You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2014.

taralazarby Tara Lazar

When I was growing up, there was an entire section of my home that was roped off. Like a nightclub, a velvet rope draped across the threshold to the living and dining area, off limits to my grubby little hands. A plush sectional beside the picture window always beckoned me, and I’d sneak there to read a book. Many times I’d crawl into the dining room and sit criss-cross-applesauce under the table, where no one could find me, and where I could get a glimpse of our house the way I rarely saw it. It was wondrous, under the table and dreaming (sorry for the borrow, Dave Matthews). I could pretend I was somewhere else because the perspective I had, under that glass and chrome 70’s behemoth, was unique, unusual. I was at home, but also somewhere else.

So now, every once in a while, I sit underneath my own dining room table. To me, it’s the perfect kid’s perspective. I see the world as a child might, peering only at legs and loafers. You know how you never see an adult’s face in Charlie Brown? How they’re just an unintelligible trumpet waah-wahhh-wah-waaaa? That’s the childlike mystique I’m seeking when I sit beneath the table. I see the world a little differently, but yet it’s still familiar, as it is my own home.

This is an early Peanuts strip. Schulz later said that showing adults, even just their legs, was a mistake.

This is an early Peanuts strip. Schulz later said that showing adults, even just their legs, was a mistake.

Go ahead, take up a spot in your home where you rarely sit to rest: the closet, the corner, the stair landing. Make it your nook, your secret hideaway. Look at everything as if a child might, looming larger above you. Grab a blanket and pillows and make a fort. Steal away. Remember those fantastical childhood moments when you were somewhere else, but yet safe and protected at home. It’s a feeling you can recreate to help you delve deeper into the heart of your tale. You’ll be changing your perspective to that of a child—visually and emotionally.

And, if you’d like, sneak some cookies and milk with you. I won’t tell anyone where you are.

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Image via threadless.com

And now, a special announcement!

This is the final day of PiBoIdMo! I hope you have 30 ideas! (or that you’re very, very close!)

But don’t worry, the event IS NOT OVER. There’s still Post-PiBo to come–a week-long series of posts designed to help you prioritize and organize your ideas.

Tomorrow I will post the PiBoIdMo Pledge. If you have 30 ideas, you sign it and YOU WIN! Don’t worry, you’ll have a few days to sign it.

Top-10-blogs-for-writers-2014-bIn the meantime, if you enjoyed PiBoIdMo, may I ask that you nominate this blog for the Top 10 Blogs for Writers?

Head on over to Write to Done to make the nomination.

Every nomination counts!

And thank you for your support!

 

TrinkaPhotoby Trinka Hakes Noble

Before there were words, human beings communicated with pictures. In pre-verbal times, stories were drawn out in picture form. So, the picture book, which uses pictures and words, touches something deep within all human beings, regardless of age.

I think the picture book is a most unique art form. It brings together both the visual and the literary. Children who cannot read words yet will be reading the pictures. That is why this unique art and writing genre deserves our highest efforts, our most original thoughts and ideas, and our most sincere work. Picture books are teaching the next generation to read!

Of the over 30 books that I have published, the one which fits the picture book genre best is The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate The Wash, illustrated by Steven Kellogg.

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Because I am also an illustrator, I write visually, and Steven’s art fit my story perfectly. It is included in the Houghton/Mifflin Readers that are used throughout the country to teach reading to second graders.

When I first started in children’s literature, books for young children were divided into two categories: the picture book and the storybook.

In a storybook, the story was all there and the pictures just enhanced and embellished the story. In other words, I could read you a storybook over the radio, without seeing the pictures, and you would understand it. A good example of a storybook of mine is The Orange Shoes, illustrated by Doris Ettlinger. [Insert photo of cover here] And, Apple Tree Christmas, which I both wrote and illustrated, will show you how organically the art and the story are intertwined, mainly because one person created it. appletreechristmas

However, in a picture book, the story is told in both the words and in the pictures. If I read you a picture book over the radio, you wouldn’t understand it without the pictures. Now, all books for young children are called picture books.

So, my challenge for you on this 29th day of PiBoIdMo, and I hope it is an inspirational challenge, is to think of your story idea in pictures. Think of the first page as a picture, and then imagine the next picture and the next. See if you can string together several pictures, almost like a movie, in your mind before you write any words. Or, if you are about out of ideas on day 29, perhaps using your favorite idea for this month and start seeing is visually, in pictures. Hopefully, by giving the visual center stage, you will capture the very essences of the picture book before you get involved in words. There might be a certain rhythm, a beat, and an energy that will find its way into your words by starting with the pictures first. Try to see it in your mind’s eye. Let it play, dance and flow across you visual imagination. No words, just pictures…and see where it takes you.

Best of Luck!

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Trinka Hakes Noble is the award-winning author of numerous picture books including The Scarlet Stockings Spy (IRA Teachers’ Choice 2005), The Last Brother, The Legend of the Cape May Diamond, The Legend of Michigan and Apple Tree Christmas, which she wrote and illustrated. Her newest titles are The Orange Shoes (IRA Teachers’ Choice 2008), The Pennsylvania Reader, The New Jersey Reader, Little New Jersey and The People of Twelve Thousand Winters. Ms. Noble also wrote the ever-popular Jimmy’s Boa series and Meanwhile Back at the Ranch, both featured on PBS’s Reading Rainbow. Her many awards include ALA Notable Children’s Book, Booklist Children’s Editors’ Choice, IRA-CBC Children’s Choice, Learning: The Year’s Ten Best, plus several state reading awards and Junior Literary Guild selections.

Her latest title is The Legend of the Jersey Devil, and forthcoming in March of 2015 is Lizzie and the Last Day of School.

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Ms. Noble has studied children’s book writing and illustrating in New York City at Parsons School of Design, the New School University, Caldecott medalist Uri Shulevitz’s Greenwich Village Workshop, and at New York University. She is on the board of The New Jersey Center for the Book and a member of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature.   In 2002 she was awarded Outstanding Woman in Arts and Letters in the state of New Jersey for her lifetime work in children’s books, along with letters of commendation from the US Senate, the US House of Representatives and the US Congress. Ms. Noble currently lives in northern New Jersey. Learn more by visiting her website at www.trinkahakesnoble.com.

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Trinka is giving away a signed copy of THE ORANGE SHOES!

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This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

Aaron Headshot 2, croppedby Aaron Reynolds

“Where do you get your ideas?”

This is the question that kids and aspiring writers ask me the most. And the answer is kinda lame: I have absolutely no idea.

I recognize that many people think about ideas as elusive endangered species that love to play hide-and-go-seek with us writers. But I disagree. I think ideas are everywhere! They fill the air around us like hyperactive dragonflies, just waiting to be snatched out of the air, captured, and put to work. Our job is to collect them. The problem is…we don’t always.

Instead…

We JUDGE our ideas. And then we DISMISS them.

How many times have you done it? An idea buzzes your way at the most unexpected time. Maybe during breakfast. You’re happily eating away on your raisin-crunch oatmeal, not thinking about picture books at all, and suddenly you find yourself thinking,

“I wonder what would happen if this spoon….ATTACKED ME???!!!”

It’s just a blip on your imagination, and in the micro-second that it takes you to think “That’s stupid.”, you dismiss it and continue chomping.

HELLO? THAT’S A PICTURE BOOK!

(Not yours though. Hands off…that one’s mine.)

That little dragonfly of a idea buzzed into your head for a reason…it wants to be used. It wants to be put to work, to be brought into being. Your job was to capture that little sucker, but instead, you judged it and dismissed it as inconsequential. And then, horror of horrors, you forgot about it.

And the idea dies. Unused. And unwritten.

When I first got the idea for a story about a bunny being stalked by evil root vegetables, don’t you think my first thought was “Dumb idea”? It totally was. But that didn’t stop me from capturing the idea that later became CREEPY CARROTS.

Creepy Carrots cover

A lion, a wolf, and a shark all feel terrible about their meat-eating ways. Until they get some great advice from a wise old owl…who then meets a grisly death at their hands. What a TERRIBLE IDEA for a picture book! But when that idea showed up in my brain, I was on it like a fat kid on Cinnabon (and being less-than-svelte myself, you’d be surprised how quickly we can move when frosting-drenched cinnimon is around). That idea became my book CARNIVORES.

Carnivores owl shot

I am a collector of ideas. And so are you. Every idea you can get your grubby little mitts on.

How you keep them is up to you. I don’t keep my dragonflies in a cage. Or even a journal. I put them under a rock. Literally. (I know…weird. Maybe it’s a boy thing.)

I have something in my office called an Idea Rock.

idea rock 

And EVERY idea that flits my way gets captured, no matter where I am, no matter what I’m doing. You can see in the picture…there are ideas captured on 1000-Island-Dressing-stained-napkins that I got while eating rueben sandwiches. There are post-it-note ideas. There’s even a wedding program with an idea on it under there (man, that wedding was boring). I go through life with the assumption that every idea holds book-worthy potential, that no idea is inconsequential, therefore, they all get captured. They get put under the rock, and from there, they’re going nowhere (that rock is really heavy). And so, even if they do get momentarily judged (as ideas and dragonflies will), they never get dismissed, so they never get forgotten.

I have hundreds of ideas under there…more than I’ll ever be able to write in ten lifetimes. They’re not all gold. They won’t all become books. But they are all CAUGHT.

So put your judgement away and get your net ready. Because that buzzing you hear may just become your next book.

guestbloggerbio2014

Aaron Reynolds is a New York Times Bestselling Author and has written many highly acclaimed books for kids, including Here Comes Destructosaurus!, Carnivores, the Joey Fly – Private Eye graphic novel series, and the Caldecott Honor Winning Creepy Carrots! He has a passion for kids’ books and seeing kids reading them. He regularly makes time to visit schools where his hilarious hands-on presentations keep kids spellbound. Aaron lives in Chicago with his wife, 2 kids, 4 cats, and anywhere between zero and ten goldfish, depending on the day.

You can visit him at www.aaron-reynolds.com.

prizedetails2014

Aaron is giving away one signed copy each of CREEPY CARROTS, CARNIVORES and HERE COMES DESTRUCTOSAURUS!

These prizes will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for these prizes if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

by Mylisa Larsen

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today is the 27th of November. For some of you, that means you have 27 ideas lined up like jewels on your desk. I have nothing to say to you. Keep doing whatever it is you’ve been doing. Never mess with what’s working.

But some of you have only 17 ideas or 14 or [sigh] 9. Let me be frank. It is now time to panic.

256px-Panic_button

by John (Flickr: Panic button)

Panic can be a great motivator. But there are two kinds of panic. Only one is going to be useful here. We want nothing to do with the kind of panic that says, “See, I knew I couldn’t do this. I knew I wasn’t the kind of person who could have thirty ideas.” Stop. Immediately. No one wants to be around you when you are like that. Especially muses.

mylisaforpibo

We are going for an entirely different kind of panic. We are going for elevated pulse, eyes wide open, “well let’s try something completely new today because we have to get 15 ideas in the next 3 days and isn’t that going to be crazy fun” kind of panic. We are going for a “get out of your comfort zone and go drink the world in until it pours out in ideas” kind of panic.

So, here are 5 ideas for creative panicking:

  1. Are you sitting down at your desk? Why? That B.I.C. thing can be taken to an extreme, you know. If the ideas are not showing up at your desk, why are you still there? Why aren’t you out kayaking or dancing or sitting in a bubble bath? At the very least, you should be running through the halls yelling, “December is coming, December is coming.” People will just think you’re freaking out over holiday shopping so you’ll totally get away with it. But really, you’re signalling to your brain, “Today is not business as usual. Get out of your well worn little rut. We are going for a ride today.”
  1. Are you putting yourself where you can hear rhythm? We’ve already talked about dancing but you could also find some kids to play jump rope with. Play a clapping and rhyming game with the kids at the bus stop. Or climb up a tree and pay attention for awhile. The world is made of rhythms. So are a lot of picture books.
  1. Quick, who is your favorite illustrator? Go outside and look at everything as if it were one of their illustrations. What would that look like? What things would that illustrator notice or create out of what you are seeing? Try not to let yourself have words during this exercise. Just visuals. Then come back inside and pretend an editor has just called to say, “Edward Gorey/Diane Goode/Lane Smith/Pamela Zagarenski just called. They’d like to illustrate one of your books.” Write that book. Then pick another artist with a completely different sensibility and repeat.
  1. Wait, aren’t you going somewhere today to eat pie? This is perfect. Crazy relatives, frazzled toddlers, small children meeting Aunt Cora’s special jello for the first time. There will be stories there. Watch for them. Offer to entertain someone’s two year old. Remember what being two was like. Take all the young cousins out in the backyard and help them build a snowfort or rake leaves or play tag. They will love you for it. And you will find a story.

And if you aren’t meeting up with relatives for Thanksgiving, where are you going today? Because I’ll bet there’s a story there too.

  1. Look, the point is that panicking creatively is just about pulling out all the stops and flying at this task from some new angles. It’s about playing. So quit acting like such a grownup. When was the last time you sat down with some colored paper and cut it into shapes just because it was cool paper and you had scissors? When was the last time you laid on your belly in the grass and watched a tiny world go by? Have you drawn on your walls lately?

Loosen up a little. Grin like you have a secret. Play. Panic (creatively).

guestbloggerbio2014

mylisa_email_2-2Mylisa Larsen has been telling stories for a long time. This has caused her to get gimlet-eyed looks from her parents, her siblings and, later, her own children when they felt that certain stories had been embellished beyond acceptable limits. She now writes children’s books where her talents for hyperbole are actually rewarded.

She is the author of the picture books, Instructions for Bedtime (Katherine Tegen Books, January 2016) and If I Were A Kangaroo (Viking).

You can visit her online at MylisaLarsen.com.

prizedetails2014

Mylisa is giving away a picture book critique!

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

by Ruth McNally Barshaw

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guestbloggerbio2014

RuthMcNallyBarshawcolor72dpiRuth McNally Barshaw grew up in the Detroit area. When she was little she wanted to be an artist. She thought books were written by companies, not real people, so she didn’t want to write books. She changed her mind in 2002, and three years later connected with a fabulous agent who sold the first Ellie McDoodle book to Bloomsbury Children’s Books. Then it became a series.

She is the author-illustrator of the six Ellie McDoodle Diaries (often compared to Diary of a Wimpy Kid). She’s the illustrator of Leopold is Lost, by Denise Brennan-Nelson, due out in 2015 with Sleeping Bear Press. And she is author-illustrator of several other picture books currently in various stages of development.

She and her writer-husband Charlie frequently take their story creation workshop on the road to schools, libraries and conferences. Otherwise you can find them at home or at a local bookstore, writing.

View Ruth’s artwork, books, and workshop details at RuthExpress.com and connect with her on Twitter @ruthexpress.
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You can win a signed-and-doodled copy of Ruth’s latest Ellie McDoodle book! It’s not a picture book, but it does have art on every page.

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This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

 

LizPortait2013_0001-(ZF-0850-58463-1-006)by Liz Garton Scanlon

Recently, while discussing poetry with a bunch of 5th graders, I discovered a word that’s pretty much left our daily vernacular: loafe.

Whitman used it in SONG OF MYSELF…

I loafe and invite my soul
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass

…but not a single student knew what the word meant. There were jokes about loaves of bread, and one girl thought she had it, but it turns out she’d gotten it mixed up with loathe. Which, you’ll agree, is another thing entirely.

Image via http://becuo.com

Image via becuo.com

Once I defined the word for them, they loved it. I said, “Pretty great, right? To be given permission–even encouragement–to loafe about?!” and everybody laughed with relief. (Except for one boy who said, “I try to loafe about a LOT, but my mom won’t let me.” 🙂 )

So I stepped away from the session with kind of a two-part reminder to myself, and since it’s fresh on my mind, I’ll remind you, too:

  1. Loafe about. Seriously. Creativity can’t be rushed. You need to absorb before you can express. You need to walk and garden and bathe and dream and breathe. These things are the stuff that art is made of, the places ideas come from, the source of a sustained head and heart. Really, loafing about isn’t just important when making picture books–it’s important when living life. Professor Omid Safi asked, in a recent column called The Disease of Being Busy, “When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?” We know this, right? Right. This is just a reminder.
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  2. And here’s the other one. Let’s not let really great words like loafe go by the by. Let’s use them. I snuck the word kin into my book ALL THE WORLD, and strut into NOODLE & LOU. I used crimp in THE GOOD-PIE PARTY and hue in THINK BIG. These words are evocative and specific and rich and onomatopoeic–they’re too good to let go! And, as writers, it’s our duty to make sure that we’re not just left with a bunch of OMGs and LOLs on judgment day.

How about you make a list of words you used to hear and use, but never do anymore? What if you wrote down all the phrases your granddad used to say? And what if one of them gave you an idea? Picture books aren’t designed to dumb down; they’re meant to open up and out.  clicktotweet They’re meant to expand the words and the world that a child has at hand. Lucky us to be a part of all that.

So go ahead, make that list.

And then, what the heck, loafe about for a bit.

guestbloggerbio2014

Liz Garton Scanlon is the author of the highly-acclaimed Caldecott-honored children’s book All the World, illustrated by Marla Frazee, as well as this year’s The Good-Pie Party, illustrated by Kady McDonald Denton. Other books include Happy Birthday, Bunny; Think Big, A Sock is a Pocket for Your Toes, and more. Her next picture book (called In The Canyon) and her first novel for young readers, The Great Good Summer, are both due in 2015. Ms. Scanlon is also a poet, teacher and a frequent and popular presenter at schools, libraries and conferences. To learn more, visit her web site at LizGartonScanlon.com.

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Liz is giving away two copies of her latest picture book, THE GOOD-PIE PARTY! (YUMMY!)

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These prizes will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for these prizes if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

vesperstamperby Vesper Stamper

When I was growing up as a latch key kid in New York, two things formed my sense of place and identity in the world: my grandfather’s freckled arms and my picture books. There is something about visualizing a chosen reality that is so vital for kids as they transition from the Waldorf educational concept of the childhood dream-world to the brass-tacks world of adults. In a picture book, the world is presented as navigable, even through challenge. Whether the challenge is fear of closing one’s eyes to sleep, or losing a favorite bunny, or getting through the classic Grimms’ three-challenge arc, kids need to know that on the other side of something insurmountable is a green valley brimming with potential.

I am currently in the MFA program in Illustration as Visual Essay at School of Visual Arts, and most of the work I’m doing is a departure from my usual picture book work that you see here. I’m exploring my grandmother’s aging in one book project, and writing a love story set in post-Holocaust Germany which I will be illustrating this spring. I had a bit of a crisis about this, especially since I just signed with Rodeen Literary Management this summer and we’re just about to send one of my picture books out. But I realized that much of my work, even for kids, has to do with thriving after trauma, and that by exploring these more “adult” themes in my MFA, my picture book work will become more nuanced.

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Far from being just about cute stories, picture books are the vehicle for survival for many kids as they were for me. That is why they are so, so
important. And…they’re gorgeous to look at!

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Hopelessly lost among the wintry wardrobes of Pauline Baynes’ Narnia, Shaun Tan’s mysterious foreign lands, and the watery open spaces in Lisbeth Zwerger’s illustrations, Vesper Stamper’s calling as an illustrator began when she cracked open Hilary Knight’s Cinderella and spent the rest of her childhood meticulously copying each graceful page.

Vesper has a BFA degree in Illustration with Honors from Parsons School of Design. Her career has spanned fifteen years, dozens of album covers, four picture books and countless other exciting projects. Vesper brings a refined style and emotional depth to her work that pays homage to the rich illustrative tradition from which she comes.

Vesper was named the 2013 People’s Choice Finalist in the Lilla Rogers Global Talent Search and is the recipient of the 2012 Lincoln City Fellowship for her graphic novel, The Sea-King’s Children. She lives in Jersey City, NJ with her husband, filmmaker Ben Stamper, and their two children. She is the winner of both the 2014 NJ SCBWI Juried Show and People’s Choice awards, and is an MFA candidate in the Illustration as Visual Essay at School of Visual Arts, NYC.

Vesper is represented by Lori Kilkelly at Rodeen Literary Management, Inc.

I asked the kidlit agents participating in PiBoIdMo as your “grand prizes” to tell us why they love picture books. Their answers are sure to inspire!


Heather Alexander, Pippin Properties
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Picture books are easy to love because they are tiny little windows that offer beautiful glimpses out into the whole, wide, wonderful world, and into hearts like and unlike our own.

 

 

 

 

Stephen Fraser, Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency
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I do love picture books! There is nothing more satisfying than to find a picture book manuscript which has been carefully crafted to share a story with the youngest readers.  The Impressionist painter Pierre Auguste Renoir said that painting is “making love visible” and I can’t help thinking that is why some picture books are so endearing and everlasting. They make the love we feel for our children, our grandchildren, and the children within us very visible. It is a true craft which needs to be learned and practiced. And I honor those who learn this craft and honor children.

 

Kirsten Hall, Catbird Agency
Kirsten Hall
Picture books pretty much have me wrapped around their finger. I’m obsessed by the story-telling opportunities offered by this highly-visual genre! Picture books (as a format) seem simple at first blush, but they are often in fact quite layered and even poetic, displaying an elegant interplay between text and art. Best of all, picture books are accessible to everyone. You don’t have to be able to read in order to love them. They can be savored for what they offer visually, and when read aloud, until a reader has command over the written word. Simply, what format is better than the first one that takes children by the hand and turns them into book-lovers?

 

Susan Hawk, The Bent Agency
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The best part of picture books, for me, is way words and illustration marry together to create a sum greater than its parts.  I love the way art builds meaning in the story, and how the simplest of texts can be full of emotion and heart.  I remember so well the picture books that I poured over as a child — mystified and delighted to be invited into the world of reading and books.  For me, it’s an honor to represent picture books!

 

 

Tricia Lawrence, Erin Murphy Literary Agency

trishagentI love picture books because they celebrate a time in our life we all look back on so fondly. I love being a part of helping to create them because we’re creating books for kids who will look back on them for the rest of their lives.

 

 

 

Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
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I became a reader because of picture books, and I became an agent because of picture books. They are one of the richest and most influential forms of literature. So much feeling, so many laughs, in so few pages, meant to be read over and over again!

 

 

 

 

Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
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I love picture books because they speak to the quintessential child in each of us. They reach across the gaps of age and culture and language and bring us under their spell. A perfectly-crafted picture book is a full-senses experience that can last a lifetime.

 

 

 

Rachel Orr, Prospect Agency
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I love the breadth of story and emotion—from clever and comical, to poetic and pondering—that can be found within the framework of a 32-page picture book.  I love the right prose, the visual subplots, the rhythm and rhyme and repetition (and repetition, and repetition).  But, most of all, I love them because they’re short.

 

 

 

Kathleen Rushall, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency

kathleenrushallI love working with picture books because they remind me that the earliest literature we read in life can be some of the most memorable (and the most fun!).

 

 

 

 

Joanna Volpe, New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc.
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I love picture books because they’re fun to read aloud, and they’re meant to be read with someone else.They can’t not be shared! Even now, I don’t have kids, but when I read a good picturebook, my husband gets to be the audience. He’s very understanding. 🙂

 

 

 

 

by Ammi-Joan Paquette

Let me say one thing straight out: My picture book, GHOST IN THE HOUSE, is very close to my heart. Of my published picture books, it’s the one that’s gotten the most visibility so far, including a fabulous review in the New York Times, several “Best of the Year” roundups, and a pickup by the Scholastic Clubs and Fairs. Needless to say, these small joys absolutely thrilled me.

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But also? I have to be honest: They surprised me a little. Those of you who have heard me speak about GHOST IN THE HOUSE will have heard how it came about: Following the rejection of another Halloween manuscript, an editor asked if I “had any other spooky rhyming picture books.” At that moment, I did not. Several weeks, much brainstorming, and a torrent of writing later, I did.

Don’t get me wrong. I worked hard on GHOST IN THE HOUSE. But compared to many of my picture book texts, over which I toiled ad infinitum, this text came relatively easy. The end result also felt, well, simple. It was a sweet, zippy rhyming story. Short and to the point. Fun characters, neat twist. But when lined up against my other laboriously crafted stories—and, in particular, the one it had originally supplanted—it felt uncomfortably ordinary.

Still, someone wanted to publish my picture book! Joy!

In the months following publication, I gained more respect for my modest little manuscript. But it took one final thing to bring me fully around. And that was this: One day I received an email from my editor at Candlewick, asking what I would think about writing a companion book. It might, she suggested, be called ELF IN THE HOUSE.

Well! Ask no further—I was on it. GHOST was just a simple, puny little story, right? I could crank out another one of those in a flash. No worries!

Instead? I hit the blank page. Hard.

Frustrated at my false starts, I sat down and listed the elements that made up GHOST IN THE HOUSE, so I could attempt to replicate them (in a perfectly organic, all-new-and-fresh way, with a Christmas spin) in the sequel. Here’s what I needed:

  • recognizable creatures
  • a reason for the creatures to accumulate
  • tension—what’s keeping the reader turning the pages?
  • perfect fit to the rhyming scheme
  • surprising twist
  • satisfying, feel-good ending

Let’s just say (if that list wasn’t clear enough), that this exercise made me look at GHOST in a whole new light. Short? Yes. Simple-easy-basic-ordinary? Not so much.

Astute readers will likely have seen this coming, but ELF IN THE HOUSE did not come in a flash. More than once I doubted if I could pull it off at all. It took writing, and rewriting, and re-rewriting. Forget inspiration: This was deliberate, backbreaking effort: Lists and brainstorming and trial-and-error and throw-it-all-out-and-start-over. Time after time after time. I’d almost have it… but not quite. This angle might work… only not.

It did not come easy. Not even close.

But finally, in the end, it did come. And great was my delight when my editor received my final manuscript, and made a publication offer. (Woohoo!)

Once ELF IN THE HOUSE is published, I imagine most readers won’t see much difference in tone between the two stories. From the outside, it’s likely that they’ll both appear effortless and breezy. But what this experience crystalized for me was that stories can be born in all sorts of ways. Some arrive on the magical wings of inspiration, landing lightly on your shoulder and seeping onto the screen with the greatest of ease. Others bare their bloody fangs and force you to wrestle them into submission.

One method, one origin, one final story is not necessarily greater than any other. We are authors: we take what we can get, and we make it our own. It’s the making—however long or short, easy or gut-hard—that brings the magic.

guestbloggerbio2014

joanagent

Ammi-Joan Paquette is an author and a literary agent with Erin Murphy Literary Agency. She’s a mother, friend, reader, traveler, food-lover, chocolate connoisseur. She is not especially tidy, a fan of mushy vegetables, or good at coming up with spur-of-the-moment self-portraits.

Learn more about Joan and her books at ajpaquette.com and follow her on Twitter @JoanPaq.

DianaMurrayBioPhotoby Diana Murray

Picture books are as varied as the potions in a witch’s cupboard. Some are spicy and bubbly, while others are mellow and sweet. So which kinds of stories are editors and agents clamoring for? Well, their tastes are just as varied. But one thing that seems to be on everyone’s wish list is this: character-driven stories. A few examples include FANCY NANCY by Jane O’Connor, LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA by Anna Dewdney, PINKALICIOUS by Elizabeth Kann, RUSSELL THE SHEEP by Rob Scotton, SKIPPYJON JONES by Judy Schachner, PETE THE CAT by Eric Litwin, LADYBUG GIRL by David Soman and Jacky Davis, MAX AND RUBY by Rosemary Wells, and SCAREDY SQUIRREL by Mélanie Watt. As you can see, character-driven books have great series potential and overall marketing potential. When readers fall in love with a character, they want to read more about him/her, and it’s fun to visualize what other sorts of situations the character may get into.

This doesn’t mean that character-driven stories are the only kinds that sell or do well in the marketplace. Nor does it mean that writers should focus primarily on pleasing editors or following trends. The best writing comes from the heart! But with that in mind, if you want to explore the possibilities of a character-driven story, here is one quick and easy recipe for brewing up a strong concept. Two ingredients are all you need!

  • Personality Trait
  • Conflicting Goal

I recommend you start off with a list of your own personality traits. This will make it easy for you to feel an emotional connection with (and understanding of) the trait.

My list might look something like this:

  • introverted
  • joker
  • nerdy
  • perfectionist
  • quiet
  • creative
  • analytical
  • messy
  • quirky
  • worrier

DianaMurrayBlogArtBG

Pick one trait (or several, if you’re feeling bold!). Next, choose a goal. Not just any goal, but specifically a goal that is in opposition to the trait you selected. When I wrote GRIMELDA, THE VERY MESSY WITCH, I chose the trait of being “messy” and made the goal “to find an item the character desperately wants/needs.” Or let’s say, for example, I choose “quiet”, then perhaps the goal would be to sing on stage, or speak out against something, or win an international yodeling contest. Sprinkle the goal in with your trait and–POOF! Instant conflict. And the conflict is intrinsically related to the essence of the main character. Adding conflict to a story is one way of encouraging readers to keep turning the pages. They’ll want to find out what happens next! Now, how will your character attempt to reach that goal or face that problem in his/her own unique way?

Feel that story bubbling to life? Now all you have to do is write (and revise, and revise) the rest. Of course, that’s the hard part. But a little inspiration magic can go a long way!

guestbloggerbio2014

Diana Murray is the author of several forthcoming picture books including, CITY SHAPES (Little, Brown, Spring 2016), NED THE KNITTING PIRATE: A SALTY YARN (Roaring Brook Press, Winter 2016), and GRIMELDA, THE VERY MESSY WITCH, plus a sequel (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, Summer 2016, 2017). Diana is the recipient of two SCBWI Magazine Merit Awards (2013 and 2014) and an Honor (2013) for poetry. She also won the 2010 SCBWI Barbara Karlin Work-In-Progress Grant for a picture book text. Diana is represented by Brianne Johnson at Writers House. She was raised in New York City and currently lives in a nearby suburb with her husband, two very messy children, and a goldfish named Pickle. Diana’s character GRIMELDA was brewed up during the first official PiBoIdMo, back in 2009! You can read more about that experience here.

For more information and news, you can visit DianaMurray.com or follow Diana on twitter: @DianaMWrites.

prizedetails2014

Diana is giving away a picture book critique!

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

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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COMING SOON:

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Summer/Fall 2018

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