workby Bryan Patrick Avery
I’ve written before about my enjoyment of watching and performing classic magic tricks. There’s something extra satisfying about an effect that has stood the test of time. In addition, studying the classics can help any magician improve his own work. Among my favorites is Triumph (Google it). It’s been performed for decades (longer if you count some of its predecessors). This month, I’d like to take a look at some classic children’s books. Just as with magic tricks, studying these can help us all become better writers.
The first of these is the classic middle grade mystery The Westing Game. Ellen Raskin's novel won the Newberry Medal in 1979 and has, for the nearly forty years since, been a favorite of both young readers and teachers. It tells the story of a young girl named Turtle, her family and neighbors, who play a game in an attempt to determine who is responsible for the death of Samuel Westing. The winner becomes heir to Westing’s incredible fortune. The story twists and turns as it moves towards it surprising conclusion, immersing the reader all the wall to the final page.
As writers, we often hear that character is one of the most important parts of a story and Ellen Raskin has created a compelling cast of characters. From Turtle’s over the top mother to the highly organized but a bit too judgmental judge, there is no shortage of diversity of character. In fact, in a story with more than a dozen key characters, it remains surprisingly easy to tell each character apart. This, along with Raskin’s brilliant mystery, keeps the reader engaged. Whether you’re into mysteries or not, The Westing Game is great example of classic middle grade fiction.
A picture book that is consistently referenced in writing classes and also remains a kid favorite (it was one of my daughter’s favorites) is Gene Zion’s Harry the Dirty Dog. Illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham, it tells the story of a dog (Harry) who goes to great lengths to avoid taking a bath. When his efforts end up making him unrecognizable, Harry must figure out how to get reunited with his family.
Published originally in 1956, Harry the Dirty Dog has stood the test of time. It is a simple, straightforward story that resonates with kids but also shows the consequences of our main character's actions and the escalating conflict that ensues. Another great thing about this book are the page turns. Zion and Graham have done an excellent job of making the most of every page turn. It’s a fun read and we can all learn a lot from studying the pages turns alone.
Lastly, I’d like to take a look at a relatively new book, but one destined to become a classic: 2008 Newberry Award Finalist Chains, written by Laurie Halse Anderson. Set at the start of the Revolutionary War, Chains tells the story of Isabel, at thirteen-year-old black girl who is enslaved. When an offer of freedom in exchange for spying on her owners goes awry, Isabel decides that she can depend only on herself.
Set against the backdrop of one of the most important times in American history and populated with fascinating characters, all of whom must deal with their own internal and external conflicts, Chains is a book that pulls readers in from the very first page and never lets go. If, like me, you reach the final page and wish for more, you’re in luck. Chains is the first in a trilogy. Also look for Forge (2012) and Ashes (2017).
That’s all for this month. Post in the comments your favorite classics. Happy writing!
This is a post that I wrote a year ago just before our last illustration course. Because it's still just as relevant now as then and I'm busy setting up another one of our fabulous free webinars and putting together a bonus writing humor for kids course and trying to get the word out about the illustration course (yikes), I decided to run this post again. If you read it, you might enjoy reading it again and if you haven't, well... what more can I say? :)
There's a great saying that Henry Ford allegedly said, "Think you can, think you can't; you're right eitherway."
Most people when they think of illustration, they think about needing to draw like Michaelangelo, which traditional illustration exemplified. And while I love traditional realistic style illustration, I also love many of the books being illustrated right now that incorporate contemporary art moves like collage, abstraction, indigenous art, and expressionism where realism and correct proportions are totally thrown out the window in favor of flavor, fun, emotion, abstraction, and imagination. Both traditionally trained artists and brand new artists access that inner playful childlike place to make their work sing. Below is a wee video of some of my favorites.
If you enjoy this post, please leave a comment and if you'd like to join Houghton Mifflin Harcourt books for young readers and their imprint Clarion Books Associate Art Director Sharismar Rodriguez and me in a fun free webinar/workshop, click the link for that right here. And if you'd like to know more about the course click here!
PS If you know anyone who might be interested in an extraordinary children's book illustrating course scholarship, please share this link http://bit.ly/1NnXLQn
Applications will be ending September 5th.
by Bryan Patrick Avery
Several of my favorite magic effects to perform are decades old. One, in fact, was first printed over 100 years ago. It’s been interesting to watch many of the recent changes in magic brought on by YouTube performances and the growing emphasis of street magic as influenced by magicians like Chris Capehart, David Blaine, and Jibrizy. Like magic, children’s books have undergone an interesting change in recent years as well.
Many recent award winners and bestsellers have strayed from the tradition approach to storytelling and have embraced new ways to entertain, excite, and enlighten. This month, we’ll look at three such books. First up, a graphic novel Neil Gaiman calls “a masterpiece”.
Vera Brosgol’s graphic novel, Anya’s Ghost, tells the story of Anya, who falls down a well and meets a ghost named Emily. Anya is an outsider at school and just as uncomfortable at home. Emily’s presence starts out as something useful, but soon becomes creepy. When Anya agrees to help solve Emily’s century old murder, and Emily agrees to help Anya with a boy at school, things really go off the rails.
Anya’s Ghost manages to be creepy and heartwarming, helped in no small measure by Brosgol’s artwork. If you’re interested in writing a graphic novel, this is one you must read.
Just as graphic novels have grown in popularity among readers and publishers, so have novels in verse. Perhaps the most celebrate work in this area is Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover which won the Newberry Medal.
The Crossover tells the story of Josh Bell, basketball phenom, son, and twin brother. As the story unfolds through a series of masterful verses, we get to see Josh at his best and his worst. What is, perhaps, most amazing about The Crossover is the emotional pull it has and I find it impossible to imagine the story told in any other way. Whether you want to write in verse or not, every writer can learn from Alexander’s work.
If you’re looking to be inspired by a truly creative work, check out Corinna Luyken’s picture book The Book of Mistakes. The story is simple. The author shares with us, the readers, a series of mistakes then goes on to show how they inspired something greater. By the end of the book, we’ve come full circle but can now see how big mistakes can lead to great achievements. The message is inspiring and the artwork is beautiful. It is truly an immersive experience and a very different type of picture book.
Well, that’s all for this month. I passed the midway point in my own graphic novel manuscript yesterday. Now it’s on to the finish. Have a magical month!
By Mandy C. Yates
Check out some of the new pictures that have come out or are coming out in 2017! All of these books are about reading, writing, words, and literacy. Enjoy!
Twenty-three poems capture the joys of reading from that thrilling moment when a child first learns to decipher words to the excitement that follows in reading everything from road signs to field guides to internet articles to stories. These poems also explore what reading does, lyrically celebrating how it opens minds, can make you kind, and allows you to explore the whole world. Ryan O’Rourke’s rich artwork beautifully captures the imagination and playfulness in these poems.
From bestselling Landmarks author Robert Macfarlane and acclaimed artist & author Jackie Morris -- a beautiful illustrated book for readers young and oldAll over the country, there are words disappearing from children's lives. These are the words of the natural world -- Dandelion, Otter, Bramble and Acorn, all gone. The rich landscape of wild imagination and wild play is rapidly fading from our children's minds.The Lost Words stands against the disappearance of wild childhood. It is a joyful celebration of nature words and the natural world they invoke. With acrostic spell-poems by award-winning writer Robert Macfarlane and hand-painted illustration by Jackie Morris, this enchanting book captures the irreplaceable magic of language and nature for all ages.
This book is full of wonderful WORDS and beautiful PICTURES! And it's EXCITING! And it's FUNNY! It might be the BEST BOOK EVER—if we could decide whose book it is. Redd and Bloo explore the way a book is made and accidentally build a friendship, too, in this tale told only in dialogue. Travis Foster and Ethan Long offer a hilarious story about the joy of reading, which brings people together in unexpected ways, proving that each book truly belongs to . . . the people who love it.
This clever celebration of words and their meanings features a strong cowgirl who wrangles words alongside cattle.
Lexie is the best wrangler west of the Mississippi—word wrangler, that is. She watches over baby letters while they grow into words and ties shorter words together into longer ones; she herds words into sentences, hitches sentences together, and pens them all in to tell a story. But lately, something seems off at the ranch. First the d goes missing from her bandana, leaving her with a banana to tie around her neck, and soon afterward every S-T-A-R in the sky turns into R-A-T-S. There’s no doubt about it—there’s a word rustler causing this ruckus, and Lexie plans to track him down . . . even if it means riding her horse through the sticky icing of a desert that’s suddenly become a giant dessert.
Four friends are excited to play together, but each one has a different idea of what they should do. Period (the serious one) believes they should go to the library. Question Mark (the confused one) wonders whether they can chase butterflies…or was it whether butter flies? Comma (the hungry one) just runs on and on about food. Exclamation Point (the crazy one) wants to go on lots of extreme adventures! That are dangerous! And exciting!
With everyone only thinking about themselves, their friendship almost comes to a full stop, until a strange and unexpected newcomer shows them how much more fun life can be when everyone works together...
In the magical land of fairy tales, William doesn’t quite fit in. He’d rather poach pears than pursue princesses, and he values gnocchi over knighthood. . . .
When he stumbles on a delivery of food destined for Fairy-Tale Headquarters (a pumpkin, apples, and a few measly beans), he decides to spice things up and whips the paltry ingredients into delectable dishes. But as you might have guessed, Snow White’s wicked stepmother doesn’t exactly want her magic apple baked and drizzled with caramel.
Madeline Finn DOES NOT like to read.
Not even the menu on the ice cream truck.
But Madeline Finn DOES want a gold star from her teacher.
Stars are for good readers.
Stars are for understanding words.
And saying them out loud.
Fortunately, Madeline Finn meets Bonnie, a library dog. Reading out loud to Bonnie isn't so bad. When Madeline Finn gets stuck, Bonnie doesn't mind. Madeline Finn can pet her until she figures the word out.
As it turns out, it's fun to read when you're not afraid of making mistakes. Bonnie teaches Madeline Finn that it s okay to go slow. And to keep trying. Just like the sticker says.
In this fun and funny celebration of literacy, kids of all ages will discover that the act of reading is a daring adventure that can take you anywhere! You can read at the playground, under the sea, at the opera and even in outer space! It turns out you can read everywhere! And when you do, you open yourself to a universe of adventure.
Presented in light-hearted, rib-tickling verse that's perfect for reading aloud, You Can Read sings it loud and proud: Books are awesome. And so are the people who read them.
A charming, suspenseful, and wholly original picture book about the adventure of growing up, from the acclaimed and bestselling creator of Red: A Crayon’s Story and Wonderfall.
When Little i’s dot falls off, rolls down a hill, over a cliff, and into the sea, Little i sets out on a journey to rescue it.
With a playful focus on the alphabet, spelling, and simple punctuation, this charming and suspenseful quest story about letters, self-confidence, belonging, and growing up is a great choice for the classroom, library story-hours, and bedtime.
Bunny loves to sit outside the library with the kids and listen to summer story time. But when the weather gets cold and everyone moves inside, his daily dose of joy is gone. Desperate, Bunny refuses to miss out on any more reading time and devises a plan to sneak into the library at night . . . through the library’s book drop!
What follows is an adorable caper that brings an inquisitive, fuzzy bunny and his woodland pals up close and personal with the books they have grown to love. A warm celebration of the power of books, Bunny’s Book Club is sure to bring knowing smiles to any child, parent, teacher, bookseller, and librarian who understands the one-of-a-kind magic of reading.
Go “outside,” “elsewhere,” and down the “rabbit hole” with this hilarious introduction to compound words. Young readers will fall in love with the English language as they watch star cartoonist Ivan Brunetti put his sly spin on vocabulary. The lesson here? Even “homework” is fun when you let yourself play with the words.
The alphabet thief stole all of the B’s, and all of the bowls became owls…
When night falls, along comes a peculiar thief who steals each letter of the alphabet, creating a topsy-turvy world as she goes. It seems that no one can stop her, until the Z’s finally send her to sleep so that all the other letters can scamper back to where they belong.
Bill Richardson’s zany rhymes and Roxanna Bikadoroff’s hilarious illustrations will delight young readers with the silly fun they can have with language — and may even inspire budding young writers and artists to create their own word games.
From award-winning author Elissa Brent Weissman comes a collection of quirky, smart, and vulnerable childhood works by some of today’s foremost children’s authors and illustrators—revealing young talent, the storytellers they would one day become, and the creativity they inspire today.
Everyone’s story begins somewhere…
For Linda Sue Park, it was a trip to the ocean, a brand-new typewriter, and a little creative license.
For Jarrett J. Krosoczka, it was a third grade writing assignment that ignited a creative fire in a kid who liked to draw.
For Kwame Alexander, it was a loving poem composed for Mother’s Day—and perfected through draft after discarded draft.
For others, it was a teacher, a parent, a beloved book, a word of encouragement. It was trying, and failing, and trying again. It was a love of words, and pictures, and stories.
Your story is beginning, too. Where will it go?
A hilarious and satisfying tale of literacy, dental hygiene, and friendship from David Elliott and Melissa Sweet that is sure to have readers in stitches from start to finish.
Baabwaa is a sheep who loves to knit. Wooliam is a sheep who loves to read. It sounds a bit boring, but they like it. Then, quite unexpectedly, a third sheep shows up. A funny-looking sheep who wears a tattered wool coat and has long, dreadfully decaying teeth. Wooliam, being well-read, recognizes their new acquaintance: the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing! The wolf is so flattered to discover his literary reputation precedes him that he stops trying to eat Baabwaa and Wooliam. And a discovery by the sheep turns the encounter into an unexpected friendship.
We are so excited to be mixing things up at the Children's Book Academy. Mondays with Mandy or Mira is now the Blogfish!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays will feature award-winning former agent and former kidlit professor Mira Reisberg PhD who is also the Director of the Children's Book Academy.
2nd Mondays will feature reading specialist and MFA in creative writing graduate Mandy Yates has been published multiple times in Highlights Magazine.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature the great Christine Taylor-Butler who has published over 70 award-winning fiction and non-fiction and nonfiction books including the acclaimed new middle grade series - The Lost Tribes.
And 5th Mondays will feature will feature the fabulous Carl Angel, award-winning multi-published Illustrator and graphic designer.
Join Our Tribe
and receive all sorts of goodies including the 7 steps to Creative Happiness!
And don't worry, we will never share your email with anyone!
Follow This Blog