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In 2008, I had the most nerve-wracking 20-minute drive of my life. My knuckles paled, my stomach gurgled, and my thoughts raced faster than the 35 MPH I could manage to clock on the highway. I was on my way to my first kidlit conference ever: the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature One-on-One Conference. AHHHH! Somebody help me!

Thanks, Ryan. I know you would have, honey. But I digress…

I knew practically nada about writing for kids, but I had the start to a middle grade novel that had gotten good feedback from my critique group. So I slipped the first three pages into an envelope earlier that summer and waited patiently for the response. Thankfully, I was on vacation for the final two weeks of the countdown. It made my vacation go by much more slowly. I recommend this tactic to anyone who must wait—go to a beach and plop a lounge chair in the sand, facing the ocean. Or facing Ryan Gosling in surfing trunks. You’ll come to love the waiting.

But when the vacation was over and the car hit our driveway, I jumped out and dashed to the post office. Awaiting me was a thick envelope, and remembering the drill from college admissions, I knew this meant a “yes”!

So off I went. I was so green. (Although I wore a cute purple blouse.) But when the event was done, I blogged all about it. It helped me absorb the information like a SCBWI sponge. Hopefully my notes help prepare you for this year’s conference. You can review them all here: RUCCL 2008.

But Tara, what does this all mean?

It means that the RUCCL 2012 Application is now available!

And guess who’s your morning “Success Story” speaker?

As Miss Piggy would say, “MOI!”

Yeah, I was pretty floored they asked me. Trinka Hakes Noble sent me an email saying, “I hope you don’t mind, but I put your name forward as our Inspiration Speaker for the mentee breakfast.  Would you be interested?”

Would I be interested? Are you kidding? Of course I am! Wow! Whoopee! Holy macaroni! Keeno Yaccarino!

Wait a second, what did I just agree to…? Pale knuckles and gurgling stomach again?

Well, I am hoping many of my blog readers will be accepted to the conference this year. Because not only do I want to see you succeed, I’ll need your help during my presentation. (Details to come. No, you won’t need to hold a barf bucket. Well, maybe. OK, don’t hold me to that promise.)

So polish up those manuscripts! You’ve got until July 2 to postmark them.

And if you have any questions about the conference, please ask away in the comments!

by Carol Hampton Rasco
President/CEO, Reading Is Fundamental (RIF)

What a special week in the Children’s Literature World…two of my favorite “specials” this month are the start of Picture Book Idea Month (plus two days!) and the birthday of Reading Is Fundamental where the 45th birthday will be celebrated Thursday, November 3 with Lilly and her famous purple purse with lots of children and special guests at the Library of Congress!

And you know what? I see PiBoIdMo as seriously connected to RIF and our mission. Each time I write or talk about this year’s major milestone birthday of 45 years for RIF, I talk about the 380 million magical moments, the 380 million books placed into the hands of children over these 45 years RIF has existed. And guess what? The majority of those 380 million moments have been brought about by picture books given our primary audience of birth to 8 years of age.

Within that age group, RIF seeks first to serve those children most in need and sadly, with poverty the greatest indicator of probable difficulty to read well and independently by the end of third to fourth grade, it means according to the latest poverty reports we have that even more children by comparison in years past to ignite, to motivate, to inspire to learn to read. This means in reality, we need so many different books in order to strike that chord deep within a child, to create the birth of that “aha!” moment, that “wow!” experience that has a child believing “If I can read, I can do anything, be anything.”

Last year I wrote in my guest post for PiBoIdMo noting three types of picture books we hear about most as on the “wanted” list by teachers, reading specialists, PTA parents, Kiwanis Club members—RIF volunteers of all stripes and professions: nonfiction that is “eye and mind catching”, bilingual books, and multicultural books. The requests continue to be the same. All three categories are also critical to the family involvement component RIF believes critical to the success of our mission in motivating children to love reading.

Last weekend I saw again in person the beauty of a picture book that had four generations of individuals pouring over a book, sharing common knowledge and experiences elicited by the book in front of them. It is a picture book about animals in winter—“it doesn’t look like a true fact book, they’re usually boring” as generation two noted in his 6-year-old voice. Generation one was intrigued by the pictures, generation two was eager to learn more about the animals he already had discovered, parents of gen two had no idea about some of the more unusual facts and gen three had information to add about ways these animals were viewed in “the olden days.” After going through the book the family discovered information added by the author at the back and headed to the computer, four generations together again! Gens one and two were reading the text even…what a great experience for the family together…it was a spontaneous activity shared following a meal and lasted with no whining for more than 30 minutes. This family is not unique, no reason this animal book would have been predicted to be the one to “catch their eyes” over others. But it connected for them; it was a prolonged magical moment. And to serve the children and families who need us most, we need lots and lots of books portraying life and our surroundings in oh, so many different ways!

With Thanksgiving now on the horizon, our Hampton multi-generations will for the 32nd year read sometime before the meal begins “Thanksgiving at the Tappletons’” by Eileen Spinelli (1982 version) which was given to my son on his 6th birthday that year. It is a tradition every child entering the family savors when old enough to follow the laugh lines and even more when old enough to be a reader!

A magical moment…that is what you are creating in a picture book…memories that plant the seeds of a lifetime love of reading. My best wishes to all of you as you put those ideas into writing this month! Hurray, more magic is on the way!

Happy Reading!

Do you think you can meet the PiBoIdMo challenge and create 30 new picture book ideas in 30 days? Well then, sign-up for all the craziness!

Those who sign-up for Picture Book Idea Month will be eligible for prizes—and oh, are there prizes this year! Signed books, picture book critiques, original art by picture book illustrators, book jewelry, hand-made journals, vintage children’s books, and feedback from one of three literary agents. Plus more to come, including items from our PiBoIdMo Cafe Press shop, which will open on November 1. You’ll be able to get PiBoIdMo mugs, mouse pads, t-shirts and tote bags whose proceeds will support children’s book charities.

To sign-up this year, you must do three things:

1. Subscribe to this blog via email. (Handy-dandy button in the left column.) This way you won’t miss any of the amazing guest bloggers.

2. Leave your full name in the comments of this post. The form will ask for your email address. Please be sure to enter it so I can contact you if need be. (Your address won’t be published and I won’t use it for any other purpose.)

3. Display the official PiBoIdMo participant badge on your blog, website, or social network. (Right click to save to your computer.) Please include a link back to so folks know where to join the challenge.  And if you’re game, mention what a super job Bonnie Adamson did on the logos. (If you don’t have anywhere to display the banner, then skip this one.)


4. Add a firefly Twibbon to your Twitter avatar.

5. Join the PiBoIdMo Facebook discussion group.

6. Repeat the pledge 10 times fast:

I do solemnly swear
that I will faithfully execute
the PiBoIdMo 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge,
and will, to the best of my ability,
parlay my ideas into
picture book manuscripts
throughout the year.

That’s it. You’re good to go! (Wish I were good to go. I’ve got a sick kid at home today!)

PiBoIdMo will kick-off with the first guest post on October 30 this year, so you’ll have two extra days to get in those 30 ideas! Sign-up will close on November 3rd, so you must be registered before then to qualify for prizes!

Just visit here daily for inspiration from the guest bloggers, then keep a notebook or computer file of your daily ideas. There’s no need to post your ideas online or send them to me. If you’d like, comment on the daily posts with a simple “Eureka!” Remember, your ideas are for your eyes only! At the end of the month, I’ll ask you to sign a pledge confirming you did create 30 ideas, and then I’ll pick prize winners from that bunch.

Thanks for joining! I hope you enjoy this year’s PiBoIdMo! As always, if you have any suggestions for this event, please contact me at tarawrites (at) yahoo (dot) you-know-the-rest.

And now I leave you with my favorite Roald Dahl quote from THE MINPINS. I believe it sums up my intent for PiBoIdMo quite nicely, like a good ol’ English chap would:

And above all,
watch with glittering eyes
the whole world around you
because the greatest secrets
are always hidden
in the most unlikely places.
Those who don’t believe in magic
will never find it.

It’s summer, so let’s have some fun, shall we?

How about a contest?

Good. I thought you’d like that.

And this one is easy. You don’t have to send a manuscript. All you need to enter is a premise.

That’s right! A picture book premise.

Make it unique, make it funny, make it touching. In less than 100 words tell me your story’s premise. What’s the problem? What crazy situation has got your character all flummoxed? Imagine it’s your book’s jacket copy. What would you say to sell the audience on your book? You’ve only got a few seconds to capture someone’s attention, so make it snappy.

The best premise will win a free critique–and get this, you don’t even have to have the book written yet! Think of a great premise now, claim your critique later. I’ll honor the free critique for as long as you need (although it’s non-transferable and its cash value is 1/100th of a cent.)

There are three steps to enter:

  1. Subscribe to my blog via email if you haven’t already. (See handy button in the top left column of my blog.)
  2. Send your premise in the body of an email with the subject line “PB Premise Contest” to tarawrites at yahoo dot you-know-what. All entries must be received by Sunday, August 14th. (One entry per person, please. So make it your best.)
  3. Tell your friends. The person who refers the most people to my blog will also win a critique! (Just let me know in a comment below who you referred. I’m working on the honor system here.)

That’s all! So easy-peasy! I’ll announce the winners the week of August 15th.

One last thing–if your premise is anything like one of my current projects, I will notify you, just to let you know, I’m not taking anyone’s premise. I’ve got enough of my own begging me to write them!

I drew this illustration to accompany an old story I wrote about my pencils and pens–who felt used and abused by my ceaseless creating, so they up and staged a revolt and escape! I never told my agent I could draw. I don’t think it’s good enough to be in books, but I thought I’d share it here. Maybe a coloring contest is in order?

Copyright 2011 Tara Lazar

I recently discovered a little gem of a book, a 1967 Reader’s Digest “New Family Quiz Book” with illustrations by Quentin Blake (mysteriously uncredited, but undoubtedly his).

The book is full of brain teasers and word puzzles, but there’s also a section that tests your creativity.

Jot down your answers to the following questions–your choice of responses shows your creativity. I’ll be back in a few days with the answers!

Object: Which responses do you feel apply to you?

1. Would you rather be considered:
a. practical ?
b. ingenious ?

2. Does following a schedule:
a. appeal to you ?
b. cramp you ?

3. Do you often get behind in your work?
a. Yes
b. No

4. Do hunches come to you just before you go to sleep?
a. Yes
b. No

5. Do you often fret about daily chores?
a. Yes
b. No

6. Do you like to introduce the speaker at a meeting?
a. Yes
b. No

7. Do you sometimes feel anxious about the success of your efforts?
a. Yes
b. No

8. Do you like work in which you must influence others?
a. Yes
b. No

9. Are you fundamentally contented?
a. Yes
b. No

10. Do you spend many evenings with friends?
a. Yes
b. No

11. Do you frequently day-dream?
a. Yes
b. No

12. Do you remember the names of people you meet?
a. Yes
b. No

Carol Gordon Ekster is a former teacher, author and writing tutor, and if you live in the Andover, MA area, she will visit your classroom for free!

Sponsored by this blog as part of the KidLit4Japan auctions, the giveaway runs now to May 15, with a visit to be arranged before the end of the school year.

Carol Gordon Ekster will visit for an hour, read her book Where Am I Sleeping Tonight? and  lead the class in a writing lesson, focusing on the features of good writing. Sending home a note to parents for possible purchase of her book would be appreciated.  And of course she will sign them!

The winning class should be within 25-30 miles of Andover, MA and the visit is most appropriate for 2nd through 5th grade.

To enter, leave a comment telling us why your class would love to win this author visit. The winning class will be chosen on May 15. Good luck!

by Dana Carey

Everyone knows what a great organization The Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators is—bringing together people who love children’s books for 40 years. Did you know they do it all over the world? SCBWI France was founded in 1995 with a handful of members but it’s grown to a plucky little chapter of about 50. We have our regional conference in the fall that coincides with the French Children’s Book Fair in Paris and another big event in the spring. This May we’re organizing a Seaside Retreat way out here (I’m waving at you from the Breton coast in western France) with Diane Stanley as author/illustrator-in-residence.

I joined SCBWI in 2004 and started volunteering by cleaning up after a conference. Our tireless Regional Advisor, Tioka Tokedira asked me to explore the idea of a retreat in my area. Next thing you knew, I was an Event Coordinator. Then on the board working on publicity. And now I’m Assistant Regional Advisor. Tioka is great at rounding up the troops and I’m so glad she spotted me. I never really thought of myself as an Event Coordinator never mind ARA but here I am. That’s SCBWI: possibilities abound.

Living far from La Capitale can be isolating but being an active member of SCBWI France has helped. I’ve connected with people who share my interest but more importantly take it as seriously as I do. I’ve learned about children’s literature and the publishing industry but I’ve also done things I didn’t think I was inclined to do. One recent example was the Literary Discussion/Pitch Event in Paris with agent/author John Cusick of Scott Treimel NY on April 1st called “The Hook and Heart of the Story.” The idea of pitching in person made me nervous.

Our homework for this event made me think about my stories differently. While preparing my “hearts” and “hooks” as well as a pitch, I had to take a cold hard look at my work and reduce it to a few sentences. It was a test that revealed the difference between a story for submission and a story that stays in the desk drawer.

We met in a cozy restaurant called Le Patio but weren’t on the patio; instead we were in the basement, like those 1950’s beatniks on poetry night. There was even a jazz duo performing at one point. We sat on sofas and ottomans nestled around John discussing the heart of the story: “it’s the bones of the book.” The heart provokes the emotional response while the hook draws in the reader.

During the second part of the evening we pitched to John one-on-one, as if we bumped into each other in an elevator and he could not escape. It was supposed to be natural but I memorized it and rehearsed with my daughter (she couldn’t escape either) and we both realized why I’m not an actress. Luckily, this did not matter. It was evident during the pitch that John was much more interested in listening and processing my content than in dissecting my delivery. It was great to have the chance to try something new in a nonjudgmental atmosphere. John gave me some solid feedback on the pitch and then we discussed the story. All in 5 minutes.

I left knowing my next steps. And I learned first hand that during a pitch, the “pitcher” isn’t the only one working: the agent is listening hard, processing the information and then delivering a coherent critique full of insight. Not an easy thing to do in 5 minutes. But it’s worth stepping out of your comfort zone for it.

Join me (somewhere outside my comfort zone) at an SCBWI France event (in English): Find us on twitter: @scbwifrance and Facebook: SCBWI France.

Bon courage et à bientôt!

Before she moved out to the provinces, Dana Carey worked as a graphic designer in Paris then taught English to architecture and art school students. Now she writes and illustrates picture books. She also reads MG/YA books in English and writes reports in French for French publishers as well as doing some translation, painting and child-rearing on the side. Find her on twitter: @danaFR.

by Michael Sussman
with illustrations by Casey Girard

The struggle for new ideas can frustrate even the most creative writers and artists. For PiBoIdMo 2009, I unveiled my revolutionary device—the IdeaCatcher™—employing the latest in windsock technology to snag ideas from the air. Despite a very reasonable price of $29.95, sales were disappointing.

Undaunted, I’ve returned to the drawing board, and this year am pleased to offer not just one but two ground-breaking products, available exclusively for PiBoIdMo 2010 participants and lurkers.

Exciting new developments in neuropsychiatric research have revealed direct links between literary genres and specific regions of the brain. Mysteries, for example, are generated by the prefrontal cortex, and science fiction is associated with the anterior hypothalamus.

The human brain is a remarkable organ, but to function optimally it sometimes requires a little prodding. That’s where Whack-a-Plot™ comes in! Using this ingenious device, you can stimulate your gray matter to spew forth a story in the genre of your choice.

The Whack-a-Plot™ kit includes a titanium mallet and a detailed map of the skull, pinpointing the exact region of the brain responsible for each literary category. Need an idea for a pop-up picture book? Simply locate your posterior cingulate gyrus and pound away! Within seconds of regaining consciousness, you’ll have your story.

There may be times, however, when your mind is so sluggish or crammed with useless information that no amount of whacking will do the trick. In such cases, you’ll need Brano™. Just as Drano® flushes out clogged drains, and high colonics rid the colon of accumulated waste, Brano™ purges your mind of stale ideas. Two squirts in each nostril and you’re good to go! Out with the clichéd phrases and stale storylines, and in with the brilliant epiphanies!

Kiss writer’s block goodbye forever! Purchase Whack-a-Plot™ for just four payments of $19.99, and we’ll throw in Brano™ for free! Call 1-555-IDEA-NOW today! (Offer not valid in Tennessee or District of Columbia.)

Michael Sussman is a clinical psychologist and writer who resides in the Boston area. His debut picture book—OTTO GROWS DOWN—was published by Sterling, with illustrations by Scott Magoon. Dr. Sussman is also the author of A Curious Calling: Unconscious Motivations for Practicing Psychotherapy, and the editor of A Perilous Calling: The Hazards of Psychotherapy Practice.

Casey Girard is a freelance designer and illustrator working out of Boston. Her main business is marketing design for trade books and she is currently working on polishing up her own book ideas.

Photo credit DOCUMERICA by Patricia D. Duncan

Something strange happens to women once they reach 50, and I’m not talking about hot flashes and sagging skin. I am referring to those female family members who have an overabundance of stuff and feel the sudden need to unload it on me.

I do not need wooden napkin rings circa 1974 nor a pilly afghan in the trendy avocado green of that decade. A framed print seems like a generous offering, until I learn that it sits beneath cracked glass. Sweaters and velvet jackets thick with dust and the odor of mothballs? No thanks. Old dented tins, used shopping bags, vinyl placemats, and assorted ceramic chachkas—does my home look like a flea market?

I have relatives who want to get rid of things. I understand that. But they assume the items are too good to throw away. Yet I suspect they also realize their knick-knacks aren’t desirable enough to sell, not even to the eBay-obsessed, so I’m the solution to their clutter.

So what do I do? Refuse the third PBS tote bag I’ve been offered?

No, I graciously accept it with a “thank you” and watch their eyes light up with pleasure, knowing their treasure has found another home within the family. And then I tuck it away into a dark basement closet, awaiting my 50th birthday when I can hopefully dump the stuff on my nieces.

But a few months ago for Picture Book Idea Month, Susan Taylor Brown told us how she finds inspiration: collecting “junk” in an idea box, and then imagining the story behind the brooch, feather or piece of iridescent ribbon she’s found.

So perhaps collecting chachkas isn’t such a bad experience for a writer. In fact, maybe I’ll start asking neighbors to unload their trash–I mean treasure–on me.

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