Happy New Year Everyone! We are excited to have Christine Van Zandt on our blog today. I saw her new nonfiction book, ABRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS, illustrated by Harry Briggs, online and the cover intrigued me. Then I read, laughed, and learned from the first page to the last. What topic accomplishes both of these consistently? Underpants of course. Who doesn’t like learning about underwear? How about what they cover…tushes, old crusty buns? Each chapter is filled with content-based words, facts, images, history, and humor.
TS:Welcome Christine! Your book is a terrific example of nonfiction material kids will love reading. This can be such a funny, awkward, and embarrassing topic for kids. Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene, and sensory elements?
CVZ: Thanks, Tina for having me. Knowing when to show action, scene, and sensory elements is something that comes with practice: writing, reading, and studying the craft. Word choice plays a big role.
Each story is different, therefore, the focus on action, scene, and sensory elements varies. Identify what you want to accomplish with each manuscript. Let’s say your picture book is in rhyme. There are many variations from there. Is it a soothing bedtime book or upbeat? Lyrical? Cumulative? And don’t even get me started on all the different kinds of rhyme schemes! Once you’ve figured out the foundation (structure, plot), then fine-tune the text.
TS: You raise great points. The preplanning aspect for each story is important. Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?
CVZ: A tried-and-true method is to go through your manuscript, reviewing only the verbs. Look for “is,” “was,” and “be,” then replace them with more precise verbs. Instead of “The dog was chased by the cat,” saying “The cat chased the dog” gets right to the point without extra words and it shows the action more effectively.
How a sentence is arranged can place emphasis on where you want the reader to focus.
Example 1: Cats are liked by more people than any other pet.
(The emphasis is on “cats.”)
Example 2: People like cats more than any other pet.
(The emphasis is on “people.”)
TS: That’s an awesome strategy to use for strengthening a sentence. I’ll implement that more often in revisions. Would you like to share an example of a before and after where you needed to show more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?
CVZ: Absolutely. Here is the opening scene to a picture book I’m working on.
FIRST DRAFT (BEFORE)
I wasn’t going to eat her, even though I easily could. [POV = first-person, mountain lion]
I came down from the hills because I heard her [Suki, the kitten] crying.
CURRENT DRAFT (AFTER)
Everyone calls me P-22 but my real name is Leonardo Catamount. I’m as famous as the Hollywood sign, but a lot more ferocious.
All animals fear me. They run and hide when I am near. [sun is setting]
But what is that?!
When I drafted this story about the mountain lion and his unlikely (eventual) friendship with a city cat, I jumped into it too quickly. This made the first lines problematic in the same way starting with dialogue can confuse a reader when they don’t yet know the character.
TS: The difference between the two is amazing. Fleshing out details takes time and patience. Thanks for the example. Writing is about balance. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?
CVZ: I belong to several critique groups and their feedback is critical. When it’s not just right, they let me know!
In picture books it may seem counterintuitive that writers focus on showing rather than telling (because picture books are illustrated), however, illustrations should take the story beyond the text, adding another layer of interest. Therefore, for writers, word choice is important.
Of course there are a huge range of manuscripts. For some genres or categories, it’s fine to tell more than show, much depends on what you are writing. Identifying a goal for each project can save time when revising. And, remember that it’s okay to change your mind and go in a new direction—it’s your story!
TS: I couldn’t agree with you more. Critique partners are invaluable. Thank you for sharing so many wonderful strategies. Wishing you every success and looking forward to future books! Happy writing everyone this first month of 2022!
GIVEAWAY: For a chance to win an autographed copy of ABRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS, follow both Christine and I on Twitter, retweet the post, and reply in the comments below that you have done so. (Twitter: @ChristineVZ and @ShepardsonTina We will select a winner on Tuesday, January 18th, at noon, EST.
All book-related images provided by becker&mayer! kids.
Christine Van Zandt is the author of the funny nonfiction picture book, A Brief History of Underpants. She’s a literary editor and lives in Los Angeles, California, with her family and a monarch butterfly sanctuary
2021 screamed by like an out-of-control freight train. While it was a year of milestones met, achieving those milestones was a struggle. I won’t blame COVID. It gave me more writing time and more reading time. A positive in a negative situation!
The blog I am a member of, Wonder of Words, gave me the opportunity to share with readers not only my love of words but also my discoveries as I research for each new post. I love researching words as much as I love building those words into stories. The multitude of literary devices is endless, but I discovered all those devices can be divided into two categories. Those being literary elements and literary techniques.
Literary elements include plot, setting, and theme, as well as other things. Every great story will include a well-developed plot and characters that endear themselves to the reader, either because the reader loves them or hates them. In addition to the plot and well-developed characters, a good writer engages the use of literary techniques that include words or phrases such as metaphors, similes, and alliteration.
Creating a work of fiction using the multitude of literary techniques is by no means easy but the results can be rewarding. Every story I write gives me a sense of personal satisfaction.
In an effort to drink in the various devices, I read a plethora of books this year. Additionally, I diligently worked on my middle grade novel and am happy to report I finally have a first draft. This did not happen overnight and certainly not by accident. It was grueling at times. So much so I wanted to give up and trash it. I must confess, some nights were filled with fitful sleep filled with nightmarish story lines that in the light of day had all but been forgotten. But it eventually came together because of the encouragement of my fantastic critique partners, and fellow writers in my group coaching class, along with the partnership I formed with Kathy Derrick and her crew at Pen2Paper.
I included a word cloud I created with many of the literary devices I researched this year. To create your own word cloud, check out www.wordcloud.com.
As 2021 winds down, I look forward to 2022. It will overflow with an abundance of words fit together much like the pieces of a puzzle to create a story brought to life on from a blank page. I look forward to the thrill I will feel the moment I sit back after having put that last puzzle piece in place, knowing my masterpiece is ready to share with the world.
It was such fun to celebrate Candice and Bea Pearl in my last post. Today I’m going to talk about what I’ve been up to.
Like Sandra, I own a publishing business. In 2019, my sister and I opened Pavlova Press and we are currently publishing anthologies so we can help new voices be heard. Our latest volume is called Ngā Ripo Wai | Swirling Waters. It contains over 50 short stories or poems from 44 contributors and is written in English and Māori. The book celebrates both current connections and the history of our local region. It was here, two hundred years ago, that two Māori chiefs drew their individual marks on the Deed of Sale for about 13,000 acres of land in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. This sale allowed the establishment of the local Mission Station and the town that now has the honour of being the country’s longest continually occupied joint Māori–European settlement.
The voices in Ngā Ripo Wai | Swirling Waters come from new and experienced writers; from young and old; and from Māori, Pākehā (European New Zealanders) and other ethnicities. The writing is from people who have felt the connection and who celebrate the people and the area. The video below is from a live TV interview about the book.
Ngā Ripo Wai | Swirling Waters is by no means the first book to inter-weave two languages and I certainly hope it won’t be the last. Yara Rodrigues Fowler highlights her top ten bilingual books here. I’ve read two on the list and am looking forward to exploring some of the others. There are also a number of children’s books appearing in multi-languages in New Zealand and around the world. Take time out these holidays to read some in a language you are interested in exploring.
As well as being a publisher, I’m also a writing coach and currently have a number of clients working on novels from paranormal to crime to literary fiction, science fiction and historical fiction. Trisha Harmon is one of them. She has finished her manuscript and is now submitting to agents. Her YA novel centres around seventeen-year-old Claire who gets a second chance at love when she discovers she can see her dead boyfriend’s ghost. The domino effect of his death reveals a family secret that leads to Claire healing parts of herself that she wasn’t aware were broken. If this sounds like the sort of story you or your teenager might be interested in you can follow her writing Facebook page here – you won’t be disappointed, I promise!
If you are writing a novel and would like to join our writing support group on Facebook you can do that here.
Until next time, happy writing and reading, everyone, and please don’t leave your 2022 goals until 1 January – make them now so they don’t become just another New Year’s resolution that tails off around March.
Welcome, Word Wonders to today’s post on inspiration! This time I’m interviewing three authors AND an illustrator at once and it’s because they all worked together on the sweet story of friendship, PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM by Callie Metler, Shirin Rahman, Melissa Stoller, illustrated by Kate Talbot. I’m eager to learn more about the creativity behind this collaboration so let’s jump right in!
Hi, Ladies! Thanks for joining us on the Wonder of Words blog. What was the inspiration behind this story?
Melissa: First, Candice – thank you so much for inviting me to your blog! I enjoyed answering these questions about creativity!
I am so lucky to be working with Callie Metler and Shirin Rahman on this project! PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM (illustrated by Kate Talbot, Clear Fork Publishing) has been an absolute pleasure to work on together. Shirin brought the idea to Callie and me, and I will be forever grateful that she did. I have met them both in person (on separate occasions – we still all need to meet together!) and I knew that we would bond perfectly as a group. The inspiration behind the story is to tell a tale of three girls of different faith traditions that would mirror our faith traditions (Jewish, Christian, and Muslim). We wanted to show that, although the three girls in the story are different, they are more alike than they realize at first, and their differences and cultural heritages should be shared and celebrated. The backdrop of the story is the first day of school, and their teacher, Ms. Blume (obvious nod to Judy Blume!) starts a planting project. As the plants bloomed, the girls’ friendship blossomed. Illustrator Kate Talbot’s artwork is just exquisite and she brought her own unique vision to the story and elevated our words!
Callie: The inspiration for Planting Friendship came from Shirin. She wanted to create a book about three girls coming together and so we worked on it together and brainstormed what the story came to be.
Shirin: I have thought about this story since I became a mother. I strongly believe that if children grow up knowing and respecting different faith traditions- and all differences- our world will be better for it. My children are my inspiration. I did not want them to experience the challenges I faced as a child. I want every child to feel they belong. I want every child to be proud of their identity and heritage, while appreciating all others.
Our world is enriched by all the diverse faiths, cultures and traditions–we are one human family.
It’s an important lesson that children need to learn before they begin school. Picture books are so important. They can play a crucial role in a child’s development. I hope our book has a positive impact in the world.
Kate: Callie approached me in late 2020 to ask if I’d be interested in illustrating Planting Friendship: Peace Salaam, Shalom. Upon reading it, I instantly knew I wanted to be involved. The message and the timing of the book seemed perfect and I was excited by the challenge of creating three unique main characters.
Candice: It’s such a great idea! What is your favorite part of the creative process? And what was your favorite part about working with co-writers? Did you learn anything about your own process?
Melissa: As far as the creative process and writing – I enjoy it all. I love brainstorming ideas and find stories all over, especially by observing nature, strolling through my NYC neighborhood, and mining my family history. Also, I enjoy revising and teasing out the heart and themes of a manuscript. Those are not always evident in the first draft and I rely on my amazing critique partners as I work through the story.
For this project – it was an absolute joy to work with Callie and Shirin. We have an amazing energy together. We met almost weekly to write, revise, and polish the manuscript for PLANTING FRIENDSHIP. And we continue to meet to work on the next book, BUILDING BRIDGES: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM, as well as the third picture book to complete the series. My favorite part about working with co-authors is the collaboration itself – bouncing ideas off each other, engaging in meaningful dialogue, and the deep friendship that has resulted. We shared a lot and also had many laughs throughout the process! I learned that I LOVE working with co-authors! When illustrator Kate Talbot joined the project we became a true #DreamTeam and I’m so blessed that our work together is continuing!
Callie: I love the discussions and the partnership. We each added something special to the story, and communicated what was important to us for the story.
Shirin: I love writing stories for children. I’m so grateful to be able to live this dream. Working with Callie and Melissa has been such a joy, that I am so thankful we are continuing this collaboration indefinitely! I could not imagine a better team to work with. We schedule zoom meetings and figure out the story together. I am constantly amazed by the ideas we come up with. After every meeting, we all agree that we accomplished a lot. I have learned that I am much more productive when we talk over plot possibilities. The ideas seem to flow better when we brainstorm together.
Kate: I adore working in colour, so for me, the final stage of colouring and rendering my art is my favourite part. For me, this is where the magic really happens and bringing these three gorgeous little girls to life left me with a permanent smile on my face.
Candice: Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? If so, do they ever cross into your writing?
Melissa: I love being creative and crafty! My kids and I especially enjoy holiday art projects like decorating a menorah for Hanukkah, making a seder plate for Passover, or baking macaroons for Purim. I also love collecting – I collect shells, sea glass, beach rocks, driftwood, and snow globes. During the summer, I’m always painting shells or making found beach object projects. I think that any creative pursuit does cross over into writing – as I’m creating I’m also thinking and mulling over story plots! Creativity involves using your imagination so whether it’s doing a craft or writing a story, the mind is always active and finding new solutions or ways of doing things, and working around any problems that may arise.
Shirin: I love to paint and I’m learning to draw, as it has always been my dream to write and illustrate my own books. I don’t know if it will take another ten years or more, but I’m content with the journey of learning for now. It’s a way to change gears and still be creative, when I am seized by the dreaded writers block
Callie: I love to play computer games, read, and paint. They often cross over into my writing.
Kate: While I was the illustrator on this project, I am also a writer, so when I’m not at my iPad sketching, I’m busy dreaming up story ideas.
Candice: Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?
Shirin: For me, creativity is sparked by moments of quiet solitude. Mornings are my favorite times, when I watch the sunrise with a cup of tea. Writing morning pages helps clear my mind and prepares me for a good day of creativity
Melissa: I love finding creativity in my life in small ways throughout the day. I have adult coloring books, tiny blank canvases, and markers on my desk, and I use them if I have a few minutes. And by reading kidlit, keeping a writing idea journal, and always trying to add a spark to an existing manuscript, I hope I am keeping my imagination and my creativity alive. And of course, my book, SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH (illustrated by Sandie Sonke, Clear Fork Publishing) is all about creativity! The theme is letting go of perfection and finding your own creativity – whatever form that may take. And for fans of Scarlet, the sequel, RETURN OF THE MAGIC PAINTBRUSH is coming soon. Sandie’s illustrations are just gorgeous! I’m so excited for readers to be immersed in that world surrounding creativity and imagination once again!
Callie: Creativity can come in any form. The trick is to see and accept the magic in the world around you and to capture that to pour into your writing.
Kate: Like all creatives, I struggle with motivation at times. I’ve found, that for me, the best way to counteract this is to have multiple projects going at once. This means that when I hit a seemingly impassable creative wall, I shift focus for a couple of weeks before circling back. I’ve found that while sometimes I need to push myself, other times, the best thing to do is take a break.
Thank y’all for joining us and sharing your thoughts on inspiration and creativity!
Consider adding PLANTING FRIENDSHIPS to your holiday gift-giving list! Support local by requesting at your indie bookstore or purchasing online at bookshop.org (book specific link) to benefit your favorite indie.
Call to Creativity: have you ever thought about co-writing? What strengths of your own could you share with others?
Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection – Return to Coney Island and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush;Ready, Set, GOrilla!; and Sadie’s Shabbat Stories. Planting Friendship: Peace, Salaam, Shalom (co-written with Callie Metler and Shirin Rahman, illustrated by Kate Talbot), released from Clear Fork Publishing in 2021. Melissa is a Blogger and Course Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY, and a founding member of The Book Meshuggenahs. In other chapters of her life, Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her family, and enjoys theatre, museums, and long beach walks.
Shirin has lived on three continents and sees herself as a global citizen. Through sharing stories from her heritage, she hopes to inspire an appreciation for all the diversity of our beautiful planet. A member of SCBWI since 2010, Shirin is now represented by Saba Sulaiman of Talcott Notch Literary Agency. http://www.shirinshamsi.com @ShirinsBooks
Callie Metler is the owner of Clear Fork Media, and an author and illustrator of several children’s books. She lives in Stamford, Texas with her two sons, and enjoys looking out her office window at the trees and nature in the local town square. http://www.CallieMetler.com
Kate Talbot is a Children’s Book Author and Illustrator who has a passion for quirky stories, especially when told in rhyme. She has a degree in filmmaking and spent several years as a Film Producer (the highlight of her career was spilling an entire tray of drinks in Russell Crowe’s lap before falling butt-first into a fountain). In 2011, she made the shift to children’s writing and illustration, when she moved to Germany with her Spanish husband. Until recently she lived there with her family, but has now relocated to New Zealand. https://www.katetalbotbooks.com
Have you ever wondered how some authors take heavy topics and show their story in a way that helps others be more mindful of others’ feelings? Joanna Rowland is very experienced in this area and in her newest picture book, Big Bear Was Not TheSame, she accomplishes just this! Beautifully illustrated by John Ledda, Joanna and John show readers how to be more empathetic and supportive to a friend who has experienced a traumatic event. I’m so glad Joanna could stop by to talk about her book today!
TS: Hi Joanna! Your book is such a good reminder of how to be there for someone. Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?
JR: One of the things I love about picture books is that illustrators can show so much through their illustrations that I don’t need to tell. I have one line, “Little Bear tried all sorts of things to cheer up Big Bear. But nothing worked.” It was so fun to see the ways illustrator John Ledda used to show Little Bear trying to cheer up Big Bear. I don’t need to tell the reader in words what was happening because they can see it in the pictures. Because the story I wrote is about trauma and responses to trauma, it was important for me to sometimes say the action. One example: “Oh, no! said Big Bear, and he ran away.” I felt it was important to say the action when it was a response to trauma to help kids better understand how someone might act when they are traumatized. In Big Bear Was Not The Same, Big Bear has been traumatized by a forest fire. When things remind Big Bear of the forest fire, he responds with fight, flight, or freeze. It was important to show Big Bear having that action when things reminded him of the fire. I think learning about how people who have PTSD respond to things, helped me know I needed to have more action scenes when Big Bear was triggered.
When I was writing the story, my critique partners were great for letting me know if it felt like something was missing. My books are always better by seeing how they respond to what I write and their feedback.
TS: You made great decisions in those scenes especially because young kids are just learning about life and some of the difficulties they may experience. Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?
JR: Reading picture books is a great way to learn about language and craft. I read different picture books every day. One of the fabulous perks of teaching five-year-olds. I love reading lyrical books. Cynthia Rylant does a beautiful job of using descriptive language in her books.
TS:These are terrific resources. Thank you for sharing! Would you like to share an example of a before and after where you needed to show more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?
JR: Sure, this is an Early draft of Big Bear text example with too much telling:
It was only a matter of time before something set off Big Bear to think and feel
like the day in the woods was happening all over.
Sometimes, a smell set off Big Bear.
And Big Bear ran away.
It was only campers having dinner. But Big Bear relived that scary moment in the woods anyway.
Final version of Big Bear text example:
Some days, Little Bear and Big Bear had good days that almost felt normal.
But one smell could change it all.
Big Bear froze.
“Don’t worry, Big Bear. It’s just kids making s’mores. You’re so big and brave. Nothing can scare you. Right?”
But Big Bear shivered.
Little Bear worried. “Do you want a hug?”
But Big Bear didn’t answer.
TS: I love the difference between the two versions. Much more emotion and heart in your final version! How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?
JR: I do learn from rejections. Pre agent, I used to send things out too soon occasionally, and if they didn’t connect emotionally, I knew I needed to go back to find the heart. My critique group is great at letting me know when I’ve hit that right emotional chord. So, if you aren’t in a critique group, find one. They are so valuable. Honestly some books can take me years to get right, and some weeks. Explore different structures with how to write your book, try writing it in different points of view, and revise. Big Bear took quite a few drafts because I wrote it in 3rd person and most of my other published books have been written in 1st person, so it was a learning curve for me to think about dialogue and how to write the action scenes in the book. Sometimes it’s okay to tell. I felt it was important to say the words, “Big Bear froze,” because freezing is one of the responses people have when they have been through a traumatic event. But I think leaving more room for the illustrator whenever possible, makes for a stronger book. See how other authors show the balance in published books. You will learn so much from reading. What showed the action? Was it dialogue, text, or the illustration? Have fun and don’t be afraid to experiment. Copy your manuscript and practice deleting chunks to see if it’s better with or without. Sometimes less words, is more powerful. But most importantly, keep trying
TS: Critique partners are those objective eyes and ears. Reading other books is such a great habit to develop, I agree. Wishing you continued success with Big Bear, Little Bear and future books. Thank you for stopping by!
Joanna Rowland grew up in Sacramento, California, where she still lives today with her husband and three children. She teaches kindergarten by day and writes picture books at night. In the summer you’ll find her by water or cozying up with a book. She is the author of The Memory Box: A Book about Grief; The Memory Book: A Grief Journal for Children and Families; Stay Through The Storm; When Things are Hard, Remember; and Always Mom, Forever Dad.
After bringing you all up to date with what’s been going on in the writing lives of the Wonder of Words team, I’m back with my regular book review section.
This month I have the honour and privilege of reviewing The Existence of Bea Pearl, a YA novel by our very own Candice Marley Conner. In The Existence of Bea Pearl, Bea Pearl is distraught when her parents declare her missing brother dead, when she is certain he is still alive. His mysterious disappearance and the thought that she may have played a part in it plague her. This exciting and intricate story will keep you guessing right until the end.
If you’ve been following us for a while, you may remember that I asked Nanci Turner Steveson to help me review her book Swing Sideways. I asked Candice if she would like to do the same thing and she said, yes! Our conversation is in the video below.
It’s been one of those summers. The kind where it feels like the kids just finished school yesterday, but then all of a sudden school has started once again. It is no wonder this next Pitch it to Me Challenge fell to the bottom of my “things to plan for” list. The result? A modified challenge I hope all you WONDERful readers will enjoy!
But first, let’s close out our last challenge where author Kourtney LaFavre dropped by to put up her pitch for the story, OLENA AND THE PEAR TREES, against my own pitch and that of super star author Jenna Grodzicki. Thank you to both ladies for participating! I am happy to report that Jenna dazzled our readers with her winning pitch as folllows:
“The people of Olena’s village are hungry. The pear trees, once carefully tended by her grandmother, are no longer bearing fruit. When Olena finds a lone pear hidden in the forest, it may be the key to saving the orchard. Guided by this mysterious pear and memories of her grandmother, Olena embarks on a journey to bring the orchard back to life and feed her village.”
Now, if you are looking for your own pitching challenge, this round I am inviting you to pitch one (and only one) of your own stories to me here in the comments section below. My favorite pitch will win a complimentary critique! It just so happens that my Little Gnome imprint at Gnome Road Publishing is open to submissions in September, so this would be a great opportunity to let me see what you’ve got. Bring on the pitches and let this fun twist of a challenge begin! You have until SEPTEMBER 15, 2021 to post – good luck!
This isn’t me (as you can see), but I’m crossing my fingers for a fabulous challenge!
As for my very brief closing remarks, let me thank you all again for your votes in these challenges and for supporting our blog and featured authors! Until next time …
Welcome, Word Wonderers! We hope everyone had an enjoyable, safe summer as we prepare for Back-To-School! Today’s guest is Kira Bigwood, with her debut picture book, SECRET, SECRET AGENT GUY, out now. And let me tell you, my youngest has been in spy-mode ever since we read her story together!
Candice: Hi, Kira! Thanks for being here today to talk about your creative process. When and where did you get the inspiration for your story?
Kira: Thanks again for having me! I was inspired to write SECRET, SECRET AGENT GUY in 2018 by my own sleuthing children. They got a spy kit for Christmas, complete with night-vision goggles and motion-detecting alarms. After being booby-trapped for like the zillionth time, I knew there was a story in this. Kids love spies! Heck, grown-ups love spies! I wanted to come up with a “sticky” concept that I hadn’t seen before, so I channeled my day job (advertising copywriter) and landed on this lullabies-for-spies idea. Once I had my concept, the story sort of wrote itself (which does not usually happen for me!).
Candice: Oh gosh, yes. I have been snuck up on so many times since my son and I read this book together. Everyone loves spies! And I like that phrase, “lullabies-for-spies.” Clever. What is your favorite part of the creative process?
Kira: My favorite part is what I call the “concepting” phase. Coming up with big ideas…good or bad. It honestly doesn’t matter, because ideas breed ideas breed ideas, and eventually, you’re bound to come up with something cool (a statistical fact!). I’m not an illustrator, but I do enjoy drawing (thanks to my artist mom and architect dad for that gene). So a lot of my initial concepting involves jotting down ideas for titles or themes, and then doodling those out a little. I don’t share my drawings with anyone (and they don’t inform any illustration notes I may include), but they do help me start to visualize the story and figure out where it should go.
Candice:You’re absolutely right. Bad ideas can be just as helpful as good ones to get creativity flowing. Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? Do they cross into your writing?
Kira: I like to make stuff…cute invites and decorations for parties, clues for scavenger hunts, elaborate Halloween costumes (that was my 2-year-old dressed as Richard Simmons), homemade cards and poems…I’m kinda addicted to making people laugh, or feel loved or just acknowledged, through the written word. I suppose that would be the crossover…making stuff that makes people feel something.
Candice: I can imagine thebook-themed parties! And making people feel something is such a great life goal. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?
Kira: Fill the well! The more you experience in life, the more you have to draw from when it comes time to create. This can be going to the movies, walking in nature, people-watching, dog-watching, going to a museum, playing with your kids, taking a much-needed break from your kids…the key is to try to be as present as possible (ditch the phone!), absorb your surroundings, and dump it all in the well.
Candice: Creativity usually seems to inspire more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?
Kira: Right now I’m putting the finishing touches on a narrative non-fiction science manuscript—fingers crossed it will be my next book! I will say, this past pandemic year really cramped my creativity, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. So, while I wasn’t nearly as productive as I’d hoped to be (remote schooling, anyone?!), I’ve given myself permission to let it go and not focus on what I didn’t accomplish last year. Here’s to 2021, amirite?!
Candice: For sure! We appreciate you being here, Kira, and best of luck with your non-fiction science manuscript project!
Kira: Thanks so much for having me, Candice, and congratulations on your creative successes!
Be sure to request SECRET, SECRET AGENT GUY at your library or local indie bookstore. You can also find it online at bookshop.org (book-specific link) which also helps support local indies.
Kira Bigwood writes children’s books, TV commercials, and much to her 11-year-old’s dismay, notes for her kids’ lunchboxes. She was once edited out of a My Little Pony ad because she was missing her two front teeth (not that she’s still hanging on to that or anything). Luckily, she has all her teeth now, and a much more positive attitude toward the editing process. Kira is a graduate of the University of North Carolina (go Heels!), and lives in Chicago with her husband and three children. Her debut picture book, Secret, Secret Agent Guy, illustrated by Celia Krampien, has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Find Kira online at kirabigwood.com, on Twitter and Instagram.
Celia Krampien grew up in a house in the woods in a small town near Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada. She studied illustration at Sheridan College and currently lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, with her partner, a mischievous cat, and a nosy beagle.
Call-To-Creativity: Observe the children in your life to see what they gravitate to. Could that inspire something new? Could you incorporate a favorite lullaby from your childhood? Let the good (and bad!) ideas flow!
We have a real treat today! Welcome back to Annette Schottenfeld whose second picture book, OBI’S MUD BATH, just released with Clear Fork Publishing. Several stories are crafted from our own family experiences such as Annette’s March release entitled NOT SO FAST, MAX: A ROSH HASHANAH VISIT WITH GRANDMA, and global issues that take hold our hearts such as OBI’S MUD BATH. Annette, welcome back and congratulations on your second release!
AS: Hi Tina! I’m thrilled to be here.
TS: Obi is such a lovable and endearing character. The reader finds himself rooting for Obi from the beginning. How did you develop Obi’s character traits?
AS: Thank you Tina! When writing OBI’S MUD BATH, I wanted readers to genuinely care about the main character and his problem. After reading many picture books and making note of what drew me in, I worked on creating a voice for Obi that would tug at readers’ hearts. My goal was for the little rhino to showcase his determination, playfulness, innocence, and belief that anything is possible.
I brought many versions of the story to my fabulous critique partners and Obi slowly became a recognizable character. Then, when I tookThe Craft and Business of Writing Picture Booksat The Children’s Book Academyduring the summer of 2018, the Academy’s founder, Dr. Mira Reisberg – who also became the editor and art director for OBI’S MUD BATH – fell in love with Obi and she, along with a critique group I was paired with in the class (which included you, Tina!), helped me define his voice further.
Dr. Reisberg selected and worked with Obi’s super talented illustrator, Folasade Adeshida, who mirrored Obi’s voice in her illustrations. The little rhino’s expressions, body language, and movements created by Folasade perfectly paired with the voice my words had given him. The result was a character that readers could get behind!
TS: The unfolding of the illustrating process is so exciting! I loved meeting Obi in your early drafts. OBI’S MUD BATH is inspired by true events that took place in Zimbabwe. Could you share with us the connection?
AS: The idea for OBI’S MUD BATH began while I was reading a news article. On a scorching, hot day in Zimbabwe, a little rhino bull named Mark was searching for juicy greenery. Unfortunately, there was litter on the ground. His snout and horn became stuck in a tire, and he couldn’t eat or drink. A team of vets came to his rescue and, thankfully, Mark made a full recovery.
The scene kept playing in my mind. I pictured the little rhino full of determination, exhausted, and then finally free. I envisioned a picture book that was not only fun to read, but that could also give back to help the environment. And Obi was born!
This is an example of how anything can spark a story idea and lead to something wonderful.
I wanted the book to make a difference on a larger scale, and a portion of the proceeds from OBI’S MUD BATH will be donated toWater.org, an organization which empowers families around the world with access to safe water and sanitation. Check out: Shop to Support .
To ensure that the book represented an accurate depiction of the landscape, wildlife, cultural appropriateness, and language of the area, Esau Mavindidze, a native of Zimbabwe and Shona language expert, was instrumental as a cultural sensitivity reader for OBI’S MUD BATH. Thank you Esau!
TS: What an amazing experience to have Esau share his insights! Obi’s new friends are a diverse group of characters. How did you decide on these specific ones to compliment Obi’s character and challenges?
AS: Yes, Obi’s friends are certainly fun! They added another layer to the story and were crafted to help with pacing.
I researched animals found in Zimbabwe that were not predators of each other. There was no room for a scuffle!
Each of Obi’s friends also has a distinct voice. The language they use, paired with their movements, tells readers a lot about them. They all add value to Obi’s quest.
Rufaro, the ostrich, is gentle and offers Obi comfort.
Tenda, the giraffe, has better eyesight and a longer neck than Obi, to search for a mud bath.
Moyo, the elephant, is older and sympathizes with Obi.
Let’s face it, we all need buddies to help us out occasionally. Showing readers the friends working together – teamwork – was an important concept to include. This is what leads Obi to come up with a solution to his problem.
TS: I agree! What do you hope will be the reader’s lasting impression or message learned from reading Obi’s story?
A determined young rhino…teamwork…believing…taking care of our environment…and, ooey, gooey mud!
TS: Thank you for sharing with us your process for showing such an important character like Obi!
Annette Schottenfeld is the author of Obi’s MudBath (Spork – Clear Fork Publishing), illustrated by Folasade Adeshida and Not So Fast, Max: A Rosh Hashanah Visit with Grandma (Kalaniot Books), illustrated by Jennifer Kirkham.
Annette is passionate about writing for children, hip-hop dance, and environmental issues, believing all have the power to change lives. A registered dietitian and expert baker, she created the decadent Uglie Muffin. Shhh, the recipe is a secret! Annette lives in New York with her husband and two kids.
I may have let the June “Pitch it to Me Challenge” slide into July but we are back for another round at last. First, let’s give a shout-out to the winner of our last challenge. That would be . . . me! Many thanks to authors Carey Welch and Candice Marley Conner for participating! And because the new WordPress polling results format has changed, I’m posting the winning pitch here:
“When Hope brings home a polydactyl kitten, she finds it harder than hard to select a name for a cat with an extra toe. Luckily, she knows just where to look for inspiration. Even YOU might be able to lend a helping hand as Hope searches for a pawsitively purrfect name.”
Now for the next round! Author Kourtney LaFavre pitches her story OLENA AND THE PEAR TREES. Kourtney is the author of IF SUN COULD SPEAK (Spork, 2020), an educator and the mom of four fabulous nature-loving kids. Welcome, Kourtney!
Author Jenna Grodzicki throws in her own pitch of Kourtney’s story as our guest star pitcher. In case you didn’t know, Jenna’s book I SEE SEA FOOD: SEA CREATURES THAT LOOK LIKE FOOD (Millbrook, 2019) won the 2020 Connecticut Book Award in the Young Readers Nonfiction category. She has been busy with the release of another fabulous nonfiction book in 2020 and preparing for the release of two more books later this year. Oh, and she carries all this success with grace and kindness!
And now for the challenge. Take a look at the three pitches in the voting box. They are in no particular order so you’ll never know whose is whose (the author’s, mine, or our special guest-star pitcher). Vote for your favorite, and if you are so inclined, leave a comment, too. We love hearing from our readers!
You have until August 15, 2021, to cast your vote. Please vote only once, but feel free to tell your friends about us and get them in on the action.
Kourtney is an author and educator, who lives in New Hampshire on the remnant of an old volcano. She can often be found wandering through nature with her children, or staring out windows indulging in daydreams. Kourtney has 20 years experience teaching and working with families in elementary classrooms, preschools, head start, and other community programs. Her debut picture book IF SUN COULD SPEAK was released last year through ClearFork Publishing. She writes to inform and inspire.
Jenna Grodzicki is the author of multiple fiction and nonfiction books for children. Her book, I SEE SEA FOOD: SEA CREATURES THAT LOOK LIKE FOOD (Millbrook Press, 2019), was the winner of the 2020 Connecticut Book Award in the Young Readers Nonfiction category. Her newest books, HARMONY HUMBOLT: THE PERFECT PETS QUEEN (Clear Fork Publishing) and THE STORY OF PRINCESS DIANA: A BIOGRAPHY BOOK FOR YOUNG READERS (Rockridge Press) will be available in August. Jenna is represented by Victoria Selvaggio of Storm Literary Agency.