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by Debbi Michiko Florence

“Where do you get your ideas?” When someone asks this, if you’re like me, your mind might go blank as you struggle for an answer. I’ve written quite a few unpublished novels and picture books over the last fifteen years, and for most, I could not tell you what idea sparked those stories. But I can tell you where I got the idea for my chapter book JASMINE TOGUCHI MOCHI QUEEN.

I came across an article about a multigenerational Japanese American family that got together every New Year’s holiday to make mochi in the traditional way—steaming sweet rice, pounding it, and rolling mochi. Then, a little girl’s voice chimed in my head, complaining that she wanted to pound mochi even though it was a “man’s job.” And Jasmine Toguchi was born.

When my editor made the offer to buy MOCHI QUEEN, it was one of the happiest days of my life. Then, she surprised me by saying she wanted three more books about Jasmine Toguchi, to make a series. I was elated! She asked if I had ideas for more stories. I responded with an enthusiastic YES!

Honestly? I had no other ideas, at least not at that moment. When I wrote MOCHI QUEEN, I wrote it as a stand-alone chapter book. Suddenly, I had to come up with three more book ideas in a very short amount of time. How did I do this?

MOCHI QUEEN has a thread of Japanese culture (traditional mochi-making during the New Year holiday) with a bigger theme of a girl challenging a family rule (too young to participate) and Japanese tradition (pounding mochi has traditionally been a man’s job). With those big picture themes, I sat down and brainstormed. I focused on the cultural aspect since that’s how MOCHI QUEEN came about. I jotted down traditions that I personally enjoyed or was interested in. From that list, I picked out some favorites that I felt I could expand upon.

On Girl’s Day, families with daughters set up a display of special dolls. As a child I loved those dolls, but because they are delicate and fragile, my sister and I weren’t allowed to play with them. I could totally see Jasmine’s mom having the same rule. This became the starting point for book 2, SUPER SLEUTH, where Jasmine is excited to share Girl’s Day with her best friend, but a falling out puts the celebration in jeopardy.

Book 3, DRUMMER GIRL, focuses on taiko drumming. I’d long loved watching and hearing taiko performances and often wished I had been able to learn to play taiko. This one made the list because I knew I’d get to finally take a lesson because, you know, research! This story expanded to lead Jasmine to contemplate the meaning of talent during a school talent show when a nemesis turns the fun event into a competition.

     

And finally, the idea for book 4, FLAMINGO KEEPER, started with the daruma, a Japanese wishing doll. Long ago, I had wished for one of my stories to be published. I colored in one eye of the doll while I made that wish, and many years later, after I sold MOCHI QUEEN, I was finally able to color in the other eye. I was filled with joy to be able to do this after having it sit on my desk for so long with only one eye. I knew that Jasmine would feel the same joy, but what if her wish was a little impossible? Like wishing for a pet flamingo.

Delving into cultural and family traditions could be a great idea generator. What memories do you have of favorite (or not-so-favorite) traditions? What traditions or stories from your culture fascinate you? Make a list and I’ll bet you come up with more than one idea.

Happy day 4 of Storystorm! I’m cheering you on!


Debbi Michiko Florence is the author of the chapter book series Jasmine Toguchi, about a spunky 8-year-old Japanese American girl. Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen (a JLG selection) and Jasmine Toguchi, Super Sleuth are available now. Two more books will follow – Jasmine Toguchi, Drummer Girl (April 3) and Jasmine Toguchi, Flamingo Keeper (July 3). A third generation Japanese American and a native Californian, Debbi lives in Connecticut with her husband, puppy, bunny, and two ducks.

Visit her at debbimichikoflorence.com and follow her on Twitter @DebbiMichiko and Instagram @jasminetoguchi.

Debbi is giving away a two-book Jasmine Toguchi prize pack. You can win MOCHI QUEEN and SUPER SLEUTH.

Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

Thank you, Tara, for hosting the very first peek (one year before publication) at the cover for book one of my upcoming chapter book series, BEEP AND BOB (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster), which I write and illustrate.

BeepComp2

Though BEEP AND BOB is my debut series, it is far from the first kidlit book I was supposed to publish. That honor goes to a picture book I wrote years ago. I assembled an illustrated dummy, submitted to the finest publishers (in an envelope with stamps!) and waited for greatness. Of course, for that and a second book, only rejection followed.

Luckily, around that time I found the organization SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). While networking at SCBWI conferences, I found a great community of dedicated and generous creators, always there with support. I also found an agent, who picked up my first middle-grade novel. She began to submit and got some genuine interest from well-known editors. Once again, I waited for greatness. But once again, even after a couple more MG novels and some almost-sales, came our friend rejection.

Of course, this story is heading for that age-old chestnut that the key to any success is PERSEVERANCE. Try and try again, and then try some more. It’s all about dedication and endurance. However, I also discovered one new gem that, for me at least, became a crucial part of the puzzle: GIVING UP.

Obviously I didn’t give up writing or I wouldn’t be here, but at some point after being endlessly battered by the waves, I gave up in the sense of letting go—letting go of being attached to the goal of publication. I stopped struggling so much and gave myself permission to just spit out whatever wanted to come out, no matter how silly or wild. In a short time, I had a draft of BEEP AND BOB, which is about a boy who is reluctantly sent to school in space, and his lost alien buddy. I let it burst with humor and heart, which for me are the two most important ingredients of my work.

But it didn’t take much stepping back to realize that trying to sell a zany, debut, sci-fi chapter-book series about unknown characters was going to be a quixotic challenge. Rare was the agent who even said they represented chapter books (I had since left my first agent). So back to perseverance, and that horrible chore of submission that all writers know.

Luckily, this time things turned out differently: I was soon signed by the awesome Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary, and within a month of submitting she sold it in a four-book-deal to Aladdin. Please don’t tell Natalie, or my editor Amy Cloud, that BEEP AND BOB was really just an exercise in embracing failure.

Besides Natalie and Amy, I’d like to thank Nina Simoneaux, who designed this cool cover (I provided the color character spots). Hope you enjoy! And never give up giving up.

jonathanrothThank you, Jonathan, for sharing your journey to publication.

Jonathan is giving away an original, personalized drawing of BEEP to one lucky commenter.

Leave a message below to win. Share this cover reveal and receive an extra entry for each share–just post a comment for each, letting us know where you shared. Good luck!

 

by Hillary Homzie and Mira Reisberg

You have an idea for a book! Yahoo! It’s one of those ideas that hits you so deep in your gut that you immediately scribble it into a little notebook. Your stomach bubbles, not in an indigestion sort of way, but in a nervous-happy–giving-birth-to-a-germ-of-an-idea way. So how do you know if the idea is really picture book idea? What if it’s actually a chapter book or a middle grade novel, how do you know?

Well, you don’t. Not right away.

Of course, there are the obvious tip-offs that your idea is not a picture book. Take your idea through this list and see how it stacks up.

  1. Age of the protagonist.

These days picture books are generally geared for ages 2-7, although there are still picture books geared towards older elementary school, especially in nonfiction. Still, there’s no question that picture books are skewing younger with shorter word counts. If your primary character is in first through third grade (or ages 6-9), and is longer than 700 words, chances are you have a chapter book. And if your character is a fourth or fifth grader, chances are you have a younger middle grade novel (for ages 9-10). Now sometimes, often, older chapter books overlap with middle grade. Is Stuart Little an illustrated chapter book or an early middle grade? There is no hard and fast answer here, especially since the term chapter book has often been used in a general way to indicate a book for elementary school children that has chapters. However, often in publishing when we say chapter book, we often mean an early chapter book. Think Magic Tree House, Junie B. Jones or Geronimo Stilton. Of course, exceptions apply in everything (and really, would it be any fun if there weren’t?). But read on to help you determine where your idea fits best.

magictreehouse

  1. Interest of the main character.

Is your main character interested in something that will be appealing to younger children? E.g. If you’re story is about a child who’s excited about writing cursive, this means the main character is probably eight, and chances are it’s a chapter book story. If you’re an author/illustrator who has created lots of charming or edgy black and white illustrations to go with the story, chances are it’s a chapter book. Early middle grade books are also starting to feature illustrations more. This is great news for illustrators.

Page from "Notebook of Doom" chapter book series by Troy Cummings

Page from “Notebook of Doom” chapter book series by Troy Cummings

  1. Period of time.

Does your story occur over a year? Six months? You may have a chapter book or young middle grade on your hands. Now there are exceptions, picture books such as Diary of a Worm, which chronicles a character over a large period of time, or nonfiction picture books that occur over a long time like biographies. The majority of contemporary picture books take place over a brief period of time, while chapter or middle grade books usually have the luxury of taking their time with a story.

diaryofaworm

  1. Type of protagonist.

Are your main characters animals or personified objects? Chances are it’s either a picture book or an early chapter book. Older kids generally want to look more sophisticated with “grown-up” books, but of course there are always exceptions, like the fresh middle grade graphic novel Low Riders in Space, which features a dog, an octopus, and a mosquito as main characters.

lowridersinspace

Generally, if you like writing really short manuscripts with simple plots, often with animal characters on topics of interest for very young kids, you’re a picture book person. If you like the luxury of time and space for writing slightly longer books (from 1500 to 15,000 words) that still have pictures for slightly older kids ages 6-9, with or without animal characters, then you’re a chapter book writer (or maybe even an early reader person, but that’s a post for another day). And if you like much more complex plot lines, much longer storytelling, stories for early middle school kids, then you have an older middle grade idea.

So…what kind of ideas do you have?

Bonus info: Mira and Hillary will be co-teaching an outrageously fabulous interactive e-Course, the Chapter Book Alchemist, starting January 12th. Together and with the help of Mandy Yates, they make it ridiculously easy to write a chapter book or early middle grade during the 5 fun-filled weeks. The course features optional critique groups, weekly live webinar critiques, lots of lessons and exercises, the option for critiques with Mira or Hillary (with a free Scrivener course) and Golden Ticket opportunities to submit directly to agents and editors. Click here to find out more about this once-in-a-lifetime adventure with potential life and career changing benefits! Click here to find out more

Hillary Homzie photo by Suzanne Bronk

Hillary Homzie photo by Suzanne Bronk

Hillary Homzie is the author of the chapter book series, Alien Clones From Outer Space as well as the middle grade novels, Things Are Gonna Get Ugly, The Hot List, and Karma Cooper Unplugged (forthcoming). Some of her books are currently being made into an animated television series. Hillary teaches in the graduate M.F.A. program in children’s writing at Hollins University as well as for the Children’s Book Academy. She is also a former stand up comedienne. Visit her at HillaryHomzie.com.

mirareisbergMira Reisberg is an award-winning children’s book creative, a former kidlit university professor and a former literary agent. She is also the Director of the Children’s Book Academy and has taught many now highly successful authors and illustrators. Visit her at childrensbookacademy.com.

 

 

I know what you’re thinking—where has Tara been all July? (Well, maybe you’re not thinking that. Maybe you’re daydreaming about a fro-yo fix. And who could blame you?)

Well, it’s August and I’m back with an extraordinary interview. The talented author-illustrator Sarah Dillard turned what she thought was a picture book into an adorable early-reader chapter book. What did it take to get EXTRAORDINARY WARREN published? Let’s find out while we devour our fro-yo…

warrencoverSarah, what exactly made you realize that WARREN was destined for more than a picture book?

When I started working on Warren, I intended it to be a picture book but I felt that the story and ideas that I wanted to tell with him were a little more complex than the picture book format would comfortably allow. This is not to say that there are not complex picture books because there certainly are. But with Warren, it just seemed like he needed a little room to spread his wings. I didn’t worry about chapters though until a few drafts in. At that point it felt like there were natural breaks in the story for chapters. I have to say, when I am working on something I don’t automatically think “I am writing a picture book or this is going to be a chapter book.” I focus on the character and the story and let it unfold and then see what fits it best.

That’s great advice, to focus on character.

Thanks, Tara. I also wanted to add, that as picture books seem to be skewering younger, there is a great opportunity for illustrated early readers and chapter books to fill the gap for the beginning reader.

So what inspired Warren’s creation? How did he hatch?

Warren began as a doodle of a chicken looking at an egg. He looked curious to me and felt like a character who was looking for life’s answers. Did I draw the egg first or the chicken? I’ll never tell!

ExtraordinaryWarren Oeuf

My favorite spread in WARREN is the one with the hill in separate panels. How did you come up with that unique visual concept?

ExtraordinaryWarren bonk

That is one of my favorite spreads too! When I started thinking about how I would do the art for this book, my art director suggested a limited palette—with three colors plus black and white. I was hesitant at first but when I realized that I could use black as more than just an outline, the art took a fun graphic turn. I felt the use of black for the hill added just the right drama for this spread. I also liked the idea of having basically one hill but several panels that show Warren’s progression up and over that hill. I think it works both literally and figuratively for this part of the story.

warrenmoon

How different is it to write/illustrate your own book as opposed to just being an illustrator on a project?

I think it is quite different to illustrate my own book than illustrating someone else’s work. Illustrating someone else’s story is a huge responsibility. It is kind of like having someone say here is my beautiful child, please raise it. I am very conscious of wanting to do justice to the story as the author might have envisioned it while also bringing my own sensibility to the story.

When I am illustrating my own work having the art serve the story becomes the primary focus. I’m thinking of the images and what part they will have in telling the story as I write, so the art and the words feel inseparable to me. I think when I am working on my own books I have a stronger intuitive sense of what the story will need and am more willing to take risks to give it that. For instance, WARREN is done digitally and in a style quite different than any I have worked in, but I think it was the best approach for the book.

We’re hearing a lot about how editors want character-driven stories. What about Warren’s character makes him especially appealing?

That is a great question, and I’m glad that you find WARREN appealing! In creating WARREN, I tried to think about things that I thought about as a child, and probably still think about; the big questions—Who am I? What is my place in this world? I think we all want be special in some way but worry that maybe we are not. WARREN taps into that and hopefully it makes him someone that the reader can relate to and cheer on.

specialchicken

EW Savest the dayAnd…are there more WARREN books planned for the future?

I’m happy to say YES! EXTRAORDINARY WARREN SAVES THE DAY will be published in October. I don’t want to give too much away, but I can say that this book will deal with another of life’s big questions. Finally, we will learn, once and for all, why the chicken crossed the road.

Thanks, Sarah!

I’ll let my blog readers know that you’re giving away a signed copy of EXTRAORDINARY WARREN: A SUPER CHICKEN—they just have to leave a comment by August 8th. Hey, that’s even better than fro-yo!

Sarah Dillard studied art at Wheaton College and illustration at Rhode Island School of Design. She lives with her husband in Waitsfield, Vermont. For more about Sarah and her books, visit SarahDillard.com.

 

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:

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Early 2019

YOUR FIRST DAY OF (CIRCUS) SCHOOL
illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
Summer 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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