You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story’ tag.

I started writing for kids over a decade ago and soon started meeting other people who also wrote for kids. When they talked about how they had so many ideas and not enough time to write them all, I secretly wished I could pinch them. A really mean pinch—a tiny bit of skin squeezed and twisted brutally between thumb and forefinger, the kind of pinch my sisters and I used to give each other when we were furious.

Too many ideas was not the kind of problem I had. I didn’t have enough.

A decade later, I’ve learned that picture book ideas come to me when I’m supposed to be working on a novel. I’m proud of my subconscious for being so clever. In the past few months, when I was supposed to be toiling on a middle-grade novel, I’ve written drafts of three picture books.

Two were from PiBoIdMo 2011 ideas. The one I finished, FIRST GRADE DROPOUT, went out on submission and sold in two days. That’s a first for me—a quick sale. My PiBoIdMo success story.

If you felt like you were moving well beyond your comfort zone when you signed up for PiBoIdMo 2012, please know that you are not alone. I’m not very good at public writing events. I don’t generally participate in such things—my process is more private-feeling and works on its own clock. But last year I decided to give it a try. In the end, I really liked the way PiBoIdMo pushed out the walls to provide a bigger creative space for me.

And if, in the early days of November, you find yourself worrying about how lame your ideas are or how you have no idea how to get from that idea to a finished manuscript, take heart. It took time for my PiBoIdMo ideas to marinate. If I had started writing FIRST GRADE DROPOUT immediately after jotting down the idea last November, it would have been awful. My PiBoIdMo idea was, I now know, more like half an idea. It was what happened in the book. It took nine months of my brain silently working away to figure out how to tell that story. In this particular case, the how was more important than the what. (I’d tell you all right now, but that would be giving away the punch line years ahead of pub date.)

I’m participating again this year, even though I’m supposedly hard at work on finishing up this novel. PiBoIdMo still scares me. I just know that on one (or more) of those days, when I can’t think of anything new, I’m likely to steal from myself to pad out the list—dig up old ideas that didn’t work to give them some new attention. (I did this last year. Shhhh. Don’t tell Tara.)

But on those days when I run into a writer who has so many ideas and not nearly enough time, well, it’ll be nice to think of my overstuffed PiBoIdMo file. I won’t gloat though, as that’s just awful for those suffering through an idea drought. And I really hate being pinched.

Audrey Vernick is the author of six picture books, including IS YOUR BUFFALO READY FOR KINDERGARTEN?; SO YOU WANT TO BE A ROCKSTAR; and BROTHERS AT BAT; as well as the middle-grade novel WATER BALLOON. Her next picture book, out in June, is BOGART AND VINNIE: A Completely Made-Up Story of True Friendship, with EDGAR’S SECOND WORD following after that. A two-time recipient of the New Jersey Council of the Arts Fiction Fellowship, Audrey lives in a house full of inspiration: one husband, one son, one daughter, and two dogs. She blogs about writing buddies at Literary Friendships.

by Audrey Vernick and Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

Tara, Gbemi & Audrey at the 2011 Princeton Book Fair

Alike in nearly every way, we are polar opposites in our attitudes toward novels and picture books. Olugbemisola approaches novels bravely while Audrey cowers. Audrey is undaunted by the prospect of writing picture books while Olugbemisola is daunted and then some. Our post is a public discussion of these weak spots and strengths (which we’d never call strengths in reality, but we don’t want to start off by sounding insecure).

ORP: What are the easiest elements of picture book writing for you? How do you think in a picture book way?

AGV: First, thank you, Gbemi, for not asking this question in the way you surely mean, which is Why is it that you’re so scared of writing novels but the same doesn’t hold true for picture books? I appreciate that.

Statement of obvious: with picture books, I set out knowing I will ultimately be using a very limited number of words. That takes the scare away. It is, in large part, the length of novels that frightens the bejeezus right out of me.

I start to tell the story. I try to find its arc, work toward an ending, and I don’t panic when it’s getting really, really long, because I know that’s part of my process now.

I know some picture book writers are very successful using a sort of formula, but that’s not part of my process. The first step is what I think of as weighing—does it have enough to go from being a fragment of an idea to being a picture book.

Often, it doesn’t. I don’t throw away the fragments—they could still develop. But I don’t usually push too hard in that first attempt if it’s not happening naturally. If it feels like it has legs, I’ll usually get a first draft in a single sitting. And then I’ll revise the hell out of it.

Picture book revision is about cutting away everything that is not essential. Duh, you all say. That’s what revision is. And I know that’s what we all say revision is, but with picture books, I really mean it. I cut away more than I leave. Then I try to sculpt what remains. I find the story and, perhaps more importantly, the voice, by figuring out what doesn’t have to be part of the story.

AV: Does this all sound scary to you?  Or just very different from your process?

ORP: It makes sense, of course, because you are a very sensible person.  Maybe kind of a show-off too, Ms. First Draft In A Single Sitting.

AV: And here I interrupt to point out that, as Gbemi, a writer, knows, my first draft does not often resemble whatever it ultimately turns into. So shh.

ORP: Humph.The idea that I have a set amount of words as my goal—what is it for PBs now, 5? 3?—is terrifying for a long-winded writer like me.

The truth is that I have no process for writing picture books. I’ve never tried. When you asked me why I hadn’t, it took me a little while to uncover the obvious: ginormous, volcanic, pervasive FEAR.

I was often the type of child who believed that I could do anything if I really, really wanted to and worked hard enough. This belief sometimes resulted in unfortunate performances in school talent shows, yes, but it kept me taking risks, challenging myself, keeping me in the moment, with a small goal. I think that I start with the idea that A PICTURE BOOK IS SOMETHING I CANNOT DO, and it goes downhill from there. It becomes something I should not try, because it won’t be GOOD.

I was also the child who wanted to be good at things. And unfortunately that’s the child who’s winning these days. That child sometimes didn’t answer a question in class because she was not 110% sure that it was the “right” answer. That child is trying to keep me from being a writer.

AV: There’s no such thing as 110%.

ORP: I went to schools that had As and A-pluses. You could get 110% if you tried hard enough and knew the secret password. (And now continuing and pretending Audrey’s not here.) I recently met with an author friend, and explained (rather pompously) that I think too “big” for picture books, that all of the stories in my head are epics, with many subplots and threads and themes. (Sounds way better than ‘I’m scared,’ yes?) She saw through that easily enough and suggested that I start by taking one chapter of one of those epic stories, and thinking of that as a whole story, as a picture book.

Hmmmm…sounded doable, and just thinking that way helped me tighten my novel WIP as well.

She also mentioned that she’s in the process of trying out a new form of writing, working on it every day, just because. Not because she’s preparing this work for submission, not because the market is demanding it, but because she wants to try it. She’s taking the risk.

I need to take the risk. Not because I’d like to publish a picture book, however cool that may be. But because the process, the work itself will be creative food. Because writing it, even just for myself, will be an important step away from the disease of perfectionism toward the kind of freedom that I need to write anything successfully. And because during these 30 days of PiBoIdMo, I’ve had one, maybe two ideas (if I’m being generous with myself, and I think I’d like to be). But instead of pronouncing myself a failure and wishing I was something that I’m not, I should be who I am and just write. Without worrying about how “good” it is, or even how good it will be when the brilliant real me that’s always there waiting to rescue me from that mediocre impostor with my name takes over. But because I’m a writer. I’d like to try. And that’s all I have to do.

AV: I want to use phrases like “creative food.” Maybe we could collaborate on a picture book about creative food?

ORP: My first thought was, I could never do anything like Saxton Freyman. But that’s GONE! My next thought, the one I will keep is: We can do something awesomely US together. So why don’t we have some fun and give it a whirl?

Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich was the ‘new kid’ at school many times over, in more than one country, and currently lives with her family in Brooklyn, NY, where she loves walking and working on crafts in many forms.  Her middle grade debut novel, 8TH GRADE SUPERZERO, received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly and was named one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Month. It was also chosen as an IRA Notable Book for a Global Society and NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People. Olugbemisola holds a Master’s in Education, and a Certificate in the Teaching of Writing from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, and has a great time incorporating all of her different ways of working and playing into author visits and workshops. She is a member of SCBWI, a PEN Associate Member, and a former Echoing Green Foundation Fellow. Visit her online at

Audrey Vernick is the author of IS YOUR BUFFALO READY FOR KINDERGARTEN? (an IRA/CBC Children’s Choice Book); SHE LOVED BASEBALL: THE EFFA MANLEY STORY (one of Bank Street College’s Best Children’s Books of the Year; a Junior Library Guild Selection; and on the 2011 Amelia Bloomer List). She also wrote the novel WATER BALLOON. In the next two years, she has four more picture books coming out and she really, really, really means to get to work on another novel. Audrey holds an mfa in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence and is a two-time recipient of the NJ Arts Council’s fiction fellowship. She is a member of SCBWI and PEN. Visit her online at and stop by her blog at

Like this site? Please order one of my books! It supports me & my work!

Enter your email to receive kidlit news, writing tips, book reviews & giveaways. Wow, such incredible technology! Next up: delivery via drone.

Join 14,064 other subscribers

My Books

Blog Topics