Picture books here, there and everywhere…

2014-02-10 19_48_34The view from my desk – in just one direction! I tell myself  ”enough already, just write” but I never listen and before you know it,  I’m back at the book store or the Scholastic warehouse buying books, or back to the library checking out everything I can get my hands on. Hmm…did someone say crazy?

Picture book crazy that is…in case you were wondering 😉

“Picture Books are so easy to write. I mean anyone can do it.” Really elephant?

The following video, created by my friend and fellow critique group member, the very talented Mandy Yates is hysterical, but on the flip side, often all too true! Writers beware of the elephants out there! Elephants, before calling it easy, please read PBs – many, many PBs and learn the craft for everyone’s sake.

Happy New Year

 

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2013 was a good year, a great year actually.

I completed Dr. Mira Reisberg’s Picture Book Academy and Marsha Diane Arnold and Dr. Mira Reisberg’s Writing Wonderful Character Driven Picture Books courses. Taking these courses was one of the best things I could have ever done for my writing career. Through the PB Academy course, I became part of an inspiring community, made some wonderful friends and formed a critique group with some very talented writers.

In October I was selected to receive a one-on-one critique at our AZ SCBWI conference with a brilliant editor.

Then to end the year in the most amazing way possible…my holiday mishap story ‘Twas the Night Baafore Christmas won first place in Susanna Leonard Hill’s 3rd annual Holiday story contest.

bean1This post is about celebrating! Celebrating a bit of success after years and years of working hard to become a better writer!

Here’s to 2014…can’t wait to see what happens!

Go for it!

untitled chanceOn the heels of a incredibly inspirational month of PiBoIdMo posts that helped us generate all kinds of wonderful new PB ideas, I thought this quote from Anne Lamott was appropriate.

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere ~Anne Lamott

Of those thirty ideas, some will be hits, some misses and some simply “what was I thinkings?”

Give them a chance, go for it, and write, write, write and make each month a PiBoIdMo.

A critique group?

writerIn taking  Dr. Mira Reisberg’s Picture Book Academy course and participating in PiBoIdMo, I have had the fortunate opportunity to be involved in some writers’ Facebook groups, where discussions between supportive and like-minded souls occur. The dialogue, the questions, the answers, and all the back and forth are helpful, and it’s nice to see everyone’s opinion.

However, I believe there is one question for which everyone would have the same opinion:

Do I need a critique group?  This answer is undoubtedly and undeniably  YES!

critque 2Where else will you get feedback from others who aspire to do and become what you aspire to do and become? Those who know you on a personal level will (most likely) not tell you what you need to hear.

Only those seeking the kind of feedback they really need to hear to succeed will give you kind of feedback you really need to hear to succeed.

A critique group will challenge you to consider certain aspects of your story and the selection of your words so you either

1. Revise it

or

2. Keep it as is, convinced that your story is where it needs to be and that your words are truly the right ones.

So, how do you know when you’re in the right group? You just know. When your critique group, partner (whichever you choose, large or small) is finding the holes and the possibilities in your story and pushing you to be the very best you can be, then you’ve found the right group.

However, since participating in a critique group means putting yourself out there to be  evaluated, critiqued, many may refrain from joining, thinking it’s too painful. But if you look at a critique group for what it is – a chance to become a better writer  – well then how could that possibly hurt?

I want to thank my critique friends – the new and old. You have steered my journey and helped me get to where I am today. Though still unpublished, I’m closer than I was before meeting you.

PiBoIdMo

PiBoIdMo not only has mind working overtime – it has inspiration, words of wisdom, unbelievable guest blogger posts, and prizes. Yes, prizes. And I won one!

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Can you tell I’m excited?

The prize – an autographed book by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. Sudipta, one of my all-time favorite authors, ran a double cover reveal for her new ORANGUTANGLED and SNORING BEAUTY PBs which included a caption contest .

The covers were amazing. The pictures spoke volumes! The looks on the characters’ faces, the body language, the layout, colors, etc…said so much! But to me they screamed, “Is this as awkward for you as it is for me?”

I’m thrilled to have won, grateful to Sudipta for choosing my caption and now anxiously awaiting my new, signed book!

To rhyme or not to rhyme?

Picture book idea in mind, where do you start? How do you tell your tale? Many writers assume they start in rhyme….

But…to rhyme or not to rhyme is a not a simple question. You must first know what it takes to write in rhyme before you begin.

Picture1questionWrite in rhyme, not just rhyme. Anyone can rhyme. People rhyme all the time. But remember as writers, we are storytellers first.

Sure, it’s fun to keep rhyming and see where the words take you, but that’s follow the leader, which leads to stories that are awkward, forced, difficult to read and even more difficult to understand.

Editors are typically not fans of rhyme, and frankly, (sometimes) I can’t blame them, especially when I go back and read the first drafts of some of my rhyming stores. I cringe! So rhymers, potential rhymers, study before you rhyme.

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It’s true, many editors will flat out say they do not like rhyme, but don’t let that frighten you away. Rhyme is fun, useful and part of childhood. We, as writers, should rhyme only when we can do it beautifully and brilliantly – when we can do it justice. There are numerous benefits to reading rhyming stories to children and thus reason for writers to write in rhyme.

“Rhymers will be readers: it’s that simple.” – Mem Fox

The Common Core Standards specify rhyming as a competency under English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Foundational Skills » Kindergarten

Phonological Awareness

According to Scholastic:

http://www.scholastic.com/parents/resources/article/speaking-language-skills/learning-through-rhythm-and-rhyme

“By emphasizing rhyming poems and games with your infant or toddler, you’re also helping his emerging literacy. The instinct to rhyme comes somewhat naturally. Researchers have overheard and reported that even young toddlers practice their own made-up rhymes, such as “Oogie, woogie, poogie” over and over. Infants and toddlers tack on the “-ee” sound as a diminutive to many words. Toddlers call out “doggie,” “kitty,” “horsey,” as they point and label the animals they see in a picture book.

Toddlers giggle at funny rhymes even when these involve nonsense words, as in many of the Dr. Seuss books. Becoming aware of rhyming sounds boosts brain activity and early literacy ability. Adding singsong rhyming words to requests for your child to listen or to stop an activity is a great way to get her attention. Rhymes and rhythms add zest and humor as well as increasing your child’s cooperation.”

And as published in Earlychildhood NEWS:

http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_home.aspx?ArticleID=478

“Oral language and phonological sensitivity (sound discrimination) are not the only skills that are developed when children are exposed to songs, chants, and rhyme.  They can also develop listening and thinking skills. Oral language (vocabulary), phonological sensitivity and comprehension (thinking skills) are the building blocks of literacy. With conscious effort, songs, chants and rhymes become a perfect springboard for developing all three of these critical skill areas.”

And finally, according to Read to Me International:

http://readtomeintl.org/rhythm-and-rhyme-tips.html

“Rhyme is an easy introduction to literacy! Research shows that even young toddlers practice their own made-up rhymes such as “oogie, woogie, poogie” over and over. It’s an easy, pleasant starting point for learning word and language structure.

Rhyme builds vocabulary! It introduces words not necessarily found in daily conversation, and creates simple ways to remember them. It’s also an easy way to learn the sounds of letters and words.

Rhyming words develop strong pathways in the brain. According to Alice Sterling Honig, PhD, “Becoming aware of rhyming sounds boosts brain activity and a child’s early literacy ability.” Conversely, children who enter kindergarten unable to recognize rhymes have a harder time with early literacy experiences.”

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So, if you feel the need to rhyme – put the time in and study it.

Remember…

Rhyming is an art, not just a start.

Hooks

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Hooks…do we really need one?

Hmmm….good question.

From what I’ve seen and learned from reading thousands of picture books, hooks help! If you can make your reader curious early on (the hook) and make him wonder what’s going to happen and how in the world things will end, then you’ve hooked your reader. Of course, you’ll still need to reel him in…a good story and a fabulous ending will do that. So, put some bait on your line, create an interesting story and go “catch” yourself a reader!

Some books with good hooks:

The hook: It was almost Christmas , and the forest was a flurry of activity. The animals were bustling here and there – putting up the Christmas tree, wrapping presents, making tasty cakes and cookies – while the young ones scampered about, squeaking with excitement.

Everybody was looking forward to Christmas.

Well, almost everybody.

The book: Grumpy Badger’s Christmas by Paul Bright

The hook: One Monday morning in September, Mrs. Barrington rolled out a big poster with all of the presidents’ pictures on it. Grace Campbell could not believe her eyes.

“Where are all the girls?”

The book: Grace for President  by Kelly DiPucchio

The hook: To any outsider, Gilbert had everything a goldfish could ever want.

A magnificent stone castle.

A treasure chest full of gold.

And a feast of tasty flakes that fell from the sky just in time for breakfast each day.

But one thing Gilbert did not have was the very thing that he most desperately wanted:

A pet.

The book: Gilbert Goldfish wants a Pet  by Kelly DiPucchio

The hook: Things were quiet on the Tuckers’ farm.

The cows chewed their cud.

The hens clucked and pecked and laid their eggs.

The old hound stretched out on the porch, watching and listening.

Once in a while someone would stop to buy tomatoes or corn, perhaps a quart of milk.

Nothing unusual happened there.

Until…

The book: Three Hens and a Peacock  by Lester L. Laminack

The hook: Ozzie was a very lazy owl.

“It’s time you learned how to fly,” said Mother Owl one day.

But Ozzie said, “Oh, do I have to?”

He didn’t want to learn how to fly. All that wing-flapping looked like too much hard work. Ozzie’s favorite thing to do was to sit around.

“I’m practicing being wise,“ he said.

“Well, I want you to fly,” said his mother sternly.

“Now, I’m going out to look for some food. And if you are wise, you will be on the ground by the time I come back!”

The book: Lazy Ozzie by Michael Coleman

 

Word count…

When my kids were toddlers and I was reading to them, I didn’t select wordy, lengthy picture books that took too long to read. My children lost interest when a book was too long. But for $17.99, I did expect some words, quite a few in fact. And…I expected a story .

As a writer, I know editors are looking for sparse, but as a parent and a consumer, I did and still do expect some words for my money.  I love that the $17.99 I spent on a PB started out as a book that I read to my kids when they were 2, 3, and 4 years old. Then morphed into a book that we read together when they were 5 and 6. And finally culminated into something they read by themselves from 6 on. That’s what I consider a good Return on my Investment. My kids are 10 and 11 and they still enjoy reading picture books.

As a writer, this is something I struggle with. Yes, I’m a picture book writer, attempting to keep the word count down, but I’m also a book buying, book reading mom and I can’t help but think that the other book buying, book reading moms (and dads and grandmas and grandpas) want more for their money too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating adding words so the buyer gets more words for their dollar. I know that every word must count. But there are plenty of fabulous picture books with a <600 word count that get read well after the toddler years. Maybe, if picture books had a few more words, consumers would look at them as an investment and maybe, just maybe sales would increase. $17.99 over 8 years – that’s ~ $2.25 a year and in my mind, that’s a bargain!

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