How critiquing can rock your world
by Mira Reisberg
Because it's the end of the first week of a new course, I've been too busy to spend the hours of putting a new blog post together, plus I've been disheartened by the lack of comments or responses to this labor of love. So today I'm doing a shorter post that draws upon other things that I've already written that might be helpful.
This month I did some editor first page critiques for Kathy Temean's blog Writing and Illustrating for Children. And while I was doing the first page critiques, I realized that part of why I love doing critiques so much is not only the helping part but also the selfish part of how much I learn from doing them. It is so difficult to see your own work no matter how experienced you are and critiquing how other's work can be improved is often insightful into how you can apply those same principles to your own work. Critiquing also teaches you how to be more analytical in deconstructing stories, which of course helps with your own story self-analysis.
Over the years I've developed this critiquing template for our students to use with their own work or in the small critique groups that we set up. If you find it helpful, please leave a comment below. And if you want to take a peek at the first page critiques that I did for Kathy Temean's blog, simply click here!
Children’s Book Academy Manuscript Critique Sheet
Remember to Critique with Kindness
Author’s Name _______________________
Your name __________________________
1. Is the hook or originating problem compelling, making you want to read on? How might it be improved? Alternately, is the nonfiction or concept book beginning potentially fascinating to kids through language or questioning? Is it kid friendly?
2. Are the characters or topic distinctive, appealing or intriguing? Why do we care enough about them to spend time reading? How might they be strengthened through voice, characterization, or action? Do the characters change by the end of the story?
3. Is the plot and ending satisfying with 3 (or more for older age readers) attempts and failures before the main character finally gets what they want or achieves their goal?
If not how can this be improved?
4. If the story doesn’t have a plot, what makes it satisfying and how might it be improved?
5. Can you identify any underlying universal themes, e.g., friendship, trust, moving, fear? What is the story really about?
6. Is there an identifiable foundational structure – e.g., a geographic structure - through a house, from the country to the city and back again, different countries or planets)? Is there a chronological structure - seasons of the year, days of the week, cycles of life? If you’re writing a novel and are not using chapter headings, how is the story structured?
Might it be improved?
by Bryan Patrick Avery
Seigfried & Roy and Penn & Teller are just two of the many magic acts featuring friends and/or partners. When done right, a magical pairing can add mystery, tension, and excitement to a performance. The same is true in books. This month, we take a look at three books made stronger by friendship. First up, Salina Yoon’s picture book “Be a Friend”.
Dennis is a mime. Joy is not. From afar, she watches Dennis. Ultimately, she enters Dennis’s world and they become friends. The most wonderful part of their friendship is that Dennis and Joy don’t have to change to become closer. They simply share a part of themselves.
“Be a Friend” was recommended to me as a comp title for a picture book I’m working on and I instantly fell in love.
“Danger! Tiger Crossing” is the first book in Lin Oliver’s Fantastic Frame series. It is the story of Tiger Brooks, who moves into a new neighborhood and very quickly discovers some very strange things, including a talking pig in a top hat. He and Luna Lopez become friends and soon find adventure, and danger, when they get dragged into a painting in the house next door. It is only by working together that the two friends make it back home safely.
What’s truly great about the Fantastic Frame series is that the friendship between Tiger and Luna is what keeps them coming back to the frame (and the danger!). They stand by each other and let nothing stand in their way. By the way, if you’re in the market for a new chapter book, “Look Out! Ghost Mountain Below”, the latest in the series was just released.
Our last book this month is “The Great Greene Heist” by Varian Johnson. We follow the actions of middle schooler Jackson Greene who is notorious for his capers. After a scheme goes horribly wrong, Greene attempts to go straight. When he fears that a devious student may attempt to buy the election for student council president, Greene reaches out to his friends to plan one more job with the aim of stealing the election for his friend Gaby.
Greene reaches out to a diverse set of friends, all with various skills (and challenges) from tech gurus Hasemi and Megan, to artist Bradley and reporter (and confidante) Charlie, Greene builds a team to pull of the greatest heist ever. He even enlists Victor Cho to bankroll the job. A political thriller set in middle school may seem like a strange undertaking, but the author has crafted a suspenseful political story without losing any of the voice and charm of middle grade fiction. That is, in no small part, due to the friendship dynamics in the book.
If you're wondering whether Jackson Greene changes his ways after this heist, the next book in the series, “To Catch a Cheat”, will be out next week.
That’s all for this month. I’m off to finish my own story about friendship. Wish me luck. Have a magical month!
What Have You Read Lately?
By Mandy Yates
Last time I shared numerous books that I was excited about reading this summer. I have finished three of them so far and wanted to share them with you.
Forget Me Not by Ellie Terry
What a great book. It's a novel in verse so it was a quick read but parts made me tear up a bit. Calli June's mom relationship troubles leaves Calli and her mom moving from place to place. It's hard enough constantly being the new kid, but when you add the fact that Calli has Tourette's syndrome on top of it, it's unbearable. This was a great read and provided a lot of insight into living a life with Tourette's.
Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart
This may be a new favorite author of mine. This was a suspenseful action packed book that boys will especially like however girls will too. Jonathan is sent to a school for troubled boys. However this school is on an island and isn't a school at all. The kids there are treated like prisoners by terrible people.But one day by a freak accident all of the adults die and the boys are left on their he island alone. What seems fun at first turns out to be worse than before.
Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder
This book was a great read about 9 orphans living on an island. Every year a boat arrives bringing a new orphan. At that time the eldest orphan must leave the island and travel on the boat to who knows where. Only 9 can stay on the island or something terrible will happen. But what if the eldest doesn't want to leave? It's not a mystery but the book has such mysterious qualities to it that it keeps you wanting to find out the answers to so many questions. Laurel was able to create a very unique and magical yet believable world that you are sure to fall in love with.
What have you read lately? Anything new that I should add to my summer reading list?
Mira's 4 Fun Things in Having a Wonderful Creative Life & Getting Inspired in an Art Museum
by Mira Reisberg
Hi there, I'd like to apologize for being a little MIA on the blog. Normally I do a video review of a wonderful children's book for my post, and I love love doing these, but they are very time consuming. So I decided to do a more personal blog post about the 4 things that I've been passionately working on and share a little about being inspired at an art museum.
First up, I've been working really hard on former student's picture books that will be published with Clear Fork Publishing's kidlit imprint Spork, the new publisher I'm working for as an editor and art director. It is such a wonderful extension of what I've been doing for so many years and such a treat to be able to help ensure that my student's books will be the best that they can.
I've also been been madly making videos with super smart Julia Maguire from Random House/Knopf for our upcoming Craft and Business of Writing Children's Picture Books, setting up webinars that function as critiquing forums, and lining up editors and agents to bring in and join us for these webinars live, as well as bringing in fantastic editors and agents to look at student's work at the end of the course. Happy stuff that will make for an extraordinary course.
It's the first time that Julia and I are co-teaching this course together, adding new materials and getting very excited. And of course, I've been making fun promotional graphics for it. Here's one that I'm making into a postcard for the SCBWI conference in LA.
Julia and I are also putting together a free mini class/training/workshop/webinar on the foundations of drama, which is very exciting stuff. I'll be focusing on more serious books that I've grouped together under the frame of socio/political and personal tragedies, as well as techniques for using tragedy to write funny stories, while Julia is focusing on techniques for writing humor. It should be a mix of touching, angrifying, and funny. I love having intellectual adventures where I get to bring out my critical and analytical/academic training to play with making massive amounts of fascinating information and techniques helpful, and enjoyable. Here's the other side of the postcard that I made for that. I wish I'd had more time but it was a bit of a quickie. Let me know what you think. If you'd like to join us, and I hope that the answer is yes, please click here to register for this fab free offering, and heads up, it will be recorded as well if you can't make it live.
Finally I've been busy giving out as many scholarships as I can to the course and it makes me realize that my favorite things about running the Children's Book Academy, apart from the heartfull connections with students, are, sharing knowledge to help students become much stronger dramatic and/or humorous writers or illustrators who persist and get published, giving scholarships, building community, and helping to make a better world through kid's books..
Today I took a little time out and went with my family to the Crocker Art Museum where there was an exhibition of art from the art magazine High Fructose. It was really interesting seeing how many pieces had wonderful childlike qualities, even if they dealt with hard or adult subject matter. I thought about the role of the artist or writer to make the familiar unfamiliar or the unfamiliar familiar as well as to create meaning and touch hearts or engender empathy or intellectual curiosity and I think that our roles as children's book creative's is pretty much the same. Here are some photos that I took in slide form.
Anyway I hope you have enjoyed this post. Do join us for either the free workshop on July 13 5:30 PM PDT/8:30 PM Eastern or the course. If you can, please click the share buttons to the left and let your kidlit friends know about all this and if you are up for it, let me know your thoughts and if there's anything specific you'd like me to blog about in future first Mondays..
Yours in kidlit love - Mira xoxo
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with awesome multi-published former student Shirin Shamsi who will be focusing on Muslim and cultural kidlit.
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 STEM, STEAM & SEL obsessed author Kourtney LaFavre sharing delightfully dorky, quirky, and fun info.
And 5th Mondays we'll be taking a break