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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.
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.
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.
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…
(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:
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.
You heard right, PiBoIdMo, your beloved Picture Book Idea Month, is growing up and making some moves.
First–it will take place in JANUARY 2017 instead of NOVEMBER 2016.
Next–it will have a NEW NAME.
Finally–the focus will become broader, welcoming all kinds of writers and creative folk, from students to professionals.
MORE INFO SOON!!!
Oh boy, I didn’t realize how far behind I was in picking winners to various giveaways. I would say “my bad” but I don’t like that phrase.”My laziness” is more like it!
Well, things have been BUSY, though. I’ve got three–soon to be four–manuscripts under submission. And I’ve been editing others on their way to the printer. NORMAL NORMAN, out next March, just got a cover! Isn’t he (and his junior scientist pal) adorable???
There’s supposed to be a giveaway for LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD on Goodreads, but it hit some snafu and I’m trying to get it snafuless. Un-snafued? And don’t even get me started on Facebook ads! I’ve been getting emails “Your ad has been approved” and then ten minutes later, “Your ad has been disapproved” and then “That was a mistake, you are approved” in an endless loop.
Finally, I’ve been firming up the schedule for this year’s PiBoIdMo. I’m almost ready to go with the guest blogging calendar, agent-prizes, 2015 logo and participant badges (all by Troy Cummings). You’ll definitely want to meet our new friend “Bulby”! Please be sure to join our PiBoIdMo Facebook discussion group for all the latest/greatest.
I’m also making PDF hand-outs for PiBoIdMo Kick-Off parties if your SCBWI chapter wants to host a picture book schmooze-fest in late October or early November. I’m available to Skype into your party, too. As usual, I’ll be in my pajamas.
Just email me at tarakidlit at gmail for details. (And dance moves.)
Anyway, here are all the WINNAHS from recent (and not-so-recent) contests. I’ll be emailing y’all shortly! Congratulations!
FIRST GRADE DROPOUT Winner:
IT’S RAINING BATS & FROGS Winner:
THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON Winner:
FRACTURED FAIRY TALE SKYPE Winners:
Hmmm…I need a clever ending to this post. I always do a clever ending!
Oh, I got nuthin’. Kermit, take over for me, will ya?
I never had an ambition to become a picture book author. I know it is a thing that many people dream of doing. Their brains burst with rhythm and rhyme. They long to have their words matched with glorious pictures and put on shelves for children to love. I tumbled into it because I had a child and she desperately needed a story. She was struggling and hurting. I knew that the right story could help her. I looked for it at the library and in bookstores. I didn’t find it, and so I wrote it instead. This was how Hold on to Your Horses was created. I thought I was done, but my daughter still struggled and I knew there was another question to answer, so I wrote The Strength of Wild Horses. Both stories came directly from the need of a child. So that is my advice to all those participating in PiBoIdMo. If you’re struggling to find ideas, go spend time with some children.
I once read an article that described children’s play as taking place in the Future Possible tense. You can hear it in the intonations of the kids. They have an idea—something they hope will be accepted into the mutual game—So they make a statement, but give it the intonation of a question.
“And then I grew wings?” says one child.
The other nods and says, “And I pulled out my rocket pack and we flew to the mountain together?”
Each is part statement, part question. It is an expression of what might be possible in the next part of the game. Many adults would do well to think in the future possible tense. PiBoIdMo writers would do well to sit down with a note pad and scribble notes as fast as the kids can imagine. The games of children will teach you magic and whimsy that you can carry with you to the picture books you want to write. Children know that sometimes the best answer is to sprout a pair of wings (or a jetpack) and take off for the next mountain.
Stories are gifts to the children who read them. Your story may be a gift of whimsy or delight. It may be a solution to a problem. It may be a necessary lesson. Like gifts, these stories can come in all sorts of wrappings. They may be full of rhyme or they may be simple prose. The pictures may be simple or elaborate. If you’re not sure yet which story you want to tell, go spend time with the people you want to tell it to. Listen to them. Learn what they love, what they worry about, what they cry over. Throw all of this into the pot from which you draw your ideas and let it simmer for a while. The result will be something delightful or useful, and perfectly suited to your audience.
Sandra Tayler is a writer of essays, children’s books, picture books, speculative fiction, and blog entries, all of which can be found at onecobble.com . She has two picture books in print, two essay books, ten years of blog entries, and a novel in progress. Sandra can be found online at OneCobble.com or on twitter @SandraTayler. When she is not working, Sandra spends time with her house, her four kids, and her cartoonist husband, Howard Tayler.
Sandra is giving away a matched set of picture books Hold on to Your Horses and The Strength of Wild Horses. Perfect reading for anyone who has a child filled with wild ideas.
This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:
- You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
- You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
- You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)
Good luck, everyone!
***THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO REGISTERED. REGISTRATION IS NOW CLOSED. YOU CAN STILL PARTICIPATE BY READING THE DAILY POSTS, BUT IF YOU ARE NOT REGISTERED YOU ARE NOT ELIGIBLE FOR PRIZES. THANK YOU AND GOOD LUCK WITH THE CHALLENGE!***
Registration for PiBoIdMo 2014 is open! Let’s go!!!
First, let’s review our guest blogger line-up, shall we?
These authors, illustrators and picture book professionals will provide daily doses of inspiration to help you along on your 30-day idea journey this November.
And don’t forget—there’s Pre-PiBo beginning tomorrow, to get you organized and ready. And then in early December, there’s Post-PiBo to help you organize and prioritize your ideas.
Participants who register for PiBoIdMo and complete the 30-idea challenge will be eligible for prizes, including signed picture books, original art, critiques, Skype sessions and feedback from one of eleven picture book agents. This year’s agents are:
- Heather Alexander, Pippin Properties
- Stephen Fraser, Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency
- Kirsten Hall, Catbird Agency
- Susan Hawk, The Bent Agency
- Tricia Lawrence, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
- Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
- Rachel Orr, Prospect Agency
- Ammi-Joan Paquette, Erin Murphy Literary Agency
- Jodell Sadler, Sadler Children’s Literary
- Joanna Volpe, New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc.
- Kathleen Rushall, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency
Plus I still hope to add a few more!
Need more info about PiBoIdMo before you register? Read this.
So are you ready to register? You need to do THREE THINGS:
This is so you don’t miss any of the daily PiBoIdMo posts. If you already follow another way, via RSS or a blog reader, no need to do it again via email. And if you already follow via email, obviously skip this step.
Be sure to comment with your FULL NAME in the TEXT of the comment. This is how you will be identified for prizes.
Please, leave ONE COMMENT ONLY on this post.
DO NOT REPLY to other comments.
DO NOT COMMENT AGAIN if you forget to leave your FULL NAME. (I will fix it and/or contact you.)
If your comment DOESN’T APPEAR IMMEDIATELY, it means I have to moderate it. Check back in 24 hours to see if your comment appears. It probably will.
Here is the badge, designed by Vin Vogel! Right click to save to your computer and then upload it anywhere you please–Facebook, Twitter, your blog or website, etc.
If you do not have a place to display the badge, you can skip this step.
6. Join the PiBoIdMo Facebook discussion group. This is a closed group meaning you must request to join and I will approve you. (Note: the name says “2011″ but it is the current group.)
7. Repeat after me:
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 golden!
REGISTRATION REMAINS OPEN THROUGH NOVEMBER 7th. You can still follow along if you’re not registered, but remember, those who register and complete the challenge are eligible for PRIZES.
Visit this blog for daily inspiration from the guest bloggers, then keep a journal or computer file of your ideas. There’s no need to post your ideas online or send them to me. KEEP YOUR IDEAS TO YOURSELF! As Sheena Easton croons, they’re “for your eyes only.”
At the end of the month, I’ll ask you to sign the PiBo-Pledge confirming you did create 30 ideas. You’re on the honor system.
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) com or post a question on the PiBoIdMo Facebook group.
I will leave you with a quote that serves as PiBoIdMo’s motto…from Roald Dahl’s THE MINPINS…
*Photo credit Alessandro.
***TO COMMENT, SCROLL ALL THE WAY TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE***
I needed a kick in the pants to host a kick-off party. I never even THOUGHT about it until Leeza Hernandez asked me to host a PiBoIdMo Party for NJ-SCBWI. So to inspire you, I’ve created a three-page handout that you can use to host your own kick-off event. Writers, librarians and SCBWI devotees rejoice!
The first page contains the FAQ—what is this strangely-named online writing challenge all about? (Sorry, no instructions on how to pronounce it. I have no idea how to pronounce it myself!) This FAQ can be hung in your local library or writerly cafe to let others know about PiBoIdMo.
The next two pages provide exercises and tips from The Ghost of PiBoIdMo’s Past. I went through these exercises with my party peeps last Monday and they came up with some fabulous ideas for new stories already!
To access this free 3-page PiBoIdMo pamphlet, just click here:
And I just had another idea! Perhaps your kick-off party can include a kick ball! Hoverball, anyone?
Let me know if you’re planning to KICK IT with PiBoIdMo this year! I’d love to hear what you’ve got goin’ on!
Who can believe it’s almost November? I know, it was just November last year, right? And we had a whole buncha fun creating new picture book story concepts! (Need a recap? Look here.)
I’m still firming up the festivities for 2014 and will post the guest blogger line-up soon. But while you wait for that and for registration to begin (on October 25th, right here), here’s a peek at this year’s logo, created by the talented Vin Vogel, whose new picture book MADDI’S FRIDGE is out now from Flashlight Press, with author Lois Brandt.
Each year I ask the logo illustrator to include an important detail—a lightbulb, to represent ideas being created. This year, Vin had a delicious idea! (Was it from the FRIDGE? Sure seems like it. Well, maybe it was from the FREEZER.)
Registration for the November PiBoIdMo online event will commence October 25th. Individuals AND classes are invited to register. All registration requires is your name (or teacher’s name in the case of a class) on the registration post’s comment thread, plus you must also follow my blog (handy-dandy button in the left column). The “Official Participant” logo will also be available at that time for you to download and display on your website or social media platform.
Registration entitles you to PRIZES along the way, from signed books, critiques and author/illustrator Skype visits, to the grand prize–an idea consultation with a picture book agent. Last year we offered nine grand prizes!
Need somewhere to record your brilliance? The PiBoIdMo Cafe Press shop is open, featuring this year’s Official Journal of Ideas. Remember that all proceeds ($3 per sale) are donated to RIF, Reading is Fundamental. So your purchase benefits an excellent cause!
If you want to discuss the event with kindred spirits, please join our PiBoIdMo Facebook Group. (Please note it *is* the current group although the name on Facebook, which cannot be changed, says 2011.)
Well, that’s all for now, PiBoIdMo’ers. Except, can we think of a better name for y’all?
Thank you, PiBoIdMo participants, guest bloggers and illustrators. Do you know what you did?
You helped me raise $433.62 to donate to RIF, Reading is Fundamental.
Your purchases via the PiBoIdMo CafePress Shop made it possible.
For every $10 donated, RIF is able to distribute four books to a child in need.
So last month I made my way down to RIF Headquarters in D.C. I toured their offices and talked with RIF staff about the important work they’re doing.
One staff member had just returned from a county in Appalachia, where 28% of the schoolchildren were officially homeless, and where even more lived in crowded trailers with multiple families apiece.
The school Principal told RIF that amazingly, their test scores rose from 9th percentile to the 22nd percentile in just one year. To what did they attribute that growth? RIF! Now that these children have books of their own, they’re able to continue learning at home and over the summer break instead of being left behind. Books are AMAZING. But you already knew that, right?
As part of my trip to RIF, my publisher, the Aladdin imprint of Simon & Schuster, donated 100 copies of THE MONSTORE to the children at Bancroft Elementary in Washington, D.C. I was honored to appear at the school to talk to the children about writing and to personally sign every copy.
The best moment of the day? When I told the children they’d each be going home with a copy of my book. They cheered and hoorayed, and two besties in the front row hugged each other so tight they tumbled over in joy. Now that’s a great day for any author. Thank you, Aladdin and RIF!
I have something else important to tell you.
RIF’s donations have taken a plummet in recent times. The economy has hit them hard. So please consider donating directly. Remember $10 = 4 books!
And again, thank you for making the PiBoIdMo donation possible!
Every sale from the PiBoIdMo CafePress Shop will continue to benefit RIF!
It’s NOVEMBER ALREADY?
Well, almost. October will whip by in a sugar-induced haze. Especially because a) I’ll buy candy way too early and eat it all; and b) my kids will change their minds about their Halloween costumes umpteen times. “I wanna be Frankie Stein! No, Draculaura! No, a zombie mermaid! Ooh, I know, a picture book author! I can trick-or-treat in my jammies with a story stuck to my forehead! You’re sorta like a zombie, right, Mommy?”
October is NOT the month of jack-o-lanterns, candy corn (BLECH!) and costumes. It’s the month of PiBoIdMo-eve!
Our 5th anniversary logo, banners and badges have been designed by the kawaii-cutie, author-illustrator Joyce Wan.
Joyce knows my penchant for hot-air balloons. (My husband almost proposed on one. But I think he was afraid I’d drop the ring.)
So this year’s theme is IDEAS TAKING FLIGHT!
WAIT A MINUTE! DID THE BANNER UP TOP SAY 5TH ANNIVERSARY?!
Yep, it sure did. Which means I’ll have to come up with something super-snazzy for this year. So how ’bout JANE YOLEN?
Besides the legendary Ms. Yolen, here are some of the authors and illustrators who’ll be blogging all November long, helping you to fill your idea notebook with 30 picture book concepts:
- Drew Daywalt
- Michael Garland
- Melissa Guion
- Leeza Hernandez
- Lenore & Daniel Jennewein
- Renee Kurilla
- Mike Allegra
- Elizabeth Rose Stanton
- Bitsy Kemper
- Julie Falatko
- Adam Lehrhaupt
- Wendy Martin
- The McQueen Brothers
- Pat Miller
- Pat Zietlow Miller
- Anne Marie Pace
- Betsy Devany
- Paul Schmid
- Annette Simon
- Tammi Sauer
- Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
- Kami Kinard
- Dianne de las Casas
- Dorina Lazo Gilmore
- James Proimos
- Marcie Colleen
- Karen Henry Clark
- Maria Gianferrari
- Laurie Keller
- Katie Davis
- Ryan Sias
- Zachariah Ohora
- Kelly Light
- Steve Barr
- Greg Pizzoli
And even more to be announced…
Official registration will begin on this blog on OCTOBER 24th and run through NOVEMBER 4th. Watch for it! (It’s easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy if you just follow this blog. See left column.) Only officially registered participants will be eligible for PRIZES, like a consultation with a picture book agent!
But you can grab the “Official Participant” Badge NOW and proudly slap it on your blog or social network site. Kindly link it back to taralazar.com/piboidmo so folks know where to join the challenge. You can also grab the “Ideas Taking Flight!” slogan above.
And here’s some adorbs lightbulb balloons! Use them when you’re blogging about PiBoIdMo to express yourself!
The only thing that’s missing is the PiBoIdMo 2013 merchandise to benefit RIF—like your official idea notebook—so I’ll be announcing that soon.
In the meantime, let us know how YOU’RE gearing up for PiBoIdMo. Blog about it or leave a comment below. What are you looking forward to this November?
Me? Tonight I’m hosting one of NJ-SCBWI’s PiBoIdMo kick-off parties at the Manville Public Library. Maybe I’ll see some of you there? I promise I won’t be a zombie.
by guest blogger Julie Falatko
In 2011, after several months of taking picture book writing seriously, I heard about PiBoIdMo and thought, “Sure, why not?”
If I’d realized how much Picture Book Idea Month would change everything, I might not have been so glib about it. But at the time I didn’t realize that the work done during PiBoIdMo would get me an agent and a book deal.
That year, I came up with 48 ideas, one of which was good. I didn’t realize that at the time. At the time I thought they were all good. But as I wrote them up, I learned that sometimes what seems like a good picture book idea…maybe isn’t. Or at least not for me. I thought a story about a stalk of depressed broccoli would be great (spoiler: it wasn’t). A girl who puts on ridiculous clothes every morning? Snore. How about a kid who wants to be a writer? How about I bonk the reader on the head with boring bricks?
But PiBoIdMo 2011 took a wrench to an Idea Faucet that was rusted shut in my head, loosened it up, and oiled it with a big can of Pay Attention.
After that November, the ideas kept coming—drip, drip, drip—slowly, and, in most cases, terribly. But I like my brain. And I trust it enough to listen to it. So when it told me an idea, no matter how ridiculous, I wrote it down.
On November 1, 2012, I started my second year of PiBoIdMo. What I didn’t know was that my brain had gotten a much bigger wrench for the occasion. And instead of opening up the Idea Faucet a little more, my brain clean knocked the whole faucet off—THWACK!—and let the ideas spurt up like a fountain at the park.
November 2012 I got 30 ideas. Four were good. One I wrote up immediately and it was better than anything I’d written before. Something was happening.
And then one night in late November I was making dinner, thinking about how I like books that let kids know we trust them and think they’re smart. And FWOOSH there it was, an idea, but more than an idea, the entire story, not just the plot, but the words, dumped into my head.
I ran. Bolted from the kitchen, so afraid of losing the sentences swimming in my head. I yelled to my husband that he had to finish dinner, and typed up my story as fast as I could. It was exhilarating and maybe a little scary.
When I was done, I had SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR (DID NOT ASK TO BE IN THIS BOOK). Snappsy was the story I sent to Danielle Smith at Foreword Literary. She liked it and asked for more—I sent her the story from the one good idea from PiBoIdMo 2011 and the other good one I’d written during PiBoIdMo 2012. She became my agent. And SNAPPSY was my first book deal, on July 16. It’ll be published by Viking Children’s in the summer of 2015.
Since November, the ideas have kept coming. None have come out as quickly as SNAPPSY, but some have been close. I keep notebooks and pencils everywhere. And I still write down everything my brain tells me to in my PiBoIdMo notebook. Because while some may seem like a random string of words (“accidental octopus/Georgie, oh Georgie”), or just my brain having fun (what am I supposed to so with “Mr. Codfish is quite pleased with his new trousers,” exactly?) those ideas pave the way for the ones that become good stories.
Writing is practice. Preparing for writing takes practice too. PiBoIdMo forces you to play. Thirty ideas is a lot of ideas. Not all of them are going to be brilliant or fully formed. Probably very few of them will be. But you write down what you can, and you teach yourself to look for ideas in the world around you and to listen to your brain when it whispers in your ear. PiBoIdMo is fast, but writing well can take time. Keep at it. Don’t give up. Take yourself seriously, and trust in the process.
Thanks for sharing your success, Julie, and congratulations on SNAPPSY, which I cannot wait to read!
I hope many of you will join us for the 5th Anniversary of PiBoIdMo this November!
Julie Falatko lives in Maine, where she works tirelessly trying to bribe her four children into doing housework so she can spend more time writing. In the end, they just bake cookies and call it a day. She blogs at worldofjulie.com, tweets @JulieFalatko, and reviews picture books for Katie Davis’s Brain Burps About Books podcast. She can often be found transcribing her brain’s random word association games into her PiBoIdMo notebook.