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Happy Birthday, SUN!

Is it your 4,603,000,004th birthday? Or the 4,603,000,005th? Well, it’s OK, enjoy, who’s counting anyway?

STACY MCANULTY! She’s counting, that’s who! And she was counting on me to host her on the blog today.

But, you may have noticed, the blog has been DOWN for DAYS…while I co-chaired the RUCCL One-on-One conference this past Saturday and could do nothing about it. So, frantically on Sunday, I renewed the domain (after having mucho problems logging in), but it remained unprocessed. Then I woke up from a nightmare. Yes, this morning, I woke up from an actual nightmare, checked the URL and BAM! It’s back!

But I am also backlogged because I did not work with Stacy to create this wonderful blog about her second book in the Universe series, SUN, releasing TODAY!

So, consider this post a placeholder until I am able to get something worthy of Stacy, Stevie Lewis, and YOU, my dear blog readers, up and running today.

My apologies to SUN!!! Our favorite celestial body deserves better.

by Kelly DiPucchio

For many years I did a school visit presentation on voice.  I’d begin by reading a line or two from popular books that I felt had distinct voices and then I’d ask the students to guess the titles. They always got them right!

So how do you create an unforgettable voice for your manuscript? I suppose the process is a little different for every writer but here are a few things I’ve discovered over the years.

1. Let the voice come to you.

I usually let my ideas percolate for several weeks before writing down a single word. During this waiting period the story is being worked out in my head and in the process, it’s forming its own personality. This personality continues to grow until one day it becomes too large to contain and the story (and its unique voice!) is literally told to me, not by me.

2. Never try to copy someone else’s writing voice.

It just doesn’t work and it’s not very honorable. However, you can (and must!) study other voices. Doing this might cause you to feel annoying pangs of envy. I can’t even begin to tell you how often I swoon and sigh and lament that a particularly charming voice in a book is not my own. The envy eventually turns into admiration and I’m inspired to work even harder at improving my craft.

3. Don’t try too hard.

If you try to force an overly clever voice it’s going to come across sounding disingenuous or convoluted and there’s a good chance you’ll end up ruining your story.

4. Less can definitely be more.

Sometimes writing short, punchy lines without a lot of frills can create the loudest, most memorable voices. A minimalist approach gives the illustrations more room to shine and tell the story.

5. Be flexible.

Personally, I don’t have much luck changing the voice in a story after it initially comes to me. I kind of feel like the story is telling me who it is and who am I to disagree? However, if for whatever reason, the manuscript is missing a spark, you may need to consider a new approach. Many stories that initially came to me in rhyme were eventually rewritten in prose. I almost always despise the non-rhyming version at first, but if I push through and give myself some time to adjust, I usually end up liking it better than the original.

I didn’t set out to write a story about telepathy and the value of listening in my new picture book, POE WON’T GO. I thought I was writing a story about a stubborn elephant. But more often than not, I’m just a passenger when it comes to writing the first draft of any new story. I’m not entirely sure where the omniscient voice in my head is going to take me and I learned a long time ago it’s better to just relax and go along for the ride.

I thought it would be fun to ask Zachariah OHora, the illustrator of POE WON’T GO, for his thoughts behind the creation of the art of our new picture book and this is what he had to say:

First off, I’ve been a huge fan of your work, so I was pinching myself that we actually were doing a book together! After the happy delirium wore off a bit and I had time to think about the story. I started thinking about elephants and pink elephants like those from Dumbo. Delirium Tremens. A symbol of hallucination. And it made me think about how some of our problems can be a collective hallucination and that if we talked it out we could solve it.

At the same time I was sketching it out, the White House was trying to ban people coming in from a seemingly random list of countries. All Muslim countries though, and they were obviously stirring up some racial and ethnic hatred. Which gave me the idea that the main character Marigold would wear a hijab and she would hold the solution for solving the town’s collective hallucination/problem.

And the solution is listening, right? 

Speaking someone else’s language, or stepping into their shoes.

Try to understand what they are struggling with or worried about.

The small town of Prickly Valley then became a stand in for the whole world, which is why they are illustrated as impossibly diverse for a town that has only one light and intersection.

Each group of people tried and failed to solve the problem in how they were trained, usually by some form of force.

I had a lot of fun illustrating these constructions, some of which were in the text but there were plenty of others that were left wide open for anything I could think of. I got to illustrate four pages of text that were just:

“Remarkably, that plan failed as well. 

As did this one. 

And that one. 

Nope. Nothing doing.  

Seriously?”

What a gift for the illustrator! To have the openness to be surprised by the outcome.

That kind of generosity of spirit and trust which leaves room for real collaboration is the solution!

Marigold would approve!

Thank you, Zach! It’s been a true honor for me to work with you on POE WON’T GO. I couldn’t love it more. And thank you, Tara, for generously giving us both a voice here on your blog!

Thanks, Kelly, for teaching us how to speak elephant. And now, the elephant will sound the trumpet because we are giving away a copy of POE WON’T GO to a lucky blog reader who comments below.

One comment per person, please.

A winner will be randomly selected in a couple weeks.

Good luck!


Kelly DiPucchio is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-eight picture books for kids including Grace For President, Zombie In Love and Gaston. Visit Kelly at kellydipucchio.com or connect with her on Twitter @kellydipucchio.

Zachariah OHora is an award-winning illustrator and author. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Bloomberg Business Week, and on posters and record covers. He lives and works in Narberth, Pennsylvania, with his wife and sons. Visit him at zohora.com or connect with him on Twitter @ZachariahOHora.

 

by Lori Alexander

Last October, I headed into our pediatrician’s office with my 12-year-old who could not shake a deep, rattling cough. While we waited in a small, astronaut-themed room I wondered if my son might have pneumonia. While we waited some more, I wondered about this picture hanging on the wall.

As a seasoned Storystormer, I knew inspiration could strike just about anywhere. The image of the baby got me thinking about board books. I knew science-themed board books were selling well. But I didn’t have much interest in writing a book of facts for toddlers. What about a book that showed a baby’s current skills and how they might tie-in with a future career? I made a few notes in my phone, snapped the picture, and got back to checking my son’s temperature with the back of my hand.

One year later, I’m excited to share FUTURE ASTRONAUT (Cartwheel/Scholastic), illustrated by the amazing Allison Black. Part of the “Future Babies” board book series, upcoming titles include FUTURE ENGINEER, FUTURE CEO, and FUTURE PRESIDENT. And because I’m such a fan of Allison’s, here’s a peek inside Book #1 and a few words from the illustrator herself:

Allison, your style is so perfect for the youngest “readers.” Is this your first time illustrating board books?

Thank you! This is not my first time working on board books.  I currently have three published, but I think this series is really special and I can’t wait for them to be released! I love making board books because I have a one-and-a-half-year-old son and it’s nice to be able to read to him without worrying that he’s going to rip, eat or destroy them!

How did you get your start in children’s publishing?

I’ve always been interested in children’s publishing, but I didn’t get really involved in it until 2016. That year I was approached by a couple of publishers who had discovered my art through my stationery line and my work with Target. I enjoyed making those books so much that I decided to get an agent and leave my job to be able to focus on this type of work – and I’m so happy I did!

What else are you working on, if you’re able to share?

Right now I’m working on a few books (which is all I can say about those), as well as developing some new items for my shop. I just released my Fall line a couple weeks ago so now I’m focusing on holiday products. I’ve also started to write some children’s book manuscripts. There’s a lot more work to be done on those (authors really are amazing!), but it’s exciting to try something new!

Plan for the future and pre-order a copy of FUTURE ASTRONAUT today.

Lori will give away one copy of FUTURE ASTRONAUT to a lucky commenter (in the future, release date is June 2019)!

Leave a comment below and a random winner will be selected next month.

Good luck.


Lori Alexander is the author of picture books BACKHOE JOE (Harper, 2014) and FAMOUSLY PHOEBE (Sterling, 2017) as well as the FUTURE BABY board book series (Scholastic, 2019). She also writes non-fiction for older readers. ALL IN A DROP, a chapter book biography of scientist Antony van Leuwenhoek releases in fall 2019 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, followed by A SPORTING CHANCE, a biography of Ludwig Guttmann, the founder of the Paralympic Games, in 2020, also from HMH. Visit her at lorialexanderbooks.com and follow her on Twitter @LoriJAlexander.

Allison Black is an illustrator and designer specializing in cute and colorful creations. Originally from Upstate New York, Allison now lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband, son and four pets. Allison’s career started as a designer for Target where she developed items ranging from Christmas ornaments and Easter baskets to party décor and apparel. In 2017 Allison left Target to focus on children’s book illustration and to work on her own line of products. She now has six published books and has another ten in progress! You can find Allison’s books, stationery and more in her online shop, Hip-Hip. In addition to making art around the clock, Allison has a particular love for goats, guinea pigs and gummy bears. Visit her at allisonblackillustration.com, shop for art at hip-hip.com and follow her on Instagram @allisonblackillustration and @hello.hip.hip.

If you don’t know VAMPIRINA BALLERINA, expect her to ring your doorbell this Halloween. Thousands of youngsters now tune into her tippy-toe Translyvania-to-Pennsylvania travels on Disney Junior. VAMPIRINA also traveled from picture books to TV, or rather from the creative mind of author Anne Marie Pace (and illustrator LeUyen Pham) to animation stardom.

With so many new players in entertainment—Netflix, Hulu, Amazon—film and television producers are increasingly seeking out proven characters and storylines from published books. In recent years we have seen BOSS BABY commute from Marla Frazee’s picture book to the big screen, plus Judith Viorst’s Alexander endured his Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day in live-action turmoil.

With the release of VAMPIRINA IN THE SNOW, the newest picture book in the Vampirina Ballerina series, I wanted to talk to Anne Marie about her writing and Vampirina on TV…plus celebrate all her success.

      

Anne Marie, congratulations on your newest VAMPIRINA book!

When you wrote the first VAMPIRINA BALLERINA, was it a standalone story, or did you have a picture book series in mind?

Conventional wisdom in the publishing industry, as far as I knew at the time, suggested writing one standalone, and if the publishers wanted more, they’d ask.  So I definitely saw it as a one-off. I’m glad that kids have responded well to it so that I can come back to Vampirina’s world again and again.  These days, I do think middle-grade and young-adult series are sometimes envisioned and sold as series, but that would be unusual for picture books.

When did Disney*Hyperion ask you to expand VAMPIRINA into a series? Was it when you first submitted, during production of the first book, or after it proved to be a popular seller?

When I saw this question, I couldn’t remember, so I did a quick search through old emails, and it seems it was about ten months before the first book came out, so that means during the production of the first book! I didn’t remember that! I would have guessed right around the time the first book came out, but I would have been wrong.

What about VAMPIRINA makes her a good subject for a series?

In many ways, Vampirina is like every other child: she wants to try new activities, be successful, have friends. All of those aspects of her character help kid readers relate to her as a peer. But the vampire element obviously makes her stand out from the crowd. She’s realistic and fantastic, all rolled into one.

Vampirina must be very relatable, since she went from book, to series, to TV. Can you tell us how that happened?

It was a long process, and I don’t know all the details. I can tell you what I assume and what I actually know. I have always assumed that because Disney*Hyperion is part of the publishing arm of The Walt Disney Company they send all their new books to the TV/film folks as a matter of course. Someone at Disney Junior must have thought it had series potential. What I know is that Disney Junior bought an option for the series fairly early on. That option was renewed several times while they considered development. At some point, they decided to acquire the TV rights. Even then, it wasn’t positive that it would be a series. So we waited longer until we knew the series was a go. The entire process, from the first time my agent called with the news of the option until the show premiered, was about four years.

Four years! Sounds like the picture book process.

Some PB writers may assume you write for the TV show. Do you? 

No, I actually have nothing to do with writing the series. The Disney Junior folks do their thing for the show, and LeUyen Pham and I do our thing for our books. And that’s just fine—I don’t know how to write for television and I’m busy writing new books, both Vampirina and otherwise. Most of what I know about the series I find out on Twitter!

What has been the most surprising thing about Vampirina on TV?

Since I didn’t really know much about how TV works, I was surprised that it went worldwide right away and that there was merchandise right away. I had assumed that the show would have to do well first in the US, and then it might be translated and that there might be merchandise. I had no idea it would all happen at the same time.

Has the TV show increased your VAMPIRINA book sales?

What a great question, but I don’t really have an answer for you! From my vantage point, it seems that the books bring viewers to the TV show and the TV show brings readers to the book series.

Often you see licensed early readers based on TV shows. Are there any for Vampirina and have you been tapped to write them?

There are quite a few licensed 8x8s and early readers, but no, I don’t write them. I believe some are written by the show’s writers because they are based on particular episodes. I know at least one is by Chelsea Beyl, who will be a co-executive producer of Season 3.

Wow, Season 3 already!

Have you spotted Vampirina in the wild? What are you going to do if kids dressed as Vampirina come to your door on Halloween?

Well, there are thousands of photographs on Instagram of adorable kids wearing Vee costumes or having a Vampirina party or singing into their Vee microphones, but I haven’t personally encountered a Vee in real life yet. If someone comes to my door on Halloween, I’ll probably just smile to myself. It’s a big leap to explain to the younger kids what it means to have written the Vampirina Ballerina book when TV Vampirina looks quite different.

Women in children’s publishing are finally opening up about how male authors & illustrators are given more attention and accolades. I think the fact that you have a book series and TV show should have received more coverage. Do you feel similarly?

I have been both fascinated and concerned by the revelations and discussions that began publicly last spring with #kidlitwomen and that have continued to take place through the Kidlitwomen podcasts that Grace Lin has been facilitating. I’d urge anyone reading this interview who isn’t familiar with the podcast to check out the excellent content that Grace has been putting out with authors like Kate Messner, Tracey Baptiste, and Shannon Hale, who speak and write so eloquently about the issues. These conversations are much needed, not just in the publishing industry, but in our culture and our world overall, and I’m glad to see people opening up about their experiences.

But as important as those conversations are, I have to tell you that I could not begin to answer your question specifically in regards to my books and career. In our industry, there aren’t clear consistent guidelines for advances, for publicity dollars, for all the ways that books and authors get attention. If I’m working in a factory, and I produce 2734 doodads a day, and the man next to me produces 2734 doodads a day, and my doodads are identical and of equal quality to his doodads, it seems obvious that we should earn the same amount of money per doodad. But books are judged subjectively at every step of the journey, from acquisition to publicity to critical response; that judgment involves literally dozens of variables; and creators are generally not part of that conversation. The discussion about whether or not the creator’s gender affects that response absolutely needs to happen, but on a broader level than I am able to do.

Of course, when it all comes down to it, when I sit down to write a new Vampirina or revise the middle-grade novel I’ve been working on for sixteen+ years, it’s all about the work. I love that Vampirina is a brave and determined little vampire girl; I love that the protagonist in my MG historical fiction learns to speak up for herself and make waves the best way she knows how, given her time and place in history. I think I write them differently in 2018 than I would have in 1998 because I’m a stronger, more informed woman.

I think Grace Lin should ask you to speak on the Kidlitwomen podcast.

So do you feel like you know what it takes to write a book that gets picked up for other entertainment markets? What have your learned from this whole VAMPIRINA process?

Honestly, I don’t. Most books that are picked up for TV have a unique protagonist, like Arthur, Vampirina, Fancy Nancy, or Clifford. But beyond that, I have no idea why one character is picked up and another isn’t.  To me, it feels more like a lightning strike than anything I made happen and I don’t mean to sound disingenuous when I say that  It’s just that in publishing, the work is all you have control over. If you do good work consistently, sometimes good things happen. But other times, nothing happens at all. Don’t we all have manuscripts that we know are well-written and fun and child-friendly—but they simply don’t sell? I have a stack of them. The three manuscripts I believe to be the absolute best things I’ve written have never sold. I have heard authors who complain when others attribute someone’s success to luck. I understand where those authors are coming from, because they’ve done the work and they want credit for doing the work. But I can’t answer your question without recognizing the role that luck played in this whole scenario. Why Vampirina? Why now? I simply don’t have an answer for that. You can substitute the word “timing” for “luck” if you prefer—but either way, there were a lot of factors at play, and I controlled only one of them.

Anne Marie, thank you for answering these questions so thoroughly and honestly. I wish you continued success with all things Vampirina!

Happy VAMPIRINA IN THE SNOW release day!

Disney*Hyperion is giving away a copy of VAMPIRINA IN THE SNOW.

Leave one comment below to enter the giveaway (US postal addresses only, please).

A winner will be selected in two weeks.

Good luck!

In the meantime, you can learn more about Anne Marie Pace and her books at AnneMariePace.com.

 

Disclaimer: These are not Tammi’s abs.

by Tammi Sauer

People go to the gym for various reasons. Some want to stay fit. Some want to lose weight. Some want to fulfill the dream of getting a six-pack.

But that six-pack doesn’t just happen. It requires a lot. I can think of at least six things that need to go into the mix:

  1. fuel,
  2. a personal trainer,
  3. consistency,
  4. stretching,
  5. a workout buddy, and
  6. some rest and recovery.

This is my 2018 six-pack:

    

    

Wordy Birdy  (Doubleday Books for Young Readers)

“Sauer’s fun-to-read text and Mottram’s detailed and hilarious illustrations seamlessly meld into a cohesive whole.”—School Library Journal

But the Bear Came Back (Sterling)

“There is plenty of humor in the details of the colorful, fine-lined art, but this is largely a poignant story, one that could add a nice variety of flavor to storytime.”—Booklist

Go Fish!  (HarperCollins)

“A fun summertime romp—hook, line, and sinker.”—Kirkus

Knock Knock  (Scholastic Press)

”Saturated colors, animated characters, and silly jokes will ensure repeated readers. An appealing read aloud choice on hibernation and friendship.”—School Library Journal

Quiet Wyatt (Clarion)

“A humorous friendship story with a little bit of an ironic twist.” —Kirkus

Making a Friend (HarperCollins)

“A sure recipe for making a friend…real or snow.” —Kirkus

While I didn’t set out to have six books published in one year (that would be bananas), those same six things—fuel, a personal trainer, consistency, stretching, a workout buddy, and some rest and recovery—played a big role in making this six-pack happen.

Fuel:

Your body needs water and the proper foods to reach its potential. To write a picture book, you must have fuel, too. You need to feed your muse and writing ability. But how? Read and analyze(!!!) other picture books! Go to the bookstore or the library, grab a pile of books (mostly ones published in recent years), and STUDY them. Break them apart and figure out what makes them work. And once you finish that? Well, grab another pile.

Personal Trainer:

Getting guidance from an expert in the field can prove beneficial in achieving this fitness goal. As a writer, you can gain valuable insight from others as well. Attend conferences. Take a class. Watch a webinar. Find a mentor. Study resources on how to write picture books—my personal favorite is Linda Ashman’s The Nuts & Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books.

Consistency:

Acquiring that toned set of muscles requires regular effort. When I first decided to try writing picture books, I’d write for a couple of month, take a break for a few weeks, write for a few days, take a break for half a year…. This didn’t help me to improve as a writer. It was only when I made writing a priority that I acquired noticeable gains. You need to show up to the page (even when you don’t feel like it—maybe especially when you don’t feel like it) and be willing to put in the work.

Stretch:

Some pre-workout stretching can help you to avoid muscle strains and cramping. Stretch as a writer, too. Instead of writing the same sort of story over and over again, attempt new approaches. Try different points of view. Try different structures. Try to tell a story entirely in dialogue or a story that’s told almost completely through the art or one that is (gasp!) a rhymer.

Workout Buddy:

A workout buddy joins you at the gym and knows firsthand what you’re going through because he or she is going through it, too. This person can motivate you to keep at it and get better. As a writer, critique partners and critique groups not only cheer you on as you do the work, but, even more importantly, they push you to improve your craft.

Rest and Recovery:

You can’t go to the gym every minute—your body needs time for rest and recovery. Writers need these times, too. Go for a walk. Meet a friend for lunch. Visit the beach or a museum or your great aunt Mildred. Take time to experience life and refill the well.

This six-pack of writing tips has served me well over the years. In the words of Hans and Franz, I hope they PUMP YOU UP.

Tammi wants to share her six-pack with you.

For a chance to win one of these books, leave a comment on this post. (One comment per person, please.)

SIX WINNERS will be randomly selected in two weeks.

Good luck!


Tammi Sauer is a full-time author who presents at schools and conferences across the nation. She has 25 published picture books with major publishing houses including HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, Scholastic Press, Simon & Schuster, and Sterling. In addition to winning awards, Tammi’s books have gone on to do great things. Nugget & Fang was made into a musical and is currently on a national tour, Wordy Birdy was named a Spring 2018 Kids’ Indie Next pick, an Amazon Best Book of the Month, and a Barnes & Noble Best Book of the Month, and Your Alien, an NPR Best Book of the Year, was recently released in Italian, Spanish, Korean, and French which makes her feel extra fancy. Visit her at tammisauer.com.

by Hillary Homzie

Sometimes a picture book manuscript begs to become a chapter book. This has happened to me. Several years back, I wrote a picture book about an exuberant kid’s attempts to become class flag leader. Yet I couldn’t make the story viable. Even when I took out the set up or made the dialogue pithier

It was like trying to wedge my size-nine feet into size-six shoes on the sale rack. No matter how hard I tried, the story felt constricted.

This is not an uncommon experience.

Picture book Author Pat Zietlow Miller (Be Kind) told me recently that: “There was one time I started writing what I fully intended to be a picture book, only to discover it really wasn’t. There was too much stuff to be contained in the limits of a picture book. So I turned it into a chapter book.”

Author Candice Ransom (Amanda Panda) has also successfully turned part of a picture book into a novel. But it wasn’t obvious that it was something that she should do right away. “It’s never easy to tell,” she reports. “Picture books require a Big Idea to differentiate them from a magazine short story—a pleasant interlude, but nothing that lingers afterward. Even then, sometimes the idea is too big.”

Too big. Yup. I understand what “too big” feels like. That’s exactly why I turned Ellie May on Presidents’ Day into a chapter book, and it’s coming out this December (squeeee!), along with a companion novel, Ellie May on April Fools’ Day (more squeeee!)

   

The question becomes—how do you know when you have “too much stuff”?

In other words, how do you tell when your picture book manuscript actually wants to grow some words and turn into a chapter book?

I’ve been thinking about this, and I’ve come up with five central questions that will help writers discover the answer.

 

1. Is your exposition illustration-independent?

Picture books almost always require an interplay between words and pictures. Chapter books don’t. If you find yourself leaning towards exposition that doesn’t require illustration, you might have a chapter book on your hands.

As a quick explanation or reminder, exposition is the introduction of important background information. For example, setting, characters and events.

But wait, you’re saying. Don’t chapter books have illustrations?

Yup. And some are heavily illustrated. Jeffery Ebbeler created close to thirty interior illustrations for Ellie May on Presidents’ Day. They add to the story, but a reader doesn’t require one of Jeff’s illustrations in order to decode the text. The pictures are additive versus essential. Of course, that doesn’t make them not awesome, because they are (and yes, I’m heavily biased)!

For example, in Ellie May on April Fools’ Day, we have this illustration of the second grader and her family about to go out birdwatching:

Here’s a sentence that encapsulates the scene: “Dad reappeared with a pair of binoculars.” The illustration shows Dad in the doorway with a pair of, well, binoculars. The text helps readers to visualize and understand the scene, but there aren’t visual cues that move the story beyond the words. In a chapter book, an illustration doesn’t usually act as an ironic statement.

For clarification, here are some strong examples of visual irony that one typically sees only in picture books.

A page in Doreen Cronin’s Diary of a Worm, reads:

Fishing season started today. We all dug deeper.

We learn important background info about the season. However, the text doesn’t tell us how this time of year affects worms. We need to see the illustration in order to glean the meaning.

A cutaway illustration reveals a giant shovel (with an empty pail labeled “bait”) and the worried worms sequestered in their underground home. This creates a sense of irony. The worms aren’t digging deeper to find bait, but instead to escape from being bait. In order for the humor to work, the reader requires visual cues.

We see the same thing in Anne Marie Pace’s Vampirina Ballerina. On one of the early pages, we have:

If you’re worried about meeting the other dancers, bring along a friendly face or two.

The text on its own suggests that the young dancer is bringing along a friendly looking family or some pets. However, the illustration reveals that Vampirina (who could easily be an Addams Family cousin) brings along a green-skinned, Lurch-ish looking companion, a black cat and a bat. At first, none of these characters appear conventional friendly.

Yup, more visual irony.

In sum, chapter book texts don’t usually offer up visual irony opportunities (I say usually because every rule is meant to be broken, but that’s a topic for another post). Instead, they are much more prescriptive.

In the picture book version of Ellie May on Presidents’ Day, I was overwriting and not allowing room for the illustrator. In other words, I was acting like a chapter book writer. Here’s a few lines from my manuscript that just don’t work as a picture book text:

I scooped my hands into the box, and tossed worms and mulberry leaves across the room. “Be Free!” I said. Worms landed on the floor. One landed on Ms. Silva’s head.

For a picture book, there’s going to be an illustrator. That means she or he will draw the worms and the mulberry leaves, and yes, the worm landing on the teacher’s head. If the above lines were more picture book text appropriate, they would read something like this:

I scooped my hands into the box. The worms must be set free!

So ask yourself, do you want to step aside and allow the illustrator to do his or her job? Or do you really—in your heart-of-hearts—want to create more of the visual narrative work? I guess, in my inner core, for the Ellie May books, I wanted to paint the complete scenes with my words.

Side note: none of the above text actually appears in the chapter book version of Ellie May on Presidents’ Day because of how much I revised. Ah, revision. How wonderful and yet how hard it is to throw away your darlings, but you never know—you might get to show them off in a blog post.

 

2. Does your picture book manuscript cry out to be longer?

In today’s picture book market, texts are short, averaging about 500 words. Now that doesn’t mean in the nonfiction market we aren’t seeing 700-page manuscripts or that someday the 1200- word picture book won’t make a comeback, but, on average, short is the operative word.

If you must heartily chop in order to get your picture book manuscript down to the golden 500 words and it’s mightily upsetting, you might consider taking your story into a longer form, such as the chapter book. Maybe you want to be more expansive. Perhaps you want to write 3,000 – 8,000 words or even more. Allow yourself this. If you really want to write a picture book manuscript, please, go ahead. But, maybe, somewhere deep down, you don’t want to go on the picture book diet. You want to expand a bit, or even a lot.

 

3. Does your picture book manuscript have a subplot?

Picture books should typically contain one plot stream. I’ve critiqued picture book manuscripts where a secondary character steals the show and we learn about his or her wants and needs. This is not a good idea. In picture books, the protagonist is the star. There just isn’t enough real estate for you to truly explore other characters’ goals.

However, this can be done in a chapter book. But not a whole lot. Chapter books can only handle very small subplots that don’t take up a lot of space.

Simply think about how other characters’ needs interrupt or illuminate the main character’s goals. For example, in Ellie May on April Fools’ Day, Lizzy, Ellie May’s best friend, sometimes slows her down. We find out that Lizzy doesn’t feel very confident in athletics and really wants to win at something.

Lizzy thumped the red ball into Mo’s square. He slammed it into another square.

“I’m not out yet,” Lizzy said. This was a surprise, considering how she normally plays.

“Okay, I’ll cheer for you.” I raised my hands in the air, pretending to wave swishy pom-poms. “Way to go, Lizzy!”

Owen smashed the ball into Lizzy’s square. She missed the return.

“Out!” yelled Pablo.

Lizzy pushed up her glasses and harrumphed. “I never win.”

Later, in the book, you can bet that I’m going to have Lizzy win at something. Learning how to lose and how to win gracefully is one of the themes in Ellie May on April Fools’ Day. Remember, in a picture book, you’re not going to want to use subplots. That means if you really want to employ them, maybe you should try out longer form fiction.

 

4. Is your protagonist over the age of six?

Most picture books protagonists are preschool through early primary school-aged children, although there are exceptions, especially for non-humans. But when you are dealing with people, if your protagonist is seven or eight, it’s likely a chapter book. If the main character is nine or ten, then it’s probably a middle grade novel.

Author Saadia Faruqi created a picture book featuring spirited Yasmin, and was very content with her story. In fact, she says she would have been “perfectly happy with it as picture book.” However, her publishing company was excited about bringing Saadia’s story to older kids, and that’s how Meet Yasmin, a much-lauded chapter book came to fruition. Sometimes this all comes about in a rather surprising but auspicious way. The lesson here is to be open!

 

5. In addition to having a big idea, do you have a larger-than-life character?

In general, chapter books are not sold as individual titles, but as a series of four (to start). Picture books, on the other hand, are usually sold as individual titles. That doesn’t mean you can’t get an entire series going. Witness the Vampirina books. The Fancy Nancy books etc. But usually, authors don’t sell a picture book series. They sell one book that does so well that readers demand more. However, if have a really appealing and distinctive character who just calls out—please make me into a series–then you might want to think about writing a chapter book because that’s how they usually roll—in multiples.

The basic message here is that you have options. You can revise your overstuffed manuscript and refine it so that you’re within picture book conventions or, just maybe, you have a chapter book on your hands, or even a middle grade novel.

So many possibilities! Isn’t it all exciting? Okay, I admit it. I still, to this day, will forget my shoe size and try to squeeze my foot into a sleek pump that’s a size too small, as long as it’s on the 75% off blow-out sale rack.

After all, a girl can try.


Hillary Homzie is the author of the forthcoming chapter book, Ellie May on Presidents’ Day (Charlesbridge, Dec.18, 2018), which is about a second grader navigating honesty and leadership. Hillary promises she didn’t set up the current political climate to tie-into her book. As a former sketch comedian, she (hopefully) knows a thing or two about how to be funny and not hurt feelings, which is the theme of Ellie May on April Fools’ Day (Charlesbridge, Dec.18, 2018).

As the author of the chapter book series, Alien Clones From Outer Space (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin), she particularly enjoys collecting antennae to occasionally wear to school visits. Hillary has also written middle grade novels, including the Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin M!X) The Hot List, (Simon & Schuster/M!X), Things Are Gonna Get Ugly (Simon & Schuster/M!X), Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl), and the forthcoming Apple Pie Promises (October 2, 2018, Sky Pony/Swirl).

Hillary teaches chapter book and middle grade writing online at the Children’s Book Academy. During the summers, she teaches in the children’s Writing and Illustrating MFA Program at Hollins University. 

Check out her chapter book course here and her middle grade course here.

She loves answering questions about all things chapter book. You can reach her at HillaryHomzie.com.

@HillaryHomzie

“A big story is about a small moment.” ~Matthew Dicks

Think about that for a moment (not a small one).

Every book you have ever read is about a small moment—an epiphany when a character realizes an emotional truth with complete clarity.

Let me provide examples:

THE MONSTORE is not just about a store that sells monsters. It’s about a brother and sister who learn to appreciate one another and cooperate.

 

7 ATE 9 is about number 9 realizing his worth.

 

LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD is about not judging someone before you get to know them.

 

Before I read Matthew Dicks’ STORYWORTHY, I used to phrase this “small moment” concept differently. I would explain that a story, especially a picture book, required an emotional core. Now I realize that is an amorphous blob of a statement.

In other words, not very helpful.

Likewise, if I told you my manuscript was about siblings who learn to get along, that doesn’t sound very enticing, does it? Sounds preachy and boring—been there, done that.

However, frame that sibling story in a shop of misbehaving monsters and suddenly it’s a must-read.

Small moments. They are what make your story BIG.

You may ask, do I set out writing about small moments? NEVER. I begin with an appealing, kid-friendly premise about dolphins or aliens or robots or puppies. If I am doing my job correctly, my main dolphin is not going to be the same dolphin by the end of the story. That dolphin has changed. Not from a bottlenose to a pantropical spotted, but from a mean dolphin to a nice one. Or one who doesn’t believe in narwhals to one who does. That small moment of emotional transformation is what makes the journey through the waves (and the story) meaningful. Otherwise, it’s just splashing in the ocean.

Your small moment appears with the story’s organic evolution. Often, if you begin with a small moment you end up sounding like a big know-it-all. Why? Because you can unknowingly force that theme into being. Never do I write in THE MONSTORE, “Zach and Gracie learned to appreciate one another and cooperate.” SNOOZEFEST. Instead, they open another Monstore together. That’s a lot more fun, and the small moment of transformation shines through.

While STORYWORTHY by Matthew Dicks is about crafting personal storytelling narratives, it contains nuggets of writing gold applicable to picture books. I had a small moment myself when I read about small moments.

So examine your manuscript. Does it contain a small moment? If you hear from an editor that your story requires another layer, that emotional epiphany could be the big answer.

 

 

 

Fangirl moment. THE Carin Berger is on my blog today. A children’s book creator I have long admired, Berger’s cut-paper illustrations bring delightful whimsy to books by former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate Jack Prelusky, as well as imbue her own stories with a joyful spirit.

 

When I read her newest release, ALL OF US, I thought, “This is a perfect book for today—for right now.” So of course, I had to ask her about it. Thankfully, she agreed to an interview.

Carin, ALL OF US feels so timely, however I know it can take years to create a picture book. How did you decide upon the theme (and when)?

While it is true that it can take years to bring a picture book into the world, I wrote ALL OF US, in a single burst, in response to the turmoil in our country, especially in the lead up to the election. In fact I wrote it while I was in Germany, the country that my family was forced to flee in the 1930s because of unrelenting racism, hatred and violence directed against vulnerable minorities. I had actually voted on Election Day and then flown to Germany that afternoon. I landed to the news of the election results. The juxtaposition of the events in our country against my own family’s history of forced displacement was upsetting and surreal. I wanted to do something to make a difference, to remind those that felt unbalanced or ostracized or alone, that community, diversity, inclusion and love are powerful and will ultimately triumph. This idea of wanting to do something dogged me for days. Or maybe it was months. In any case, there in Germany, with such a stew of feelings inside, I woke up in the middle of the night with the words to the book almost like a song or refrain in my head. I scribbled them down and made thumbnail drawings in my sketchbook. The next morning I took a picture of this on my phone and then emailed to my publisher, Greenwillow Books. And, in a terrific leap of faith, Greenwillow agreed to put this project ahead of one that was about to go to final art in order to get ALL OF US out into the world quickly.

You are known for your cut paper illustrations. Was there any special consideration of the paper you chose for this project?

I do think a lot about the paper that I use in my illustrations. I work with found ephemera in part because I love that each piece of paper comes with its own history…like secret stories…that inherently add another layer of depth to the books. I intentionally gather really diverse papers from around the world, so if you look closely at the illustrations in ALL OF US, you might see a bit of Chinese or Spanish or Japanese or Hindi or Russian.

I know you surreptitiously include your daughter’s name “Thea” in every book. Did you hide any messages in ALL OF US? Or is your message out in the open?

I love that you remember that I put “Thea” in all of my books.

It is true, in ALL OF US, there are some covert messages. Others are right out in the open.

Some examples of hidden messages are:

Thea’s name appears on the hand that is on the “know that I am here, as steady as stone” page.

Elsewhere in the book, my brother’s name, Daniel, appears in one heart.

Additionally, there are two self portraits in the book. One appears on the wordless “love wins” page holding a heart that says “thea”.

A second family portrait is on the lowest row of the left hand side of the 2nd “love wins” page. There you will find me, my husband, Max, Thea, and our pet rabbit, Pearly.

Finally, on all of the pages in the book that have illustrations of people, I have included images of family and friends within the crowds.

Also, if you look closely, you will find my daughter’s black cat, Cosette.

What’s more, there is a gentle, unspoken story going on in the book.

There are two characters that reoccur, the little girl in the yellow boots and the little boy with the red kite. The girl starts the book with a heavy heart and an unsure step. The little boy is on the page with the unclear path and his kite appears on the stormy past page.

They first appear together on the “hazy future” page, and they don’t notice each other.

Eventually, as we make our way through the book, they notice each other and join together as friends in part of the larger community.

allofusspread

allofuslovewins.jpg

(Click to enlarge spreads.)

Carin, what do you hope readers will connect with? What do you hope they will take away after reading ALL OF US? 

Hope is a great word. I HOPE that the message of HOPE in ALL OF US will resonate with readers.

I HOPE that the book makes readers feel more connected, that it opens up conversations about inclusion and community and the power of HOPE and love in the face of adversity.

Children face so many challenging moments in growing up…they are figuring out who they are, and how they fit it. They are trying to make sense of the world and navigate through all sorts of new situations. I really HOPE that ALL OF US can be a tool to bring people together and to offer empathy and light and HOPE in difficult times.

Thank you, Carin, for bringing us such a beautiful book for our uncertain times. I know I will treasure my copy.

Blog readers, if you would like your own copy to treasure, plus ALL OF US bookmarks and swag, please comment once below.

A winner will be randomly selected in September.

Good luck and thank you for reading.

 

 

In one month, The Carle Museum of Picture Book art will hold its annual Carle Honors, awarding four people/entities who have made significant contributions to the art form.

Also that evening, September 27th, final bids are accepted on original artwork by picture book masters. The auction goes live on August 31, and you can browse and bid here: https://501auctions.com/carlehonors2018.

If you could ask the Carle Honorees one question, what might it be? My question is here—

“Why are picture books an art form to enjoy not only in childhood, but through every age, every stage of life?”

 

—and the answers are diverse and delightful, just like picture books themselves.

 

Paul O. Zelinsky
2018 Carle Honors Artist

“Why are pictures an art form to be enjoyed by people of all ages?  Well, that has to be a function of what picture books exist in the world to be enjoyed. Some, aimed at children in a pedantic and condescending way, are no fun at all for adults, and might be appreciated by only the most deluded or idiosyncratic child. But the world has come to contain an increasingly large number of picture books created by genuine artists, addressing the full extent of their humanity. These books may not look the same through the eyes of a four-year-old as they do to an adult of ninety-five (even putting aside questions of cataracts), but they somehow charm and enrich the thoughts and the vision of both.  Picture books can be appreciated by people of all ages because there are picture books that deserve this kind of appreciation. One of the best ways to prove this is to visit The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art!”

 

Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop
2018 Carle Honors Mentor 

“Picture books are indeed an art form, and enjoyment of art is not limited by age. With their unique combination of interdependent visual and verbal art, picture books speak to readers and viewers on a fundamental level. In addition to their aesthetic appeal, their thematic content often evokes universal emotions and experiences. Picture books also offer opportunities for older students to examine and learn about artistic styles, media, and technique. Picture book texts, in their conciseness, are often poetic, and can evoke the same kinds of responses as poetry. And because many literary genres come in picture book format, picture books can be a rich source of information as well as entertainment. Like other art forms, picture books are never outgrown.”

 

Dona Ann McAdams
(and Lynn Caponera),
representing The Sendak Fellowship & Workshop
2018 Carle Honors Angel

“I never assume a picture book is just for children. When a picture book works it marries images and words in a way few other mediums can. Each time we revisit an old beloved picture book we discover something new within its covers and new within ourselves.”

 

Elena Pasoli
The Bologna Children’s Book Fair
2018 Carle Honors Bridge

“The language of illustration is borderless not only in terms of cultural and geographical heritages, but more and more often also in terms of the age of the readers. Who could describe ‘The Arrival’ by Shaun Tan as simply a children’s book? This is the same for most of the wordless books which have been sharply growing in production and sales in the last few years all over the world. Illustrations speak clearly to everybody; they tell stories and leave people free of traveling across pages and thoughts; they are powerful and add emotions to the words; they can engage the readers’ memories as well as accompany them to discover new worlds.”

 

Andrea Davis Pinkney
Children’s Book Author, Editor &
2018 Carle Honors Presenter

“Come, little one. Climb onto my wings. Nestle, settle, celebrate. My feathered pages take you to places only the clouds can touch. Up, up! Here we go, soaring through words and pictures that fill you with my unforgettable flutter. Do you see the view from where my colors paint themselves into your quietest places, into the deep-down knowing that brings you comfort, giggles, wonder, discovery?

“Listen to my wisp of words spinning stories that will someday become your heart’s memories. Yes, child, I am a picture book. Our journeys—yours and mine, together—will last your whole life. This is what we picture books do—we lift you. We let you rise to skies filled with wonder. This, the awakening of your soul, starts from the day our wings hug your imagination. From there, we beckon you higher. Child, young or old, I am a picture book. No matter your age, stage, time or place, I give you the power to fly!”

 

Thank you, Honorees, The Carle Museum…and picture books!

What question would you ask the Honorees? Please tell us in the comments…

Shutta Crum wrote one of my all-time favorite Storystorm posts a few years ago about crafting an irresistible picture book opening. Her “four W” technique grounds the reader in time and place with the character, leaving just enough detail unanswered so one must turn the page to discover why. WHY????

When I learned Shutta the word whisperer released a new book celebrating words, I just knew she’d have lots of wonderful words to say about it.

Shutta, you know I’m a “wordie”—that’s a new word in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary this year and it means “a word lover”. Words bring Mouseling great comfort and belonging in this story. Which words foster those same feelings in you?

You ask a great question that I had to ponder quite a while. I mean, there are so many wonderful words that can engender feelings of comfort and belonging, like family and chocolate. So I thought about what I’ve lost and miss the most. And that would be my parents. They both died in 2008. Anyway, I bear my father’s nickname as my legal first name, Shutta. But he never called me that. He gave me a nickname, Shud. What I wouldn’t give to hear that word in his voice again! And thinking about my mother, I think of food. Specifically, biscuits and gravy, a Southern breakfast staple. It’s real comfort food, and makes me think of home and all the wonderful smells of Mom’s cooking.

So circling back to your childhood, did words give you comfort then? Were you an avid reader and writer even as a little girl?

Was I an avid reader?—hah! I read everything I could get my hands on, especially as we did not have many books in our home. I remember Mom telling me to put my books down and go outside and play. My siblings were real outdoor lovers and I think she thought I was a bit unusual. I also remember being proud when I could finish a book in a day. Sometimes I’d hide them in my textbooks at school as I read. Words were comforting, and amazing! Whole worlds were opened to me. As an avid reader I was also an avid day-dreamer. I’d play out scenes in my head all the time. I still do. It’s made me a very visual thinker and, I believe, a better writer.

A funny story: if I found a book, I’d pick it up and start reading it. One time, when I was in high school I found a rather salacious book at a bus stop. I opened it up in geometry class when we had a few extra moments to read and my teacher just about had a stroke. He came bounding over to me and ripped The Story of O out of my hands in an apoplectic manner yelling, “Where did you get this?” I’d only read the first page, or so, but my, oh my! However, most of my reading material was adventure, mystery and science fiction.

Why is learning tough (but fun) new vocabulary words important to young readers?

Humans have been communicating since the time we could only point and grunt. There is an instinctive desire to communicate—even with our first breath we communicate—we cry when we’re birthed. It means: Hey it’s cold out here! What’s happening to me? Where am I? And, This doesn’t feel right. Communicating is like breathing; it is part of our basic nature. And miscommunication can be disastrous. Deadly, even. So finding the right word or the right way to say something is important. When we build our vocabularies we have more skill at pinpointing exactly what we mean.

This is always important to writers! But for people who love words it goes beyond meaning to the music created by the sound of words, and even the way words sound in our mouths. We use all our senses to communicate.

In MOUSELING’S WORDS, Mouseling feels the whirr of “fur” in his throat when he says it. He sees the two round vowels that look like mouse tummies in the middle of the word “float.” He tastes the word “milk.” He smells “perfume.” And he hears the loud crinkling and crackling of the word he balled up to throw at the cat. I really wanted young readers to know that when we communicate we use our whole bodies—not just vocabulary words. But it’s also handy to have a large vocabulary to choose from. It’s like having lots of pairs of snazzy socks to wear. You wouldn’t want to wear the same old white ones every day. That’s the fun of words!

Obviously, you’re a “wordie” too. Any special hints for writers about word choice?

Well, I’ve just had an article published at the RYS site about wielding the right words and using the right journals that goes into this question in detail. I can sum it up by saying that when I think about word choice I think of words like people. Words have personalities, and like any person there is always more than what meets the eye. Words have emotional baggage, a cultural upbringing, physical sensibilities and an historical demeanor. Considering all of these factors is critical when writing for young readers. I only have so many words to play with—very few in the case of my picture books. Those words have to be weighed, analyzed and found to slot perfectly into its place.

I should also mention that I keep special “word” journals. I do not just journal generally. I note words I find, or phrases I love, from my reading. I keep an onomatopoeia journal and other specific journals. These help me keep the focus on word choice. The full article with examples from great writers can be found by going to this link at my blog.

Thanks, Tara, this has been fun…keep those lovely words coming!


Shutta Crum is the author of thirteen picture books, three novels, and numerous poems and articles. Her THUNDER-BOOMER! was an American Library Association and a Smithsonian Magazine “Notable Book” of the year. MINE! was listed by New York Times as “one of the best board books of the year.” Many of her books have made the Bank Street Best Books lists and have been short-listed for state awards. Her newest picture book MOUSELING’S WORDS is garnering glowing reviews. PW says: “…a tribute to the way books can unite even the unlikeliest of friends.” Booklist says, “This earnest and encouraging title fits on the shelf of books for book-lovers…” And Kirkus Reviews sums it up as, “Encouraging, lovely words.” For more, visit Shutta.com.

Shutta is giving away a picture book critique (less than 1000 words)—what an awesome opportunity! Just leave a comment below mentioning you want the crit (in other words, use your words).

A random winner will be selected at the end of the month.

Good luck!

7ate9
Winner of the 2018 Irma S. Black Award and the SCBWI Crystal Kite!
black kite

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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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:

YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL
illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
2019

THE UPPER CASE:
TROUBLE IN CAPITAL CITY
illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
Fall 2019

FOUR WAYS TO TRAP A LEPRECHAUN
illus by Vivienne To
HarperCollins
Spring 2020

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