Hello readers, and welcome back to our WONDERful blog! It’s time to share the results of our last Pitch it to Me Challenge. I know more than a few months have passed, so thanks for be patient with me. I’ll come back to the reasons for that and plans for future posts in a moment, but first let’s find out who won.
Fabulous author Judy Shemtob pitched her story, COME BACK ZIEFER, to guest star Candace Spizzirri and me to see what magical words we could spin. Each pitch had quite a few votes, but only one could take first place. Here is the winning pitch:
“Zach loves nothing more than the stuffed chicken Grammy made for him. But Ziefer often “wanders” and Zach must retrace his steps each time to find him. When there’s a power fail-ure in Grammy’s building, Zach thinks Ziefer may have wandered off for the last time. Only the reader can guess where Ziefer might be!”
Thank you to Judy and Candace for participating in the challenge. Although this pitch was mine, these ladies made me work extra hard to come up with the winning words. And now Judy has some WONDERful voter feedback to help with her query letters!
But wait, there’s more . . .
I am sorry to say that keeping up with the challenge has been – well – a challenge – these last few months. My work as a publisher takes up most of my time, and special projects like The Pitch it to Me Challenge don’t get the attention they deserve. After a lot of thought, I have decided to change the direction of my posts. I hope fans of the challenge will continue to tune in and support the blog and writing community as you have done in the past.
Going forward, I would still like to offer an interactive component to each post, most likely through an “Ask a Publisher” format or something of a similar nature. If you have a topic you want to know more about, share in the comments below and I will consider it for later posts.
We are thrilled to have author Michelle Nott with us today. This fall, her newest picture book releases, Teddy, Let’s Go!, and illustrated by Nahid Kazemi. She shares such a beautiful story about a Grandmother giving her newborn grandchild a teddy bear she made herself. Teddy takes the reader on an unforgettable adventure about love and friendship.
Tina:Thank you for visiting today, Michelle! This is a precious story to share. Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?
Michelle: Thanks for having me! When I’m drafting a new picture book, I write it all out as it comes to mind without stopping to really edit. Once I have the full story in front of me, I know my characters, their emotional arc, and the story arc, then I start cutting anything that would be easily shown in the illustrations. If a detail is necessary to have in an image but is not obvious from the text, then I will add an illustration note.
Every action, scene, and sensory element must move the story forward. There is no room for extra words, no matter how beautifully written or how funny they are. It can be hard to cut favorite lines (I cut and paste them into another document to save them). But for the sake of story, only keep what is essential.
Try to keep these questions in mind:
Does the action add to the understanding of the character and/or move the story forward?
Does a particular scene provide essential information about the characters or forward the plot in such a way that could not be incorporated anywhere else?
As for sensory elements, do they add to or distract from the character development or narrative?
Tina: Those are great suggestions, and often easier said than done. Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?
Michelle: Yes, before writing picture books, I wrote and published poetry. So, I like to use poetic devices to enhance my writing. I find that having a background in poetry has helped me keep a close eye on word count and how to say as much as I can with as few words as possible.
For example, in my debut picture book Teddy Let’s Go!, which is told from a teddy bear’s point of view, I wanted the reader to understand immediately that a grandmother has made this precious gift and that the teddy feels how much love she has given him to pass on. Without saying all that outright, my first line is simply, “The wavy-haired woman with love in her eyes pulled me close and whispered in my ear.” From that one line, the illustrator created four images, three of which lead up to it.
Tina: What a gorgeous first line. 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?
Michelle: Of course, to follow up on my previous answer, the following lines are rather an example of where I was telling too much in a very early draft (from 2012):
“With every paw [the grandmother] sewed, she smiled. With every arm attached, she laughed.
And with stiff fingers, she stuffed me with all the love she had. Up into my ears. Around my belly. Down to my toes. The opening was just under my bum. She patched it with a label:
‘Specially hand-made by Grandma.’”
All those lines became simply:
“The wavy-haired woman with love in her eyes pulled me close and whispered in my ear.”
Everything I had written in that earlier draft of this scene was long cut before I ever queried my agent. In the end, however, Nahid Kazemi’s illustrations brilliantly convey everything I had wanted to express, and without illustration notes.
When writing stories, we must keep in mind to “show, don’t tell.” But I think we also need to remember to “show just enough, and don’t tell.” Never underestimate the imagination of the reader nor that of the illustrator.
Tina: An excellent point. The illustrations show as much heart as your writing. Your words and her art blend perfectly. 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?
Michelle: Storyboarding my manuscript helps me balance what to show and what to tell. Even though my characters are stick figures and my trees look like lollipops, it’s really helpful to imagine how the story could appear on the page. As I do this, I can more easily see what lines actually work best as illustrations and, therefore, do not need to be written out. There shouldn’t be any redundancy between the images and the text.
Tina: That’s a really strong strategy. Thank you for sharing such valuable information and strategies. Wishing you and Teddy every success as his story enters the world!
Michelle Nott is a former educator (pre-K to 12, French and Creative Writing), freelance editor, published poet, and children’s book author. She writes fiction and nonfiction, in prose and verse. She has authored two early readers, Freddy, Hoppie and the Eyeglasses and Dragon Amy’s Flames. Her debut picture book, Teddy Let’s Go!, releases this fall from Enchanted Lion Books .
Michelle grew up in the U.S. and has lived in Europe for extended periods of time. She holds American and French citizenship and is bilingual, English and French. Her extensive travel around the U.S., Europe, and Africa fuels her imagination and appreciation for story, art, and world cultures.
Hello, Word Wonderers! Kidlit writers know that the best way to write for children is to think like a kid and what better way than to explore your own childhood memories? It’s a great way to tell the story that only you can tell and today we have guest author, Candace Spizzirri, on the blog to share the inspiration behind her debut picture book, FISHING WITH GRANDPA AND SKYE. Welcome, Candace!
Candace With An A: Thanks so much for having me on your blog today, Candice! I’m delighted to be here. In 2018 I participated in StoryStorm, a month-long story brainstorming event run every January by author Tara Lazar, where kidlit creatives try to come up with an idea a day.
One idea was “a story about fishing with a parent/daughter or grandparent/granddaughter.” It rumbled around my brain until I wrote a rough draft in June of that year. Turned out it was a story about fishing with my own grandpa!
FISHING WITH GRANDPA AND SKYE, beautifully illustrated by Beverly Love Warren, launched on April 19, 2022, with Clear Fork Publishing. Yay! The inspiration for this story came from many fishing trips to Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, with my beloved Grandpa Henry. Although it is truly about Grandpa and me, I use my granddaughter Skye’s name as the main character. This story is about one day in particular when Grandpa had a special surprise for me. FISHING celebrates the love between generations and is the story of my heart!
Candice With An I: How funny! That year’s StoryStorm was particularly inspirational–it’s when I brainstormed my picture book, CHOMPSEY, too! I loved reading your Author’s Note in the back of FISHING and seeing your picture from when you were four years old. What is your favorite part of the creative process?
Candace: Sometimes a title will “pop” into my head from out of the blue. If my heart races a bit and it makes me smile, I know I have a viable idea for a new story. This initial creative spark is my favorite part.
But I also enjoy the revision process- working on story structure, character development, beginnings/endings, and especially finding the right words. The melodic sound of the right words in just the right order when read aloud is a delight.
I pay close attention to rhythm, rhyme, wordplay, alliteration, onomatopoeia, repeating refrains/phrases, and the use of literary devices such as metaphor and simile. I love making up songs and playing the “what if” game when writing a story where I let my imagination run free. What fun!
Candice: Fun indeed! Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? How do they cross into your writing?
Candace: I’ve always had a creative side. As a young girl, I adored art classes: painting, sculpting, and projects of all kinds. Other outlets and hobbies include interior design, cooking, gardening, hiking, fishing, traveling, and dancing. My love of fishing and outdoor activities led to FISHING WITH GRANDPA AND SKYE. My enjoyment of travel inspired FINLEY: A MOOSE ON THE CABOOSE.
I have a manuscript about flowers starring a young girl named Lily Rose who, like me, loves collecting stems of all kinds. I also have a work in progress entitled CLUCK-CLUCK DANCE about a dancing chicken. And guess what? That chicken is me. 😉
Candice: I remember CLUCK-CLUCK DANCE from the Writing Magic class we took together! It was so much fun to read aloud. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about creativity?
Candace: Fan the creative flames. Look for inspiration everywhere! I find ideas for stories in everyday moments like walks out in nature, overheard conversations, animal antics, and the funny and often spot-on things my grandkids say.
Creative moments can come at any time, from anywhere, so you have to be ready. A few years ago, I had a story idea while driving home from the grocery store. I pulled to the side of the road (safely) and jotted down plot points and character details on the back of my receipt.
Candice: Love that! Grocery shopping drains me too much for any brainstorming, lol. Can you tell us more about your upcoming book?
Candace: My next picture book, FINLEY: A MOOSE ON THE CABOOSE will release on April 18, 2023. The idea for this story came to me two years ago on a trip to Alaska. I fell in love with the gorgeous scenery which looked like a postcard in every direction. While visiting the town of Talkeetna, a moose wandered about to the enjoyment of tourists, then disappeared into the woods. In this quaint town, I happened upon a little shop called Once in a Blue Moose and the spark for Finley, a moose who longs to ride the rails, was born.
Sandra Sutter, the owner of Gnome Road Publishing, [and Wonder of Words co-host!] liked a pitch for Finley on a Twitter pitch party. After a revise and resubmit, she contacted me saying the acquisitions team fell in love with Finley Moose. The amazing award-winning team of Chantelle and Burgen Thorne are illustrating. I can’t wait to share FINLEY Moose with the world!
Such a talented team! Congrats! Thank you for sharing your tips on creativity and finding inspiration, and best of luck with both FISHING and next year, FINLEY!
You can find FISHING WITH GRANDPA AND SKYE online at bookshop.org which helps support independent bookstores, and on the publisher’s website. Request a copy at your local library or indie bookstore.
Candace Spizzirri grew up in a small town in New Jersey with tree-lined streets and old Victorian houses. As a child, she spent hours playing at the park, catching minnows in a nearby stream, and exploring the woods at the end of her street. Passionate about education, Candace is a co-founder of an elementary school and high school in Southern California where she now makes her home. She loves spending time with her husband, grown children, daughter-in-law, and four grandkids. Candace’s debut picture book, FISHING WITH GRANDPA AND SKYE, illustrated by Beverly Love Warren was published by Clear Fork Publishing/Spork on April 19, 2022, and will be followed by FINLEY: A MOOSE ON THE CABOOSE, illustrated by Chantelle & Burgen Thorne in Spring 2023 with Gnome Road Publishing. Learn more about Candace at candacespizzirri.com and follow her on Twitter at @CCSpizzirri1 and on Instagram at @CCSpizzirri.
Beverly Love Warren grew up on Long Island, New York. She is a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology where she studied illustration. After graduating, she worked as a paste-up artist and taught art for grades K-8. Later, she became a member of SCBWI and illustrated children’s literature.
Currently, she lives in Washington state with her husband. When she is not illustrating, you can find her writing stories, hiking, sewing, or enjoying time spent with her three children and six grandchildren.
So much of creativity is the ability to make space for yourself. It’s too easy to talk yourself out of an exciting project before you even begin because someone else has already accomplished it. The ability to push that mind trap aside and allow space for your creativity to bloom is why I was immediately interested in this picture book debut by another Alabama author, Shae Owens Holley. Welcome to the Wonder of Words, Shae! What inspired you to write Rue the sparrow’s story, IT’S ALREADY BEEN DONE BEFORE?
Shae: I wrote “It’s Already Been Done Before” around 9 years ago as an unfinished rhyming story with no defined main character at the time. I was inspired by my own personal struggle with self-comparison as a creative entrepreneur, a photographer in the middle of juggling a business and a toddler. The world of social media was taking a toll on my time and mental health. I quickly realized I was literally talking myself out of doing projects I wanted to do because I was watching others do it better – so I told myself, why bother? It’s already been done before! As we allow doubt and feelings of overwhelm change and rule our mind, creativity, effort and work suffer and cease. In most industries, especially those of a creative essence, whether it’s photography or writing or artwork, we are constantly bombarded with self-inflicted comparison. It shuts down our creative license because we already have allowed it. Those thoughts became the inspiration for this story, which was really just a framework at the time. It was only in recent years when I made the characters animals instead of humans and the setting in a forest. I wanted the characters to be relatable to all people and ages so I opted out of the human element.
Candice: The quote you included at the beginning of your book is perfect: “Comparison is the thief of joy”–Theodore Roosevelt. It’s so true. What is your favorite part of the creative process?
Shae: Actually putting the book together and seeing the layout with both text and illustrations was my favorite part! I love design, so being able to contribute and tweak things along the way was really exciting to me. My book (and maybe most children’s books) would not be what it is without the artwork bringing life to the words and giving them a relatable face. I definitely learned the importance of editing – even with a one-page poem – and realized why this process takes time. This can obviously take years. A book isn’t a blog and cannot be changed or corrected in real time.
I would also add that the beginning is also my favorite part of any creative process – that moment when you actually start and form the idea. I think getting to that point is one of the hardest, but once you begin, the world is your oyster.
Candice: I agree on the importance of artwork in picture books! Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? Do they cross into your writing?
Shae: I was a professional photographer for twelve years which influenced WHY I wrote this story – but photography definitely inspired the illustrations and to whom I choose to outsource the artwork. I also love to be outdoors and hike so I’m sure the fact that my characters are woodland creatures was influenced by my love for being amongst trees.
Candice: I loved the artwork! (Probably because I too love to be outdoors amongst the trees.) So vibrant and fun. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?
Shae: I think not boxing yourself into one avenue is key to unlocking creativity. We can become so consumed with defining ourselves by what we do, that we become ‘that one thing’, but we are so much more complex. Sometimes constraints and limitations make you more creative because you have to utilize what is available. Also, realizing creativity can be found in all things, from cooking, parenting, to even rearranging a junk drawer. We just have to embrace life experiences and even times of quiet or waiting for the next thing, and see the routine from another angle. I’m not sure if any of that is an actual tip, but my advice is to look for the beauty in routine and make something from it. Pay attention to the details of your life, your house, expressions, the way light changes the same object throughout the day, the little things. I also get inspired by music – listening to songs that speak to me actually helps me write or paint at times and can help spark creativity.
Candice: I’m still searching for my creativity in rearranging junk drawers, lol–and I love that you included mundane tasks in creative ventures. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?
Shae: Sure! “It’s Already Been Done Before” is my first published children’s book. I’ve written parts of two or three other books but this has been my only children’s book and was the most complete which is why my publisher pushed this one first, besides its message. My next project is a bit ongoing as it’s inspired by my daughter who is eleven. It will be a compilation of memories and poems but written for a larger audience. One of those coffee table books that’s already been done before, you know? 😉 But that is what makes it unique – that it is personal, it is written from my experience and thoughts, and despite being a theme that has truly been done, this version has not.
Candice: That’s absolutely right! It’s the parts of ourselves that we pour into books that makes them stand out–even if they’ve been done before.Thank you for being here, Shae. Congrats on your debut children’s book and finding creativity even in mind traps!
Shae Holley is an entrepreneur, environmental engineer, blogger, photographer, recipe-destroyer, and tea addict. She loves sharing the message that we have all been given unique gifts and God-given talents. Although they may be similar to others, we cannot compare ourselves or cease effort simply because it’s already been done before. You may find her at shaeholley.com.
Today we have a special guest, friend and critique partner, Yvona Fast. She shares the emotional story of her mother’s childhood experiences during the Holocaust in her upcoming middle grade book,GOOD IN THE MIDST OF EVIL, with Clear Fork Publishing. Dana Fast is one of many whose personal experiences during such a horrific time, have given her the strength she has today.
TS: Welcome, Yvona! I am so excited to read your book and hear about how your mother’s important story came to be. Her experiences help us understand our world’s history, especially such difficult times.
AF: Thank you, Tina. Yes, they really do!
When I was growing up and we studied history and the Holocaust, I would ask Mom questions – I knew she had lived through it – but she never would talk about it. It was only later, when I was in my forties that she started talking.
Her brother – who is 5 years younger – asked her to write it down for his kids, since he remembered so little, being so young. This was in the 1990s. I was in Europe working in Yugoslavia, Poland and Slovakia from 1989 – 1995, and she typed it on our friend Olga’s word processor… it wasn’t even a computer back then. I just recently came across this early draft when cleaning out the filing cabinet.
Her friends in Poland wanted to read it – so she wrote it in Polish for them, using the same word processor…
When I came back to the states, I read both versions – and they were not identical. She recalled different things each time.
TS: Wow, so fascinating. I am sure after so many years, sitting down to write the difficult memories in both languages must have been very challenging.
AF: This really inspired me to want to share her story. I was living and working in Rochester, NY, then, and combined both versions into one, editing as I went. I tried submitting the story to publishers, but there was no interest.
A few years later, in 2010, a friend of Mom’s, Andrea, asked if she could write mom’s story down. She was on the board of the Polish-Jewish Heritage Society in Montreal, Quebec, and they were looking for Holocaust stories to publish.
We told her the story was already written – and in 2011 they published it, with only minor edits, under the title, MY NINE LIVES. When I said we wanted a thousand copies, they thought we were crazy… but we have sold most of them. The nonprofit only publishes the books, but they do not distribute them, so the only way to get a copy is either through the agency or through us.
Mom is well-known in our community, since she has worked here and lived here and volunteered for various organizations from the local library to the Visitor’s Interpretive Center, and served as a Master Gardener Volunteer for years, giving talks on gardening, composting, preserving food, and so on. Over a hundred people came to her book release party.
TS: She is amazing! You must be so proud of her.
AF: I really am. But I wanted a wider market for the book, beyond our small village. Since there are about a dozen books with the title MY NINE LIVES, I wanted a unique title that fit. A friend, Karen Davidson, designed a more engaging cover. These are things that are important to book marketing… the cover and the title.
A friend offered to help me publish it through Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) but part-way through she dropped the project. Her Apple computer and my IBM version did not seem to work together well. That’s when I sent a copy of MY NINE LIVES to Caliie Metler of Clear Fork Publishing. She loved the book and offered to publish it under the Rise Imprint – books that empower women and teach them to rise.
TS: Yvona, how wonderful for your mother and your family to be able to do this for her. Great thinking on your part to submit her story to Clear Fork and the RISE Imprint is a perfect fit.
AF: My mom, Dana, is definitely a strong, independent woman. Her life made her that way.
I say she wrote the book – it is her story. She claims I wrote it. I definitely edited and improved it, but the story and voice are clearly hers.
TS: Something tells me both of you are sharing this important history, together. We wish you every success as the release her incredible story releases Tuesday, April 5th!
Yvona Fast grew up on three continents, speaking three languages by age ten. She thought many of her challenges were due to these changes in culture, but in her forties she discovered she is neurodivergent and needs words – not pictures – to understand her world, a condition known as Nonverbal Learning Disability.
Her love of books and language first led her to become a librarian, and later, to writing. She has written articles and essays, writes a weekly food column for her local paper, the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, and has published several books, including three poetry chapter books. Her first book, Employment for Individuals with Asperger Syndrome or Non-Verbal Learning Disability, was published in 2004 by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Usually, when it’s my turn to do The Wonder of Words blog post, I do a book review. In this post, I slip sideways into a short-story review and a conversation about voice.
In the latest WordPress newsletter, they introduced the Monthly WordPrompt. This month’s WordPrompt is BRIDGE which brought to mind the short story that’s the topic for this post.
The story I always think about when I hear the word bridge is ‘The Bridge-Builder’ by New Zealand author, Margaret Mahy. ‘The Bridge-Builder’ is a short story originally published in 1988 in The Door in the Air and Other Stories, a YA collection of short stories. It was subsequently published in The Picador Book of Contemporary New Zealand Fiction in 1996, a collection of short stories for adults.
In the story, the narrator’s father is the bridge-builder and, on the surface, it is about the bridges he builds: girder bridges, arched bridges, suspension bridges, bridges of wood, bridges of iron or concrete.
And later, after his wife dies and the children have left home, his stored powers were set free and he began to build the bridges he saw in his dreams. These new bridges are extraordinary: within the lace of the bridge, spiders spun their own lace, and after a night of rain or dew the whole bridge glittered black and silver; two bridges with gardens built into them which soon became so overgrown with roses, wisteria, bougainvillea and other beautiful climbing plants that they looked as if they had been made entirely of flowers; a frail one made of bamboo canes, peacock feathers and violin strings; [one] made of silver thread and mother of pearl [that] was only to be crossed at midnight on a moonlight night; [in] the city he climbed like a spider, stringing blue suspension bridges between skyscrapers and tower blocks.
But there is a lot more going on than just bridge building. As the father’s bridges become stranger, people start to protest: Such people thought bridges were designed specially for cars, mere pieces of road stuck up on legs of iron or concrete, whereas my father thought bridges were the connections that would hold everything together.
The story progresses and the theme of crossing over starts to emerge, the idea that the journey on one side of the bridge is different to the journey on the other, and an allegory is hinted at: It was upsetting for those people who wanted to stick to the road, to know that some people used my father’s hidden bridges. They wanted everyone to cross by exactly the same bridges they used.
Since I know this story is hard to come by, I will give away the ending because it so neatly closes off the theme of crossing over. My father changed before my eyes. He became a bridge as he had known he would … The curious thing was that my father, who had made so many strange and beautiful bridges, was a very ordinary-looking bridge himself.
In this short story, Margaret Mahy has strung together words to create powerful images and she maintains this strong voice throughout as if it is a bridge in itself. Her language is evocative and her descriptions so vivid that the bridges leap off the page and into the reader’s imagination. The reader doesn’t only see the bridges, they hear them and feel them as well.
There is no consistent definition of voice. If I was to put it simply, I would say it is the essence of the writer on the page. Margaret Mahy has achieved this and her voice shines. ‘The Bridge-Builder’ is one of the most beautifully written pieces of work I have ever read. It is hard to locate a copy of the story, but if you can it is so worth reading it.
We are long overdue for a new Pitch it to Me Challenge and we welcome you all back for another exciting game. This time we have author Judy Shemtob stepping up to the plate with her picture book manuscript, COME BACK ZIEFER. Judy has quite a list of writing credits (which you can discover in her bio below), and a new women’s fiction novel due out later this year. We are excited to have her here and to support her writing journey!
Joining us for the challenge is author Candace Spizzirri, whose debut picture book, FISHING WITH GRANDPA AND SKYE (Spork), is set to release this April. (Candace also has a picture book in production with Gnome Road Publishing, but more on that at a later date!) We are thrilled she was up to the challenge and ready to take a swing as our guest star pitcher.
As a reminder, here is how it works:
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 March 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.
ABOUT JUDY SHEMTOB:
A retired teacher with an M.Ed in Reading/Language, Judy belongs to SCBWI, Courage to Create, and 12×12, and studies writing at Sarah Lawrence’s Writing Institute and Scarsdale Library’s Writing Center. Her work has appeared in Raise Your Words, Writes & Bites, Heart.Soul.Pen, Writing Right Now, Writing the Everyday Now: A Collection, Arthritis Today, TheGoodBookCorner.com, BoomerCafe.com, SCBWI Metro/Westchester NY Blogs, the Jacob Burns Film Center Bread Project, Pause & Reflect Again, Scarsdale10583.com, Medium, and The Echoes: Remembering 9/11. Judy lives with her husband and son in Westchester County, NY and belongs to several critique groups. She loves to watch chickens and ducks hatch and photograph birds with their broods. She bakes and enjoys gardening and creates artwork made with her vegetables. Her own son’s stuffed bear disappeared on the last day of vacation. She did have to fly home without her son’s lovey, but fortunately the hotel manager located her son’s bear tumbling in the hotel’s sheets and towels and mailed the bear back in a large manilla envelope.
Candace Spizzirri grew up in a small town in New Jersey with tree-lined streets and old Victorian houses. As a child, she spent hours playing at the park, catching minnows in a nearby stream, and exploring the woods at the end of her street. Passionate about education, Candace is a co-founder of an elementary school and high school in Southern California where she now makes her home. She loves spending time with her husband, two grown children, daughter-in-law, and four grandkids.
Candace’s debut picture book, FISHING WITH GRANDPA AND SKYE, illustrated by Beverly Love Warren publishes with Clear Fork Publishing/Spork on April 19, 2022, followed by FINLEY: A MOOSE ON THE CABOOSE, illustrated by Chantelle & Burgen Thorne releasing Fall 2022 with Gnome Road Publishing.
Cheers and many thanks go to Judy and Candace for participating in this round of The Pitch it to Me Challenge. We appreciate your WONDERful contributions and support of the Kidlit community! Until next time . . .
Simple, direct, and intense, haiku are descriptive nature poems written in the present tense (here and now). They contain a fleeting natural image and an aha! moment when something unexpected happens – a surprise ending. The goal is for the reader to experience the moment in a new way.
A haiku consists of three phrases that include a seasonal reference (kigo) and are joined with a ‘cutting word’ (kireji). The form was popularized by the Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō (1644–1694). One of the most famous haiku poems is Bashō’s Frog Haiku. There are many English translations of the poem; here are three:
Old pond — frogs jumped in — sound of water.
ancient is the pond —
suddenly a frog leaps — now!
the water echoes.
Breaking the silence
Of an ancient pond,
A frog jumped into water —
A deep resonance.
We see two juxtaposed images from nature – an ancient silent pond and a jumping frog. We hear the sound of the splash into the water (the surprise ending).
Japanese haiku poems were translated into English and French at the beginning of the 20th century and became popular by the middle of the 20th century. Today, these short image poems are among the most popular poetry forms in the world.
While English haiku are most often written as three lines where the middle line is longer, Japanese haiku frequently appear as a single line. When this happens in English, the poems are often called monoku.
Because the form became so popular with English poetry classes, there are a lot of books written in 5 – 7- 5 haiku. Many well-known children’s writers have written books with haiku for kids. Jane Yolen’s Least things: poems about small natures is a collection of 14 haiku poems illustrated with photos by her son, Jason Stemple, depicting small animals like snails and frogs. Haiku are also included in many of her poetry collections – Eek, you reek!, An Egret’s Day, An Alligator’s Smile all include haiku.
Jack Prelutsky’s If not for the cat: Haiku (pictures by Ted Rand) includes 17 haiku riddles from the point-of-view of various animals: “If not for the cat/And the scarcity of cheese,/I could be content.” Prelutsky includes haiku in some of his other poetry books as well, like Hard-Boiled Bugs for Breakfast: and other tasty poems (illustrated by Ruth Chan; Greenwillow Books, 2021).
H Is for Haiku: A Treasury of Haiku from A to Z by Sydell Rosenberg illustrated by Sawsan Chalabi. This haiku ABC book teaches children to observe and captures precious moments of life in the city – moments in nature and moments in humanity.
Bob Raczka shares boyhood fun through the seasons from his own life and that of his sons in Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys “Icicles dangle/ begging to be broken off / for a short sword fight.”
Two examples of seasonal riddles written in haiku style: Lion of the Sky: Haiku for all seasons by Laura Purdie Salas ill by Merce Lopez). “I’m cold confetti / falling from a crystal sky / blanketing the lawn.” Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell illustrated by Bob Shea asks preschoolers to guess what the haiku is about: “sitting for a treat / an eager tail smacks the ground / over and over.”
Wing nuts: screwy haiku by Paul B. Janeczko and J. Patrick Lewis ; illustrated by Tricia Tusa is a collection of haiku puns: “Grumpy bear growl / blends with chirp of rusty hinge: Mom and Dad snoring.”
Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku and Won Ton and Chopstick: A Cat and Dog Tale in Haiku, both by Lee Wardlaw.
Won Ton is about a shelter cat who gets adopted; in the sequel, Won Ton gets a housemate when a dog enters the home.
Yawn. I pretend not to care.
Yet — I sneak a peek.”
Wabi Sabi / by Mark Reibstein ; [illustrations] by Ed Young is a story about a cat named Wabi Sabi who searches for her name.
Three haiku books with holiday themes are:
Boo! Haiku by Deanna Caswell, illustrated by Bob Shea – a Halloween-themed collection of haiku riddles for young children.
Santa Clauses: short poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka (offers a fresh, fun perspective on Santa’s December preparations.
Hanukkah haiku by Harriet Ziefert ; paintings by Karla Gudeon. celebrates the eight nights of Hanukkah through haiku.
Haiku is popular, and there are many books I did not include here, including haiku verse novels for older readers. In many of these books, I find the authors stick to the old syllabic definition of haiku, rather than embracing the imagery and simplicity of a moment in time.
Happy New Year Everyone! We are excited to have Christine Van Zandt on our blog today. I saw her new nonfiction book, ABRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS, illustrated by Harry Briggs, online and the cover intrigued me. Then I read, laughed, and learned from the first page to the last. What topic accomplishes both of these consistently? Underpants of course. Who doesn’t like learning about underwear? How about what they cover…tushes, old crusty buns? Each chapter is filled with content-based words, facts, images, history, and humor.
TS:Welcome Christine! Your book is a terrific example of nonfiction material kids will love reading. This can be such a funny, awkward, and embarrassing topic for kids. Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene, and sensory elements?
CVZ: Thanks, Tina for having me. Knowing when to show action, scene, and sensory elements is something that comes with practice: writing, reading, and studying the craft. Word choice plays a big role.
Each story is different, therefore, the focus on action, scene, and sensory elements varies. Identify what you want to accomplish with each manuscript. Let’s say your picture book is in rhyme. There are many variations from there. Is it a soothing bedtime book or upbeat? Lyrical? Cumulative? And don’t even get me started on all the different kinds of rhyme schemes! Once you’ve figured out the foundation (structure, plot), then fine-tune the text.
TS: You raise great points. The preplanning aspect for each story is important. Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?
CVZ: A tried-and-true method is to go through your manuscript, reviewing only the verbs. Look for “is,” “was,” and “be,” then replace them with more precise verbs. Instead of “The dog was chased by the cat,” saying “The cat chased the dog” gets right to the point without extra words and it shows the action more effectively.
How a sentence is arranged can place emphasis on where you want the reader to focus.
Example 1: Cats are liked by more people than any other pet.
(The emphasis is on “cats.”)
Example 2: People like cats more than any other pet.
(The emphasis is on “people.”)
TS: That’s an awesome strategy to use for strengthening a sentence. I’ll implement that more often in revisions. Would you like to share an example of a before and after where you needed to show more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?
CVZ: Absolutely. Here is the opening scene to a picture book I’m working on.
FIRST DRAFT (BEFORE)
I wasn’t going to eat her, even though I easily could. [POV = first-person, mountain lion]
I came down from the hills because I heard her [Suki, the kitten] crying.
CURRENT DRAFT (AFTER)
Everyone calls me P-22 but my real name is Leonardo Catamount. I’m as famous as the Hollywood sign, but a lot more ferocious.
All animals fear me. They run and hide when I am near. [sun is setting]
But what is that?!
When I drafted this story about the mountain lion and his unlikely (eventual) friendship with a city cat, I jumped into it too quickly. This made the first lines problematic in the same way starting with dialogue can confuse a reader when they don’t yet know the character.
TS: The difference between the two is amazing. Fleshing out details takes time and patience. Thanks for the example. Writing is about balance. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?
CVZ: I belong to several critique groups and their feedback is critical. When it’s not just right, they let me know!
In picture books it may seem counterintuitive that writers focus on showing rather than telling (because picture books are illustrated), however, illustrations should take the story beyond the text, adding another layer of interest. Therefore, for writers, word choice is important.
Of course there are a huge range of manuscripts. For some genres or categories, it’s fine to tell more than show, much depends on what you are writing. Identifying a goal for each project can save time when revising. And, remember that it’s okay to change your mind and go in a new direction—it’s your story!
TS: I couldn’t agree with you more. Critique partners are invaluable. Thank you for sharing so many wonderful strategies. Wishing you every success and looking forward to future books! Happy writing everyone this first month of 2022!
GIVEAWAY: For a chance to win an autographed copy of ABRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERPANTS, follow both Christine and I on Twitter, retweet the post, and reply in the comments below that you have done so. (Twitter: @ChristineVZ and @ShepardsonTina We will select a winner on Tuesday, January 18th, at noon, EST.
All book-related images provided by becker&mayer! kids.
Christine Van Zandt is the author of the funny nonfiction picture book, A Brief History of Underpants. She’s a literary editor and lives in Los Angeles, California, with her family and a monarch butterfly sanctuary
2021 screamed by like an out-of-control freight train. While it was a year of milestones met, achieving those milestones was a struggle. I won’t blame COVID. It gave me more writing time and more reading time. A positive in a negative situation!
The blog I am a member of, Wonder of Words, gave me the opportunity to share with readers not only my love of words but also my discoveries as I research for each new post. I love researching words as much as I love building those words into stories. The multitude of literary devices is endless, but I discovered all those devices can be divided into two categories. Those being literary elements and literary techniques.
Literary elements include plot, setting, and theme, as well as other things. Every great story will include a well-developed plot and characters that endear themselves to the reader, either because the reader loves them or hates them. In addition to the plot and well-developed characters, a good writer engages the use of literary techniques that include words or phrases such as metaphors, similes, and alliteration.
Creating a work of fiction using the multitude of literary techniques is by no means easy but the results can be rewarding. Every story I write gives me a sense of personal satisfaction.
In an effort to drink in the various devices, I read a plethora of books this year. Additionally, I diligently worked on my middle grade novel and am happy to report I finally have a first draft. This did not happen overnight and certainly not by accident. It was grueling at times. So much so I wanted to give up and trash it. I must confess, some nights were filled with fitful sleep filled with nightmarish story lines that in the light of day had all but been forgotten. But it eventually came together because of the encouragement of my fantastic critique partners, and fellow writers in my group coaching class, along with the partnership I formed with Kathy Derrick and her crew at Pen2Paper.
I included a word cloud I created with many of the literary devices I researched this year. To create your own word cloud, check out www.wordcloud.com.
As 2021 winds down, I look forward to 2022. It will overflow with an abundance of words fit together much like the pieces of a puzzle to create a story brought to life on from a blank page. I look forward to the thrill I will feel the moment I sit back after having put that last puzzle piece in place, knowing my masterpiece is ready to share with the world.