WHEN YOUR ELEPHANT HAS THE SNIFFLES: Eight Extension Activities for LITTLE ONES

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This week I’m delighted to be a part of Susanna Leonard Hill’s multi-picture book blog tour with eight extension activities to celebrate this month’s release of Susanna’s ADORABLE new board book WHEN YOUR ELEPHANT HAS THE SNIFFLES, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman and published by Little Simon. My kids would have loved this story at bedtime – simple, sweet… and FUNNY! And I love the board book format – just the right size for little hands! Now, without further ado, treat yourself the book trailer created by Susanna!  (She is so multi-talented!). Then help yourself to a rich serving of book themed extension activities perfect for 2 – 4 year olds.

EIGHT Extension Activites for WHEN YOUR ELEPHANT HAS THE SNIFFLES

IMG_50631. Pretend YOUR stuffie has the sniffles.  Little ones love extending a story through play.  So, have them grab their favorite stuffy, or stuffies, and pretend they have the sniffles. What antics will they go through to keep their sniffly stuffies from sneezing!

 2. Create your own shadow puppets.  One of the fun ways the child in the story entertains her elephant is by showing him how to make shadow puppets.  After reading the story, you, too, can create shadow puppets.  All you need is a flashlight, your arms and hands, and a blank wall. Don’t forget to dim the light so you get good shadows. 

3. Cover your sneeze, please!  Use this fun, playful story as an opportunity to teach your little one about how sneezes spread germs. Then, together, pretend you are elephants.  Using one arm as your trunk, pretend to have a great big sneeze, but instead of spreading that sneeze around, catch it in the crook of your trunk (arm).

4. Make a SNIFFLE list. After giggling over all the ways the little girl cares for her elephant when he has the sniffles, have your child list – using words or pictures – all the things he/she likes to do on quiet, stay-at-home sniffly days.

Version 35. Decorate elephant cookies.  I found an elephant cookie cutter at my local kitchen shop, but making your own template out of tagboard would be easy enough. Then mix up your favorite sugar cookie and icing recipes and decorate some elephants. The question is, do your cookie creatures have the sniffles?

6. Make and send a “Get Well” Sniffle Card. Does your child know anyone who has the sniffles or who is sick?  Extend the story experience and foster kindness by taking out the markers and creating a get-well card for that special someone. 

7. Make elephant crafts.  The internet is full of elephant-themed craft ideas. Here’s a great post from the lifestyle and parenting blog Living Off Love and Coffee to get you started: 25 Cute and Easy Elephant Crafts for Kids.

8. Let your child “reread” the story using picture clues. Reading the pictures is a great pre-reading skill because it encourages interacting with the page. With that in mind, let your child “read” the story to you, using the pictures to tell the story.

To learn more about Susanna Leonard Hill, visit her website.  

Finally, a little reminder from Susanna: Don’t forget to share this post using #whenyourbooks!  Every time you post with #whenyourbooks you get an entry in her end-of-tour raffle for a Special Prize!

HAPPY READING ALL!

 

 

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.

 

 

GOOD NEWS: Picture Book Deal!

DIVA announcement pic

I’ve been keeping this to myself for some time now, but the announcement ran in Publishers Weekly today, so I think I can finally let loose my vibrato!

Per their announcement, DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE is “an ode to artistic collaboration, starring an opera-loving mouse who wants to help and the diva who thinks she deserves bigger help than a mouse.” It’s scheduled for publication by Sterling Children’s Books in Spring 2018 and is illustrated by British illustrator Rebecca Gerlings. I’ve already seen sketches and several spreads and I am over the moon with delight!  I can’t wait for this book to release!

For the official announcement, press here.

Those of you who have enjoyed participating in Tara Lazar’s STORYSTORM, formerly known as PICTURE BOOK IDEA MONTH, might be encouraged know that this was the very first idea on my 2011 PiBoIdMo list! It took several years and many, many revisions until it was finally ready to submit, but persistence (and patience) paid off!

Happy Thursday all!

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. 

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: A Chat with Laurie Wallmark in Celebration of her Latest Release – GRACE HOPPER: QUEEN OF COMPUTER CODE

Grace cover 100dpi 3x4

Today I’m delighted to have children’s author, Laurie Wallmark, as my guest. Laurie and I met several years ago at the NJSCBWI annual conference, and I’ve been impressed by her passion for highlighting the careers and lives of notable women in the science field.  Her first book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, 2015), celebrated the life of a 19th-century female mathematician who is considered to be the world’s first computer programmer.  Her newest book, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (Sterling, 2017) celebrates the life of Grace Hopper, a 20th century female trailblazer in the field of computer programming.  Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code is engaging, informative, and fun and has already earned strong reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and more. Welcome, Laurie and let’s get started.

Q: What inspired you to write Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code?

A: Since I teach computer science and am a former programmer, the early years of computing fascinate me. Grace was among the first computer scientists. I’m amazed at how her insight and creativity shaped the world of computers today

Q: There are so many fun – and fascinating – moments in this delightful picture book biography, including one particularly amusing moment involving a bug. What was your research process like? Were there any amazing moments where you discovered something completely new to you? 

A: It’s interesting that you ask about that computer bug. I had always heard that Grace discovered a moth in a computer relay, which caused her to coin the word “bug.” Well in doing the research, it turns out neither part of this sentence is quite true. Grace was not the person who discovered the bug, but rather someone on her team did. And as far back as Thomas Edison, the word “bug” was used to describe a glitch in a mechanical device. Grace was the first person to use the term “computer bug,” though. This is why research is so important when writing nonfiction for children.

Q: Most of your text is written in creative nonfiction, but on many spreads you also have special text that is set apart in large and colorful fonts. Can you share with us why you chose this distinction? 

A: Grace was known for her witty sayings, and the set-apart text contains some of the most interesting ones. Because not all of her quotations would easily fit as part of the story, we chose to separate them out like this.

Q: Katy Wu’s illustrations really enhance your text. I love the mid-century funky feel she creates in each spread.  What was it like to work with Katy?

A: In general, and that was true in this case, the author doesn’t work directly with the illustrator. Instead, my notes and suggestions went through my editor and the art director. I provided Katy with lots of pictures of Grace, computer equipment, and even a math problem to show on the blackboard. I was fortunate that Sterling solicited my opinions on the illustrations. That’s not common.

Q: Finally, teachers and parents are always looking for ways to tie picture books into the curriculum, and I think that’s especially true for a STEM rich book like this. Do you have any extension activities your readers might enjoy? 

A: On the teacher page of my website (http://www.lauriewallmark.com/teachers.php), I have a discussion guide for use with this book. Among other things, it includes the following activity:

Is there some gadget or gizmo you wish existed? Write the name of your invention and what it does on a blank sheet a paper. Draw a picture of what your invention might look like. Share you invention with your classmates and describe how it works. Listen as they explain about their own inventions.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Laurie.  I wish you the best with this remarkable new book.

Laurie-Wallmark-100dpi-4x6BIO:

Award-winning author Laurie Wallmark’s debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine (Creston Books, 2015), received four starred trade reviews (Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and School Library Journal) and several national awards, including Outstanding Science Trade Book and the Eureka Award. It is a Cook Prize Honor Book. Her recently released picture book biography, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code (Sterling Children’s Books, 2017), earned a Kirkus star and was well-reviewed in several trade journals. Laurie has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from VCFA. When not writing, she teaches computer science at Raritan Valley Community College.

Click here to join Laurie as she travels from blog to blog to introduce her picture book biography, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code.

Follow Laurie on:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laurie.wallmark
Twitter: @lauriewallmark
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/lauriewallmark/

 

SOUR WASH CLOTHS: Wringing Out Our Stories to Perfection!

IMG_4272Nothing made my mother’s nose crinkle more than the smell of a sour washcloth. Her sense of smell was so strong that she claimed she could detect the scent of a sour wash cloth on a man’s face in an elevator. I’m a nose crinkler too, though I confess I’m not quite that discriminating.

Still, she trained me well and I so do my very best to remedy any and all sour wash cloth situations in our family.

The steps are simple and straightforward. First, to prevent a sour situation from the get-go, be sure to thoroughly wring out each wash cloth immediately after using.  Second, never put a damp wash cloth in the hamper. Instead, hang it to air day in a spot with plenty of ventilation.  Third, if you do discover a sour wash cloth, hope is not lost. You can do one of two things:  boil it, or get it wet, wring it out, and immediately zap it on high in the microwave for two minutes. (This works for sour sponges, as well.)

I’m thankful my mother left me so equipped with strategies for handling these nose-crinkling moments. I must also admit, however, that the very idea of sniffing out those sour smells, has gotten me thinking about writing.  After all nothing, and I mean nothing, pulls the reader out of the story more than a sour story moment.  Here, then, are four sour story moments that I am working diligently to wring out of my pieces before stepping into any elevators.  Get your noses ready!

Off Kilter Rhythm and Rhyme:  Nothing crinkles this reader’s nose faster than poorly executed rhyming text.  The hard truth is that telling a story well in rhyme is hard. Not only must the rhyming be perfect, so must the meter.  To shine, the rhymes must be unexpected and not forced and the sentence structure should never be inverted to make the rhyme work.  Also, to be effective, the content of the poem or story must always come first.

Story Stoppers: This is a sour source I’ve been working hard to eliminate a lot lately.  So, what’s a story stopper?  A story stopper is anything that takes the reader out of the moment, that removes them from the world you have created in your story.  It could be inconsistency of voice, or a plot moment so unbelievable that it makes the reader stop mid sentence. Perhaps it’s simply a word or phrase that feels out of character for a particular story’s world.  It could also be a grammatical gaffe or an erroneous assumption or fact that makes the reader question the whole world you’ve created.

Too Much Description: In early elementary school my kids were taught to make their sentences pop by adding vivid adjectives and adverbs. This strategy works well for that age group. However, as adults, with full-grown vocabularies, our sentence popping strategy needs to shift from descriptive to active. Instead of “ big heavy rock”  try “boulder” or “chunk”. Instead of “walk slowly” how about “amble” or “traipse”  or “poke”. With well-chosen nouns and verbs, pieces for youngest readers will pop without being overly wordy.

Heavy-handed Message: In my opinion, a heavy-handed message zaps a story of all fun and naturalness. (I’m embarrassed, in fact, in hindsight, at how heavy-handed the earliest stories I submitted to magazines were.)  All good stories, of course, by their very nature, have some sort of take-away but, when done well, the message is subtle and the story comes first.

Now it’s your turn.  What sour wash cloth story moments would you add to this nose-crinkling list? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Happy Writing Monday, all!

READ. DISCUSS. DO! New Social Media Campaign Celebrates READING and BEYOND!

RDDMooseThis week my author friend Rebecca J. Gomez (WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? (Atheneum, 2015) and HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016)) shared with me a  wonderful new reading campaign she and her co-author Corey Rosen Schwartz are working on called Read. Discuss. Do!

Read. Discuss. Do! (hashtag #ReadDiscussDo) celebrates reading beyond the book by creating sharable images that give simple ideas for book related discussions and activities. Rebecca got the the idea after creating an image specifically for their co-authored book WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? (pictured above) in the hopes that it would encourage people to think beyond the story when reading with kids. However, when Corey saw the original image, she and Rebecca decided it would be fun to take the idea further and include other authors and their books!

That’s when Rebecca contacted me to see if I’d like to create a short #ReadDiscussDo activity for GOODNIGHT, ARK.  I replied, yes, of course. And so Rebecca created an image for my book as well. Thank you, Rebecca.  The format is similar to her original except she’s replaced her website address with the hashtag #ReadDiscussDo.

RDD Goodnight ArkRebecca hopes this fun reading initiative and social media campaign will really take off, reaching parents, caregivers, teachers, librarians and more.

How can authors, parents, teachers, or librarians get involved?  By tweeting and retweeting and sharing on Facebook, Pinterest etc. using the hashtag #ReadDiscussDo. We can also post story time tips using that same hashtag.  Rebecca will also be creating more sharable images for other books. If you’d like to learn more, contact Rebecca via the “School Visits” tab of her website.

Finally, I’ll end with a little hashtag hunt.  Head on over to Twitter or Facebook, type in #ReadDiscussDo and see what you find.  Have fun!

REVISION REQUEST! HOORAY! Now What? (One Author’s To-Do List)

I’ve been so busy revising a picture book manuscript this past week, per an editor’s request (yay!), that I didn’t think I’d have time to write a blog post. Then I realized it might be interesting and maybe helpful if I shared my process.  So, here’s a list of what I have done over the last several days.

  1. Printed out a fresh, clean copy of the story I’d submitted.
  2. Read and re-read it several times, over a period of a day or two.
  3. Pulled up every earlier version of the story in question and read and re-read each as well looking for nuggets to possibly re-work into my revision.
  4. Brainstormed revision ideas in my notebook and recorded snippets of inspiration – possible new rhyme pairings and plot escalations – using the notes feature on my iPhone.
  5. In several sessions, separated by self-imposed time filters (i.e. walks, dishes, school work etc.) I wrote and rewrote until I had something I felt good about.
  6. Sent my revision-in-progress to a couple of trusted critique partners.
  7. Repeated step five and six as needed (and it was definitely much needed).
  8. Celebrated with a happy dance when, at last, I had a revision that I was really happy with.
  9. Resisted urge to send it right away to my agent – knowing that one extra time-filter can never hurt.
  10. Spent afternoon diverting myself by volunteering at our local history museum’s Sheep to Shawl Festival.  That littlest one is only two days old, by the way.
  11. Finally, after one more read through, I wrote a note to my agent and got my revised story ready to email first thing Monday  morning.

What would you add to the list?  Happy revising!

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!

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.