Up-coming Author Appearances
November 17, 2016
Local Author Open House
Spencer Library Branch
427 Spencer Road, St. Peters 63376
Recent Author Visits
October 19, 2016
Last week I visited Nancy Polette’s class for adults on Writing for Children and talked about my journey from Reader to Writer. I came to the part where I had written some board books for Highlights Press, and said how important it had been to them that my verse was absolutely perfect in rhyme and rhythm. That’s when one of the students brought up a question that I’m sure many aspiring children’s poets ask.
He said, “I hear it all the time, make your rhyme and rhythm perfect! But,” he said, “I read many books of children’s poetry and books in verse, and they are not written with perfect rhythm and rhyme!” He wanted to know why we say to make your poetry perfect when so much of what we see published is not so.
I’m sure that I didn’t answer his question very well then. So I thought I’d put some of my thoughts about it here.
I enjoy rhyme in children’s poetry, whether it’s a collection of poems or a picture book in verse. I like it when the rhythm is right on, and the rhyme isn’t forced. It bothers me when words are switched around to make them rhyme, and when the rhythm trips me up. It interrupts my thoughts, and it interrupts the story. And I’m not sure why some of those books get published.
That’s how I feel, and I know that editors who say that they don’t want to see any poetry, really mean they don’t want to see bad poetry—‘bad’ meaning imperfect rhythm and rhyme. And they do see a lot of it. So an author who is talking to beginning children’s writers about writing poetry or books in verse would be neglect if they didn’t pass that along to their listeners.
Yes, there are many rhyming books for children, and they’re not all done very well. But the children’s authors who write poetry and do it well, with good rhyme and rhythm, have books that are on the ‘best books for children lists,’ and that are nominated or win awards. And those are the kinds of books that editors are looking for.
So, one reason for writing perfect rhyme and rhythm is in the competition. Your book is going to compete with the thousands of picture books that cross an editor’s desk each day/week/month. And by working to make your book the best that you can, you’re working your way past that first reader and past all of those manuscripts, toward the editor’s desk.
Talking more on the topic, the student said that often 'when he reads a book where the rhyme is perfect, it’s boring!' Some years back, the general opinion in the publishing world was that younger kids liked rhyming poetry, but older students did not, and preferred free verse. I remember that I disagreed, and I still do. I think that if rhyme is done well, it’s fun. It can also be a learning tool for older children as well as younger ones—for example, when learning the names of the states, or learning musical notes.
Boring? If a rhyming poem for older children is very long, and written in simple verses of four lines throughout the book or poem, it would probably be a bit boring. But it can be fixed! You can add detail, and rich language. You can ‘change it up’ a bit in places, with a repeating phrase or repeating lines. Put a twist at the end.
For younger children, such as the 0 to 2 year-old group that the Highlights board books target, rhyme should be perfect, because it makes it easier for them to understand, and to learn. Most board books at this age are concept books, designed to teach the child something. They are short, to go with the short attention span of a two year-old. Verse that follows the same pattern, and the same rhyme scheme become familiar to them, and they expect it. Not all board books are written for this young age.
If you’re thinking of writing for this age, or any age child, I would suggest getting a book about the developmental stages of children. As a former nurse who worked with children, I have a medical book that shows this. There are many other books for parents on child development including the ‘What to Expect When Your Child is…’ books.
As a child grows he has better comprehension, and you can add some unexpected rhythm—maybe an added syllable in just the right place, like a grace note in music. Or extra syllables to speed things up. But before you do, write perfect rhyme and rhythm!
I think that before you ‘break the rules,’ you should ‘learn the rules.’ If you do that, then when you do make exceptions you’ll understand why it works. And it will make your poetry better.
Perfect rhyme, and perfect rhythm, isn’t easy! And it isn’t quick. But it’s worth the effort. So don’t give up! And maybe someday your collection of poems or picture book in verse will be on that list of ‘best books for children!’
September 14, 2016
Sometimes good news comes just at the right time! My life has been a bit crazy this summer. Mostly good crazy—but crazy, just the same.
We’ve had some great times with grandkids, family and friends
--overnight visits with grandkids, swimming, ballgames, and just hanging out doing fun things
--hiking, swimming and campfires with our kids and grandkids, and seeing family and friends from out of town
--celebrating other author’s victories and meeting new people
Every time I take a break I come back to those neglected ‘R’s—Reading, Revision, Research—and of course, wRiting!
It can be maddening at times. I want to sit down and just write! But I have to
--check my email
--pay the bills
--shop for groceries
--clean (well, maybe I can skip that one until company comes)
--cook (there’s always fast food…)
--clean veggies (next year I am not, NOT going to plant a garden! Really… I mean it!...)
But this time in the middle of all of this ‘catching up’ I got an email from the editor at Chicken Soup for the Soul. My story Double Exposure made the final cut and will be included in their upcoming book, Angels and Miracles! Writing this story was a little bit out of my comfort zone, because it’s a story for adults. But it’s also about something very close to my heart, since it’s a memory from when my mother passed away. And I do believe in angels and in miracles. The book will be released on November 1st of this year.
Along with the news of my story coming up in Angels and Miracles, I learned that the board books that I wrote for Highlights Press are finally out and available for sale!
Look for FIND IT at the Construction Site, and FIND IT at Bedtime at these places:
Amazon (look under Highlights Books/Basic concepts)
B&N: Construction Site
Books-a-Million: Construction Site
Thanks so much for sharing in my good news. I hope that you’ll do a little happy dance with me, and that you’ll enjoy my newest books and my Chicken Soup memory.
September 13, 2016
Find It at Bedtime, Highlights Press September 2016
September 12, 2016
Find It at the Construction Site, Highlights Press August 2016
August 23, 2016
A couple of weeks ago my blog post was a list of fun ‘quirks’ that potential children’s writers have. But every children’s writer knows that there’s a lot more behind writing a children’s book than all the fun we have once it’s finished. Today I thought I’d look at some of the more ‘serious’ qualities that children’s writers have.
You might be a children’s writer if…
You have patience—
Writing for children takes a lot of patience. Most likely, the story starts out in your head. You finally get it down on paper at about 2,500 words. Then you realize that a picture book is more likely to be between 300 and 800 words! Many revisions later you finally have a nice tight story, ready for a publisher to snatch it right up.
You send it out, and wait—months, sometimes longer, before you hear back from the editor. Many rejections later you finally find the right editor who loves your story! After more revisions it’s finally finished, ready for the illustrator. Who takes a year or more to finish the artwork. You wait for the physical book to be put together, for reviews to come in, for your author copies to arrive…. Lots of patience, but totally worth it!
You can handle rejection—
There are many types of rejections. There are form rejections—a printed card or letter simply saying it’s not right for them, a letter signed by the editor saying it’s not right for them, a letter signed by the editor telling you why it’s not right for them (encouraging because they took the time to give you feedback!), or a letter signed by the editor saying it’s not right for them but asking to see more of your work (don’t pass on this!). And of course, there’s the rejection that you don’t receive, from a publisher that says ‘if you don’t hear from us after three months, we are not interested.’
You believe that children are intelligent and deserve your best effort—
Children’s writers see their readers as intelligent human beings, who soak up knowledge from the world around them. And they drive you to tell the story that opens their imagination, and that will captivate them!
You like to interact with children—
You enjoy being around children and love to hear what they have to say. Their perspective on things opens your own imagination, and helps you to see the world around you in a new way.
You have a sense of humor—
Your sense of humor lets you laugh and not take life too seriously. Things like—
“You’re pretty! I like your gray hair and wrinkles.” Or
“Are you more than 80 years old?”
don’t bother you at all!
Your ‘casual’ reading includes author, editor and agent blogs as well as books, magazines and newsletters about writing for children—and lots of children’s books!
Because this is your introduction to learning how to write children’s books well, and you don’t settle for less.
You attend events such as author appearances and book fairs—
Your love of books and writing spills over into your social life. You’d rather be here than at the amusement park.
You value what you do over how much money you make—
Sometimes you wonder why you do all of this work with no guarantee of publication. But you just can’t seem to stop. Stories pop in out of nowhere, and follow you everywhere. The objective is much more than the money you make, which is probably less than minimum wage when you figure in all the hours spent before your book is published. But all it takes is one child who loves your book, and you know why you do it.
If you have these qualities, combined with any of the quirks of my previous post, I’d suggest that you seriously consider writing for children!
August 11, 2016
I love writing for children! It’s not something I dreamed about doing from the time I was a little girl, like some children’s authors. But I always loved reading, and books. That’s my addiction. Children’s writers come from all walks of life—from being a mom or a dad, to teachers, nurses, engineers, and farmers.
There are signs, you know—signs that you might be a children’s writer! Here are just a few.
You might be a children’s writer if…
You can’t read a book for pleasure without critiquing it or line editing.
You critique plot and character when watching a movie.
You miss half of what people are saying because you’re off in the land of the latest book you’re writing.
You miss out on most of a lecture, sermon, speech, TV show… because something inspired you and you’re thinking up a new story, plot, characters, setting…
You take picture books home from the library even though you have no young children at home.
You visit family or friends and end up spending more time with the kids than with the adults.
You ad lib when reading your child a story.
You keep a pencil and paper and a flashlight by your bedside.
You find it difficult to part with your kids’ books when they’ve outgrown them.
You order more books from the book club flyers that come home from school than your kids do.
You can’t fall asleep at night because of all the words running through your head.
You have a collection of notes that you’ve written on napkins, newspapers, coupons and other pieces of paper.
You are a list maker, including lists of words that are fun to say out loud.
You make lists of rhyming words.
Working on crossword puzzles and word games is relaxing.
You take a book with you to read at the doctor’s office and are disappointed because your appointment is on time.
You miss meals because you’re writing and lose track of time.
You ‘watch’ TV but never know what’s going on.
You take a stack of books, pencils, paper, highlighters, and a laptop with you when you go on vacation.
You get your exercise by going to storybook walks at the park.
You love quotes from famous people, especially authors.
You get more excited about going to a book convention (think: BEA / ALA / Printers’ Row) than to an amusement park.
Local librarians and independent bookstore owners all know your name.
You have at least one bookshelf in each room of your house.
You think the book is always better than the movie.
You ask for books at Christmas and on your birthday.
Everyone gets a book from you at Christmas and on their birthday.
If you have any of the above symptoms, watch out! You just might be destined to be a children’s writer! (Thanks to Jeff Foxworthy for the ‘Here’s your sign’ inspiration).
July 3, 2016
Following are a handful of patriotic picture books to help celebrate America and Independence Day with a child. The first few are new to me, and the others are books that I especially like.
HOW TO BAKE AN AMERICAN PIE
by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Raul Colon
Margaret K. McElderry Books 2007
In this book the author adds American 'ingredients' that come from its land, from the people who came to America, and more. It reminds me of what the people in America all stand for, together. I personally like that some of the ingredients that she adds are 'forgiveness,' and 'faith, hope, and love.' "Place in God's hands and allow to rise." Well written in lyrical prose, with illustrations that combine reality with imagination.
AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL
by Katharine Lee Bates, illustrated by Wendell Minor
GP Putnam's sons 2003
Beautiful illustrations accompany the words to 'America the Beautiful' in a moving tribute to one of our nation's most beloved patriotic songs. In the introduction the illustrator tells us that "The paintings in this book are the images that come to my mind when I sing the words." Back matter tells us more about the author of the poem that became the song and how she came to write it, and about the composer who wrote the melody to the words. An illustrated glossary tells about the places shown in the illustrations, and a map of the United States shows the locations of some of America's 'most beautiful places.'
WHAT PRESIDENTS ARE MADE OF
by Hanoch Piven
Atheneum Books for Young Readers 2004
The author selected 17 different past presidents and chose a different attribute for each, based on something about that president or something that they liked to do. I love reading little known facts about history, and I really enjoyed this book. I wasn't crazy about the illustrations, but that's just my personal taste, and they certainly are interesting.
THE SCRAMBLED STATES OF AMERICA
by Laurie Keller
Square Fish Publishing 2002
A crazy tale of mixed-up geography, each state has its own personality as they travel across the US!
BAD KITTY FOR PRESIDENT
by Nick Bruel
Roaring Brook Press 2012
Bad Kitty decides to run for President of the neighborhood cat club. A fun way for kids to learn about the election process. Read this easy reader to find out if Bad Kitty wins! There is a glossary of election terms at the back of the book.
by David McPhail
Henry Holt & Co 1999
Mole Music is not necessarily a patriotic picture book, but it is a wonderful story of hope, and peace. It shows the difference that one person can make in the world, and the wonderful influence of music on the heart.
Mole feels that something is missing in his life. When he hears someone playing a violin, Mole realizes that he longs to make beautiful music, too. As he gets better, he wonders if his music could reach into people's hearts, or even change the world. The illustrations tell the story from another perspective, and show how Mole's music has an effect on others that is more magical than Mole will ever know.
I wish all of my friends here a wonderful and safe 4th of July! I hope you'll celebrate our country, and never take for granted the freedoms that others have won for us. May 'God Bless America' and all who live here.
June 12, 2016
It’s school summer vacation time, and libraries across the country are hosting their summer reading programs. What better way for young readers to meet the challenge than to combine time outdoors and reading a picture book!
Check out your local parks’ programs to see if there’s a Storybook Walk in your area. In St. Charles county, Missouri, the St. Charles Library foundation is once again hosting Storybook Walks in the parks. This year there are four locations, the newest storybook walk at Heartland Park in Wentzville, Missouri. Visit the St. Charles Library foundation website for more information including locations and featured picture books for May, June and July.
In Quail Ridge Park in Wentzville you’ll walk around the lake on a paved walking path surrounded by trees and plants. You might see a turtle, a fish, a dragonfly or other wildlife as you walk.
At St. Charles Community College in Cottleville the story is set on a paved path around a scenic lake with a fountain. On our walk a couple of days ago, the evening sun shined through the waters of the fountain to create a beautiful rainbow. A crane kept turning its back on me as I tried to get a picture.
I have yet to visit Heartland Park in Wentzville and Fox Hill Park in St. Charles, but they’re on my list.
So if you haven’t already signed up, visit your local library and kick off your summer reading with a walk, and a story!
May 22, 2016
It’s always very special to be able to share good news and a new book by a writing friend, but especially so when it’s such a great picture book. I learned about the Heifer project and the seagoing cowboys from Peggy Reiff Miller when we met through our critique group for children’s writers in Northwest Indiana. Since that time, through her research and interviews with former seagoing cowboys, she has become an expert on their history. Peggy has had several magazine articles published about the subject, as well as a DVD documentary, A Tribute to the Seagoing Cowboys. Her first picture book The Seagoing Cowboy, was released earlier this spring. Peggy has also had children’s stories published in Highlights for Children and in My Friend and Lighthouse. Please welcome, Peggy, as she tells us a little bit about her book and her passion for writing it.
What was the inspiration for your book? Why did you feel a need to write it?
My grandfather was a seagoing cowboy to Poland in 1946, but I never heard him talk about his experience. When I got interested in writing, I thought the topic would be great for a YA novel. I had an envelope of photos from Grandpa’s trip that my father had given me, and I knew some men who had been seagoing cowboys, so in 2002, I started interviewing them. I realized this was a lost, but important, history that needed to be told; and I’ve been telling it for all ages in as many ways as possible ever since.
What kind of research did you do before writing your book?
I started with the interviews of men who had made the livestock trips to Europe after World War II. One cowboy led to another, and another, and I’ve interviewed nearly 200 of them and have been in contact with about that many more. For my novel (still unpublished), I did a lot of reading about the organizations involved in the livestock shipping, the ships, World War II on the home front, Poland’s history, etc. I read books written and watched movies made during that time period. I collected copies of diaries and photos of the seagoing cowboys and studied those. I made trips to several archives to find the historical materials behind the story. So I was able to draw on all of this research for the picture book, which is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the larger story but, at the same time, is a composite summary that captures the seagoing cowboy experience.
What kind of marketing did you do—was it easy to find an editor who wanted to publish this book?
I’ll answer the second part of the question first. I had seven rejections before Brethren Press bought the manuscript. The story is a piece of Brethren history, so they were the natural fit for the book. The kind of marketing I did pre-publication is the reason Brethren Press was willing to take on this project. I had been researching, writing magazine articles, and speaking about this history for ten years before I received my book contract. In addition, I had produced a DVD photo-story documentary from the photos cowboys had shared with me, which I had successfully marketed; and I had created a seagoing cowboys website. With this platform, Brethren Press knew I would be actively involved in marketing the book. Had I not had any of that past involvement, I seriously doubt they would have taken the chance on it, as they are a small press and picture books are quite expensive to produce.
What were the challenges in bringing your book to life?
The biggest challenge was finding and creating a concise story line that did everything I wanted the book to do. With so much research behind me, it was hard to let go of the nonfiction “telling.”
What encouragement helped you along your way?
Our writers’ critique group, The TaleBlazers (we miss you since you moved to Missouri!), and another critique group I was in at the time gave me incredible encouragement and support. As did my husband and daughters and my church family.
What kind of networking do you do as an author?
I belong to SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and I’ve made many wonderful contacts through that organization, networking not only with other writers, but also with publishing professionals. Because of having submitted my manuscript for a marketing critique by the wonderful Blue Slip Media team at an SCBWI conference, and then recommending Blue Slip to my publisher, Brethren Press hired them for some promotional work that has gotten the book into places that would have been hard for us to reach without their help. I’ve also done a lot of networking among seagoing cowboys and their families, as well as within Heifer International, the development organization of which the seagoing cowboy history is a part.
What projects are you working on now?
I’m serving as a historical consultant to Heifer International and doing research for a German author who has been contracted by Heifer to write a book about their shipments to Germany throughout the decade of the 1950s to help Germany recover from the war. I’m also gearing up to write an adult history of the beginning decade of Heifer. An adult book about the seagoing cowboys has long been in the works, and I blog twice a month about this history on my seagoing cowboys website. I also have another picture book manuscript related to Heifer’s German shipments that I’m ready to start submitting. More than enough to keep me fully occupied!
Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.?
The seagoing cowboys are my inspiration. Sitting in their homes and hearing stories from a very formative time in their lives has been an honor and a privilege. As for the future, I keep telling my friends that I have enough work to keep me busy until I’m 110 (I’m currently 68). So my plans are to keep doing what I’m doing, but hopefully at a slower pace than I’m currently managing. When my husband retires at the end of this year, we’ll want to make more time in our lives for our married twin daughters, their husbands, and two little grandsons to whom the book is dedicated.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given about writing?
Not to take rejections personally. Revise when needed and re-send.
Do you have any advice for beginning children’s writers?
Persistence pays off. There are many talented writers who are never published because they give up when the rejections start coming in. And there are many mediocre writers who become good writers because they continue learning at every opportunity and persist in sending out their work. It’s not a profession for the faint-hearted. But the rewards of hearing from satisfied readers or watching a child hug his or her new book makes it all worth the effort.
Thank you for your insight and inspiration, Peggy! Peggy lives with her husband, Rex, in Goshen, Indiana. You can find out more about Peggy and her book on her author website. Read more about the cowboys on Peggy’s Seagoing Cowboy website and her Seagoing Cowboy blog.
The Seagoing Cowboy, Brethren Press 2016
by Peggy Reiff Miller, illustrated by Claire Ewart
April 20, 2016
Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems
by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josse Masse
Another collection of ‘reverso’ poems in free verse with a fairytale theme, like Mirror, Mirror, each poem is paired with the same poem read in the ‘reverse’ direction. For example, For love, / give up your voice. / Don’t / think twice and Think twice! / Don’t / give up your voice / for love. A fun way of looking at poetry.
A Frog Inside My Hat
compiled by Fay Robinson, illustrated by Cyd Moore
This is a ‘First Book of Poems’ published in 1993. Authors old and new, from Edward Lear (There Was an Old Man With a Beard) and Robert Lewis Stevenson (Nest Eggs), to Nikki Giovanni (The Dragonfly) and Arnold Lobel (Although He Didn’t Like the Taste), the poems are simple concepts with large colorful illustrations.
Big, Bad and a little bit Scary, poems that bite back!
illustrated by Wade Zahares
This one is a collection of poems about animals that are just a bit scary that include poems by poets like Ogden Nash (The Panther), Mary Ann Hoberman (Lion) and Karla Kuskin (The Porcupine). Great rhythm and rhyme here, and illustrations that jump off the page!
Other picture book authors of poetry collections that I love to read are Heidi B. Roemer (Whose Nest is This?), Rebecca Kai Dotlich (When Riddles Come Rumbling: Poems to Ponder), and J. Patrick Lewis (Please Bury Me in the Library).
For authors of collections of poems with a theme, check out anything by Jack Prelutsky (The New Kid On the Block), Lee Bennett Hopkins, especially those for beginning readers (Good Rhymes, Good Times), Bruce Lansky (A Bad Case of the Giggles), and of course, Shel Silverstien (Where the Sidewalk Ends)!
If you’re a dog lover be sure to check out Name That Dog!, my book of poems about dogs and their names. And if you’re a parent looking for a book of poetry to read to your young child, take a look at my picture book From Dawn to Dreams, Poems for Busy Babies.
Poem in your Pocket Day is tomorrow, April 21st—don’t forget to tuck a poem in your pocket to share with others you meet!