AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: WHEN INSPIRATION STRIKES with Linda Joy Singleton in Celebration of the release of A CAT IS BETTER

Linda Joy Singleton, author of over 45 books ranging from picture books to young adult, has a new picture book out with little bee books.  It’s called A CAT IS BETTER and today, in celebration of its recent release,  I am honored to have her as my guest. I know you will be inspired by her reflections on waiting for inspiration. Take it away, Linda!

WHEN INSPIRATION STRIKES

by

Linda Joy Singleton

Writers are often asked if they wait for inspiration to write a book. My answer used to be, “No way! I sit in my chair and write almost every day, until the book is finished.”

But writing my picture book, A CAT IS BETTER, has changed my answer.  I can’t just say, “I’m going to sit down today and write a picture book.” The picture book process doesn’t work that way. I still believe it’s important to write regularly for novels; getting that first draft can be a huge, time-consuming challenge. If you don’t add a few pages regularly, the book may never get finished.

Writing picture books has been a different experience for me. The short format is closer to creating poetry or music, and just can’t be forced.  It may sound cliche, but I have to wait to be inspired before I write a picture book.

Usually when an idea does strike, it’s in the middle of the night or when I’m driving. And if I don’t write it down immediately, the idea could vanish like a forgotten dream. Sometimes it feels like the words are a gift to me from the universe, and I’m always grateful (even for the many books I wrote that never sold).

My first picture book, SNOW DOG, SAND DOG, was inspired by a black and white photo. The next, CASH KAT, was triggered by a money game I played with my grandson.

But writing A CAT IS BETTER was a completely different experience. It was the first time that I was able to successfully ask the “universe” for an idea.

I was a speaker at a writing conference, and sitting in on another session. While others were making picture book dummies, a pre-arranged exercise, I had nothing to do. So I told myself that I would write a picture book. “What topic?” I asked myself. “Cats,” came the answer. Because I LOVE cats. And just like that—an opening line jumped into my head. “Congratulations, I’m your new cat. I’m the perfect pet for you. You may take me home now.”

My theory is that my creative brain whirls in the background of my life, but it’s not easy to access the information. But in this amazing moment, my conscious and creative mind connected. I wrote the first draft in one hour. I rewrote it for a few weeks, showed my agent, and after five rewrites for an editor, I had a contract. And A CAT IS BETTER was a June 2017 release from Little Bee Books.

Since that experience, I’ve had more of these conversations with myself. I saw a photo online that made me think, “Someone should write about this.” I kept thinking about the photo, and a title popped into my head. But I couldn’t think of a plot. I mulled this over, frustrated that no ideas happened. But at 4AM one morning, words popped into my head! I got up, typed quickly, writing a rough draft.

I don’t know if this new book will sell, but it was fun to write. Thank heavens for amazing, almost magical moments of inspiration.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Linda Joy Singleton is the author of over 45 MG, YA and picture books. She’s currently working on the 6th mystery in the MG series, CURIOUS CAT SPY CLUB. In 2017, she has two new picture books, A CAT IS BETTER and LUCY LOVES GOOSEY. She lives in the country with a menagerie of animals, including dogs, cats, pigs, horses and peacocks. She offers tips to writers and resources for teachers at www.LindaJoySingleton.com.

 

 

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan in Celebration of the Release of her Debut Picture Book MRS. MCBEE LEAVES ROOM 3!

Today I am honored to have debut picture book author Gretchen Brandenburg McClellan as my guest in celebration of the recent release of Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3, illustrated by Grace Zong and published by Peachtree Publishers.  It’s the story of a class saying goodbye to their beloved teacher – a perfect book for this time of year!  Thank you so much for joining us, Gretchen. Let’s get started – with my questions in blue to match your delightful cover.

Question #1: What inspired you to write Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3? 

For many students, school is their ground. Their sense of security is rooted in the geography of the school–knowing that Ms. A’s room is there and Mr. B’s room is across the hall. (Many very young students believe teachers live at school!) I’ve had students who were heading off to middle-school ask me through tears if I would still be in my room the next year. They needed to know that this part of their lives was stable as the tectonic plates of their lives shifted.

This connection to the geography of the school inspired me to write Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3. Originally, Mrs. McBee was leaving to move to a new school, but my editor and I decided to expand the possible reasons why Mrs. McBee might be leaving by not being specific. Teachers leave for so many reasons: to have babies, to return to the university, to move to a new school or away from the area, to change careers, to care for themselves or family members who are ill, or finally to retire. All of these moves are bittersweet.

Around the time I was writing this book, a dear friend and former co-worker was dying of breast cancer. She had to say good-bye to her own elementary classroom and her students to her. I was able to share the sale of Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 with her and my decision to dedicate my book to her. It brought us both a bittersweet joy, knowing she wouldn’t live to see the art or the book in print. A memorial library has been established in her honor at Hathaway Elementary in Washougal, Washington where we taught together. I look forward to adding Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 to her shelves. I am sure she would love it!

I always love hearing the stories behind a book’s dedication. How very special that you decided the book to your dear teacher friend. I’m sure that means a lot to her family.

Question #2: Did you always want to be a writer? Tell us a little bit about your writing journey?

My journey writing for children started with motherhood. I was passionate about reading and passionate about the kinds of toys I provided my kids. I was just as passionate about the toys I didn’t want them to have. At that time, I was involved in an advocacy group in my area that promoted creative play called SNAP—Support Non-Aggressive Play. I read a picture book by Charlotte Zolotow called William’s Dollabout a boy who wanted a doll, much to the disapproval of his father. I couldn’t find a picture book that addressed the concerns that so many of us in SNAP had about violent toys. So I decided to write one. My manuscript, Joseph and His Toys,f eatured a boy who was not allowed to have violent toys and the creative ways he found to feel a sense of power and control over “bad guys” and find a sense of justice. At a local book fair, I met children’s author Erik Kimmel and asked him how to submit my book for publication. He told me to join SCBWI, get the manuscript in the mail, and focus on writing my next story. At that time I didn’t intend for there to be a next story. But I was a goner. I fell in love with picture books and writing picture books and both have been my passion ever since.

Question #3: Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 is your debut picture book.  How does it feel to be “post-publication”? What do you like best about this exciting new stage?  

The joys and challenges of being a debut writer are still unfolding, and I expect more surprises along the way as I go through my debut year. The best part of this new stage is sharing my book with children in schools and bookstores. In schools I ask teachers to select a student who needs a little sparkle in his/her life to pass on a little magic wand to, and when I start my presentations I say, “Somebody must have a magic wand out there, because my dream is coming true right now.” The child is delighted to hold up the wand and I am just as delighted to explain how the dream of being an author isn’t complete without having kids to share books with.

I am also having a blast writing and improving my presentations and activities that go along with the book. At first I felt like I was working on a Masters in Anticipatory Anxiety and was really apprehensive about the public/performing life of being an author. But I’ve switched programs and now am heading straight to my PhD in excitement and joy. I love being an author and presenter!

Ha! Love that Masters in Anticipatory Anxiety and I think your magic wand set up is absolutely brilliant. And I’m so happy to hear that you’ve almost earned that delightful Phd!  =)

Question #4: As a former reading specialist, what three tips would you give parents for keeping the love of reading alive over summer? 

 Three tips for keeping the love of reading alive over the summer are 1) join the summer reading program at the public library, 2) have books available everywhere for kids to read, including the car, bathroom and tent and 3) share books together regularly. I firmly believe that children should be read aloud to through grade school for a multitude of reasons, including their development as readers, because reading comprehension doesn’t catch up with listening comprehension until about sixth grade. Reading aloud has so many positive effects on family relationships too. And it is so much fun! The health of the audio book industry attests to the pleasure of hearing a story read aloud. Who hasn’t wanted to keep on driving to finish a chapter or remain sitting in the driveway to listen to just one more?

These are wonderful suggestions. My daughter’s in sixth grade and we still love reading aloud to each other!  

Question #5: What’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline?  

I am very excited about three picture books releasing in 2018. I’m Done!, illustrated by Catherine Odell, is about an impulsive and playful little beaver who finally learns what it means to be done (Holiday House, Spring 2018).  When Your Daddy’s a Soldier, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, is the story of a brother and sister whose father goes off to war (Beach Lane, Fall 2018).  Button and Bundle, illustrated by Gillian Flint, tells the story of first friends whose world is disrupted when one moves away, but who find a way to preserve their special world of play even though they are miles apart (Knopf, Fall 2018).

Thank you so much for joining us, Gretchen.  It’s always fun to share in the joy of a debut book release!

IMG_8515e edit-1 (2)BIO: Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan is a former elementary reading specialist who now devotes herself to writing for children and visiting schools as an author. She just celebrated the release of Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3, illustrated by Grace Zong (Peachtree) and looks forward to the release of three more picture books 2018. She is an active tribe-member of SCBWI and writes chapter books and middle-grade fiction as well.  

Gretchen grew up as a global nomad, daughter of a career Army officer, and lived on three continents.  She has settled in Camas, WA where she lives with her husband, cat and dog, stunt squirrels, nomadic neighborhood chickens, and celebrates when her children and grandchildren come home. Children will find a home in her heartfelt books about community, courage and compassion.

When she isn’t writing or teaching, Gretchen can be found playing word games, hiking in the woods, x-country skiing and attending plays.  Please visit Gretchen at gretchenmclellan.com for more information about her books, events and author visits. 

GUEST POST: ZOOMA-ZOOMA-ZOOM! Onomatopoeia with Picture Book Author and Poet Elizabeth Upton

This week, coinciding with National Poetry Month, I am delighted to have picture book author and poet Elizabeth Upton as my guest.  I met Elizabeth at KidLitTV’s Live Stream Read Aloud event last month and had the pleasure of listening as she read aloud her delightful debut, MAXI THE LITTLE TAXI, illustrated by Henry Cole and published in 2016 by Scholastic.  It’s a fun and bouncy story with spot-on rhythm and rhyme.  It’s also full of wonderful poetic elements and I’m delighted that Elizabeth has agreed to pen this post on one of my favorites – onomatopoeia! Take it away, Elizabeth!

It’s an honor to be asked by Laura Sassi to be a guest blogger during Poetry Month. I love poetry. Happily, my poetry has been in three collections by the amazing Lee Bennett Hopkins. My picture book, MAXI THE LITTLE TAXI, features poetic elements including rhythm, rhyme, repetition and word play. I was thrilled when the School Library Journal review that said MAXI THE LITTLE TAXI “is filled with onomatopoeia and amusing details sure to delight young readers.” Onomatopoeia [on-uh-mat-uh-pee-uh], according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, is “the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it (as buzz, hiss)”. Children love to imitate, so this aspect of poetry is very easy for them to access.

In my book, it’s Maxi’s first day of work and off he goes!

Max ZIPPED here.

He ZIPPED there.

He ZIPPED everywhere—

From the park, to the river,

And back to the square.

He ZOOMED up.

He ZOOMED down.

He ZOOMED all around town—

Splashing in every big puddle he found!

All over town Maxi gets filthy and he finally arrives at a carwash full of playful sounds. Onomatopoeia is one of the driving forces that keeps the story moving in a fun and engaging way.  For example, the spray at the car wash goes “pish-pish”, the scrubbers to “flip-flop”, and the suds go “blip-blop”.

I hope that adults enjoy the lyricism and onomatopoetic playfulness of this story as much as children do. When you’re done reading, you may want to engage in word play with the child in your life.

IMG_3152Car and Truck Onomatopoeia: Anyone who has seen children play with cars and trucks, has witnessed their innate ability to use onomatopoeia (honk, honk, beep, beep). When children naturally use onomatopoeia, adults can say, ”Oh my! That’s a fun sound! That’s sounds like a little poem.” Make sounds with the child.

Bath Time Onomatopoeia: Maxi the Little Taxi is a bath poem. When children play in the tub ask them to think of what sounds they hear. Ask: “What sound does the water make when you fill the tub? What sound do your feet make when you get in the water? What sound does is make when you use the soap? What sound does the drain make when the water goes down?” (Examples: Whoosh, plip plop, drip drop drip, rub a dub dub, gurgle gurgle.) Then say: “Let’s make a lot of bath noises all in a row to make a little poem!”

img_3853Rainy Day Onomatopoeia: A rainy day is the perfect time to play with onomatopoeia!  Ask: “What does the rain say when hits the roof? What does it sound like on the window, etc.  Let’s say those fun little sounds all in row and make a little poem.” ( Example: Drip drop..plippity plip,plicka plicka plick!)

Read more picture Books with Onomatopoeia. Type “Picture Books with Onomatopoeia” in your search bar and you will find many resources.

Thank you for reading my guest blog! I hope you enjoy reading Maxi the Little Taxi with the children in your lives and that you have fun nurturing their natural poetic sensibilities!

IMG_4008 (1)Elizabeth Upton is the author of Maxi the Little Taxi which was published by Scholastic Press in spring of 2016. Her poetry appears in the following collections by Lee Bennett Hopkins. 

Seasons, Margaret K. MacElderry Books (“Spring Sun” and “Summer Sun”)
Incredible Inventions, Greenwillow Books (“Ferris Wheel”)

Hamsters, Shells and Spelling Bees, Harper Collins [I Can Read! ] (“Show and Tell”)

For more information, please visit Elizabeth at Elizabethuptonauthor.com.

 

CREATING AND CONNECTING: One Picture Book Author’s Journey

laurasassi5In January the editor of my alumni magazined asked if I might be interested in writing a piece for their new essay series on the Princeton Alumni Weekly website called “Voices”.  My name came to his attention because of my blog (just in case you’ve ever been torn about the benefit vs. effort of keeping a blog), and he asked if I might be interested in writing something about my experiences as an author of children’s books.

I said yes.  And today that piece is live! Titled “Creating and Connecting: One Picture Book Author’s Journey”, the essay is about how my passion for story has opened my heart and broadened my sense of community.  I’d be honored if popped on over for a read. Happy reading all!

 

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Annie Silvestro in Celebration of the Release of her Debut Picture Book BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB!

bunnys-book-club-cover

Today I’m delighted to have children’s author, Annie Silvestro, as my guest. Annie and I met several years ago at the NJSCBWI annual conference and I’ve enjoyed following her (and cheering her on) in her writing journey.  Her debut picture book BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss and published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers, releases this month. The story of a book-loving bunny who sneaks into the town library and borrows books for all his forest friends, KIRKUS REVIEWS hails BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB as a “sweet salute to reading” . And in its review, PUBLISHERS’ WEEKLY states that Annie “makes the pleasures of reading abundantly clear.”  What’s abundantly clear to me is that Annie has a gift for charming storytelling. Welcome, Annie and let’s get started.

Your love of language is evident in BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB. How was that love developed?

Thank you for saying that! I have always been a reader and my love of language goes hand and hand with that. One of the many joys of reading is recognizing that perfect word, sentence, paragraph, or passage that stands out and elevates the story.

img_9517

Author Annie Silvestro as a child.

Did you always want to be a writer? Tell us a little bit about your writing journey. 

I have always loved children’s literature, but it took me a while to see myself as a writer. I first attempted to write down a beloved story that my father told me growing up. I failed at that, but the experience gave me the courage to keep trying and to come up with my own ideas. Once I found the SCBWI, it was a done deal.
Do you have writing advice for children? Adults? 

For children who are writing, my best advice would be to recognize that your first draft isn’t your only draft. Writing also means lots and lots of revision.

Good advice in general is to read as much as you can. Listen and observe the world around you. Ideas are everywhere. When you are lucky enough to get one, write it down! Just as quickly as ideas can appear, they tend to disappear as well.

 BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB is your debut picture book.  How does it feel to be “post-publication”!  What do you like best about this exciting new stage?

It is the most amazing feeling! So far the absolute best part has been photos that friends and family have sent of their kids holding or reading my book. It is surreal and wonderful and I haven’t fully wrapped my head around it. I am feeling all kinds of grateful, too, for the support I’ve received. It’s unbelievable.

img_9404

A young fan enjoying Annie’s book!

Finally, what’s the one question that you wished I’d asked but didn’t.  


I wish you had asked me about Picture the Books! Picture the Books is an incredible crew of debut authors and illustrators with books coming out in 2017. It is so fun to share this journey with such a talented group! You can find us all in one place and learn about our books and more here.
as-photoBio:
Annie Silvestro is a lover of books who reads and writes as much as possible and can often be found shuffling piles of them around so she has a place to sit or someplace to put her teacup. Her picture books include BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB, illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss (Doubleday Books for Young Readers), MICE SKATING, illustrated by Teagan White (Sterling, Fall 2017), and THE CHRISTMAS TREE WHO LOVED TRAINS, illustrated by Paola Zakimi (HarperCollins, Fall 2018). Annie lives by the beach in NJ with her husband and two boys who like to read, and a cat who does not. Visit Annie online at: www.anniesilvestro.com and on Twitter and Instagram: @anniesilvestro.

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

IMG_1837

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.

Guest Post: CHRISTMAS LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD – A Glimpse into the Book’s Dedication with Author Glenys Nellist

Bestselling Zonderkidz author Glenys Nellist has a new book out called CHRISTMAS LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD. Recommended for ages 4 – 8, this delightful picture book brings the significance and wonder of Christmas to life through seven vivid Bible retellings, each gorgeously illustrated by Rachel Clowes. Today, in celebration of the book’s recent release and as part of her blog tour,  I am honored to have Glenys as my guest. I know you will enjoy her reflections regarding the book’s dedication. Take it away, Glenys!

The only thing she ever wanted was a cottage. Instead, she got cancer.

I think about her a lot, especially since I’m the same age she was when she died. Fifty-seven. It’s no age at all.

My mum, like me, was born in a little town in northern England. How surprised she would have been to know that in 2000, I flew over the pond and emigrated to Michigan. She would have loved to visit me here. 

My mum lived a quiet, ordinary, hard-working life, managing to raise eight children, support her husband as he went to college to get his degree, and take care of a big old house. Hence her desire to live in a little cottage. But it wasn’t to be. She deserved so much—my mum. 

And so when my editor asked for my dedication for Christmas Love Letters from God, it was an easy choice. How could I dedicate it to anyone else but her—when she was the one who made every Christmas magical and memorable for me? 

Every Christmas morning, all eight of us would line up, according to age, outside the living room door. It was shut tight. My little brother, the youngest, was always the first to go in. I was fourth in line. It was an agonizing wait as we shifted from foot-to-foot, anxious to be able to peep around the door to see if ‘Father Christmas’ had been….and of course, he always had. The tell-tale bite in Rudolph’s carrot on the hearth gave it away, along with the few crumbs that remained of the mince pie we’d left for Father Christmas.

As we eight children peered expectantly around the door, the lights on our little Charlie Brown Christmas tree were always lit, the eight red socks dangling over the fireplace were always stuffed, and the room was completely bulging with toys, and tinsel, and presents piled high on every chair. It was a room full of love. That was my mum. And that was my Christmas morning. 

She never knew that I became a teacher, married a pastor and had four children of my own, or that we continued that fun tradition of lining up outside the living room door every Christmas morning. She never knew I became an author. But I hope she somehow knows that her name is on the very first page in Christmas Love Letters from God, where it so richly deserves to be.

christmas-ll-dedication

When you pick up that book, any book, turn to the author’s dedication and read it. You can be sure that whoever is mentioned there is a rich part of the author’s story, just like my wonderful mum was, and is, so much a part of mine.

Now for the GIVEAWAY!!!!! Zonderkidz is offering a free copy of CHRISTMAS LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD to one lucky winner. Thank you, Zonderkidz! If you’d like a chance to win a copy of this beautiful book, written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Rachel Clowes, simply post a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident with a street address (as opposed to a P.O. Box ) and be at least 18 years old to enter.) The contest ends Thursday, 11/24/16 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced next Friday. THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER.  To see the winner, press here.

author-photo

 

Bio: Coordinator of Children’s Ministry for the West Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church. Zondervan children’s book author of two popular series: Love Letters from God and Snuggle Time. Glenys is a writer with a passion for God, her family, and children’s ministry. Check out her blog tour here.  Enjoy the book trailer here.  

Find out more about Glenys and her books here:

 

GUEST POST: We Don’t Grow Up, We Just GROW (Thoughts on READ ALOUD TIME) with Juliana Tyson Kissick

I am so excited to have Juliana Tyson Kissick as my guest today. We recently reconnected on Facebook, but I first met her when she was in fourth grade! She was my student. Just take a peek at that adorable class, gathered joyfully around our Thanksgiving project that year. She’s seated in the center with a very young Mrs. Sassi standing behind her.  And there she is working hard. She’s also represented by one of the little birds depicted in the delightful card my mom made for me that school year. The card is dated 1995 and the note I found with it reads:

“Mom made a terrific birthday card depicting an early January day in the new classroom. It was pouring and the power went out. I kept the kids entertained until their parents came by reading. It was a treacherous day with lots of flooding and rain.”

READ ALOUD TIME.  It was my favorite part of the day and it happened every day, right after lunch.  Actually, I think it was everyone’s favorite part of the day – a chance to be transported by storytelling to magical worlds, faraway places and different times.  And I AM THRILLED that Juliana has agreed to share a little bit about what reading books aloud has meant to her over the years.  Take it away, Juliana!

unnamedWhen Laura invited me to write on the topic of reading aloud to children in the classroom, I felt an immediate surge of energy run through my gut. It was as if my soul were demanding I leap through the computer screen, exclaiming, “There is nothing more important than reading to children in schools!!” — a good indicator that I probably had something to say on the matter. And what I came to realize over the course of writing out my reflections was how valuable and multi-faceted the benefits of “story time” really are… and most certainly not just for children.  It’s like my Jewish, anecdotally-driven father always tells me (quoting the magnificent poet, Muriel Rukeyser), “The universe, Juliana, is made of stories, not of atoms.”

————————————————

Story time. Is there a more cherished, enchanted hour in the world of a young person? The Phantom Tollbooth, Charlotte’s Web, The Boxcar Children, Little House On the Prairie, A Wrinkle in Time, Where the Red Fern Grows, The Giver…  I can remember every. single. book that was read to me (or that my classmates and I read aloud to each other) over the course of my elementary schooling. I LIVED for story time. And it wasn’t just because “story time” equated not doing math (something I still avoid, sorry Laura). No, story time wasn’t just an easy out…that’s what recess was for. And it wasn’t just because I was somewhat of a doctoral candidate in the esteemed academic discipline of Class Clownery and more or less couldn’t wait until I was allowed to give a personality (a British accent) to letters on a page… ok fine, maybe it was a LITTLE bit about that (I’m not British, for the record). But really, truly, at the heart of my love for story time was my love for adventure and meaning, adventure beyond the physical entrapments of my birthed circumstances and the moral lessons to help me make sense of it all. Story time was everything I dreamed this life could be and opened my eyes to what it already was… in other words, story time was church. It was spiritual. It transcended me. It was a gathering, a listening, an intuiting, a shared emotional rite of passage that didn’t have a right or a wrong answer. You couldn’t get a check minus in story time. You only had to be a person. And that, dear ones, is why the gift of telling story is just that–a gift. It validates the complexity of our humanity and the diverse range of our experiences, and all we have to do is breathe and listen. 

Unlike reading alone, the experience of being read to (or reading to someone) transforms written narrative into a conversation between heartstrings. When characters are given voice, when a scene depiction is read with purpose and conviction and tone, suddenly this is now a world and these are now living beings that are taking up physical and emotional space in our lives. It becomes real. And when something becomes real, like all the greatest of fiction has taught us, we conjure empathy and compassion. The characters don’t need to look like us, or talk like us, live in our hometown…heck they don’t even have to live on this planet. Story makes everything, and everyone, a worthy subject of our love and understanding. And oh how this world could use a whole lot more of that.

Just yesterday one of my best friends mentioned to me that she and her husband were reading the Harry Potter series to one other before they went to sleep… and I couldn’t help but get wholly and utterly inspired to treat my own grown-up self with the same kind of joy and validation I gave my story-loving, story-needing child self. We don’t really grow up, you see. We just grow. 

Blessings and giggles,

Juliana 

20150408_goodjuju_portraits-057Bio: It probably won’t surprise you to know that Juliana grew up to become a storyteller. She’s a multiple Ovation-nominated choreographer, actor, dancer, and founding member of Los Angeles’ very own Boom Kat Dance Theatre. After over a decade of performing professionally in Southern California, Juliana moved to San Francisco with her husband (and former boy across the literal street), Ryan. It was upon the move to Northern California that Juliana tapped into her love of visual art to further her storytelling career. In 2014, Juliana founded Good Juju Ink, an illustration design company dedicated to spreading “good juju” one funny-but-tender illustration at a time. Good Juju Ink’s greeting cards are sold online at www.goodjujuink.com and at Paper Source locations nationwide. 

2016_springsummerbanner1-copy

GUEST POST: On Revising and Never Giving Up with Tami Charles

resized_20160923_114308_resized

Today I am delighted to have children’s author Tami Charles as my guest.  Tami and I first met at a NJSCBWI gathering at a local tea shop.  She was in the midst of revising her first novel,  LIKE VANESSA (Charlesbridge 2018).  This summer, again, we organized our own little writers’ retreat and  spent a lovely day on my porch (and inside, too ,because it was dreadfully hot) revising our current works-in-progess.  Disciplined, smart and funny- she knows her stuff.  Take it away, Tami!

So, you wrote a picture book. You received feedback from your critique partners. Your agent has given it her stamp of approval. She submits it to editors and you sit back and wait for the offers pour in. New York Times Bestseller list here you come!

But then, the unthinkable happens…

(Cue horror film music.) 

Radio.

Silence.

Several months pass, your hair turns grayer, and the rejections start rolling in—nice ones, albeit. The feedback from the editors is pretty much the same, and you just know what you have to do…revise.

Revisions can sometimes be painful, especially when you’ve already revised your manuscript many times over. But there’s no time for wallowing. It’s time to put a new spin on your story and here’s how to get ‘er done:

Step 1: Take your old manuscript, ball it up, and throw it in the trash. Follow this cathartic moment with a beverage of your choice.  (Iced, skinny caramel latte, anyone?)

Step 2: Go back to the trash and take out your manuscript, silly goose! (Then wash your hands, please!)

Step 3: Strap on your big kid boots and get ready to freshen up your manuscript. Clearly, it was good enough to be subbed out in the first place. It just needs more work. So here are a few tricks to get the ball rolling:

  • Gobble up those mentor texts. Read as many books as possible that fit the theme of your story. Sure, you probably read comp titles when you first wrote your story, but that was a long time ago.  There are new books on the shelves waiting to be explored. Read them. Study them.
  • Rewrite your story in a different verb tense. Is your original manuscript written in past tense? Try writing it in the present. Or take a risk and write it in future tense. Don’t be afraid to experiment with verb tense until your story feels shiny and new.
  • Change the point of view. Did you write your story in third person POV? Consider switching to first person. This will give your reader insight into how all the characters are feeling—not just one.  You could also try second person POV, which if done right, can be an enjoyable reading experience. There are several books that do this well. Some of my favorites are: “Warning: Do Not Open This Book” by Adam Lehrhaupt and “How to Raise a Dinosaur” by Natasha Wing.
  • Rethink your setting. I speak from experience on this one. A few years ago, I shopped around a picture book that had only one setting. Agent feedback was basically the same. Can the characters go somewhere else besides the kitchen, so that the story doesn’t feel stagnant? Challenge accepted. After many revisions (and several lattes), I created additional settings to help move the story along. And guess what? I got an offer! Hooray! Try this tip and thank me later.

Step 4: Submit and MOVE ON! Once you’ve done the necessary revisions, go out on another round of submissions. It may take a while, but trust me, your “yes” is waiting. Use the down time to work on your next manuscript.

Here’s the hard truth: The kidlit universe is a tough industry to crack. Whatever you do, do not give up. You are full of stories and the world needs to hear them. I wish you productivity, creativity, and lots of luck as you revise.

tami-charles-author-2

BIO: Recovering teacher. Amateur gardener. Debut author. Tami Charles writes picture books, middle grade, young adult, nonfiction, and enjoys the occasional work-for-hire project. Her middle grade novel, LIKE VANESSA, debuts with Charlesbridge in spring, 2018. She also recently sold two picture books, but can’t spill the beans just yet! For 14 years, Tami served as a public school educator but now writes full time. She is represented by Lara Perkins, of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and lives in Central New Jersey with her husband, son, and a family of deer who take pleasure in annihilating her garden.

Connect with Tami on Facebook,  Twitter and at her website: http://www.tamiwrites.com

 

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: “A Handful of Books” – Miranda Paul and her picture book 10 LITTLE NINJAS

 

Miranda Paul has a new picture book out with Knopf Books for Young Readers.  It’s called  10 LITTLE NINJAS and, today, in celebration of its recent release,  I am honored to have her as my guest. I know you will enjoy her reflections regarding the book’s dedication. Take it away, Miranda!

It’s unusual to have five books release within 18 months, especially when they’re your first five, and picture books. 19 months ago, no one could walk in a store and pick up one of my titles. With the recent release of 10 Little Ninjas, there are now five—a whole handful—on the shelf. Phrased that way, I can understand why some people might try and lump me into the “overnight success” category. People mean well, and I know their intentions are good. But when I reflect on the journey to publishing children’s books—decades since working on my first literary journal—it’d be hard to phrase it such a way. Even my latest book, 10 Little Ninjas, had a meandering path.

10 Little Ninjas began as an idea when my youngest child was in his high chair (he’s now going into second grade). I finished the first solid draft of it in 2012 or 2013, and my agent promptly advised me to “hold off” on it. Big bummer. But instead of getting upset or mad (for more than a day, anyway), I went to work. I revised it over the next 18 months—with critique help from veterans such as Linda Skeers and Kelly DiPucchio—and decided to send it back to my agent. This time, it was a go.

After several rejections, we had a bite. An editor loved it. But the marketing/sales team wanted some revisions. I ended up rewriting it three times—I always, always take a stab at a revision request—and then watched it get dropped after acquisitions. In a Hail Mary pass, it went to an editor at Knopf who was so new there, she hadn’t yet acquired a single manuscript.

The manuscript (which now had three distinctly different versions) was revised a few more times, including going back to the original manuscript’s ending, which turned out to be best of all. It took a couple of months to find a great illustrator—Disney Pixar animator Nate Wragg—and then the process of developing the book began.

ninjas_astronaut spread_9

It’s very easy for me to tell stories like these to kids, showing them my file folder with more than 30 drafts of a single work, or the pile of rejection slips. They understand what it’s like every single day to not get what they want, to struggle and work at something, or to have ideas turned down. They want to feel included, to be praised, and most importantly, to feel loved.

10 Little Ninjas is a fun bedtime book at its core. It’s a romp, a rhyme, and a celebration of kids’ imagination and the chaos of parenting. Nate Wragg’s illustrations capture a multi-racial family, which I am excited to see in part because it parallels my own immediate family (kids don’t always look like their parents or their siblings, and it’s nice to see more books reflect that). As writers, our career and work is so public, and yet…so personal.

Each time you publish a book, an editor will ask you for the book’s dedication. Dedications are special, so for 10 Little Ninjas I chose to include my Grandma D. She passed away eight years ago, after battling cancer on and off for a decade. If there was ever a soul who knew how to wrangle toddlers into bed (and how to love them without question), it was she—who gave birth to seven of her own kids plus took in fourteen foster babies over the years. The book is also dedicated to my parents-in-law, who raised ten of their own children—without running water or TV—and now have more than thirty five grand and great-grandchildren.

ninjas_dedication

Some people will gloss over or miss entirely a book’s dedication page. But I love reading them, along with the acknowledgements and author’s notes. These small parts of a book are a window into how much time, how many people, and how much perseverance goes into making a great book—even one that’s only a couple hundred words. Books with layers, the ones that you can read again and again and get something new each time, are my favorite. I hope others will find that layered love within books, and cherish them. Happy reading!

miranda_paul_headshot

Miranda Paul is an award-winning children’s book author who visits schools and libraries frequently. Her June release, Trainbots (little bee books), received national buys from multiple chains, including the organic grocery giant Whole Foods. Her newest release, 10 Little Ninjas, is an Amazon Best Book of the Month for August. View the book trailer, made by her own daughter, on YouTube and be sure to visit her online at www.mirandapaul.com.

 

AND NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!!!  If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of 10 LITTLE NINJAS (Knopf Books for Young Readers, August 2016) leave a comment below.  (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Sunday, 8/21/16 at 11:59 pm EST. THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER.  Press here to see the winner.