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Hooray, it’s a new baby!

Wait, it’s TWO new babies! Because two brothers star in YOUR FIRST DAY OF CIRCUS SCHOOL!

One brother is brand new; the other already knows the ropes. One will show the other how it’s done. And then, vice-versa.

It’s blasting into a bookstore near you TODAY!

Kirkus Reviews said:  “In this feel-good story, an older brother helps his younger sibling navigate the first day of circus school. Whether getting ready for school themselves or relating to the comfort of having a loved one as a guide, young readers will enjoy this upbeat twist on the genre.” And Imaginary Elevators wrote, “Kids will love this book.”

To celebrate the release of my 7th picture book, I’m giving away 30-minute Skypes galore, either for your classroom or for you, if you’re a writer.

To enter, simply tell me your favorite act in the circus. I’ll randomly select 7 classroom winners and 7 writing winners. Just let me know which one you are when you comment below!

Good luck!

 

by Sheri Dillard

When people ask me when I first knew I wanted to be a writer, I share a story about a dream I had over 12 years ago. An actual dream. A dream that woke me up at 2am and had me jumping out of bed to write it down so I wouldn’t forget. I wasn’t trying to be a writer at the time. I’m guessing I just wanted to share my dream with my husband and sons. But I loved it. LOVED it. So I wrote it down.

My dream was about a cow who accidentally left her farm and (unknowingly) created chaos wherever she went. I thought this was funny because whenever I see cows, they never really seem to be doing anything. They’re just sort of standing there. Not playing. Or frolicking. I’ve rarely even seen them walking. I thought it could be funny to have a picture book with a cow character who is “just standing there” but in an unusual place for a cow to be. What sort of chaos would that cause?

I’ve always been charmed by cows. They seem so sweet and curious to me. One of my favorite photos of my husband Mark was taken during a trip to England. I had wanted to get a picture of the beautiful scenery, but before we knew it, Mark was surrounded by cows. I joked, “Maybe they think you’re the farmer?” In the photo, I imagine the cows thinking, “Hey, what’s going on? Can we play?”

I think a lot of cow humor, like in Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin’s CLICK, CLACK, MOO (one of my favorite picture books) and even with the Chick-fil-A cows, is how the cows are acting like cows for the most part, but there is a suggestion that there is more going on than we can see.

One of my favorite Far Side comic strips illustrates this perfectly…

In early drafts of my manuscript, hide-and-seek was just a small part of the story, the opening scene. All the cows were playing together, but Bessie got distracted and accidentally left the farm. (I had a running list of “cow games” that I could possibly use for other Bessie stories, like “cow patty-cake” and “cow tag.” 🙂 The idea was that these cows were doing more than we realized, just like the Far Side cows. But in my early versions, after Bessie left the farm, she wasn’t playing the game anymore.

After I joined a critique group and started getting feedback from other writers, I noticed that the game of cowhide-and-seek was getting the most attention and compliments. Several revisions later, I finally realized the entire story could be about the game. And that the reason Bessie accidentally leaves the farm could be because she is looking for the perfect hiding spot.

So back to my dream. I wasn’t a writer at the time, but something about that idea got me started. I probably did share the dream with my family, but I also started writing. I feel like I learned how to be a writer with Bessie. Bessie and I have been through a lot—revisions, submissions, rejections, more revisions, and so on. But how special to have the idea that inspired me to become a writer end up as my debut picture book. It’s a dream come true. Literally.

Thanks for sharing your journey, Sheri…and congratulations on COWHIDE-AND-SEEK…which releases TOMORROW!

You can win a copy of Sheri’s debut! Just leave a comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected very soon!

GOOD LUCK!


Sheri Dillard is a children’s author and preschool teacher/librarian. She lives in Atlanta, GA, with her husband Mark, three sons, and a 100-pound puppy named Captain, who is not so good at hiding. Cowhide-and-Seek is her first book.

Visit her at sheridillard.com, on Twitter @sheridillard and Instagram @sheridillard.

Get ready for a new classic flying into bookstores next week: A KITE FOR MOON.

 

Late last year I had the pleasure of hearing Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple speak about the genesis of KITE and the long, winding journey it took. I’ll let Jane and Heidi take it from here…

Heidi: My mother and I have written about 22 books together and every one has it’s own process. KITE FOR MOON began in a completely different way.

Jane: Initially, it was my picture book. A combination of remembering the moon walk (Heidi was only about 2 and a half at the time, which we watched on our very small TV) and the fact that all through my growing up, my father was a kite flier. In fact he was the International Kite Flying Champion and president of the of the International Kite Fliers Assn. My card said, “May design own costume.”

Both my agent and I liked the manuscript, and so she sent it off. It kept getting rejected.

Heidi: Eventually, everyone gave up on that manuscript and it wound up collecting dust in a drawer. At some point, at least a couple years later (but, likely close to 5) I was asked to find it and send it on to an agent friend of ours who was looking for a project for one of his illustrators.  But, before I sent it, I read it.  It was not good. It was too sentimental and too long—too wordy, wordy, wordy. I’m pretty bossy, so I told her. And asked if I could take a whack at it.

The bones were good. But, it promised an ending it didn’t deliver. It needed serious pruning and a ton of focus.  So I did that.

 And sent it back to JY. (Yes, that’s how Heidi refers to her mom.)

Jane: I saw immediately that while Heidi had seen this as an editing job, and while she kept a great deal of my prose, what she added made it her book as well. And I insisted that her name be on the manuscript as well. There was a bit more back-and-forthing till we were both satisfied. Then the book went out with both our names attached. And lo! Zonderkidz (an arm of Harper Collins) bought it. And they started looking for an artist.

Heidi:  We were sitting at a conference listening to lectures when Matt Phelan got up to speak. His art was being shown and, there was a piece he had with kids in a classroom and my head exploded. THAT was our kid!  I poked JY in the side (she didn’t appreciate that) and whispered “Kite! Kite!”

Once I explained what I meant, we both went to work on Zonderkidz to approach Matt to illustrate. He said yes.  The only thing we changed after that was the last page originally said ‘listened’ and we changed it to “watched” based on Matt’s amazing last page. I don’t want to give anything away, but when I read the last 2 pages, I still get choked up.

Jane: We’ve read the book to a number of audiences so far, mostly adults, mostly writers, and when we get to the last two pages, everyone chokes up or gasps. I am not sure that was what we were going for. But my husband and I had given that same sort of gasp when Neil Armstrong walked down the ladder and stepped on the moon. I hope all our readers, young and old, feel the moment. Though this is not the story of Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first on the moon, it is the story of something monumental about how one small child becomes an adult who does something truly out of this world.

I listened to Jane and Heidi read the book, and I gasped, too.

If you want to gasp at your own copy signed by this amazing mother-daughter duo, please leave a comment below.

A winner will be randomly selected in a couple of weeks!

Good luck!

 

Welcome to picture book cover reveal headquarters! TA-DA!

Today I’m welcoming writer Laura Gehl and illustrator Joshua Heinsz, the team behind EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T, a light-hearted look at gender stereotypes. Coming in May 2019, the book celebrates the idea that children should feel free to be exactly who they are.

I asked Laura and Joshua to interview each other, so without further achoo…

Joshua: Laura, when did you first get the idea to write EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T, and what inspired you?

I always pictured myself as the kind of parent who would support and encourage my kids in all directions, no matter what. The kind of parent who wouldn’t push my kids to conform to gender norms. But that turned out to be harder than I thought (just like every single other aspect of parenting). Yes, I’ve done countless art projects with my sons, and played football with my daughter. And yet…I also discouraged my oldest son from buying the pink boots he liked, thinking other kids might tease him. And I gave away most of our toy vehicles when my three sons outgrew them, assuming my daughter wouldn’t have an interest (wrong—it turned out she loved playing with cars and trucks). So I was re-examining my own assumptions. And I was thinking about all the kids out there who might feel like they didn’t fit in the roles they were assigned by society—or even by well-meaning parents.

Joshua: Were there any particular challenges you faced as your worked on the manuscript?

Writing in rhyme is always challenging. After Charlie, our editor at Little Bee, acquired EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T, he wanted me to write a new section transitioning between the first part of the book (which highlights gender stereotypes) and the end of the book (which encourages kids to be exactly who they are). I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to write a brand new section in rhyme that worked as a smooth transition. But I was really happy with how that section turned out, and so was Charlie! Phew!

Joshua: What was your favorite part of the writing process for this one?

I like to share my work with my own kids, and I read this book out loud to my daughter. As you know, the first few lines all put children in gender stereotypical roles. So I read those first verses…

Boys play monster trucks with glee.
Girls bake cakes and serve hot tea.
Girls like pompoms, pink, and jewels.
Boys like fighting pirate duels.

And my daughter looked at me, wrinkled up her nose, and demanded, “SAYS WHO?!”

“That’s the whole point,” I told her. “Just wait a few more lines.”

In the end, she loved the book and its message. I hope every kid who reads it feels the same way.

Laura: Joshua, what were your thoughts when Charlie first approached you about illustrating this book?

I was so thrilled! The topic of gender stereotyping is one I’ve been passionate about for a very long time, and is one I had been specifically looking to address in my published work. I was the boy growing up playing with tea sets and dolls, and it’s really great to illustrate a book that would have been so exciting for me to have as a kid myself.

Laura: What was your first step in terms of thinking about how you wanted to do the art?

The biggest thing for me was to showcase as much diversity as possible and to make all of the characters in the book feel relatable to anyone. I knew I wanted the art to be particularly colorful as well so that whatever colors kids may not usually associate with would still feel very inviting and inspiring. Lastly I really love playing with shape language, so I knew I wanted to play around with simplifying the design in some ways I hadn’t tried before.

Laura: What was your process for designing the cover? Did you sketch out a bunch of different possibilities before hitting on a winner?

Truthfully, the cover was the toughest nut to crack for me on this project. I went through several rounds of sketches to find the best way to showcase the message of the book without crafting any sort of narrative or scene. There was a lot of playing around with which characters to include on the cover, and for a while I really had it in my head that I wanted a plane on the cover, although I couldn’t really say why–haha. I’m really happy with where we landed in the end, though.

Thank you, Laura and Joshua!

You can enter to win an F&G (folded and gathered advance copy) of EXCEPT WHEN THEY DON’T by making a comment below. One comment per person, please.

A winner will be randomly selected before the end of December.

Good luck!


Laura Gehl is the author of picture books including One Big Pair of Underwear, the Peep and Egg series, I Got a Chicken for My Birthday, and My Pillow Keeps Moving. In addition to Except When They Don’t, spring 2019 releases include Baby Oceanographer and Baby Astronaut, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman; and Dibs!, illustrated by Marcin Piwowarski. Laura lives in Maryland with her family and a large stash of dark chocolate. Visit her online at lauragehl.com and follow her on Twitter @AuthorLauraGehl.

Joshua Heinsz is the illustrator of A Paintbrush for Paco. He has a love for bright and whimsical imagery with a flair for the fantastical and an air of nostalgia. When not drawing or painting, Joshua can be found working as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor. He currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. See more of his work at joshuaheinsz.com and follow him on Twitter @JCHeinsz.

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 Nancy Viau

Hey there, readers of this wonderful blog!

Betcha can’t wait for hot, hot summer days, right? I know I’m looking forward to lots of sunshine and NO SNOW!

WAIT.

A.

MINUTE!

I canNOT say that because I am all about snow these days. The reason? In September, my fourth picture book makes its way into the world, and it’s called FIRST SNOW (Albert Whitman & Co.). So, put on your clunky boots and funky hats, think chilly thoughts … instead of OMG, it’s summer and it’s ridiculously hot, and please check out:

What does this cover reveal about the book? Simple. Snow. Is. Fun! If you’re an adult, do you remember the hours spent building igloos, having snowball fights, sledding, and that feeling of cozy warmth from a cup of hot chocolate? (Yeah, I know, dear grown-ups, you’ve gotta put aside the snow shoveling, buried cars, bad roads, etc. for a minute. I haven’t forgotten about you. When the book comes out, look at my funny dedication!)

As with my other picture books, this story is written in rhyme. Before I even thought about being a writer, I loved to read rhyming books. The words seemed to roll off my tongue, yet I never really understood why until I tried my hand at rhyme. It was much harder than I ever imagined! With rhyme, there is so much to consider—the rhyming words, internal rhyme, meter, length of phrases, length of stanzas, vocabulary, and more. Still, I love it. I love that every single word counts. It often takes me weeks to find that perfect word—the one that fits for all the right reasons. When that happens, it’s magical, trust me. If you write in rhyme, you know exactly what I’m talking about!

As far as finding a topic for a rhyming picture book, nature has always been my inspiration. I enjoy every season and the weather that comes with each one—warm, breezy, rainy, super-hot and humid, or freezing cold. While some may grumble, growl, and complain about a pending snowstorm, I’m a little kid again. There is something about the crunch of snow under my feet; its clean smell; that blanket of white; the cheery voices of children playing; and at night, the quiet peacefulness it brings.

Puffy jackets. Scarves in place.

Extra mittens, just in case.

In FIRST SNOW, you’ll see the kids scramble to see those first snowflakes, then head outside for adventure. Illustrator Talitha Shipman has done an amazing job of showing how beautiful snow is. (It’s not easy to paint white snow on white paper, right?) The colors she has chosen are varied and bright, and the expressions on the kids’ faces are priceless. Seeing how an illustrator works with my words is one of my favorite things about writing picture books.

So, next winter when meteorologists predict a big winter storm, I hope you’ll curl up with a copy of FIRST SNOW and think back to a time when snow meant serious, crazy fun. Then bundle up and go out and play!


Nancy Viau is the author of five picture books: PRUETT AND SOO (Two Lions, TBA), FIRST SNOW (Albert Whitman), CITY STREET BEAT (Albert Whitman), LOOK WHAT I CAN DO! (Abrams Books), and STORM SONG (Two Lions). She also writes middle grade and has several published with more forthcoming. Look for her latest, BEAUTY AND BERNICE, at the end of August! During the summer Nancy works as a librarian assistant at a public library and is the first to check out the travel books, searching for adventures out-of-state and out of the country. It’s in nature where she finds inspiration and whether it’s navigating mountain trails or riding her bike, she’s always writing stories in her head. Visit her at NancyViau.com.

Nancy is giving away a signed copy of FIRST SNOW in September. Comment now to be entered into the random drawing. A winner will be selected…on the first day of summer…? (Oh, the irony.)

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

by Maria Gianferrari

Cat got your tongue? I hope not! It’s time to stick out your tongue and celebrate all things tongue with a TERRIFIC TONGUES book giveaway, and a trip off the tongue thanks to Tara for helping feature it here!

Tongues rule!! So does Jia Liu’s fun and vibrant art!

How cool are tongues? Take this quiz and find out!

Whose tongue is like a washcloth?
A) Giraffe
B) Okapi
C) Tiger

If you had a tongue like a whip, you might be a …..

A) Snake
B) Dog
C) Anteater

Your tongue cleans your eyes like a windshield wiper. Who are you?

A) A gecko
B) A snail
C) A sea turtle

Answer in the comments and you’ll be eligible to win a copy of the book (for US residents only—sorry!).

To check your answers, read TERRIFIC TONGUES!

Thanks again, Tara & hearty thanks to publisher Boyds Mills Press for generously donating copies!

by Cate Berry

Bedtime. There’s a word. If you’re like me, at the end of the day, you’re spent. I’ll admit, some nights, if I could “do bedtime” via the latest app I’d gladly press my thumbprint into a device. A quick video would help the kids settle down right? Netflix, PBS, Youtube…

But I write books for children.

D’oh!

There’s a special time at the end of the day when grown-ups and kids come together. After the dog-and-pony-show—the getting into pajamas, the getting teeth brushed, the endless hijinks—that’s when we finally connect.

Research shows that reading bedtime books has a palpable effect on early literacy. Magic happens when a child sits on a grown-up’s lap at the end of the day listening to a story, watching the text interact with the pictures on the page. Comparing and contrasting the drawn page with the pictures in their minds helps a child develop critical thinking. And the literacy “residue” from reading aloud helps kids develop a broader vocabulary at an earlier age. As the Times article states, “… every parent who has read a bedtime story knows, this is all happening in the context of face-time, of skin-to-skin contact, of the hard-to-quantify but essential mix of security and comfort and ritual.”

Learning benefits aside, I also believe it’s good for people to laugh with each other. Sharing a giggle can heal the day’s bumps and bruises. My characters, Penguin and Tiny Shrimp, want to share their laughs and smiles. Ultimately, they care about spreading joy and fun—together.

Teamwork.

That’s what this book is about. My two characters work together—the buddy system!—against a common goal of falling asleep. [Don’t tell them, but much yawning will ensue, almost guaranteed.]

Does bedtime make you wiggly? Grab a buddy—a lovey, a sibling, a book! I was paired with a great “buddy” for the making of this book, illustrator Charles Santoso.

My favorite kind of picture book feels like a duet between the author and the illustrator. On one page the text might drive the story, followed by a wordless spread with just illustrations. It’s give and take. Maybe a graceful dance is a better way to put it.

Charles understood Penguin and Tiny Shrimp so authentically. In our interview for Cynsations he described to me how he listens to an author’s characters, letting them guide his illustrations, which is probably why he’s so versatile. At the same time, his signature warmth and emotion are always threaded throughout his work.

So, books. But there is one video I think you should watch: the one for PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! (Spoiler: look out for Charles’ stealth characters!)

And, watch it with a buddy.

BIG thanks Tara for hosting me today on her wonderful blog!

Up with books, down with bedtime!


Cate Berry is the author of PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! (May 8th, Balzer & Bray/Harper Collins). It was pinned a Junior Library Guild selection and Publisher’s Weekly called it, “A buoyantly subversive antibedtime book. (Picture book. 3-7).” She has forthcoming publications TBA and holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Cate is a faculty member with the Writing Barn in Texas and an active member in the SCBWI and Writers’ League of Texas. She also speaks at schools, libraries and conferences year round on such topics as “Gender Stereotyping and Poetic Devices” and “From Stand Up to Sit Down: Funneling Surprise and Stand-Up Comedy into Humorous Picture Books.” Visit her at cateberry.com to learn more.

Cate is giving away a copy of PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON’T DO BEDTIME! upon publication in a few weeks.

Leave one comment below to enter.

A random winner will be selected soon.

Good luck!

by Tracy Marchini

I’ve worn a number of hats in my career—and for the most part I have always had at least two hats on at once.

Now, I’m a children’s author who is celebrating her picture book debut, CHICKEN WANTS NAP, and a Literary Agent at BookEnds Literary representing fiction, non-fiction and illustration for children and teens.

But I’ve also been a newspaper correspondent, a children’s book reviewer, a freelance copywriter, a literary agents assistant, a freelance editor and a communications manager. (Well, and a pharmacy tech—which has nothing to do with this post—and very, very briefly an assistant at a wedding dress preservationist’s—which is the only job I’ve ever been let go from. I was relieved.)

Anyway, so many of these hats forced me to learn to write in a different way. Feature pieces vs. event wrap ups, editorial letters vs. pitch letters, book reviews vs. press releases—everything had a different format or tone, but there was also a lot of overlap. Ultimately, I think all of the above experience helped me with my writing and agenting career, and I hope that some of the below helps you too!

Character
I would get my newspaper assignments on Friday, do interviews and write the story over the weekend, and submit on Sunday so it’d be in my editor’s inbox by the Monday deadline. (Monday I’d be commuting to work as a literary assistant.)

My favorite pieces to write were feature pieces that honored another person’s life. People were generally so happy to talk about this person that they loved or admired, even though we’re all flawed, and I usually left the interviews feeling pretty inspired. I also felt like there was a little more room for creativity in a feature piece. A good features makes the reader feel like they’ve met the person, too.

Looking back on feature writing makes me think about a character exercise that I was once assigned in undergrad. The exercise says to pick a person you know and write about them as they would write about themselves. Then write about them through the eyes of someone that hated them. Then again through the eyes of someone that loved them. You have three different people on the page—or four, right? Because the primary subject is actually probably closer to a culmination of those three pieces than any one particular view—and I think that’s why the exercise can be so helpful when you’re struggling with rounding out your characters. Remember, even antagonists think they’re the hero of the story.

Hook
Book reviews, newspaper pieces, pitch letters, press releases, copywriting—all of it relied on being able to find a hook that was going to grab a reader and make them want to read more, attend the event, buy the book, click a link, etc.

As an author, particularly as a picture book author, you have to be thinking about what is going to make your story stand out on the shelves or in the submissions pile.

That said, your hook is not the plot summary. For example, I’ve pitched CHICKEN WANTS A NAP as “Remy Charlip’s Fortunately set in the barnyard,” but that’s not the summary.

One exercise I’ve done with friends when they’re having trouble with finding a strong concept for their own WIPs is to go through the bookstore or their own shelves, pull out and read a picture book, then find a hook. For example, DUCKS’S VACATION is THERE’S A MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK set on the beach. NUT JOB is “Ocean’s 11” with squirrels. Or, if I were to pitch a book without a comparison, I might say something like HOORAY FOR FISH is a fun and heartwarming celebration of a fish’s love for their mom.

Once you’ve had practice with some books on the shelves, tell your friend the hook for your WIP. If it’s a plot summary, your friend should make you try again. And if you can’t find the hook for your WIP—that thing that’s going to make it stand out from all the other queries/manuscripts in an agent or editor’s inbox—then perhaps it’s time to take another look at your WIP’s concept.

In truth, you might not use this hook in your query letter at all, but if you find that a common theme in your rejection letters is “not sure it can compete in the marketplace,” this is an excellent exercise to help punch up your concept!

Word Choice
Almost everything I wrote had a standard structure and/or expected word count, be it a press release, feature story, book review, pitch letter or pieces for a social media campaign. Just like in a picture book text, EVERY WORD COUNTED. I had to be concise—looking for that one perfect word instead of two to four less precise words.

So take out your picture book WIP. Are you in the sweet spot (300 – 500 words for fiction*)? Does every word convey the exact meaning you intend? If you’re using repetition, is it done in a way that builds tension, humor or otherwise adds to the story? If you’re not sure about a word or line, delete it and then read the story aloud (or bring it to somebody else). Does the story lose anything? If not, then permanently delete that line, phrase or word.

*CHICKEN WANTS A NAP is 165 words, and my current WIP is 600. CHICKEN is a read-aloud for younger picture book readers and the story just did not need another 140 words. My WIP is for older picture book readers who are starting to read by themselves. So I guess I’m saying to use the words you need and not one word more!

Speaking of one word more, I had started a different draft of this post where I went through each job individually and it quickly became a novel. And as I’m hitting that point again, I think it’s best to close here. I hope that these tricks help you in your own writing, and if you have the time or opportunity to do some freelance writing in another format—I say, why not! You’ll exercise a different writing muscle, and I’ll bet it’ll improve your current children’s writing as well!


Tracy Marchini is a Literary Agent at BookEnds Literary, where she represents fiction, non-fiction and illustration for children and teens. She’s thrilled to represent a list of debut and award-winning authors and illustrators, and is currently open to submissions. To get a sense of what she’s looking for, you can follow her Twitter #MSWL, see her announced client books, and read her submission guidelines.

As an author, her debut picture book, CHICKEN WANTS A NAP, was called “A surprising gem” in a starred review from Kirkus. She’s been accepted for publication in Highlights Magazine and has won grants from the Highlights Foundation, the Puffin Foundation and La Muse Writer’s Retreat in Southern France. She holds an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and a B.A. in English, concentration in Rhetoric.

Tracey is giving away a signed copy of CHICKEN WANTS A NAP.

Leave one comment below to enter and a winner will be chosen next week.

Good luck!

This Build-a-Fort Kit was #1 on my kids’ holiday wish list last year. My ten-year-old wanted it. My teenager wanted it. Heck, even *I* wanted it! It’s got blankets, and clothes pins and ropes, oh my!

So when I heard that Megan Wagner Lloyd released a picture book titled FORT BUILDING TIME this week, I knew I had to get her on the blog pronto.

Megan, OMG! Doesn’t every kid (and grown-up kid) LOVE to build a fort? Why do you think that is?

I think part of it must be that when kids make a fort they’ve created a place over which they have complete ownership. They’ve made a place that’s meant to be occupied solely by them (visitors welcome upon invitation, of course!). Kids have so little say over so many aspects of their life—it’s got to be comforting to create this cozy space that they can control.

So how did you know you hit upon a winning subject for a PB?

I try to make sure there’s something that kids can really relate to in my books—something that is universal or near-universal to the kid experience. Fort building fit the bill!

How did you take it from the initial lightbulb idea to a fleshed-out concept?

I went through a lot of drafts, some of which have almost nothing in common except that core love of building forts. I took the manuscript in a lot of different directions, but, to my own surprise, ended up returning to an earlier version in the end, and fine-tuning that. I guess sometimes you have to figure out what’s not working to understand what will work best.

Could you share with us what didn’t work—and how you ultimately came to realize it?

I ended up rewriting the book as a traditional three-act story, with more developed characters. It was cute and fun to write, but I was really happy when my editor ultimately found something special about the earlier—simpler and more lyrical—draft, a version that really held more of my heart.

So when writing picture books, do you recommend that writers follow their heart and instincts more than solid advice that somehow doesn’t resonate?

Hmmm. I’m not sure. Sometimes I get advice that doesn’t resonate, but it’s just not resonating because I’m being stubborn—and later I’ll realize that the advice giver was, in fact, right. But other times I can tell when someone is just not understanding my vision for a project, and what I need to do is either reach out for more feedback from others or else burrow deep into my own perception of the project and try to make it really glow as brightly as possible. In short—I guess I just don’t have all the answers! Most important of all is to press forward and keep trying. Some manuscripts work out, some ultimately don’t find their way. Each project is a unique process and I’m always learning something new.

I always love learning something new. Maybe you can leave us today with your best fort-building tips…?

  1. Embrace the materials you have on hand, whether they be couch cushions, cardboard boxes, blankets, or driftwood. It can be such a great creative exercise for kids (and adults!) to try to figure out how to translate their ideas into reality without buying anything.
  2. For the inside of your fort, you can’t go wrong with a favorite blanket, a stack of books, and a tasty treat.
  3. Don’t forget to invite a friend or sibling to join in the fun! Little brothers or sisters will be especially honored to be invited . . . though they might end up toppling the whole thing!

But toppling over the whole thing can be a lot of fun, too.

Thanks to Megan and Knopf, we are giving away a copy of FORT BUILDING TIME to a lucky blog reader!

Leave one comment below to enter. A winner will be randomly selected in about two weeks. (Or longer, as is known to happen on this blog.)

Good luck and happy building!

Megan Wagner Lloyd is the author Finding Wild and Fort-Building Time, as well as the upcoming picture books Building Books, Paper Mice, and The ABCs of Catching Zs. She lives with her family in the Washington D.C. area. For more about Megan and to sign up for her newsletter, stop by meganwagnerlloyd.com. And you can find her on Instagram @meganwagnerlloyd.

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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:


illus by Melissa Crowton
Tundra/PRH Canada
June 4, 2019


illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 15, 2019

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

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
August 2020

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