Recently, I was sharing with students how writers rewrite and rewrite more, trying to get our books perfect for our readers. A first grader raised her hand and sweetly commented, “Everything doesn’t have to be perfect.” What wisdom from one so young. This is exactly what Badger learned in Badger’s Perfect Garden.
As readers will discover, Badger’s garden might not have turned out as perfectly as his original vision, but it is spectacularly beautiful, thanks to serendipity, Mother Nature, and Badger’s initial work.
Badger is a perfectionist. He had planned long and worked hard for his perfect garden. He had a plan—a garden plan. But sometimes when we hold too tightly to an outcome, things take a course of their own, or in this case Mother Nature takes a course of her own.
Of course, Badger is devastated when his vision is destroyed. He does what many of us do or would like to do. He stays inside, “busying himself with this and that,” so he doesn’t have to think about his perfect garden ever again!
When Badger’s friends show him a garden surprise, Badger realizes the truth that “letting go” can be a celebration, full of jubilation. Once he lets go of the outcome of a perfect garden, he is also free to let go of worry and to enjoy “a hodgepodge of garden games, jumbly-tumbly dancing, and muffins and mulberry juice.”
Ramona Kaulitzki’s illustration of Badger as he embraces his mixed-up garden shows him caught in a swirl of flowers and vegetables. His expression is one of serene happiness. Indeed, Ramona’s art beautifully captures Badger’s feelings from beginning to end—from hopeful, studious, and excited, to dejected, to that tranquil contentment.
Writers must also learn to “let go” when a publisher purchases their story. They must surrender their story to an editor, an art director, and an artist who bring their vision to the story as well.
I sometimes use art notes in my manuscripts, but Sleeping Bear Press removes all art notes before giving a manuscript to an artist. This is part of the “letting go” and the trusting that authors need to accept. Ramona Kaulitzki understood so much of what I wanted to show. For example, I had written, “Red Squirrel helped Dormouse gather string,” with this art note: Red Squirrel and Dormouse tangle the string. With the art note gone, I prayed Ramona had a similar sense of humor to mine. She did. When the sketches arrived, I saw Red Squirrel and Dormouse tangled in string on the page and the following spread.
There are also times when the artist’s vision is slightly different from the author’s. I had written, “Weasel found twigs to make holes for the seeds,” as my original vision was for a couple of the animals to make holes. But the art only showed Weasel making holes and previously walking just one twig. When I received the art, I simply asked my editor to change the wording from “twigs” to “twig.” Ramona’s art was perfect and it was a simple thing to let go of my illustration vision and an “s.”
I did a lot of research on seeds for this book; I wasn’t sure how much information I’d use. In case the editor wanted to name specific plants, I kept a list of possible plants for Badger’s garden and images of seeds. In all my research I learned a lot, like the names of five edible burrs. We didn’t use this research in Badger’s Perfect Garden, but who knows in what future manuscript my gathered “seeds” will ‘rearrange themselves,’ just as Badger’s did.
“They just rearranged themselves,” said Red Squirrel.
“If you hadn’t planted them over there, they wouldn’t be here.”
Thank you, Tara Lazar, for inviting me to visit your wonderful website and blog. May all your plantings produce beautiful gardens!
Thank you, Marsha, for blogging today and also giving away a copy of your new book BADGER’S PERFECT GARDEN!
To enter, please leave one comment below. A random winner will be chosen in “April showers bring May flowers.”
Marsha Diane Arnold’s award-winning picture books have sold over one million copies and been called, “whimsical” and “uplifting.” Described as a “born storyteller” by the media, her books have garnered such honors as Best First Book by a New Author, Smithsonian Notable, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and state Children’s Choice awards. Recent books include Galápagos Girl, a bilingual book about a young girl growing up on the Galápagos Islands and Lost. Found., a Junior Library Guild book illustrated by Caldecott winner Matthew Cordell.
Marsha was raised on a Kansas farm, lived most of her life in Sonoma County, California, a place Luther Burbank called “the chosen spot of all this earth as far as Nature is concerned,” and now lives with her husband, near her family, in Alva, Florida. You can often find her standing in her backyard in the midst of dragonflies or purple martins swooping for insects. She can also be found at marshadianearnold.com.
I love picture book biographies. They’re right up there with chewy, chunky chocolate chip cookies. With those first delicious lines, I’m drawn into someone else’s world that reveals what shaped them and why their story is important. Unlike biographies for adults that pack in everything but the kitchen sink, I love picture book biographies because there’s only room for the good stuff. The best stuff. Stuff that allows readers to sidle up to remarkable people, past and present, and wonder what they might do with their own lives. Short as picture book biographies are, writing them can be challenging. Here are my tips for writing picture book biographies:
Deciding who to write about is BIG. If they’re well-known like Benjamin Franklin or Abraham Lincoln, there’s a million books about them already. If you’re determined to write about them, you need to find an intriguing episode of their life that hasn’t been told before. The other option is to write about someone who isn’t well-known, but still has a great story to tell. Whatever it is, it needs to connect with young readers.
Although you may be tempted to tell someone’s story from the moment they’re born to their last breath—reconsider. Most trade picture book biographies either highlight the time of the accomplishment, or the formative years which led to their accomplishment. Not always. But mostly. The point is, there are options. One great example of highlighting the important moment in someone’s life is Ruth Law Thrills a Nation by Don Brown, one of my favorite picture book biographers. He opened Ruth’s story with these lines:
On November 19, 1916, Ruth Law tried to fly from Chicago to New York City in one day. It had never been done before.
There’s no growing up. No wanting to fly. No wondering whether to do it or not. Ruth Law was ready. Making the flight was the story. Page by page, Brown lets us see what happened the day she flew to New York City and the challenges she faced.
A great example of the second approach is also written by Don Brown in his book, Odd Boy Out, Young Albert Einstein. He opened the story with these lines:
On a sunny, cold Friday in the old city of Ulm, Germany, a baby named Albert Einstein is born. It is March 14, 1879.
Why the difference? By starting from childhood, Brown showed readers how Einstein’s brilliant mind worked even at a young age, and how it led to his Theory of Relativity.
Beyond the Facts
Lastly, when you start writing picture book biographies, it’s tempting to stick close to the facts as if you’re on the ledge of a tall building. Stray too far and you won’t be safe. Stray too far, and you can’t cling to the pillar of facts. However, the only way to succeed is to step off into the literary void and find your voice. How do you want to tell the story? Let yourself go and find out. It’s okay. That’s what editors and readers want.
This idea was a turning point when I sold my latest release, Away with Words, The Daring Story of Isabella Bird, about the first female member of the Royal Geographical Society. My first versions were lyrical, but very conservative and I revised the manuscript so many times for my agent, I lost count. Each version was lovely and dramatic, but something was missing. More revisions and rejections followed. In time, I parted ways with my agent and put the manuscript away.
Then, a few months later, I got it out again. I loved Isabella’s story too much to give up on it completely. At that moment, without an editor or an agent waiting for results, I felt a certain freedom to change things up. How did I want to tell her story? When I looked at it again, a metaphor sprang to mind that became the opening heart of the story.
Isabella was like a wild vine stuck in a too small pot. She needed more room. She had to get out. She had to explore.
You won’t find these words in the research. That’s me, letting go, telling Isabella’s story my way. It made all the difference.
So, the next time you’re writing a picture book biography, remember the good stuff. The best stuff. And treat yourself to a chewy, chunky chocolate chip cookie.
We are giving away a copy of Lori’s new book AWAY WITH WORDS: THE DARING STORY OF ISABELLA BIRD!
Leave one comment to enter.
A winner will be selected at the end of the month.
Lori Mortensen is an award-winning children’s book author of more than 100 books and over 500 stories and articles. Recent releases include her picture book biography, Away with Words, the Daring Story of Isabella Bird (Peachtree), about the first woman inducted into the Royal Geographical Society, If Wendell Had a Walrus (Henry Holt), Chicken Lily, (Henry Holt), Mousequerade Ball (Bloomsbury) illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Betsy Lewin, and Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range (Clarion, 2016) a sequel to Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, one of Amazon’s best picture books of 2013. When she’s not letting her cat in, or out, or in, she’s tapping away at her computer, conjuring, coaxing, and prodding her latest stories to life.
For more information about her books, events, critique service, and upcoming releases, visit her website at lorimortensen.com.
Let’s not waste any time! Here are your Grand Prize winners and the agents with whom they have been paired:
Brenda Miller → Holly McGhee Tanya Shock → Ammi-Joan Paquette Krista Harrington → Ammi-Joan Paquette (Joan is taking two winners) Amy Bradshaw → Tricia Lawrence Stephen Cravak → Erin Murphy Debra Katz → Liza Royce Agency Sarah Hoppe → Linda Epstein Helen Ishmurzin → Victoria Selvaggio
Congratulations! I will be contacting you via email shortly.
One of my favorite picture books of all time is ARNIE THE DOUGHNUT, cooked up by the inimitable Laurie Keller. (Why hasn’t it become a major motion picture? I sniff the heavenly aroma of sugary fried dough and box office smash potential!)
So while you wait for the selection of Storystorm prizes, I invited Arnie to the blog to interview Laurie’s latest character, Potato, about his quest for the perfect pair of pants. Take it away, boys!
Hey Potato! Thanks for meeting me at the bakery. Did you have any trouble finding it?
No trouble at all! I just took a Tuber Uber.
I see you have your new Potato Pants on! I was hoping you’d wear them.
Oh, yeah––I never leave home without ‘em! Pretty snazzy, aren’t they? Yep, when it comes to designing flattering pants for potatoes, Tuberto is your go-to tater!
I heard you almost didn’t get your Potato Pants––something to do with an eggplant. What was the problem?
He was waiting for me in Lance Vance’s Fancy Pants Store on the ONE day they were selling Potato Pants and I didn’t want to go in there because I was afraid he’d push me like he did the day before and ruin my brand new Potato Pants!
So, he’s a pretty pushy eggplant, huh?
Well, I thought so but it all turned out to be a silly misunderstanding. I’m a big enough spud to admit that. We’re actually friends now!
That’s cool! So, you really wanted this stripey pair with the stripey suspenders. Why do you like stripes so much?
I can’t explain it, Arnie. They just make me happy!
I feel the same way about my frosting and sprinkles!
I see you’re doing the Robot––I mean the PO-bot! Can you teach me how to do it?
But I can teach you how to do the DOUGH-bot!
Oh, no! I laughed so hard I ripped my Potato Pants!
I’ll call for help! Oh, YOO-HOO, MAKEUP!
No, I’ll just scooch right over to the Tater Trouser Tailor. Thanks for everything, Arnie!
What is it now, Arnie?
Oops, sorry, Makeup––problem solved. But as long as you’re here…do you mind arranging my sprinkles into stripes? Diagonally? By color? Pretty please with frosting on top? Thanks!
Plus, if you’ve registered and signed the Storystorm Pledge (posted January 31), you’re eligible to be randomly chosen for a Grand Prize.
The Grand Prizes for Storystorm are feedback on your best five ideas from one of these amazing picture book literary agents! So start expanding those ideas into elevator pitches. Don’t know how to do that? Check this out:
Holly M. McGhee still carried MADELINE around in 3rd grade—until Mrs. Carrier, her school librarian, tricked her into reading longer books by giving her one with her name on it, HOLLY IN THE SNOW. After college, Holly headed straight into the book world of New York City, where she has enjoyed being a secretary, an advertising manager, a sales rep (for one month), and in the six years prior to opening the doors at Pippin, an executive editor at HarperCollins.
Now, as the President and Creative Director of Pippin she is dedicated to shepherding books that make a difference into the world.
Ammi-Joan Paquette is a senior agent with Erin Murphy Literary Agency, representing all types of children’s and YA literature. She is also the author of the Princess Juniper series, the MG novel The Train of Lost Things, and picture books including Ghost in the House, Elf in the House, Bunny Bus, and The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies. With acclaimed author Laurie Ann Thompson, she is also the co-author of the “nonfiction with a twist” series, Two Truths and a Lie. In her agent acquisitions, Joan is particularly drawn to richly voiced, unforgettable characters and settings, as well as tightly-paced, well-plotted stories with twists and turns that keep you guessing right until the end. Visit her on the web at: ajpaquette.com. (P.S. Joan represents Tara.)
Tricia is the “Pacific Northwest branch” of EMLA—born and raised in Oregon, and now lives in Seattle. After 22 years of working as a developmental and production-based editor (from kids books to college textbooks, but mostly college textbooks), she joined the EMLA team in March 2011 as a social media strategist.
As agent, Tricia represents picture books/chapter books that look at the world in a unique and unusual way, with characters that are alive both on and off the page, and middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction that offers strong worldbuilding, wounded narrators, and stories that grab a reader and won’t let go.
Tricia loves hiking, camping out in the woods, and collecting rocks. She loves BBC America and anything British. She has way too many books and not enough bookshelves. You can find Tricia’s writing about blogging, Tweeting, Facebooking, and other social media topics (for authors and the publishing industry at large) at authorblogger.net and tricialawrence.com.
Erin was born and raised in Arizona, and founded EMLA in Flagstaff in 1999. She cut her teeth in regional publishing at Northland Publishing/Rising Moon Books for Young Readers, a beloved decades-old Flagstaff company that was bought out in 2007, where she was editor-in-chief. As founder of EMLA she has focused not just on publishing books, but on building careers—and creating a sense of community, as well. In 2016, she relocated the agency headquarters to southern Maine.
Erin represents writers and writer-illustrators of picture books, novels for middle-graders and young adults, and strong nonfiction. Her favorite reads feel timeless, have strong voices, and express unique creative visions. Because of her full client list, she rarely signs new writers or illustrators, but she is particularly interested in adding cultural diversity to her client list. In addition to reading, her interests include traveling, knitting, walking, kayaking, watching movies, and figuring out How People Work.
Liza Fleissig, with her partner Ginger Harris-Dontzin, opened the Liza Royce Agency (LRA) in early 2011. A cross-platform company providing development, representation, and strategic career management for clients in all media, their goal is to represent clients in all stages of their careers, from the most established to those developing their craft, as well as debuts. Both former partners in NYC based litigation law firms, Liza and Ginger bring a combined 40 years of negotiating experience to the field. This background, along with connections rooted in publishing, movies and television, allowed them to focus and build on a referral based clientele.
From picture books through adult projects, fiction and non-fiction, screenplays to stage works, LRA welcomes strong voices and plot driven works. Their inaugural books became available in stores January 2013. Their first was an Edgar nominee, another was an Indie Next Pick, and two others were optioned for film. LRA’s success began right out of the gate. Here’s to more great projects!
Linda is the eyes and ears of Emerald City Literary Agency in the east. Even though she’s a life-long New Yorker, her breath is still taken away every time she sees the New York City skyline. Besides being an agent, she’s also hard at work writing manuscripts of her own.
Linda represents picture books, middle grade and young adult fiction, as well as children’s nonfiction. She does not represent adult literature. Since joining the agency she has toyed with the idea of adding a G to the beginning of her name, but has come to the conclusion that she’s not exactly the good witch.
Victoria Selvaggio, previously with The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, was drawn to the publishing scene first as an author. She is a prior Regional Advisor for SCBWI: Northern Ohio, where her desire to help writers and illustrators reach their publications goals inspired her to become an agent.
With over twenty-five years as a business owner, Victoria is excited to help grow the agency’s client base with talented writers and illustrators, while also helping build the agency from within with motivated agents who possess the same ideals, literary interests, goals, and approaches to the industry.
As a frequent presenter at conferences, library events, contests, etc., Victoria is always interested in meeting writers and illustrators, and hearing about unique projects!
A sincere THANK YOU to all the participating agents!
Storystormers, get down to work refining, polishing and fleshing out your best ideas so you will be ready if you are randomly selected a Grand Prize Winner! Prizes will be announced next week!
Hello Storystormers!!! You did it! You’re rounding the bases, and it’s time to bring it home. Can’t you hear the roar of the crowd cheering you on??
Wait! Is that the roar of the crowd or the sound of stampeding hooves??
When I think about ideas, I like to think of them as wild horses galloping across my mind. Growing up, I remember reading Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague and being introduced to the idea of an island full of wild horses. Imagine the freedom, wildness and possibility of such a place!
Well, our minds are just that—islands of cavorting, galloping, prancing wild ideas just waiting to be discovered. But half the time we’re so distracted (mobile phones, social media, etc, I’m looking at you!) that we don’t even recognize the brilliance that is racing around in there.
Ideas are just like wild horses—blink once and they’re gone! How many times have you had that AMAZING idea that you promised yourself you’d remember when you woke up in the morning or as soon as you got back from the grocery store? Yep, not gonna happen. If you’ve got an idea, you need to rope it, and rope it QUICK!
So grab your lasso (ie; trusty pen and notebook, voice recorder, a new doc on your computer) and get that horse into a stable. You don’t need to know all there is to know about your new idea, but you do need it in a safe place so you can come back to it later!
Now that you’ve roped that horse (or 30!), it’s yours! Woohoo! Time to start training. WHOOOAAAAA!! Just where do you think you’re going?
All I can tell you about this step is—prepare for a WILD ride! No two horses are alike. Every idea is going to require its own special treatment. So you, as the trainer, must be FLEXIBLE!
There are some authors who are very methodical, using the same process for every project they approach. That has never been my experience. Every idea I’ve worked with has been completely different and has required something different from me.
Some horses are docile. They’ll let you take the reins easily. (I have one PB under contract right now that was like that. I wrote it in one afternoon in between working on other ideas.)
But other ideas (dare I say, the majority!) WHOAAAA NELLIE! Hold onto your hats because they are like bucking broncos. You try to climb on but end up on the ground. UGH! But this was such a great idea!! Why isn’t it coming together?
That’s when you have a choice.
Will you. . .
A) steer clear of that horse?
B) climb back on?
I know what you’re thinking. The right answer is B!!! Well, not always. Sometimes when a horse keeps throwing you to the ground, it’s best to move on for awhile. Give that horse some space. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and wild horses aren’t trained in a day either.
Sometimes ideas need to breathe, and sometimes, you, the trainer, need the fresh perspective that comes from time, space and experience in order to make your idea work.
The best part about Storystorm is that you’ve got 30 ideas to work with. 30 different horses to choose from. In this moment, don’t stress about which one’s going to get you the agent or the big contract. Instead, look at your stable and ENJOY your horses. They’re yours! And now it’s time for the fun to begin – take them out for a ride. You may find yourself galloping, trotting, or getting pulled in a direction you never imagined.
So climb on and enjoy the ride, because as my almost-2-year-old already knows, horses (and ideas!) are the coolest!
NOTE: This post is not an endorsement for capturing/training wild animals! It is an endorsement for capturing/training WILD IDEAS!
Lindsay Bonilla spent her childhood voraciously reading books, scribbling stories, and taking the lead roles in her solo front porch stage plays. While a theatre major at Northwestern University, she fell in love with folktales and world travel. Later she spent a year and a half touring Spain and Portugal teaching ESL with the audience-participatory theatre company, Interacting. Since then she’s had the opportunity to tell stories to school children in Haiti and Ghana, teach workshops to youth pastors in Guatemala and El Salvador and even perform street theatre in Puerto Rico and New York City. All of these experiences have made her passionate about building understanding and relationships across cultures while inspiring the imagination. When she’s not telling stories or acting them out with her sons, she’s busy writing them from my office or a library in North Canton, Ohio.
Lindsay is a member of the National Storytelling Network (NSN) and the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). She is also a teaching artist with Arts in Stark. Visit her at lindsaybonilla.com.
Lindsay is giving away a copy of her newest book POLAR BEAR ISLAND and a Skype session with the classroom of your choice.
There will be two winners of one prize each.
Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.
You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.
I recently found an old high school journal in my basement. In it are some real gems, such as quotes from my awesome 11th grade Creative Writing teacher, Mr. Zavatsky. He once said, “Don’t wait for flaming asteroids to fly down and sit on your tongue.” I thought that was a delightful way to put it! Basically, you don’t need to sit passively waiting for inspiration. Sure, sometimes inspiration hits out of the blue, but you can also go out there and seek it or actively drum it up. Here are just a few ways to do that, as well as some personal examples.
Recycle by Switching Genres: A few years ago, I had a pun-filled, garden-themed short poem published in Highlights magazine. It was one of my favorites. I liked it so much, I thought, hey, maybe I can recycle this idea into a picture book. And that’s when I began to write “Goodnight Veggies.” The new manuscript was also pun-filled and garden-themed, but it had all the elements one commonly finds in a picture book (story arc, take-away message, enough room left for illustrations, etc.). I’m happy to say it will be published by HMH in 2020, and illustrated by the amazing Zachariah OHora. I was recently reviewing rough illustrations and noticed that Zach placed the garden on an urban rooftop. I thought that was brilliant! So I took THAT idea and wrote another short poem about a child planting a garden on his roof. Double recycling! Yet another time, I took a short High Five poem that I wrote (“Four Fun Chicks”) and re-imagined it as a goodnight/counting concept book (FIVE FUZZY CHICKS, Imprint/Macmillan, 2020). Again, this meant starting from scratch and adding things like a climax, and giving thought to page turns and so on. It’s not just a matter of slapping a different label on it. But if you have favorites in one genre, see if you can rework them to fit into another.
Pop Out a Character: You can take a secondary character in an existing work and give them their own story. What if the cat in my witch story had an adventure on his own? Or what if he had to adjust to a new pet in the household? Or what if the shy turtle in PIZZA PIG had her own story in which she had to overcome her shyness? You don’t have to approach this with “sequel” mentality. You can just pull on character traits that you’re already familiar with and create something completely new and different. When I was first looking at illustrations for my forthcoming book UNICORN DAY (Sourcebooks, June 2019), I was immediately drawn to a particular background character–an edgy, goth unicorn that the illustrator, Luke Flowers, imaginatively included toward the end. My kids commented on their love for the character, as well. I mean, come on. How cool would that be to give the goth-icorn his/her own story?! If only I had a knack for writing novels.
Look for Holes in Your List: What don’t you have yet? Surely anyone can put their own unique twist on a pirate book or goodnight book or holiday book. Think of all the super common themes that you always see in books. If there’s a theme you haven’t considered yet, consider it! Bring your own perspective to it. While I’m not a knitter, I used to work in the fashion industry and that helped inform my unique take on a pirate book with NED THE KNITTING PIRATE. You can even take an idea you already have and apply one of these second themes to it. What would happen if you turned an existing idea into a goodnight book? Or what if you turned your characters into pirates? Or dinosaurs? How would that change the story?
Have you tried a cumulative tale yet? A mirror tale? A circular story? A concept book? A fractured fairytale? Exhaust all possibilities! Go to the extreme. And don’t let your inner critic get involved at this point. Let your mind roam free, because even a bad idea could lead to a good idea in the end.
Many years ago, before I had an agent or any published books on the horizon, I had a book idea about a chef who was a cow. Her name was “Chef Moodette” and she made perfect dishes for everyone who came into her cafe. I kept wondering what the twist would be. Would a pair of human kids finally walk in? And she wouldn’t be able to figure out what they wanted? Did they want milkshakes? Ewwwww. No! I kept trying to make “Chef Moodette” work (I’m talking, over the course of a few years), but it was just terrible. I couldn’t get the ending right. But my work was not wasted. Years later I began to write PIZZA PIG and “Chef Moodette” jumped back into my mind. But this time, I finally figured out the ending (and lots of other issues)! So keep returning to your old manuscripts, folks. You never know when something will finally click. When you re-read your work, the stories simmer in the back of your brain, just waiting for the right moment to surface.
So don’t sit around waiting for “flaming asteroids” of inspiration. Get out there and wrangle them!
And in case anyone is interested, I’d like to note that I will be leading a detailed, online rhyming picture book workshop for the Highlights Foundation this fall. And here’s some fantastic news: Tara Lazar will be joining me on-site to lend her expertise!
Diana Murray is the author of over a dozen books for children, including CITY SHAPES (Little, Brown, 2016), GRIMELDA THE VERY MESSY WITCH (Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2016), NED THE KNITTING PIRATE (Roaring Brook/Macmillan, 2016), PIZZA PIG (Step-into-Reading/Random House, 2018), and UNICORN DAY (Sourcebooks, 2019). Her award-winning poems have appeared in magazines such as Highlights, High Five and Spider. Diana grew up in NYC and still lives nearby with her husband, two very messy children, and a motley crew of pets. Visit her at dianamurray.com.
Diana is giving away an advanced edition of UNICORN DAY (Sourcebooks, June 2019).
Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.
You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.
I write picture books. That means that my readers are very short. I remember what it was like to be a kid, but it’s not as easy to remember what it feels like to be little in a world of big people. What do kids notice at that height? And more importantly, what am I missing? It was time for a change of perspective.
On my way to the New York Public Library, I stopped by Bryant Park to find out what a walk through the park would look like through the eyes of my readers. I held the camera at about 33” from the ground, and here’s what I saw…
How Tall is a Picture Book Reader? - YouTube
The first thing I notice is legs. And butts. And the ground is much closer. Then I notice a little bird preening under a cafe table. Then a white wall—and I had to see what was on the other side of it. But first I had to chase a pigeon—I just HAD to.
I took a peek over the wall, and I saw one little fellow ice skating with a penguin. Then I’m drawn to the lights and sounds of the carousel with it’s toads, rabbits and horses flying through the air, and notice one unusual rider, as well.
A vine running up the side of a building is tempting to climb. I watch friendly jugglers and dream about joining the circus. And at the end of the day, I meet a friend and we play. Which is what our readers love to do most of all.
I hope this helps you come up with even more ideas this month. Our little ones are counting on you!
Julie Gribble produces works for children and the children’s literature community in both the United States and Great Britain. While a Children’s Literature Fellow at Stony Brook Southampton, she founded KidLit TV to help inspire children to learn and read. Julie is also founder of the upcoming TeenLit TV which will feature video programs for YA fans. Julie has been nominated for two Emmy Awards and is a multi-award-winning writer, screenwriter, filmmaker, and producer. Her charming picture book, Bubblegum Princess, is based on a true story about Kate Middleton and was released on the day the first royal baby, who we now know as Prince George, arrived. Copies of the book have been donated to underprivileged children in the US and to children’s hospices in the UK. In addition to producing KidLit TV’s original shows, Julie co-produced Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg, a feature film shot in Dorset, England with Bonnie Wright of Harry Potter fame, and DOG BOWL, a short film by Gordy Hoffman which premiered at the 2015 Raindance International Film Festival in London. Julie sits on the Children’s Committee of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts: BAFTA-NY and is a member of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers, New York Women in Film and Television, and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She has presented at the Texas Library Association Annual Conference, NYC School Library System Spring Institute, Connecticut Library Association, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the 21st Century Children’s Nonfiction Conference.
Let’s speed-date Storystorm ideas and take the winners on a date (where you can have fun, put in the time and emotional energy, and see if you’re the perfect match)!
Each of my children gave me a notebook for Christmas (they know me so well!) and this, from my middle child, is now officially my Journal of Misfit Ideas (thanks to Mike Allegra on Day 5)…filling up with lots of Storystorm ideas…
I hope you’re having as much fun coming up with lots of unfiltered ideas as I am-–thanks to so many excellent posts. We’re nearing the end of Storystorm 2019 (can I hear a collective sigh?), so how do we make the most of our ideas? Well here’s something we tried last year with our local SCBWI group here in Birmingham, UK (on a budget hostel weekend retreat just after Storystorm finished). It went down really well and this year, we’re doing it again with a much bigger group. If you’d like to try it, you will need:
 Your thirty Storystorm ideas (fewer is fine, but if you have more, stop at thirty, or take literally just a couple of minutes before you start to filter it down to thirty).
 Lots of paper-–thirty sheets of A3 (that’s approximately double US letter-sized paper); I used a cheap recycled low grade A3 pad or you can use a roll of wallpaper or the light brown paper that comes free as packaging…
 A couple of sheets of A4 (letter-size) paper
 A pen (and could use other coloured pens to identify certain ideas if you’re interested in them—and want an excuse to use coloured pens…)
PART 1 (one hour): Speed-dating. Set a two-minute timer and press GO!
Brainstorm idea number one (on a big sheet)–quickly!- until the timer goes off. Start the two-minute timer again—and brainstorm idea number two… and work your way through all thirty in an hour. Be open and ready to be surprised by each of your thirty (idea) speed dates. Two minutes of consideration will often be enough to know whether there’s a spark, or something worth pursuing…
END OF PART 1: Take a break. Laugh with your friends. You might be buzzing or feeling emotionally drained.
PART 2 (one hour): (Not quite but fairly) snap decision time. Aim: to identify your top five and give each potential date some consideration before making your final choices…
Go through your ideas quickly and see which speak to you (or ‘spark joy’, anyone? So when you hold that piece of paper up to your chest it makes you go ‘eeeeeee!’)
Marie Kondo explains Spark Joy - YouTube
Marie Kondo on sparking joy with clothes. Try it with your Storystorm ideas…
Choose five of those and spend about eight minutes on each one writing a short summary or pitch for it.
PART 3: Final hour—if you’re with a group (it’ll take less time with fewer people): Pitch a maximum of five ideas you like in no more than thirty seconds per idea. Have each of your fellow critique partners vote for the two they find most compelling. You may choose to ignore their thoughts but it was really interesting to hear the consensus (or lack of) on people’s preferred ones.
FINISH. With OPTIONAL PART 4: This year, at the end of the session, we will each decide on one to write up as a first draft manuscript for our March critique session, so that we don’t lose momentum (and those who aren’t able to write a draft by then will write a twelve-spread structure).
But what if you’re not in a critique group? I’d heartily advise joining one but you can do it easily on your own (without the vote), or if you have even one fellow Storystormer who you’re in contact with, you could do this whole process over Skype. I have an amazing fellow-Storystormer accountability partner and we Skype once a week and have committed to sending each other a picture book manuscript on the last day of each month for the whole of 2019 (and we hope, beyond) –it’s a great –if slightly terrifying- way of being proactive with your Storystorm ideas (and the many other ideas you will come up with over the course of the year if you continue to use your Storystorm techniques throughout the year. Remember, Storystorm’s for life, not just for January!
Of course, like some relationships, it might be that certain ideas are growers and need time to ferment. Great –just don’t throw your ideas out and you can see if any are slow burners by coming back to your discarded ideas in the future (or see if any of them make their own way back to you…). But treating your ideas professionally and respectfully –and efficiently, by the end of an afternoon or morning, you can have decided on which ones you’re most interested in taking out on a real date and spending some real time and emotional energy getting to know.
As a final note, I’ve never actually done speed-dating with people so apologies if the metaphor is a little off. Perhaps I should try it in the interests of blogging accuracy… I’m sure it would give me some more story ideas, though not, perhaps, for picture books…
Juliet Clare Bell (always called Clare, just to confuse people) is the author of five picture books with more on the way (including a very exciting narrative non-fiction project which she hopes she can talk about soon). She also teaches writing picture books to adults, does professional critiques, writes for the joint blog Picture Book Den, runs creative writing sessions with children and does numerous author visits. She’s been heavily involved with SCBWI British Isles for fourteen years. Visit her at julietclarebell.com and www.picturebookden.blogspot.co.uk.
Clare is giving away a professional picture book critique which includes an optional one-hour skype session to discuss the feedback.
Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.
You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.
I recently celebrated my 20th anniversary as a children’s book editor. (Still loving it as much as ever!) One of the questions I am still asked most often is why an author and illustrator so rarely collaborate directly. Why WOULDN’T it be a great thing for the two creative parents to discuss and brainstorm? Why don’t I encourage lengthy Skype chats about their amazing book-to-be? What’s up with those control-freak publishers anyway?!
Most people assume the worst: surely author and illustrator are kept apart so the publishers can hold all the cards, hoard all the power. But I am here to tell you this couldn’t be further from the truth! The reason editors and art directors keep the wordsmith separate from the artist is to allow for maximum inspiration and creative freedom on BOTH sides. Authors needn’t weigh down their manuscripts with descriptions of scenery or characters, and illustrators are allowed unencumbered freedom to conjure with paintbrush or pixels the story’s characters and surroundings without trying to match an author’s vision of them.
I’d like to share three very recent examples of how well it can work out when an author trusts an illustrator and refuses to define how a character should look or how a plot should unfold visually:
When Tara Lazar sent in her hilarious picture book manuscript for NORMAL NORMAN, in which a scientist attempts to pin down a definition for the word “normal,” I needled her to tell me more. Who exactly is this scientist? And who—or what—is Norman?? But Tara could not be persuaded—she had complete faith that illustrator Stephan Britt (AKA S.britt) would know exactly what to do with the scientist narrator and his or her mysterious test subject. It was fascinating to see Stephan experiment. . First Norman looked a bit like a lion.
Then he looked more like a friendly monster.
Finally Stephan found exactly the right Norman.
Who knew he would be a purple orangutan in square-frame glasses?!
And much to our surprise, the scientist turned out to be a young Latina girl in black Mary Janes and a stylish bob. This certainly would NOT have been the case had Tara (or art director Merideth Harte or I) attempted to sway Stephan in some definite direction.
Tammi Sauer is another author who very rarely includes illustration notes in her manuscripts. When I acquired YOUR ALIEN, I asked Tammi what the lost extraterrestrial in her story might look like, and all she would say is that she hoped it would be so adorable that readers everywhere would wish for an alien to crash land in THEIR front yards.
By giving illustrator Goro Fujita complete carte blanche to imagine the cutest alien in the whole universe, Tammi got exactly what she’d hoped for. See for yourself!
My final example of an author bravely allowing an illustrator’s inspiration to take the driver’s seat is Kim Norman and her charming THIS OLD VAN, sung to the tune of “This Old Man.”
Not only did she boldly leave wide open what exactly the characters should look like . . . she also left the entire ending up for grabs! In this rollicking picture book road trip, a pair of hippie grandparents receive a very important invitation from their grandson. Soon they are zipping cross-country in their trusty old van, which must deliver them to their destination in time for The Big Event. But WHAT IS THAT EVENT?, I kept asking Kim. She assured me that illustrator Carolyn Conahan would come up with something PERFECT, but I was too anxious. Surely an illustrator would want some guidance from the author on something as crucial as the ending, wouldn’t she?? Reluctantly, at my insistence, Kim brainstormed a few ideas—perhaps the grandson was starring in the school play or had a big solo in a recital? Carolyn wisely ignored the illustration notes and surprised us with a grand finale so clever that any alternative is unthinkable now: of course the grandson is racing his own miniature version of the old van in the Downhill Derby!
For those of you writing picture books, I challenge you to leave 50% of the inspiration to an illustrator. You are not alone and by no means have to do all the heavy lifting. Write the story and then step away. And for those of you illustrating picture books, I challenge you to ignore any illustration notes that don’t inspire you! Trust one another from afar, inspire one another at a distance, and then get together AFTER the book is printed to celebrate what your wonderful, individual, untainted visions brought into the world.
Meredith Mundy was formerly Executive Editor at Sterling Children’s Books. She now serves as Executive Editor of the Appleseed imprint at Abrams.
At the conclusion of Storystorm, prize packs will be given away (books, swag, writing tools). Comment once on this blog post to enter into the prize pack drawing.
You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.