Week Three of Our #100PictureBookSummer.

This week, the local chapter of SCBWI held a panel on ‘Creating Books for Children’ and the different avenues of publishing (traditional vs self).  I’ve not been able to make it to any SCBWI meetings prior to this one, but for a first timer, it surely did not disappoint.  It was energizing and inspiring to be in a room full of like-minded people from right here in my own community.  Because of this meeting, our library haul came in a little later than usual, but my kids have not wasted any time diving in. (To clarify, SCBWI is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.)

Here’s our list for the week, and again, I’ve included the link to the Book Nerd Mommy post containing the entire list of 100 Picture Books for Your Summer Reading.

  1. Puddle Pug by Kim Norman
  2. Through the Forest by Stephanie Broccoli and Catherin Bidet
  3. Corduroy by Don Freeman
  4. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr, John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert
  5. ..Jane by Patrick McDonell
  6. What A Wonderful World by Bob Thiele and George Scieszka
  7. Rain by Linda Ashman and Christian Robinson
  8. The Snurtch by Sean Ferrell and Charles Santoso
  9. Float by David Miyares
  10. Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner and Christopher Silas Neal

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

(Jamberry continues to elude me! I’ve read the adorable story; I want my kids to read it too but I can’t seem to get my hands on a copy.  Each year we make strawberry jam, except we call it jelly… and I think it’s technically strawberry preserves but you get the point.  Jamberryyyyyy, where are youuuuuu?)

I don’t plan to make a habit out of this, but I went out of order on the list.  Float and Up in the Garden, Down in the Dirt are two that wouldn’t have come home this week had I not, but I’m sure glad they did.  What’s great about this group of books is that theme, which is summed up in the title of one of its own, What A Wonderful World.  From learning about Dr. Jane Goodall to the magic world of earthworms that exists below the surface.  The stories in these books embraced the wonders of the world in which we all live, even if sometimes those wonders includes the perfect puddle for jumping.  I’m making a prediction here, all three of my guest reviewers will choose the same book from the stack.  Never mind what mom thinks, what does she know anyway?

 

And I was right, today’s favorite was…

The Snurtch–  (spoiler alert!) OC says, “In the beginning, the Snurtch is always bothering her but then everyone realizes they have their own Snurtches”.  MC and YC agreed, calling the book “hilarious” and “silly” respectively.  That’s high praise for boys their age.

(YC wanted to make sure that Puddle Pug was listed as an Honorable Mention, “because, Mom, you see, there’s dogs and puddles and I like that too.”)

Ironically, or not, all our ‘snurtches’ were out in full force this morning, so I thought it a perfect opportunity for us each to describe them, hoping they would run and hide.  Mine is orange, with yellow hair and horns.  OC decided hers was “teal, and turquoise, and purple, and black, and blue with some brown.”  MC is fully immersed in the ‘imitation is the greatest form of flattery’ phase, otherwise known as ‘I’m going to say exactly what my mom says’ so his was also orange, but with some nudging, has black hair and bull horns.  YC’s is green (as is everything in his life) with green eyes and green hair.

We still have a couple of days to love on this stack of books.  I hope you have something good to read on this warm Wednesday afternoon as well!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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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

Demolition

Two things happened recently, that have greatly altered the course of this little writing journey I’m on.  First, I watched a fantastic webinar on ‘How to Be a Better Critique Partner’ given by Heather Alexander.  I learned a great deal, and I’m still unpacking much of what she said, but one part resonated with me (and it actually had nothing to do with critiquing).  During her presentation, she made a comparison between that the revision process and a home renovation.  She made it clear, not the kind of remodel that involves slapping on a coat of paint and changing the light fixtures; what she was referring to was ‘knocking down walls kind of stuff’.   I’m a very visual person, and I appreciated the analogy, I even went so far as to write her words in large print on the bottom of my notes page.  But kids got home, life moved on, I slept and somehow lost track of it.

Fast forward a couple of days, and I received feedback from someone who graciously agreed to beta read for me.  I could’ve pinched myself when she agreed to do so. She’s previously published (with more picture books on the way) and comes from a similar background (healthcare turned writer) with much more experience.  I heard back from her sooner than I expected, and her feedback was all too familiar.  For the third time now, someone with industry experience told me, “Drop the Rhyme.” All three times it was said with much more tact, but I like to cut through the fluff when possible.  Three different times, each one separated by months and miles, but the advice didn’t change and this time I heard it.  If I can be honest, I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me.

I am terrified at the thought of not writing in rhyme.  It’s all I know.  In my family, rhyming is my ‘thing’.  Just ask my parents to see old Anniversary cards or Christmas picture books, and you’ll see that my history of rhyming goes back a long way.  Heck, I won a poetry contest in the eighth grade… I RHYME…IT’S WHAT I DO.  I know I’ve talked about writing versions of my story that don’t rhyme, and I promise I did.  I just I never did so with the intention of putting all my eggs in that basket.  I don’t know if I’m even any good.  But I believe, with every ounce of my ‘wanna-be’ writer self, that fear should never be the reason to hit the brakes.  At least not in situations like this.  Sure, it feels foreign, a little scary and like I’m starting from scratch, but the boy at the center of my story deserves for me to try.  (As an aside, I recently read “… if you write, then you are a writer” so I’m trying to settle in with the title.)

I think I’m starting to understand what Heather was talking about now.  Not that I hadn’t done major revisions before, because some those had been painful, but this is taking “kill your darlings’ to a whole new level.  (For my non-writer friends, don’t panic… the ‘darlings’ in this case are words, favorite words even, that need to be cut from a story.  William Faulkner said it, so you know its good advice.)  One of the first things I did was go back to my main character and ask for his help.  He did not disappoint.  What he did do, however, is throw the entire sequence of my stories about him in a tailspin.  I have three stories written about this boy and they landed in different pieces and different places than I had ever previously considered.  I think he may be on to something, but to get there will take a few more swings with a sledgehammer.  Words are starting to flow, but I’m not taking off my hard hat yet.

Sure I loved my ‘house’ before the renovation, it was filled with first words and early lessons, but I can already see I’m going to like the changes. It’ll make a mess in the process, but I feel energized and I’m eager to see where this takes me.  So here I go, in the middle of a self-induced rhyming fast (library books included) and venturing into foreign lands.  I’m also halfway through the Picture Book Page Turns webinar (kidlitcollege.org), I think I’ll be making a dummy with my WIP this week.  I’ll share what I learn soon. Wish me luck!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Handing in my homework

I’m happy to report that I actually did tackle the homework assignments I gave myself last week.  I re-wrote my story without rhyming at all, and I loved it, which was a pleasant surprise. In the spirit of full disclosure, the last time I tried this, I did so without a lot of effort.  This time, I wrote with intention and polished it up real nice… in fact, I’m not finished editing it, because I may need it after all.  I realized in the process that I need some outside help figuring out this eternal RHYME vs PROSE dilemma, and if I’m going to ask for opinions, both versions must be equally well written.  I am excited to say that writing the story in prose did, in fact, help me untangle the words in my brain, and I could ‘finish’ this draft, cute little rhyme and all.

So, where do I stand now?  I have my rhyming story, the 6th revision of it, and I have the same story written without rhyme, draft number 1.  I also have the second in this series that I’m slowly chipping away at.  (Have I mentioned that my first book is part of a series?  Again, this goes against most of the advice I’ve received but I can’t stifle this sweet boy and the stories I’ve been asked to tell about him… more on this another day).  This weekend I have the first of a two-part webinar, presented by Ann Whitford Paul titled Picture Book Page Turns and First Pages.  I’ve mentioned her book Writing Picture Books, before.  I’m thrilled because I learned so much from it, I can’t wait to hear her live.  This is an area I’m needing a lot of help in now that my story is “finished”.  A ‘page turn’ is where the text of a picture book is divided, from one 2 page spread to the next.  There’s so much emphasis placed on this concept because I want the reader eager to turn the page and see what happens next.  The page turns help the story to build speed and momentum, setting the pace for the story.  (Pacing is another concept I’m excited to learn more about too.)

One thing I hope she goes through and explains in the course is the benefits of ‘making a dummy.’  There’s a whole chapter devoted to this in Writing Picture Books, so I think it’s safe to assume she will.  A ‘dummy’ is exactly what it sounds like, blank pages, stapled together to resemble the 32 pages of a picture book.  Then, after I’m schooled on ‘page turns’, I can put words on these blank pages and see how well my story reads, as a book. (For those of you who didn’t know this, there’s a standard layout for picture books, which uses 32 pages. Typically, only 24 pages of the 32 are used to tell the story… put this on my “list of things to elaborate on, one day”)

I did something else this week that I’ve been excited about.  I finally mustered up the courage to approach one of the ‘cool kids’ on the playground, and ask if I could play with them.  It didn’t surprise me that she was super nice and approachable, it DID surprise me that she said yes! Slowly but surely, I’m building my writing community.  You know the saying “you are who you associate with.”  Well, I’m trying.

So, what’s on tap for the next few days? Part one of the webinar, ironing out wrinkles in my prose version of my manuscript and figuring out how to blend in with the cool kids. (I have a bad habit of either trying too hard or coming across as reserved and shy… crossing my fingers I can find a happy medium here).  That’s all for now!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP