nobody's posted? i'm going to take this opportunity to raise a flag for the remaindered picture book. several of them in fact, deserve consideration for themes and nearly intangible pluses (sp?) that drew my children, and if i scan the internet, many other children to pick those books off the shelf bedtime after bedtime after, oh god, bedtime. Most of these books were on my kids' bookshelves, even past the approved picture book stage (because i was reading them first, then stashing them where it was unlikely anyone in their snobby adulthood would point a finger at me) and are still there, many without covers, which attests to the fact that not only i was reading them.
first up, a book that my daughter nikki asked for every day for months straight, sometimes reading it three or four times in a row before another book could be approached. when i finally, guiltily, sneaked it out of the house and returned it to the library, i had a $54 fine to pay
leopold is the first character we meet, waiting on a streetcorner for a likely crumb-dropping person to follow for a meal. questionable as his motives might sound, they must be part of the appeal for the young reader.
it takes a little time to figure out he's invisible, but the trouble he gets into along the way makes for plenty of fun that kids get right away. the intrepid heroine makes it her business to discover just what kind of creature is making all this trouble for her, and by the end of the book she has devised a most creative way to see him.
massie's story was done in rhyme, if i remember correctly, good rhyme.
the story concerned a sea monster who liked to read, but the fishes who provided reading light also tasted pretty good. an exploration of delayed gratification taken to its outer limits.
it was among the more truly laugh out loud books we enjoyed if only for the all too expected unfortunate finish for many of the reading lights despite the monster's professed desires and promises not to eat them. and does end with a secure, if somewhat wary, friendship in place.
best image i could find, i'm sorry to report, and no time to dig through the filing cabinet to find my photocopied pages of an inexpensive book that didn't hold up physically, but the story has remained alive and well in my children's memory.
it starts with a single protagonist, silas, a baby alligator who goes the way of many baby alligators. in case you can't quite read it, the subtitle reads "the sewer story."
silas leads the many fellow mid-sized alligators into a creative plan to escape back to the swamps in florida. funny enough to read and to look at the pictures, but even funnier as the kids fall to the side with laughter as marx-like pix of bewigged and dressed up alligators board buses and motorcycles in exactly the same fashion shown in the movie of the same title, making their way singly or in small groups, all to successfully meet as friends and comrades back home, the best of all possible happy endings.
this book in particular, i can't imagine it wasn't a caldecott consideration, but its poorly rhymed text was a little weak. would that keep it from being a contender?
as picture books go, the thematic material was unusual, in that it spoke more to the value of a child's experience serving adults in their own life's journey.
much as i love it, i can look at this title, unlike the others mentioned so far, and see reasons why it might not have been judged successful. but remaindering is a common end for picture books, and the logic i'm offering is not necessarily the publisher's logic, which is more often about the cost of storage space if a book doesn't sell off the shelf in record time.
but it was also a bold journey being expressed for the young heroine, as she made friends along the way, and a fine adventure, and a spectacular birthday party, into the bargain.
recently, i checked with a local librarian who knows her bookshelf, and asked for stories of children and their relationships with grandparents. she came up with a single title, a boy on the farm with granddad, basically just page after page of they did this, then this. informative, perhaps, but hardly engaging. surely someone could write a story to fill this neglected niche.
a search on the internet will bring up many of the interior images from these books, an internet activity that would be worth your time, inspiration-wise. many libraries still have copies of these books, the donnell library in nyc makes a habit of putting old picture books in their reference section, and they were kind enough to let me make photocopies of books i wanted to keep in my files. this was before i was published, so this was not a factor. in other words, you too may. . .
near where i live now, in wv, the sheperdstown university keeps ancient picture books on shelves for students well beyond picture book age, and you may find a college near you is equally farsighted.
done quickly to fill the gap, please excuse typos and imperfect images, should they occur.
have fun reading,
I'm naturally wordy, in my head at least. In person I hardly say much, but my internal dialogue is everlasting. Whenever I write an email, blog post or story, it's often overwritten and sometimes meandering. I need to get every thought and synonym possibility on the page in order to get to the core of the piece. Over the years, I've been fortunate to be a part of excellent critique groups whose members have helped me keep my word counts in check.
Picture book writers hear it time and time again that sell-able stories should be 500 words or less - a challenging task. I once revised my 1600 word manuscript (a ridiculous length considering today's standards) to 700 words. After wiping the sweat off my brow, it was hard for me to fathom that I needed to cut more. Today it rests at 635 words. And I've let it rest for the moment.
I use to think of the revision process as sacrificial and near painful at times. However, I've realized that my quest for lower word counts can be a freeing and dare I say a fun challenge that allows me to play with language even more. I've come to a place where I've found liberation through constraint. I've realized that I actually didn't need three strings of onomatopoeia and I didn't need to invite all of the animals to the birthday party.
I fell in love with writing picture books many years ago. I still love the genre because it can conjure such depth of emotion so simply. Here are two examples.
These are some tips that I've learned along the way to keep word counts down:
1. Stay with the main character's story line
2. Show don’t tell - telling usually requires more words
3. Use adjectives and modifiers sparingly
4. Choose terrific tell-all verbs
5. Pacing is key - don't linger unnecessarily in the beginning, middle or end
6. Pass it on - have someone you trust critique it
7. Sleep on it - or hibernate on it - nothing beats a fresh set of eyes even if they're your own
I’d love to hear your tips!
Carol Higgins-Lawrence wrote her first story at the age of five. Her father paid her a quarter for it and she's been writing ever since. She's taken a variety of courses in writing for children. Multicultural perspectives are of particular interest to her. Carol is of Jamaican descent and was born and raised in Canada. She has a BA in Communications and Sociology and she has completed coursework towards a MA in TESOL. She has worked as a literacy educator for the past 15 years. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and two young children. You can visit her website at carolhl.weebly.com
I recently reviewed You Nest Here With Me, by Jane Yolen and her daughter, Heidi E Y Stemple.The book is brilliant on several levels. It’s a bedtime book that teaches about birds. It’s bird book that emphasizes the bond between mother and child. It’s a work of art to be studied and re-read and loved.
Jane Yolen books make my heart sing. So spending four days with Jane last month for her Picture Book Boot Camp, was life changing. I felt renewed by Jane’s wisdom, wit and generosity. I felt so welcomed by both Jane and Heidi. It was as if they were telling me: "You nest here with me." In our efforts to imitate the best of birds, we can make our nest a comfy cozy place to hatch stories by doing three things.
1. Make your nest and write in it. On good days Jane writes about 8 hours a day. She’s the perfect example of how her saying “Butt in Chair” works. Almost 400 books later, she still writes every day. She suggests that we have a dedicated writing space where we can spread our stuff out and schedule time to write. For more on squeezing writing into your busy schedule, read my previous post.
Jane let me snap a quick selfie in one of her three nests, where she wrote Owl Moon.
2. Send your story to a different bird. Jane says you can’t count on editors knowing what they want until they see it. They want a book they love. When you’ve written a book you know is good, sometimes you need to send it to someone who may not like it and take a chance that they will see the brilliance of it.
3. Persist and your story will eventually find a nest. During the picture book boot camp Jane received several rejections. In fact, we had an entire discussion about the worst rejections we’d ever gotten. Jane said: “Change is inevitable. Change is inevitable in you, in your writing, in the whole world. Don’t chase anything but the story because that’s not going to change. The story is bigger than you and your reader. The story becomes the conduit between you and the reader. Write the story and never give up.”
Spending real time with Jane Yolen was like finding my writing home--a nest of learning and inspiration and revitalization of my writing life. As we take her advice by finding time for writing stories that soar, sending our stories out and persisting, we will reach our writing goals. Because after all, it isn’t every day that we have a chance to nest with Jane Yolen.
Kirsti Call is a homeschooling mom of five. Her debut picture book, The Raindrop Who Couldn't Fall, came out December 2013. Her family band, Calling Out, plays songs written by her children. She contributes to Writer's Rumpus, and Kids are Writers. If you visit her house, you’ll likely find her building a nest for current writing projects. You can find out more about her at www.kirsticall.com.
Being a writer can be lonely. There are days when you sit for hours in front of a blank computer screen willing the words to come. Then there are days when your fingers can't move fast enough to keep up with the speed of the thoughts flying about your head. You get up, take a break for a few minutes, and then are back at it.
Regardless of which type of day you have, you are still mostly alone pouring your heart out onto the page and hoping desperately that someone will like it. Actually, you don't want them to just like it, you want them to LOVE it! Love it enough to buy it. Right now!
But how do you know if it's good enough?
You turn to your intrepid critique group.
You have one, right? Everyone should have a critique group. They are your best friends. The ones who will read ANYTHING you send them. The ones who will tell you the TRUTH about your manuscript. The ones who will cheer with you when you finally sell it! And the ones who will give you hugs when you receive those many rejection letters.
It used to be difficult to find people in your area that are interested in writing. But no more. With the internet anything is possible.
Not sure where to start?
Take a look at your state SCBWI.org website. Many of them have a place on their site that hooks people up with critiquers in their area.
Do a search on Facebook for writing groups. There are TONS of them. Find one that matches what you write and ask to join. Writers are the most friendly of people and are always willing to help one another. (Which makes for a fun village, don't you know)
Here are a couple of Facebook groups to try out:
You ask to join these groups and then write a post about how you are looking for someone to be your critique partner. People are bound to respond and either offer to join your group or point you in the right direction of a different group.
Finding a critique group is just a part of the great information that you can find online. I might also mention that these groups also offer TONS of information about the writing industry and are great places to just hang out and "lurk". Here you will find out about agents, editors, how to do submissions, contests that are going on, classes you can take to improve your craft, and just general information on most everything about writing and publishing kidlit.
Once you're in a group. Be a good critique-mate.
Be prompt with your comments.
Be kind, but truthful with your comments.
Be supportive and keep up the lines of communication.
Be willing to take a look at something you aren't familiar with to help our your writing partners.
The people in your critique group can grow to be some of your best friends. Mine are.
Well good luck! Find a critique group and become a part of the "writing village". It's a FUN place to be!!
Jennifer Swanson is the author of over 20 books for children. She has been a critique group leader for over 5 years and has loved every minute of it.
Her critique group-mates are some of her very best friends. They have helped her figure out many plot-twists, understand many characters inner emotions, and even helped come up with blog post topics a time or two.
To learn more about Jennifer, visit her website at
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