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.
Many teachers use haiku as a way of teaching kids about syllables. Then you get this:
(Source: a facebook meme. I don’t know who first posted this.)
I say it’s not.
Elementary school teachers have long used the haiku in lessons on syllables. But a haiku is much more than syllable count. In fact, many modern English haiku don’t count syllables at all. And some are only one line – these are called monoku.
A haiku is an ancient Japanese poetry form that goes back hundreds of years. It is a short nature poem, a flash of awareness in the present moment – like a snapshot from a camera capturing a moment in time. It juxtaposes two images, and ends with an unexpected surprise. It focuses on imagery, but is not just a description or narrative. The emotion comes through the awareness and surprise at the end.
One of the most famous examples is Basho’s frog poem where the frog jumps into the pond. It depicts a moment in time. An old pond / frog jumps in / Splash! You see the two images – the pond and the frog – and the splash is the unexpected ending.
If you’re interested, here’s a link to many translations of Basho’s famous frog poem:
This is part two of “Goodness me – where did those three years go?” As I mentioned in my previous post a few months ago, Candice, Gabrielle, Sandra, Tina, Yvona and I met through Julie Hedland’s 12 Days of Christmas and started a picture book critique group in 2017. Nine months later we started The Wonder of Words blog. I asked everyone to reflect on how far they’d come in their writing and reading since we started the blog. Candice, Yvona and Gabrielle’s answers are in my previous post and Sandra’s, Tina’s and mine are in this post. I hope you enjoy our reflections.
I asked everyone these questions:
Compared to where you were two and a half years ago, how has your writing evolved?
Compared to where you were two and a half years ago, how has your reading evolved?
What is the biggest thing you have learned over the past two and a half years?
Do you have any advice for readers and/or writers of children’s literature?
So much has changed in two and a half years – both personally and professionally – that I feel like a completely different writer at this point. This is partly due to an evolution in my writing style and experiences as a published author. However, it is also from the changes 2020 brought to my life and the new adventure I embarked on when opening Gnome Road Publishing earlier this year. I am a more efficient writer now (by necessity), more clearly tuned-in to the development of characters and story arc, and more patient with the publishing process. This critique group, and the support of other fabulous critique partners, were huge confidence boosts when I needed it most and a driving force behind improvements in my written work.
I still read a lot of different stories, but now these are not only books from the library or my children’s bookshelves, but also in the form of hundreds of manuscripts submissions at Gnome Road Publishing. I also provide picture book critique services as time allows, which is to say, not very often at this point. And then, of course, there are the books sitting on my nightstand that cover non “work-related” subjects that have always interested me such as psychology, neuroscience, biological or natural disasters, and historical mysteries/treasures. Every once in a while, I might pile on something to do with law and ethics.
I don’t know that there is a single “biggest” thing I’ve learned during this time. But patience has certainly become my friend, in a love-hate sort of way. Although I still struggle with patience, it is definitely something I have learned to use (embrace?) more wisely now.
My advice to other writers (and illustrators!) is to be open. Open to possibilities. Open to changes. Open to other people with other ways of seeing things. This will give you the greatest opportunity to grow.”
During the last two and a half years, I have taken several writing courses, read many books, critiqued many manuscripts, and written more of my own. All of these activities have helped take my writing to a new levels. I have really dug deeper into a few genres that I would like to create more stories for. Picture books, chapter books and nonfiction are all very different yet have unlimited opportunities to share unique stories. Looking at story structures, reading other author blog posts, participating in professional writing groups continue to help me develop my skills. This past year, I became an agented writer which has introduced me to another community of writers within the industry and I am learning so much.
I continue to learn that writing is a journey that takes time. In the beginning, I wrote stories and truly improved them to the point that I felt I was ready to begin querying. Like so many others, I now look back and realize I was not as ready as I thought. I needed to develop and define my skills more. This all takes practice, patience, persistence, and passion. We all lead very busy lives and adding the desire to write for children is no small task. I continue to learn writing is one piece of a much broader picture as you also need to learn marketing, participate in writing groups, which all take time. Using a separate planner just for writing tasks to organize my weeks separate from my family or teaching planner has helped so much!
As you start your writing journey always remember your “why”. The road is filled with ups and downs, and believe it or not this is a great thing. It is through these that you learn so much about yourself. Be patient. Everything will fall into place over time. Become a part of some wonderful online writing groups and meet other authors. It truly takes a village to become a writer. So many others, in classes and in critique groups, have helped me when I did not know which way to turn. I enjoy doing the same for others because it is awesome to see others reach their dreams. There are so many incredibly talented people in this community to learn from.
And now I get to answer the questions I posed to the others. My writing is continually evolving as I discover more about my own voice and read the great variety of voices from other writers. In fact voice has become a prime consideration not only in my own writing but also in my clients’ writing and in the writing of those who submit to my publishing house, Pavlova Press. Which brings me to two major new writing directions for me: not only have I become a publisher, but I have also left my teaching role at the local polytechnic where I taught creative writing and now work with clients from all around the world helping them write their own novels with a strong focus on voice.
When I’m not reading submissions for Pavlova Press or the work of my clients, I am reading middle grade novels and non-fiction, primarily around psychology. There has been one diversion from this: Uprooted by Naomi Novik which is a glorious and original fantasy novel with a strong voice.
It will come as no surprise that the biggest thing I have learned over the past two and a half years is all around voice. I have been working with this concept for a long time and it is only in the last couple of years that it has all clicked into place. I have also discovered a concept that I call The Itch which is at the very heart of every story and the very reason a particular story has to be written. It goes beyond theme and idea, although it could be one or other of those, and goes to the very heart of the writer. I am not the first person to realise this I’m sure, but it has been a very exciting discovery.
In general, I am working to become someone who gives less advice and who listens more, so the fact that I asked the question about what advice we can offer is intriguing. Let me answer my advice question with a thought rather than advice: at some point you will have far more tools than you actually need to write your story, to the point that learning just one more thing becomes a wonderful distraction to writing. STOP! Stop collecting tools and just start writing. If you find there’s something else you genuinely need to learn, you can come back to it later once you know what it is.
Welcome, Wonderers! Today’s guest on finding inspiration is picture book author, Michelle Vattula. Michelle and I met in the New in ’19 debut group, though both of our books were pushed back to 2021. Happily, her book, THE STALKING SEAGULLS, released April 20th. I thoroughly enjoyed how her main character, Alec, uses his creativity and wits, along with sandcastles and beach ball blockades, to eat his sandwich at the beach in peace, though I had a good laugh at how the story ended.
Candice: Thanks for being here, Michelle! Where did you get the inspiration for THE STALKING SEAGULLS?
Michelle: I was on vacation in Florida visiting my parents. We took our boys to the beach. When the snacks came out, so did the seagulls.
Candice: Oh my goodness, yes. I totally felt Alec’s frustration. I had a Dorito snatched from my hand one time at the beach. It was almost IN. MY. MOUTH. Add injury to insult, the seagull’s wing even cuffed me on the back of the head when it stole my snack! They can be very determined. What is your favorite part of the creative process?
Michelle: When I initially get the spark for an idea and run with it. Once the idea pops in my head, I just sit down and write wherever I am. I have more notes on random pieces of paper, lol. The words flow out so much easier when the idea is spontaneous. The feeling of completing the story after dozens of revisions is wonderful too. I adore coming up with book titles. Sometimes I have the name of the book before I have the story.
Candice: Titles are tough for many of us so that’s great you have that super power! Do you have other creative outlets? Do they cross into your writing?
Michelle: I love to anything with music. I have been playing the piano since I was 5. Playing is extremely cathartic (when I have time to do it). I also love to dance. I do Zumba throughout the week. I have written a few manuscripts that have dancing in them. One funny, lyrical and has dancing cows. The other more serious about a mother/son relationship.
Candice: Zumba is so much fun though it’s been years (pre-kids!) since I’ve joined a class. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?
Michelle: My creativity usually comes when I’m doing something mindless like walking, cleaning or taking a shower.
I always tell writers to take time away from the craziness of life because it allows your mind to focus on simple concepts without being overwhelmed. I also find that writing using emotion tends to work for me. I like to tap into deep feelings that people are feeling but don’t like to talk about.
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?
Michelle: I have at least 5 more completed manuscripts and many more that are in their revision stage. I love to write about cows, but I have numerous ones that touch upon subjects such as mother/son relationships, aging family members, and participating in different cultural experiences.
All great and important subjects! Thanks again for being here, Michelle!
Michelle was born in Boston but grew up most of her life in Erie, PA. After She received her Bachelor degree from Miami University of Ohio, she ventured back to Boston for her Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Northeastern University. Michelle currently lives in the beautiful rolling hills of North Pittsburgh with her Finnish husband, her two Golden Retrievers (one who is a therapy dog) and her two beautiful boys who are her true inspiration for writing.
Michelle’s debut picture book, THE STALKING SEAGULLS, was released by MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing on April 20, 2021. Michelle is part of the Western Pennsylvania SCBWI leadership team as their New Member and Critique Group Coordinator. She is also a proud member of the twitter group #Newin19. Michelle is represented by T.J Kirsch from JCH Literary. She is open for interviews and virtual visits.
T.L. Derby is a children’s book author and Illustrator. She has turned her love for writing and art into her career. Now she helps others to make their dreams come true as a publisher. She is educated with a BFA in Creative Writing for Entertainment and an MFA in Creative Writing. She is also an autodidact in illustrating, screenwriting, and painting for over 20 years. Her love for children makes what she does a gift from her to the world
Call to Creativity: What frustrates YOU? Use your emotions, like Michelle suggested, and brainstorm a story of your own!
I usually write about a variety of literary devices on the Wonder of Words Blog. But since today is Star Wars Day and my household lives on the edge of everything galactic, I am deflecting to all things Star Wars. For us, reading Star Wars books is akin to watching the movies (over and over). Die-hard Star Wars fans already know the movie was NOT based on a novel. The movie script was made into a novel (written by ghost writer Alan Dean Foster, a fantasy and fiction writer) and published three months before the movie release. It promptly sold out.
In further research, I discovered there is now a plethora of books ranging from picture books to cookbooks and everything in between about all the Star Wars adventures.
For the bakers and cooks among us, check out the Wookiee Cookies recipe in The Star Wars Cookbook, or the Darth Malt recipe featured in The Star Wars Cookbook II.
For young readers, Golden Books has a whole series of Star Wars stories including Star Wars I am a Jedi, Star Wars I am a Droid, and Star Wars I am a Hero.
While I devoured all things Star Wars my library had to offer, love at first sight for me was Star Wars: The Secrets of the Jedi. It is a historical documentation of the Jedi and the Force, as well as the lives of Jedi legends including Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and the beloved Jedi Master, Yoda, told by none other than Luke Skywalker.
It is an interactive reading experience with a translator card and a popup holocron, which is a device used to store knowledge and wisdom. It can only be accessed by “those skilled in the Force.” (And yes, I had to look up what it was!)
No matter what you’re looking for in terms of the Star Wars Realm, there is much to be had. Enjoy your search and May the Force be with You!
Greek Mythology has long been a fascination with readers of every age level. Have you ever wondered what a Greek god or goddess was like as a child? Wait until you learn about Jennifer Buchet’s debut picture book, Little Medusa’s Hair Do-Lemma, illustrated by Cassie Chancy. We will have a whole new understanding on what it means to have a bad hair day!
ME: Jennifer, thank you for visiting our blog today! We are so excited to hear the behind the scenes details in creating this most adorable “Tiny Medusa”!
JB: Thank you for having me! Throughout my various careers, I‘ve always been writing–everything from advertising copy to radio ads, websites to magazines and more. And since every medium has its own approach to words, I’m always learning something new! For example, the other week I heard the phrase “hedge words.” Are these bushy evergreens laden with colorful verbiage? Not exactly, but I did learn why these hedges need trimming!
ME: I am always fascinated with the background of a writer! So interesting. Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?
JB: As picture book authors, every word counts. But that doesn’t mean our stories have to be “no frills.” Rather, each word and every sentence must move the story along. In my debut picture book, Little Medusa’s Hair Do-Lemma, I originally began with this opening:
Little Medusa finally got her very first snake on her birthday. She was so excited, she danced and twirled around her room.
This does set the stage, but it’s also wordy and rather bland (yucky first draft 101!). After several revisions, the opening now contains more action.
Little Medusa was delighted when she got her very first snake.
I love including sensory elements beyond what the character sees, like tasting, hearing and touching. For example, Little Medusa discovers she doesn’t like having her new serpentine friend slither through her hair (can’t really blame her!) This sets up the character’s challenge, but I knew I needed to expand on that feeling, so I added these lines:
“…she couldn’t fathom was so great about traditional Gorgon hair.
It was itchy.
It was buggy
And it was positively scaly when Addie shed her skin.”
This is much more relatable and if the reader squirms even just a tiny bit, my job is done!
ME: You even succeed in hooking the reader with great suspense in your revised opening line. What a wonderful story line. Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?
JB: I allow myself to write wordy, adjective-filled, too-long, early drafts! Most of my drafts easily begin at 700w. Once I’m satisfied with the arc and character development, my inner editor comes out to play with all her highlighters.
Bam, change passive words to present! Bam, remove adverbs! Bam, delete hedge words, AKA those pesky filler words such as “usually; very; suddenly; almost.”
I’ve also discovered that contests have helped me become a stronger writer. Contests challenge the muse and for those with limited word counts or quirky themes, they really challenge the brain! In fact, I love them so much that last year, I co-created the non-fiction contest #SunWriteFun.This challenge included both minimal word count and a summertime theme. Reading all those entries certainly inspired me and I know the contest inspired others!
ME: I completely agree. Reading others’ writing is such great exposure to styles, structures, and just plain sensational stories. 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?
JB: In the climax of Little Medusa’s Hair Do-Lemma, my heroine makes a really big decision. Like many of us, she begins to second-guess herself. Rather than describe how she’s feeling with emotive adjectives (she was happy, sad, confused, doubtful, etc), I wrote the scene using physical actions.
Little Medusa bounced around the room.
Until the bouncing slowed to a jump, the jump to a hop
And Little Medusa became still as a statue.
Not only did this drill down big emotions for little readers, it also provided the illustrator (the talented Cassie Chancy) with oodles of room to work with. Bonus—that last phrase ties neatly into the whole Gorgon statue-turning talent!
ME: Oh my gosh, we are so excited to see the finished product! The illustrations are just precious! 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?
JB: If someone invented a timer for creatives that trumpeted “perfecto,” they’d be rich! Sometimes it’s hard to know when your story is just so. There are definitely fantastic checklists to use that ensure one has incorporated all the “write” elements, but I think in the end, it’s a gut reaction. You know when your story is ready to share, whether with your critique group, your agent or editor, etc. As for finding that balance between show and tell, I believe it’s an acquired skill for most. Read a lot and write even more, for as you hone your craft, you learn when those beautiful rosy words are really just hedges needing a trim.
ME: You have made so many valid points, Jennifer! Working on the craft of writing is definitely a rewarding journey we all make time for.
Learn more about Jennifer:
Jennifer Buchet is an award-winning author, pre-kindergarten educator and self-proclaimed foodie. Her kid lit career officially started in 2011, writing for Cricket Media. Today, she is a regular feature contributor for Faces magazine while also creating new picture books and chapter books.
Spare time is a rather elusive creature in her home, but when Jennifer does find it, she enjoys creating exotic meals, creating writing contests, crushing her family in games of Catan and searching for fey in the woodlands. Her debut picture book, LITTLE MEDUSA’S HAIR DO-LEMMA (Clear Fork Publishing) slithers onto shelves May 2021.
The ice is coming off the lakes. The birds are returning and filling the air with song. The snow is melting. Today crocuses blossomed in our garden, and coltsfoot flowers along the road.
It’s time to put away snowshoes and skis, take out walking shoes and enjoy spring!
And spring means poetry month is here – the largest annual literary celebration in the world according to poetry.org. It is a way to remember the importance of poetry in our lives and throughout civilization – from ancient poets like Homer to those of past centuries like William Shakespeare, Robert Frost, and Emily Dickinson to today’s poets like Billy Collins, Mary Oliver, Amanda Gorman and Joy Harjo.
National Poetry Month was inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996. Not only poets, but schools, libraries and bookstores celebrate poetry in our culture.
Everyone can participate: readers, writers, students, teachers, old and young, male and female. Bookstores and libraries host literary events. Poets read their poems and bloggers blog about poetry.
How can you celebrate? Here are some ideas.
Read lyrical, poetic picture books as well as poems – they have a lot in common!
At a NESCBWI conference, I listened to Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple speak about the similarities between a poem and a picture book in their talk, Poetry as Picture Book Text. Both use figurative language, sensory details, imagery, personification, onomatopoeia, simile, metaphor and other poetic devices. They use rhythm and resonance to evoke feelings and engage the imagination.
Introduce poetry to kids.
It builds vocabulary and improves reading fluency. Need help? Poet and author David L. Harrison has compiled 55 poetry ideas for the classroom during poetry month in the new issue of MISSOURI READER at https://joom.ag/zGzI
Participate in – and organize – poetry readings and events online and in person.
In 2016, I wanted to participate in Montpelier’s Poem City – but discovered that I was ineligible because I don’t live in Vermont! So a few of us from our local Poetry Group approached the Adirondack Center for Writing – and Saranac Lake’s Poem Village was born!
Poem Village is a community celebration of poetry open to all – from schoolchildren to seniors. Poems are posted in store windows, surprise pocket poems are hidden at restaurants, doctor’s offices, and place all over the area for you to find. Poems even appear in your email inbox! This year you can visit the online poem showcase here: