Inspired by WONDER WOMAN: FOUR Tips to Activate your PICTURE BOOK Writing Super Powers

My husband gave me a card with Wonder Woman on the front and that’s all it took to remind me of this favorite post from 2017 which offers super hero wisdom for picture book writers. Enjoy!

A few years ago 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 can all use to bring our picture book manuscripts 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 or LOVE IS KIND (or any of my books.) 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 at 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!

What SUPER POWER would you add? Let us fellow writers know in the comments. And if wanted to be a super hero when you were little, let us know that too! Happy Writing, all!

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? Four Tips for Making PAGE TURNS in Picture Books IRRESISTIBLE!

The lovely 1920s house across the street from our home recently sold and now it is being renovated. They are doing a good job and I am confident the house’s final “new look” will still retain the integrity of the original and be in keeping with the feel of the neighborhood. The particulars of what exactly the renovated house will look like, however, are still a mystery and the neighborhood is abuzz with curiosity.  

At the end of every day, the workers stop. And shortly thereafter, curious passers-by, out for their evening strolls, pause to inspect the latest work. Several times, I’ve been out while they are pausing and we’ve pondered together questions like:

“Do you think they’ll add a big porch across the front the whole front?”

“Are they going to bump out the back too?”

“How do you think they’ll pitch the roof?”

“What kind of siding will they use?”

This end of day anticipation over what will happen next reminds of page turns in picture books, for both have the power to spark excitement in the onlookers/readers. With that in mind, here are FOUR sure-fire TIPS for using page turns in picture books to spark curiosity and make it irresistible for readers to turn the page.

TIp #1: Pause mid-sentence at the page turn. This is a strategy often used in picture books and, if done well, it adds suspense and wonder to the story. Use an ellipsis or em dash to indicate that the rest on the sentence will be on the next page. Here’s an example of this strategy in use from Matt Forrest Esenwine’s and Fred Koehler’s delightful FLASHLIGHT NIGHT (Boyds Mill Press, 2017): 

Tip #2: Provide a clue in the illustration as to what might happen next. This tip is really more for the illustrator than for the author, but it’s a fun one that really prompts little ones to “read” the pictures for clues for what might happen on the next page.  CAUTION: Be judicious in your manuscript about prescribing things for the illustrator. However, if an illustration note is vital to the story, it’s okay to note it in a succinct illustrator note.  

For example, for my debut picture book GOODNIGHT, ARK (Zonderkidz, 2014), it was important to know that the skunks (never mentioned in the text) are included in the host of creatures that crowd Noah’s bunk, so I simply said in an illustration note something like:  (ILLO: including skunks).  Then, illustrator Jane Chapman used her expertise to incorporate a pair of sleeping skunks into every spread so that when they finally wake up, it’s a clue as to what will happen when readers turn the page and one that makes turning the page irresistible. Here it is:

Tip #3: Use the rhyme (if yours is a rhyming picture book) to incorporate clues as to what will happen when the reader turns the page.  This is one of my favorite page turn strategies. It’s really a variation of tip #1, but instead of just pausing the text mid-sentence at the page turn, you add the extra layer of having the rhyme pair split at the page break so that anticipating what the second rhyme might be becomes a game as to might happen after the page is turned. Here’s a fresh and fun example from Corey Rosen Schwartz’s, Rebecca J. Gomez’s and Hilary Leung’s rompin’ tale TWO TOUGH TRUCKS (Orchard Books, 2019):

Tip #4: Ramp up the page turn moment with a question. This strategy is not as common and its freshness comes in its sparse use. When used sparingly, it will definitely make the reader want to turn the page. Here’s an example of it being used well in a spread from author Glenys’ Nellist’s and Sally Garland’s picture book LITTLE MOLE’S CHRISTMAS GIFT (Beaming Books, 2020): 

Now it’s YOUR turn.  What tips would you add to my list?  Happy Writing, all!

PICTURE BOOK WRITERS: Activate your SUPER POWERS!

IMG_0625A week ago Friday, I spent a delightful morning talking about writing picture books with 3rd through 8th graders at a “Meet the Experts” symposium organized for our town’s gifted program. Since students in the program will be writing their own picture books, I focused my session on what makes picture books engaging.

During our time together we focused on four qualities and had a wonderful time looking for them in the sample picture books we read together.  I then challenged them to incorporate these qualities into their own writing.

I like to think of these qualities as  SUPER POWERS. That’s right, as picture book writers, we have super powers we can activate to create engaging stories.  Now, with a wave of my wand, here FOUR SUPER POWERS you might like to activate in your own writing:

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.) 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!

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: The Inspiration Behind DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON? by Gayle Krause

Join me in welcoming fellow rhymer and picture book author, Gayle Krause, whose brand new picture book, DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON (Clear Fork Publishing), debuts this month! Gayle is the author of several books and a talented poet. She and I met as critique partners years ago in the critique group, The Poets’ Garage. Today, I am honored to have her as my guest sharing the inspiration behind her newest book. Thank you, Gayle!

The Inspiration behind DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON by Gayle Krause

Some people say children inspire them, some say it’s a feeling, or a dream. For this special picture book, I can’t explain how it came to be. My stories are usually filled with fantastic creatures, magic, or some silly, humorous happening. But not this one! This picture book is serious, and for me that’s a complete 180.

As former Early Childhood Educator, I taught Children’s Literature to prospective teachers as part of their training program for over thirty years. I also directed a Laboratory Pre-K, affiliated with my teaching course. It was there, as I sat on the floor of the nursery school, reading countless picture books to the preschoolers, or acting out fairytales as creative dramatic presentations that I became uniquely attuned to the young child’s mind.

DADDY, CAN YOU SEE THE MOON? was a combination of the memory of one little boy that was having a difficult time accepting the time frame of his dad’s separation from the family (preschoolers do not understand the concept of time) and the military family reunions shown on the news each night when soldiers come home to surprise their children at school, baseball games, or parades.

I will say this. The idea for Daddy, Can You See The Moon? came all at once— the story, the rhyme, and the emotion. Good stories always come fast. Straight from the heart, with no pre-judging or revising before you choose the words. And this story is timeless…

Soldiers will always be deployed and children will always be waiting patiently, counting the days when their Mom or Dad returns from war. But sometimes they don’t come home the same way they left. In Daddy, Can You See the Moon? a young boy and his soldier dad share special moments by looking at the moon each night. But when Dad comes home wounded, his son discovers it’s the power of love that kept them connected all along, and he plays a major part in his father’s recovery. 

We chose April 9, 2019 as the release date to celebrate The Month of The Military Child. So if you know a soldier, who was deployed and came back wounded, this book may help the family heal. And for those of you who aren’t in the military, it’s a universal story about the love of family. 

Thank you, Gayle! I wish you the very best as you launch this very special book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Gayle C. Krause is a member of SCBWI, and a past member of the Historical Novel Society and the Poet’s Garage. She’s served on the Rhyming Revolution Selection Committee, choosing the “best” rhyming picture book for 2015-2018. A Master educator, she’s taught Children’s Literature to prospective teachers at the secondary and post-secondary levels. Ms. Krause writes fantasy, contemporary, and historical fiction for Young Adult, Middle Grade, and young children. She’s been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Scholastic Book Clubs, and in various Young Adult Anthologies. Her previous work, RATGIRL: Song of the Viper was a 2013 nominee for the Boston Globe/Horn Book and International Reading Awards. Follow Gayle’s writing journey at http://www.gayleckrause.comhttp://www.gayleckrause.com on Facebook and Twitter @GeeCeeK. New books coming in 2019. Daddy, Can You See the Moon? – April, 9, 2019 – #PB #woundedwarriors #military. Once Upon a Twisted Tale, a MG Fractured Fairytale Poetry Collection, Quest of the Ungnome. Clearfork/Spork Publishing.

YOU ARE YOUR STRONG: A JOINT Author and Illustrator Interview with Danielle Dufayet and Jennifer Zivoin

Published by Magination Press, Books for Kids from The American Psychological Association.

Today I am delighted to be doing a joint interview with picture book author Danielle Dufayet and illustrator Jennifer Zivoin.  YOU ARE YOUR STRONG (Magination Press, 2019) is Danielle’s debut work.  Jennifer has illustrated many books, but this is their first collaboration.  Thanks so much for joining us today.

From the Front Flap: “YOU ARE YOUR STRONG is an empowering exploration of children’s emotions that will develop self-awareness, peace and calm. With diverse characters and scenes featuring a range of different family relationships…the book shows kids that they will have help along the way to being strong and in control.”

Now for the interview with my questions bolded.

Laura: Please tell us a little bit about yourselves and your journey into the world of children’s book writing/illustrating.

Danielle: I was not a reader as a child –too busy running outside and climbing trees! I wasn’t read to either – just wasn’t a tradition in our household, but before you feel sorry for me…I am now a published children’s book author!! I always loved writing, however, even as I child. I’d write poems to express my feelings and observations. When I graduated high school I told myself I wanted to be a children’s book author. I read an awesome picture book by Lilian Moore (Little Raccoon and the thing in the Pool). I was blown away by its simplicity and deep message – all executed in the sweetest, most entertaining way! I thought, I’m going to do that too!

Jennifer: I have always been attracted to visual storytelling, and originally thought that I wanted to pursue animation.  However, illustration turned out to be the perfect fit for me.  I love being able to conceptualize and then bring to life the entire visual world of each book, from the character designs to the settings to the lighting in each piece.  I began illustrating children’s books in 2006 when I was chosen as the artist for the “Pirate School” books by Brian James. A few years later I signed with my agent Mela at MB Artists, and have been illustrating books and children’s projects ever since.

Laura: So interesting, Danielle, that you weren’t a reader, but clearly always a keen observer and participant in all the wonders of the world – climbing trees etc. That is so key to writing! And, wow, Jennifer, what a great journey into the field and I’m also particularly grateful to have had one of my magazine pieces illustrated by you! 

Danielle, can you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind this book?

Danielle: The inspiration behind this book was: Life (going through a difficult situation where I was feeling mad, sad, scared and worried all at once.) and Art: I saw the movie, Room, in which a 5 year old boy (played by Jacob Tremblay) tells his mom his (long) hair is his strong. Later, he cuts it off to give to his mom who’s had a nervous breakdown. It made me ask myself: what is my strong? Turns out, I am my strong –we all are our own strong! And sharing strong is good! 


Laura:  And such a good message it is! 

Jennifer, you have illustrated over 30 picture books. What drew you to  Danielle’s YOU ARE YOUR STRONG?

Jennifer: The editors at Magination Press selected me as the illustrator for “You Are Your Strong,” and when I received the manuscript, I loved the way that the text made me feel.  The words were empowering and poetic.  Since the text focused heavily on emotions, there was tremendous freedom for me to explore how I wanted to create characters and environments.

Laura:  And you did an amazing job!  One of the most striking aspects of your illustrations, in addition to your wonderfully charming and diverse depiction of children, is your sweeping use of color to capture each emotion.  Tell us about this choice. How did you choose your colors?

Jennifer: First, I chose a color palette for the whole book.  Then from that palette I selected only about 4 colors for each page – a main color representing the emotion, an accent color to make the character stand out, and usually two other colors that blended nicely with my other choices.  For example, pages about sadness were filled with shades of blue while pages about anger were bright red.  Then, I used light and the color strokes to define the atmosphere, movement and energy of each page.   For pages in which the emotion is directed externally towards another person or the environment, the lighting and movement were bold and energetic.  For emotions that were directed inwardly and were more contemplative, the scenes were softer.  

Laura: This is so interesting and I’m delighted that the publisher has permitted us to share one of your interiors so readers can get an idea of what we are talking about. In this illustration you use red to depict anger. 

Published by Magination Press, Books for Kids from The American Psychological Association.

Laura:  Danielle, teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum or extend the enjoyment with post-reading activities. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy?

Danielle: I have a handout that kids can fill in as to what their strong is. It asks: what are the things that bring out the happy, calm, brave and gentle already in you? The key word is already. I want kids to know they already have everything they need inside of them!

Laura: Sounds great! And I would also add that your book also includes wonderful “Note to Parents and Caregivers” by Julia Martin Burch, PhD which includes thoughtful tips and suggestions for helping children handle strong emotions.

Finally, for both of you, what’s next? Are there more picture books and projects in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?

Danielle: I have a couple of manuscripts out on submission and I’m working on a funnier picture book right now about impulse control, friendship and the love of picture books! 

Jennifer: I am currently creating the artwork another of Danielle’s titles through Magination Press, which readers can look forward to in the next year!  In addition to this forthcoming publication, I am keeping busy illustrating several other book projects.  I am also excited to have finished a dummy for my first authored/illustrated picture book, which I hope to see on bookstore shelves someday.

Thank you BOTH so much for stopping by today and I wish you the greatest success with this new book.  Learn more about Danielle and Jennifer below.

Danielle Dufayet, born in Yonkers, New York, now lives in sunny San Jose, California, where she writes children’s books and paints. She also teaches English and Public Speaking (Self-Empowerment) to grades K-12. Danielle read her first picture book (Little Raccoon and the Thing in the Pool) when she was 18 whereupon she was blown away by its simplicity, timelessness and transformative power. That’s when she knew it was her calling. Thirty-five years and a Master’s Degree later, she finally made her dream come true and she’ll have TWO books out in 2019 – one about inner strength and managing big emotions, called You Are Your Strong and the other, Fantastic You!,  about self-love/compassion.

Website: https://www.danielledufayetbooks.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/danielledufayet

Twitter: https://twitter.com/danielledufayet

Art Website: https://www.danielledufayet.com

Jennifer Zivoin has always loved art and storytelling, so becoming an illustrator was a natural career path. She has been trained in media ranging from figure drawing to virtual reality, and earned her bachelor of arts degree with highest distinction from the honors division of Indiana University.  During her professional career, Jennifer worked as a graphic designer and then as a creative director before finding her artistic niche illustrating children’s books.  When she is not creating art in her studio, her favorite hobbies include drinking cocoa while reading a good book, swimming on hot summer days, and spending time outside with her family.

Jennifer lives in Carmel, Indiana. 

Visit her at http://www.JZArtworks.com

THE TEL OF THE JRAGIN AND THE GOL: Five PICTURE BOOK Writing Tips from a Four-Year Old!

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“The Tale of the Dragon and the Girl” by W, age four

Look what I found today while rummaging through the third drawer in my desk. It’s the first book my son ever wrote – as a four year-old.  He’s written other things since, but this was the first. (Yeah, I know. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.)

I remember the day well.  My son announced one morning that, like me, he wanted to be a writer and that he was going to write a book. Next thing I knew, he had planted himself at the dining room table with paper and pencil. Then he wrote and wrote. He didn’t stop until he was finished. Once he did, he didn’t let me peek. Instead he ran to our craft drawer and grabbed construction paper for the book cover.  With my help, we stapled the book together. Then, and only then, did he let me read it.  I needed his help the first time through, but his imagined spelling makes total sense to me now and I love how he didn’t let his lack of spelling knowledge keep him from expressing himself.

Here’s the story.  I’ve translated it in the captions, but just for fun, see if you can figure it out for yourself first.  Then, take a moment to think about my writerly takeaways from this authentic 4-year-old writing sample.  Enjoy!

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“You might not think that nothing might happen to Annie, but something happened to her.”

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“It happened by a dragon.”

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“We don’t know why the dragon took her.”

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“The dragon took her because it was hungry.”

I find this writing sample especially fascinating because it reveals one four-year-old’s perspective on what makes a winning picture book. Now, inspired this find, here are five characteristics of effective picture books – as seen through the writings of a four-year-old.

TIP #1: Have an attention grabbing title. I just love W.’s title.  I mean who wouldn’t want to read a tale of a dragon and a girl?  For me, at least, it immediately evokes fairy tales and magic. So, here’s my takeaway. What’s the first glimpse you get of a book sitting on the shelf at the library?  The spine of course. And on that spine you’ll find the title. So, using my son’s catchy title as an example, I think it’s worth considering that if want your book to stand out, a catchy title is a must.

TIP #2: Employ suspenseful page turns.  Even at age four, W. understood the power of a page turn.  He even included page numbers within his text. And if you carefully examine story, you’ll see that each page ends with a little tease – almost a cliff hanger.  This, I believe, is a reflection of something he enjoyed most as young partaker of picture books – the power of a suspenseful page turn. As you analyse your own work-in-progress, be inspired by W. and take a moment to consider how well-placed page turns can enhance your story.

TIP# 3: Keep your text sparse but active. You have to admit W.’s text is pretty lean.  There’s no fluff to be found. Every word he uses pushes his four-year-old story forward.  In fact, his story is almost blunt in its intensity. Likewise, as we write our stories, we need to to shed every word that doesn’t push the story forward – relying on meaty verbs and vivid nouns to bring our tales to life.

TIP #4 Create conversation sparking content. You can almost sense that one of W.’s favorite parts of reading picture books as a preschooler was the conversation that each page sparked.  We never just read a story through. Instead, we asked each other questions, pondered the pictures, and wondered what might happen next.  W.’s text almost reads as an answer to those questions.  As such, his wording is a great reminder to the picture book writer in me that I, too, want to make sure my stories open themselves to lots of interactive reading.

TIP #5 Don’t forget the conflict! Even as a four-year-old, W.’s writing reveals that he had a strong sense of one of the fundamentals to a good story.  Conflict!  A good story needs to have a problem that the character faces, learns from, and hopefully overcomes.  Poor Annie was eaten, but we as the readers, figured out why.  It’s because the dragon was hungry and hopefully, from now on, you’ll steer clear of hungry dragons.  But seriously,  W.’s story is a good reminder that, like dragons, children do indeed hunger for good stories with plenty of action, conflict, and excitement.

Happy writing, all!

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

laura-in-second-grade

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!

Picture Books with P.U.N.C.H

Picture Books That Pack A P.U.N.C.H. visual by Julie Rowan-Zoch

What gives a picture book P.U.N.C.H.?  Check out my series on different picture book story structures and what makes them work (or not.) For a list of sample texts, check out the tab or press here. Happy reading and writing!

Picture Books at the PoolFive Characteristics That Give Picture Books P.U.N.C.H.!

 

 

IMG_1915PICTURE BOOKS WITH P.U.N.C.H.: Cumulative Stories

 

 

IMG_1940PICTURE BOOKS WITH P.U.N.C.H.: ABC Stories

 

 

IMG_0286PICTURE BOOKS WITH P.U.N.C.H.: Parallel Stories

 

 

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PICTURE BOOK WRITERS:  Activate Your SUPER POWERS!