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Inspiration from the ‘Seeds of Success’ Conference


Last month I attended the Missouri SCBWI Fall Conference, Seeds of Success, in St. Charles. From the perspective of a picture book writer, I think it was one of the best conferences that I’ve attended. Here are just a few of the helpful and inspiring nuggets that I took home from the conference speakers.

Jodell Sadler, agent for children’s writers and illustrators, Sadler Children’s Literary Agency, talked about writing picture books.

She shared with us Twenty Tools for Writing Picture Books.
Among the ten verbal pacing tools were:
Repetition—Repetition rallies the reader, and can be used to highlight the emotional growth of your main character.
Rhythm—Rhythm is the ‘sound’ of the story; use words, repetition and onomatopoeia to create rhythm; use short and long sentences.

She also gave us ten visual pacing tools, which included:
White Space—Find emotional hot spots and see how you can pull back on words to let white space fill in with visual clues.
Poetry—Use literary devices to go beyond rhyme

She told us, “A good picture book is written with attention to musicality and language.”
Check Jodell’s website for information about her online class, Pacing Picture Books to Wow!

Steve Sheinkin, author of non-fiction books for children, told us that when you write non-fiction you should "begin with a mystery."
Start making a ‘witness’ list—begin by reading, and work toward primary sources.
Keep a really good list of where you find your information.
Keep following leads, and question credibility.

Finally, cut yourself off—and write!

Nancy Gallt, agent for children’s writers and illustrators, Nancy Gallt Literary Agency, told us what she looks for in submissions.

Some of those were:
a story that transports her
a book that makes her feel inspired
childlike concerns
honest voice
strong plots with internal consistency and a fully imagined world

She advised us to research the agency and the publishing world, and to proof-read our manuscript before submitting it.
Regarding picture books in verse, she said: “Writers of picture books in verse are poets first.”

Cecily White, middle grade and young adult author, talked about the different stages in development, and the differences between middle grade and young adult books.

Among other things, she said—
In middle grade books there is a more hopeful ending.
Love in middle grade is undefined, and is more activity based—they do things together.
Middle grade characters reflect the ‘ideal selves’ of the readers.

If you write for this age group you need to ‘think like a gatekeeper’—parents, teachers or other adults who oversee what the middle grade child is reading.

Debbie Gonzales, curriculum specialist, talked about the common core and what teachers want.

Some of those things are:
inspiration
knowledge of topic
a story that is plotted to perfection
a well-researched book
a creative approach to the theme

She said that the writer should make an emotional connection—with your reader, and with your story.

Keep your eye on the Missouri SCBWI website for future programs. The 2015 Fall conference will be at the beginning of November—details will be on the website closer to the date.  Read More 
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Your Post Conference Plan

2014 Seeds of Success Missouri Fall Conference
What’s Your Post Conference Plan?

You attended that conference for children’s writers and now you’re really pumped! Your head is spinning with ways to revise that work-in-progress so it’s the award-winning picture book you’ve dreamed of. Attending the conference has opened doors to new places to submit your finished manuscripts, and sparked new ideas. And you’ve connected with some wonderful writers who were also at the conference.

Don’t let that drive get away! Here are some things to do to keep the ball rolling long after the conference is over.

Conference notes—

Hopefully you’ve taken good notes from the sessions that you attended. Now is the time to type them up, before the thought gets away from you, before you can’t remember what you meant by that scribble that you wrote down.

As you’re typing, you’re also going over all the great tips and advice that you received from the speakers. You’re thinking about how to use what you’ve learned in your own writing.

Handouts—

Don’t forget about those handouts that were passed out! Read or re-read them to keep them fresh in your mind.

Check out the websites or other links that are listed in the handouts. They may be market listings, great blogs to read about the craft of writing, or other helpful writing links.

Were there handouts about any upcoming events for writers that you’d like to attend? Check out the registration deadline and register on time, or before the event fills up.

Critiques—

If you received a manuscript critique at the conference, what suggestions did you get for improving your manuscript? Think about what was said, then revise while it’s still fresh in your mind.

Conference speakers—

Were there editors at the conference who are open to receiving manuscripts? Read their handout, and check out their website. What genres are they interested in receiving? If your manuscript fits what they’re looking for, is it ready for submission? If not, take the time to work on it now in order to submit it before that window of opportunity closes. Revise your manuscript, then take it to your critique group for their input before sending it out. Be sure to follow the guidelines given by the editor, and send it before the deadline!

If you’re looking for an agent and there was an agent at the conference, follow the same guide as for editors. Read their handout and check their website. Do they represent the type of manuscript that you write? Make your manuscript as perfect as possible before sending it to them. Follow their guidelines, and send it before the deadline.

Did you make a personal connection with an editor or agent at the conference? Was there an author who spoke or another speaker who offered advice that made a special connection to you in your writing? If so, think about sending a personal note to thank them.

Other conference attendees—

Part of the fun, and the benefit, of going to a conference is mingling and meeting other writers. There may be ‘old’ friends who you only see at writers’ events, but there are sure to be new people that you met as well. In this age of social media, it’s easy to follow up or keep in touch with other writers. Visit their websites or blogs. Check out who’s on facebook, twitter, or other social media sites.

New ideas—

Finally, did something spark a new idea in your mind? I always come away with new ideas-- it could be an idea for a new story, or a different way to revise something I've already started, or maybe it's something about marketing or author visits. If you’re like me, you need to write those ideas down, now! Before you forget them!

I attended the SCBWI conference in Missouri a week and a half ago. I’ve gotten some of my post-conference goals accomplished, and I’m working on the rest of them now. I hope to have some tips from the speakers ready to post soon!  Read More 
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Pre-Conference Prep—Are You Ready?!

2013 Missouri SCBWI Fall Conference

Ok, so you’ve signed up for that conference for children’s writers, and you’re psyched! One more week—are you ready? You’ve got paper/ pencil/ e-tablet, the conference schedule, directions to the conference facility, someone to watch the kids…. But are you really ready?? Here are five things to do ahead of time to get the most out of your conference experience.

#1—Read! If you haven’t done this already, now is the time to start!

• Read the conference website once again to make sure that you haven’t missed anything. Check the time. Are you in the same time zone? What time is check-in? Make sure to arrive a little before the conference starts to have time to pick up your packet, get something to drink, talk to friends, and find a good seat.

• Read the speaker bios on the conference website, but also read about them online. Check their blogs, tweets, facebook page. You can often find past interviews with the speakers online, too. In the case of an editor or agent, find out what books they’ve represented, what books they like and what they’re looking for.

• Read the speakers’ books—books that they’ve written, edited, represented, or books that they like or recommend. Check them out from your local library or look for them at your local bookstore.

#2—Prepare what to say if you’re asked about yourself as a writer, what you write or what you’re working on.

• Do you write picture books, non-fiction, middle grade novels or novels for teens? What about magazines? Are you a new writer, or have you been working at it for awhile? Decide what to share about your writing self with others you meet.

• What is your current project? Do you have something ready to send out? If so, prepare your ‘elevator pitch,’ in case an editor or agent should ask about it. You have about 60 seconds, or the time it takes to ride an elevator to the next floor, to leave a good first impression of your work, and leave them asking for more!

#3—Be ready to network! You may have an outgoing personality, or perhaps you’re more on the quiet side. But this is the place to meet others like yourself, with the same struggles and goals.

• Talk to others to get the most out of your conference experience. Talk to the person sitting next to you. Talk to people who you don’t know at lunch. You’ll be surprised what you take away from meeting other writers and illustrators. And you may just make some friends for life.

• Wear your nametag throughout the conference. I like to see name tags because I’m not always good at remembering names, and it’s nice to be able to call someone by name later if I forget.

• One of my personal experiences: I met my critique members at an SCBWI conference. We were all looking for a group of ‘serious’ children’s writers, and found that we lived within a 2-hour time span from each other. We agreed to meet in the middle, at a library, and have been meeting every other month since then for ten years. And even though I recently moved out of state, I continue to meet with them through Skype.

• Another personal experience: More than once I sat next to an editor who gave me their business card and invited me to submit my work.

• Yet another personal experience: By talking to others during breaks I met published authors who were not speakers and picked up writing tips from them.

• And finally: I met other struggling writers and learned how they organize their day to find writing time.

#4—Make a list of questions. Think about what you want to learn from the speakers, from your critique, and from the conference in general. Speakers need time to eat, go to the bathroom, re-group and just plain breathe! So be sure to ask your questions during the times allowed, such as at the end of your sessions, during a Q&A panel discussion, or during your critique time.

• First, ask yourself: What are my goals for the conference? What do I want to ‘take home’ with me when the conference is over? Are you looking for writing tips, feed-back on your manuscript, someplace to submit your work, or something else? Then, consider what you need to do beforehand to get what you’re looking for.

• Do you have specific questions that you’d like to have addressed in one of the sessions that you’ll be attending? If so write them down. There is usually time for questions at the end of the talk, or if there’s time, you can ask the speaker immediately following their talk.

• If there is a speaker panel assembled for Q&A, this is the perfect time to ask general questions and get feedback or opinions from all of the speakers.

• If you’re getting a manuscript critique, make a list of questions to ask at your face-to-face time with the person doing your critique. Is there something that you’re not sure about in organizing your manuscript? Do you have questions about places in your writing? Are you wondering about the marketability?

#5—Organize ahead of time! Don’t wait until the last minute to think about what to bring with you. Start getting things ready now!

• Get your note-taking tools together! Bring a pad of paper or two, a portfolio or something to write on (you won’t always be at a desk or table), extra pens or pencils (in case one breaks or runs out of ink, or you lose one), or an electronic device to take notes on. Bring a highlighter to use with handouts, and to highlight your personal schedule on the program that you’ll receive. DO NOT record the speakers presentation without permission, and DO NOT take pictures of power point slide presentations. These are the property of the speaker.

• Bring a shoulder bag or tote bag with lots of room! One with several pockets is ideal, with room for writing tools, books, handouts, wallet, keys and business cards. Leave your purse at home! You’ll want to have hands-free to be able to check out the freebies and handouts, browse books at book sales or displays, pick up your lunch, etc.

• Bring some money along for purchasing books—books by authors and books on craft and marketing. Authors are always happy to autograph their books, and there is usually time set aside for autographing.

• Plan to dress casually. Bring a sweater or jacket in case the room temperature is too cool. On the other side, you might want to layer your clothes in case it’s too warm.

• If you signed up for a critique, bring a copy of your manuscript along, just in case you need to refer to it.
• Bring business cards with your name, website, email and contact information on it to share with others you meet. You can print these inexpensively from your computer at home.

• If you are a published author, bring along business cards, promotional postcards or brochures to have in case someone asks for them. At many conferences there is a table where these can be left out for attendees to pick up. It’s an opportunity for editors, agents, teachers, librarians and readers to find out more about you and your books.

I hope these tips help you to enjoy your next conference even more! I’ll be attending the Missouri SCBWI Fall Conference for children’s writers & Illustrators, Seeds of Success, on September 6-7th. I’m getting organized little by little! I’ve been reading about the speakers who will be there and I’m looking forward to reading their books, which I just brought home from the library.

I hope to see some of you at Seeds of Success next week-end!  Read More 
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Elaine Marie Alphin—Award Winning Children’s Author, and Inspiration to Others

Author Elaine Marie Alphin

Elaine Marie Alphin’s last blog post, dated Thursday, July 28th, 2011, begins: “Honor, Honesty, Integrity—these are the virtues I have always admired and aspired to.”

Elaine was a fellow SCBWI member, and I first met her at an Indiana SCBWI conference, and was inspired. She was the author of many books for young readers which included fiction and non-fiction, beginning readers, middle grade novels and novels for young adults.

Her first published book for young readers was a middle grade novel. The Ghost Cadet (1991) was followed by Ghost Soldier (2001) —published by Henry Holt. Both books received several awards, and Ghost Soldier was nominated for the 2002 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Juvenile Mystery. Those were the first of many awards to come for her writing for children and teens.

Elaine passed away on August 19th, 2014, following a long illness. She is remembered by many for her kindness, and for her enthusiastic advice to other children’s writers.

Author Mary Ann Moore shared a memory on facebook: “I've never forgotten her example during a workshop. She said she always looked at publishing as like a football game. She expected obstacles and tackling, but got up, put her helmet back on and kept going. The game wouldn't last long if the players went home every time they got tackled. Thanks, Elaine, for your wise, heartfelt books and your generosity to new writers.”

In her book, Creating Characters Kids Will Love (Writers Digest Books 2000), Elaine talks about ‘Believable Kids on the Page.’ She says, “Characters are rarely passive; they take action. And the reader, as well as the other characters in the story, forms an impression of this character based on his actions.”

In an interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith on her blogsite, Cynsations, in 2007, when asked about the challenges of starting a novel, here’s what Elaine had to say: “The biggest challenge is getting an idea that will support a novel--the second biggest challenge is holding off charging ahead with that idea before you have a chance to work out what you really want to do with it...”

On her author profile at Lerner, Elaine shares this advice for future authors: “Read—read many different types of books. Read a book once for the wonder and the pleasure it brings you. Then read it again to see how the author did the things that made you love that book: the believable characterizations, the descriptive details, the exciting action, the thought-provoking theme. And write—…”

It’s good to have known you, Elaine. Blessings to you and your family.  Read More 
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There's Corn in Missouri!

It's that time of year for harvesting various fruits and vegetables! Back in Indiana and here in Missouri, too, we're thinking about corn on the cob right about now. So I thought I'd share a post-from-the-past. I hope you enjoy my corny riddles for writers (answers at the end--copyright Peggy Archer 2010).

1--What was the author's favorite baby toy?
2--Why did the author sit under the light bulb?
3--Where do vampires go to write?
4--Why did the poet give his book away?
5--What kind of books do carpenters write?
6--What did the mailperson put on when the temperature got cold?
7--How does a musician write a bestseller?
8--How did the bird tell everyone about his book?
9--Why did the journalist sit outside his cubicle to write?
10--How may writers does it take to change a lightbulb? (from a screenwriting email list)

Quote & advice for writers: "It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop."
--Corn-fucius (aka Confucius)

answers:

1--Writers blocks
2--He was waiting for a bright idea.
3--Pencil-vania
4--It was free verse.
5--Board books
6--a Cover letter
7--He writes noteworthy fiction.
8--He tweeted.
9--He was thinking outside of the box.
10--Only one, but it needs a spectacular twist at the end.
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Missouri SCBWI Fall conference Line-Up is Impressive!


Missouri Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators has something for everyone! Whether you're new to writing or illustrating children's books or a published author or illustrator, if you write picture books, middle grade novels, or young adult novels, or if your interest is in illustrating children's books, this is the place for you on September 6th and 7th!

What?
Missouri SCBWI Fall Conference: Seeds of Success

Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators conference

When?
Saturday, September 6th—8:00 am to 9:30 pm
Sunday, September 7th—8:30 am to 11:30 am

Where?
Lindenwood University, Spellman Center
209 N. Kingshighway Street - St. Charles, Missouri 63302

Last Day to register: August 20, 2014!

Who?
—featured speakers:


Jodell Sadler—Agent
Nancy Gallt—Agent
Elena Giovinazzo—Agent
Krista Marino—Editor at Delacorte (YA and MG)
Deborah Halverson—freelance editor, author, writing instructor
Guiseppe Castellano—Art director at Penguin group
Josh Stevens—Publisher
Dan Yaccarino—author/illustrator
Carolyn Mueller—Author/Illustrator
Heather Brewer—Author
Amanda Doyle—Author
Steve Sheinkin—NF Author
Cecily White—Author
Nancy Polette—Author (on writing biographies for children)
Debbie Gonzales—Curriculum Specialist

for authors—First 5 Lines
for illustrators—postcard evaluations

Sunday Intensives (choose one):
1—Deborah Halverson: How to Build Your Own Teenager: Techniques for Writing Believable MG/YA Characters
2— Debbie Gonzales: The Anatomy of a Teacher’s guide: A Hands On Approach to CCSS Project Creation
3— Jodell Sadler: Ten Tips Workshop for Writing Your Heart into Picture Books
4— Guiseppe Castallano: A Conversation with an Art Director
 Read More 
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Meet Middle Grade Author and RA for MO SCBWI, Kim Piddington!


My special guest this week is Kim Piddington, author of middle grade (MG) fiction, and the current Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) in Missouri. Kim is a great promoter of reading, writing, and children’s literature. She has served on the executive board of the Missouri Center for the Book, is a National Writing Project Teacher consultant, and is on the executive board of the Language Arts Department of Southwest Missouri (LAD) which holds one of the largest and longest running writing contests for children.

Welcome, Kim! You are such an active participant in promoting reading and writing for both children and adults, and I appreciate that. Can you tell us what made you want to write for children?

I always wanted to write. I started emulating the authors I was reading when I was in elementary school. I took tons of creative writing courses in college. But no one ever counseled me how to make a living at it. After college, I packed my pencil and notebook away until my inner writer was reawakened by the bNational Writing Project/b (NWP) in 1997.

You have a teaching background. Did teaching influence you to go back to writing?

I think after teaching MG children for 20 years- the MG voice is what is firmly entrenched in my head! I write MG exclusively. I’ve written one historical fiction, one fantasy, and am working on a contemporary fiction.

In California, I taught 7th grade English for 5 years, then I moved to a self-contained 6th grade class (teaching all subjects) for 10. I moved to Missouri and finished off by teaching 5th grade English for 5 years. I was writing my first book at that time, and my students would come in at lunch to read my chapters as I finished them. It was very eye opening for me to see what words and concepts they stumbled over.

Do you work on one project at a time or more than one?
More than one.

What are you working on now?

My agent suggested some revisions to my fantasy, so I’m working on those. I also started a contemporary MG to keep me going when I hit the revision wall.

How did you meet your agent, and what do you think helped you to ‘connect’ with her?

I met my agent, Lori Kilkelly of Rodeen Literary, at the 2013 SCBWI MO Fall Conference. I had sent in a query, synopsis and the first 5 pages of my fantasy to be critiqued. She really liked it, but I told her it was a work in progress and it wouldn’t be finished for several months. Then she told me she’d checked my webpage and saw that I had a historical fiction manuscript finished. She wanted to read that while I worked on the fantasy. I was actually afraid to send it to her! But thank goodness I did, because she loved it and signed me based on that book.
Moral of the story: personal connections really help and make sure you have a webpage!

How do you feel having an agent benefits you, personally?

I love Lori! She makes me feel like she is my biggest fan. She is positive, a great person to bounce ideas off of, and thanks to her, my manuscript is sitting on the desks of editors at places like Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, etc—places I had no access to without her. She really looks out for her clients—sending us links to writing advice, sending us news tidbits that pertain to the industry, and she even checks on and likes my facebook posts. Did I mention I love her? I feel very lucky!

When, and why, did you join SCBWI?

I used to take my students to a conference that featured great children’s authors every year. In 2010, my historical fiction manuscript had just won first place in the Pike’s Peak Writing Contest, Children’s Category—and I had no idea what to do next. One of the authors there suggested I join SCBWI—so I did. About six months later, Joyce Ragland asked me to be ARA (Assistant Regional Advisor) for SCBWI in Missouri. When she stepped down in 2013, I took over as RA (Regional Advisor).

SCBWI has opened so many doors for me—I’ve traveled to both Los Angeles & New York to attend the national conferences, learned a ton about the craft of writing by attending SCBWI workshops, and met the most fantastic people. And I met my agent at an SCBWI event. I think it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be where I am today as a writer without SCBWI.

I’m a long-time member and great supporter of the Society of Children’s Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI). Can you share some reasons why you would recommend membership in SCBWI to other children’s writers and illustrators?

Writing can be lonely—SCBWI offers you an opportunity to meet up with others who have the same goals/dreams as you. They provide top-notch “training” for writers & illustrators via their conferences and workshops. You get the opportunity to have your work critiqued by the best in the business, which could eventually lead to representation. And you meet fantastic, interesting, caring people.

Is SCBWI a good fit for self-published writers as well as traditionally published writers?

SCBWI recently created an annual award specifically for self-published authors. And ANY author can benefit from the craft lessons that are such a big part of every SCBWI event. SCBWI also offers opportunities to network—which is invaluable when you have a book to market.

What are you working on now for Missouri children’s authors and illustrators?

Currently, we are working on the SCBWI Fall Conference. I’m so excited about our lineup—I really feel we have something for everyone.

In addition, we are working on choosing the finalists for the PB mentorship program with David Harrison, as well as running a scholarship contest for both writers & illustrators that is tied to the fall Conference.

I’m looking forward to the fall conference myself, which features three agents, two editors, several published authors, an art director, two author/illustrators, and a curriculum specialist! There is something for everyone, from picture books to middle grade and young adult. Critique spots are filling up fast, but there is still a chance to snag a critique with an agent, an editor, and a portfolio critique with an art director or author/illustrator!

Kim, you are also a National Writing Project (NWP) Teacher Consultant. What can you tell us about that?

The NWP focuses the knowledge, expertise, and leadership of our nation's educators on sustained efforts to improve writing and learning for all learners. The NWP is a network of sites anchored at colleges and universities and serving teachers across disciplines and at all levels, early childhood through university. We provide professional development, develop resources, generate research, and act on knowledge to improve the teaching of writing and learning in schools and communities.

The National Writing Project believes that access to high-quality educational experiences is a basic right of all learners and a cornerstone of equity. We work in partnership with institutions, organizations, and communities to develop and sustain leadership for educational improvement. Throughout our work, we value and seek diversity—our own as well as that of our students and their communities—and recognize that practice is strengthened when we incorporate multiple ways of knowing that are informed by culture and experience.

I have been a NWP member for 13 years. It shaped me as teacher, reminded me I was a writer, and gave me the skills (after serving as the Ozark Writing project Youth Coordinator and hosting an annual MG conference for over 500 students for several years) to plan and organize events for SCBWI. I’m still active in this organization and think the work they do is important and inspiring.

You are a member of ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents) and several local writing groups including the Springfield Writers’ Guild and the Ozarks Writers League. How are these professional organizations important to you as a writer?

All of these organizations help me stay connected to other writers, as well as provide opportunities to get work critiqued, and learn more about the craft of writing. ALAN holds a conference each year at the end of NCTE, which is amazing! Dozens of successful and up & coming YA (young adult) authors in every genre speak either individually or on panels AND you walk away with an amazing box of books that would retail for 5 times what you paid for the conference. One of my “author dreams” is to be invited to speak there some day!

What can you tell us about the other projects/organizations that you are involved in that have to do with writing, children, education, etc.?

I served on the executive board of the Missouri Center for the Book for a brief time. They have a GREAT program- letters about literature- for school children. They also chose which Missouri book will represent the state at the National Book Festival.

In addition, I am also on the executive board of LAD which holds one of the largest and longest running writing contests for children. There are over 70 categories, k-12, and they receive over 5,000 entries each year. I love judging- it’s amazing to see the work these students produce.

Outside of writing, what other interests do you have?

I’m married and have two beautiful daughters. One is getting married in the fall and the other is heading off to college—so I’m spending as much time as I can with them now.

I love gardening (weeds sprout overnight in this weather), baking, and traveling. I also have several horses and a passel of dogs & cats—so I spend a lot of time scooping poop!

Thank you so much for sharing some of your writing life with us here, Kim!

Kim lives with her family in Ozark, Missouri. Readers can find out more about Kim on her website.  Read More 
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What Writers Learn from Reading Picture Books


Most people who read picture books to children enjoy the simple language and uncomplicated story lines. It’s ‘cute.’ It’s ‘simple.’ So writing them must be easy, right? You probably don’t want to say that to someone who writes picture books!

Advice that published authors, editors and agents give to struggling picture book writers is invaluable.
‘Use the five senses’ to bring the reader into the story.
Use dialogue and action to move the story along.
And the number one piece of advice to writers—‘Show, Don’t Tell.’

But how exactly do we do that? One way to learn is by reading other picture books. From the classics to those recently published and award-winning picture books! Read them all! But especially read recently published picture books. Within their pages you’ll see how other authors successfully make use of different writing techniques.

When you read picture books, read them out loud.

In an "http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-henry-sterry/jane-yolen-americas-hans-_b_5398407.html">interview in the Huffington Post on May 28, 2014 Jane Yolen says: “…I believe the eye and ear are different listeners. So as writers, we have to please both.”
When asked what the editing process is like for her when working on a picture book she said, “Reading it aloud over and over.” Click the link above to read the entire interview.

Read many picture books to hone your ear for sentence structure, vocabulary, pacing, rhythm, and page turns. Listen for language. The language needs to sound good when read aloud.
When you’re done reading, type out the text to see how the words look without illustrations

Here are some links with advice about writing a picture book. You can find more by doing an online search for ‘advice on writing picture books.’

Harold Underdown’s website, The Purple Crayon, has links to articles about writing picture books.

Read a post by Emma Dryden about Why Playing It Safe May Be the Most Dangerous Game of All.

Read Christie Wright Wild’s blogpost for another perspective on how to study picture books.

Why Do Editors Say Not to Write in Rhyme? Read Tara Lazar’s blog post for some of the reasons.

If you're a picture book writer looking for information or inspiration, and you live in the St. Louis area, please join me this Saturday, June 28th, at the St. Peters Cultural Arts Center on Mexico Road at a meeting of the Saturday Writers. I'll be doing a presentation on The Nuts & Bolts of Writing a Picture Book, followed by Revision & Marketing. Saturday Writers is a group of ‘writers encouraging writers,’ and is a chapter of the Missouri Writers Guild.  Read More 
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A Writer is a Writer, Wherever You Are...


The weather finally changed here in Missouri, from winter to summer, with a brief spring season in between. My husband and I are back to walking. As we walk, my mind wanders. There’s so much inspiration all around us. Birds, bugs, butterflies—oh, oh. There’s that sudden flash of alliteration, not uncommon to children’s writers, and poets.

We enjoy walking at the parks the most. Being surrounded by nature is peaceful. It makes you forget the sore muscles you have from the long, lazy winter. We see all kinds of birds, and butterflies, dragonflies, wooly caterpillars, rabbits, squirrels, and maybe a groundhog or a deer.

We see even more if we’re walking with grandchildren. Which reminds me that things we take for granted are more exciting in the eyes of children.

We walk down a dirt trail covered with leaves.

Grandson: “What’s that?! There on that leaf? A toad!”
Me, looking down: “Oh, there’s another one!”
Grandson: “More! They’re all over the place!”

He was right. Do you remember that Indiana Jones movie where the snakes covered the floor and made it look like the floor was moving? That’s kind of how the trail looked for a minute.

Grandson: “I’m going to catch one.”
Me: “Stay away from that poison oak!”
Grandson, pointing too closely at a plant with five leaves: “What does it look like? Is this it?”
We stay on the path, surrounded by tiny toads.
Grandson: “Look! He just jumped into my hand! I’m going to take him home.”
Me, thinking that we should have brought some hand sanitizer: “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Where would you keep it?”
Grandson: “In a cage.”
Me, thinking about a toad hopping around in my car: “You can’t keep him in a cage. He belongs in nature.”
Grandson: “Oh. Ok. Take a picture to show my dad.”
I snap a picture, the toad hops out of his hand, and we head back to the paved trail.

Another day some of our other grandchildren were taking a family walk and came across some deer in a field.

Grandson: “Can we pet them?”
Mom: “No, we can’t pet the deer.”
Grandson: “Oh.” Then after thinking about it for a minute—“I guess they’re only good for eating then.”

I won’t tell you what our ‘princess’ granddaughter said, which was really out of character!

It makes me stop to think about what things go through a child’s mind. Their unpredictability makes them so much fun. And fun to write for.

Back to our walk, we cross over a bridge and see nests, and holes in the ground. We hear a variety of bird songs, which another granddaughter can identify the birds by.

We pass by a lake and see trout and turtles and twigs. Oh, my, there goes that alliteration.

We hear crickets and rustlings in wooded areas. And my mind is immersed in stories that need to be told. Poems that should be written. And the desire to write them. Because a writer is a writer wherever you are.

Today, June 2nd, is the opening of the 2014 Picture Book Walk at Quail Ridge Park in Wentzville, Missouri. Berlioz the Bear, by Jan Brett is this summer’s featured picture book. From 3:00 to 5:00 pm today there will be games, activities and crafts for children inside the lodge by the lake. But any time this summer, you can take the short ¾ mile walk around the lake and read the book, which is displayed, spread by spread, at various posts around the lake. The Picture Book Walk is sponsored by the St. Charles County Parks Department and the St. Charles City-County Library District.

If you know of any similar picture book walks in your area parks, please post them in your comments.

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Breaking the ‘Rules’ of Picture Book Writing… and Coming Out a Winner!

Anthropomorphic pickle

The Children’s Choice Book Awards for 2014 were announced on May 15th—the only awards chosen by children and teens in support of their favorite books. The Book of the Year, as voted on by students in kindergarten through the second grade, is THE DAY THE CRAYONS QUIT by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. Jeffers was also a finalist for Illustrator of the Year.

I read this book and thought it was great. But what about those experts who tell us not to write books about inanimate objects with human qualities?! Isn’t this what Daywalt did here?

On her website, Fiction Notes, Darcy Pattison says: “Rarely do... inanimate objects as characters make successful picture books.” She continues: “Yes, I know about SpongeBob and Veggie Tales. But those stories really shouldn’t work. … Only the most skilled writers can pull this off and usually not in a picture book.”

Also from Darcy’s blog, Doubleday editor, Francoise Bui said, “It’s preferable to have a young child as protagonist, or an animal. It needs to be someone who the child reader can relate to.”

On her website, Writing-World.com, author and editor Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz lists this as #2 of the eight types of stories that publishers don’t want to see.

OK, so what those experts really mean is, don’t do it unless you can pull it off really well, and your story is totally original!

Here are some other picture books that used inanimate objects as characters and came out winners.

THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD by Watty Piper 1930, Published by Platt & Munk a Division of Grosset & Dunlap. This book is still loved by any child who loves trains.

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.

SNOWMEN AT NIGHT by Caralyn buehner , Harcourt 2005. What do snowmen do when everyone else is asleep? I love the rhythm and rhyme in this book.

I STINK! by Kate and Jim McMullan, HarperCollins 2006. My grandkids all LOVE this one! The title alone is enough to attract any child’s attention.

Jon Scieszka’s TRUCKTOWN books, Simon Spotlight. Picture books or beginning readers, any boy (or girl) who likes trucks will love these books.

TOOLS RULE by Aaron Meshon, Atheneum Books for Young Readers 2014. “With a click, click and a bang! bang!, everyone from Wrench, Hammer, and Screwdriver right down to Nuts and Bolts is pitching in to make a shed.” The title and an original topic make me want to put this on my reserve list at the library!

“Breaking the rules” for the sake of breaking them won’t work in the world of picture books. But if a story just begs to be written from the point of view of an inanimate object, if it’s high interest for picture book readers, andif a child can relate to what’s going on in the story, why not give it a try?
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