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A year ago last autumn in Chicago during the Architecture Biennial, one exhibit captured my imagination. Situated in the middle of a large room were several dozen waist-high stands, each holding small everyday objects, such as fake flowers, egg crate foam, or a crumpled mini plastic water bottle.
What made the objects startling, though, was that the artist/architect had included tiny plastic people on or by each group of objects. Those plastic people changed the objects from everyday to fantastic—no longer just things you’d find in a junk drawer, they were now a whole new landscape for those little people. I had a moment of vertigo. I was looking at something small, a pile of Pringles, but to the plastic people, the Pringles were hills. And if the Pringles were hills, what did that make me?
At this point you’re probably thinking, “Did I click on the right blog? Isn’t this supposed to be about WRITING?” But writing is the first thing that came to mind when I saw the exhibit, particularly writing for children, because the everyday can become fantastic if you just change your perspective. We do it all the time as writers of kids’ books. We imagine ourselves as we were when we were three or seven or ten. We remember what it felt like to be younger, smaller, under our parents’ control.
But as writers, we’re not limited to imagining ourselves as children. We can imagine ourselves as anything at all. A monkey. A vampire. A purple two-headed dragon. A little plastic person in a field of giant fake flowers. We can picture ourselves on the outside looking in . . . or on the inside longing to get out.
Perspective has been on my mind a lot lately. This year, I had two books come out that look at perspective differently. The first, LADY LIBERTY’S HOLIDAY, features a larger-than-life main character, the Statue of Liberty, and views America through her eyes. To her, Niagara Falls isn’t just a gorgeous waterfall—it’s the perfect spot to shower. And the Golden Gate Bridge? A great place to nap. The only thing that makes her feel small is the Grand Canyon.
MARTA! BIG AND SMALL, on the other hand, takes on the idea of how perspective differs depending on what something is compared to. So compared to an elephant, Marta is small. Compared to a bug, she is big. (Or “grande”—it’s a bilingual book.) It’s the whole idea of me, the Pringles, and the tiny plastic people. We are all big, and we are all small. Everything is relative.
And this is where the inspiration comes from. If you’re looking for a new idea, change your perspective. What would it be like if you were the size of a mouse? What would you eat . . . or wear . . . or play with? What if you were as big as a Brachiosaurus?
Look around. A pile of Pringles can be a hillside. A handful of twigs can be a forest. A piece of egg crate foam on its side can be a modern housing development. Lie on the floor. Crawl on your knees. Climb a ladder and see what it’s like to be eight feet tall. Take an elevator to the top of a tall building and look down. Then look up. Who sees the world that way? There’s your character. What challenges would they face? There’s your plot.
In one of the explanations of the exhibit, the artist/architect wrote “Anything stacked is architecture.” He found inspiration for his craft in the everyday, just as I found inspiration in his exhibit. Who knows where your next idea might come from? Like architecture, inspiration is everywhere!
For more on the exhibit, Sou Fujimoto’s “Architecture Is Everywhere,” click on this link.
Jen Arena writes, edits, and finds for inspiration in the world around her for everything from easy-to-reads to picture books to early chapter books. Her recent titles include BESOS FOR BABY (Little Brown), LADY LIBERTY’S HOLIDAY (Knopf), and MARTA! BIG AND SMALLl (Roaring Brook), which the Huffington Post named in its Best Picture Books of 2016 as an Honorable Mention in the category of—you guessed it—“Best on Perspective.” Her next picture book SLEEP TIGHT, SNOW WHITE will be published in 2017 by Knopf. Visit her on twitter at @hallojen or at her website: jenarenabooks.com.
In honor of the very first Storystorm, Jen is giving away a thirty-minute brainstorming session/Q&A/editorial consult phone call. She has twenty years of experience as an editor with Putnam, Golden Books, and Random House and has been writing for kids just as long. Ask away!
Leave ONE COMMENT below to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once on this blog post. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.
by Dev Petty
My first book, I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG, came out last February and it’s been a wild ride this year publicizing and reading my book across the San Francisco Bay area which I call home. It’s kind of been the year when I went from “person who wrote and sold a book” to “writer,” if only because I now actually say “Writer!” when people ask what I do instead of coughing and pretending I didn’t hear the question like before.
My journey from Visual Effects artist, to mom, to writer was fast. I didn’t have a ton of time to consider what being a writer would mean or what it would feel like to read my book to a room full of eager faces. I’ve visited many schools, dozens of bookstores, a few libraries, workshops and panels too. I had a lot to learn, if only about engaging with kids, which even though I’m a parent, I needed some work on. What was surprising, and exciting, was how much I learned about writing FOR kids through the process of reading TO kids. It turns out, if you do the same sort of spiel and read the same book enough times, you start to notice some things and, like so many other experiences, those things inform the act of writing picture books…who knew?! So here are a few WRITING lessons garnered from READING.
Kids are power-hungry little critters. What do I mean? It means they like to have the information, fill in the gaps, answer the questions, even guess the question all before you, another kid or another adult gets a word out. Every time I read a certain page of I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG, I get to the part where I say “Because you are a….”
and the kids all shout out FROG!
Which is infinitely more fun that me saying “frog” to them in my not-that-fun voice. Time after time, I realize that when given a chance to extrapolate and interpolate they’ll do it. What does this mean for writing? It means you can leave a little space. Kids can draw conclusions and they’ll feel good for doing so. It also means you can play with that phenomenon. It’s a fun technique to send ’em down one road and get them thinking they know the answer and then turn the page and it’s something else entirely…it’s kind of a safe way to be wrong about something.
Kids are smart. They OFTEN ask me about publishing, how a picture book is put together, how and where I write, etc. Unlike young Dev who spent a lot of time drawing some sort of hybrid human/hotdog people, these kids are sophisticated and curious and savvy. Spend an afternoon with a bunch of second graders and you’ll be jotting down words to look up when ou get home. I talk to them about paste downs, collaboration in a digital world, and revision. This ought to remind us writers to not dumb things down- it may take more than one read, but they’ll get it…and then they’ll teach you.
Kids are also weird and they appreciate weird. I’ve written about this before, but many, many readings have reminded me of the truth of this statement. The best readings I have are the ones where I am revealing of my own oddities, shortcomings and foibles. It may get back to the power-hungry nature of the little guys, but they do love to feel that you’re on equal footing, that the writer is goofball, kid-like participant in the process and not button-up preacher sitting in the adult-sized chair above. What does it mean for writing? It means I’ve learned the joy of letting go a little and using a big brush to write strong, strange things and hope that kids, if not adults, will get it. Or at least enjoy it.
Kids like pictures. Well, duh Dev—of course kids like pictures…they draw them ALL THE TIME…on paper! But seriously, I found when I incorporate images into my reading, even a simple 20 minute reading, they are much more involved and attentive. Examples: I used to just say Mike Boldt illustrated the book…but then I put a funny picture of Mike in a big flowery frame and started bringing it along…they love it. I bring the alternate language versions of my book and pass them around. I draw a little. It’s pretty obvious what this means for writing—it means, think about the pictures! It means letting the pictures do a lot of the work for you, it means present, don’t preach.
So in this year, I’ve sure learned a lot. I’ve come a long way since my first reading when my hands wouldn’t stop shaking and I had notes written on a scrap of paper so I’d know what to say. My writing has changed because of all these kids, parents, librarians and teachers who’ve welcomed into their rooms. In fact, these days when I’m writing a new story, I IMAGINE myself reading it to a room full of kids and I imagine the page turns and pauses and laugh lines, the open space for them to guess and wonder, and the possible reactions to things. Of course, in my head, the kids are all wearing overalls and red converse and yellow rain slickers and have rosy cheeks and bacteria-free hands and speak a little french and go fishing and think I’m terribly cool, like spy cool and that they might want to be like me some day. I digress…
Finally, in case you’re a new author and in the market for a few tips you may not have considered—here now a few Reading Your Picture Book Lessons I’ll offer for free:
- Don’t swear. Seems obvious, right? Harder for some of us than others.
- If you take questions, always ask the kid’s name before he/she talks.
- Bring along a little giveaway, not all kids can afford your book and you’ll feel good if you send em home with something.
- Show up early.
- Send a thank you note to the teacher, book store manager or librarian after.
- Connect with the parents and teachers, let them ask questions too
- .If you make a joke about something like eating bugs, be ready for the possibility that one of the kids in your audience has, and often does eat bugs as part of their culture and then be prepared to feel really, really awkward.
- Seriously, don’t swear.
- When signing books, bring scratch paper to write the names down before you pen them in your book. The kid might say “My name is Max” and that might have an umlaut and a couple h’s these days.
- Finally, remember what the whole point of this writing for kids thing is. It’s to delight, inspire, amuse…kids. I’m just the hired help–another reminder this is the best job on Earth.
Thanks, Dev. These are great tips. (And I second that umlaut warning. Also, don’t say another name while you are writing a name, otherwise a book for Marcie will wind up being a book for Autumn. True story.)
You can win a copy of Dev’s newest book, I DON’T WANT TO BE BIG. Just leave a comment below–include a reading aloud tip if you have one. A winner will be randomly selected in a couple weeks. US addresses only, please. GOOD LUCK!
Dev Petty is the author of I DON’T WANT TO BE A FROG, I DON’T WANT TO BE BIG, and CLAYMATES (L,B & Co. ’17). She is a former visual effects artist who loves writing picture books because they’re like tiny, paper movies. Dev is a Berkeley native, devout Californian, and she’s super good at word jumbles. She’s represented by Jen Rofé of ABLA. Visit her at DevPetty.com.
November—typically this month I’m a blogging fool, organizing Picture Book Idea Month posts, participants and prizes. But PiBoIdMo has been moved to January, a new year, a fresh start. The new news about the annual writing challenge is that I’m working hard on the new name and logo, which I will reveal shortly, along with the changes in scope. So the news is that there is no news? Yeah, sorry ’bout that. I feel badly, so let me cheer you up with Snoopy, who always makes me feel better. (Plus, added bonus: BUNNIES!!!)
And some of you will feel even better, because I am playing Oprah again today with my favorite things: giveaways. I did not realize it had been months since I announced prize winners, so I have a bunch here. Congratulations to all and be on the lookout for an email from me.
NADIA: THE GIRL WHO COULDN’T SIT STILL Winner
Carol Gordon Ekster
MY BIG TREE Winner
MONSTERS GO NIGHT-NIGHT Winner
LILLA’S SUNFLOWERS Winner
SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS Winner
MONSTER TRUCKS Winner
BRUNHILDA’S BACKWARDS DAY Winner
MARIA GIANFERRARI Winners
Query Pass: Genevieve Petrillo
PB Critique: Mary Jo Wagner
Book: Kelly Conroy
There are still open giveaways, so give the blog a scroll. Plus I’ll have another one next week. Boy, with all the blogging lately, it sure does feel like November…doesn’t it, Snoopy?
by Ruth Spiro
I’ve spent the past few weeks in a flurry of activity, celebrating the release of my new science-themed board books, illustrated by Irene Chan. BABY LOVES AEROSPACE ENGINEERING! and BABY LOVES QUARKS! are the first two titles in the Baby Loves Science series, published by Charlesbridge. Next year they’ll be joined by two siblings, BABY LOVES THERMODYNAMICS! and BABY LOVES QUANTUM PHYSICS!
When my first picture book, LESTER FIZZ, BUBBLE GUM ARTIST, was published in 2008, my marketing plan included the tried-and-true signings, mailings and school visits. But back then, we authors had to promote our books the old-fashioned way: Barefoot, walking uphill, in the snow.
At least that’s how it seems, looking at it in the rearview mirror.
Take a minute to consider how you’d get the word out about your new book and connect with potential readers without social media.
For me, this second time around is a whole new world.
LESTER FIZZ came out in August of 2008, and I scheduled most of my launch events for September. I ordered postcards with the book cover on one side and details like the ISBN and a few blurbs on the other. I used the postcards as event invitations by printing labels with the date, time and location, affixing them to the postcards and then addressing them by hand. This required more work, but it allowed me to order a larger quantity of generic postcards I could use for multiple purposes, such as leave-behinds at conferences.
At the last minute, I decided to spring for the 5 x 7 size, which I thought would have greater visibility. Unfortunately, when I sent my first mailing I neglected to consider two important details. First, I used regular postcard stamps, not realizing the larger size required extra postage. This problem was compounded by the fact that when I designed the postcards, it hadn’t occurred to me to include a return address.
I’m not sure where those postcards ended up, but it wasn’t in my friends’ and family’s mailboxes. Ordering a larger quantity turned out to be my only smart move, because once I learned that 90% of the postcards were never delivered, I had to re-do the entire mailing. (The others arrived at their destinations postage due!)
Later that month when my schedule slowed down, I joined Facebook. Not many people I knew were using it, as it wasn’t yet a “thing” among people my age. Still, I’d been hearing about it more and more so I decided to check it out. I had fun connecting with high school friends and former colleagues, and began posting status updates. I still had two more book signings coming up in October, so I posted the details.
Surprisingly, people I hadn’t seen in years showed up, some with friends, babies, nieces and nephews in tow. Truth be told, these folks weren’t on my invitation list and would never have known about the events if I hadn’t shared them on Facebook.
Eight years later, Facebook has become an invaluable resource. It enables authors and illustrators to leverage our social networks by publicizing events, sharing links to blog posts and reviews, and connecting with fans and potential readers. Best of all, rather than blowing my promotion budget on invitations and stamps, I purchased important stuff like rocket ship cookies, airplane tattoos and astronaut ice cream!
I recall exactly how I met Tara-–on Twitter!
I had a Google Alert set for my book title (another helpful resource) and discovered her tweet:
We began following each other, I found Tara’s blog, and made a friend with similar interests halfway across the country. (Tara’s note: I love quirky LESTER FIZZ.)
In 2008 I knew very few people who were active on Twitter. The old joke was that people used it to announce what they’d eaten for breakfast. Back then, I think Twitter was still figuring out what it wanted to be when it grew up.
Ah, but Twitter is home of the hashtag.
For those still unfamiliar, and I personally know more than a few, I’ll briefly explain. Adding a “#” to the beginning of a word or phrase makes it visible to all of the 313 million active users around the world who are searching for that word or phrase. #Authors, #illustrators, #booksellers, #librarians, #bloggers, #editors, #agents and others in the #kidlit and #SCBWI community, including those interested in #picturebooks, #graphicnovels, #reading, and #literacy use hashtags to connect and see what others are discussing. Get the picture?
(People use hashtags on Facebook and Instagram too, but it all began on Twitter.)
You can share ideas and #chat with like-minded people around the world without leaving your own comfy couch. Through the years, I’ve used Twitter to “meet” hundreds of educators, librarians and booksellers. I’ve received invitations to speak at conferences, set up Skype visits with classrooms in India, Turkey and Mexico, and kept abreast of topics trending in children’s literature. When used the right way, the power of Twitter is stunning.
So, while I may have missed the boat with #bubblegum, now I can easily find people who are interested in #boardbooks, #STEM, #quarks and #aerospace. See? It’s addictive!
But wait, there’s more…
Booksellers, librarians and parents often post photos of new or favorite books, and some popular Instagram accounts have tens of thousands of followers (or more!) How cute is this photo of a little reader?
One word: Educators! If you have Educator Guides, crafts or activities to go along with your books, create a Pinterest board and pin them there. I pinned mine for Lester Fizz five years after it was published, and they’re still being “favorited” and “repinned.”
In my opinion, Facebook and Twitter are the two heavy hitters. They’ve given me the biggest return on my investment of time and effort without costing a penny. But as I made a list of all the tools that didn’t exist (or weren’t as popular) only six or eight years ago, I realized just how far we’ve come. There are some resources I haven’t mentioned (LinkedIn, SnapChat, Tumblr) simply because I haven’t found them quite as useful as the others.
Keep in mind that while these social media platforms can be used for promotion, they’re also spaces for creating community. I’ve found that the most rewarding experiences come from authentic interactions, resulting in relationships that grow over time. The best part is that once you’re an active member of a community, you don’t have to promote yourself as much because others will help do it for you. Of course, this works both ways. It’s a joy to celebrate contracts and “book birthdays” of those in your community, especially when you’ve followed each other through all the ups and downs of the journey.
Thank you, Ruth, for showing us how book marketing has changed dramatically in just a few years. I personally do not know what I would do without social media because, as you know, I like to stay home in my jammies.
Ruth is giving away a signed, two-book set of BABY LOVES SCIENCE to a random commenter. How do you use all the tools we have today to spread the word about your work?
A winner will be selected soon. (I have stopped saying a particular date because I never get to it in time. Yes, I have lots of things I have to pick winners for…I PROMISE SOON.)
Ruth Spiro is a children’s book author and freelance writer. Her Baby Loves Science board book series, published by Charlesbridge, includes Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering! and Baby Loves Quarks!. The next two titles, Baby Loves Thermodynamics! and Baby Loves Quantum Physics! will be published in 2017. Also forthcoming from Dial is a new picture book series, Made by Maxine, which sold at auction in a 3-book deal. The first book is scheduled for 2018.
Ruth’s debut picture book, Lester Fizz, Bubble-Gum Artist won awards from Writer’s Digest and Willamette Writers, and was a Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the Year. Her articles and stories have appeared in FamilyFun, CHILD, and The Writer, and also in popular anthologies, notably The Right Words at the Right Time (Vol. II), edited by Marlo Thomas, and several Chicken Soup for the Soul titles. She lives in suburban Chicago.
I am thrilled to be writing this blog post.
Wait a second…
That’s the worst opening, isn’t it?
Let me explain.
Back when I wrote marketing copy, sales letters and press releases for a living, I bought POWER SALES WRITING by Sue Hershkowitz-Coore, an eye-opening guide and the most useful business book I’ve ever read. Good business requires sharp writing.
In the book, Hershkowitz-Coore tells marketing writers to stop being thrilled all the time. Sure, you are thrilled to announce a deal, launch a product or publish a book. But why should your audience be thrilled? What’s in it for them? No one is going to be thrilled simply because you are (except for your mother).
The point? Stop writing sales pitches from your point of view and write from the target audience’s POV. Make your audience thrilled. Give them something to get excited about.
I receive dozens of unsolicited book review pitches a week. There are too many, so I take a simple approach to weeding them out. Those that use “I am thrilled” to open the pitch get deleted. (Sorry.) With that introduction, I know they haven’t considered my blog readers’ point of view.
I never forgot that thrilling lesson. Yes, I’m sometimes still too thrilled for my own good. I want friends to be happy for me, so I will occasionally toot my own flugelhorn. But then I remember what my Nana used to say: “Well, your arms are long enough to pat yourself on the back.” (Yeah, Nana could be harsh.) In a way, Nan was trying to teach me the same lesson as Hershkowitz-Coore. No one is going to be as thrilled as you are, so you’d better make your news worthwhile to others.
I am thrilled to be finished writing this blog post…because I hope it has helped you.
We have a winner for Catherine Bailey and Sarita Rich’s giveaway. Sarita’s daughter Stella did the honors:
Congratulations, MELISSA STOLLER! I will be contacting you via email to arrange the prize.
Watching that sweet video makes me want to write a story to make Stella giggle! Consider her cuteness your motivation for the week!
“How did you get your start writing?”
“Just like Roald Dahl.” (Yes, I take advantage of any opportunity to compare myself to my favorite writer.)
But, I’m not kidding. When I began this whole crazy ride, I did so by writing short stories for adults, just like Dahl. Except my stories weren’t short stories. They were short, short, extra short stories—flash fiction.
I had found an online magazine called “Six Sentences” that published one flash fiction piece per day. The name of the site said it all—every story was only six sentences long (or six sentences short, chortle chuckle).
To some writers, this presents an enormous challenge, to examine character and emotion and conflict between six periods. Sure, you could exploit the semi-colon and em-dash and maybe stretch it to resemble eight-and-a-half sentences, but still. That’s not much space.
The uber-short format, however, is like prose-poetry. And it’s most definitely like a picture book because some things must be left unsaid, yet the silence remains part of the story’s experience.
by Tara Lazar
Her daughter was achingly beautiful, a delicate loveliness like a paper lantern, illuminated from within. The girl’s long hair separated into fine ringlets, cascading like curled Christmas ribbon down her back. She was the kind of child who made strangers smile and take pause—the kind of child who made other mothers envious. The mother was not so much shunned as politely excluded; excuses were made, apologies provided, but invitations were never extended. She exaggerated her own ordinary features—forgoing makeup, leaving her hair unwashed for days, wearing mismatched clothing—but none of her efforts to elicit pity served to lessen the jealousy; her daughter’s radiance only shone brighter, her extraordinary hair the source of more disdain. The mother closed her eyes, grasped the scissors, and cut.
I’ve long held the belief that aspiring picture book writers would benefit from writing flash fiction, as it’s good writing practice in another format. No pictures are necessary, but a mind for visuals is. Can you imagine the scene above?
Writing these stories is fun as well as a challenge, so I was mighty intrigued when I saw Logitech announce their Very Short Story contest on Twitter.
So here’s your chance to strut your storytelling skills outside the usual medium. Logitech is giving away their new K380 Multi-Device Bluetooth Keyboard and a Blurb giftcard for the best short story written in 8 tweets or less. Just use #LogiVSS to tell your tiny tale. Get all the details here—http://blog.logitech.com/2016/02/18/k380veryshortstorychallenge—but hurry! The contest ends at the close of this week.
And guess what? Logitech is also giving away one of their new keyboards to one of my blog readers! If you hate typing on a phone or tablet’s screen, worry no longer. This keyboard is happy to help you out.
Just leave a comment below about short story writing and you’re entered to win. One lucky commenter will be picked randomly in two weeks!
So go ahead and write on! (But don’t write on and on and on!)
by guest blogger Catherine Bailey
You call her Tara Lazar. I call her Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady. And thanks to Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady, and her month-long picture book idea challenge PiBoIdMo, I now have three picture book contracts.
I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCWBI.org) in 2010. Soon after I joined Verla Kay’s Blueboards, now accessible through the SCWBI website. That is where I heard about PiBoIdMo.
I’ll admit at first I did not understand all the hubbub. Come up with a PB idea per day? Who would check to make sure I did it? What if I didn’t? Was I supposed to call somebody? What else happened during PiBoIdMo? Then it clicked. I had to work on my writing–even if just for a bit–EVERY SINGLE DAY. Plus there were these motivational, insightful daily posts! I felt like I had struck PB gold.
Suddenly I was focused and taking my writing seriously. I made time to write. I made goals. I made lists. Long, gloriously detailed lists–of ideas, agents, publishers, writing techniques, bookstores, dream editors, dream illustrators…
On one of those lists was idea #17: How Do You Move a Monster? It was something my toddler had asked me. That’s it. There was no plot or character or anything–just that title. When I went back to idea #17 over a year later, I had an answer. You ask the monster to move… politely. Then a manuscript sprouted. After months of polishing, I shipped the story off to a few well-researched publishers.
Lo and behold, Sterling Publishing contacted me. I was plucked from the slush and THERE WAS INTEREST. Of course I just about died. I ate donuts and cried. And I contacted an agent who I had pursued earlier, Kathleen Rushall. Within a few days she agreed to represent me and from there INTEREST turned into and OFFER which turned into a CONTRACT which turned into me EATING MORE DONUTS.
The title changed to MIND YOUR MONSTERS and the book debuted this August. Here is the fabulous cover and some interior sketches:
In the meantime, my toddler became an actual kid, we had another baby, and I kept participating in PiBoIdMo. Instead of making a new “Idea” list, I just added to the old one which was (rather optimistically) titled “101 Picture Book Ideas.” Did I have 101 Picture Book Ideas at this point? No. Nope. Nerp. But I knew I would eventually, thanks to Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady and her website of wonders.
Then I turned two more PiBoIdMo ideas into manuscripts. One was simply listed as “Hypnosis/stuck in trance” and the other was “Lucy loves Bobo—maybe Bobo is a lobster?” With time, work, and the input of an amazing critique group, those weird little baby-ideas turned in HYPNOSIS HARRY and LUCY LOVES SHERMAN, both of which sold to Sky Pony Press.
Today my “101 Picture Book Ideas” list includes over 200 entries. And thanks to Tara, I mean Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady, it is pure habit for me to add ideas to this list whenever something pops in my mind. And speaking of lists, here is a very brief recap of what I got out of PiBoIdMo.
- Ideas. Okay, so that one is obvious.
- A concrete starting place I can go to when I am stumped/motivated/annoyed with a current project. Like an anchor on a little boat in a big sea, this is very reassuring and grounding.
- Confirmation that writing is work and deserves the respect and focus of any other job – which for me means planned writing time, specific goals, and occasionally…donuts.
So thank you Dream-Maker-Genius-Lady. Thank you for inspiring and motivating me. And thank you for taking me to what I call Contract-Landia! Now c’mon November–let’s go PiBoIdMo!
PiBoIdMo 2015 registration will begin HERE (yes, I mean right here, on this blog, so there’s no link to click) in late October. I hope to see you then!
Apologies for going off the picture book rails with this post. But living with a chronic disease like MS means I have to focus on the positive. And I strongly believe that being happy in life relies upon being happy in the present…and not hanging happiness on “if only.” Happiness is not a contingency plan. Happiness is right here, right now, in your everyday life. As mundane or stressful as some days can be, glimmers of giddiness can be discovered and celebrated. Don’t miss those moments, as fleeting as they may be.
So I have vowed to jot down one happy thing daily. What made me smile, what made me appreciate my life. Some will certainly be silly, and others may be cloyingly sentimental. Some will mean nothing to anyone but me. A LOT will have to do with FOOD. But for a full year, 366 days (2016 is a leap year), I will create a list of HAPPY.
I have already begun. So here’s my list of 10 happy things. I will add to this list throughout the year and I invite (no, encourage!) you to compile your own list of happiness.
- A morning cuppa Earl Grey tea
- Braiding my daughter’s hair
- Reading in the sun (without getting overheated, an MS issue)
- Finding fresh apricots at the store
- My daughter making breakfast all on her own (cheesy eggs)
- Delicious lunch with a good friend
- Getting into bed with freshly-washed sheets
- Receiving the first hard copy of my new book
- Baking peach-blueberry cobbler for dinner with friends
- The smell of water from the garden hose (reminds me of childhood summers)
Aha! So you stumbled upon the reason for this blog post title. Plus, to use a cliché faucet metaphor, little droplets of happiness can soon become a flood! (Oh boy, that was baaaaad. That’s not going on my happiness list.)
What made you happy today?
Ooh, I’m all abuzz because I’ve got Toni Buzzeo on the blog today. Yes, THE NY Times Best-Selling picture book author of ONE COOL FRIEND (which also won a Caldecott Honor for David Small). Toni’s newest book is WHOSE TOOLS?, her first non-fiction title.
I’d like to say, “I sat down with Toni and we chatted over Earl Grey tea and frosted lemon cake,” but I can’t. Because we didn’t. I plopped on the couch nursing a sore knee and Toni wielded tools while emailing. (Quite the talent!) But we still had plenty of fun. And I can now call her my one TOOL friend.
Toni, WHOSE TOOLS? is your first foray into non-fiction. Where did the idea come from?
I’m an elementary librarian by profession (though my writing career made managing a library in addition to speaking and writing too challenging). As a result, I’m a freelance librarian these days. What that means is that I do a fair amount of curriculum writing (for NoveList and others). One day I was working with a book that was a guessing game and it gave me an idea. What about a book that was a guessing game about professions involved in building a house? The clues would be the tools and the answer would be the name of the professional.
My husband Ken is an engineer, thus when I told him about this idea, he went wild with enthusiasm and pledged to help me as soon as I wanted to get started. We spend the winter in Sarasota, Florida every year, so in 2013, on the drive down to Florida, we brainstormed what was to become WHOSE TOOLS?
Hey, but his name isn’t on the cover! LOL
It’s true, Ken’s name SHOULD be on the book. It is dedicated to him, though.
So now that you’ve published both fiction and non-fiction, which is your favorite to write?
WHOSE TOOLS? is my first non-fiction book, soon to be followed by WHOSE TRUCK? and A PASSION FOR ELEPHANTS: THE REAL LIFE ADVENTURE OF FIELD SCIENTIST CYNTHIA MOSS.
I have loved writing nonfiction books for kids as I did when I was writing the eleven books I have published for teachers and librarians. As a librarian myself, there’s something so deeply ingrained about sharing information! And of course, I love the research process involved in writing a book like A PASSION FOR ELEPHANTS.
But I do also love the creation of a world, the characters and the events that happen in a fictional universe all of my own creation. Even then, I rely heavily on research about the real world, whether it’s a particular PLACE (East Africa in the case of my African animal trilogy, STAY CLOSE TO MAMA, JUST LIKE MY PAPA, and MY BIBI ALWAYS REMEMBERS) or a particular TIME (1929 in LIGHTHOUSE CHRISTMAS; 1870 in THE SEA CHEST).
I’m just like every mother. I can’t choose my favorite!
Was WHOSE TRUCK? just a natural extension of WHOSE TOOLS? Do you have more WHOSE-A-WHATCHA books planned?
My publisher, Abrams, wanted to buy a second book at the same time they acquired WHOSE TOOLS? but they didn’t want the workers to build another building. Because the focus of this series is professions, we started to think of groups of workers who shared something in common and came up with the idea of trucks. As Ken says, every professional in this book needs a truck to do his or her work! It was the perfect companion book.
We’ve thought ahead to the possibility of a third book, WHOSE HAT? It’s not under contract yet but if it becomes a part of the series, it will focus on the hats and other wardrobe accoutrements worn by various workers. (Hint: think astronauts!)
Why do you think young kids are so fascinated with tools and trucks…and why are these such great subjects for children’s books?
I have a one year old grandson, Camden, who is totally WILD about tools. He has toy tools but he really loves the REAL tools because they DO real work! I think that the job of childhood is to learn how the world works and, once they understand that, to learn how they can change it. What better way to change it than with tools? And what better way to enjoy it than from the inside of a truck?
Now that you’re a NY Times Best-Selling Author, do you feel like you’ve reached a new stage in your career? Is that one thing checked off your writerly bucket list? What else is on that list?
Tara, as you know, there are a million ways to succeed in this children’s writing business and at least a thousand ways to feel disappointed. It was an amazing thrill to land on the NY Times Best Sellers List! And a year later to learn that David Small won a Caldecott Honor for ONE COOL FRIEND doubled the thrill. The evening of the Newbery/Caldecott banquet I had a deep and profound moment of realizing that I’d gotten everything I’d wished for. On the disappointing days, I remind myself of that moment.
What I want now, more than anything in this career, is for it to last until I die. I want to continue to write and publish wonderful children’s books every year of my life!
Well, that sounds PERFECT to me!
Toni, thanks so much for chatting with me. Sorry we didn’t have lemon cake. I would have cut it with a buzz saw in your honor!
Also, thanks for offering a copy of WHOSE TOOLS? for a giveaway!
Please leave a comment below to enter the random drawing (one comment per person, please). A winner will be selected at the end of June.