Finding Creativity

Moo-velous Creativity with Kirsti Call

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!

All the moovement (couldn’t resist!) in the illustrations–stool and spoons flying in the air, moomaw’s glasses–really made this bad mood book funny.

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.

Oof, ouch! Look at that belly flop burn. Poor Mootilda!

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?

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Covid, Quarantine, Cookies and a Quest

Thanks for stopping by!

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?

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A story within a story…

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 defines frame 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.

The Chronicles of Narnia is another example of frame story.  The 7-book series, written by  C. S. Lewis, “narrates the adventures of various children who play central roles in the unfolding history of the Narnian world.”  Titles included in the series are The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle.

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).

For more information on a variety of literary devices, visit https://literarydevices.net/ .

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. 

Until next time, Write On!

Until we meet again, Write On!

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Showing Through Heart, Sensory Details, and Wordplay: Featuring Gabi Snyder

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…

…to learn.

…to understand.

…to feel.

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.

Listen.

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 Bio:

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.

Learn more about Gabi and her latest books at:

Website: gabisnyder.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Gabi_A_Snyder

IG: https://www.instagram.com/gabi_snyder_writer/

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How Illustrations “Show” the Story: featuring Terry Sirrell

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 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.

Mastering the Right Shades

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!

Terry’s Bio:

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:

Website: http://www.tsirrell.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TerrySirrellBooks

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/tsirrell/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/TSirrell

Pitch It to Me, Uncategorized

~THE PITCH IT TO ME CHALLENGE~

pitch-it-to-me-challenge-9.12.20Welcome 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.

About Natalie:

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.

Connect with Natalie on Twitter @CohnNatalie, and on her website: https://mady1230.wixsite.com/natabook

About Lisa: 

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.

Connect with Lisa on her website at: lisarogerswrites.com

Or follow her on Twitter @LisaLJRogers

Support Lisa by ordering her books! Just click on the image to go directly to the publisher’s website!

 

 

 

 

 

CLOSING REMARKS:

Thanks once again to all of our Pitch it To Me participants! You keep bringing your best to the plate and make us all winners. Until next time . . .

Finding Creativity

Multicultural Inspiration with Meera Sriram

The Wonder of Words Finding creativityWelcome 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?

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“Saffron orange and marigold”–my daughter and I fell in love with the luscious color words as our narrator searches the markets for the perfect gift for her mother.

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.

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Waves of moving color, soft cotton, chimes, clinks, and lullabies–my kids and I adored all the senses this story invoked.

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!

9781646860616_4_4b2e0
I love backmatter fun facts! The kids thought this was cool but don’t think they’ll be trying stinky tofu or oyster omelets anytime soon! There’s also a spread explaining all the items our narrator discovers in the market, like jasmine, turmeric, vermilion, etc…

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.)

Bio-Pic-MS

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.

Uncategorized

A Parade of Palindromes

Palindromes, for some, are pesky rather than pleasant but for this “word geek” as some would call me, I find them quite palatable, albeit quite the challenge to include in a kidlit story!

According to Miriam Websters on-line dictionary, a palindrome is “a word, phrase, or number that reads the same backward or forward.”  I had never considered palindromes to be anything other than numbers but a whole new world opened with my research for this blog post!

Words or sentences that when read forward or backward have the same meaning are palindromes.

A great example of a name palindrome is ABBA (a musical group from the seventies).  A common name palindrome is Bob but a quick google search (if you want to your characters to have palindrome names) brings up other names including Otto and Hannah.  Even the shape shifter from Star Trek Deep Space Nine is named Odo…a palindrome!

A search on Good Reads for books with Palindrome in the title,  offers quite a variety of books across all genres, including:

momanddadpalindromes

MOM AND DAD ARE PALINDROMES by Mark Shulman

ifyouwereapalindrome

IF YOU WERE A PALINDROME by Michael Dahl

salamipalindrome

GO HANG A SALAMI! I’M A LASAGNA HOG! By Jon Agee

My favorite example of a palindrome is a poem titled Doppelganger written by James A. Lindon

“Entering the lonely house with my wife

I saw him for the first time

Peering furtively from behind a bush …

Blackness that moved,

A shape amid the shadows,

A momentary glimpse of gleaming eyes

Revealed in the ragged moon …

A closer look (he seemed to turn) might have

Revealed in the ragged moon

A momentary glimpse of gleaming eyes

A shape amid the shadows,

Blackness that moved.

Peering furtively from behind a bush,

I saw him, for the first time

Entering the lonely house with my wife.”

 

It took me several reads to realize there were two stories going on here.  Do you see them?

Of course, this would certainly (in my opinion) be a great idea for a writing challenge.
To further pique your interest in palindromes, check out the following links:

 Encyclopedia Britanica   https://www.britannica.com/art/palindrome

 Good Reads   https://www.goodreads.com/search?q=palindromes&qid=aE5rxqUi4R.

 

Thanks for stopping by!  Hope you enjoyed my post on Palindromes!  Feel free to leave a comment.

 

Write On!

 

Book Reviews, Uncategorized

Neurodiversity in Children’s Picture Books

Yes, I know Autism Awareness Month is April – not August. But they both begin with the letter ‘A’. And autism is a lifelong condition. It does not go away when spring ends and summer begins. It does not go away when a child grows up and turns 18. Approximately 1 in 59 children has been diagnosed with some form of autism spectrum disorder, according to the CDC.
I am neuro-diverse. I recall the day I stumbled on the website nldline.com while helping a library patron search for books on learning disabilities for math rather than language. My eyes opened wide. There were people with the same issues as me! What joy!
My own neurologically atypical existence was complicated by the fact that I am an immigrant. By the time I was ten, I had lived on three continents, and spoke three languages. That could be why my issues and challenges were not taken seriously and sometimes attributed to cultural difference.
When I was growing up in the 1960s, little was known about neurodiversity. I had difficulty in group conversations, so I tended to stay to myself – and came to believe I was shy. (I’m not). Even as an adult, group conversations still pose a problem. I don’t read body language well so I don’t know when it’s ok to speak – so I either stay quiet or interrupt.
I was told I was immature and would grow up eventually, or that I was lazy and not trying hard enough. Now I know that I have slow processing speed, and that is why everything takes longer.
Yet no matter how hard I tried, I kept failing at certain things. I never learned to ride a bike, or to throw and catch a ball. We tell our kids, “You can do anything if you try.” But this is not true. Not only will I never be a brain surgeon – I’ll never be a ballerina because I have dyspraxia. I’m a klutz.
We’re all different – and that makes for an interesting world. No matter which spectrum we belong to, everyone has strengths, and everyone has challenges. All humans are equal. All have dignity.
I have gathered some recently published books that feature neurologically diverse characters. Most are fiction. The last two are nonfiction biographies About Temple Grandin, a neuro-diverse woman whose contributions to science and inventions resulted in groundbreaking improvements for farms worldwide.


A Friend for Henry

by Jenn Bailey, ill by Mika Song. Chronicle Books 2019. 32 p. ; 535 words.
2020 Schneider Family Honor Book.
In this story about searching for a friend in a new classroom that is too loud and too close, Henry’s analytical, literal personality comes through. A touching story that will appeal to anyone looking for friendship but especially to those with neurological differences.


How to Babysit a Logan

by Callie Metler-Smith, ill by Cindy Vattathil. Clear Fork Publishing 2019. 32 p; 407 words.
What a great message about how a pet can be a best friend. Such a wonderful bond between the cat and the boy! Shows we all need and can give support. Beautiful illustrations and a great story for all kids! The cat, Thunderbolt, explains how he spends his time making sure Logan is safe and loved. A beautiful bond between a pet and an autistic boy. encourages discussion and understanding about what life is like with autism. informational in such an easy, conversational tone

This Beach Is Loud

by Samantha Cotterill (au/ill), Dial Books, 2019. 32 p.; 318 words.
Even fun things can feel overwhelming. For all children – but especially children on the spectrum – new things and things with sensory overload can be overwhelming. This book does an excellent job of portraying this feeling, and the tension is resolved joyfully at the end. This book also shows the use of calming activities like breathing and counting. As a word nerd rather than a picture person I found some of the circular text that goes off the page very difficult to read.

Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism

by Jen Malia ill by Joanne Lew Vriethoff. Albert Whitman, April 1, 2020. 32 p.; 1,005 words.

The own-voices book portrays sensory issues and Holly’s struggle well. We see the MCs feelings and the support she gets from her family. The slime science experiment relates to STEM concepts. It shows empathy. However, I thought for a picture book at over 1,000 words it was a bit too long. Also, the child-protagonist is constantly prodded by adults and does not solve her own problem.

Noah Chases the Wind

by Michelle Worthington ill by Joseph Cowman. Redleaf Lane (an imprint of Redleaf Press), 2015. 32 pages; 449 words.
Winner of the silver medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Books Award in the Picture Book 4–8-year-old category from Independent Publisher ; Winner of the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award
The first two lines say it all: “Noah knew he was different. He could see things that others couldn’t.” The rest of the story shows the beauty of being different. This is a story for every child who feels different or sees the world through a different lens – not just those on the spectrum or with sensory integration disorder. This whimsical story also highlights Noah’s special interest in weather.

The boy who said nonsense

by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky ill by Nicola Anderson. Albert Whitman & Company, 2016. 32 pages; 862 words.
Celebrates diversity. Because Tate doesn’t communicate like other children, it takes time to recognize is special gift for math. Shows we’re all unique and need to be valued for our gifts in spite of challenges we may have.


Cy Makes a Friend

by Ann Marie Stephens ill by Tracy Subisak. Boyds Mills Press, 2019. 32 p.; 252 words.
A wonderful, fun read! Many children have trouble making friends because they are shy or different. This is a great book for everyone who feels vulnerable and is afraid to reach out to make friends.

Benji, the Bad Day and Me

by Sally J. Pla, Ill by Ken Min. Lee & Low Books, 2018. 32 p.
Everyone has a bad day occasionally. This story reminds me of the classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. But here, the main character Sammy’s brother Benji, who comforts him, is autistic. The book touches on the feelings not just of those who are neuro-diverse, but their siblings. The author notes, “It’s important to note that no two autistic kids are alike, and their needs and behaviors will always be different.”


Uniquely Wired

by Julia Cook, ill by Anita DuFalla. Boys Town Press, 2018, 32 p.
In this first-person narrated story, Zak, a boy who is autistic, shares his quirks, interests and view of life. However, the author fails to address uniqueness – because no two people on the spectrum are alike – and describes some autistic traits as gifts, confusing many readers. The author needs to learn more about the subject before attempting to write about it.

All My Stripes: A Story for Children with Autism

by Shaina Rudolph (Author), Danielle Royer (Author), Jennifer Zivoin (Illustrator). Magination Press, 2015. 40 p. Gold Medal, Mom’s Choice Awards
Zane the Zebra has many stripes! The book brings an important message about accepting our differences.
After a troubling day at school when his autistic qualities – sensory issues, inability to communicate with his classmates, wanting to do a project differently and not understanding figurative language – make him feel different, his Mom explains that only one of his stripes is autism. He has many other excellent stripes, like honesty, curiosity, caring, and navigation. Zane feels better about himself and comes to understand that all the stripes together make him who he is. There are many pages of helpful information in the backmatter.
The problems with the book are that some of the incidents would not really happen. No teacher would leave a kid behind during a fire drill, cowering under the desk until the firemen arrived.

A Manual for Marco: Living, Learning, and Laughing With an Autistic Sibling by Shaila Abdullah, ill by Iman Tejpar. Loving Healing Press, 2015. 36p.
This book is written from the point-of-view of an eight-year-old girl learning how to deal with her autistic brother Marco. Presented in a notebook format, she writes down the things her brother does. The reader sees the importance of acceptance and love.
Backmatter contains a list of of things to remember to make life with an autistic sibling easier. Also included are resources for more information about autism.

How to Build a Hug: Temple Grandin and Her Amazing Squeeze Machine by Amy Guglielmo , Jacqueline Tourville , and Giselle Potter et al. Atheneum Books for Young Readers , 2018 ; 48 p.
A wonderful story about overcoming obstacles, especially emotional and sensory ones.
A wonderful story about overcoming obstacles, especially emotional and sensory ones. The story begins with a problem and shows how Temple felt as a child, how she found her own unique and creative solution from experiencing the world around her. The backmatter author’s note shares more about Temple Grandin and her amazing scientific contributions as a pioneer in her field.

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: the Story of Dr. Temple Grandin By Julia Finley Mosca Ill by:Daniel Rieley. The Innovation Press, 2017. 40 p.
Written in rhyme with beautiful illustrations, this account addresses Temple’s challenges and accomplishments. The story shows how being inclusive makes a positive impact on everyone. Backmatter includes a letter from Temple Grandin, interesting details from the author’s interviews, a timeline and a two-page prose biography.

Best in Show

Writing Is Mining- featuring Beth Anderson

Hello Everyone!

I hope this blog post finds you all having a great summer in our new normal. Today I am thrilled to have Beth Anderson as our featured guest. As you know, she is an accomplished writer focusing on narrative nonfiction and historical fiction picture books. Her quote “Writing is Mining” holds such truth. She describes writing in these genres as digging for those special memories, emotions, and meaning. Beth has wonderful strategies for showing in these areas.

TS: Beth, thank you so much for being our guest today and congratulations on your October release of “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses: How James Kelly’s Nose Saved the New York City SubwayWhether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?

BA: Thank you so much for inviting me to share some thoughts on the essential “show vs. tell.”

I believe in action wherever it makes sense – the more the better. Keeping the characters active keeps the reader turning pages. Actions reveal character so it’s a huge part of the emotional arc. But there also has to be the flow in and out, along with weaving in needed context. Constant action for the sake of action is exhausting! 

Scenes carry the emotional arc of the main character as well as the plot. They move the story forward, stepping-stones in the character’s transformation that build to the story’s end. If a scene doesn’t serve that purpose, then it needs to go or be revised to carry a piece of the emotional arc. Sometimes, even “internal” scenes can be active. Here’s an example from Lizzie Demands a Seat with the additional challenge of required context:

She eyed empty seats. Despite being born a “free black” in a “free state,” she’d never been treated as equal. She’d been rejected, restricted, and refused by schools, restaurants, and theaters. Suddenly late-for-church wasn’t as important as late-for-equality. Lizzie stood firm.

Passengers murmured.

Horses snorted.

Pedestrians gathered.

Finally, the driver held up the reins. “We need to go.”

Scenes play out best with action, and if you can use action to transition between scenes, do that, too. “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses, releasing Oct. 13, was a huge challenge regarding transitions between scenes. There was so little information on James Kelly’s days in the NYC subway, all I had were anecdotes with the potential to be priceless scenes. I had to find a way to organize them with a special “heart” thread and effectively transition between scenes to avoid an “episodic” feel. Here’s an example of an active transition that lets us pause with the character and progress to the next scene:

“Exhausted, he paused and peered through the crowd gathered at the movie poster. Even superheroes needed help.”

And here’s an example from An Inconvenient Alphabet where I used imagery to actively transition. Instead of saying that Noah Webster wanted to reform American English spelling, it became:

“Armed with the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet everyone knew and loved, Noah launched a spelling revolution—ready to turn “rong” spelling into “rite.””

Sensory elements enrich the reading experience by inviting readers into the moment, immersing them in the setting, and connecting readers to characters on multiple levels. As you will see in “Smelly” Kelly’s story, I use sensory elements liberally!

TS: Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more    showing/descriptive language?

 

I use the online thesaurus a lot. If you can find just the right word, it can make an illustration note or other words unnecessary. For instance, recently I replaced “took” with “claimed.” It made a huge difference—adding attitude.

I can’t resist onomatopoeia. But besides sounds, I also ask myself – What would that look like? In “Smelly” Kelly, there are lots of stinks. Instead of trying to describe the stink in the New Yorker Hotel, it was more fun to show the reaction to the smell.

“Maids pinched their noses. Guests fled. Engineers analyzed and pondered, but they couldn’t figure out where the leak was coming from.”

I also try to “show” emotions, especially what cannot be shown easily by an illustrator. When Kelly realizes he’s not doing enough, I tried to show that feeling of inadequacy:

A broken steam line blasted water pipes.

Kelly shook his head. Someone could’ve been burned. Sniffing wasn’t enough. He needed to listen, to hear sounds no one else heard.

There’s some physical movement there, but mostly I take you inside Kelly’s head. And that’s another powerful way to achieve more showing. Many writers call it psychic distance. Once I learned about it, my writing changed and became more immediate. The example above doesn’t say “he thought” or “he scolded himself” or “he realized.” Cutting the “head verbs” eliminates that filter between the reader and the character. It’s like the difference between indirect speech (He told me to stop.) and direct speech (STOP!). If you go straight to the words or realization or thought, the reader feels it as the character, and it eliminates the “telling.”

TS: 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?

BA: Sure! I looked back at an early version of “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses. Here’s one line that was very “telling”:

“He settled into an apartment and took a job with the subway.”

Because that involved an action (took a job in the subway) that set off the whole story, I needed to show motivation and the emotion behind that decision. It evolved into a scene with “showing” and delightful illustrations:

James set out to find a job, but, as always, his incredible nose proved troublesome.

Fish market—no!

Sanitation—no!

Meat packing—NO!

He felt a rumble below the sidewalk and peered through the grate. The damp air bristled with mystery.

TS: 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?

BA: Generally, I think showing appears in scenes and telling in transitions. Emotion and important action pieces require showing. That’s what keeps your story alive, where you want the reader to connect. Telling can speed up the narrative to get to the good stuff, but too much can bog it down. Showing and telling are intertwined with pacing, characterization, and point of view. It’s truly a complicated dance. When I researched to prepare a presentation on point of view and really examined how it works in a picture book, I found that the “camera” goes in and out—and that in and out is achieved with showing and telling, and also involves “proximity.” Just another reason to read and analyze LOTS of books!

TS: Wow, Beth! You have given so much to think about. Your knowledge and command over the elements are so strong and comes through your writing vividly. Thank you!

 

Beth Anderson, author of Lizzie Demands a Seat, An Inconvenient Alphabet, and “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses, is drawn to stories that open minds, touch hearts, and inspire questions. A former educator who has always marveled at the power of books, she hopes that voices from the past will help children discover their own. Beth has more historical gems on the way!

Learn more about Beth and her amazing books at:

Website: bethandersonwriter.com 

Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram: @Bandersonwriter

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beth.anderson.33671748

signed copies of books available from Old Firehouse Books