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by Nancy Churnin

We’ve all seen picture books come out on an important anniversary. These books take a lot of planning—given that a manuscript can take two or more years to be illustrated and who knows how many years before it’s acquired.

But if you can pull off a subject pegged to a key anniversary of an important date, that can provide illumination on the historic event. It may also help with inspiration, a sale and promotion of the book once it comes out.

That date can be the birth year of a famous person or event or of an invention, a law or a song—anything that you feel deserves to be remembered.

My book, IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING came out in 2018, the 100th anniversary of when Irving Berlin wrote “God Bless America.” Of course the flip side of pegging your book to a date is that others may notice this date, too; mine was one of three Irving Berlin books to be released in 2018!

What surprised me about the three books was that I got to know and like the other authors. I even started to think that there could be a fascinating workshop or post about how three different authors could take the same facts and weave such different stories with different narrative styles and points of emphasis.

But we’ll save that post for another date and time! (Tara’s note: yes, please come back, Nancy!)

A good source for research about important dates is OnThisDay.com/history. Another is historylearningsite.co.uk.

One way to keep your manuscript unique is to find a different take on it. When I was searching for anniversaries that would resonate in 2019, I looked for important events and famous people who were born in 1919.

The most obvious anniversary was the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in 1919 and that right to vote being ratified in 1920. But it was too obvious. If I chose this subject, I’d be competing against a slew of authors writing about this.

I moved on to 1929. That was the year of the Great Depression, a time when people were desperate and fearful, when too many went in search of scapegoats to blame for their financial insecurity. I searched who was born that year. I found Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  But there were so many books about Kr. King. What could I add to those? And then I found Anne Frank was born in 1929, too.

Most people don’t think of Dr. King and Anne Frank as contemporaries. But they were. They were of different genders, faiths, races and spoke different languages, yet both had so much in common! Both grew up during the Great Depression when African Americans faced racial discrimination in America and Jewish people faced anti-Semitism in Europe. Both met hate with love and left us with words that inspire us today.

Finding that connection impelled me to write MARTIN & ANNE, THE KINDRED SPIRITS OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND ANNE FRANK. It comes out March 5 of this year, in between Dr. King’s Jan. 15 birthday and Anne Frank’s June 12 birthday, in the year when both would have turned 90.

My agent, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary, sold the book in 2017, knowing it was a tight turnaround. I’m lucky I was able to pull off the project in two years, because I had an editor, Marissa Moss, who believed in it and found an illustrator, Yevgenia Nayberg, who could make it happen that quickly.

But you can be smarter and do a better job of planning ahead. It’s 2019. Try to think four, five or six years ahead or more—for people who were born or events that occurred in 1924 or 1925 or 1926 to give yourself time to research and write and for your publisher to find an illustrator.

Here are some inventions in those times:

  • 1924: Frozen food
  • 1925: Television
  • 1926: Pop-up toaster
  • 1927: Talkies at the movies

And here are some famous birthdays:

  • 1924: George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Cicely Tyson, Lauren Bacall
  • 1925: Dick Van Dyke, Malcolm X, Barbara Bush, Paul Newman
  • 1926: Queen Elizabeth II, Marilyn Monroe, Fidel Castro, Andy Griffith
  • 1927: Cesar Chavez, Eartha Kitt, Coretta Scott King

There’s no need to limit yourself. Go to the library or go online and look up timelines and newspapers for those years. See what and who made the news. You never know what’s going to grab your heart and impel you to write.

Make a date with history. And who knows — it may end up with the publication of your book being a history date that someone will look up some day!

MARTIN & ANNE, THE KINDRED SPIRITS OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND ANNE FRANK, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg, published by Creston Books and distributed by Lerner Publishing Group, is Nancy Churnin’s sixth picture book biography. It’s the parallel journey of Dr. King and Anne Frank, two people of different genders, faiths, races and religions who faced hate with love and left us with words that inspire us today. Nancy’s previous books have won multiple awards and been on many state lists: THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME; MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN; CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT, HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF, IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING and THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE, QUEEN CHARLOTTE’S GIFT TO ENGLAND.

You can follow Nancy on Twitter @nchurnin, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NancyChurninBooks/, on Instagram @nchurnin and on nancychurnin.com.

Nancy is giving away two autographed copies of MARTIN & ANNE, THE KINDRED SPIRITS OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND ANNE FRANK. There will be one winner for each book.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!

by Nancy Churnin

Don’t turn out the lights, the Storystorm party is not over!

Yes, now that your notepads and brains are bubbling like cauldrons with ideas, the question Tara has asked me to answer in this post-Storystorm post is WHAT NEXT? In the 11 months between the end of Storystorm 2018 and the start of Storystorm 2019, what should you do with your ideas? How do you know which ones to work on first and which, if any, you may want to toss?

This is an answer you can make with your heart or your head. My advice? Use both.

What does it mean to choose from the heart? There are some ideas that just grab you and won’t let you go until you put them on paper. I keep long, growing lists of ideas, but I circle and focus on the ones that haunt me. I prioritize according to the ideas that demand a chance at life.

THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME sprang from a promise I made to a Deaf man, Steve Sandy, to tell the story of this Deaf hero. It was my first book and I had no idea at first how to tell the story.

At the same time, my head knew there was a classic hero’s journey here to tell if I could just break down the steps. With the help of online classes and fearless critique partners, my head was able to figure out how to turn this idea into a story about a boy who grows into a man with a goal that he achieves by learning his challenge—his deafness—is actually his gift.

Three of my other books, while driven by my heart, made equal sense to my head. CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT, HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF; IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING (coming out in June) and THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE (coming out in September) also required a lot of writing and revising, but ultimately fit into a hero’s journey with a clear beginning, middle and end.

But MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN ran the risk of being heart over head. It defied the classic structure with the story of a young man, not a boy, whose challenge is to find an easier way to navigate across a 300-foot mountain so people in his village can get access to schools and doctors. But I loved this idea and couldn’t let go until I found the way to tell his true story. It was a deeply rewarding experience as I slowly stumbled and felt my way to a narrative with a folk tale feel.

Ultimately, all ideas require you to put your head to work, as you have to solve the problem of creating page-turning suspense that leads to a satisfying conclusion in a story of roughly 800 words or less, preferably one that kids will want to read again and again. While some ideas contain a clear journey, others will prove elusive. Some you may want to toss or postpone. But you may not necessarily want to abandon them. Whether you let them guide you into a story should be a question of how much you love them.

We often talk about books as our babies. Like human or fur babies, they’re living, breathing pieces of you – funny, passionate, silly, kind, wise, a mix of some or all of these qualities or others that you never anticipated. So as we approach Valentine’s Day, sort through your ideas for the ones you love most passionately and give them everything you’ve got. Then when they grow up and move to bookstores far away, they’ll still feel close, beating in rhythm with your heart.


Nancy Churnin is the theater critic for The Dallas Morning News and the author of six picture books: THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME (Albert Whitman); MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN (Creston Books); CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT, HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR LINE IN GOLF (Albert Whitman) and the forthcoming IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING (Creston Books, Spring 2018); THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE (Albert Whitman, Fall 2018) and MARTIN & ANNE (Creston Books, 2019). Free Teachers Guides and projects for kids are available for all her books. You can learn more at nancychurnin.com, join her on Facebook at Nancy Churnin Children’s Books and find her on Twitter @nchurnin.

Nancy is giving away a copy of her most recent book, CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT: HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF.

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!

 

by Nancy Churnin

If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me if I was going to quit my job now that my first book has been published, I’d have…a couple of dollars. Which is not enough to quit my job and write picture books full-time.

But here’s the thing. For me and for many of you who are juggling writing with other obligations, whether they are full-time jobs, part-time jobs or taking care of your family (or any combination or permutation of the above), your other life can be a source of ideas.

I’m the theater critic for The Dallas Morning News. There’s no obvious correlation between that job and writing picture books. And yet, it was in the course of doing my job that I found the first picture book idea that I sold.

williamhoyphotoNow I didn’t realize I had come up with a picture book idea when I decided to write an article about a fascinating play, “The Signal Season of Dummy Hoy,” that was being produced at a local high school in Garland. I was intrigued with the subject of a baseball player who was deaf and taught signals to major league umpires so he could play the game he loved. But once the article was written and published, I moved on to other articles. After all, I write several articles a week and I’ve learned to go go go, so I don’t fall behind.

Then I received a thank you email from a man named Steve Sandy who is a friend of the Hoy family. Steve is deaf and shared with me that his life’s dream is to get William Hoy in the National Baseball Hall of Fame where he would be the first deaf player honored there. We emailed back and forth and I found myself on board with his dream and eager to help.

Suddenly, I had my Storystorm moment: What if I write a children’s book about William Hoy and the kids help Hoy by writing letters for him to the Hall of Fame? I asked Steve if he’d help with the research and he said he would. It took me YEARS to turn that idea into a story, mainly because I had no clue about the craft of picture book writing when I started, but that did become the story that got me my agent (the wonderful Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary) and became my debut picture book in March 2016 from Albert Whitman. We’ve sold three books since.

williamhoy

It’s not every day that a story idea hits you while you’re working and won’t let you go until you transform it into a manuscript. And yet, consider, that those ideas may be kicking around your office or your home, waiting for you to recognize them for the great possibilities they are.

Maybe someone at the office tells you a story you can’t get out of your head or you are working on a project and your mind starts wandering on an only remotely related line of thought. Perhaps someone asks a question or is frustrated because there’s a person or a subject that should be better known or understood. Maybe you overhear a child, or your own child, with a concern or an anecdote that cradles the seed of something bigger.

In fact, I’m willing to bet you could meet your StoryStorm goal of 30 IN ONE DAY, if you weren’t on the go go go to finish all those important things you have to get done.

lennonJohn Lennon once wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Yes, you’re busy, but don’t forget that life and ideas are waiting like treasures in plain sight to be discovered and savored while you’re shushing the distractions that, in the end, may turn out to be the best part of your day. Slow down and think twice—or thrice!—about all the off topic observations, off track remarks and the many moments between the boxes you check off on your to-do list. Consider that the busy job you have that steals your writing time may also be a repository of ideas!

Here’s another story I like. Atalanta, the original woman in a hurry, refused to marry anyone that couldn’t beat her in a race. Most suitors didn’t try because the penalty for losing the race meant death, which had a way of dampening the ardor. One young man wasn’t deterred. He was not as fast as Atalanta, but he had an idea. He brought three golden apples to the race and as they ran, he threw one, then two, then the third golden apple just before the finish line. Atalanta veered off the beaten track to get those apples and the young man won.

Personally, I think Atalanta won, too. She got herself a clever and determined young man, three golden apples and a break from all the running and executions. So, I guess what I’m saying, is if life throws you golden apples, chase them and turn them into stories. Or golden cider. Either way, you win.


nancychurninNancy Churnin is the theater critic for The Dallas Morning News and the author of THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game (Albert Whitman & Company, March 1, 2016).

Her next book, MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN, will be published by Creston Books Sept. 1, 2017. Next up: MAKING HIS SHOT, How Charlie Sifford Broke the Color Barrier in Golf and THE PRINCESS AND THE TREE, both from Albert Whitman. Visit her online at nancychurnin.com and on Twitter @nchurnin.

prizedetails

In lieu of golden apples, Nancy Churnin will toss one winner a signed copy of THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, How a Deaf Baseball Player Changed the Game…and another winner a picture book critique.

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.

Good luck!

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

As a children's book author and mother of two, I'm pushing a stroller along the path to publication. I collect shiny doodads on the journey and share them here. You've found a kidlit treasure box.

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My Picture Books

COMING SOON:


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

THE UPPER CASE:
TROUBLE IN CAPITAL CITY
illus by Ross MacDonald
Disney*Hyperion
October 1, 2019

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

THE WHIZBANG WORDBOOK
illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
August 2020

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