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Interview with Picture Book Author, Judith L. Roth


Judith L. Roth writes poetry, picture books and middle grade fiction for children. She lives in Elkhart, Indiana. Her latest picture book, GOODNIGHT, DRAGONS has just been released from Disney Hyperion (February 2012).

Hello Judy, and welcome to Peggy’s Pages!

Can you tell us a little bit about GOODNIGHT, DRAGONS, and what inspired you to write it?

JLR: Oddly enough, it was frustration. I had two novel-in-verse books that were being seriously considered by two different publishers (they had me do revisions), and within two weeks, they were both finally rejected. When I got the second rejection, I sat down at my computer and told myself, “I’m going to write something they have to publish,” and I just started writing. I sent it to my agent within a couple of days, and he got two bites days within sending it out. I wish this was a process I could repeat!

GOODNIGHT, DRAGONS is not your first children’s book. Please tell us something about your other published books. And can you tell us about your road to publication—what inspired you to write for children, and how did you get started?

JLR: I’ve always wanted to write books since the time I realized that authors were people and not magical beings. I continued to love children’s literature well past the time when I should have been reading adult literature. I took an ICL course (Institute of Children's Literature) while I was attending college and began submitting. I went to a lot of conferences. I had a lot of encouragement from editors and other writers, and I had poetry and nonfiction and curriculum and songs published, but I couldn’t seem to crack the fiction arena. Finally, about 25 years after first submitting children’s fiction, I had a story accepted. Then a book. Then another book. Then an agent. Then a book to a bigger publishing house. Then two. It was a really long road, but I was determined I was going to keep trying.

My first picture book, Cups Held Out, is about a child who goes with her father to Mexico to gain some small understanding of poverty. It talks about their reaction to their experience that one day.

My second book, Julia’s Words, is about two girls, one hearing, one deaf, who become friends while at a camping ground. They learn how to navigate the complexities of communication and friendship.

Goodnight, Dragons, is about a boy who is called to tame dragons rather than slay them. He senses they won’t be so grouchy if they are shown kindness. It’s a goodnight book, although it didn’t start out as one.

When you have an idea for a book, where do you go from there? Do you outline, or just jump in and start writing?

JLR: In the last few years, I’ve started a new way of beginnings. I don’t wait for an idea. I just start writing, and soon words appear on the computer screen that interest me, and I go further, dig deeper. Sometimes the words don’t interest me, so I leave them in my file as simply freewriting. I don’t know how efficient this is, but it’s fun!

Since you have an agent, Judy, can you tell us something about how your book is marketed? Is this entirely up to your agent, or do you play a part in the marketing?

JLR: My agent is in charge of marketing my books. (I do it for anything else.) He is open to suggestions about where I’d like him to send them. He also tells me if he thinks something isn’t ready, or how it can be made more marketable.

Having written your story, how difficult is it to turn it over to the illustrator? Do you have any input on choosing an illustrator for your books, or on the illustrations themselves?

JLR: It’s exciting to see what an illustrator will do with it. No, I don’t really have anything to do with choosing an illustrator. The editors tell me who they think will be good and then we hope together that the illustrator will agree to work on the book. No input on the illustrations at all.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Did you always want to be an author? What other interests do you have besides writing?

JLR: Yes, always. Other interests include traveling, reading, music, gardening, learning foreign languages, a bit of kayaking, watching my boys become young men, enjoying the beautiful world God made.

What books did you enjoy reading as a child?

JLR: I read whatever I could get my hands on and enjoyed most of it. I remember Edgar Eager’s Magic Series. When I read mysteries, it was about Trixie Beldon. For career series, it was about Sue Barton. I discovered Madeleine L’Engle when I was in fifth grade, and quickly became a fan. I liked the way she made characters from one series show up in another series. A book that really moved me when I was in junior high was Mrs. Mike.

Do you have any new books coming out? What are you working on now?

JLR: My novel-in-verse for Viking is due at copyediting in three weeks. The title is up in the air, but the working title is Serendipikitty. It’s the story of a girl and her father, who are trying to figure out how to be a family again since her mother died three years ago. A kitten dropped off at their door begins to show them the way. The book is scheduled to be out in 2013.

What tips or advice do you have for aspiring children’s writers?

JLR: Be ready to persevere. If you don’t love it, it probably won’t be worth it. Read as much as you can. Join SCBWI and go to conferences. Join or start a critique group. Write.

Do you have a website where readers can learn more about you and your books?

JLR: Yes. It’s www.judithlroth.com. Thanks for asking! Right now I have a contest going on the site that will end with two people getting a free book of one of my first two picture books. The contest will wind up February 29th.

Thank you so much, Judy!

I received my copy of GOODNIGHT, DRAGONS the other day, and I asked my 5 year old grandson if he wanted me to read it to him. He was busy playing at the time and promptly said "No." So I started reading it out loud, to myself. After the first page he dropped what he was doing and sat next to me, absolutely into the book until the end. A kid-friendly testimony to GOODNIGHT, DRAGONS!


GOODNIGHT, DRAGONS
by Judith L. Roth
illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre
Disney*Hyperion 2012
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Non-Fiction in Picture Books


Since my main focus has been on writing children’s non-fiction and poetry lately, I thought I’d share the websites of a few children’s authors who write wonderful non-fiction for children. Visit the following websites to find out more about the authors, and what you can learn from them about writing non-fiction for children.

Brian P. Cleary: http://www.brianpcleary.com/
An award-winning author of non-fiction and self-proclaimed ‘word nerd, Brian’s books include SKIN LIKE MILD, HAIR OF SILK: WHAT ARE SIMILES AND METAPHORS? On his website you’ll find fun learning games for kids with sound effects and colorful illustrations.
Go to http://www.lkwdpl.org/lfiles/cleary/ for more information about Brian and his books, and for links for writers, teachers and kids.

Sue Bradford Edwards: http://www.suebradfordedwards.com/
A prolific writer of non-fiction for preschool children through young adults, Sue has had over 140 publications in the educational field and in magazines. In addition, she has written many articles about writing for children. On her website under her resume are links to some of those articles.

J. Patrick Lewis: http://www.jpatricklewis.com/scenes.shtml
Visit J. Patrick Lewis on his website to see a list of his books which include FIRST DOG’S WHITE HOUSE CHRISTMAS. Also find riddles and poems, and links to children’s literature and poetry sites. His wonderful poetry and non-fiction for children make learning fun. He has been named the third US Children’s Poet Laureate (2011-2013) by the Poetry Foundation.

Heidi B. Roemer: http://heidibroemer.com/
An award-winning author of non-fiction and poetry for children, Heidi’s books include WHAT KINDS OF SEEDS ARE THESE and COME TO MY PARTY.
Visit Wild About Nature at http://wildaboutnaturewriters.blogspot.com/ where, together with children’s authors Laura Crawford and Kim Hutmatcher, Heidi explores non-fiction books for children. Includes articles, author interviews, book reviews, a list of publishers of non-fiction for children, and more.

April Pulley Sayre: http://www.aprilsayre.com/
Award-winning author of non-fiction and poetry for children, April’s books include RAH RAH RADISHES! April’s site includes the Animal of the Month, educator links, and links for parents, kids, and aspiring authors.

Visit the following sites to find more about non-fiction picture books.

School Library Journal—non-fiction picture book reviews: http://blog.schoollibraryjournal.com/afuse8production/tag/2011-nonfiction-picture-books/

The Cybil Awards for non-fiction picture books: http://www.cybils.com/2011-finalists-nonfiction-picture-books.html  Read More 
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Children's Authors & Illustrators Week!

Starke County Author Fair IN
The first week in February celebrates Children’s Authors & Illustrators Week (CAIW). How will you celebrate?

Children’s Authors & Illustrators Week is sponsored by the Children’s Authors Network (CAN!). Their purpose is to celebrate the school visits, library programs, and hands-on workshops that authors and illustrators do to inspire a life-long love of reading and writing. Visit their site at www.childrensauthorsnetwork.com.

Here are some suggestions for ways that children’s authors and illustrators can celebrate CAIW:

• TALK with a children’s librarian or a local children’s bookseller—ask for their input on what children are reading in the genre that you write for. Ask what topics there are in children’s books that they can’t find enough of. Offer to read at story time.

• VISIT independent bookstores and children’s specialty bookstores. Browse, and get to know the owner there. Find out what you can offer as a children’s author or illustrator. (see http://mainstreetbooks.net/, www.stlindiebook.com, and www.kidsink.com, or do a web search for independent bookstores in your area).

• COMMENT on children’s author and illustrator blogs. There are some wonderful blogs written by children’s authors and illustrators with some great tips and articles out there! And when you leave a comment, you also leave a link to your website or blog.

• TALK TO a local school or library about doing an author visit, or send out information about doing an author visit. Read about doing an author visit at Alexis O’Neil’s site: http://schoolvisitexperts.com/?page_id=6, and plan an author presentation so that you’re ready when you get that author gig. Discover what you have to offer to inspire a child to read, and write.

• ATTEND a bookstore or library event featuring a children’s author or illustrator. This is a great way to meet an author or illustrator, observe an author presentation and take notes, ask questions, and come away with some writing or illustrating tips.

• READ children’s books in the genre that you write. Pay attention to what you like about the book, what you would do differently, techniques used by the author or illustrator, words on a page, word length and length of the book overall. Learn from the best by reading the best and also reading the not-so-good. Find a list of Best Children’s Books on websites for Publishers Weekly, American Library Association, Children’s Book Council and parenting sites. Do a web search to find these and other sites.

READ to your children, grandchildren, or borrow your neighbor’s kids. Offer to read at a library, school classroom, or bookstore. Offer to talk to a scout troop or youth group about reading or writing.

What a great excuse to take extra time to read and spend time with people who promote books and reading-- celebrate Children’s Authors & Illustrators Week!
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Take a Leap Day This Month!

There’s a free day in February this year, and I’ll take it!

So what does it take for you to meet your writing goals this year? Being self-disciplined isn’t easy. But perhaps signing up for a group challenge can help by giving you some additional motivation.

A notice on one of my writers’ listservs announced the 4th Picture Book Marathon:
Picture Book Marathon 2012
Take the Leap!
“Your Goal: Between February 1 and February 29, 2012, write one picture book a day, until you get to 26. This year, February has 29 days (thus, Take the Leap!), so you get a bonus break day….”
Find more details on Lora Koehler and Jean Reagan’s blogspot at http://picturebookmarathon.blogspot.com/2012/01/pbm-2012-take-leap.html.

Another site encourages you to write a picture book every month with its “12 x 12 in 2012” challenge:
12 x 12 in 2012: Picture Book Writing Challenge
Twelve complete picture book drafts. Twelve months. 2012.
“Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to write one picture book per month for each of the twelve months of 2012. This means a first draft: beginning, middle, end. NOT a submission-ready piece.”
You can read more at Julie Hedlund’s blogsite: http://writeupmylife.com/2011/11/30/12-x-12-in-2012-picture-book-writing-challenge/.

So what do you really get from signing your name to a group challenge? Quoting from Julie’s blogsite:
“…In the end, it doesn’t matter if you have 12, 4 or even 1 PB drafted if you’ve gotten more accomplished by being in the group than by going it alone. …the idea is that we support, encourage, and help each other throughout the year as we try to put flesh on the bones of those PB ideas. “

Also for those of you who write picture books and like the group challenge, watch Paula Yoo’s website for the NaPiBoWriWee—National Picture Book Writing Week. The date is the first week in May. Check out her website at http://paulayoo.com/home.html.

Don’t let that extra day this month go to waste! Find what it takes to get you motivated and energized to write great children’s literature. It might be that signing your name to a group challenge will work for you!
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