holidaygifts-1

Once again it’s time for Santa to load up his sleigh—and good little writers everywhere will be hoping to discover inspiration in their stockings. These are the lovely trinkets, thingamabobs and tasty tidbits I’ve found that may tickle the fancy of that children’s writer you know (wink, wink, that’s you). I’ve also asked kidlit friends to suggest gifts. Plus, please feel free to leave a comment with your own holiday picks. Also remember there are many more selections on my Things Writers Like Pinterest board.

Of course, I wish publishing contracts for you all!

You get a book, YOU get a book, YOU ALL GET A BOOK!!!

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BUILD-ON-BRICK MUG
selected by Tara

brickmug

Available via ThinkGeek

Every writer needs a good cuppa while they’re compiling their next masterpiece. A morning chai allows me to think through what I want to accomplish for the day. Taking time to stop and ponder before committing pen to paper is always a good idea. I confess to playing a daily game or puzzle in the AM to get the gears moving. So I find this playful mug serves a dual purpose—delivering a dose of caffeine while also jump-starting the creative cogwheels.

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TYPEWRITER DESK ACCESSORIES
selected by Tara
typewritercoaster

Available via LTD Commodities

I admit it, I’m a sucker for anything TYPEWRITER. Not wanting to leave a mug ring on the pristine, polished surface of my new desk, or on a new manuscript, this coaster set seemed like a perfect solution.

typebookends
Available via Wild Orchid

I’ll take a pair of these bookends, too. Yes, I am running the risk of overdosing on Underwoods.

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S’WELL BOTTLE
VEGAN ENGLISH TOFFEE
PILOT METROPOLITAN FOUNTAIN PEN
selected by the indecisive Deborah Underwood, author

swell veganenglishtoffee

pilotfountainpen

Available via Teavana, Chocolate Inspirations, and Goulet Pens

Speaking of Underwoods, Deborah is one kidlit author you could never overdose on.

Deborah says, “I have many loves, so this was a tough decision. Should I recommend the beautiful S’well bottle that keeps my coffee hot? Or the vegan English toffee from Chocolate Inspirations (arguably the best candy in the world)? Heaven knows writers need both coffee and chocolate to fuel our work and drown our rejection sorrows.

But no—Tara said only one item. (Ha! See what I did there?) So, because writing comes first, my pick is the Pilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen, medium nib, in black. It’s reasonably priced, it has a pleasing weight in the hand, and it makes me feel like I’ve stepped back in time to a slower-paced, more civil world. Go forth and create, elegantly!”

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FATBOY BEANBAG PILLOW
selected by Tara

fatboy

Available via hayneedle

When you need some R&R–rest and reading–the Fatboy provides a comfortable respite. This is not Greg Brady’s beanbag chair. Made in a variety of sizes, colors and nearly indestructible, washable materials, the Fatboy will shape up to be your favorite reading nook.

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ECHO SMARTPEN
selected by Tara

echosmartpen

Available via livescribe

This blog began when I decided to post my NJ-SCBWI notes online. I still take copious notes at every conference and writing event, and the Echo Smartpen is on my please-please-oh-please list because it records what you hear…and what you write…in-sync. So that doodle doohickey you cannot recognize? You will hear WHEN you scribbled it and it will make sense again. You could also talk to yourself while writing, as if you needed another reason for people to think you’re odd.

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ICEY DESIGNS JOURNALS, PENCILS, PINS
selected by Marcie Colleen, author & educational consultant

iceyjournal

Available via Icey Designs 

Marcie says, “It never fails, as soon as I proclaim to the heavens, *I do not need another journal,* along comes an Etsy shop like Icey Designs and I am hornswaggled. This shop is chockfull of amazing writerly gifts, including inspirational pocket journals and notepads reminding those who need it “To Thine Own Self Be True” and “Breathe.” While you are there, you have to check out the craft-inspired pencils–my favorite is the “Let the Madness Flow” pencil. I know I can relate to that! There are also adorable enamel pins. What Harry Potter fan wouldn’t want to wear “Mischief Managed” on their lapel? Bottomline, I can’t pick just one item from this fabulous store from designer and author, Hafsah Faizal. You can bet that when the business of writing gets me down I’m heading to Icey Designs for a little retail therapy and a reminder to “Live Wondrously” as their motto says.”

bookshappy

Tara says, woozy with whimsy, “The enamel pins!!!”

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JANSJO USB LED LAMP
selected by Tara

jansjo
Available via IKEA

I know I am partial to kitsch, so here’s something for the more pragmatic writer—a (an???) USB LED lamp. With the darker afternoons of winter, I need the extra light, especially when I am Skyping with a classroom. They can now see me and my jammies du jour. This smart and inexpensive little lamp stays in position and lights up the keyboard as well as your own fingertips do.

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DREW THE PENCIL LAMP
selected by Tara

drewthepencil

Available via GadgetFlow

See, I’m right back to kitsch. I adore this adorable lamp. Even the cord is a design feature–wind it any which way for an extra curlicue of quirk.

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WRITING CRAFT BOOKS
selected by Erin Murphy, literary agent

magicwords theheroisyou
Available wherever fine books are sold

Erin says, “My gift suggestion is (huge surprise) books! Every writer needs more books, and a gift certificate to a local indie is even better, so the writer can choose the books him or herself. But if you really want something with some heft for them to unwrap, you can’t go wrong with inspiration in the form of two outstanding books about craft and the writing life from two of the best editors in the children’s book business: Cheryl Klein’s THE MAGIC WORDS: WRITING GREAT BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS and Kendra Levin’s THE HERO IS YOU: SHARPEN YOUR FOCUS, CONQUER YOUR DEMONS, AND BECOME THE WRITER YOU WERE MEANT TO BE.”

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ROCK PAPER JOURNAL
selected by Tara

rockpaper

Available via Heart Stone Paper

At this spring’s NE-SCBWI conference, keynote speaker and NY Times bestselling author Wendy Mass confessed she likes to write in the bath. Knowing that could prove disastrous (and soggy) for a normal notebook, she told us she uses water-resistant, tear-resistant paper made from ROCKS. And then she gave everyone in attendance a rock paper journal. I was especially pleased because armed with my new notebook, I can now play Rock-Paper-Scissors FTW!

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MINI LIBRARY SCENTED TEA LIGHTS
selected by Tara

tealights

Available via Uncommon Goods

If you’re an avid writer, chances are you are a voracious reader. Your nose is always in a good book. Continue to take care of that nose with this set of ten scented tea lights inspired by classic novels.

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SISTER FOX’S FIELD GUIDE TO THE WRITING LIFE
BOOK SCARF
BANANAGRAMS

selected by Heidi Stemple & Jane Yolen, authors

sisterfoxfieldguide alicescarf

beachbanana

Available via Heidi StempleStoriarts and Serious Puzzles

Heidi says, “SISTER FOX’S GUIDE TO THE WRITING LIFE by Jane Yolen is a collection of poems about writing. Some funny, some poignant, all a call to get your BIC (butt in chair) and get writing. It’s not easy to get (as it is published in the UK) but, I have a supply to sell from our office ($20 includes shipping and autograph—be sure to include a name; this offer is limited). Also, book scarves (or, honestly, anything by Storiarts) made with the text of some of your favorite books, are soft, well made, and wearable. But, more importantly, they are real conversation starters. I have 3 (plus the writing gloves). I am partial to, of course, Alice in Wonderland. Don’t just buy this scarf, though…search through their site. You will NOT be sorry.

Jane says, “When we’re both working, and one of us want a break, we’ll find the other and ask ‘Banangrams?’ We play almost every day.”

(Bonus: Tara found a jumbo outdoor edition of the popular game.)

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ANIMAL CARD HOLDER
selected by Tara

hedgehogcardholder

Available via Amazon

When I return home from an SCBWI conference, I love poring over the creative postcards and business cards of writers and illustrators. There are ones I want to keep in view because I love the artist’s style or I want to swap a manuscript with another author. This clever desk accessory is very practical…and comes in a variety of animal styles and colors. This one makes me want to write an albino hedgehog book.
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WHEN IN DOUBT TEE
selected by Tara

whenindoubt
Available via The Library Store

I always follow this advice. I bet you do, too.

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ROALD DAHL POSTCARDS
selected by Tara
roalddahlpostcards
Available via The Literary Gift Company

What a wangdoodle of a good idea. I bet a writing friend would love to receive this entire box…or even one sincere missive via post. Texting is so last week. Dahl is FOREVER.

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WRITER AT WORK SIGN
selected by Tara
donotdisturb
Available via GraphicsMore

Ah, if only we could give our favorite writer the gift of time.

Until that time, let’s continue to give them space. (Otherwise known as “the space-time continuum”?)

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WRITER’S TEARS WHISKEY
selected by Tara

writerstearsmini

Available via Celtic Whiskey Shop

Alas, if your favorite writer received another rejection, missed that deadline, or went out of print, this would be the perfect gift. Just remember—drink responsibly, folks.

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thingswriterslike2015

Happy Holidays!

For more writerly nonsense and giftsense, check out my Things Writers Like Pinterest board!

 

devbookstore

by Dev Petty

My first book, I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG, came out last February and it’s been a wild ride this year publicizing and reading my book across the San Francisco Bay area which I call home. It’s kind of been the year when I went from “person who wrote and sold a book” to “writer,” if only because I now actually say “Writer!” when people ask what I do instead of coughing and pretending I didn’t hear the question like before.

devreads

My journey from Visual Effects artist, to mom, to writer was fast. I didn’t have a ton of time to consider what being a writer would mean or what it would feel like to read my book to a room full of eager faces. I’ve visited many schools, dozens of bookstores, a few libraries, workshops and panels too. I had a lot to learn, if only about engaging with kids, which even though I’m a parent, I needed some work on. What was surprising, and exciting, was how much I learned about writing FOR kids through the process of reading TO kids. It turns out, if you do the same sort of spiel and read the same book enough times, you start to notice some things and, like so many other experiences, those things inform the act of writing picture books…who knew?! So here are a few WRITING lessons garnered from READING.

Kids are power-hungry little critters. What do I mean? It means they like to have the information, fill in the gaps, answer the questions, even guess the question all before you, another kid or another adult gets a word out. Every time I read a certain page of I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG, I get to the part where I say “Because you are a….”

and the kids all shout out FROG!

Which is infinitely more fun that me saying “frog” to them in my not-that-fun voice. Time after time, I realize that when given a chance to extrapolate and interpolate they’ll do it. What does this mean for writing? It means you can leave a little space. Kids can draw conclusions and they’ll feel good for doing so. It also means you can play with that phenomenon. It’s a fun technique to send ’em down one road and get them thinking they know the answer and then turn the page and it’s something else entirely…it’s kind of a safe way to be wrong about something.

devpjparty

Kids are smart. They OFTEN ask me about publishing, how a picture book is put together, how and where I write, etc. Unlike young Dev who spent a lot of time drawing some sort of hybrid human/hotdog people, these kids are sophisticated and curious and savvy. Spend an afternoon with a bunch of second graders and you’ll be jotting down words to look up when ou get home. I talk to them about paste downs, collaboration in a digital world, and revision. This ought to remind us writers to not dumb things down- it may take more than one read, but they’ll get it…and then they’ll teach you.

Dev's required reading shoes

Dev’s required reading shoes

Kids are also weird and they appreciate weird. I’ve written about this before, but many, many readings have reminded me of the truth of this statement. The best readings I have are the ones where I am revealing of my own oddities, shortcomings and foibles. It may get back to the power-hungry nature of the little guys, but they do love to feel that you’re on equal footing, that the writer is goofball, kid-like participant in the process and not button-up preacher sitting in the adult-sized chair above. What does it mean for writing? It means I’ve learned the joy of letting go a little and using a big brush to write strong, strange things and hope that kids, if not adults, will get it. Or at least enjoy it.

mikeboldtKids like pictures. Well, duh Dev—of course kids like pictures…they draw them ALL THE TIME…on paper! But seriously, I found when I incorporate images into my reading, even a simple 20 minute reading, they are much more involved and attentive. Examples: I used to just say Mike Boldt illustrated the book…but then I put a funny picture of Mike in a big flowery frame and started bringing it along…they love it. I bring the alternate language versions of my book and pass them around. I draw a little. It’s pretty obvious what this means for writing—it means, think about the pictures! It means letting the pictures do a lot of the work for you, it means present, don’t preach.

So in this year, I’ve sure learned a lot. I’ve come a long way since my first reading when my hands wouldn’t stop shaking and I had notes written on a scrap of paper so I’d know what to say. My writing has changed because of all these kids, parents, librarians and teachers who’ve welcomed into their rooms. In fact, these days when I’m writing a new story, I IMAGINE myself reading it to a room full of kids and I imagine the page turns and pauses and laugh lines, the open space for them to guess and wonder, and the possible reactions to things. Of course, in my head, the kids are all wearing overalls and red converse and yellow rain slickers and have rosy cheeks and bacteria-free hands and speak a little french and go fishing and think I’m terribly cool, like spy cool and that they might want to be like me some day. I digress…

Finally, in case you’re a new author and in the market for a few tips you may not have considered—here now a few Reading Your Picture Book Lessons I’ll offer for free:

  1. Don’t swear. Seems obvious, right? Harder for some of us than others.
  2. If you take questions, always ask the kid’s name before he/she talks.
  3. Bring along a little giveaway, not all kids can afford your book and you’ll feel good if you send em home with something.
  4. Show up early.
  5. Send a thank you note to the teacher, book store manager or librarian after.
  6. Connect with the parents and teachers, let them ask questions too
  7. .If you make a joke about something like eating bugs, be ready for the possibility that one of the kids in your audience has, and often does eat bugs as part of their culture and then be prepared to feel really, really awkward.
  8. Seriously, don’t swear.
  9. When signing books, bring scratch paper to write the names down before you pen them in your book. The kid might say “My name is Max” and that might have an umlaut and a couple h’s these days.
  10. Finally, remember what the whole point of this writing for kids thing is. It’s to delight, inspire, amuse…kids. I’m just the hired help–another reminder this is the best job on Earth.

Thanks, Dev. These are great tips. (And I second that umlaut warning. Also, don’t say another name while you are writing a name, otherwise a book for Marcie will wind up being a book for Autumn. True story.)

You can win a copy of Dev’s newest book, I DON’T WANT TO BE BIG. Just leave a comment below–include a reading aloud tip if you have one. A winner will be randomly selected in a couple weeks. US addresses only, please. GOOD LUCK!

idontwanttobebigDev Petty is the author of I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG, I DON’T WANT TO BE BIG, and CLAYMATES (L,B & Co. ’17). She is a former visual effects artist who loves writing picture books because they’re like tiny, paper movies. Dev is a Berkeley native, devout Californian, and she’s super good at word jumbles. She’s represented by Jen Rofé of ABLA. Visit her at DevPetty.com.

November—typically this month I’m a blogging fool, organizing Picture Book Idea Month posts, participants and prizes. But PiBoIdMo has been moved to January, a new year, a fresh start. The new news about the annual writing challenge is that I’m working hard on the new name and logo, which I will reveal shortly, along with the changes in scope. So the news is that there is no news? Yeah, sorry ’bout that. I feel badly, so let me cheer you up with Snoopy, who always makes me feel better. (Plus, added bonus: BUNNIES!!!)

snoopybunnies

And some of you will feel even better, because I am playing Oprah again today with my favorite things: giveaways. I did not realize it had been months since I announced prize winners, so I have a bunch here. Congratulations to all and be on the lookout for an email from me.

NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN’T SIT STILL Winner
Carol Gordon Ekster

MY BIG TREE Winner
Shuko

MONSTERS GO NIGHT-NIGHT Winner
Danielle Hammelef

LILLA’S SUNFLOWERS Winner
Bethany Johnson

SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS Winner
Marlaina Gray

MONSTER TRUCKS Winner
Diana Owen

BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY Winner
Melissa Stoller

MARIA GIANFERRARI Winners
Query Pass: Genevieve Petrillo
PB Critique: Mary Jo Wagner
Book: Kelly Conroy

There are still open giveaways, so give the blog a scroll. Plus I’ll have another one next week. Boy, with all the blogging lately, it sure does feel like November…doesn’t it, Snoopy?

snoopytoast

 

by Ruth Spiro

I’ve spent the past few weeks in a flurry of activity, celebrating the release of my new science-themed board books, illustrated by Irene Chan. BABY LOVES AEROSPACE ENGINEERING! and BABY LOVES QUARKS! are the first two titles in the Baby Loves Science series, published by Charlesbridge. Next year they’ll be joined by two siblings, BABY LOVES THERMODYNAMICS! and BABY LOVES QUANTUM PHYSICS!

babylovesscience_grande

lesterfizzWhen my first picture book, LESTER FIZZ, BUBBLE GUM ARTIST, was published in 2008, my marketing plan included the tried-and-true signings, mailings and school visits. But back then, we authors had to promote our books the old-fashioned way: Barefoot, walking uphill, in the snow.

At least that’s how it seems, looking at it in the rearview mirror.

Take a minute to consider how you’d get the word out about your new book and connect with potential readers without social media.

For me, this second time around is a whole new world.

facebook
LESTER FIZZ came out in August of 2008, and I scheduled most of my launch events for September. I ordered postcards with the book cover on one side and details like the ISBN and a few blurbs on the other. I used the postcards as event invitations by printing labels with the date, time and location, affixing them to the postcards and then addressing them by hand. This required more work, but it allowed me to order a larger quantity of generic postcards I could use for multiple purposes, such as leave-behinds at conferences.

At the last minute, I decided to spring for the 5 x 7 size, which I thought would have greater visibility. Unfortunately, when I sent my first mailing I neglected to consider two important details. First, I used regular postcard stamps, not realizing the larger size required extra postage. This problem was compounded by the fact that when I designed the postcards, it hadn’t occurred to me to include a return address.

postagedueI’m not sure where those postcards ended up, but it wasn’t in my friends’ and family’s mailboxes. Ordering a larger quantity turned out to be my only smart move, because once I learned that 90% of the postcards were never delivered, I had to re-do the entire mailing. (The others arrived at their destinations postage due!)

Later that month when my schedule slowed down, I joined Facebook. Not many people I knew were using it, as it wasn’t yet a “thing” among people my age. Still, I’d been hearing about it more and more so I decided to check it out. I had fun connecting with high school friends and former colleagues, and began posting status updates. I still had two more book signings coming up in October, so I posted the details.

Surprisingly, people I hadn’t seen in years showed up, some with friends, babies, nieces and nephews in tow. Truth be told, these folks weren’t on my invitation list and would never have known about the events if I hadn’t shared them on Facebook.

Eight years later, Facebook has become an invaluable resource. It enables authors and illustrators to leverage our social networks by publicizing events, sharing links to blog posts and reviews, and connecting with fans and potential readers. Best of all, rather than blowing my promotion budget on invitations and stamps, I purchased important stuff like rocket ship cookies, airplane tattoos and astronaut ice cream!

twitter
I recall exactly how I met Tara-–on Twitter!

I had a Google Alert set for my book title (another helpful resource) and discovered her tweet:

TaraTwitterLesterFizz

We began following each other, I found Tara’s blog, and made a friend with similar interests halfway across the country. (Tara’s note: I love quirky LESTER FIZZ.)

In 2008 I knew very few people who were active on Twitter. The old joke was that people used it to announce what they’d eaten for breakfast. Back then, I think Twitter was still figuring out what it wanted to be when it grew up.

Ah, but Twitter is home of the hashtag.

For those still unfamiliar, and I personally know more than a few, I’ll briefly explain. Adding a “#” to the beginning of a word or phrase makes it visible to all of the 313 million active users around the world who are searching for that word or phrase. #Authors, #illustrators, #booksellers, #librarians, #bloggers, #editors, #agents and others in the #kidlit and #SCBWI community, including those interested in #picturebooks, #graphicnovels, #reading, and #literacy use hashtags to connect and see what others are discussing. Get the picture?

(People use hashtags on Facebook and Instagram too, but it all began on Twitter.)

You can share ideas and #chat with like-minded people around the world without leaving your own comfy couch. Through the years, I’ve used Twitter to “meet” hundreds of educators, librarians and booksellers. I’ve received invitations to speak at conferences, set up Skype visits with classrooms in India, Turkey and Mexico, and kept abreast of topics trending in children’s literature. When used the right way, the power of Twitter is stunning.

So, while I may have missed the boat with #bubblegum, now I can easily find people who are interested in #boardbooks, #STEM, #quarks and #aerospace. See? It’s addictive!

But wait, there’s more…

instagram
Booksellers, librarians and parents often post photos of new or favorite books, and some popular Instagram accounts have tens of thousands of followers (or more!) How cute is this photo of a little reader?

babylovessciencebaby

pinterest
One word: Educators! If you have Educator Guides, crafts or activities to go along with your books, create a Pinterest board and pin them there. I pinned mine for Lester Fizz five years after it was published, and they’re still being “favorited” and “repinned.”

Baby Steps
In my opinion, Facebook and Twitter are the two heavy hitters. They’ve given me the biggest return on my investment of time and effort without costing a penny. But as I made a list of all the tools that didn’t exist (or weren’t as popular) only six or eight years ago, I realized just how far we’ve come. There are some resources I haven’t mentioned (LinkedIn, SnapChat, Tumblr) simply because I haven’t found them quite as useful as the others.

Keep in mind that while these social media platforms can be used for promotion, they’re also spaces for creating community. I’ve found that the most rewarding experiences come from authentic interactions, resulting in relationships that grow over time. The best part is that once you’re an active member of a community, you don’t have to promote yourself as much because others will help do it for you. Of course, this works both ways. It’s a joy to celebrate contracts and “book birthdays” of those in your community, especially when you’ve followed each other through all the ups and downs of the journey.

Thank you, Ruth, for showing us how book marketing has changed dramatically in just a few years. I personally do not know what I would do without social media because, as you know, I like to stay home in my jammies.

Ruth is giving away a signed, two-book set of BABY LOVES SCIENCE to a random commenter. How do you use all the tools we have today to spread the word about your work?

A winner will be selected soon. (I have stopped saying a particular date because I never get to it in time. Yes, I have lots of things I have to pick winners for…I PROMISE SOON.)

RuthSpiroRuth Spiro is a children’s book author and freelance writer. Her Baby Loves Science board book series, published by Charlesbridge, includes Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering! and Baby Loves Quarks!. The next two titles, Baby Loves Thermodynamics! and Baby Loves Quantum Physics! will be published in 2017. Also forthcoming from Dial is a new picture book series, Made by Maxine, which sold at auction in a 3-book deal. The first book is scheduled for 2018.

Ruth’s debut picture book, Lester Fizz, Bubble-Gum Artist won awards from Writer’s Digest and Willamette Writers, and was a Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the Year. Her articles and stories have appeared in FamilyFun, CHILD, and The Writer, and also in popular anthologies, notably The Right Words at the Right Time (Vol. II), edited by Marlo Thomas, and several Chicken Soup for the Soul titles. She lives in suburban Chicago.

Website: RuthSpiro.com
Twitter: @ruthspiro
Instagram: @ruthspiro
Facebook: facebook.com/RuthSpiro.Author/

Image via midwestjournalpress.com

Image via midwestjournalpress.com

When I first thought of the title of this blog post, it was to be about all the books I have received from publishers the last few months—all the books I did not have time to properly write about, but I still wanted to acknowledge.

Then, after this week’s events, another meaning struck me.

Nathan Bransford already said it: Now we write.

There are stories inside you which will help ease the terrible confusion of the moment. Stories widen our world view, they introduce us to the struggles and triumphs of others, they increase our empathy and understanding. They lighten our hearts. They open our minds. We cannot see those stories now, deep within you. You have an obligation to summon them forth.

But I want to further the discussion. There are other things we can do besides read and write.

Volunteer for a cause in which you believe deeply. Volunteer for a cause that you want to know more about. Step up. Be a role model, a pillar of your community. Start small and aim big. Encourage others. Instill hope and stand for something good and decent in this world.  There is no greater call to service than right now, however you feel about this week’s outcome.

We can all make a difference.

changemaker(Recommended for kids: BE A CHANGEMAKER by Laurie Ann Thompson.)

kendralevinby Kendra Levin

A few years ago, my friend and I joked that there should be a National Don’t Write a Novel Month. In fact, we even created a Twitter account for it and spent the month of November that year tweeting about all the things we were doing instead of writing a novel.

Writing is hard. Writing a novel in a month is even harder. And while NaNoWriMo and Tara’s own PiBoIdMo are fantastic ways to light a fire under your butt and get words on the page, it’s just as important for writers to spend time…well, not writing.

So this year, if you’re feeling creatively fried, emotionally exhausted, distracted by the election, or just plain burnt out, try spending November replenishing yourself artistically.

Consume culture. You already know how important it is for writers to read—and not just the genre or age category you write, but all kinds of books, articles, and other content. Go see an art exhibit, a dance performance, or a concert. Play a video game. Go to a movie you wouldn’t normally be interested in. Try art forms and genres you don’t expect to like and see what happens!

Explore your world. On the way home from the gym, your job, your kids’ school, any place you visit more than once a week, try a new route. Always go to the same gas station? Try a different one. Instead of walking, running, or riding your bike wherever you usually go, head to the next town over and investigate a neighborhood you’re not familiar with. See what inspiration is hiding in the world adjacent to you.

Learn a new skill and bring new people into your life. Join a club, a meetup group, or a casual sports team. Find an activity you’re curious about that’s different from anything else you do and give it a try. Go to a place that you know attracts people with different interests than you and see if you can make a new friend.

Read your journals. If you keep a journal, you have a potential goldmine of material in the experiences you’ve had and thoughts you’ve recorded. Go back and look at what you wrote this year, last year, five or 10 years ago, or even in high school, and see what you find that intrigues or surprises you.

Make non-writing art. See what it’s like to express yourself without words, and without the pressure that can come with doing your primary creative focus. Collage, draw, paint, compose music. Make a silly video on your phone. Create a whole story just using gifs. Don’t worry about it being good. Make art with no agenda and have fun!

Meditate, be present, nurture your spirit. If you love the idea of meditation but never seem to make time for it, now’s your chance. Take a contemplative walk alone, ideally in nature. Attend a service of a religion you don’t practice, or visit a place that is sacred or spiritual to you. Spend time alone without plans and see what you gravitate toward or where your thoughts take you.

This year, let the month of November be an opportunity to find inspiration, challenge your preconceptions about yourself, and rejuvenate your psyche. By the end, you’ll be ready to roll up your sleeves and write, or to take on the next challenge life brings: the holiday season!

theheroisyouKendra Levin helps writers and other creative artists meet their goals and connect more deeply with their work and themselves. She is a certified life coach, as well as a senior editor at Penguin, a teacher, and author of The Hero Is You. Visit her at kendracoaching.com and follow her @kendralevin.

And Kendra is giving away a free 30-minute Skype coaching session to one lucky writer. Just leave a comment below about your favorite way NOT to write. Winner will be selected randomly later this month. One comment per person, please. GOOD LUCK!

Check out Kendra’s new book THE HERO IS YOU, released today!

Recently I had the opportunity to interview Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group. He’s a second-generation literary agent whose family business inspired a love of literature and cultivated a talent for spotting great stories.

Mark, how did you get into agenting and why children’s literature?

markgottliebUnlike many people who choose book publishing as somewhat of an accidental profession, it was always expected of me that I would one day work at Trident Media Group, a family-owned and operated literary agency. I think it comes as a comfort to many of my clients that I’m not leaving the literary agency, nor book publishing anytime soon. Anyway, you could say I was sort of groomed for the position at a young age. That’s why I chose Emerson College in Boston, as they were one of the only schools at the time offering an undergraduate study in publishing.

tridentmediagroupMy company bio expresses my professional journey from my time at Emerson College, onward:

Mark Gottlieb attended Emerson College and was President of its Publishing Club, establishing the Wilde Press. After graduating with a degree in writing, literature & publishing, he began his career with Penguin’s VP. Mark’s first position at Publishers Marketplace’s #1-ranked literary agency, Trident Media Group, was in foreign rights. Mark was EA to Trident’s Chairman and ran the Audio Department. Mark is currently working with his own client list, helping to manage and grow author careers with the unique resources available to Trident. He has ranked #1 among Literary Agents on publishersmarketplace.com in Overall Deals and other categories.

And to answer your question about why children’s literature in particular? I am still relatively young and therefore feel more so in touch with my younger self that someone that might be a lot older and therefore have difficulty reaching their inner-child. I really subscribe to that belief of “Live Free and Die Young” as I want to live a full life and remain young at heart up until my dying day. Also, YA is particularly a good area of interest in book publishing as it is the fastest growing area in publishing.

So one could say you were born to be a children’s literature agent!

You must have been surrounded by books from an early age. What are some of your childhood favorites?

I certainly grew up surrounded by books and authors all my life.

Growing up, my favorite children’s book was THE LITTLE LUMP OF CLAY by Diana Engel. The book has gone out of print but it can viewed via a video reading at this YouTube link:

clayTHE LITTLE LUMP OF CLAY taught me the importance of hope, a sense of belonging and what it means to be loved.

I also remember reading HOLES by Louis Sachar all in one evening, late at night. It was the first such book I had ever read in one sitting. It’s fun to remind myself that I now work at the literary agency that represents Louis Sachar! I smile when around our office I see the Disney movie poster for HOLES, starring Shia LeBoeuf and Sigourney Weaver.

So what do you typically look for in a picture book manuscript you want to represent? Do they share any similarities with THE LITTLE LUMP OF CLAY?

Many of the works I seek out nowadays share some kinship with THE LITTLE LUMP OF CLAY in that I enjoy reading manuscript with important social messages.

Those are some of the most difficult picture books to write. How does a writer successfully deliver an important message without being too didactic?

aballfordaisyI agree that it is difficult to convey a moral or lesson within a 32-page children’s book. Especially with very sparse text, without sounding to “preachy” or “teachy,” but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. For instance A BALL FOR DAISY by Chris Raschka was a recent winner of the Caldecott Medal and it is a wordless children’s picture book that I feel accomplished that conveyance of message, an impressive feat without the use of text. A big part of it is giving kids a lot more credit than we do in understanding a picture book, especially since they will often have a parent or teacher reading with them.

What else makes a PB manuscript something you want to represent?

I really prefer to lean on Maurice Sendak’s perspective of children and writing for them; children are brave, and things go wrong, and as adults, we can no longer understand the complex nature of what they are going through. So instead of reading a manuscript that attempts to speak to a child, and to relate to them, I prefer to see narratives that are written for a human being—a real person, with real fear, curiosity, and courage—that might possibly interest a child’s mind. This, in my opinion, is what makes for wonderful picture book stories.

Are there any recent titles you wished you could have represented?

Jory John’s PENGUIN PROBLEMS, any and all of Emily Winfield Martin’s books (THE WONDERFUL THINGS YOU WILL BE being her most recent) and FASCINATING: THE LIFE OF LEONARD NIMOY by Richard Michelson; illustrated by Edel Rodriguez because he was such a wonderful man and that book really did his life’s work justice in a delicate and beautiful way.

penguinproblems thewonderfulthings fascinatingnimoy

What is the best piece of advice you can give a picture book writer who is seeking representation?

Never underestimate the mind of a child and the meaning they are capable of gathering from a story. Children often see beyond words and pictures on paper, and give deep thought to nuances in a story that otherwise might be overlooked by an adult. So don’t be afraid to write a challenging story for a child; just make sure that you’re dedicating every word and image to their imagination, not just your own.

Thanks for speaking with me and sharing your love of children’s literature, Mark. 

Mark Gottlieb is currently open to new clients.

You can review his profile and newest client releases at:  http://www.tridentmediagroup.com/agents/mark-gottlieb.

sharonchriscoeby Sharon Chriscoe

Ready, Set, Events!

Hooray! Your book is about to release! You’re geared up and ready for some super fun book events. But what happens when you live in an area that has very few bookstores?

Answer: You think outside the bookstore!

The first thing any author thinks of when planning their book launch is bookstore . . . bookstore . . . bookstore. After all, you have a BOOK! Books belong in bookstores. Your book events need to take place in a bookstore. However, as I soon discovered while planning RACE CAR DREAMS’ book launch, not all events have to be inside a brick and mortar bookstore. In fact, they don’t have to take place inside a store at all.

signWhat? Yes, that’s right. My second book event took place at our local Chick-Fil-A! And we had a vrooming good time! Check out the sign they even displayed weeks in advance!

Why Chick-Fil-A?

One of the things that drew me to my local Chick-Fil-A was that they are always hosting events for kid related themes. They host a Kids Club, School Spirit contests, and many other fun-filled events that support the community and provide a wonderful experience for kids. Plus, it didn’t hurt that I already knew the owner (my husband and I deliver their buns on our bread route! Connections are good, right?).

Start your engines!

Once, I secured the only two bookstores in our community for events, I called up the owner of Chick-Fil-A to see if they would be interested in hosting an event. And he was! He connected me with the Marketing Director who not only was fantastic to work with but was phenomenal in creating an action-packed afternoon! She even secured TWO real live race cars to coincide with the race car theme of my book!

rcd-collage-2-for-taras-blog

Doesn’t RACE CAR DREAMS look happy to be featured alongside real live race cars?

Plan, plan, plan! And let the good times roll!

Incorporating as many kid activities as possible (but stick to a budget!) will ensure a crowd pleasing event.

The happier the crowd, the longer they will stick around. Try to start planning for these events as far in advance as you can. My husband and I started a fun project in early spring that featured a battery powered toy car replica of my main character. He was tiny, so only the littlest of kids would be able to fit inside. For the older kids, I picked up a Hot Wheels race track during the Holiday season (at half price!) for the events. Both were huge successes! If possible, decorate your event with theme related items that tie into your book. I used racing banners, racing flags, a checkered rug, race tracks, and goodie bags with all sorts of racing themed items inside for giveaways. All of which I found on Amazon at great prices! And my publisher was kind enough to send me bookmarks and posters for the little ones to enjoy!

collage-pic-3

Vrooming into first place!

On the day of the event, show up early because setting up in a non-bookstore will take extra time, especially if you hold it outdoors. Thankfully, mother nature was on our side and it was a beautiful day, but it’s best to have a backup plan for a not-so-friendly mother nature because well, she does as she pleases. We were prepared to move the event indoors if needed.

As kids and their families arrive, chat with them, show them around, point out the fun activities for the kids to enjoy, talk about your book, and mention when story time will take place (decide this in advance and stick to a schedule). Also, include your own family and friends as much as possible in your events. This always makes for an extra special day not only for you but for them as well.

And throughout the day, be sure lots of pictures are being taken. You don’t get re-do’s on events, and capturing the day will make for great memories.

Now, it’s your time to rev up your own creative engines!

So, as you can see, bookstores are not the only places to have a successful book event. If you have a release coming up, or a book already out in the world, rev up your creative engine and see what happens. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a non-bookstore and ask if they’d like to host a book event for you — you just never know . . . it could lead to a vrooming good time!

Thank you, Sharon! Looks like you had a fun and memorable event!

Leave a comment below to be entered into the RACE CAR DREAMS Giveaway. The random winner will receive an autographed book, a poster, bookmarks, and a goodie bag stuffed with all sorts of racing themed items. Good luck!

race-car-dreams-high-resolution-picture

sharon-chriscoe-photoSharon Chriscoe may not vroom around a race track, but she does zip and zoom around in a bread truck with her husband, Ricky. Fueled with fresh bread, snacks, and writing tools, Sharon has made this her mobile office! She and her husband live in Pilot Mountain, North Carolina. They have three children and one grandchild on the way, as well as an assortment of dogs, cats, bunnies and occasionally a groundhog. In addition to RACE CAR DREAMS, she is the author of BULLDOZER DREAMS (a companion book to RACE CAR DREAMS, Running Press Kids, 2017), and THE SPARROW AND THE TREES (Arbordale Publishing, 2015). She is also a contributor to several magazines such as Highlights High Five, Highlights Hello, and The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids. She is a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and is a graduate of The Institute of Children’s Literature. She is represented by Jessica Sinsheimer of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. To learn more about Sharon, her books, and future events, visit her website: SharonChriscoeBooks.com.

by Maria Gianferrari

Maria_Nov2013

The Katz is out of the bag!! Tomorrow’s the book birthday of my latest picture book, OFFICER KATZ & HOUNDINI: A TALE OF TWO TAILS, illustrated by Danny Chatzikonstantinou. Aladdin gets extra points for fitting two very long surnames on its spine!

khcover

Since the blog tour’s kicking off right here at Writing for Kids (While Raising Them), I thought I’d celebrate its release with a sneak peek at some of my favorite images from the book.

There are two kinds of magic in the book. The first is a kind of practical magic. Officer Katz is an inventor. This is his most prized and pawsome invention, the Katzapult:

katz-interior_page_32

Houndini’s magic is more elusive. Like his namesake, Houdini, he’s an escape artiste, practiced in the art of disappearance. I love his exuberance as he bursts out of a box here:

katz-interior_page_19
Officer Katz and Houndini have sidekicks, Deputy Catbird and Squirrel.

sidekicks

And I absolutely adore the hilarious endpapers:

khendpapers

Which place would you like to visit, New Pork, or perhaps Mane?

Leave a comment, and you will be eligible for one of THREE prizes:

  1. A query pass from agent extraordinaire, Ammi-Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary (either a query plus a whole PB manuscript or a query plus first five novel pages).
  2. A picture book critique from Maria—either fiction or nonfiction.
  3. Your own copy of OFFICER KATZ & HOUNDINI (US residents only—sorry!).

Thanks again for having me here, Tara! It was pawsitively purrfect!

The prizes will be given away in early November.

OFFICER KATZ & HOUNDINI BLOG TOUR! BOOK GIVEAWAYS EVERY DAY!

Tuesday, Oct. 18th: Librarian’s Quest
Wednesday, Oct. 19th: Bildebok
Thursday, Oct. 20th: Mamabelly’s Lunches with Love
Friday, Oct. 21st: Pragmaticmom + THREE book giveaway
Monday, Oct. 24th: Homemade City
Tuesday, Oct. 25th: ReFoReMo THINK QUICK Interview with Carrie Charley Brown

 

chanastiefel_head-shot_colorby Chana Stiefel

Back in 2014, a picture book idea popped into my head. Luckily I jotted it down in my handy, dandy PiBoIdMo notebook. Gradually, the idea grew into a story about a girl named Chana who was miffed that everyone was mangling her name (“Shayna-China-Shawna-Kahana”). “I’m changing my name to Sue!” Chana cried to her grandmother.

“Sue’s a nice name,” said Grandma. “But did you know there was another Chana who came before you?” Grandma proceeded to tell her granddaughter all about Great Grandma Chana, her voyage to America, and her amazing qualities. Guess which name Chana chooses in the end? I titled the book THAT’S NOT MY NAME, and sent a draft to my critique group.

notmyname

The critiques I received were lukewarm. My writing partners liked that the book drew on my personal experience. (Not a day goes by without someone bungling my name. The “Ch” is a throat clearing kh sound, like Challah bread or Chanukah, + Ah +Nah.) I had a feeling that all the Sibhoans, Seans, Xaviers, and Chiaras, of the world could relate. The book also emphasized the meanings of names and the importance of maintaining family traditions. Some of my critique partners found the story relatable, BUT . . . they didn’t like that Grandma solved Chana’s problem for her, which made the story fall flat as a pancake run over by a Zamboni.

zamboni

How could Chana solve her own problem? I made about 10 different attempts at revision. In one draft, Chana scrutinized old photographs. In another she studied a family quilt. She even tried on Grandma Chana’s name necklace. But all of these ideas were BORING! I was stuck.

Then, in the summer of 2015, I read a guest post by my agent, John Cusick, on the Kidlit Summer School blog. John offered “Three Ways to Jumpstart Your Draft When the Plot Starts to Sag.” Tip #1 was a field trip. “In life, if you’re in a funk, you might need a change of scenery,” John wrote. “Chances are your characters feel the same way. Try switching up the setting.”

I love field trips. (Anything to get away from my desk.) Around that time, I went hiking on vacation with my husband in the Canadian Rockies. We were trudging two miles up a mountain in the rain to get to the Lake Agnes Tea House when BAM! It hit me.

chanahike

What if I drop my character into a whole new setting and a whole new era? Inspired by the rocks around me I thought: What if Chana is a cave girl named…

WAKAWAKALOCH!

(See how I kept the Ch?) And what if she’s really steamed that her friends Oog, Boog, and Goog keep bungling her name? And what if she can’t find a T-shirt with her name on it? And what if she’s inspired to solve her own problem after looking at cave paintings of her great, great, great grandmother, the Mighty Wakawakaloch?

By placing my character in a whole new time and place, I had a fresh, new story with more action, more layers, and lots of humor. My critique partners gave it a thumbs up. I shared it at last year’s NJ-SCBWI Fall Craft Weekend and got rave reviews. When John read it, he tweeted:

john-cs-tweet

Making your agent cry is a good thing (sometimes). We submitted the book to publishers at the start of 2016 and got the obligatory pile of rejections. And then, sometime during Round 2, the wonderful Kate O’Sullivan at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said yes! She signed with the hilarious illustrator Mary Sullivan (author/illustrator of BALL, TREAT, and more!).

I’m forever grateful to Tara Lazar & the soon-to-be-renamed PiBoIdMo for giving me the spark to get this story started. Without my handy, dandy PiBoIdMo notebook—and the lessons I’ve learned over the years about freely jotting down ideas & then fine-tuning them—none of this would ever have happened. Stay tuned for WAKAWAKALOCH’s debut in 2019!


Chana Stiefel (back of the throat Ch-ah-nah STEE-ful) is the author of more than 20 non-fiction books for kids on topics like exploding volcanoes and stinky castles. Her debut picture book, DADDY DEPOT, will be published by Feiwel & Friends in May 2017. WAKAWAKALOCH will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2019. Chana is represented by John M. Cusick at Folio Literary. Check out Chana’s work at chanastiefel.com and on her authors’ blog, which she co-writes with her writing partner Donna Cangelosi, at kidlittakeaways.com.

Follow Me on Pinterest As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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