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Happy Book Birthday, Hippy-Hoppy Toad!


It's Spring! Happy Book Birthday to A Hippy-Hoppy Toad!

In the spring of 2013, five years ago, I had the first ‘toad sighting’ that would lead to the debut of my newest picture book, A HIPPY-HOPPY TOAD. Who knew then what a journey that little toad would take me on!

Journey #1 was the walk that my husband and I took through the park that day. After an early morning rain we decided it was a perfect day for a walk, and headed out to Quail Ridge Park in Wentzville, Missouri. The sun was out and the air felt good. The path winds past fields and trees, around playgrounds and picnic areas. At a shady area on the path was a big wet spot, what was left of a puddle that had not yet dried in the sun. And in the middle sat a teeny, tiny toad. For the rest of the walk my mind was on that ‘teeny, tiny toad’ sitting in the ‘middle of a puddle in the middle of the road!’

Journey #2 came the following year on another warm spring morning, when we walked the same path with our grandson—listening to the sounds of new toads, stopping at the playgrounds, and reading the storybook posted around the lake. This time we ventured off onto a dirt path by the lake and discovered hundreds of tiny, hippy, hoppy toads that had been camouflaged by the dirt and leaves! Later, after convincing our grandson that it was not a good idea to take a wild toad home for a pet, Toad’s own journey began.

Journey #3 was the story of a “Toad in the Road,” which later became A HIPPY-HOPPY TOAD. From the ‘middle of a puddle in the middle of a road’ the little toad flew to a ‘raggy-shaggy tree’ to a flower and other places in the park, meeting new characters along the way. As the story grew, my own journey as an author grew as well.

Journey #4 is the journey that I took as an author with ‘Toad.’. A journey that still continues! Here are a few of the highlights.

It took about a year and a half for me to finish the first draft of “Toad in the Road.” After multiple revisions and getting feedback from my critique groups, it was finally ready to send out into the publishing world.

I submitted it for a critique at the Missouri SCBWI fall conference in 2014 and it got the attention of an agent there. Eventually it was rejected because they ‘weren’t taking on many poetry or picture book texts.’

I continued to revise and play with the language and the rhythm in the story, and to get feedback from my friends who write for children.

In 2015 I submitted “Toad in the Road” for the SCBWI Work-in-Progress (WIP) grant. I’d submitted other manuscripts for the WIP grant before, and knew it was a long shot. But I thought it couldn’t hurt to try again, with a new manuscript. At the same time, I signed up for the KS/MO SCBWI fall conference, and a critique with agent Kirsten Hall. I decided to send TOAD for my critique. And that’s when things started to ‘hop’ forward.

In September I received an email from Steve Mooser, one of the founders of SCBWI, that “Toad in the Road” had won the WIP grant for picture book text! I was stunned. And thrilled! Now what!? I would have to wait a bit and they would create a secure website where they would post the winning manuscripts and invite editors to read them.

The next month at the SCBWI conference I met Kirsten Hall of Catbird Productions. She critiqued “Toad in the Road” and asked about my other manuscripts. We seemed to hit it off, and I enjoyed getting to know her over those couple of days.

Later that month SCBWI posted the winning WIP manuscripts on their new website, and on our way to vacation in Tennessee I received an email from Anne Schwartz (yes, Anne Schwartz!) at Schwartz & Wade saying that they wanted to publish my manuscript!

Kirsten and I had been in touch after the conference, and over the next three days I had an agent and an acceptance for my book from Schwartz & Wade! A few months later I found out that the illustrator would be the amazing Anne Wilsdorf.

I was looking forward to working with my new publisher, and was assigned to an absolutely wonderful editor at Schwartz & Wade—another Ann. I knew that she would have ideas and suggestions for edits in the manuscript that would make it even better, and I was right. Many of her suggestions were small things that would make a big difference. I have absolutely loved working with her!

In the spring of 2017 I finally had a publication date—March 20, 2018!

Since then many exciting things have come Toad’s way which I’ve shared on the book page for A HIPPY-HOPPY TOAD here on my website. I hope you’ll follow along!

If you live near St. Louis or near Crown Point or Valparaiso in Indiana, check out my author appearances on the left of this page. I’d love to meet you if you have time to stop by to say hello!

Happy Book Birthday, A HIPPY-HOPPY TOAD!
And Happy Book Birthday to all the SCBWI members with books coming out this month!

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Success—How Do You Measure Up?


What does ‘success’ mean to you? For some, success might be measured by the number of manuscripts that they finish in a month, by how many words they write a day, or how many rejections they get each year. Or it might be measured by how many manuscripts they sell or how much money they make. And for others it may be more personal.

Whatever means you use to measure your success, it needs to help you move forward in some way. And different things work for different people. Let’s look at a few ways used to measure success.

Amount of time spent writing each week. Whether you count the number of hours spent writing, or the number of words you write, you need to write to be a writer! The more you write, the better you get at it. Success comes with time spent writing.

Tip: Combine your time spent writing with time spent reading books in the genre that you write. You will increase your understanding of children’s books and writing them, and increase your success level.

Tip: Do what works best for you. Someone once said, “If you don’t write every day, you will never succeed as a writer.” Every piece of advice that I read said that you need to write every day. I rebelled! My family came first, and I would write when I could—and succeed!

Then I read something in a writing magazine that validated me as a writer. It said to compare how important your writing is to something else that you love to do. Then spend the same amount of time writing as you spend doing that other thing. I loved my job as a nurse. I was working two days a week. I knew that I could spend two days a week writing if I put it on the calendar. Once I started, I usually exceeded that. And if ‘life happened’ and I didn’t get those two days in, I didn’t let it get to me.

Number of manuscripts completed. A finished manuscript is a huge success! You’ve stuck with it! You’ve written a story with a beginning that catches the reader’s attention, an exciting middle, and you’ve tied everything up at the end. Success comes with following through, all the way to the end.

Tip: All manuscripts start with a first draft. Finish your first draft, all the way to the end, resisting the urge to go back and edit before you’re finished. Then pick the one(s) that you just can’t stop thinking about to polish and revise!

Tip: If you don’t already belong to a critique group, join one now! Having another pair of eyes and ears is invaluable, and you can learn from other’s experiences.

Number of rejections received. Some writers count success by the number of rejections they’ve received. Some even set a goal of getting so many rejections per year! Rejections mean that you’re sending your work out. They mean that you’ve been finishing what you’ve started!

Tip: Make a list of places to send your manuscript, so that when you receive a rejection, your manuscript won’t sit in the drawer until you decide where to send it next.

Tip: After a manuscript receives three to four rejections, take another look at it with fresh eyes. Is there some place where you can revise and make it better?

Manuscripts sold and money made. Some writers measure their success by the number of manuscripts they’ve sold or how much money they’ve made. It’s good to celebrate those accomplishments! But instead of celebrating each small success, some writers may feel disappointed that their success is not bigger. Having your work accepted by a magazine or a publisher is a huge success, no matter how big or small the sale! It validates what you do and encourages you to keep on!

Tip: Celebrate each success, big or small! Enjoy a day off with your family or friends. Or just have a piece of chocolate!

More Tips for Success:

*Set realistic goals. Start with something small. Starting with small, attainable goals will give you a sense of accomplishment, and keep you from getting discouraged.

*Don’t get discouraged if you fail to meet your goals. Do the best you can. Life happens. Just pick yourself up and start again!

* Celebrate! Once you’ve accomplished your goal, reward yourself with a small treat—a piece of candy, an outing with friends or family, or some time to yourself.

*Re-evaluate your goals and set the bar a little higher. Re-evaluating and setting higher goals along the way will give you a push to work toward that higher goal, and one day you’ll be celebrating that book acceptance!

Decide what ‘success’ means to you.
Some things that make me feel successful as an author are these:
When I see a child enjoying a book that I’ve written.
When I ‘connect’ with students at an author visit.
If another writer is encouraged by something that I said.

My favorite quote, and one that I truly believe in, is this:
Many years from now it will not matter what my worldly possessions had been. What will really matter is that I was important... in the life of a child.


Some definitions:
Success:
favorable or desired outcome
Success: achieving whatever in this life will bring you joy, satisfaction and meaning
Success: (insert your own definition here)
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Meet Sue Gallion, Picture Book Author!


I met Sue Gallion last year when the Missouri and Kansas chapters of SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) were talking about merging into one chapter. At that time, Sue was the Regional Advisor for Kansas SCBWI, and her first picture book, PUG MEETS PIG was just coming out. Her delightful characters in the Pug & Pig books have taken her on an exciting journey. In 2013, PUG MEETS PIG received the Most Promising Picture Book Manuscript award from SCBWI. And both books have received starred reviews. PUG & PIG TRICK-OR-TREAT was just released this summer.

Congratulations, Sue! Tell us a little bit about your Pug & Pig books. What was your inspiration? Why a pig and a dog!?

Hi, Peggy! Thanks for the invitation! Both Pug and Pig books were sparked by events in real life. A friend of mine’s daughter owned a pug, named Charlotte. The family then adopted a rescue pig, and named him, of course, Wilbur. I heard lots of stories about Charlotte and Wilbur from my friend during our water aerobics class, and I liked the way the words “pug” and “pig” sounded together. When the family had to find a new home for Wilbur because Charlotte never warmed up to him, the story came together!

Pug’s personality is very similar to my black lab mix, Tucker. The Halloween story idea came from Tucker’s reaction to the dog next door dressed in a glow-in-the-dark skeleton costume.

How did you find your editor? What can you tell us about your ‘road to publication’?

I am one of the many SCBWI success stories! When I signed up for a manuscript critique of Pug Meets Pig at the LA SCBWI conference in 2013, Allyn Johnston of Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster critiqued it and was interested in a revision, which sold about a month later. But my “road” to writing for kids began in 2006 when I took a children’s literature class at a local community college.

How did you acquire your agent?

Liza Voges of Eden Street Literary is my agent. That agent search is one of the most challenging parts of this business to me. In my experience, there are no shortcuts. You need to all the research you can to query agents who you think would be a good fit for your work. I do think it’s important for picture book authors to have several manuscripts that haven’t been submitted to editors to share with potential agents.

What made you want to become a children’s author?

I clearly remember my older sister reading Little House in the Big Woods to herself, which made me determined to learn to read that book, too. My dreams as a child included being Jo March in my garret. Then I majored in journalism and worked for corporations and non-profits as a writer and in public relations. When my kids were born, I loved reading to them and was always happy to read “just one more.” And now I get to read (and buy!) books for two little grandsons!

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

I am a great procrastinator and will do anything else except write. But then there’s that feeling -- when you’re working on something and it seems to click, it is such a thrill.

What encouragement helped you along the way?

The encouragement of other writers and illustrators has been invaluable. This is such a crazy business, and most of us need advice, affirmation, and honesty (even when it hurts) from other creative people. The joy has to come from seeing your own work improve and turning an idea into a manuscript. It’s also a thrill to see other people’s work become books!

Where do you turn for instruction and inspiration?

I am in a three-person critique group with Ann Ingalls and Jody Jensen Shaffer. I continue to learn so much from Ann and Jody as well as many other authors and illustrators in our region and elsewhere, and I’ve been lucky to go to a number of SCBWI conferences and workshops. Some of the online resources I find most helpful are Picture Book Builders, ReFoReMo, and Tara Lazar’s blog. I check out stacks of current picture books, too.

Do you have any advice for beginning children’s writers?

Read, read, read current books (published within the last three to five years) in the genre you are working in. When you find an author whose work you particularly like, read all their books. Read books featured in the journals such as Horn Book and Publishers Weekly, and read the American Library Association and SCBWI award winners.

Can you share some tips on marketing a picture book?

Sometimes the wildest ideas actually work! I researched social media celebrity pugs and pigs and sent packages with a copy of Pug Meets Pig and a personal letter. Several of them then featured the book in an Instagram or Twitter post. The Pug Diary, a blogger in Australia, did a giveaway and a great feature. Here’s an Instagram post from Priscilla and Poppleton from Ponte Vedra, FL. The post got 10,500 likes and surely sold some books. I’m sending the Halloween book out to a variety of places now.

Building my teacher and librarian contacts on Twitter and doing Twitter giveaways of books or swag is another specific goal of mine. Those groups are terrific book supporters. Twitter is a great networking tool within the children’s literature community and a way to support each other, along with rating other people’s books and doing brief reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. You don’t have to buy someone’s book to do a review, just check it out from the library or read it in a bookstore. Those reviews really help the author and illustrator.

Marketing your own work is challenging if you were raised, like me, not to “toot your own horn.” But it’s an important part of the author’s role, and I’ve actually had a lot of fun with it.

Sue, thank you so much for sharing your Pug and Pig adventure here on my blog!

Sue lives with her family and her black lab mix, Tucker, in the Kansas City area. Sue’s stories, poems, and activity rhymes have also been published in children’s magazines including Highlights and High Five.

You can find out more about Sue and her books on her website.
Sue tweets @SueLGallion. And she frequently adds to her lists of favorites on Goodreads.

PUG MEETS PIG, illustrated by Joyce Wan, Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster 2016. ISBN: 9781481420662

PUG & PIG TRICK OR TREAT, illustrated by Joyce Wan, Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster 2017.
ISBN: 9781481449779

Starred reviews for Pug & Pig books!

Read the PW starred review here.

Read the Kirkus starred review here.

Read the PW starred review for PUG MEETS PIG here.  Read More 
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Getting it Right in a Fast-Paced World!

It’s September, and a hint of fall is in the air. I’m looking forward to the new season, which brings a change of pace that includes different activities going on with the grandkids, nicer weather for walking, and the colors of fall. And I’m looking forward to writing time.

When 2017 arrived, I had no idea what was ahead! There was lots of time spent doing research, preparing new author presentations, and lots of wonderful family time. I thought, certainly, I’d have a complete rough draft of my fox manuscript finished by now!

The world has a much faster pace than it did when I was growing up. There’s fast food, computers that give us fast facts, and smart phones that quickly connect us to everyone and everything. We have a goal to reach. No taking your time! We want it now!

But if you’re a writer, with a book in your head begging to be written, there is often no quick solution. Characters sit in your head until they’re ready to come out. They’re the reason you can’t fall asleep at night, the reason why you sit at the light when it turns green, or that dinner is late. They’re the ones who decide how the story will unfold. And why 'real' writing is re-writing. Sometimes it’s changing your vision, your rhythm, or sometimes it’s changing just a word. Because you want every word to be just right. And there’s no getting it done ‘right now,’ without the work.

I’m excited for the coming of fall, and glad that it’s mixed in with a little bit of the end of summer. I’m excited to find out where the little fox is taking me, and for finding the right words to show readers his story. So, bring it on, Fall! I’m ready!
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Lost and Found— When electronic devices make decisions for you and how to work around it


Does your computer make decisions for you? Decisions like which messages come into your primary box, your social box or promotion box? Does facebook want to tell you who your best friends are? Does it suggest who you should friend, and what memories you should post?

At first glance, I was happy that my email account sorted my messages into boxes. I could look at the promos later, keep up with the social media emails when I had more time, and get right to the ‘primary,’ or more important emails. Then days, weeks or even months went by and I finally took a look at those ‘less important’ messages in the other boxes. Here’s what I found today:

Personal messages from friends in both social and promotions boxes

Important messages from KS/MO SCBWI (Society of Children’s Writers & Illustrators) in my promo box

Newsletters in my social box

A free webinar for children’s writers that I missed out on

Contests with deadlines that I wish I’d seen sooner

My main problem is that I don’t check all of my email ‘boxes’ often enough.

Facebook has its pros and cons, but I still find it the easiest social media site to use online. I love to share author events and new books written by other children’s authors who I know—it’s easy to ‘click’ and ‘share.’ And there are some great groups for children’s writers on facebook.

I always thought that I was a very organized person. I still think that, but sometimes I need to step back and re-evaluate my time. Excuse me for brainstorming here on my blog! Here are some things that (I think) (might) will work for me—

Check my email Social box daily—if I do this every day I can see at a glance who is posting on twitter or facebook and what I might want to share on those sites. It probably wouldn’t take very long if I keep up, and if I use a timer I could keep it reasonable.

Check my email Promo box weekly—I’d catch any ‘misplaced’ messages, and I might find some deals!

Check the children’s writing pages on facebook every other day—if I check one or two each time I should be able to keep up. Some of the pages for children’s writers that I follow are:

ICL—The Institute of Children’s Literature

KidLIt411

KidLit TV

TeachingAuthors

The C.I. Guide to Publishing Children’s Books

Children’s Book Insider

Fans of SCBWI

Kansas/Missouri SCBWI

St. Louis Independent Bookstore Alliance

There are many more facebook pages related to children’s books and writing, including author, publisher and agent pages. Do a search to check out your favorite authors and books!

One hour a week—become more familiar with twitter and Instagram.

And schedule time to write every day! If I put it on my calendar I will do it!
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Children’s Poetry—Love it! Study it, Write it!


I missed posting about National Library Week last week. I meant to, but I was busy reading all those picture books that I brought home to study!

Read what you write is great advice for children’s writers. So, what does reading children’s poetry have to do with writing it?

I read first for pleasure. I know quickly if I’m going to love the book I’m reading. I like it when the rhythm flows and doesn’t trip me up, when the rhyme doesn’t slow me down, and when there’s an ending that makes me feel something, or ‘think’ about something.

Once I’ve read the book for pleasure, I go back and try to figure out why I love the book (or didn’t). What was it that got me caught up in it?

Did the rhythm fit the topic being written about?

Sandra Boynton’s BARNYARD DANCE is a barnyard dance! The rhythm makes you want to stomp your feet and clap your hands with the rest of them.

In NINJA, NINJA, NEVER STOP! by Todd Tuell you might ‘feel’ like a sneaky ninja, just like the big brother in this book for young readers.

Did the language bring you into the story?

In HOW DO DINOSAURS GET WELL SOON, Jane Yolen uses language that makes you feel a part of the story, watching it unfold in front of you. Active verbs like fling, dump, wail. Alliteration like whimper and whine, and with tooth and with tail. I dare you to count the adjectives in this book!

In TEN LITTLE LAMBS by Alice McGinty, words like ‘tackel and tumble’ and ‘wrestle and rumble’ make you want to stay up all night and have fun instead of going to sleep!

Is there a good story, with developed characters, a plot, and ‘heart’?

In MONSTER TROUBLE by Lane Fredrickson we wonder, will Winifred Schnitzel, who was never afraid of anything, ever get rid of those monsters who try to scare her every night?

And in COWPOKE CLYDE RIDES THE RANGE by Lori Mortensen, will Clyde ever learn to ride that bicycle?

Finally, I try to imitate the qualities that I see in those books that made me love them. How can I make my own writing do that for readers out there? I write and revise, many times, until I get it just right. Then I hope it gets my readers caught up in the verse the way those books did for me.

One final picture book in verse that impressed me was FREEDOM IN CONGO SQUARE by Carole Boston Weatherford. This 2017 Caldecott Honor Book is a story of slaves, who worked relentlessly, day by day throughout the week. Though it shows the hardships that they endured, it is told in a lively rhythm of anticipation for the one day of the week when they get a taste of freedom in Congo Square. An introduction by historian Freddi Williams Evans, and an author’s note at the end, round it all out.

I would be lost without my local library, and all the people who work there. They help me find the books that I’m looking for, and make suggestions. I love that I can reserve books online and they will get them together for me—all I need to do is go in and pick them up! Not to mention the displays, programs and events that they put together for readers. My heartfelt gratitude to all of you!  Read More 
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Introducing! Kansas/Missouri SCBWI

If you’ve not yet had a chance to look at the website of the NEW! Kansas/Missouri SCBWI chapter, here’s your invitation! And if you’re looking for a children’s author or illustrator in Kansas or Missouri to speak at your school, library or conference, this is the place to look.

The first thing you’ll notice are the wonderful illustrations that roll throughout the middle of the page—all by our talented Kansas / Missouri illustrators. Below that is the ‘Events Calendar,’ highlighting important dates with something going on for aspiring and published authors and illustrators alike.

One of our upcoming events is a Picture Book / Poetry Workshop, on March 11th in Florissant, MO. I was very excited to be asked to lead this workshop! (Click here to find out more about me and my books). The focus is on rhyming poetry and picture books in verse. We’ll take a look at what makes poetry and rhyme something that editors will love. Click on the link above to find out more. Registration is open now, for both members and non-members.

Introducing our KS/MO board members! Click on any of the names on the left side of the page to view their SCBWI profile, and follow the links to their author websites, or to send a message.

At the top left is a picture of our Co-Regional Advisors (RA), Kim Piddington and Sue Gallion. They are our fearless leaders, who plan conferences and events for our members, and keep us motivated!

Before Kansas and Missouri merged into one chapter, Kim Piddington was the RA for the Missouri chapter. She is a former educator, and an author of middle grade and young adult fiction. She is represented by Lori Kilkelly of Rodeen Literary Management.

Sue Gallion is the former RA for the Kansas chapter before our two chapters merged. She has worked in public relations, and is passionate about reading to kids of all ages. Sue met the editor for her first picture book at an SCBWI conference.

Jess Townes is our Assistant Regional Advisor (ARA), and a huge asset to the Regional Advisors. Jess is a writer for All The Wonders, a digital home for readers to discover and experience new books. She writes picture books and middle grade novels, and is represented by Stephanie Fretwell-Hill of Red Fox Literary.

Amy Kenney is our Regional Illustrator Coordinator. She helps create networking and other opportunities for both published and un-published illustrators. Amy is an illustrator and writer.

Andi Osiek volunteers as our webmaster and website designer. She is an illustrator and writer, and a graphic designer.

The Kansas / Missouri SCBWI region provides support to members through networking opportunities, workshops and much more, including an annual conference for all levels of children’s writers and illustrators. Our conferences provide attendees with opportunities for critiques by editors, agents and published authors. And it’s a great way to meet and talk with editors and agents. Click on the words ‘Learn More!’ to find out what SCBWI has to offer you.

To the right on the home page, highlighted in purple, are links highlighting events and opportunities for members and non-members. They include ‘an inside look’ at Stephanie Bearce, Missouri author and winner of the 2016 Crystal Kite award, PAL members with books published in the past year, an illustrator gallery, an interview with our featured author of the month, and a speaker’s bureau where you can find authors in Missouri and Kansas who speak at schools, libraries and conferences.

Watch for more changes and additions to the SCBWI KS/MO chapter, coming soon!

Whether you’re already a member of SCBWI, or new to the organization, check us out for a look at what KS / MO SCBWI chapter has to offer you!  Read More 
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WRAD--World Read Aloud Day!

Pick up a book and read out loud! Today is World Read Aloud Day,.

On World Read Aloud Day (WRAD), which is celebrated every year across the world, readers of all ages celebrate literacy and the “pure joy and power of reading aloud.” It's a day that calls attention to the importance of reading out loud and sharing stories. And what better books to read out loud are there than picture books and poetry!

In my Valentine's Day post I listed some of my favorite picture books, books with 'heart.' I might have added--

FROGGY EATS OUT by Jonathan London, illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz
In this book Froggy wants to to do the right thing. His heart is in the right place. But he keeps messing up. His parents want Froggy to have good manners. but they see that he really tries, and sometimes that's all they need.

This book is full of onomatopoeia, and is very rhythmic. It makes good use of poetic tools, though it's not written in rhyme.

I think all picture books are poetry. The best picture books have rhythm that carries you along. Many include the power, or magic, of 'threes'--three strikes and you're out, three good things the main character does, and so forth. It makes for good rhythm.

Many picture books include 'sound' words (onomatopoeia), comparisons (simile and metaphor), internal rhyme, repetition of letter sounds (assonance and consonance).

Pick up a favorite or a new book this Thursday, and join others across the globe to read aloud. And if you want to have even more fun, share a picture book with a child--out loud, of course!  Read More 
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Valentine’s Day—Getting to the Heart of the Story

What is the Heart of your Story?

Authors, editors and agents talk about picture books having ‘heart.’ What exactly is ‘heart? And how do you know if your story has it? I think heart is what makes me ‘feel’ something when I read the story, and makes me feel connected to the story somehow.

Last spring I attended the SCBWI Wild, Wild Midwest conference for children’s writers and illustrators.

Author Lisa Cron said: Story is internal, not external. “Story forces (the characters) to go after what they want.” The internal journey and change is what moves the story forward.

Agent Brianne Johnson said, “You want your character to ‘want’ something deeply.” She used the book BEARD IN A BOX as an example. “At first it was funny and clever,” she said, “but it had no ‘heart’ until author added ‘like his dad.’

Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I thought I would explore what the ‘heart’ is in some of my favorite picture books. My list of favorite picture books continues to get longer! And these are just a few.

MAMA, WHY? Karma Wilson, illustrated by Simon Mendez
Margaret K. McElderry Books 2011
Nighttime comes and the moon sails high in the arctic sky—and Polar Cub asks, “Mama, why?” Each time Polar Cub asks why, Mama Polar Bear answers his questions. In the end she says “let’s rest our heads.… I’ll dream of my dearest the whole night through.” Polar Cub asks “Mama, who?” And she answers “You.”

Heart of the Story: Love—between a mama and her cub. The end of the story becomes more personal, and reassures the little polar bear cub of his mama’s love.

MORTIMER’S FIRST GARDEN Karma Wilson, illustrated by Dan Andreasen
Margaret K McElderry Books 2009
Winter is here, and little Mortimer Mouse longs to see something green, as he nibbles on sunflower seeds that he had saved. When he overhears talk about a garden, Mortimer isn’t sure he believes it, but decides to plant a sunflower seed, just in case.

Heart of the Story: A story of hope, trying new things, and believing in miracles.

LIBRARY LION Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes 2006
Candlewick Press
When a lion comes to the library one day, no one is sure what to do. There aren’t any rules about lions in the library, and he isn’t breaking any library rules. But when something terrible happens, the lion quickly comes to the rescue in the only way he knows how.

Heart of the Story: Friendship and Rules—celebrates reading and books.

BEDTIME FOR FRANCES Russell Hoban, illustrated by Garth Williams
HarperCollins Publishers 1960
Frances is a badger with a big imagination. She is far from asleep at bedtime, and every few minutes she gets up to tell her parents about all of the things she ‘sees’ and ‘hears.’ “Everyone has a job,” her father tells her. “And yours is to go to sleep.” She decides that the moth bumping against her window is just doing his job, and closes her eyes and goes to sleep.

Heart of the Story: Family—children who do not want to go to sleep at bedtime can relate to Frances in this story, wanting attention from their moms and dads, and thinking about all the noises they hear when things get quiet.

MOLE MUSIC David McPhail
Henry Holt & Company 1999
Mole lives alone underground. He feels something is missing in his life, and after hearing a violinist on TV he decides to learn to play the violin. Music makes a difference in his life and he continues to get better at playing the violin. Not realizing how much the music he makes affects the people listening to it above the ground, he imagines playing for others and how it might affect them and the difference it might make in the world.

Heart of the Story: A message of peace, how one person can make a difference, and how music can make a difference in people’s lives.

LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET Matt De La Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson
GP Putnam’s Sons (Penguin) 2015, Newberry Award winner
A young boy rides the bus every day with his nana and asks why they don’t have a car and things that other people have. Along the way and sees things to be grateful for—the bus driver who always has a trick for him, the man with the guitar, and more. He learns how “Some people watch the world with their ears” when they can’t see. By the end of the story he sees that he has much more than many other people have.

Heart of the Story: Finding joy in what you have rather than feeling sad at what you don’t have, and helping others. “Sometimes when you’re surrounded by dirt… you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.”

SITTING DUCK Jackie Urbanovic HarperCollins 2010
“Babysitting is easy!” Brody and Max think. “How much trouble could a puppy get into, anyway?” They find out when they babysit puppy Anabele. When Brody falls asleep, it’s up to Max to take over on his own. After an adventurous afternoon, they are all asleep when Anabelle’s owner comes back to take Anabele home.

Heart of the Story: Family and friends—by the end of the day, Max and Brody find that babysitting can be more fun than trouble.

THE FOX IN THE LIBRARY Lorenz Pauli and Kathrin Scharer
NorthSouth Books 2011
Fox chases Mouse into the library where Mouse tells him “You can only borrow things here…. This isn’t the forest, it’s the library.” Fox finds a book about chickens, which gives him a new idea. Because he can’t read, he takes the book and the CD home with him. He runs into a problem, and comes back the next day with the chicken for more information. He makes a deal with the chicken that will save both their lives if she teaches him to read.

Heart of the Story: Getting along peacefully with others, working together to help each other, combined with a of love of reading.

My idea of what the heart is in each of these picture books may differ from what others think, but it’s what makes me love them so much. Overall, I think I love a book if I love the characters. And ‘heart’ is what makes the characters who they are. And if I can relate to their joys, hopes, dreams and fears, that's the 'heart' of the story.

Happy Valentine's Day! Feel free to share your favorite book, and what the heart of the story is to you.  Read More 
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New Year's Goals for 2017


With a nudge from one of my writing groups I’ve finally made my New Year’s Resolutions for 2017. Only I’m calling them my ‘Goals for the New Year.’ It sounds better, more ‘do-able.’ I think the mentality of making a resolution for the new year is more of ‘how long will it take until I’ve broken it.’ With setting goals, it’s more likely to be something to shoot for.

Once again, I tried to set goals that are attainable. Something to reach for, but something that I know I can do if I really try. So here goes!

1—Finish one awful picture book first draft every other month, with 3 ready-to-go picture books by the end of 2017. This will be the most challenging, but also fun. And, there is an underlying goal here—to keep a regular schedule of writing.

If I’m not picky about how good my writing is at the start, I’m more likely to write something. And the more I write, the better I get at it. I’m hoping that one of those ‘awful’ first drafts sticks in my head and won’t let go until I get it right! The ‘awful’ picture book drafts are what most of us start off with when we begin a new book. Then many revisions later, it starts to shape up, and finally becomes a great book.

2—Work on more picture books in verse. With A HIPPY-HOPPY TOAD (formerly A Toad in the Road) I got a taste of how much fun it is to work with the language of a picture book, through the verse. It’s more than just a story. It’s how much fun it is to read the words and phrases out loud, too. I want more of that! Whether it’s in rhyme or not.

3—Submit some of my poems to magazines. I have poems that I wrote for picture book collections that were ‘left-over’ when the books were finished. I think there must be some place for them. It would also give me a sense of accomplishment to see my work published in another place for kids to read.

4—Create a facebook author page, and update my website. Having a separate author page on facebook would give readers someplace to look for updates on my writing and author appearances, and my books. It also would be a separate place for me to share other children’s author news and book signings.

5—Read blogs written by children’s authors, editors and agents more often, and check in to twitter more consistently. If I put it on my calendar, I’ll most likely do it.

6—Read 10 picture books a month (easy-peasy), and one grown-up book, just for fun! It’s taking the time to read more of the adult novels that I want to read that’s the challenge here. I had my cataract surgery last year, so it should be easier to do now with better eyesight. I’ll put it on my calendar…

7—Start thinking about what I can do for A HIPPY-HOPPY TOAD. My picture book comes out from Schwartz & Wade in Spring of 2018. The publisher does a lot for my book, from sending it out for reviews ahead of publication, to putting it in their catalogs and on their website and getting it into bookstores. But there are also things that I can do to let my readers, my friends and hometown know that I have this awesome book coming out. This is not my strong point, by far. So I need to look at the lists of advice from my friends who are published children’s authors, check online for information, and ask my publisher if they have suggestions.

I think my 2017 writing plate is full! But who knows what’s to come down the road as we start another new year! Wishing you all a Happy 2017, with goals to keep you on track!  Read More 
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