TEACHERS! CAREGIVERS! LIBRARIANS! I’ve rounded up TEN activities created just for DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE, perfect for kicking off the new school year, which is just around the corner, or any time of year. Enjoy!
ONE: Make a pair of fancy glasses, then pretend you are at the opera while reading DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE at Celebrate Picture Books.
TWO: Do a book-themed Read, Discuss, DO!
THREE: Discuss what it means to be a diva, then make a feathered fan like Delores uses in the book with this project created by Rebecca Gomez.
February 8th is OPERA DAY! And since DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE is all about opera, I thought it would be fun to re-share a favorite post inspired the book’s protagonists, Delores and Fernando. My opera-loving duo made their opera debut when the book released in 2018, but as any well-trained diva knows, singing on stage is just the final thrill. What comes before that? Hours and hours, even years of hard work! But is it all worth it? You bet!
Now celebrations of opera and divas and picture books, here are five tips to help you write picture books – diva style!
Go to the opera… a lot!
If you are going to be an opera star, it only makes sense that you immerse yourself in the glorious world of opera by attending operas, listening to opera music, and all-around saturating yourself in all things opera. Likewise, if you want to write picture books, it only makes sense that you immerse yourself in the world of picture books. For me, this means making regular trips to the children’s section of my library, or my favorite local bookstore, and reading, reading, reading! I read with two purposes: first, just for the pleasure and joy of it, and second… to learn. That’s why I always bring along my writerly opera glasses and a notebook so that I can thoughtfully ponder and record what makes each opera (i.e. picture book) sing… or not.
Rehearsal is important.
If you want to be a diva, you have to spend time rehearsing and developing your craft. For opera stars, I imagine this means a daily routine of warming up with scales, practicing a variety of pieces, working on voice projection etc. Similarly, if you want to to write picture books, you have to be willing to invest the time and effort into writing daily. My daily writing routine includes free writes (my version of scales), as well as working on a variety of poems, blog posts and the handful of picture book manuscripts I’m working through at any given moment.
Control those crescendos.
I’m not an opera expert, but it seems to me that in the field of opera, like in the field of picture book writing – less is more! I mean divas don’t just cut loose and sing at the top of their lungs willy-nilly! No, they artistically control their voices so that it plays a magical role in telling the opera’s story. Likewise, as a picture book writer – and especially as one who loves to rhyme – I work hard to control my crescendos so that every word, sound, phrase, action, magically moves the story forward.
Be confident, yet humble. (i.e. be willing to learn from others)
Confidence is good, but if you want your singing, er writing, to shine, I’ve learned over the years that confidence must be tempered with an open heart, open mind, and gracious spirit when receiving constructive feedback.As a young writer I thought my writing was fabulous! But now that I’m more seasoned, I look back on those early pieces and cringe. They would definitely have benefitted from a little more humility and willingness to productively process and put into place suggestions from more experiences writers!
(Which leads me to my last bit of advice.)
Everything’s better with a buddy!
As Diva Delores discovers at the opera house, the journey to success is just all-around better with a buddy. Likewise, I’ve found that the picture book writing journey wouldn’t be the same without a nice support system. For me this includes my family, my talented agent, and the wonderful network of like-minded children’s writers I’ve connected with over the years, many of whom have become dear friends and trusted critique partners. So, my last bit of advice for writing picture books – diva style! – is to find a buddy or two to encourage you and help you grow along the way.
Note: A version of this post first appeared on Darlene Beck Jacobson’s lovely blog. She’s been kind enough to host me for the release of each and every one of my books. Thank you, Darlene!
I am a list maker and have been all my life. As a child I wrote lists of what I wanted for Christmas and birthdays. I also kept lists of the books I read. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, so I even had a list of last names that I thought would be good for the main characters in my future books. Whipple was at the top of the list!
My mother was a list maker too. And so was her mother. I know this because my mother insisted that I make packing lists before traveling and showed me how to do it. And my grandmother kept lists on index cards documenting every single dinner party she ever hosted, who came, what time they arrived, and what she served. My daughter is now a list-maker too. This summer she kept a list of healthy snack and meal ideas which we still refer to regularly.
Now that I’m mid-century age-wise and somewhat forgetful at times, I keep daily lists to help me remember the things I need to do. I also keeps lists of things such as blog posts I’d like to write about. For awhile, I kept a list of every new word I learned. And I still keep lists of the books I have read and the books I want to read. This post actually is becoming a list of all the kinds of lists I like to make.
The point is – I couldn’t survive without lists. Neither could my writing. Flip through any journal of mine and you will see lists. Lists of potential story ideas. Lists of potential character names. Lists of favorite memories. Lists of craft ideas and poem ideas. You name it, I’ve listed it. Indeed, lists have become one of my go-to strategies for combatting writer’s block. But even after I have an idea and the creative juices are flowing, lists play a crucial role in developing that idea.
As I wrote each of my rhyming picture books, for example, I paused many times to make lists. I wrote lists of fun rhyming pairs and vivid sound words and more. And, as I point out to students at school visits, those lists helped immensely! Indeed, many of the words and ideas generated in those lists appear in the final versions of each book.
This month I’m applying this list strategy to chapter books. That’s right, as part of my challenge to myself to write a chapter book series, I have set a goal for myself to make a list plot ideas throughout the month of November. Actually, in this case, the list is a little more complex. I’m collecting vignettes or scenes for possible future use in this potential series, so my “list” includes not only one-word or short phrase “titles” for each possible vignette, but also a page or two of free-writing that potential story scene from the POV of my chapter book protagonist.
Of course, it’s only November 5th. I still have a long ways to go, but I’m already excited about how this new chapter book-themed list is taking shape. (And I’m blessed to have a chapter book critique group taking a similar challenge to keep me accountable – and I recommend that too.)
Are you a list maker? If not, why not give list-making a try this week as a way to get those creative juices flowing! Have fun!
Don’t you love this tiny figurine set of kittens lapping up spilt milk that I was given as girl? I keep it in a printer’s tray that hangs in my bathroom with many other little treasures. (That’s a topic for another post.) The messy little scene reminds me that over the course of my life, spilt milk, spilt detergent, and even spilt glitter have made me cry. Perhaps you can relate. However, there’s one thing I never cry about. Spilling words! Specifically words on paper. Indeed, my joy each day, is in finding time to spill words for that time blesses my soul and, by extension, I hope it blesses those who subsequently read those words.
The daily challenge, however, is in finding the time, for unlike milk or glitter, which, at least at our house, spill far too easily and frequently, spilling words freely and creatively is quite another matter.
With that in mind, here are five tips for finding time to let those words flow freely:
Tip #1: Set special time aside each day to write. For me, this means beginning the day with 30 minutes of writing before the sun rises. It’s amazing how freely the words flow before the cares of the day set in.
Tip #2: Turn off distractions, like the internet, for a pre-determined period of time and, instead of surfing the web or scrolling through your various feeds, write.
Tip #3: Exercise your mind and body by writing using dictation mode while you walk or use the treadmill. I love this strategy especially when I’m experiencing writer’s block.
Tip #4: Find a writing buddy or group to meet with weekly, virtually or in person, for an hour or more of writing. Check in with each other both before and after the writing session with writing intentions and accomplishments. Note: This is also a good way to stay connected during a pandemic.
Tip #5: Write for five minutes on the top of the hour – all day long. For those other 55 minutes, your mind will be whirring with ideas, as you go about your day, then you can let them pour out in hourly spurts. Set the timer and don’t hesitate – write! This worked especially well when my kids were little.
This is just is getting the spilling started. What tips would you add? Please share in the comments.
And for more thoughts on finding time to write and maximizing the time we do have, here are some other posts you might enjoy:
THANK YOU for joining me for the LOVE IS KIND Puppet Challenge! I just finished live streaming on Facebook and thought I would take a minute to share the challenge with you here. Please find the video of the Facebook Live stream here, or simply scroll down for the instructions below. (The video is just for extra fun.) I can’t wait to see what you come up with!
Inspired by Little Owl, who extended love and kindness everywhere he went – and in very creative ways – the goal of this challenge is for children to extend love and kindness by creating a fabulous one-of-a-kind Little Owl puppet. They will then use that puppet to make someone else feel special and loved. Here’s what you and your child need to do:
Read LOVE IS KIND (Zonderkidz, 2018) and think about all the ways Little Owl was kind and loving.
Using materials found at home have your child design their own, original Little Owl puppet. Possible construction materials include: brown bags, construction paper, felt, newspaper, fabric, Legos, an old sock or mitten, a yogurt tub or milk container, feathers, sequins etc. Be creative and have fun!
Once the puppet is finished, spread joy by using the puppet as a side kick (like I do in my story times) to share LOVE IS KIND (or another story of your choice) with a special person in your child’s life – either in person or virtually!
FOR EXTRA FUN: Take a picture of your child’s puppet or you and your child reading with the puppet and send it to me. With your permission, and I will double check to make sure I have it, I will share the pictures on Facebook and my blog so we can all enjoy each other’s creativity!
INTERESTED IN PURCHASING A COPY? LOVE IS KIND is available wherever books are sold, but if you live locally, and want to show support for an indie bookstore — Anne, at The Town Bookstore if Westfield, NJ is offering 10% off any of my books (for a limited time only). Simply mention that you watched my Facebook Live Story Event. If you’d like the books signed, mention that to Anne and we’ll make it happen! The phone number for The Town Book Store is (908) 233-3535. You can also email Anne, at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have followed my blog anytime at all, you have probably noticed that I love writing analogy posts where I draw comparisons between writing and life. These are, in fact, my favorite kinds of posts.
A couple of years ago I was even asked in an online interview by the delightful Margaret Langan over at Read.Learn.Repeat about these types of posts. The specific question was: In what way are these writing exercises useful in your pursuit of writing picture books?
My answer was as follows:
For me, a big part of picture book writing is making creative connections—taking a snippet of inspiration and then playing with it, combining one idea with a seemingly totally disconnected different idea, pairing characters with unusual settings, switching things around etc.
But to do that, I need to warm up and I do that by beginning each day with my journal. I use that journal to record free-flowing thoughts, observations, joys and struggles and… analogies.
This time spent journaling is crucial for getting my creative juices going and those creative analogies just seem to flow out of me—much the way my rhymes do. And once written, it seems a shame not to share them, especially since over the years I’ve gotten such positive feedback from writers and friends who find them encouraging and inspirational.
(For the full interview plus links to all her wonderful interviews with authors and illustrators, press here.)
I still stand by this answer and I still begin each day by journaling and those journal entries still serve to unleash creative sparks that invariably lead to analogies as well as new poems and stories.
However, I would now also add that this creative unleashing – at least for me – can be released in other ways too – such as immersing myself in any sort of special project, such as knitting, sewing, drawing or cooking. If intentional, even something as seemingly uncreative as going on a walk or cleaning the house or weeding can also be creative because I have found that the calm, repetitive nature of those three things in particular is conducive to contemplating ideas and playing with words – both important parts of the creative process.
And why am I making a point to share this with you this week? Easy! I want to encourage you (and me!) to step into the days ahead eager and open to unleashing our storytelling creativity in intentional ways that can range from free writing in a journal –– to pondering plot while plodding along the sidewalk –– to whatever other specific activity you find yourself immersed in this week.
One of the best things about being a writer is that I get to spend my days seeing the world through writing glasses. Oh, they may look like ordinary glasses, but they most certainly are not. It’s through these glasses that over the years I’ve transformed seemingly ordinary moments/observations into engaging poems, stories and picture books.
So now, in celebration of stories and poems that sparkle, here are four tips for using your writer’s glasses to turn your observations into stunning stories.
TIP #1: Wear your glasses each and every day. Gathering ideas takes intentionality and discipline. It means stepping into the day with a spirit of wonder and being observant and open to the little moments of inspiration that come your way. This, for me, is one of the fundamental joys of being a writer.
TIP #2: Write down sparks and observations as soon as possible. I’ve learned over the years, that if I don’t write down an idea right away, that it sometimes evaporates. That’s why I always carry pen and index cards in my purse. I also use the notes feature on my phone to quickly jot down ideas. For more thoughts on this check out my post Fairy Wash: Thoughts on Capturing Ideas.
TIP #3: Some sparks won’t come into focus for a while – and that’s okay! I’ve learned over time, that my best sparks or ideas are the ones I let sit for a while, before using them to write a story or poem. Sometimes it takes awhile to see how that spark might work itself into a story. But that is just part of the process. For more on taking this long-range view, check out my post Write Like a Turtle.
TIP #4: Remember that the goal isn’t replication- but transformation! As a beginning writer, I mistakenly believed that if I was writing a fictional piece inspired by something that actually happened, I had to write it exactly the way it happened. As a result my early stories were cumbersome and flat and ordinary. As soon as I let go of that inner need to be fully grounded in reality, my stories began to “dazzle”. No longer weighed down by the desire to replicate the situations that inspired them, I let my inner creative spirit take over. The result? I wrote stories that were fit for publication!. For more on this, check out my post The River: Thoughts on Writing as Reflection versus Replication.
I have always loved pumpkins. There’s something about their shape, color and flavor that makes me happy.
Here’s the proof:
1. When I was little I requested pumpkin pie instead of cake to serve at my seventh birthday party. (My mother honored the request but wisely also baked a cake because it turns out not all children like pumpkin pie at birthday parties.)
2. I’ve always enjoyed carving jack-o-lanterns, then toasting and eating the seeds.
3. I dressed my children up as jack-o-lanterns when they were babies.
4. I once did a picture book photo shoot in a pumpkin patch!
5. I currently have a pumpkin-themed picture book manuscript that’s out on submission with a handful of publishers.
5. This blog has not just one, but TWO pumpkin-themed posts!
That last bit of evidence (the two blog posts one) also proves that pumpkins don’t just make me happy, they also getting me thinking about writing and how we can make ours better. So, now, without further delay, I’d like to inspire your writing this week with my two pumpkin-themed blog posts. Pick the one that grabs you first, or read both. Either way, have a WONDERFUL pumpkin-inspired writing week!
My first pumpkin post focuses on pumpkin bread, (Yum!) with a writerly takeaway about the importance of conflict in baking good stories. It was inspired by forgetting to stir in a key ingredient. Can you guess what it was? Find out here: Pumpkin Bread: Thoughts on Baking Good Stories.
P.S. Final thought: My daughter celebrates her birthday this week can you guess what she’s requested for her birthday breakfast? Pumpkin bread! The apple (I mean pumpkin) doesn’t fall far from the tree (I mean patch) does it? Just saying. =)