By Melissa Stoller
It feels like a long time has passed since the beginning of the pandemic. What are you doing to stay creative? Now might be the perfect time to try something new or revisit a favorite activity to jump-start your motivation.
Here are a few actions you can implement today that might be helpful during these challenging times:
1) Meditation - try a few calming breaths as you think about ideas you want to pursue or revisions that are waiting. Sometimes, closing your eyes can offer a moment of peace, and in that moment, a brilliant new idea or a solution to a story block can appear. Remember to have a notepad nearby to capture your reflections.
2) Affirmation - pick a phrase that is meaningful to you and your writing journey and say it aloud or tape it to your computer or writing notebook. It could be something like, “I am an author,” “My words are meaningful,” or “I’m writing because . . . .“ Hopefully, these affirmations will strengthen your resolve to be creative and to allow yourself to write, revise, polish, and repeat.
3) Movement - take a walk around the block, do some easy stretches, practice yoga, take a bike ride, go for a swim, or do them all. The possibilities are endless. Often, movement clears your mind and allows for space, and that space gives you room for creative pursuits.
I hope these actions help spur your writing inspiration and motivation throughout August and beyond. Let me know what works for you in the comments!
Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection - Return to Coney Island and The Liberty Bell Train Ride (Clear Fork Publishing, 2017 and 2021); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, Fall 2018). Upcoming books include Sadie’s Shabbat Stories and Return of the Magic Paintbrush (CFP). Melissa is a Blogger and Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, a Moderator for the Debut Picture Book Study Group, a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY, and a founding member of The Book Meshuggenahs. In other chapters of her life, 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 family, and enjoys theatre, museums, and long beach walks.
Every now and then, you have the good fortune to meet someone magical and extraordinary. That’s how I feel about Vincent X Kirsch. I first met Vincent through one of his books, Noah Webster and His Words written by a friend, Jerri Chase Ferris, and illustrated by Vincent. It was love at first sight. Then I had more good fortune when Vince became a student and joined our Craft and Business of Writing Picture Books AND our upcoming Craft and Business of Illustrating Children's Books course. He ended up contributing fantastic materials to the illustration course including an unbelievable filmed critique where he critiqued some of my art live. Wow!!! Ever since, we have been beautiful friends and I treasure both his work and his friendship. This book review will give you a glimpse into just how exquisite Vince is to show how he connects heart, humor, whimsy, beauty and important life lessons for kids.
How I Learned to Fall Out of Trees is a heartfelt, tender story about two close friends who must say goodbye. The two friends spend a lot of time outdoors together, discovering and collecting an assortment of things they love, like leaves, feathers, and bird’s nests. But then Adelia has to move. Roger is crushed. As she prepares to leave, she tells Roger the best way to climb a tree, step by step; first as they are playing outside, then while he helps her pack.
As the moving truck is ready to take Adelia and her family away, Roger asks her a final, concerning question about climbing a tree. He asks, “What if I fall?” Adelia answers, “Falling will be easy. Letting go will be the hardest part.”
And she’s not just talking about the tree. What Roger doesn’t realize is that Adelia has left him a special gift… an assortment of the soft things they had collected. A gift intended to make the transition easier - not just the transition of letting go from the tree to land softly and safely, but also in letting her go.
This is a clever and beautifully written story that parallels two situations that could result in a hard landing. But with just the right sensitivity, care and support from a friend, Vince shows kids how letting go doesn’t have to be quite so painful.
Next up is a wee video showing how Vince's art and words connect. If you'd like to buy this books and support Vincent, an independent bookstore, and our scholarships, please visit: https://bookshop.org/books/how-i-learned-to-fall-out-of-trees/9781419734137
Find out more about Vincent X Kirsch and his work at www.vincentxkirsch.com
Dr. Mira Reisberg is incredibly excited to be co-teaching the highly interactive and super successful Craft and Business of Illustrating Children's Books with the first live training starting August 31st! Fabulous bonuses are starting right now. Click here to find out more and score the time-sensitive $100 discount!
She is also co-leading a magical FREE webinar with her crew below on Writing, Illustrating, and Selling Your Kidlit Creativity on August 15th at 4PM Pacific/7PM Eastern!!! Just click here to join!
Hook Readers with the First Line of Your Picture Book
By Maggie Lauren Brown
Since picture books consist of few words, every word counts. This is especially true of the opening line. When a reader browses a bookstore, they might pick up a book and look at the title and cover, or they might flip to the first page to see if it catches their attention. As authors, it’s our job to grab them in some way with that very first line.
There are many ways to do this, but today I’ll discuss four examples of what an opening line can accomplish:
The first example, from TASTE YOUR WORDS by Bonnie Clark and Todd Bright, shows how to present the inciting incident in the very first line. The opening line is, “Amera’s friend Maddie accidentally bumped into her at lunch.” This “inciting incident” (the event that sends the main character off on their quest), wastes no time thrusting the reader into the story’s action. It’s hard to put the book down when the excitement has already begun.
The next example, from MOTHER BRUCE by Ryan T. Higgins, introduces an interesting character. The opening lines are, “Bruce was a bear who lived all by himself. He was a grump.” This example uses two lines, but they are short and work together. Instantly we get a feel for Bruce’s personality. The lines also raise questions: Why is Bruce so grumpy? Do other bears live with family or friends? What’s going to happen to Bruce in this story, and how will him being a grump play into that?
The next example, from FRANKENBUNNY by Jill Esbaum and Alice Brereton, demonstrates how to set the tone of the story. The opening line is, “You know monsters aren’t real, right?” Immediately, the reader knows the book will have monsters in it and will probably be a little creepy. At the same time, the tone is conversational and lets the reader know that the narrator has something to prove to them. In addition to establishing the creepy-yet-lighthearted tone, this line uses another device by asking a question—this engages the reader by getting them to think of their response.
The last example, from IDA, ALWAYS by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso, shows how to present an intriguing setting. The opening line is, “Gus lived in a big park in the middle of an even bigger city.” Immediately the reader gets a sense of a bustling location filled with lots of action. The reader will wonder what kind of park and what city it is, and will have to read on to find out.
Look at the opening line in one of your picture books. What does it accomplish? Would it hook a reader and make them instantly want to know more? If not, time to revise!
There are more strategies than just these; you could show the main character’s problem, present an interesting fact, make a joke, and more. Let me know your favorite strategy in the comments. Happy writing!
Once upon a time, Maggie Lauren Brown performed as a synchronized swimmer, mermaid-for-hire, and high school English teacher. Now, she writes about her adventures in children’s books. Maggie is an SCBWI and 12x12 member, a Children's Book Academy course assistant, and is represented by Adria Goetz of Martin Literary Management. Maggie's debut picture book, JOY THE PANDACORN, releases next year with Clear Fork Publishing.
by Bryan Patrick Avery
There are some books readers return to again and again. We re-read them until we have every word memorized, the cover falls off, and we begin to feel like the characters are part of our family. Why?
Most often, the answer is because we fall in love with the characters. So, how do we create a character readers will love? Here are three simple steps to get you started. We’ll use three popular characters as examples. We’ll use ROSCOE RILEY RULES #1 by Katherine Applegate, DOG MAN by Dav Pilkey, and THE BAD GUYS by Aaron Blabey.
Step 1: Select a recognizable character.
This is typically (a) something your reader can either relate to (for example, a child close to their age or an animal that they recognize) or (b) something your reader can easily understand without a lot of backstory (think of the characters in many Dr. Suess books).
In the case of ROSCOE RILEY RULES, Roscoe is a first grader. Because the book is a chapter book, readers can easily relate to Roscoe.
In THE BAD GUYS, the main character is Mr. Wolf. Yes, that wolf. As in Big and Bad. He’s a character readers can easily understand.
Dog Man, the main character in DOG MAN is also something that readers can understand without much backstory. An early chapter covers the accident that explains how Dog Man came to be, but readers don’t need to know the ins and outs of medical transplants to get the idea. It’s a dog’s head on a man’s body. Dog Man. Simple.
Step 2: Give your reader an issue or flaw.
Not to be mistaken with a story problem. This is a flaw that is simply part of the character. It would exist regardless of the book the character is in.
Roscoe constantly finds himself in trouble.
Mr. Wolf is feared by everyone.
Dog Man is half man, half dog. Yikes!
These issues or flaws make a character more interesting and realistic. Perfect characters tend to be boring. Watching a character struggle against their flaw engages the reader and helps drive the story.
Step 3: Give your character something to do.
A relatable character with an interesting flaw won’t be much fun to read about if they just stand around. They have to have something to do.
Roscoe has to get ready for his class performance.
Mr. Wolf wants to become a hero.
Dog Man's life is in danger.
Once they have something do, your character’s flaw or flaws will start to play a role in the challenges they face.
That’s it. Follow these three steps and you can start creating characters you, and your readers, will love.
Well, that’s all for this month. Happy writing and have a magical month.
Bryan Patrick Avery discovered a love of magic and mystery at the age of four, after receiving a magic set and his first Bobbsey Twins Mystery book. Today, he is an award-winning poet and author, and a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and the Mystery Writers of America. He's also a life member of the Society of American Magicians (which was once led by Harry Houdini) and charter member of the International Association of Black Magical Artists. Bryan's greatest joy is making stories appear out of thin air.
by Ave Maria Cross
ON A BEAM OF LIGHT, A Story of Albert Einstein, by Jennifer Berne; pictures by Vladimir Radunsky
Albert Einstein was different – but in a good way. He rarely spoke as a child – he was a thinker. His story is captured in this book with simple words and illustrations which move the story forward in a delightful way. Einstein was misunderstood at first; his life was filled with trials and breakthroughs. When he was stuck on solving a tricky problem, he played his violin. Einstein was a wonderer who questioned everything and eventually became a world-renowned genius. The writer, Jennifer Berne gives us insight into his quirky world and Vladimir Radunsky’s illustrations allude to Einstein’s character with brilliant pictures.
VOICE OF FREEDOM – FANNIE LOU HAMER, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, by Carole Boston Weatherford; Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Fannie Lou Hamer was born into abject poverty in 1917 in rural Mississippi and picked cotton with her family beginning at 6 years old – but she grew up to be one determined lady. She experienced unspeakable pain and overcame unbelievable hardship in her quest to gain voting rights denied to African Americans. Fannie Lou Hamer was denied a seat at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, however, she attended through the auspices of the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party. Carole Boston Weatherford brilliantly and painstakingly writes the story in African American southern vernacular. Ekua Holmes’s illustrations utilize collage, which are stunning; her visuals astutely represent the ‘patchwork life’ of Fannie Lou Hamer.
RADIANT CHILD, The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, by Javaka Steptoe
Jean-Michel Basquiat was a cultural phenomenon; he saw everything through his mind’s eye, and processed it as art in his own way. He dreamed of being an artist and relentlessly honed his craft. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s mother was very instrumental in nurturing his art, however, he eventually experiences the break-up of his parents and his mother mental illness. In New York City, Jean Michel’s purpose is awakened. Javaka Steptoe is a brilliant storyteller, artist, designer and illustrator; this is his debut picture book which he brilliantly emulates the artwork of Jean-Michel utilizing collage.
Ave Maria Cross fell in love with theatre and dramatic art as a girl. In elementary school, the first books Ave read were biographies; her collection of picture book biographies is extensive – people’s lives are quite dramatic! Ave writes madcap plays for kids in poetry, rap & rhyme. Ave is a kidlit writer/illustrator, a member of the CHILDRENS BOOK ACADEMY, an active member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the Puppeteers of America, as well. Oh, the drama of it all!
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, 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 several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature the fabulous debut author/illustrator Maggie Brown.
And 5th Mondays will feature the wonderful Ave Maria Cross