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Let me introduce you to one of the hardest working illustrators in kidlit. I have known Wendy Martin for years, and during that time she has been drawing everything in sight and refining her style. Her diverse range spans from mandala coloring books to art nouveau maidens to the bright watercolors of her illustrative picture book debut, THE STORY CIRCLE/EL CIRCULO DE CUENTOS. This charming bi-lingual tale features a determined group of students who discover the power of story.


Wendy, were there any unique challenges to illustrating a bi-lingual picture book?

I received the manuscript in English only. According to the paperwork from the publisher, the text would be translated later. Piñata Books has a fairly standard format for their picture books. Both languages of text on one side of the spread with the English and Spanish separated by a vignette, but the art notes I received wanted art to run across the border. In most cases, when I’m doing my thumbnail sketches, I leave room for text while designing each spread. In this book’s case, I had to allow for a bit more than twice the space of the English copy, because Spanish usually has more words. 
It’s a good thing the text is very short, since my illustrations take up a lot of space.


How have you gone about marketing and promoting this book as an illustrator rather than an author?

THE STORY CIRCLE/EL CIRCULO DE CUENTOS is a wonderful book for classroom usage. But with the release date being May 30, schools have been closed for weeks already here in Missouri. I plan to use the summer months to create a contact list of school resource librarians about coming to area schools to talk about what an illustrator does and how a book is illustrated. I already do this kind of appearance via Skype school visits around the world. The author, Diane Gonzales Bertrand, is an accomplished speaker and teacher. She is promoting the book in Texas at book fairs and local children’s events. She says she is pretty uninvolved in the digital arena, so that’s where I’m focusing my marketing efforts for now. This blog tour is part of that.


Why are picture books with diverse characters important?

I remember as a child always feeling like an outsider at story time, mainly because the characters in the books were never like me. It’s difficult to be a minority, whether it’s by culture or because of skin tone. The United States is a melting pot, where there are many, many cultures, skin tones, religions, lifestyles, what have you. No child should be made to feel as if their families, their cultures or their race are “less than” any other. If they don’t see kids like themselves, in books, doing the things that they do, in the way they do it, it is harmful to them, as well as to the children outside of that group of people. One of the reasons I was so excited to work with Piñata Books is precisely because their editorial focus is inclusive of many cultures. They do tend to lean toward the population breakdown of the Houston, Texas public school area, but since they are located there, that’s understandable.

I have kids of multiple ethnicities in my made up classroom. I loved giving each one of them a personality. I do that a lot. My characters all have backstory (in my head) as to who they are, and how they’ll act in all my books. They become “real” to me, for the length of the time it takes me to create the book. It’s always a little bit sad when I send them out into the world. Just like a mom sending any of her children off on their own.

storycirclerainThank you, Wendy, for sharing your new book–and for giving away a copy to one of our blog readers! 

Leave one comment below to be entered in the random drawing for THE STORY CIRCLE/EL CIRCULO DE CUENTOS. A winner will be selected in approximately two weeks.

Good luck and happy reading!

wendymartinby Wendy Martin

It’s been nearly an entire month of PiBoIdMo. Take a good long look at your list. Do you see a theme there?

In past PiBoIdMo challenges I often found myself writing down ideas that ended up being a variation on a theme. The first year I had a dozen ideas all based on classical artists’ early lives. Another year I got into a scientific groove. I actually went on to write first and second drafts on two of those ideas, but got snagged when it came to the illustrations. They got back burnered (can I use that as a word?) in favor of some other silly stories.

In looking over all my years of PiBoIdMo ideas, I noticed something.

My ideas fell into three basic camps. Happy, silly stories; scientific type stories; and what could best be described as biographical stories. There are a few of the science-y ones that could cross over into the biographical section, mainly because I would get ideas while watching PBS Nova and Nature shows.

When Tara asked me to write this blog post, I wracked my brain to come up with something inspirational that dozens of previous blog posts this month and in year’s past hadn’t touched on. For inspiration on my inspirational post—I went to my kid-lit bookshelf. I pulled piles of books down and grouped them by subject. Then the ones that fell into the above themes got re-shelved.

I had five books left.

  • “Goodbye Mousie” by Robie H Harris. She was a speaker one year for the NY-SCBWI conference, so it’s autographed. It’s a book about a young boy dealing with the death of his pet mouse.
  • “The Goodbye Cancer Garden” by Janna Matthies. This story deals with a mother’s battle with cancer and the affects chemotherapy have on her and her family from the little girl’s perspective.
  • “What’s Happening to Grandpa?” by Maria Shriver. This story is about a little girl who deals with the effects of a grandparent who’s losing his memories to Alzheimer’s disease.
  • “What’s Wrong With Timmy?” by Maria Shriver as well. In this book a girl befriends another child with Down’s syndrome.
  • “Gentle Willow” by Joyce C. Mills. Here is a story about a group of friends that deal with the illness and ultimate loss of a one of their friends.

Notice anything similar about these titles? They all deal with difficult life issues. I got the majority of them for my daughter during a particularly trying time in our lives. My father-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer, my paternal grandfather’s Alzheimer’s disease became advanced and her best friend became very ill with pneumonia requiring a long hospitalization. It was a lot, for me, as an adult to process, and she was only 8 at the time. There were a tremendous number of questions she wanted answered. I needed help in doing that.

I’m not saying this to be a downer, or to rain on your parade. The point being—is there anywhere on your list of ideas a place for the more difficult life events which happen in some children’s lives? The death of a pet, friend or family member; a terminal illness of a loved one or the child herself; even things like discrimination; separation from a parent; or other less than joyful life events can become very worthy books. After all, someone has to write the hard stuff. Maybe that someone can be you?

Look into your life at the bumpy places. Is there a story idea waiting in the shadows to be added to your PiBoIdMo list?

rabbitssongA transplanted New Yorker now living in Missouri, Wendy Martin has been working as an illustrator for 25+ years. She earned a degree in Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology, then continued her art education at the School of Visual Arts with a B.F.A. in Graphic Design. After her move to Missouri in 2000, she turned her focus to her true love, children’s books. AN ORDINARY GIRL, A MAGICAL CHILD, a children’s book she both wrote and illustrated, was released in 2005. The book was picked up by a new house, edited and re-released in 2008, then went on to become a finalist in the 2009 international COVR awards. Four additional picture books and a coloring book quickly followed. Visit her on the web at


Wendy is giving away a signed F&G of RABBIT’S SONG!


One winner will be randomly selected at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

wendymartinWhen I was a child, I had a reoccurring nightmare. I was on a field trip with my third grade class in a large grassy area with a huge tree in the middle. All the kids were following the teacher across the field and under the shade of the tree. I wasn’t a very popular child, and I was in the tail end of the line.

As I passed under the shadow of the tree, I noticed a large hole in its roots. At that moment a fierce bunny sprang out of the hole and grabbed me, pulling me down into the hole with it. I tried to call out but to my dismay my voice had gone silent.

Needless to say I woke up in tears and a cold sweat.

I still have dreams where I’ve lost my voice. Words fail me.

What a terrible place for a storyteller to find herself.

I’ve never considered myself a writer or a wordsmith. I do love words though. Their history, the way they sound, how when strung together in an organized fashion they can open up the universe to those who read them. So when I approach a picture book, I see pictures first. I write down what I see. Then comes the hard part of making the words sing. Because that’s what words in a picture book need to do.

wendytoolsYou’ve stuck it through November and have a list of 30 ideas. If you have lists like mine, most of the ideas are stinkers. I’ve been doing PiBoIdMo for more than a few years now, and I do see recurrent themes on my lists. Maybe you also have repetitive ideas on your list. No matter. We’re storytellers. Take those ideas and get visual!

As an artist, I work on picture and text together, creating a dummy. Even if you aren’t a professional illustrator, you can use the framework of the dummy to really make your story shine. And your words sing.

For several years at #kidlitart, with my co-host Bonnie Adamson, we held the Picture Book Dummy Challenge. A lot of the people participating came directly from Tara’s PiBoIdMo. (#Kidlitart chat is on hiatus until Bonnie and I have more time to devote to it again. We’re both busy making lots of dummies!)

A picture book is a partnership of words and images. As word counts drop, the illustrations have to carry more of the story, and things like page turn in the text have to be concise.

This is where a dummy becomes a most excellent tool.

A dummy will tell you if:

  • Your story is strong enough to carry through a 32-page book.

Since word counts have been dropping over the last decade to close to 500 and sometimes even less, it is hard to tell if you have a book on your hands (as opposed to a magazine story.) When a manuscript is laid out in a dummy you have visual clues to show you where your story needs more action, drama or dialogue.

  • There are enough action scenes for 15-20 images.

An illustrator’s job is to take your manuscript and enhance the story you have written. If you only have a few scenes, this will be downright challenging. Think about your favorite picture books. Does the character move through time and space from the beginning of the book to the end? Or does the character stay in the same place for the length of the story? When a manuscript is laid out in a dummy you have visual clues to show you scene changes. There need to be scene changes.

  • The page turns (or the breaks between action) are interesting enough to keep the reader moving to the next page.

In novels there are chapters. Usually the end of the chapter is written in such a way that you want to keep reading. There could be a cliffhanger or some sense of tension in that chapter end. Whatever it is, you feel compelled to get to the next chapter and find out what happens. You care what happens. You can’t wait to find out what happens. When a manuscript is laid in a dummy you get visual clues on your “chapter endings” to show if your page turns will propel the story forward.

  • There is too much visual description in your text.

Five hundred words is not a lot to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end; to include a story arc and achieve character growth. The last thing you want to do is talk about red hair and green eyes, or blue sky and orange sunlight. Leave that to the illustrator. Save your words for things that can’t be seen. When a manuscript is laid out in dummy you get visual clues on your descriptions. Are you using precious word count to describe something seen?

All my books start as tiny scribbles. Even if you’re not an artist, you can scribble your ideas down, can’t you?

Here is the thumbnail layout for one of my books, RABBIT’S SONG by S.J. Tucker.


I also refer you to Tara’s post on picture book dummies (which Tara says is the most popular page on her site, so you know it’s an important tool!).

Once you have your scribbles down, you can make a little booklet. It never ceases to amaze me what a difference having a physical dummy makes in visualizing where your manuscript needs some attention.

ebook-3dcover-miniI’ll be giving a way a copy of my e-book “How to Make a Picture Book Dummy in 9 Easy Steps” to one lucky commenter. So let me know how you plan to take your 30 ideas and make them into amazing stories! A winner will be selected in one week. Good luck!


A transplanted New Yorker now living in Missouri, Wendy Martin has been working as an illustrator for 25+ years. She earned a degree in Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology, then continued her art education at the School of Visual Arts with a B.F.A. in Graphic Design. After her move to Missouri in 2000, she turned her focus to her true love, children’s books. AN ORDINARY GIRL, A MAGICAL CHILD, a children’s book she both wrote and illustrated, was released in 2005. The book was picked up by a new house, edited and re-released in 2008, then went on to become a finalist in the 2009 international COVR awards. Four additional picture books and a coloring book quickly followed. Visit her on the web at

by Wendy Martin

“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” ~ Orson Scott Card

Five things to do to see new ideas:

  1. Make up songs. Sing them loudly and off-key.
  2. Wear clothes that don’t match. Top the outfit off with a funny hat.
  3. Climb a tree and hang upside-down.
  4. Splash in mud puddles.
  5. Reach for the big box of crayons. The one with the sharpener in the box.

If you’re at all like me, you have a lot of ideas swirling around in your brain almost constantly. They wake you up from a deep sleep, or make you lose count when you’re measuring the 3 ½ cups of flour into that cake recipe.

The trouble with a brain awhirl in ideas is sifting through the crowd to find the ones that will make a good picture book. We’re grown-ups. We think grown-up things like obeying the speed limit, who to vote for in the next election or whether we remembered to lock the front door. Sometimes I wonder about other things, too. Like if I can save money by installing solar panels, or what it would be like to live in a house underground.

In order to come up with ideas, really fun, child-like ideas that will appeal to the picture book crowd, we have to put our adult brain on the shelf. Kids don’t care about the speed limit, who’s running for office or if the house is locked up tight when they leave it.

That list above? Each one of the suggestions will help you get in touch with your inner 4-year-old. You know you want to! Just pick one and do it until you stop feeling silly and start enjoying yourself. Then take a refreshed look at the world around you. What do you see/hear/think now?

Did you see the hidden message in the image above? Take another look if you didn’t. Do you see now? Leave a comment below for a chance to win the original watercolor! A winner will be selected randomly in one week.

Wendy Martin is the illustrator of 5 picture books, 3 of which she also wrote. Her first book was chosen as a finalist for the best children’s book of the year during the 2009 Coalition of Visionary Resources annual international COVR awards. Her latest book, The ABCs of Lesser-Known Goddesses: An Art Nouveau Coloring Book for Kids of All Ages was released in June. She is a founding member of both the middle-grade book blog, From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors, and the initiative to make November International Picture Book Month. Visit her on the web at, Twitter @WendyMartinArt or Facebook.

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July 2021

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