Write Like WONDER WOMAN (FOUR Tips for PICTURE BOOK WRITERS)

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Me- circa 1976 – during my “Wonder Woman” phase

Recently I was asked in an interview if, even as a child, I always wanted to be a children’s author.  And after a bit of thought, I answered no. When I was a child what I really wanted to be was Wonder Woman! I had her twirl perfected and everything.  Activating her super powers, I would spend hours with friends, or sometimes alone, creating fantastic make-believe scenarios.  These were the plot lines that brought wonderful play worlds to life.

As picture book writers we, too, have super powers we can activate to create engaging stories.  So now, in celebration of my first career dream as a super hero, here are FOUR SUPER POWERS we call all use to bring our wonderful picture book stories to life:

The POWER of the KID-FRIENDLY PROBLEM:  Losing a favorite toy, wanting a cookie, being afraid of a storm, not wanting to take a bath. These are just a few examples of kid-friendly problems in the books we read.  A kid-friendly problems connects the reader to your story.

The POWER of PICTURES that ADD: The hallmark of picture books, of course, is that they are illustrated. But there’s more. Good picture book writers let the pictures tell part of the story. Sometimes the pictures even include important details that are not in the text. (See Mo Willem’s KNUFFLEBUNNY for a great example of this, or GOODNIGHT, ARK for that matter.) As you write and revise your stories, put stars next to parts of the story that could be told (or enhanced) by the illustrations.  Then consider omitting the words from the text, instead substituting a simple illustration note, but only if absolutely necessary.

The POWER of the PAGE TURN:  With only a few sentences per spread, picture books include almost constant page turns.  These built-in pauses provide authors a great opportunity to build suspense. Consider pausing an exciting moment mid-sentence as you write.  What happens next?  To find out kids will have to TURN THE PAGE! (Note: creating a book dummy during revisions is a great way to figure out how you can take advantage of page turns.)

The POWER of HUMOR:  Kids love to laugh, or at least chuckle, and so do parents. So anytime you can infuse humor into your story, via text or illustration, go for it!

Happy Writing, all!

STONE STORIES: What We Write and Why

Do you have favorite stories? Ones that have profoundly changed the way you look at the world?  My childhood favorites include Madeleine L’Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME and Kate Seredy’s THE CHESTRY OAK. But the story that’s had the biggest influence on how I view the world as a writer comes from the Old Testament. It’s found in the book of Joshua, chapters three and four. Here’s the gist of the story.

After wandering for forty years in the desert where God repeatedly provided for His people in amazing ways, yet repeatedly, they forgot His blessings, it was finally time to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. As God had done before when He parted the Red Sea so the Israelites could safely flee Egypt, He again parted the raging waters of the Jordan River so all of Israel could safely cross into the Promised Land. This time, in hopes they’d never forget His great provision, God instructed Joshua to have twelve men hoist twelve boulders from the center of the still-parted river and place them in a pile on the shore of Promised Land.  “In the future,” Joshua explained, “when your children ask why these rocks are sitting here, tell them the amazing story of how God helped us cross the Jordan River.”

The stories and poems that we write are like those stones. When read, they have the potential to leave a deep imprint in a child’s memory, serving not only as a reminder of experiences past, but offering glimpses into ways that are good, offering hope for the future, and joy in the present moment. It is my deepest wish is that the words I write, whether religious or secular, point kids towards goodness, hope, joy, and God.

What about you?  Have you ever thought about why you write?  If stories are rocks, what kinds of rocks are you writing?

(Note: This post first appeared on my blog in November 2102, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our mission as writers and thought it worth revisiting.)

PERCOLATOR or TEAPOT: What Kind of Writer Are You?

img_3760It doesn’t matter if you prefer coffee or tea. That’s really beside the point. I’m guessing, though, that as a writer you are either a percolator, a tea pot or – like me – a bit of both.

Most of the time, I am percolator. That is, I like to reflect on new stories and poems before writing a first draft. When “percolating” I always keep a pen and notebook handy so I can jot down ideas. I make lists, play with possible plot twists, settings, points-of view etc.  For example, with both Goodnight, Ark and Goodnight, Manger, I filled almost two notebooks with ponderings and word play before I actually sat down and wrote the stories.  Once I was ready to write, I wrote the first drafts of each in one sitting.

I guess you could say at that point, I turned into a teapot!  When I’m in teapot mode, poems and stories just flow, sometimes even overflow out of me. This outpouring often occurs at the most inconvenient times -when I’m cooking, or in the middle of the night. But when it does, I just let my mind shift into story/poem mode and I go with it. Writing in earnest becomes my priority – because once that tea is pouring out of me, it’s impossible to stop. I don’t worry about getting words down perfectly. I just write down the story that’s pouring out as fast as I can. (Occasionally, dinner gets a little overcooked, but don’t worry everyone gets fed.)

But teapot stories are not ready to drink yet. Far from it. Instead, after completing each teapot burst, I turn back into a percolator again, with intermittent bursts of teapot. I repeat this percolator/teapot process again and again until every word and moment pushes the story or poem forward in a fun meaningful way.

Finally it’s time for the finishing touches. At this point, I think rather than teapot or percolator, I become like a fine wine taster- sniffing and swishing – to make sure each sentence, phrase, and plot turn has just the right – je ne sais quoi – so that the story is magnifique – or at least as magnifique as I can make it- before I send it off to my agent to review.

So, dear writing friends, which are you – percolator or teapot?   Happy writing all!

FROSTED WINDOWPANES: The Magic of Picture Books

IMG_2856On this chilly Friday afternoon, with even colder weather in the forecast, I can’t resist reposting this old favorite.  Grab a cup of hot cocoa and enjoy!

There’s a scene in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS in which Laura and Mary spend a magical morning etching pictures in the frosted windowpanes of their little cabin using Ma’s thimble.  As a child I wanted to try that, but our windows were too well-insulated to gather frost. Imagine my delight, then, to discover thick frost completely covering the old-fashioned windows of our detached garage. For several days, I’ve been itching to take my thimble and do a little ice etching of my own.  And that’s exactly what I did today, using my keys, instead.  Doesn’t it look magical?

Like window frost begging to be etched, good picture books invoke in me a nostalgic return to childhood and a reminder of the simple joys in life.  When my children were younger, our days were enriched by reading picture books.  What a treat it was to curl up together on the sofa with a stack of books.  The joy we found in those books was not flashy or over the top, but simple and deep. We cheered on Mike Mulligan and Maryanne, from Virginia Lee Burton’s MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 1939), to dig a little faster and a little deeper, and afterwards, scurried outside do our own digging in the snow.  And Sam McBratney’s GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU (Candlewick, 2005) evoked such warmth that we held our own matches to show how much we loved each other.

If you’re feeling like you’ve gotten too caught up in the busy-ness of life, may I suggest heading straight to the children’s department of your nearest library or bookstore and stocking up on some of your old favorites as well as some delightful new picture books? Then curl up and read, read, read!

It won’t take long to feel the magic, for picture books hold within their 32-pages, that sometimes much-needed reminder that our deepest joys are found in the simple pleasures of life – following a butterfly on her journey, getting a new pet, having a tea party on the porch, counting tadpoles in the swampy puddle in the woods.

Need help getting started?  Here are a few of my recent favorites:

John Himmelman’s KATIE LOVES THE KITTENS (Henry Holt and Co. 2008)

Ame Dyckman’s TEA PARTY RULES (Viking, 2013)

Sarah Weeks’ WOOF: A LOVE STORY (Laura Geringer Books, 2009)

Clare Jarrett’s ARABELLA MILLER’S TINY CATERPILLAR (Candlewick, 2008)

FROSTY LEAVES: Seeing the World with Writerly Eyes

Look what I spotted on my walk  – frosty leaves sparkling in the early morning sun. Covered in the daintiest of crystals, they took my breath away and Sophie and I had to stop for a closer look. While she waited patiently, her sweet pants punctuating the morning cold in little steamy puffs, her tail wagging, I marveled at the intricacy of the crystal patterns and how the frost so beautifully outlined each leafy vein.

As we continued our walk, my mind was already racing in the way a writer’s mind does.  Do you know what I mean? Does your mind race too – forming poems and story lines – just at the sight of, say, morning frost?

img_3744This is not the first time frost has set my imagination in motion.  One early winter morning a couple of years ago, hoarfrost inspired a little poem about a chipmunk scurrying to get ready for winter.  That poem, entitled “Chipmunk’s First Frost”, appeared in the November 2013 issue of Clubhouse Jr.  I wonder what the frost will inspire this time? I’m not sure yet, but I think fairies may play a role.

I LOVE seeing the world through writerly eyes. It makes each day richer and each moment fuller.  I make observations that I might not otherwise, storing up treasured tidbits of humor, irony and beauty that become the spark for writing projects. Even if I never got published, I would still keep writing for it is a wonderful gift to be able to see the world through writerly eyes.

Now, as we start a new year, my heart is filled with joy at all the story and poem possibilities that await, ready for me to embrace – but only if I am attentive in using the gift of these writerly eyes!  HAPPY NEW YEAR and HAPPY WRITING ALL!

Merry Christmas (And a Special Thank You)

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I just wanted to take a moment this Christmas Eve to wish you all a joyful Christmas. I also want to thank you for reading my blog and my books and for being such a wonderful community of encouragers and book lovers!  I’ll be back in January with brand new posts (and hopefully some fun new book news!)

In the meantime, take good care and keep reading, writing and celebrating life!

Interview with Laura Sassi: Author of Goodnight, Ark and Goodnight, Manger

Today I’m delighted to be interviewed by Rosie on her blog Life, Army Wife Style! Thanks so much for having me, Rosie. Please pop over, dear readers, for this fun interview! Happy reading, all!

Life, Army Wife Style

I am so excited for today’s post! I had the honor to interview Laura Sassi, author of two of Jimmie’s favorite books, Goodnight, Ark and Goodnight, Manger. Not only does Jimmie enjoy listening to these books before bed, we really love reading them to him. The words and pictures are entertaining and full of fun. What a wonderful way to introduce bible stories to children of all ages.

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Thank you so much for having me on your blog today, Rosie. It’s a real treat to connect with my reading family – the moms and dads and little ones who are enjoying Goodnight, Ark and Goodnight, Manger.

Growing up, did you always want to be a children’s author?

Actually, when I was little what I really wanted to be was Wonder Woman. I had her twirl perfected and everything. I loved imaginary play and spent hours with friends, or sometimes alone…

View original post 984 more words

Stop by at HEART OF DEBORAH for a Special Christmas Post…

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There’s more to a picture book than the thirty-two colorful pages it contains. There’s also the story behind the creation of that picture book. What inspired the author to write it? And what does the author hope readers will take away from the story? Today, as guest blogger at Heart of Deborah,  I’m sharing a special Christmas memory and how it inspired me to write GOODNIGHT, MANGER.  So, please grab a cup of coffee, or tea as I prefer, and head on over! I’ll make it easy. Press here.

READ OUT LOUD: GOODNIGHT, MANGER on KidLitTV

t-goodnight-mangerIt was such a treat to be on the set of KidLit TV  last month sharing in their wonderful mission “to create fun new ways to reinforce an appreciation of reading that children will carry with them for the rest of their lives”.  Here are a couple of snapshots of that special day. Each captures what I think is the the amazing gift of KidLit TV to celebrate the magic of reading through all their taped and live programs. It was an afternoon to treasure.

And now I can finally spill the beans! GOODNIGHT, MANGER is featured on KidLit TV’s delightful READ OUT LOUD program. Thank you for having me, Julie Gribble and team. Here is the link to the episode. Enjoy!

About KidLit TV. Founded by Julie Gribble,  KidLit TV, is a fabulous resource for kid lit fans of all ages. Comprised of a diverse group of parents, educators, librarians, kid lit creators, and award winning filmmakers, KidLit TV works creatively to bring great books to kids. Their self-described mission is to create fun new ways to reinforce an appreciation of reading that children will carry with them for the rest of their lives. They are doing a great job and have even been awarded the Parents’ Choice Gold Award! What a wonderful contribution they are making to the world of children’s literature!

 

JOINT-INTERVIEW: A Chat with Picture Book Author Jodi McKay and Illustrator Denise Holmes in Celebration of the Release of WHERE ARE THE WORDS?

words_coverToday I am delighted to be doing a joint interview with picture book author Jodi McKay and illustrator Denise Holmes.  WHERE ARE THE WORDS? (Albert Whitman, 2016) is Jodi’s debut work.  Denise has illustrated numerous books, but this their first collaboration.  Thanks so much for joining us today.

Synopsis: Period wants to write a story but can’t find the words, so his friends offer their help. Question Mark asks around and Exclamation Point finds some enthusiastic words from some unexpected places. Now all Period needs is an idea, but from whom?

Now for the interview with my questions bolded.

Jodi, congratulations on your debut!  Tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind the story.

Jodi: Thanks so much, Laura! The idea behind this book came from a horrible case of writer’s block. No amount of chocolate or deep breathing exercises helped me untangle a good idea for a story and I literally sat in front of my computer and asked, “Where the heck are the words?” or at least that’s the PG version. Oddly enough, that question was the spark that I needed and the concept quickly came together afterwards. Knowing that there were books already available about writing or telling stories, I knew that I needed to put a different spin on it and I wanted it to be in the form of a quirky kind of character. Cue the punctuation marks!

Denise, you have illustrated quite a few picture books. What drew you to Jodi’s WHERE ARE THE WORDS story?

Denise: I have to admit this book was new territory for me. My other books have had children as the main characters, so I have been so used to drawing kids. When my agent sent me the manuscript and I got really nervous! But after reading it a few times, the characters started coming to me and I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone and illustrate this book. The words are so funny and the characters are so wonderful. I really fell in love with it!

One of the themes of this book is collaboration – coming together and combining your strengths to create a great story. This is humorously depicted in the delightful interactions between Period and his punctuation pals and in the interplay between picture and text.  How collaborative was the process for you as author and illustrator? What kind of communication was involved, if any?

Jodi: First, I would like to say that I got lucky when they chose Denise to illustrate our book. I didn’t want to say too much regarding the art because, 1. I wanted it to be a surprise, and 2. I knew she would add so much more to the story that I wouldn’t have even thought of and I didn’t want to hinder her process. There were a few times that I was given the opportunity to provide suggestions or ask questions all of which Denise graciously addressed. That was done through my editor and I’m assuming their art director, never directly to each other. Now we communicate fairly often to chat about our teacher’s guide and promotional work. She’s great!

Denise: I think this might be standard in the industry, but the editor is the middle person when it comes to working on picture books. In this case, Jordan gave me the art directions and I just went for it. I did finally get talk with Jodi after I finished the book. We have collaborated on promo materials and I look forward to collaborating on events and maybe even a follow up book! What do you say Jodi? I think Period needs to go on another adventure!

Laura: What would you like readers to take away from this story?

Jodi: Gosh, a few things really. I hope readers will see how the punctuation marks are speaking and connect that to that actual role of each mark. That is the educational component of this book and one I think is helpful for little learners. I also want kids to see what is possible when they open their eyes to what is all around them rather than just focusing on what’s in front of them. You never know what you can discover! Last, I hope children capture the importance of helping each other and working together for any cause. That piece of the story was created as a result of my own experience with the kidlit community and how helpful everyone has been over the years.

Denise: That it’s good to have friends to help you out, even if they are a little silly!

Laura: What one piece of advice would you offer to young writers/artists who find themselves staring at a blank page?

Jodi: Engage your senses to find that spark! Look in all directions, listen closely to what’s going on around you, pick up different objects to feel what they are made out of, make something that’s smell reminds you of a loved one’s cooking, eat what you made to see if you can go deeper into the memory. Take all of that and see what comes up for you. Creativity comes in various forms so be open to everything.

Denise: I often have days where I have artist’s block. I will step away from trying to force a drawing; go for a walk, read a book, or grab a snack and come back to it. When you get back, just start filling up the page with doodles, something will eventually come out of it.

Finally, what’s next for each of you?  Any more collaborative works in the pipeline?

Jodi: I’m still writing and working with my agent on different picture books. There is one particular that is a companion to WHERE ARE THE WORDS? and I hope it works so that I can team up with Denise again!

Denise: I have a book called Phoebe Sounds It Out (written by Julie Zwillich | Owlkids Books) coming out in April 2017 and I am working on the 2nd book in the series called Phoebe’s Day, Today. As far as collaborating, I would absolutely love to work with Jodi again. I was very inspired by her writing and would jump at the chance to work together again!

Thank you both for inspiring us with your thoughtful responses.  We wish you the best of success with this clever new picture book!

img_8920Bio: Jodi lives in Grosse Pointe, Michigan with her husband, son, a couple of mischievous pets, and at least one ghost. She discovered that she loved to write when she was 8 years old, but decided to finish school before pursuing it full time. Now she is an active member of the incredible kid lit community and is proud to be represented by Linda Epstein at Emerald City Literary Agency. Jodi’s debut picture book, WHERE ARE THE WORDS? is set to release on December 20th and she can’t wait to share it! If you would like to chat with Jodi, you can find her on Facebook and Twitter. You can also connect with her at www.JodiMcKayBooks.com (Look for the teacher’s guide!) or by email at Jodi@JodiMcKayBooks.com

drawingportrait_smallBio: A native of the Detroit area, Denise graduated with a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2003. She has sine been a freelance illustrator working on many different projects from logos and greeting cards to magazine publications. Her other picture books include IF I WROTE ABOUT YOU, THE YOGA GAME BY THE SEA, and THE YOGA GAME IN THE GARDEN. She lives in Chicago with her husband and daughter.  Visit her online at www.niseemade.com.

Jodi’s Blog tour:

November 14thhttps://albertwhitman.wordpress.com/2016/11/14/qa-with-jodi-mckay/

November 18thwww.KidLit411.com

December 5thhttps://laurasassitales.wordpress.com

December 12th–  http://www.karlingray.com/blog.htm

December 19thhttp://jumpingthecandlestick.blogspot.com