by Bryan Patrick Avery
This month, I started trying something new with my magic. My aim is to select a single trick each month, learn it, and complete at least 500 rehearsals during the month. The benefit, at least I see it, are two-fold. First, it encourages me to expand my repertoire. Second, and perhaps most important, it helps me to build better practicing habits, which leads to better results. The same, of course, is true with writing and illustrating.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve heard that writers must write every day. I once heard Sue Grafton say, “a writer is someone who has written today”. While not every successful writer would agree with the philosophy, there is something to be said for putting in the work of creating stories every day to help improve technique and even stoke the creative fire within.
Personally, when I write every day, I find that I generate more ideas, get more words down on the page, and generally feel more positive about my work. Whether it’s every day, or weekly, there are benefits to setting aside regular time for creativity.
Creating every day isn’t always easy, though. That’s where an accountability partner or writing group can help. I’ve also found motivation in several of the monthly creative challenges that are available online.
One of my favorites is Tara Lazar’s Storystorm, a 30-day quest to generate 30 picture book ideas in 30 days. Formerly Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo), if it sounds challenging, that’s point. When I first attempted it, I wasn’t sure I could generate that many ideas in a year, much less a month! But I dove in and, by the end of the month, I had 30+ ideas. Of course, not all of them were great, but out of the thirty, several have turned into manuscripts and one has found a publisher. Storystorm kicks off each January. If you’re a picture book author, I highly recommend it.
Another monthly writing challenge I’ve enjoyed is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) which challenges writers to write a novel in month. Every November, writers around the world sign up for this challenge and spend the month drafting their novels. If it sounds daunting, it is. But it’s also fun. I’ve found that, with the prospect of having to finish in a month, I stop thinking about getting every detail perfect and focus instead on the getting the story down on paper. Someone once told me that you can’t revise something that hasn’t been written. NaNoWriMo might just be a way for you to get your latest idea down on paper.
These monthly challenges aren’t just for the writers among us. Inktober, in progress now, is the brain child of artist Jake Parker. Artists are challenged to create 31 ink drawings in 31 days. What’s especially cool is that there is a prompt for each day to inspire or challenge the artist. In addition, artists are encouraged to post their work daily. It’s fun perusing social media sites and seeing all the #inktober postings. It is truly inspiring.
So that’s all for this month, three ways to help get you working and drive creativity. Happy writing (and illustrating)! Have a magical month!
by Mira Reisberg
The White Book is a wonderful wordless story told through illustration about a young boy and the fantastic things he creates with his paint roller. As he creates, these pictures of different animals come alive and leave the confines of his canvas. The bigger the painting the more trouble he finds himself in. The White Book does an incredible job of telling a story without words. The illustrations are fun and imaginative and will delight any who see them. Check out our wee video review below.
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.
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.
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