your advantage. When writing, ask yourself… is there another way?  Dig deep. Don’t settle on the first or second, or even the fifth idea. The best ideas are the ones no one’s done before.
  7. Planters: Baby Nut Bizarreness makes it memorable. Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb! Go with it. Get crazy. Let your inner muse play.

 

Now that you’ve finished your masterpiece, will your manuscript pass the 30 second test? Work on your pitch. Polish that query. Remember you only have 30 seconds to impress an agent or editor and make that sale!

 

Celebrating the First Moon Walk

15 Jul

*Note: No, you are not seeing double! This post was intended to be a page under my newest heading, 5 Star Picture Books. Because I had trouble converting it to a page, I have rewritten it. It is now entitled 50 Years Later. you can find it under 5 Star Picture Books. And now there are two! (And, PS thanks for reading my posts!)

July 20, 2019 is the 50th Anniversary of the First Moon Walk. Learn more and see actual footage of the first steps and raising of the flag on the NASA site. Let’s celebrate this historic event with a pair of picture books published this year.

The Astronaut Who Painted the Moon
written by Dean Robbins
illustrated by Sean Rubin
Orchard Books, May 2019

First let’s look at a traditional non-fiction book. This is the story of a NASA astronaut Alan Bean, the fourth person to walk on the moon. Alan was so inspired by this event that he wanted to paint his impressions of the moon so that others could feel the magnitude of his feelings rather than the just the gray rock and dust associated with the moon. His paintings are bright, bold, and breathtaking. He experimented with them, creating even more authenticity. He sprinkled them with moon dust, scratched them with tools he’d used on the moon, and stamped them with astronaut boots. Below is a copy of his painting The Spirit of Apollo.


It is my dream that on the wings of my paintbrush many people will see what I say and feel what I felt, walking on another world some 240,000 miles from my studio here on planet Earth.” -Alan Bean

************************************************************************

Moon’s First Friends
written by Susanna Leonard Hill
illustrated by Elisa Paganelli
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, May 2019

Our second book is a non-traditional non-fiction. This is the story of an anthropomorphic moon who talks to the reader about being lonely and wishing for a friend to visit her. Although she is the queen of the night sky, no one came to see her. She first asks the dinosaurs to visit but they stayed on earth. Then she asks other animals and then humans. Finally, she sees people making attempts to visit her. She is excited at the prospect but still has to wait for many years until man is able to send a rocket ship into space and land on her surface. She shares in the men’s wonder giving them rocks and dust to take home and they leave her a plaque, a flag, and many many footprints to remember them by.

Although this story is told by the moon it includes historic and scientific information. There is also back matter giving factual details about the first moon landing, the phases of the moon, facts about the moon, photos of the first astronauts, and a timeline beginning 4.6 billion years ago with the Hadean Era to the present Cenozoic Era, and detailed information about each stage of rocket ship which took the first men to the moon. And, if that wasn’t enough… you can download a scanner reader to your phone and listen to the Apollo 11 liftoff and the first words spoken on the moon!

Apollo 11 Plaque Left on the Moon

Closeup view of the plaque which the Apollo 11 astronauts left behind on the moon. The plaque is made of stainless steel measuring nine by seven and five-eighths inches, and one-sixteenth inch thick. The plaque was attached to the ladder on the landing gear strut on the descent stage of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module. During flight , the plaque was covered with a thin sheet of stainless steel that was removed on the lunar surface. -NASA

“HERE MEN FROM THE PLANET EARTH FIRST SET FOOT UPON THE MOON

JULY 1969, A. D.

WE CAME IN PEACE FOR ALL MANKIND”

Energy Enthusiasm Excitement

2 Dec

IMG_7342 copy

Energy. Enthusiasm. Excitement. These three words perfectly describe Sherri Duskey Rinker, author of the Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site series and several other books for young people.

Sherri must have been exhausted, she had already had two school visits that day. Yet here she came, eager to meet more fans.

Hosted by The Blue Manatee Bookstore she was here to talk to her audience… a loud rambunctious crowd to say the least. And talk she did. To them. On their level. Matching their energy, enthusiasm, and excitement note for note.

 

IMG_7346 copy            IMG_7347 copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sherri asked them questions, responded to their questions (and sometimes off-topic comments), and told them stories about herself. And of course she read her newest book, Construction Site on Christmas Night.

IMG_7351

Every eye was focused on the book. Every ear was tuned into the story.  She totally had these kids… mind, body, and spirit. I was in awe of her.

On the way to dinner, I asked my granddaughters what they liked the best. The six year old liked Sherri’s story about her sons. She even compared them to herself and her sister, saying that she goes right to sleep after her stories but that her sister does not. And she liked that the author wrote all their names in the book. The three year old said she wanted chicken nuggets and fries, but not the orange fries her mommy gave her the other day… those were yucky. Yep, even my own prodigy can be off-topic at times!

Thanks for coming to Cincinnati, Sherri! So glad I got to meet you in real life! me and sherry

 

Off topic post script: Orange fries are NOT yucky. Mommy is right, they’re better for you than regular french fries.

 

 

A Moment in Time

12 Apr

35631584Today’s moment was when David Wiesner, three time Caldecott Award winner, spoke to a group of fans. He shared his perspective on writing and illustrating. And, he took us through the process of writing his newest picture book, I GOT IT!  Like many stories, I GOT IT! focuses on one moment in time which is stretched out across 32 pages. Pulled from his boyhood memories of playing baseball in the neighbor’s back yard, David illustrated the actual and imagined circumstances surrounding the moment when the smallest outfielder is confronted with a fly ball.

138069Of course I picked up my own copy of I GOT IT! as well as a new copy of THE THREE PIGS. Along with most of my picture books, this one was left to a new teacher when I retired. But how many times do I have the opportunity to own a signed Caldecott Award winning picture book? Answer: Four to date.

 

(Another thing I learned is that a Caldecott Award winning autograph does not have to be legible, It’s a good thing the artwork is so fierce.)

IMG_1262

 

Among the many fans in attendance were three legendary Cincinnati illustrators, who agreed to stand for a photo. From left to right: Loren Long, David Wiesner, Will Hillenbrand, and C.F. Payne.

IMG_1258

 

Thanks to Joseph-Beth Booksellers for bringing another amazing author and illustrator to Cincinnati.  Look up some of David’s other picture books in your local bookstore.

 

 

Oh yeah, and that moment when I got my picture taken with David Wiesner!IMG_1261

 

When Your Llama Needs a Haircut

27 Jan

 

35297326

 

When Your Llama Needs A Haircut

Written by Susanna Leonard  Hill

Illustrated by Daniel Wiseman

Published January, 2018 by Little Simon Books

Upcoming school pictures + reluctant llama = hilarious hairy situations.

Goodreads Review 

 

Remember that time your mom cut your hair? Yeah, me too… and then the time I gave myself a home perm, YIKES! But this delightful picture book will help you see the humor in hair disasters.

Realistically, does a llama need a haircut? Well I did a little google search and guess what I found… some pretty awful llama hairstyles.

 

 

So if you’ve got a llama in need of a haircut, please research all the possibilities before venturing into the barbering trade. And definitely don’t demonstrate on yourself first, especially not the night before school picture day!

 

 

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)

20708780

written and illustrated by Sue Heap (Candlewick, 2014)

10196305

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

2082951

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

obj751geo789pg4p17

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.

 

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

18552623

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.

***

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.

2016 Christmas Picture Books

17 Dec

I spent a magical morning reading more than a dozen new Christmas picture books. Three were religious in nature the rest secular, and one was a Christmas/Hanukkah combo story.  All were published this year.

fullsizerender

Although this is not a comprehensive list of the new Christmas titles, these are the ones I was able to get from my local library. In this collection, I found a few new favorites. They are listed alphabetically by the author’s last name.

*****

26263592

A Night of Great Joy

written and illustrated by Mary Englebreit

Zonderkidz, 2016

Sweet rendition of the biblical Christmas story. The children set the stage and put on the play of the first Christmas. Cute pictures showing how young children might put on a simple production of the Christmas story.

*****

28588172

The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold

written by Mareen Fergus and illustrated by Cale Atkinson

Tundra Books, 2016

Love this new twist on the old ‘I don’t believe in Santa anymore’ syndrome. This time it’s Santa who doesn’t believe… in Harold. He’s discovered that it’s Harold’s mom who writes the letters and Harold’s dad who puts out the milk and cookies. And at Harold’s house, Harold has a few doubts of his own. On Christmas Eve, they both decide to wait up and see if the other is really real. Funny. Sweet. And definitely believable!

*****

29005900

Santa’s Underwear

written by Marty Rhodes Figley and illustrated by Marty Kelley

Sleeping Bear Press, 2016

Is there anything funnier than underwear? Santa can’t find his special Christmas long johns. He can’t get dressed until he does. Kids will love watching Santa try on all his other pair of underwear. But none of them will do. Finally, Santa finds a special gift from the reindeer… a new pair of long johns as bright as Rudloph’s nose!

*****

28686978The Christmas Fox

written and illustrated by Anik McGary

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016

Lovely story and artwork. All the other animals invite Little Fox to go meet the new baby but Little Fox is too busy playing in the snow. The other animals have gifts to bring the baby and Little Fox doesn’t believe he has a gift. But when he decides to go he brings the his joy and the baby smiles!

*****

28687144

The Biggest Smallest Christmas Present

written and illustrated by Harriet Muncaster

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2016

Tiny story that packs a big punch! Clementine is small, very small. She doesn’t think Santa knows how tiny she is because he brings her gifts that are too big. So she sets about to let him know her actual size. Then one year he brings her the biggest gift of all… a giant dollhouse… just perfect for Clementine!

*****

28687145

Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree

written and illustrated by Lori Nichols

Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016

Sisters Maple and Willow spend the day choosing just the right Christmas tree. It’s the best tree in the world, but Maple is allergic. The tree ends up outside and both girls are disappointed. Then in the middle of the night, Willow gets a great idea. She gets up and decorates a most unusual ‘tree’ in their living room.

*****

1762447The Christmas Boot

written by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Michael Glean Monroe

Mitten Press, 2016

Beautiful book! Artwork and story work together to tell a wonderful tale of Christmas magic. A lonely old woman finds a single boot in the snow. The one boot becomes two and soon she has everything she needs and more, until the owner of the boot returns. He takes his boot but gives her exactly what she needs.

*****

Run out to your bookstore or library and find a few new favorites of your own.

Merry Christmas and Happy Reading!

 

 

 

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.

14883588_1830040850605256_1964848478675598119_o

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!

14917185_1830039387272069_5228659371532242119_o

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.

Author, Author!

20 Oct

This has been an exceptional month in author visits for me. In the past four weeks I have met and learned from three of the best in the industry. Conventional wisdom dictates that that aspiring authors read, study, and write in the genre they want to learn. For me, one of the best ways to learn has always been to go directly to the source, in this case the authors.

Lisa Yee visited the Joseph Beth Bookstore on September 21st. Lisa writes primarily in the Middle Grade/Young Adult genres. She is funny, witty, and full of life lessons. And her books mirror that. Although MG/YA is on the older end of the kidlit spectrum, there are many crossover skills for the picture book writer as well. Know your audience. Immerse yourself in their language, struggles, and joys. Identify what makes them tick. Give them what they need. Lisa’s new DC Super Hero series does all of that and more. Personally, my favorite things about her are her past Disney life and her huge Winnie-the-Pooh collection.

 

 

Pat Zietlow Miller was in Cincinnati for school visits on October 4th sponsored by The Blue Manatee BookstoreI was lucky enough to meet up with her and bookseller, Alia Jonesfor dinner downtown on Fountain Square the night before her school events. We had a great time together. We introduced her to Graeter’s Ice Cream and I got my squash signed, so win-win! Pat is the author of five picture books. I met Pat last spring at an SCBWI conference in Chicago. She is a wonderful speaker and an amazing person. Her first book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH, has a sequel which just came out this fall SOPHIE’S SQUASH GOES TO SCHOOL. Pat knows what it takes to be a friend and her children’s books resound with the message of friendship and dreams. Another one of my favorite Pat Z. Miller books is WHEREVER YOU GO. The positive message is so Pat!

 

Jacqueline Woodson is an author, poet, and winner of a the Caldecott Medal, a Newbery Honor Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and an ALA Notable Award  in addition to many others. I was lucky enough to meet Jacqueline at Joseph-Beth this week on the 18th where she was talking about last year’s award winning BROWN GIRL DREAMING and her newest book ANOTHER BROOKLYN. Jacqueline is also the author of several picture books which I adore, one of my favorite being THE OTHER SIDE. Listening to her read and speak is such a joy. If you haven’t had the chance to hear her, you really need to treat yourself to a copy of her audiobook. The biggest piece of advice I took away from Jacqueline’s presentation is to empower yourself. 

 

So, off I go. With Lisa’s Supergirl, Pat’s Squash, and Jacqueline’s Brown Girl Dreaming I am fortified to take on my challenges and write, write, write. See you soon!

 

Hispanic Heritage Month

4 Oct

Thirty days between September 15th and October 15 are dedicated as National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States and are observed in North and South America. It was first established as a one week period by President Lyndon Johnson and later expanded to a one month period by President Ronald Reagan.

Follow this link to a Calendar of Events for 2016.

“September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month
The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of Hispanic Americans who have positively influenced and enriched our nation and society.”

The celebrations began with a recital played on a spanish guitar commemorating the 400th anniversary of the death of spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote.

So I thought it was only fitting that I share some of my favorite recently published picture books celebrating hispanic heritage. Pick up a few to share with your favorite niños.

 

MARTA BIG AND SMALL (Roaring Brook Press, 2016) Jen Arena and Angela Dominguez seamlessly name animals and their characteristics in both english and spanish as Marta compares herself to the jungle animals.

OLINGUITO, DE LA A A LA Z, FROM A TO Z! (Children’s Book Press, 2016) Lulu Delacre speaks first in spanish then in english as she takes the reader in search of the newest mammal discovered in the Andes rainforest, the olinguito.

FLUTTER AND HUM (Henry Holt and Company, 2015) Julie Paschkis delights us with her art and poetry. Enjoy this collection of animal poems in both english and spanish.

MANGO, ABUELA, AND ME (Candlewick, 2015) Meg Medina and Angela Dominguez tell a lovely story about the relationship between Mia and her abuela who learn to speak each other’s language.

MAYA’S BLANKET  (Children’s Book Press, 2015) Monica Brown and David Diaz wrap you up in the magical blanket Maya’s abuelita made for her when she was a baby. As she grows the blanket frays and becomes different articles of clothing until the last remaining piece is the story.

 

 

 

 

 

Persistence with Miranda Paul

13 Aug

 

headshot_mirandapaul_front

I met children’s author Miranda Paul at the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference last year when she sprang unannounced into my hotel room with her famously infectious laugh and we became fast friends.  We already knew each other through Facebook and we had promised to meet up and get to know each other better at the conference. You can learn more about Miranda too at her website, MirandaPaul.com.

Miranda is the author of several picture books available on Kindle, but she didn’t become well-known until her first traditionally published picture book, One Plastic Bag (2015) made international news. Since then, Miranda has published four other picture books and has another two scheduled for publication next year.

Coming Soon:

Blobfish Throws a Party – illus. Maggie Caton
Are We Pears Yet? – illus. Carin Berger

And now on the cusp of the publication of her newest picture book, 10 Little Ninjas, I have the pleasure of interviewing Miranda about writing and persistence. Miranda answered all my questions thoughtfully and completely. I’m excited to share her insights with you too!

ME: As a former educator, I’m always interested in author’s previous professional lives. What can you tell us about yourself before you became a world famous author? How did this help your writing career? What non-writing experience was the most influential in your writing success?

MIRANDA: To answer your first question, I’ll tell you what I tell kids in many school visits—and in the back matter of my book Whose Hands Are These?—that I’ve had many different jobs, and that’s OK. I’ve been a teacher, a store cashier, a volunteer zookeeper, and more. I think every experience helps my writing career, because there’s no replacement for tapping into a personal memory. Exposure to something new or learning a skill outside the writing subset expands your bubble.
To answer the last question, it’s hard to say what non-writing experience has been the most influential. Participating in drama and theatre taught me how to take criticism and direction. I learned the importance of working collaboratively with others toward a final, polished production. I often hear from writers how much they fear “not having control” of their book (or illustrations) when traditionally publishing. I’ve never met Nate Wragg, illustrator for 10 Little Ninjas, and it’s Karen Greenberg’s first acquisition for Knopf Books for Young Readers. Yet through trusting them (and so many others at Penguin Random House), the book has become an Amazon Best Book of the Month for August and was reviewed in School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly. Learning to trust and honor the expertise of other creatives was something I didn’t have to overcome. I have professionals such as April Deming and Michael Tolaydo to thank, because they taught me these lessons and more.

ME: Have you found a difference in being accepted inside or outside of your own community? (Do people see you differently based on how long or in what capacity they knew you before you became a writer?)

MIRANDA: I’m not really sure how to answer this. People are always longing for acceptance in some capacity, especially young people. But gaining acceptance from peers or the community isn’t why I write. I’ve always loved writing, and have always done it. In fact, being a kid who liked to write poems or stories until 2 a.m. often made me feel quite different, the opposite of someone who’s accepted, you know?

ME: What specific obstacles did you face while working on becoming a published author?

MIRANDA: Oh, there are many. And I know other authors who have overcome much greater odds. There’s balancing family life (not unlike dad and the sensei in 10 Little Ninjas!), and there’s rejections of course. My newest book, 10 Little Ninjas, was rejected multiple times—even by my own agent at first—and once turned down after being rewritten three times for the same house. But there’s one obstacle bigger than rejections—the obstacle of yourself. We doubt our abilities, we keep our work to ourselves in fear that it’s not good enough. Once I learned to take myself seriously, I found momentum. Momentum is huge.

ME: How do you manage your professional time, especially in terms of speaking engagements?

MIRANDA: I have really large calendars, and a couple of people who help me keep things straight. Recently, I’ve had to turn down a few requests, which breaks my heart, because if there’s a teacher or group of kids or festival that invites me, the person inside is saying “YES! YES! YES!” But the calendar is saying, “Think again, Sister.” So, I let the calendar rule my life to keep some sense of order.

ME: Have you ever had an idea that just didn’t gel? What do you do with these gems?

MIRANDA: All the time. One of my first picture book manuscripts, for example, which I tried pitching at a conference once, was an inanimate-talking-object story with a holiday and religious twist. With a moral! Sometimes, stories need to be tucked away, or saved for family. Other times, an idea isn’t quite ready to be developed. I keep an idea notebook where I write them all down. I will never, ever run out of things to write about. The best ideas find me, and keep nagging until I can’t not write them. Like my new one about inanimate talking objects written in all dialogue, coming out in 2017 called Are We Pears Yet? (Ha! Never say never when it comes to breaking the writing rules!). It’s illustrated by Carin Berger and published by Neal Porter Books.

ME: What would you say is the major hurdle to traditional publication?

MIRANDA: For me, it was first realizing this career was even a possibility, and then deciding to go for it. I’d written my whole life, but never knew much about getting a book published or really made it a goal. Another hurdle was then getting my work out there, on submission, because I never considered it “ready.” I’m a natural editor; I tinker with manuscripts for years and still might not consider it done. The work could always be better, I think. I can’t say what the major hurdle is for other people. I often hear from people who have an idea but haven’t actually started writing, let alone revising. Finishing something is a lot of work, especially when the perception is that writing for kids is easy or fun or a hobby. I’m grateful for my B.A. in English every single day, but even more grateful for not allowing myself to get too distracted by building a platform, marketing, etc. before I’d even built a large body of work.

ME: What other writing experiences have you undertaken?

MIRANDA: I’ve written a YA novel, a screenplay, hundreds of poems, and have freelanced for newspapers, magazines, and even app/game companies. I’ve taught writing, and continue to teach workshops when I can. There’s very little I haven’t done, and I think that helps me improve and grow as a writer.

ME: What plans do you have for your future self?

MIRANDA: Keep on keeping on, mostly. I am collaborating with my husband, Baptiste Paul, on a few manuscripts that we’re very excited about.

ME: What advice would you give aspiring authors?

MIRANDA: In the words of Roxette, “Listen to your heart.”

I love the quote! Thanks for interview Miranda. Let’s wrap this up with one last bonus question.

ME: What one worthwhile question have you NEVER been asked? (And what’s the answer to that question?)

MIRANDA: I don’t often get asked about my favorite desserts. They are (in order): tiramisu, chocolate-covered strawberries, and Special K bars.

And for those of you who want to follow Miranda on social media, you can find her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.  

 

 

 

Classic Remake

3 Jul

 

Many folks remake classic stories, fairy tales, and songs. Last year I wrote a little story to go along with the classic Who Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar song and hand play kids love. I took it to a new critique group last month to get a new perspective on it. Lo and behold, one of my critique partners had just read something similar to her preschooler that week! At first I was bummed, it’s been done. But then I got a copy of the book she read, Who Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar? written by Bonnie Lass and Philemon Sturges and illustrated by Ashley Wolff.

614330The story is clever and the artwork adorable! Skunk finds the cookie jar empty and begins the search for who took the cookies. With only a trail of cookies crumbs to follow, Skunk begins the search. On each page Skunk finds a clue leading her to believe she knows the culprit with the refrain kids will join in saying, “Mmm…Oh! Now I know…”. But each guess is incorrect and the accused has a catchy little rhyme explaining why it isn’t them. Eventually the trail of cookie crumbs leads to the guilty party. Luckily there’s plenty of cookies left and everybody shares in the cookie feast!

I’m so glad I didn’t give up without reading the book. First of all, I love finding new and wonderful children’s literature to share with my family and friends. Secondly, I can see that this has genuine kid appeal. Thirdly, although both my story and this one are based on the same premise, I believe mine is different enough to be unique in the market. (fingers crossed) And, bonus… this version was published in the year 2000, so I figure it’s been long enough between stories to hit a new generation or two of young readers. (toes crossed) Now I just have to convince my agent and future editor!

 

 

 

 

 

How I Got My Agent

5 May

 

13173167_1738334903109185_4994021390821935602_o

I am so thrilled to finally have this story to tell! It’s the one every writer yearns to tell. It’s the one that’s unique to every writer.

This one is mine.

After three years of writing and submitting to agents, I finally broke through the barrier. You know, the one between being someone who writes and being a writer with an agent.

I did a lot of the usual things aspiring authors do. I joined SCBWI. I continue to go to monthly meetings. I have attended several state and regional conferences and workshops.  I took online classes and webinars. I started three different critique groups specifically for picture book writers, two of which are still active. I joined several online writing groups. I became an administrator in one of those groups, the Debut Picture Book Study Group. I am active on several social media sites.  I purchased and devoured how-to books. And I got to know my local librarians and bookstore owners on a personal basis. I read, read, read picture books.

In short, I did everything I could to learn the craft.

And of course, I did my best to write good stories and submit to agents who were taking on new clients in my genre.

But I also did my best to make connections in the writing community. It was one of these fortunate connections which ultimately led to signing with my agent, Tina Schwartz of The Purcell Agency. I met Tina during a webinar on Writing Queries. We hit it off right away and I began working as her Literary Assistant. Tina was interested in my work. The first story I subbed to her was rejected, but the second pitch was a hit! She called me on Wednesday morning and made a verbal offer of representation. We spoke for a long time and she emailed a standard contract. Luckily for me, my son is an attorney so I emailed the contract to him for a quick look-see and an explanation of some terms of ‘legalese’.

The very next day I was on my way to Chicago for a writing conference. I was so crazy over the moon I could barely stay in my lane! My friend and critique partner (and passenger) was almost as excited as I was. And being the sweetheart that she is, she reread every single workshop and discussion offered as I drove  pondering which alternate sessions to attend in light of my new circumstances. We memorized the names of agents/agencies and editors/publishing houses we wanted to meet that weekend. I’m so happy we had decided to take the shoulder days on the conference. This extra evening gave me the opportunity to better prepare myself without feeling rushed the morning of the conference with new concerns in addition to a 5 hour drive. Then we focused on having fun and learning as much as we could. It was actually a nice reprieve from the constant preoccupation of possible representation. If my brain wasn’t overstimulated before the conference, it certainly was afterwards.

In the meantime, my son had redlined the contract with a few suggestions and I made a list of questions, questions, and more questions I wanted to ask Tina. (Remember those shoulder days? We stayed Sunday evening, had dinner with new friends and didn’t head home until Monday morning.) Monday, I relaxed, reviewed notes, discussed it with my son and husband and I called her on Tuesday morning with my inquires. We spoke for almost an hour, something I appreciate in an agent. She was very patient with me and answered all my questions and concerns. We negotiated the terms of the contract, and Tina re-mailed it on the spot. I printed it out. Signed. Returned a scanned copy. And celebrated!

Now, Wednesday again. One week after the initial phone call, Tina emailed me again. She has sent my manuscript to five publishing houses, houses I would not have been able to get into without an agent.

Unreal! I’m still pinching myself!

 

 

 

 

 

Grandma is a Slowpoke

21 Mar

27036636Grandma is a Slowpoke

written by Janet Halfmann

illustrated by Michele Coxon

Star Bright Books, February 2016

Grandma and granddaughter go out for a walk. Grandma points out interesting things along the way, a squirrel’s nest, bathing ducks, a rabbit family, and more. Although the girl repeatedly complains that Grandma is a slowpoke, she soon starts to see things Grandma’s way. By the end of the story, the girl is not in such a big hurry to get home. Grandma agrees to stay until the fireflies come out.

One of the perks of writing book reviews is finding new stories that I might have never seen otherwise. This is one of those hidden treasures. My library system has several of Janet Halfmann’s other books, but it has not acquired this title yet. I was able to get a copy from the author herself.

When I read this book, I had an immediate connection to the grandma in the story. It was the slow-paced comforting tone of the book which drew me into the story. And the sweet granddaughter who appreciated the time spent with her grandma won me over. This is one for the family read aloud.

And teachers, pick up a copy of this one when you’re gathering your collection of books for Grandparents’ Day (September 11th) or whenever your class invites grandparents to visit. Maybe invite grandparents in for a special nature walk to a local park. Have a scavenger hunt or if the park is too far away provide twigs and leaves for a natural art project they can do together. Serve fresh veggies and lemonade to end your day.

However you choose to extend the story life of the book, be sure to help your little ones make that connection between the love of reading and their older family members.

Slow down and enjoy your day!

%d bloggers like this: