Week One of our #100PictureBookSummer

I’m excited to report that our #100PictureBookSummer is off to a great start.  Thanks to a little careful planning and a couple of library cards, we are well on our way. My kids were excited to come home to a stack of ‘new’ books yesterday and dove right in.  Here’s our list for the week:

  1. Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio & Christianson Robinson
  2. Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems
  3. Jamberry by Bruce Degen*
  4. Octopus Alone by Divya Srinivasan
  5. Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin & Harry Bliss
  6. The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Whinfield Martin
  7. Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andrea and Guy Parker-Rees
  8. You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang & Christopher Weynat
  9. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
  10. A Poem for Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney & Steve Johnson

*As I was typing this, I realized that we didn’t make it home with Jamberry for some reason.  Hm, well that’s a sweet one (no pun intended) to kick our week off next week! Here’s the link to Book Nerd Mommy’s 100 Picture Books for your Summer Reading that we’re following if you missed last week’s post.

http://www.booknerdmommy.com/100-picture-books-summer-reading/

These first ten were a wonderful mix of new and old favorites, featuring everything from adorable puppies to terrible monsters.  There is a definite theme that carried through many of these books and that is the importance of being true to yourself, even if what you know to be true goes against the grain of popular opinion.  I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite from this list.  As a mom, I want to use the pages of Emily Whinfield Martin’s delightful little book as wallpaper in my kid’s bedrooms so they can be surrounded by its wonderful message of love.  I’m also a history buff and I knew that I was holding an important piece of history as I read The Snowy Day, but the combination of The Snowy Day and A Poem for Peter together was powerful.  Diary of a Worm and Leonardo tickled my funny bone and caused a healthy dose of giggles from both my kiddos and me.

When I approached my daughter with the prospect of a summer filled with books, she was quick to agree, but not without making she and her brothers received a bit of recognition too. Always a negotiator, she thought it would be fun if she and her brothers could share their favorite books with you as well. That was an easy deal to shake on, so here’s a little about the three guest book reviewers that will be joining me all summer.

  • OC (oldest child) is seven years old, with wonderfully curly hair and a personality to match. She’s well rounded and a bit impulsive; you can be sure there are grass stains on her powder pink dancing tights.  She has an inquisitive mind to match her giant and generous heart.
  • MC (middle child) is five and a future superhero if there ever was one. He loves fighting bad guys, hunting zombies and practicing his ‘incredible ninja moves’.  He does life at his own pace and is filled with an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm for life… all day every day.
  • YC (youngest child) is three years old and our comedic relief. He loves making us all laugh and does it well.  He’s into (almost) anything his older brother tells him is cool, but really loves trucks, trains, and playing in the dirt.  He believes ‘the more, the merrier & the messier, the better’.

So, there you have them, without a doubt, the cutest and chattiest guest reviewers to ever grace these pages. I’ll have more from them next week and a fresh batch of books! Happy Summer!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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The Summer of 100 Picture Books.

Whew, okay, I’m glad that’s over.  Maybe you disagree, but for me, spring cleaning is fun at the beginning, exhilarating when you’re in the thick of it and utterly exhausting as you near the end.  Now that I’m (almost) clutter free, I can say without hesitation that I am very eager for summer to start.  I’m happy you found your way back here today because I’m excited to share a bit of our summer plans.  Look at the title of this post again, it’s more than that, it’s a goal!

Earlier this week, via Instagram, I came across Clarissa, aka @book.nerd.mommy, and her post 100 Picture Books for Your Summer Reading.  Let me tell you, it’s a great list; new titles, old favorites and everything in between.  For the past few summers, my kids and I have all had big reading plans.  The unfortunate truth is that I often lost track of things through swimming lessons, play dates and summer excursions.  This summer, there’s no excuses, we have a list to follow, and by my calculation, we have 10% covered just with our own home library.  I’ve included the link to her blog post, where you’ll find her carefully selected titles, with a brief explanation of what makes each story so lovable.  She also shares a free printable version of the list.  My list is printed and posted on my bulletin board already! I extended the challenge to my kids, and my oldest, who loves to answer for her brothers eagerly accepted.

In the spirit of the sweet, slow pace of summertime, I plan to scale my blog posts down to once a week.  In place of my Wednesday posts, I’ll let you know how our #100PictureBookSummer is going. My plan is to keep you posted on our progress, and share our favorites from the week. Here’s the link…

http://www.booknerdmommy.com/100-picture-books-summer-reading/

If you can, take a few minutes to peruse her website.  Clarissa has a wonderful ‘Beyond the Book’ section of arts and craft activities to help Picture Books become interactive for children.  She also shares recipes to accompany some of your favorite books (Truffula Tree Cupcakes, anyone?), and literacy tools for those of us with young, growing minds.

Here’s to 100 books, 10 fun weeks and 1 great summer. If you think this sounds fun, we’d love for you to join us.  I’ll be sharing here and on Instagram (@jennifergprevost).  Our first batch of books will be ready for pick-up from the library today!

I hope everyone has a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend.  My thoughts are with those who have lost someone, now or then, near or far, in service for this great nation.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Clutter.

If you visit my house, you would see that I’m a ‘stacker’ by nature.  It’s always clean but sports a lived-in look.  With summer break staring me in the face and having 3/3 kiddos at home with me after this week, I was starting to sweat.  The only way I can even think about our time together, and not feel overwhelmed, is by finding a way to pare down first. So, I declared May the month to ‘clear out the clutter’.  I’ve made my way through the pantry, fridge, linen closet and laundry room ‘catch-all’ closet.  Today I tackled my own closet, and this coming week it’s my kid’s turn. (Lone socks, stained clothes, and kids-meal toys, beware.) I’ve even managed to move a little furniture around in the process.

That should’ve been my cue.  When furniture starts moving around my home, internal shifts start happening.  I can think of numerous times, large and small, conscious and unconscious that I started moving furniture around when I needed a good kick in the pants.  I’ll give you an easy example; Last summer, my oldest daughter found herself gripped with anxiety about her upcoming first-grade year.  She had heard horror stories about how much more difficult first grade was the kindergarten.  By the time she could explain her emotions and her convictions that she wouldn’t do well, it was almost enough to ruin the summer.  So, I used a dose of my ‘therapy’ with her and we moved her bedroom furniture around.  Together, she and I rearranged her room, using all her existing furniture and decorations, but when we were finished it had a completely different feel.  We declared it her ‘first-grade room’, and slowly, in her new space, she found the confidence she needed to face the school year.  Here we are at the end of first grade, and she did beautifully, just like I knew she would.

This week, it was my turn. I finally admitted that I was in a rut.  It was three-fold too; a mom-rut, a work- rut and a writing- rut.  Coincidentally, or not, as three pieces of furniture switched places and changed roles, I started to find my way out. From a writing standpoint, it felt contradictory, because I was writing more than normal.  Once I was honest with myself though, I’m not sure how much of it was productive.  I rarely feel like I have enough time to write, but suddenly I found my scale tipping towards the quantity as opposed to the quality. I’m trying to iron out wrinkles in my Picture Book manuscript and I’m finishing up a Board Book entry for a contest with a deadline quickly approaching.  I was editing, revising, rewording and reworking and not feeling confident that any of it was advancing my stories.  Thankfully, I received timely feedback from other writers who helped me keep focus and stay the course.   On the day that I moved furniture around, I also had a long talk with myself about my energy and expectations.  I’ve written already about designating time to write each day.  Somehow I fell out of practice, so I took a step back, re-read my post and pressed the reset button.   As I’ve cleaned through the clutter in my home, I’ve managed to start sifting through the creative clutter as well.

My to-do list for this week is lengthy,

  • I need to polish up my BB contest cover letter and entry. I have some rhyming wrinkles and inverted grammar to iron out.
  • I plan to work out a few more kinks on my PB manuscript. I hope to have it ready to send back to a critique partner and get another round of feedback.  If someone can help me know ‘when to say when’ and stop editing this thing I would be eternally grateful.  Do you ever really feel “done” with a manuscript?
  • I have a Sunday post (done) and a Wednesday post (blank) to work on.
  • I also have an idea brewing for a blog series to start this summer, I need to do some homework on it… stay tuned!
  • Organizing my kid’s closets and drawers… a mountain of a task.
  • I need clear work boundaries. In my real job, meaning the ‘not-writing-but-pays-the-bills’ one, I work from home. I love it, and I struggle with it too.  I owe it to my work, and my kids to find a rhythm that will work well for the summer.
  • Did I mention I have two books waiting to be read? Yikes!
  • Oh, yes, tball and softball games this week, too.

Thanks to the antique yellow pie cabinet that’s now residing in my living room, and even a new header image here on Magnolias & Manuscripts, I’m ready for the challenge.  I always appreciate that you take a few moments from your own busy day to spend time here.  I always hope you consider it a good use of your time.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Lessons from a Dummy

It’s a fact, the dummy changed my life.  Dramatic as that may sound, from the perspective of a picture book writer who felt stuck in her own revision process, it’s completely true.   I’ve known about the concept of dummy picture books for months now, and I’ve heard (or read) tons of people talk about what a necessary step it is.  I must be a slow learner because I’ve been avoiding it until this week.  But I did it, and I love it and I can’t wait to talk about it.

I used scrapbook paper because I like the weight of the paper in my hands.  After I cut them in half, stapled them together and numbered them 1-32, I pasted in my text.  I started on page 5. (And if anyone has a different opinion on this, please share.) For this dummy, which will be the first of many, I just separated my sentences into what I thought would work best.  You have to start somewhere, right?  It blew my mind what a different feel the story had, now that it’s not in paragraph form on 8.5 x 11” sheets of paper, and instead actually resembles a book.  Many of my hiccups became clear, as did clumsy wording and soft spots in my story.  There are a few of my sentences that need to be tightened up, and for probably one-third of those, I could easily see how to do so. I’m going to keep chipping away at the edits that are surfacing from this experience.  Of course, I’m going to make another, if not more after that, touching things up along the way. How crazy that I was leaving out this incredibly crucial step!

As I’m still digesting the revelation that I talked about in my last post, and coming off my ‘dummy’ high, I know what wrinkles need to be ironed out now… Read Aloud Potential.  It’s the obvious next step and is exactly what the dummy is helping me to discover.  I don’t just want to write a picture book; I want to write some kid’s favorite picture book.  On top of that, I want to write one that parents love to read to their children.  (aka Panda Cake!)  That’s where the magic happens in this corner of the market, and it’s completely unique to picture books.  I know my opinion of the book I’m reading affects the quality of my reading and the tone of my voice.  I know the pain of being asked to read a story to one of my kids that I REAAALLLYYYY don’t like, or when I suggest one that’s not a favorite of my kids. On the other hand, I know the joy and delight that comes when I read a story that we all love, and what a richer experience it makes.  I want to write one of those, and I need its real aloud potential to be off the charts.  (Mary Kole just posted a great video blog on this exact thing, you can find it here if you want more info)

So, the moral of this story… make a dummy of your picture book manuscript, in fact, make a dozen.  I’m going to the store tomorrow, stacking up on paper and glue sticks, and will turn my sweet little writing desk into a dummy factory.

 

In somewhat unrelated news… Kid Lit College is having a Board Book contest, with two categories (standard & novelty) going on now through May 31.  There’s also a chapter book contest going at the same time.  I’m going to enter the board book contest with a blend of one of my NaPiBoWriWee stories and a previous project!  The winner gets their manuscript critiqued by five editors, what a great opportunity.

Also, my daughter finished and submitted her #50PreciousWordsforKids entry.  We had a blast working on her story together.  This was one she had previously written but was way above the word limit, so we talked and walked through a bit of editing together.  Mother-Daughter editing; it did get as dicey as it sounds, but that was short-lived, and she was very proud of her finished product.  You can read Mia the Cat and all of the entries here. The contest received entries from 15 states and 6 different countries.  It was a wonderful lesson for my seven-year-old on just how small the world is while at the same time expanding her view beyond the city limits of our small town.  Whew, I think that’s all I have for today.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

The Power of Panda Cake

I’m still new to the blogging space, but I feel pretty comfortable making the following assumption… If you’re reading this, then reading is something you enjoy.  I’m going to take this a step further and say that if you do, in fact, love reading, then there are people in your past that introduced you to the magic and power of books.  In the spirit of Mother’s Day, and the role that my own mom (and dad) played in my love of reading, today’s post is dedicated to the adults around the world who are helping children love to read.  These children, the future writers, bloggers, and changers-of-the-world are lucky to have you.

My three kids and I spent the night at my parents’ house last week while the Mister was away on business.  The kids enjoyed the change of pace and toys, and I relished in having an extra couple sets of hands to help out.  Needless to say, it was a great night.  When it came time for their bedtime story, I declared it “Mommas Choice” and started looking through the closet of my childhood bedroom for just the right book. There was no shortage of sweet choices but pushed to the back, a faded yellow spine caught my eye and tugged at my heart.  Panda Cake (R. Seidler 1978) I can’t say that I remember why it was one of my favorites, but I knew the sweet rhythm of the story and the black and white illustrations would have the same effect on me as an adult as it did when I was a child.

I celebrated my discovery in the way that you would greet an old friend you meet unexpectedly and hurried to show my mom.  She celebrated too, declaring it one of her all-time favorites. There was a bit of a friendly dispute as to who would get to read it to my kids, but she conceded and asked if she could join us. My children had no way of knowing how much this story meant to me, and I had no way of knowing how powerful the next couple of minutes would be.  The five of us snuggled together on the floor, and I started reading, immediately losing myself into its familiar embrace.  The story came back to me instantly and I read with a smile, but when I heard my mom quietly reciting all the words to the story, my eyes began to water. She was sitting across from me, she couldn’t see the pages and there’s a good chance it had been 20+ years since she read it to one of her own daughters, but she didn’t miss a beat.

The book that meant a lot to me as a child now means the world to me as an adult.  In the moments, it took us to read the book, the joy of reading transcended generations.  My own children were experiencing one my most treasured memories from my childhood, first hand.  Panda Cake’s magic extended to my children, and I caught my daughter re-reading it and reciting lines for the next two days.  The significance of the Panda Cake moment will remain tucked into my heart for years to come.  It is why I write.  It is the very reason I am so passionate about writing stories that children will love.  I want children everywhere to experience the power of moments like that.

To Mothers everywhere; I hope your day is joyful, playful and restful.  I hope all of you reading have a chance to celebrate the women who are important to you; mothers, grandmothers, godmothers and the like.  If today is tinged with sadness for you, I hope your heart is filled with the love of the woman you may be missing and the peace that comes with knowing her love.  Thanks for sharing a piece of your day with me.  Stay tuned for my Wednesday post when I get back to the grind of writing and talk more about my Dummy.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Show, Don’t Tell

This afternoon, somewhere in the midst of end-of-school-year mayhem and baseball season fatigue, I had an epiphany.  I’m not even quite sure what to do with it yet, and honestly, it scares me a little.  Writing picture books is very VERY different than telling stories.  We tell stories all the time in my house.  There’s a series about ‘Bob the silly dragon’ that’s five years running. These get told every nap time or in the event of an extended potty stay. (Parents of current or former toddlers know exactly what I’m talking about.)  There’s a game we play often at the supper table, putting ourselves into our favorite fairy tales and telling them from a different perspective.  Sometimes on road trips, we take turns adding sentences to a story that becomes a family affair.  To be clear, I did not get into picture book writing because I thought it would be easy, or I thought that our silly little dragon would make me rich and famous.  But I did think that the two were similar, and though they are in some ways, they are not in many more.

The concept of ‘show, don’t tell’ confuses me.  I thought I knew what it meant. I thought I understood the concept, but with every critique I receive, I’m realizing how wrong I was.  As I try to find the balance between using great words, but only a few of them, I realize that I need to figure out how to tell a story without ‘showing’ much of it.  I’ve learned that adverbs should be used carefully, and prepositional phrases are almost never needed. I know that I shouldn’t say anything that can be shown in illustrations, except that this is such a vague and hypothetical concept for me, and therefore a struggle.  I have a good story.  I know how to tell my story using my spoken words and do it justice.  I’m struggling with how to tell it in written words, and as few as possible to boot.  I’m struggling to hang on to my voice and untangle the knot of words I’m hanging on to.  I think I’m on the cusp of something really good, and for lack of any other obvious, next-step options, it’s time to make a dummy.

Here’s my homework from a long forgotten webinar:

  1. Use 8 pieces of paper, cut in half and staple
  2. Number 1-32, and starting on page 5 or 6 (different schools of thought here) put your words on the page.

That’s it.  I’ve been avoiding it like a stack of unpaid bills.  You know, the kind of things you know better than to procrastinate on, but for some reason NOT doing it seems easier.  I could do it now, but I also have real work I could do too… or laundry… hell, it’s 9:30 pm, I could also sleep…

…I did it. I walked away from my computer and started on my dummy, slept a bit and now I’m back.  Honestly, I’m a little obsessed and outdone with myself for allowing my manuscript to stall for so long.  I can see things in the dummy that I couldn’t in a Word document. One thing many people don’t know is that I almost always carry one of my WIPs with me.  In my purse, or in my car you’re certain to find a manuscript or two.  Now that I have a dummy, you may find Him buckled into the passenger seat. Stay tuned for more of my ‘lessons from a dummy’.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Senses

Disclaimer: I feel certain that one day I’ll look back at this post with a patronizing smile, or maybe a cringe, and think of what a sentential idealist I was. I fully expect to laugh at all the fluff.  But, if this site is about recording the journey, and this is where I am today. Plus, if that does happen and I find myself looking back, then I’ve gone somewhere; mission accomplished.

I am a small fish.  Within my current school, I find myself among thousands of others, trying to get their Picture Book published. Slowly I am making my way to the middle of the group, with the majority ahead of me and a handful of others just starting out. I know that if I’m ever going to have a chance of making it in this industry, I need to do a few things.  I need the quality of my writing to improve.  I need to continue to educate myself on the industry.  I need to form a network of other fish so we can help each other out when the current gets rough.  I also need to know who it is I aspire to be.  I have a clear understanding of why I write today, and who I am at this moment, but I need to discover who I want to be, as a writer, five, ten or twenty years from now.  This week, in the midst of a good book and a great writing challenge, I started to figure it out.

Erica Bauermeister, the author of The School of Essential Ingredients and Joy for Beginners, is my favorite.  Her books have affected me greatly, in fact, they’re more than friends; they’re family.  Erica has an incredible gift of incorporating all five senses, so as the reader, you have the chance to BE in the story, not just watch it unfold.  She takes something as menial as buying a tomato at a produce stand and transforms her words into an experience.  Before I know it, I can feel the weight of the tomato in my hand, see the shiny red skin, smell the surrounding produce and hear the lively market in the background.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve always tried to utilize all of my senses in every aspect of life.  When studying in nursing school, I would re-write all my notes, read them aloud, listen to the same classical music CD and drink ice water.  When reading to my children, I always have them sit in my lap, we touch the pages as we go through them and have even smelled a book or two.  If I’m cooking supper for my family, I like to chop my own onions, grate my own cheese, and smell every ingredient before adding it to the pot. It’s no wonder Erica’s books speak to me; they do the same.

As a writer, this is what I want to bring to children.  I want to write stories that not only encourage creativity but also stimulate their senses.  I want to make it easy for them to taste the refreshing bite of watermelon, or hear the screech of a table saw in the background.  I want to write books that are more than stories for children to hear, I want to write stories they can experience.

Last Tuesday evening, I had an ‘Aha moment’ as I was unpacking this revelation.  From that point on, I allowed the five senses (plus one) to guide me through my NaPiBoWriWee challenge.  I used six of the seven days to write a story that focused on one of the senses, with the sixth being emotions.  If I’m going to find success, I have to master the use of descriptive words, at a very basic and elementary level. I know that I have a long way to go, and for some of you this might seem like an intangible and therefore unrealistic goal.  I can appreciate that, and I know that I have more to unpack about my future hopes and dreams.  But the good part about goals is that they only need to hold significance for the one who set them, and I’m excited to get back to my WIP with a renewed sense of purpose and motivation.

I’d like to take a moment to introduce you to my NaPiBoWriWee friends:

  1. Violet’s Heartbreak- Emotion
  2. Messy Grace’s Messy Place- Sight
  3. My Momma has a Monster- Sound
  4. Wendy’s Watermelon- Taste
  5. Bruce is Loose! – Smell
  6. Nurses- Touch
  7. School of Superheroes- All 6! Score!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Reduce heat & let simmer…

I’m taking a break from the construction analogies, for one that comes much more naturally for me.  ICYMI-I’ve demolished my picture book manuscript, cleared out and sifted through the rubble, started on the foundation and am currently letting the cement slab dry.  While that happens, I’ll move it to the back burner, reduce the heat and let it simmer a while.

This week I found, NaPiBoWriWee, otherwise known as National Picture Book Writing Week, and just in the nick of time.   It’s a writing challenge for picture book writers, 7 books in 7 days, running May 1-7.  Obviously, it takes much more than 7 days for a Picture Book manuscript to reach completion, so these aren’t so much as ‘books’ as they are ‘drafts’.  It’s meant to be a ‘creative kick start’, to get juices flowing.  The drafts are only for myself at the end of it all, but maybe a future bestseller will emerge from one of the participants, that would not have been written otherwise.  The real benefit to the challenge is the opportunity to make connections.  We have a Facebook group, blog posts, and hashtags, keeping us connected and helping each of us to celebrate our daily success. There are a few of these opportunities scattered throughout the year in the Kid Lit world, but this is the first one I have the chance to participate in and so far, I’m having a blast.  I do believe that as the week goes on, it’ll get more difficult, but writing through those times of is one of the trademarks of being a writer, right? Here’s what I have so far…

Day 1– A tender story about heartbreak and putting the pieces back together after a loss. This one had been brewing for quite some time, I’m glad to have finally mustered up the courage to put it on paper.

Day 2– A silly story about a girl named Grace, her messy room and the understanding that she and her mom come to.

Day 3– I think I feel another story about my main man (aka 5-year-old main character) rising to the surface.

Day 4 thru Day 7, only time will tell.  Next time I see you, I’ll have finished the challenge!

Through NaPiBoWriWee and other avenues, I continue to establish connections with other writers and am humbled that some have gone so far as to take time out of their busy schedules to offer some feedback and guidance.  Some I’ve found by chance; others are bloggers that I’ve been following for a while.  Just this week, I found a blog, started from a very similar place as mine, three years before Magnolias.  The author of that site just had her first book published!  I’ve found other writers who are young mothers and fathers and even some from healthcare backgrounds.   I’m grateful for these new connections and excited to watch new relationships form.   From time to time I come across, ‘Blogs I Follow’ lists on other sites and have learned much from them.  I’m including a short one here, in case anyone is looking for more on my favorite topic.

www.kitlit.com

https://jeanswriting.com

www.themaggieproject.com

http://www.annaforrester.com/hmmmmm

https://taralazar.com

http://childrenswritersworld.blogspot.com

https://jennifermaryg.com

http://www.adventuresinagentland.com

http://paulayoo.com  (NaPiBoWriWee Host!)

https://viviankirkfield.com

Next week, I plan to bring my picture book manuscript back to the front burner, check the seasoning and maybe toss in a few green onions.  Mmmmmm… wish me luck!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP