by: Sarah Momo Romero
This winter has been an usually cold and wet one in Los Angeles. For me, the unexpected rains and cooler temperatures are a welcome change, our Earth definitely needs all the replenishment it needs after the scorching summer heat. But I also find myself with the winter blues, cooped up inside longer than I’m used to. It made me realize how different circumstances or changes in our lives affect our emotions and well-being. This month, I’m featuring a few picture books by author/illustrators who focus on the different feelings we all experience, diving a bit deeper than just the happy feelings picture books often create.
The Happiest Book Ever written and illustrated by the “friendly author” Bob Shea is a refreshing take on a seemingly happy book. The bright colors and collage style illustrations fill each page with energy popping off each page. The narrator’s voice is snazzy and commands attention, like the life of the party, while the glum toad seems to ruin all his fun. With plenty of happy, dancing animals and shapes to explore on each page, Shea also creates tension with his dynamic use of color. Young readers will connect to the range of emotions and the interactive nature of The Happiest Book Ever.
No Fits Nilson written and illustrated by Zachariah Ohora puts a fun spin on the tantrums all of us can experience, especially someone like me who deals with the horrendous driving and the L.A. traffic. In Ohora's signature animated style, a little girl and her gorilla friend experience the consequences of losing their tempers and try to figure out the best way to handle not losing their cool.
Whether you're feeling the love from this month's Valentine's Day or trying to kick the winter blues, I hope these picture books offer you a different perspective on all the emotions and the enjoyable ways illustrations express them.
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. Her debut picture book, "Wake Up, Little Bat!" is out now through Clear Fork Publishing!
by Bryan Patrick Avery
Inevitably, after I perform a magic trick for someone, the age-old question comes up: “How did you do that?” I usually just smile and fall back on my time-tested answer: “Magic.” This might sound strange, but there’s something about that particular answer that actually pulls people in closer. The fact that I have a secret makes me just a little bit more interesting. The same principle can work in our stories as well. This month, let’s look at two books with main characters who have a secret and see how it helps the reader relate, and even sympathize with them.
“The Season of Styx Malone”, a middle grade novel by Kekla Magoon, tells the story of two brothers living in rural Indiana. Caleb and Bobby Gene spend the summer playing in the woods behind their house. When an ill-advised trade for a sack of fireworks goes horribly wrong, the brothers flee into the woods behind their home to hide the evidence. There, they literally run into Styx Malone. Bobby Gene is wary, but Caleb is instantly enamored with Styx’s charm and style. When Styx helps them out of their fireworks jam, and then ups the ante with a promise of something even greater, Caleb jumps at the chance to break out of his ordinary life.
The “something greater” becomes known as the Great Escalator Trade, where the three boys plan to trade a list of items that increase in value until they reach their ultimate goal, a green moped. The catch, of course, is that their plan must stay secret. We of course, are let in the secret, and the ever-growing list of risks they take and lies they tell to get to their goal. As Caleb’s confidantes (the book is told in first person from his point of view), we are taken along on the roller coaster of emotions that accompany keeping the secret, and the dread that comes once it all starts to fall apart.
If you’re looking for a middle grade example with great voice and emotional tension, check out “The Season of Styx Malone”. You won’t regret it.
Xiomara Batista, heroine of the National Book Award winner “The Poet X”, has two secrets. The first is the poetry hidden inside her leather journal. The second is a boy, Aman, who she’s begun to fall for. In Elizabeth Acevedo’s incredible book in verse, it’s these two secrets that pull us into Xiomara’s life and make us want to fight alongside her.
As Xiomara begins to understand what, and who, she wants, she is confronted with the harsh reality that her dreams are far from what her mother wants for her. As a result, her secrets become more important to keep, even through the fights and punishments that come. Once her secrets are laid bare (first Aman, then the journal) Xiomara pushed to the breaking point and we stand by her side. Acevedo’s poetry, honed by years of poetry performance experience, is nothing short of breathtaking. Xiomara’s journey is a tale not to be missed. By the way, I also recommend checking out the audiobook as well, read by Acevedo herself. Hearing her poems, coming from heart, gave me chills.
That’s all for this month. Take my advice, try giving your character a secret and see where it takes your story. Have a magical month.
by Melissa Stoller
I work with many writing groups that perform varied functions. I’m part of several outstanding critique groups and I value my critique partners tremendously. I’m also a member of a few marketing groups that offer invaluable assistance surrounding a book’s debut year promotion and beyond.
This weekend, at the SCBWI Annual Winter Conference in New York City, I met in person for the first time many of my critique partners and marketing group pals. I had met other writing friends previously at book events, and some I haven’t connected with live yet. I look forward to continuing the strong relationships I have created with my writing groups - I know they will continue to be sources of support and encouragement during our book writing journeys!
Here’s some insight into my writing groups:
Some members of the #BOOKBLASTERS marketing group at the SCBWI NY Conference
Critique partners fulfill many important roles. They are the other talented writers who can help you make your stories shine. CPs provide excellent feedback on manuscripts.They offer constructive comments on what’s working, and they provide suggestions about the challenges that need further exploration and revising. And critique partners can help with brainstorming ideas and discussing the marketability of a story. Excellent critique partners can cheer each other on, offer inspiration, and help set and achieve writing goals. Above all, who else will read your draft and make helpful comments multiple times besides your trusted critique partners?
Some member of the #EPIC18 marketing group at lunch during the SCBWI NY Conference
I enjoy being part of several vibrant marketing groups that provide support as we navigate through our publishing journeys. These groups offer guidance related to marketing and promotion, book launches, school visits, and so much more. #Epic18 is a group of incredible debut picture book authors and illustrators who banded together for support during 2018, our debut year. I’m also working with #BookMeshuggenahs, a wonderful group of Jewish women authors publishing Jewish-themed children’s books; #BookBlasters, an amazing new group of children’s book authors connected to The Children’s Book Academy and Clear Fork Publishing; and #SeenIn19, a talented group of non-debut authors with picture books releasing in 2019. I’m so happy to be part of these groups as we travel similar publishing paths. I look forward to being a cheerleader for all my marketing group friends as our new books burst into the world!
Stay tuned next month for part two of this post, examining how to organize, conduct, and maintain a thriving critique group. In the meantime, happy creating!
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 2019); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush and Ready, Set, GOrilla! (Clear Fork, 2018), and Return of the Magic Paintbrush and Sadie’s Shabbat Stories (Clear Fork, 2019). 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 and Blogger for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, a Moderator 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. Additionally, she is a member of the Board of Trustees at The Hewitt School and at Temple Shaaray Tefila. Melissa lives in New York City with her husband, three daughters, and one puppy.
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 feature funny Aussie author Sharon Giltrow sharing awesome Aussie books.
And 5th Mondays will feature Libyan American author Koloud Tarapolsi sharing wonderful diverse books.