by Bryan Patrick Avery
One of the most anticipated releases among magicians of the past several decades has to be the recently released “The Magic of Johnny Thompson”. Released just last month, it’s sold out everywhere (thank goodness I got my copy). The two-volume set covers the life and the work of one of the most storied legends of magic. Reading through it got me thinking about the ways we can tell true stories without making them feel like lectures or instruction manuals. This month, let’s take a look at a few non-fiction books that tell true stories in new and interesting ways.
“Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee”, by Andrea J. Loney and illustrated by Keith Mallett, tells the story of Harlem Renaissance photographer James VanDerZee. Though the story takes us from VanDerZee’s first exposure to photography all the way through his now famous exhibit, Harlem on My Mind, it doesn’t simply read as a collection of facts along a time line. Instead, Loney uses strong imagery and onomatopoeia in the text to create an immersive experience for the reader. The result is a story that makes an emotional connection with the reader while telling the story of an important figure in American history.
Another interesting way to present a biography is to focus on a single event or time in the subject’s life. This is what Carol Boston Weatherford did in “Before John Was a Jazz Giant”, illustrated by Sean Qualls. A Coretta Scott King Honor book, this book tells the story of how jazz great John Coltrane used the experiences of his childhood (family, church, and community) to influence his music. The rhythm of the story, each line beginning with the words “Before John Was a Jazz Giant”, pulls the reader through the book and towards an ending that brings the story to a satisfying conclusion. Coupled with Qualls’ illustration, Weatherford’s story is truly a work of art.
Of course, biographies aren’t the only non-fiction stories to tell. In “We Shall Overcome, The Story of a Song”, written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton, we learn the history of the iconic civil rights song, We Shall Overcome. From its humble beginnings as a song sung by slaves on American plantations through the civil rights movement and beyond, we see the power the song had on those who sang it, giving them hope, bringing them together, and leading the way towards a better world. The book is inspiring, and a treasured reminder that what we create, has the power to change the world.
That’s all for this month, I’m off to spend the day with Johnny Thompson’s book to find some inspiration of my own. Have a great and magical month.
by Melissa Stoller
The “heart” of a picture book can provide an emotionally satisfying depth, an “a-ha” moment, and the truthful core layer of a story. That elusive heart can serve as a connection between the reader and the story. Other components of a story are important: plot, structure, character arc, voice, interplay between text and illustration, luscious language, theme, and more. But if the heart of the story isn’t clear and impactful, the story may not resonate with children or adults.
So how does a writer ensure that the “heart” layer is present?
First, read many picture books and notice the heart of the story. And when drafting a manuscript, identify the heart moment (or moments) as you would identify the character arc, theme, and plot. If you can’t locate a heart layer in your manuscript, revise until that component is as strong at the theme or the structure. When the heart of your story is compelling, readers will care about your characters and plot and the book will be meaningful long after the final page turn.
These debut picture books provide excellent examples of heart. The quotes below highlight the universal emotions present in these stories, but to gain a full appreciation of the text and illustrations, you’ll have to read the whole book:
1) “The world is so big! I want to go see it, Daddy. You and me together.” Alma and How She got Her Name, by Juana Martinez-Neal. Readers will identify with wanting to explore the whole world with a trusted parent, and they’ll connect with Alma as she discovers the story of her name.
2) “What’s happening? Is that applause? It’s my fans! They still love me, no matter what.” I Am Famous, by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie, pictures by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff. Children will connect with the idea of family and friends loving them, no matter what.
3) “When all the supplies were gathered, Ruby asked, ‘Who wants to help me cut the boards?’ ‘Not me,’ said Oscar Lee. ‘I don’t think so,’ said Rodrigo. ‘No way,’ said José. ‘I’m too busy.’ ‘Fine,’ said Ruby. ‘I’ll cut them myself.’” The Little Red Fort, by Brenda Maier, pictures by Sonia Sanchez. Children will relate to Ruby, who asks her brothers to help, but when they are too busy, she does it herself.
4) “The future is in your footsteps. Freedom is in your feet. Put one in front of the other, and greet your destiny.” This is It, by Daria Peoples-Riley. Readers will feel the emotion of a young ballerina, poised to begin her dance, and will connect with her journey.
5) “Kipling lined up his wishing rocks and made a wish for Mama on each one. He waited and waited, but not even one Wish Mama came home.” Love, Mama, by Jeanette Bradley. Young children will relate to Kipling, who is waiting for his Mama to return, and they will feel the emotion at the core of this story.
When drafting and revising picture books, include “heart” in your stories. This important element will help you build an emotional bridge to your readers, ensuring they will want to read your book again and again.
Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection - Book One: Return to Coney Island and Book Two: The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and Fall 2018); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, Summer and Fall 2018). She is also the co-author of The Parent-Child Book Club: Connecting With Your Kids Through Reading (HorizonLine Publishing, 2009). Melissa is an Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, an Admin for The Debut Picture Book Study Group, and a volunteer with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators/MetroNY. Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy. When not writing or reading, she can be found exploring NYC with family and friends, traveling, and adding treasures to her collections.
Hullo sweet thangs - we have 2 lovely videos to share with you from two awesome former students. First up we have Nancy Churnin's biography of Irving Berlin followed by Rosie J. Pova's Sarah's Song. While they are really different from each other, what they have in common is a great love and connection with their subject matter and beautiful poetic language.
Take a peek and let me know what you think in the comments xox
Also, have a peek at Nancy's website right here http://www.nancychurnin.com/
And make sure to visit Rosie J Pova right here https://www.rosiejpova.com/
Mira Reisberg—Editor and Art Director at Clearfork Publishing/Spork. Director of the Children’s Book Academy
Over the past 30 years, Mira has worn just about every hat in the children’s book industry including award-winning illustrator, author, and children’s literary agent. Mira holds a PhD in Education and Cultural Studies with a focus on Children’s Literature. She taught university level children’s book courses before starting her own international online school – the Children’s Book Academy. Mira’s students have published well over 200 books and won just about every American children’s book award. Her first edited and art-directed acquisitions at Clearfork/Spork will be available at the end of 2018 and early 2019. She feels very grateful to help make the world a better and more joyful place through kidlit.
by: Sarah Momo Romero
This month, I went to Japan for the most incredibly fun, exciting and inspirational two week vacation. My husband and I went to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, and I stopped by a children’s book store at each major city in search of a picture book gem to bring home with me. I had to stop myself from buying all the adorable, beautiful picture books, but I did find quite a few I couldn’t leave without. I wish I knew how to speak Japanese so I could actually read these enchanting stories, but as I always do for these posts, I will focus on the amazing artwork. And as soon as I have the chance, I plan to visit my grandma for story time and translations for my new treasures. Regardless of the language, the best thing about picture books is the art speaks for itself. Here are a few of my favorite finds from my art-filled vacation. (Note: All translated information below is correct to the best of my knowledge, but please forgive me if I’ve gotten any of it wrong.)
I found the following collection of picture books at the most adorable children’s bookstore I’ve ever been to, Crayon House, in Tokyo.
The cover of Chirri and Chirra immediately caught my attention as capturing the essence of cuteness in Japan. The author and illustrator, Kaya Doi, creates a soft and dreamy world full of delicious treats and friendly animals with her signature colored pencil and crayon.
The illustrations of the forest and nature made me think of my early morning walk through Yoyogi Park. It was so peaceful and relaxing, and Doi’s illustrations captured this feeling exactly in her forest scenes. Flipping through this picture book felt like being in a child’s dream or fairy tale, so delightful and enchanting.
Chirri and Chirra was translated into English, and you can find it on Amazon:
This second book, きょうはそらにまるいつき, is by author illustrator Ryoji Arai. The illustrations are the complete opposite of Chirri and Chirra, with its textural brushstrokes and darker color palette. Ryoji captures the energy of city life, with brilliant lights against the night sky, and the quiet moments filled with warmth.
I love Arai’s different perspectives on the world he creates, including the bird’s eye view of the city below. With so many skyscraper buildings and high-rises in Tokyo, it’s easy to see why Arai would choose to create a view of the bright bustling city contrasted with the darkness of the lush park in the distance. I found the link for this book on Japan’s Amazon, but unfortunately was not able to find an English version.
The Mountain of Flowers by Jiro Takihira and Ryusuke Saito is simple and stunning. The contrast of the black background against the stark white figures and minimal color exude a unique sense of character and place. This very graphic style of illustration is reminiscent of wood-cut block printing with an abstract and minimalistic color palette. I just have to have this book for my collection. You can find this book here:
And last but not least, Millie’s Marvelous Hat by Satoshi Kitamura, is my favorite discovery from Tokyo. I loved Kitamura’s uneven, whimsical linework and his vivid use of water color. The faces on his characters are playful and distinct, each one with his or her own imaginative hat and I loved the little details on the page. Kitamura has a way of using patterns and distinctive shapes to create a playful world rich in details without being realistic. And Millie is just plain adorable. You can find his book here:
This trip to Japan has opened my eyes to a culture and lifestyle that has captured my heart and ignited ideas and inspiration beyond my expectations. I hope you've enjoyed seeing a glimpse of Japan through my picture book finds. I definitely enjoyed looking for these gems, and think I've discovered my new pass-time for vacation - picture book hunting in new cities! Have you found any cute and unique children's book stores during your travels? Do you have a unique children's book store you love to visit outside of Los Angeles? I'd love to hear about it to add to my list!
Sarah Momo Romero is a Japanese Peruvian American artist, a graphic designer by day and children's book author and illustrator by night. She’s loved drawing and painting since she was a chiquita and now crafts stories of adventure and wondrous creatures. Sarah is an active SCBWI member who draws inspiration from her life in sunny Los Angeles with her husband/creative partner and dog/infamous escape artist, Peanut. Look out for her first picture book, "Wake Up, Little Bat!" coming out in the Fall of 2018!
We are so excited to be mixing things up at the Children's Book Academy, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome new bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with Clear Fork/Spork editor/art director, former agent and former kidlit professor Mira Reisberg PhD who is also the Director of the Children's Book Academy.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with new books coming soon.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature the fabulous soon to be debut author/illustrator Sarah Momo Romero.
And 5th Mondays will feature awesomely irreverent and super funny Aussie author Brydie Wright.
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