Thank you to all the authors and author/illustrators who stopped by the Wonder of Words Blog and left your delightful pitches in the latest round of the Pitch it to Me Challenge. It has been great fun reading about your stories! If there is one thing I’ve (re)learned after narrowing down my choices and asking for the input of my lovely critique partners, it is that the task of picking manuscripts that fit an editor’s needs is HIGHLY subjective. We all had different favorites depending on our interests.
But now I’m getting off topic and into left field, so let’s get back to the point. The winner! Actually, there is more than one winner. I made the rules so I can change them. I would love to see manuscripts (and sample art, if you are an illustrator) from:
The Little Gnome imprint will be opening to submissions January 1, 2021. If I didn’t pick your manuscript, or if there is another manuscript you think would be a good fit, please feel free to send it in after that time. And if you haven’t already, sign up for the Gnome Road Publishing newsletter to learn more about the people working behind the scenes and to stay informed of our happenings and wish list changes.
Many thanks to you all. Wishing our WONDERful readers a happy New Year ahead!
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Selina Tusitala Marsh is an Auckland-based Pasifika poet and scholar of Samoan, Tuvaluan, English, Scottish and French descent. Her first children’s book, Mophead, was published in October this year and won the supreme award in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. It was also the overall winner in the New Zealand Book Design Awards.
Mophead is the story of a girl who feels she needs to tame her unruly hair to fit in with the world. One day, an event at her school helps her recognise her difference, in all its wild messiness, as a beautiful thing and so she takes a stand. By releasing her hair, she makes a declaration: this is who I am and I will not change how I look to serve someone else’s vision of what I should be.
The tag line is, How your difference makes a difference which encourages all of us to embrace our uniqueness, our special brand of difference, and to celebrate everyone else for doing the same thing.
Mophead is not a picture book or a graphic novel or a memoir – it is none of these things yet it is all of these things. It is for children and it is also for adults. Another key aspect about this book is that Marsh insisted she do the illustrations (she isn’t a professional illustrator) and her publisher said yes! In the world of picture books as we know it, there are so many things about this book that “shouldn’t” work, yet together they produce a remarkable whole. It is “boundary-breaking” and goes against just about every publishing rule in the book except for one – it is a captivating story.
Below is the link to Marsh’s acceptance speech at the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (an online event this year). She is remarkable. You are remarkable. Take a page from her book and make a difference with your difference.
Yes, technically, it’s time for the next Pitch It to Me Challenge. But this is 2020, and if there is anything we’ve learned this year, it is to expect the unexpected. So this time around I have some big news to share with you and decided to skip the last challenge of the year. I hope you will be as excited as I am when you find out why!
But first, let’s name the winner of our last challenge, where Natalie Cohn put her pitch for the story GRAND DUCHESS TANGLED GALORE up against guest star Lisa Rogers and me. It turns out Natalie scored a home run and ran away with the competition. What a lovely way to end the year and prepare that query for submission! Congratulations Natalie! And thank you both for participating in The Pitch It To Me Challenge.
And now for the exciting news . . .
For over a year now, I’ve been working towards a long-time goal of opening a children’s book publishing company. Moving across states (twice!), remote learning with a kindergartner and second grader, and this pesky thing called a global pandemic have thwarted my attempts to finalize those plans. Until now. Beginning in January 2021, GNOME ROAD PUBLISHING will be open for business and accepting submissions.
Head on over to www.gnomeroadpublishing.com to get a sneak peek at what’s to come (and to view the beautiful artwork by phenomenal illustrator, Wendy Leach). If you are a picture book or early chapter book writer, make sure to look at the Little Gnome imprint and submissions “wish list”. And, of course, check out all of the Gnome Road and Gnome Wild! information, too.
I want to thank my WONDERful critique partners for agreeing to let me make the first official announcement about Gnome Road Publishing here on this blog. And as a special pitching challenge for you, dear readers, I am giving the first “above-the-slush-pile” submission opportunity to whomever writes my favorite pitch in the comments. Just leave your name, genre of the book you are pitching (PB, CB, MG, or YA), and a brief but enticing pitch of your story after this post. You have until Saturday, December 26th to leave a comment, at which time I will make my choice (probably with a little help from the fabulous ladies here on the Wonder of Words Blog). Good luck!
Welcome, Word Wonderers! Today we’re chatting with the co-author of MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD, Kirsti Call. I hope y’all are ready for some punny wordplay, because this moo-velous masterpiece delivers. Its playful rhyme is so much fun to read aloud.
Hi, Kirsti! How did y’all get the inspiration for your story?
Kirsti: My co-author, Corey Rosen Schwartz and I wanted to write a story that takes advantage of my background as a therapist. When we came up with the title MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD, we knew this was a story we had to write! And let’s face it, with the 2020 pandemic, we can all stand to read a story about bad moods es-cow-lating and then cow-miserating to feel better!
Candice: I love that you have a background as a therapist. I was actually wondering that as I read y’alls story the first time. And I absolutely adored that it was Mootilda’s act of kindness, her “cow-miserating” with the chickens, that got her out of her funk. Thinking of others has definitely helped my moods this crazy year. What is your favorite part of the creative process?
Kirsti: I love getting the spark of a new idea and writing a terrible horrible no good first draft– just writing down everything that comes to mind and allowing it to be THE. WORST.
Candice: Do you have other creative outlets? Do they work their way into your writing?
Kirsti: I make music with my family–we sing together every day. Here are my kids singing a COVID parody the family worked on. And here’s the MOOTILDA SONG my 14 year old daughter wrote–my 10 year old son is Mootilda’s voice and I’m the one in the cow dress. I plan to collaborate with my children to write songs for all my books. And one day, I’d love to write a picture book that has a song as part of the text!
Candice: Dang. I am SO IMPRESSED with your family’s talent and creativity! That is amazing (and hilarious. Totally related to the “introverted so it’s a bliss” line.) Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?
Kirsti: For me, creativity comes in the quiet moments. Letting my mind wander and giving myself permission to stop focusing on solutions allows more space for creativity. My best tips? Take a walk, listen to the sounds of nature, take a break from your screen. You’ll find your muse in the quiet moments.
Candice: Giving yourself permission seems to be key: to set aside space for creativity–to daydream, to write the ‘worst’ first draft. That permission is so liberating! Great advice. 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?
Kirsti: I’m working on boardbooks, picture books, a chapter book, middle grade and YA. Corey and I just finished a story about a daddy rooster who says Cock a doodle DON’T! And in March 2021, COW SAYS MEOW is coming out with HMH, and next Fall COLD TURKEY (also co-written with Corey) comes out with Little Brown.
Candice: Exciting things on the horizon! Congrats, Kirsti. Thank you for being here and sharing your creative insights and moo-sical talents!
Y’all be sure to request MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD at your local library and independent bookstore. If you prefer to shop online during these trying COVID times, consider purchasing books for holiday gift-giving through bookshop.org. You can choose for your money to go to your local independent bookstore, or if you don’t have one in your area, it goes into a pot to be divvied out among independent bookstores.
Kirsti Call co-hosts the PICTURE BOOK LOOK podcast and co-runs ReFoReMo. She reads, reviews, revises and critiques every day as a 12×12 elf, a blogger for Writers’ Rumpus, and a member of critique groups. She’s judged the CYBILS award for fiction picture books since 2015. Kirsti’s picture book, MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD (Little Bee) debuted September 1st, 2020. COW SAYS MEOW (HMH) and COLD TURKEY (Little Brown) release in 2021. Kirsti is represented by Emma Sector at Prospect Agency. Visit her website at www.kristicall.com.
Co-author Corey Rosen Schwartz is the author of The Three Ninja Pigs and several other rhyming picture books. She lives in Warren, New Jersey, where she’s spent many years eating ice cream and visiting farms with her two moognificent children. Visit her at www.coreyrosenschwartz.com.
Illustrator Claudia Ranucci graduated with a degree in graphic design and illustration at the Istituto Superiore per le Industrie Artisitche in Urbino, Italy. Her books have been published in France, Portugal, China, Japan, Korea, Mexico, and Brazil. She currently lives in Madrid.
Call to Creativity: 2020 has been a trying year for all of us and of course, some more than others. But for this call, let’s look for the silver linings. Have you learned any new skills, new appreciations, or like Mootilda, a new perspective of thinking of her barnyard friends? How can you turn that silver lining into a picture book?
The past few months have been history-making and challenging. For more than 9 months, we’ve been living in the midst of a pandemic. Everything has changed. There are no concerts, theater performances or poetry readings – except on zoom. We’re staying apart from friends and family. We need something to cheer us, to take us into a different world – and what’s better than a good book? Between the covers we enter a world where we learn, meet the characters, and empathize with them.
2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote. We just had a national election – and chose a woman of color for the Vice Presidential position. With differing perspectives, our United States has become very divisive, making the months of campaigning and debates stressful for many.
One of the most powerful and moving picture books about voting is Lillian’s Right to Vote by Jonah Winter ; illustrated by Shane W. Evans. (Schwartz & Wade, 2015.) Through the eyes of an old woman climbing a hill to vote at her polling place, the reader is introduced to the history of voting in America from the fifteenth amendment that gave African American men the right to vote to the present.
Between the pandemic, the election, and daily troubles of life, we experience waves of fear, waves of disappointment, waves of exhaustion, waves of unease, waves of joy, waves of hope. Books can help us make sense of our changing world.
Walkout by Tina Shepardson; illustrated by Terry Sirrell. (Spork, 2020) shows young readers what it means to take action, to take a stand, to make your voice heard. This important book looks with sensitivity at what it means to stand up for your beliefs.
With all this going on, I have been preoccupied, and found it hard to focus or find time to write. Instead, I’ve turned to cooking healthy meals – and baking cookies. And the pounds pile on…
Healthy food has long been a passion of mine. For many years I’ve written a weekly food column for my local paper, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that encompasses everything from collards to cookies. And who doesn’t like cookies?
As writers, we try to inspire. In my column, I try to motivate people to prepare healthy meals with products from our local farms. We’re on a quest: we want our words to touch lives. The world needs us to do that.
November is the month of gratitude. December ushers in the winter holidays. Even in times of pandemic, this is the time we think about family connection.
Sadie’s Shabbat Stories by Melissa Stoller; illustrated by Lisa Goldberg (Spork, 2020) is all about family ties and traditions. Telling stories about family heirlooms is a beautiful way to make family connections and learn your family’s history. No matter what our heritage, everyone has stories that are important and inspirational.
Melissa Berger Stoller brings the reader inside the special relationship between Sadie and grandma. Sadie learns to tell her own stories, bringing the past and future together. This book is especially important now, when many children cannot spend time with grandparents due to quarantine restrictions.
After the holidays comes a whole new year. What will it bring?
What are your hopes for the year to come? What brings you joy?
Thanks so much for stopping by! Let’s chat about literary devices!
Over the last twelve weeks, I have feverishly written the first draft of my new novel. Right now, I am pleased to say it is the crappiest first draft I have ever written-but at least it is written! When all is said and done, I hope to have a best-selling middle grade space opera. At the very least I will be happy to have a published novel.
As my journey progresses, I have been reading, researching, and learning about a variety of genres and writing styles. One literary device I want to incorporate is frame story.
Literarydevices.net definesframe story as “a story set within a story, narrative, or movie, told by the main or the supporting character. A character starts telling a story to other characters, or he sits down to write a story, telling the details to the audience. This technique is also called a “frame narrative,” and is employed in storytelling and narration. It may be referred to as an embedded narrative as well.
A perfect example of this device is the 1986 novel, FORREST GUMP by Winston Groom. It tells the life story of Gump (the narrator). With the help of Hollywood, Forest Gump has endeared himself to movie goers when the movie version was released in the United States in 1994.
This device provides the reader with a main story that leads to further stories. Chronicles of Narnia begins with siblings moving to the country during the war when London was in danger of being bombed for their safety and survival. It would have been a different beginning in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe if the children had already gone through the wardrobe to find themselves in Narnia. This device allows for the writer to give more character information to the reader without it being “an information dump”.
Stephen King’s Dark Tower series is my favorite example of frame story. The series follows Roland Deschain’s journey as he goes in search of the dark tower. I can only surmise why he feels he must find it (and I don’t want to research it too much as not to spoil it for myself!).
I am currently enjoying the works in order (and have found a website that suggests all Stephen King’s works that may be intertwined with the Dark Tower series). Since I am in the middle of the third Dark Tower book, I am going to read The Stand: Complete and Uncut Edition (1990) and The Talisman (1984) before moving on to The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass (1997).
Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope you enjoyed learning (or revisiting) frame narratives.
One last comment before I sign off. One of our favorite places is the beach on Chincoteague. One day, this past summer, I happened upon this, and immediately envisioned The Dark Tower. It was the inspiration for me to start my own quest (much like Roland) to read the entire Dark Tower series.
When writing for a variety of ages, showing looks different. For younger audiences, often simple language is used while for older audiences more detailed language is selected. The reader’s experience is shaped depending on the topic. Sit back and enjoy this marvelous interview with the very talented and experienced Gabi Snyder who has two beautiful picture books that do just this! Talk about Best In Show! Tails are wagging everywhere over her debut picture book:
TS: We are so thrilled to have you with us today. I really enjoyed your virtual launch with Robin Rosenthal. Your audience had a terrific snapshot into what you both contributed in creating TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE. The story is so clever and the wording so precise. Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene, and sensory elements?
GS: Great question! I think the answer depends in large part on what type of story you’re writing and who your intended reader is. When writing picture books for the very young, you may want to keep your text super simple and rely on the illustrations to convey most of the action and imagery. For example, the text in my debut picture book TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE, illustrated by Robin Rosenthal and recently out from Abrams Appleseed, is very simple. The first two spreads read:
One dog stands alone.
Two dogs on a trike.
As we move through the story, a new dog is added with each new form of transportation. A sneaky cat follows the dogs, but the cat is not mentioned in the text. So when reading the story with a child, the child might notice something (the cat following) that the adult (the reader), seems unaware of. That can add a fun twist to reading!
If I’m writing for an older picture book audience, I might add more imagery and strong active verbs, but it will depend on the story I’m trying to tell. In my second picture book, LISTEN (illustrated by Stephanie Graegin and out in spring 2021 from S&S/Wiseman), the focus is on listening and mindfulness. The story begins with the noise of a busy morning and draws the reader closer as it encourages listening to quieter and quieter sounds. So when drafting and revising LISTEN, choosing the perfect sensory details was vital. At the start of the story, I use sound words like “BEEP! WOOF! ERNT-ERNT! VROOM!” to convey the overwhelming noise the child faces when she steps out into the world. In contrast, later in the story, as we move to quieter sounds, I include the more lyrical lines, “brush-rush-hush/Wind through trees/Listen.”
TS: You raise so many great points. And these examples are priceless. As writers, we have to be so present as to what benefits the topic and reader most. Are there specific strategies, tools, or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?
GS: One strategy I like to use is thinking about how the story can appeal to every sense. Often, with a picture book, the illustrations convey many if not all of the visual details. So, unless it’s central to the plot, I’ll probably leave out visual details like the color of shirt a character is wearing. Instead, I’ll focus my text on appealing to other senses. I’ll consider whether I might incorporate sound words, especially onomatopoeia. And I’ll ask, can I add smells, tastes, and sensations? All of those sensory details paint a more vivid picture for the reader and bring them closer to the action.
TS: You are right! I share this thought process with my students regularly. 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?
GS:Here are a few spreads from the first draft of LISTEN:
Listen for new words, new sounds, new songs.
I revised to add more specific, vivid imagery. Here’s how those lines read in the final version:
Listen past the crunch of gravel and the scrape of chalk.
Can you hear new words? Listen to each sound.
Some pop, like quick and snappy, while others stretch, like
looong and leisurely.
TS: Wow! The language following your revision is gorgeous. The sensory details take the reader on such a great experience! And this is no easy feat! It takes time to revise even just one section. I can’t wait to read LISTEN!!! 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?
GS: I recently attended the SCBWI Summer Spectacular (virtual conference), and listening to all the amazing panels, I was struck by how many creatives mentioned the importance of finding the “heart” or “essential truth” in your manuscript. I also noted that a few creatives mentioned the importance of putting yourself back into your child mind and remembering what’s real and true for a child. I think the balance of show versus tell will often be easier to find if you’ve first zoned in on the heart of your story, a heart that is real and true for a child. Further, if you’re writing a picture book, the text should feel incomplete without the illustrations. In other words, you should leave much of the showing to the illustrator. The illustrator is your co-creator and gets to tell at least half of the story!
I also find that reading my story aloud helps me get the rhythm and pacing right. It can be even more helpful to have someone else read the story aloud to you so you can hear where they stumble over your words or phrasing. Even having your computer read aloud can help! As you ‘relisten to the complete text, think about the continuity of your imagery and language. If, for example, your manuscript is a humorous story about dogs, maybe you’ve included some silly dog-related puns. If so, you might consider whether there’s a way to push the dog wordplay even further.
And, of course, it can be extremely helpful to gain feedback from trusted critique partners. Finally, if you’re stuck or uncertain about any aspect of your manuscript, put it away for a week – or even a month. Coming back to your manuscript after time away will allow you to approach it with a fresh perspective. Happy revising!
Gabi’s debut picture book, TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE, illustrated by Robin Rosenthal, released May 19, 2020 from Abrams Appleseed. Her second picture book, LISTEN, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, is due in spring 2021 from Simon & Schuster/Wiseman.
Gabi studied psychology at the University of Washington and creative writing at The University of Texas and is a member of SCBWI. When she’s not writing, she loves taking nature walks, visiting Little Free Libraries, and baking sweet treats. She lives in Oregon with her family. Learn more at gabisnyder.com.
Happy Fall Everyone! I hope the new season finds everyone safe and healthy. As authors, we spend precious time searching for the right words to show our characters and their emotions. What does this journey of storytelling look like for an illustrator? I never fully understood until I had the honor of observing the illustration process as the talented Terry Sirrell brought WALKOUT to life. From the early stages, I marveled at every step, the time required, and the unwavering talent Terry displayed on every page. His years of experience bring a deep and rich perspective to showing a story through art!
*I added my middle initial since we have the same initials!
TMS: Terry, it’s such an honor to have you here today! WALKOUT is a beautiful book. Your dedication, talent, and expertise have brought Maddie and Stella’s story to life in a way readers will never forget!
Whether drafting or revising, what are the initial steps you take in creating characters and scenes from a manuscript?
TS: After reading the manuscript, I first start creating the characters with a lot of very loose thumbnail sketches to get a feel for what they will look like. When I like the way the characters are looking, I’ll then do a larger, tighter sketch to show the art director. Once approved, I’ll start working on the scenes of the book with loose thumbnail sketches. This is when I break down the manuscript to separate spreads throughout the book to match the story with the pictures.
TMS: Watching these steps unfold was so exciting! Meeting Maddie and Stella for the first time was such a special moment. I loved opening your emails with the newest developments! These steps alone show your impeccable attention to the planning and details involved. Are there specific strategies, tools, or resources you use? Do you have any favorites?
TS: I have a specific style to my illustration work, but my strategy is to tweak my style a bit to match a story depending on if it’s a more serious story or if it’s a funny story.The tools I used to use were pencils, pens, ink, Dr. Martin Dyes, and watercolor paper. These days I’m strictly digital. I work on a 22″ Wacom Cintiq attached to my iMac computer. I love it! A Cintiq is a digital drawing board. Instead of drawing on paper, you draw on a glass monitor.
My resources are on the internet. I’ll do a Google search if I need to see what something looks like, I used to go to the library for picture references. Plus, you can learn so much on the internet. I’ve been illustrating for many years, but I haven’t illustrated a children’s picture book since I started working on the computer. So I thought I would take an online course to brush up on my book illustration skills and to explore to see if there was anything different I needed to do to get work again in this market. My friend told me about an online course he was taking named the Children’s Book Academy, owned by Dr. Mira Reisberg.
So I signed up and took her children’s book illustration course. Mira was great, I really learned a lot of new stuff and was reminded of some things that I already knew. I really liked that she encouraged me to use textures in my work. Thanks, Mira!Here’s a link to Mira’s website in case you’re interested in learning more about writing or illustrating a children’s book. I give it an A+!
The Children’s Book Academy: The best places for children’s book writing and illustrating courses for complete beginners to award-winners.
TMS: I agree Terry! Mira’s classes offer so much to students at every stage of their journey. I love her classes too! How do you decide to make changes or maintain what you have created? Are other professionals involved like an editor and/or publisher?
TS: Working on a computer makes it a lot easier for changes compared to working traditionally using paper and paint. I’m pretty good about making changes if the art director, editor, or publisher wants them. I trust their eye and the art usually turns out better.
TMS: Would you like to share an example of a before and after of a character or scene for the reader?
TS: Sure, here’s a before and after example.
TMS: This is so interesting to see how the features of characters change throughout the process. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for illustrators in terms of striving for that balance in creating images that best portray the story?
TS: For me, it’s a gut feeling, I just know what I’m looking for in my work. Of course, the art director, editor, and publisher will let you know also. Read the story a few times so you get to know the characters and where the story takes place. My tip for illustrators, new and the seasoned pro would be to keep drawing and keep learning wherever you can.
TMS: Yes, because you never know where it will take you! In this case, Maddie and Stella’s story! What a pleasure to have watched you take this project from start to finish! I learned so much about illustrating! Thank you for sharing your process with us, Terry!
Cartoonist and illustrator Terry Sirrell has been in the creative business for many years. His first job out of art school was an assistant art director at the Field Newspaper Syndicate where he put together sales kits to promote all of the cartoon strips to newspapers around the world. Later, he became an art director in advertising, then moved on to his illustration career. You may have seen his work on the back of Cap`n Crunch and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes cereal boxes. His cartoons and characters also have appeared in the advertising of numerous major corporations and in dozens of publications including Reader’s Digest, Newsweek, Highlights Magazine, Clubhouse Magazine, Boys’ Life, Girls’ Life, Woman’s Day, National Geographic Kids, Family Fun/Disney, The New York Daily News, and The Chicago Tribune. Terry also illustrates children’s books and cartoon maps. The most recent book he illustrated is WALKOUT, which can be purchased in book stores, on Amazon, and other online bookstore websites.
Learn more about Terry and his amazing illustrations at:
Welcome back, everyone! The next Pitch It to Me Challenge is here! It’s incredible how fast time flies when you are having fun (or … when you have two kids at home doing remote instruction, which isn’t fun, but it does leave me wondering what happened to the hours in a day).
Before moving on to our new challenge, let’s revisit the results of the last challenge where author Laura Roettiger pitched her work against guest pitcher Tina Shepardson (yes, our very own Tina, who is now a published author with her debut picture book, WALKOUT), and me. I am proud to say that my pitch hit a home run and took first place. But the real winner here is Laura, who now has three wonderful pitches to choose from. Thank you to Laura and Tina for participating!
For this round, we have author Natalie Cohn pitching her imaginative work-in-progress, GRAND DUCHESS TANGLED GALORE. I just learned that Natalie lives fairly close to me, so I am excited to have a fellow Kentuckian featured here on our blog. Welcome, Natalie!
As if Natalie hadn’t made it hard enough, up at bat as our guest star pitcher is Lisa Rogers, author of two awesome picture books you don’t want to miss out on. Her debut, 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND “THE RED WHEELBARROW” is a Junior Library Guild selection and won a Bank Street Best Book of the Year 2020. So you know what that means … Lisa knows a thing or two about pitches!
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 October 31, 2020, to cast your vote. Please vote only once, but feel free to tell your friends about us and get them in on the action.
Natalie Cohn attended the University of Louisville, majored in Art History and Humanities. Natalie is a 2nd year member of the SCBWI, joined Story Storm 2019, two years in 12×12, a recurring graduate of Children’s Book Academy, and is taking a Writing Barn class. She’s a part of the KidLit community, SubClub, and several other social writing groups on Facebook and Twitter. Natalie attended the MidSouth SCBWI conference in 2019, and she is part of five critique groups. Natalie loves being creative, crafty, and getting messy, and her goals are to inspire kids to read. She reads a lot of children’s books and enjoys bringing imagination to life through her stories. Fiction books have always been her favorite, and now she enjoys reading with her three minions.
Lisa is a children’s author, elementary school librarian and former reporter and editor. Her debut picture book, 16 WORDS: WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND “THE RED WHEELBARROW” (Schwartz & Wade, 2019), received starred reviews from Kirkus & Publishers Weekly, is a Junior Library Guild selection, a Bank Street Best Book of the Year, and an SCBWI Crystal Kite Award Finalist. Her second picture book, HOUND WON’T GO (Albert Whitman & Company, 4/2020), is also available through the link provided below.
A native of the New Jersey shore, Lisa lives outside Boston with her family and is a four-time runner of the Boston Marathon. She loves to garden, kayak, paint, and have adventures with her trailblazing coonhound, Tucker.
Welcome Word Wonderers, as we explore a colorful Indian market today with children’s author, Meera Sriram. Meera and I connected at last year’s Fall Writing Frenzy kidlit contest, so when I saw she would be releasing a gorgeous picture book set in a bustling Indian marketplace, I reached out to her. What better way to escape my own backyard and travel somewhere new to me?
Candice: Welcome, Meera! When and where did you get the inspiration for A GIFT FOR AMMA?
Meera: When my kids were little, I often searched for multicultural picture books for early learning. They were hard to find but the few we read were enriching in many ways. Since then, a book on colors set in a cultural backdrop was always on my mind. I grew up in India and every time I stepped out to the street, there was so much to take in – colors, textures, smells, chaos, sounds! But capturing and packing all of that into a picture book manuscript was the challenge. I had tried a few different drafts and given up. In 2017, I pulled out the manuscript and started playing with it, incorporating active as well as sensory elements. Soon, the colors and markets seemed to come alive.
Candice: That’s the hardest part about picture books–packing so much in while not overcrowding the story. You definitely found that balance! What is your favorite part of the creative process?
Meera: Revisions! A first draft usually makes me happy because I’ve actually acted on an idea. Then, at a certain point down the road you realize that the story has great potential. You start rolling up your sleeves and paying attention to hook, rhythm, imagery, and start to push harder to shape it up into something that’ll stand out. Sometimes, this happens when you get positive feedback or insightful direction from critiques. I love to discover and navigate the possibilities that open up during this process. With every iteration, words grow richer, plot tighter, ending stronger, and a small sprouted idea transforms into a full story arc.
Candice: Love this! I always say creative people are creative in a lot of different ways. Do you have other outlets or hobbies? How do they cross into your writing?
Meera: I love photography and very often I attempt to communicate through a visual composition. I used to photo blog for a few years, where the writer in me took a back seat and allowed a picture to speak for itself. To me, objects, light, and placement are equivalent to characters, plot, and setting. I also enjoy decorating interior spaces, and again, I try to include things like memorabilia and art to make the space feel lived in and to tell stories.
Candice: Leaving room for the illustrator is something I struggle with so it sounds like your photography interest helps with that–great idea! Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?
Meera: I believe we’re all creative all the time! Like when we cook or garden or hang a picture or play with a kid. Some of us pause longer and invest more because it brings us joy. If we let life happen and engage with the world, we’ll find countless ways to express creatively. I believe the important thing is to take the time to stop, listen, look closer, and soak in the moment.
Candice: Great advice–listen, look closer, and soak it in. 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?
Meera: Yes! Coincidentally, it’s about a very creative person. My next picture book, BETWEEN TWO WORLDS (Spring 2021), is a biography on Amrita Sher-Gil, the Indian-Hungarian artist who was a pioneer of modern Indian art. And I can’t wait to see the creativity Ruchi Bakshi Sharma will bring to the illustrations. I’m also working on edits for another picture book (yet to be announced) and I’m enjoying the collaborative process with my editor and illustrator. I have another idea for a book for which I’m trying to draw from within to find the best way to tell the story.
Candice: That sounds amazing! I love creative coincidences. Thank you for being here with us as we listen, look closer, and wonder at words, Meera. And congrats on A GIFT FOR AMMA’s release!
Want to travel within this lyrical, colorful story? Be sure to request it from your local library or independent bookstore. They do so much for our communities and need our support during this pandemic. You can find it online at bookshop.org which also supports local indie bookshops (you can pick your own local indie if they’re an affiliate. If not, it goes into a pot to be divided among indie bookstores.)
Meera Sriram grew up in India and moved to the U.S in 1999. An electrical engineer in the past, she now enjoys writing for children, leading early literacy initiatives, and advocating for diverse bookshelves. Meera is the author of picture books, The Yellow Suitcase (Penny Candy Books, 2019), A Gift For Amma: Market Day in India (Barefoot Books, 2020), and the upcoming title, Between Two Worlds (Penny Candy Books, 2021). She has also co-authored several kids’ books in India. Meera believes in the transformative power of stories and likes to write about people, places, and experiences less visible in children’s literature. For more information, visit meerasriram.com
Mariona Cabassa studied illustration at the Massana Art School and completed her postgraduate degree at the School of Fine Arts in Strasbourg, where she also learned how to speak French. She has illustrated more than 80 books in Spain and other countries. She lives in Barcelona, Spain.
Call to Creativity: is there a subject in children’s literature that you’d like to see more of on bookshelves? Think about ways you could put a new, creative spin on a book of colors.