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

Uncategorized

Welcome to Debut Author Jolene Gutiérrez

Hello Everyone,

We hope this blog post finds you all safe and healthy during this very uncertain time. Recently, I had the opportunity and privilege to speak with Jolene Gutiérrez about her two debut books. I first met Jolene in the Children’s Book Academy where we both took Mira Reisberg’s amazing picture book course. For both for us, this class has changed our lives. Jolene’s first release is the adorable picture book entitled Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader, releasing on August 11, 2020, with Clear Fork Publishing. Her second is Bionic Beasts, a middle-grade nonfiction book releasing October 6, 2020, with Lerner/Millbrook Press. What an exciting time for this very hardworking mother and full-time librarian who, by the way, is also remotely teaching at this time.

TS: Welcome Jolene! Thank you for taking the time to share some of your writing strategies. Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?

JG: What a great question! When I’m revising my story, if I can’t visualize a scene or if the story is “sagging” in some way, I look at these elements. Action, scene, and sensory elements might show up in my writing when I’m drafting, but I try to focus on them during my various rounds of revision. With middle-grade fiction where I have the luxury of using more words, I work to make sure scenes are very sensory in order to connect readers to the story—so that students who might struggle to visualize things have some sensory connection that will draw them in. With picture books, though, I think some of the scene and sensory elements can be left to the illustrator.

And action is so important! I’m the school librarian at a school for diverse learners and have a large ADHD population. When I’m writing, I think of the action-packed, information-filled, or funny books that hook my students as readers and try to emulate that style. When I’m revising, I tend to set my manuscript aside a bit and work on other projects. When I come back to my manuscript with fresh eyes, I read chapters aloud to myself and try to ensure that there is a purpose to every character, every setting, and every scene—that they are all working together to move the story forward.

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

JG: I try to put myself in my character’s shoes even if the story isn’t first-person, I try to involve the senses as much as possible, and I like to use dialogue to put the reader (and myself) in the scene. I also use passive verbs a lot in early drafts and try to catch that in revision and switch to active verbs.

TS: Could you 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?

JG: Sure! Our words are so limited and the story is so dependent on illustrations in picture books, so finding an example was a little challenging, but here’s a scene we can compare:

Early draft of Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader:

During snack time, I sit next to Nina. When I lean close to see what she’s eating, she moves away.

Published version of Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader:

At snack time, I sit next to Nina, squeezing in close, just like Mac and Cheese do. Nina frowns and leans away.

We’re in first person for both of the scenes, but I think the published version is more powerful because language like “squeezing in close” puts the reader in the scene. We’re also reminded that Oliver, our main character, gets close to Nina because squeezing in next to a friend is something classroom guinea pigs Mac and Cheese would do. Also, in the old version, Nina “moves away,” but in the published version, she “frowns and leans away,” which is more descriptive and hints at her emotions.

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?

JG: I’d say show us as much as possible—put us in that scene so we feel like we’re experiencing the story! But there are some things you just have to tell us or your book will be unnecessarily long. We don’t need to experience every hour of every day with characters, for example, or showing would become tedious. Telling is a great way to quickly impart information to the reader, and sometimes that immediacy is needed to keep the momentum going in a story.

TS: Thank you so much Jolene for sharing your tips and strategies. I love how writers have such a variety of different techniques to convey their stories.

Below is Jolene’s contact information, bio, and links to preorder her terrific new books! Congratulations Jolene!

Bio: Jolene grew up on a farm in northeastern Colorado and now lives in a suburb of Denver, where she’s been a school librarian for 25 years. She spends her days sharing children’s books and her nights writing them. She’s a wife of 21 years and a mama to two teenage humans and three preteen dogs. Jolene is an active member of SCBWI and The Author’s Guild, a We Need Diverse Books mentorship finalist and a Writing with the Stars mentee. She is the author of Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader (Clear Fork, 2020) and Bionic Beasts: Saving Lives with Artificial Flippers, Legs, and Beaks (Lerner, 2020). Learn more at www.jolenegutierrez.com.

Facebook: facebook.com/writerjolene

Twitter: twitter.com/writerjolene

Instagram: instagram.com/writerjolene

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/writerjolene

Pinterest: pinterest.com/writerjolene

 

Preorder Links:

Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader:

https://www.clearforkpublishing.com/store/p149/personalspaceinvader.html# 

Bionic Beasts:

https://www.amazon.com/Bionic-Beasts-Saving-Artificial-Flippers/dp/1541589408/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=bionic+beasts+jolene&qid=1587390720&sr=8-2

Best in Show, Uncategorized

The Wonder of the Littles, a Board Book Series

Hello Everyone!

Welcome to our February 2020 blog post! We have such a special treat today! I have always wondered how authors of board books create their craft with such limited space and word count. I am excited to present author Julie Abery to you and her wonderful strategies for writing and showing in her books. Her adorable series, entitled Little Animal Friends, is precious in the hands of readers at every age level.

TS: Hi Julie, Congratulations on your upcoming releases this month with Amicus Ink. Thank you for spending time today sharing your new board books and the process you use to create them.

JA: Thank you for having me on your blog today. I am thrilled to share a little about the Little Animal Friends board book series with you. The next two Littles, Little Hippo and Little Monkey, illustrated by Suzie Mason and published by Amicus Ink launch in a few short weeks, 25 February 2020.

TS: Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements.

JA: My first board book, Little Tiger, started life as a list of tigerish vocabulary. When I sat down to write a story for Vivian Kirkfield’s 50 Precious Words contest in 2016 (www.viviankirkfield.com), this is what I saw:

Paper Tiger

roaring/stomping

stalk

pounce/play

jump

hunt

chuffing

growling/prowling

grrrrr

Don’t you love ‘chuffing’ – it’s a snorting sound that tigers make! Sadly, it didn’t make the final story, but what I saw in this list was lots of action, visual, and sensory words. Paper Tiger became Little Tiger and the -ing verbs became rhyming lines two and three of my quatrains.

Little Tiger

prowling,

growling,

on the jungle floor.

Each book is based on the principle that baby animals act just like our human little ones – all about action and exploring, and sometimes overstepping the line, so these action words are key!

The books have a consistent structure, but each animal has its own adventure. They have a maximum of 80 words over the 10 spreads. The first line of each quatrain is fixed, Little Tiger, Little Panda, Little Hippo, Little Monkey etc. Then each spread follows a similar pattern with the problem climax on spread 6 and Mama to the rescue on spread 7. I know that generally we aim for the protagonist to solve their own problem, but I felt that as young animals and children grow, they need a helping hand from time to time.

 TS: This is really fascinating. We read board books often yet I do not think we are fully aware of the structure. Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?

JA: I research each animal before I begin, maybe in the library or online. I also try and find animals from different environments to change the kind of action verbs needed too, and where possible I look for animal specific vocabulary to make my text as authentic as possible. I can often be found with rhymezone.com open on my computer when writing, both as a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary.

TS: That is definitely a great resource. Would you like to share an example of before and after where you needed to show more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?

JA: Absolutely! Little Hippo meets an Oxpecker in his search for a playmate. In real life hippos and oxpeckers have a symbiotic relationship, so this felt like a good match. Spread 3 started life as

Little Hippo

puzzling,

nuzzling,

finds a playful bird….TELLING

So I changed it too…

Little Hippo

puzzling,

nuzzling

finds a red-billed bird…

…much more visual and lovely alliteration. ‘Red-billed bird’ rolls off the tongue, sounds great and describes an Oxpecker beautifully.

TS: You work through this with such preciseness and clarity. What a challenge. 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?

JA: This is a tricky question. You can never be certain that you have everything right, after all editors often ask for revisions. However, with the Littles I know I have a pretty good balance when each stanza moves the story along, the rhyme and rhythm flow fluidly, and the words leave lots of room for the illustrator.

TS: Thank you very much for sharing your gift of words, and I know I for one am excited to try this type of writing. Wishing you every success with the adorable Littles!

Check out Julie’s bio, social media, and find her books on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Julie Author Bio:

Julie Abery is a children’s author and former Pre-K teacher. Originally from England, she has spent half of her life living in Europe, bringing up her three (now grown up) children and experiencing new languages and cultures. She now calls Switzerland home.

Julie’s debut board books Little Tiger and Little Panda illustrated by Suzie Mason, published in March 2019 with Amicus Ink. Little Hippo and Little Monkey joined the Little Animal Friends series in February 2020; a nonfiction picture book biography entitled Yusra Swims, Creative Editions, illustrated by Sally Deng in February 2020; a true story THE OLD MAN AND THE PENGUIN, Kids Can Press (Fall 2020) and nonfiction picture book bio SAKAMOTO AND THE SUGAR-DITCH KIDS, Kids Can Press (Spring 2021).

Julie is represented by Essie White of Storm Literary Agency.

Where to find Julie:

Website: https://littleredstoryshed.wordpress.com/

Twitter: @juliedawnabery

Facebook: julieabery

Instagram: juliedawnabery

Best in Show

Showing With A Main Character Interview

Hello Everyone! For this blog post, I interviewed a very special person. This time the individual was not another author, but the actual character of my debut picture book, WALKOUT. Many times we discuss how showing in writing can be done through our word choices, to carefully show how a scene unfolds, reveal the emotions a character experiences. Another way to accomplish this is to just have a conversation with the character of the book itself, and that is just what I did. I would like to introduce you to a very determined young girl who wishes to make a difference. Please join me in my conversation with Maddie.

 

Character Interview:

Author Tina Shepardson’s Interview with Main Character, Maddie, From WALKOUT, a picture book

Tina: Hi Maddie. Thank you for stopping by today. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Maddie: Oh sure. I go to Walker Elementary School and I am the oldest in my family. The best part about school is I am in the same class as my best friend Stella. I see her every day, all day long.

Tina: What do you like to do when you are not at school?

Maddie: That’s simple. I love to draw with my crayons and markers and play with my friends.

Tina: I heard you were part of a school walkout recently? Can you tell us a little about it?

Maddie: Yea, I was. Our school was having one but it was only for the big kids and I really wanted to walk out with them.

Tina: How did you become a part of it then?

Maddie: Well, it was School Safety Week and I just thought everyone should be included, not just the big kids.

Tina: That makes perfect sense. Did you walk out with the big kids by yourself?

Maddie: Oh no… I asked my friends for some help and everyone got together during lunch to make signs about safe schools. Even our teacher helped us. Only Stella didn’t.

Tina: I am sure she was just busy.

Maddie: Actually, she was scared. Our principal told us it was for the big kids only. He even said so during announcements. She just didn’t want to get into trouble.

Tina: I understand how she felt. Didn’t you?

Maddie: Yes, I did. But I also didn’t want her to feel left out. I really wanted all my friends to help the big kids stand up for safe schools so I kept asking her to see if she would change her mind. 

Tina: And did she?

Maddie: That was a really busy week at school, plus I had homework every night too. If you want to find out if Stella changed her mind and even how you can help schools stay safe, you have to read WALKOUT. Looks like late Spring 2020 you can read it!

Tina: That is a good idea Maddie, and thank you for telling us about your experience.

Maddie: Bye, see you later!

Best in Show

Welcome Laura Roettiger! Celebrating Aliana Reaches For The Moon

 

July 20th marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landing! Here to celebrate and share her beautiful STEM picture book, Aliana Reaches For The Moon, is debut author Laura Roettiger! Her strategies for showing this important and lyrically written story are excellent.

TS: Thank you Laura for joining our blog today!

LR: Thank you for asking me to participate in your blog! I appreciate the opportunity to share about my writing process.

TS: Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?

LR: The common wisdom of show don’t tell doesn’t mean that there should be only showing in your writing. The way I think about it is I’m trying to paint a picture (setting) and demonstrate an emotion or desire (plot and character) with my words. I draft with these things in mind but revision is where the magic of lyrical language, page turns, and showing comes together. I think about how each page needs to move the story forward both with words and illustrations. Imagine a book where every page looks the same. That would be really boring.

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

LR: I use thesaurus.com to see if there are stronger words when I revise at the word level. I read my work aloud and even more importantly, I have someone else read it for me so I can hear how it sounds. Picture books and poetry are meant to be read aloud. How it sounds (think alliteration, think musical) is very important. I try to get rid of as many adjectives as I can, because most of them can be shown in the illustrations. I read at least ten new picture books each week. I look for mentor texts, books that have something I can learn from as I write mine.

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?

Once upon a time there was a girl named Aliana. She lived in a cabin in the woods near the top of a mountain peak.”

Above was the original first line of what became ALIANA REACHES FOR THE MOON. It started like a fairy tale which wasn’t necessary. It tells you she’s a girl but the illustration and the name can show you that. It doesn’t give you the important information of a specific setting (Rocky Mountains) or talk about the night sky and how the light of the full moon is the inciting incident. After many revisions, the opening words (only one word less and more lyrical with more information that paints a picture of the setting:

Aliana lives in the Rocky Mountains where the night sky holds more stars than you can dream of and the moon shimmers like gold.”

 

BIO:
Laura Roettiger is the author of Aliana Reaches for the Moon, a picture book that draws inspiration from the moon and the curiosity of children. She has enjoyed working with children ever since she was no longer considered a child herself. She was a reading specialist and elementary teacher in Chicago, IL before moving to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado where she worked in Environmental Education and is now a mentor for literacy at a STEM school. Her superpower is encouraging curiosity in children and letting them know she believes in them. She has three children of her own whose curiosity and creativity led them into STEM related professions. Laura is an active member of SCBWI, Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge and a judge for Rate Your Story.
Best in Show

April Is National Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month Everyone!

There is no better way to honor this month and continue our journey of showing versus telling than through the eyes of wonderful poets. Here to share her personal experiences and expertise is Amy Losak. I am so excited to feature her unique and special publishing journey.

 

 

H IS FOR HAIKU

I’ve learned that with picture books, the best creative approach is to “show” more than “tell,” and to leave enough “white space” for the illustrator to complete the story.

In many ways, it’s the same with haiku poetry.

Haiku is the briefest form of poetry, yet arguably the most expansive. It’s delightfully challenging to write, and it takes study, practice, and revision. A lot has to be “packed” into few words, to allow the reader to enter the poem as creative collaborators, and “complete” it. Each word matters.

Sydell Rosenberg’s haiku for children do just this. I view them as stories in miniature –“word-pictures” – so young readers can fill in the ideas and images presented in the words with their own imaginations. And Sawsan Chalabi, the illustrator for H IS FOR HAIKU, also had plenty of room to “play” with these piquant poetic texts. Take note of her approach, which complements the words with visual wit, energy, and joy!

Take this award-winning haiku for example (it was first published in 1968, I believe!):

So pale – it hardly sat

    on the outstretched branch

      of the winter night.

Over the years, “So pale” has become one of my favorites. It’s tranquil and mysterious – maybe even majestic. This haiku conjures not just a picture of almost other-worldly repose, but a feeling, I hope, of serenity.

What is “it,” exactly? Ah ha – that’s the whole point. Sawsan’s sweet illustration depicts a friendly-faced moon, which is perfect. But “it” could be anything the reader wants to place on that “outstretched” (arm-like?) branch. Could “it” be an owl or another bird – or a squirrel? A cat? Snow? Raindrops? A child? “It” could be any or all these things – and more. There are no limits. There are no wrong answers!

Another old haiku I’ve loved for a long time is:

Adventures over

     the cat sits in the fur ring

        of his tail, and dreams.

This poem captures a moment in time and place. What has happened earlier to tucker out this sleeping kitty? What “adventures” did he have? Was he gallivanting around outdoors? Or was he inside, observing life through a window from a comfy couch cushion (like our amber-eyed, new young cat, Winnie)? Is he dreaming about his busy day’s antics? What will he do when he awakes? Will his adventures continue? What will they be like?

And is he content? He must be, tucked within the safety of his tail. Indeed, note that “fur ring” rhymes with “purring” – this is a deliberate word choice.

There’s a complete story in this poetic “snapshot” … and it’s one in which readers can have fun figuring out what comes before – and also after. They can make this small moment big!

Syd was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968 in New York City, and also a teacher. I think she determined pretty early in her haiku writing career that some of her poems would appeal to kids. The language she used is simple but striking (a hallmark of haiku). Her poems are designed to build small worlds for kids to revel in, and they build vocabulary, as well.

My journey to publish mom’s old manuscript (some of which I edited) has been a long and nonlinear one, marked by delays, deviations (some delightful, but others painful), and distractions. She died suddenly in 1996. Her writings had been well-anthologized, and she had a number of accomplishments to be proud of. But her dream to publish a kids’ book – despite several submission attempts – went unfulfilled.

But once I got my act in gear, around 2015, the path to publication was relatively quick! I signed with Penny Candy Books in the latter half of 2016, and H IS FOR HAIKU was released on April 10, 2018 (National Poetry Month).

Along the way, I started to better understand Syd’s restless, and at the same time mindful, approach to life and its daily, sometimes unpredictable, small adventures. When my mom was alive, sadly, I took a lot of her mindset for granted. But I and her loved ones always knew how much her literary life meant to her.

I now write and publish my own short poems – mom’s legacy (and other poets, as well), has conferred this gift. This makes me happy, of course, but it’s the process that is most important. I consider myself an eternal beginner. I always seem to be in a rush, and I’m continually distracted. I am still learning to slow down and linger over little slices of life, so I can enjoy and celebrate them. Each “life-slice” is evanescent and unique. Too quickly, it’s gone forever. There can be magic in those moments, if only we take the time and discipline to notice.

This is the lesson I’ve learned from my mom, and I hope it shines through in H IS FOR HAIKU.

pastel pond …

    the iris of her eyes

       staring back at me

If you would like to get in touch with Amy:

FB: https://www.facebook.com/amy.losak

Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amy-losak-836b686

 

By Amy Losak; Publication Credits: Read, Learn and be Happy blog, April 17, 2017; They Gave Us Life: Celebrating Mothers, Fathers & Others in Haiku, anthology edited by Robert Epstein, 2017

Best in Show

Vivian Kirkfield on Showing versus Telling Strategies

Happy New Year Everyone! So excited to have Vivian Kirkfield here with us today! She has quite an exciting 2019 lined up with 3 new picture book releases as well as a trip to SCBWI’s Australia conference in February as a guest speaker. She is such an inspiration to us all and I am honored to have her share her strategies for Showing versus Telling in story writing.

TS: Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?

VK: When I read a book, I want to care about the characters. That’s what keeps me turning the pages. And I think it is no different for kids. We need to make our readers feel something, right? That’s how we know they are connecting to our characters and our stories. So that when they turn to the last page, they utter an AHHH…or an AWWW…or a HAHAHA.

And to get your readers to connect with your character and your story, you need to have action, each scene in which your character is doing something or reacting to something that was done to her…this action moves the story forward. Plus, your story needs to be alive with details, so the reader can visualize what is happening.  Those are the sensory elements…the descriptive words and strong verbs that put the reader in the setting and in the scene.

pippa's passoverIn PIPPA’S PASSOVER PLATE, there is action galore. The story begins with Pippa Mouse getting ready for the holiday. I’ll put the verbs in bold.

“Hurry, scurry, Pippa Mouse,

Washing, scrubbing, cleaning house.”

Even the rhythmic beat of the rhyming text gives us the sense of her movement. And I don’t just say she is busy…the words show very specific actions on her part.

“Hustle, bustle, lots to do.

Pippa stirs a chicken stew.

Sets the table – all looks great.

Where’s the special Seder plate?”

“Pippa searches in a bin,

finds her missing rolling pin.

Pippa opens up a box,

filled with eighteen holey socks.”

And the words provide drama as well:

“Pippa climbs upon a chair,

stretches up – the cupboard’s bare!

Teeter-totter – hold on tight!

Weeble-wobble – what a fright!”

Throughout the rest of the story, Pippa is on the move…searching for her plate and interacting with the other animals.

But in addition to action, we get sensory details to help the readers feel they are in the scene.  Like the refrain, which occurs each time she questions one of the other animals:

“Quiver, quaver, shiver, shake!

Owls make Pippa cringe and quake.”

And when she approaches the Cat, we understand how frightened she is, but she knows she needs to become the Cat’s friend in order to get information:

“Pippa, though afraid to stir,

gently strokes the velvet fur.”

She also questions the Snake who is slither-sliding by the lake. Oooh…slither-sliding…poor Pippa Mouse. And she approaches Owl who sits in leafy shade in a quiet woodland glade…sounds a bit ominous, right? With those small details, the reader gets a sense of the danger that Pippa must face. With those small details, the reader connects with Pippa and cheers her on…and that is what keeps the reader turning the pages.

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

VK: Whether I am writing my first rough draft or polishing an old manuscript, I keep Thesaurus.com at the ready. We have a gazillion words in the English language, but sometimes, we get stuck on using the same words, over and over. To punch up your story and give it more depth and get away from simply TELLING what is happening, it’s important to use descriptive language and fresh vocabulary.

There are also books that specifically address the Show vs. Tell issue:

The Emotion Thesaurus

Show Don’t Tell

Show Don’t Tell: How to Describe Your Character’s Emotions

There are also books available that contains many examples of simile (comparing two things and using the words like or as) and metaphor (comparing two things WITHOUT using the words like or as) which are two devices that enrich the language of your story:

I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like

Metaphors Be With You

If you don’t like accumulating books or your bookshelves cannot take one more addition, I think many of these are available in eBook versions.

I also use mentor texts quite a lot. I’ve read hundreds, if not thousands of picture books. But I still go to the library to find ones that use strong descriptive language….and metaphor…and simile.

four otters cover amazonWhen I was writing FOUR OTTERS TOBOGGAN: AN ANIMAL COUNTING BOOK, I wanted to help children connect with the animals and the setting of that pristine mountain river. I wanted to help children identify with the endangered creatures to hopefully create a bond so that they would appreciate the need to preserve and protect them. But a dragonfly? How could I do that?

The book opens with one willow flycatcher whistling as dawn breaks…and then:

“TWO dragonflies dance,

ballerinas above a liquid stage”

Yes, the dragonflies are ballerinas…dancing above the water. (and this was a metaphor because I don’t use the words like or as…similes and metaphor help create pictures in a child’s mind because you are comparing something to something else that they know) Children have a familiarity with ballerinas…many little girls and boys take ballet lessons.

And later when the day is almost over (and check out the verbs that I’ve put in bold – this story also benefits from strong action words)

“A brisk wind pushes the storm clouds,

revealing the setting sun.

NINE yellow mud turtles stretch out their necks,

sunbathers soaking up the last rays

before leaving their log.”

That’s right! The turtles are sunbathers (another metaphor), stretching out their necks to soak up the sun. Kids know what it is like to go to the beach or sit out in the hot sun. They can imagine that scene so much more clearly…so much more personally, I think, just because of the language I used. I also employed alliteration, a favorite technique in picture book writing where the starting sound of the words in a phrase are the same:

Stretch out their necks, sunbathers soaking up the last rays before leaving the log

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?

sweet dreams cover template revisedVK: In SWEET DREAMS, SARAH, Sarah Goode builds one of the first cabinet beds, a precursor to the Murphy beds that became so popular more than 30 years later. But, when she tries to patent it, her application is denied. Sarah doesn’t give up. I could have said: Sarah filled out a new application and hurried down to the post office to mail it away. But I wanted the reader to understand how important this was to Sarah. Every day that went by meant someone else could steal her idea. And so, I wrote:

“Carefully she changed a word here and a sentence there, explaining more about her unique mechanism, the idea that had come to her so long ago. Slipping the paperwork and a bit of her heart into the envelope, Sarah sealed her fate and sent it off. “

A bit of her heart went into the envelope, right? And she didn’t only seal the envelope…she sealed her fate. Just a few words that create more than a picture in the reader’s mind…they create a feeling and a connection with Sarah. And I think that is what happens when you show vs. tell.

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?

VK: How do I know when I’ve got the balance between show and tell just right? Honestly, I don’t. I work on the story about it sounds and feels right. And I give it to critique buddies and then revise as per their feedback. And then give it to another set of critique buddies. But these are a few of the things that I do in my process of writing.

  • So What? Years ago, at a conference, I listened to a presentation that made a big impression on me. The speaker said that we have to ask one important question – so what? Why is this a story that children will want to read? In fact, why is it a story that children should read?  Are the stakes high enough that it deserves to be read? That it matters? And, are there universal truths that will strike a chord with the reader? So, I read my story and ask the question: so what? Why should a kid care about my story?
  • Another thing that I do is refine the opening line. For me, the opening line is the key to my manuscript. Like a house key, it opens the door for the readers to walk into the story. I work very hard at capturing the reader’s attention with my opening line.
  • I also enjoy creating a satisfying ending that almost always circles around and echoes the beginning.
  • I read my story aloud. Many times. If possible, I have someone else read it aloud and I listen.  I record myself on my phone or computer and listen. If I can listen to my story dozens of times and still enjoy hearing it, I think I have found a good balance. If I can listen to my story and feel a connection to the characters, I think I have found a good balance. And if I can read my story and get to the end and say AHHH or AWWW or HAHAHA, I am absolutely positively sure I have found a good balance.

And so will you all.

ABOUT VIVIAN:

Writer for children – reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. She’s got a bucket list that contains many more than five words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing and banana-boat riding. When she is not looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books that she hopes will encourage young kids to become lovers of books and reading. She is the author of Pippa’s Passover Plate (Holiday House, Feb 2019); Four Otters Toboggan: An Animal Counting Book (PomegranateKids, March 2019); Sweet Dreams, Sarah (Creston Books, May 2019); Making Their Voices Heard: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe (Little Bee Books, Spring 2020); From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Fall 2020). She lives in the quaint New Hampshire town of Amherst where the old stone library is her favorite hangout and her young grandson is her favorite board game partner. You can visit Vivian on her website, Picture books Help Kids Soar, where she hosts the #50PreciousWords Writing Challenge every March. Or connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Linkedin, and just about any place people are playing with picture books.

You can connect with Vivian through the following: 

Vivian’s Website: Picture Book Help Kids Soar

Vivian’s Facebook Page: Facebook.com/vivian.kirkfield

Vivian’s Twitter Page: Twitter/viviankirkfield

Vivian’s Pinterest Page: Pinterest/viviankirkfield

Vivian’s Instagram Page: Instagram/viviankirkfield

Vivian’s Linkedin Page:  Linkedin/viviankirkfield

Vivian’s Books and Writing Challenges:

Closing Remarks:

Thank you again Vivian for spending time with us today. We greatly appreciate your knowledge and wish you a fantastic journey this year!

See you all on our next blog post February 2nd !!

Uncategorized

Alliteration by Gabrielle Schoeffield

I confess, my fascination with words qualifies as a first-rate fetish.   It’s only natural I should challenge myself to share the wonder of words and writing from A to Z.

Today, I’d like to share what I have found (and love) about alliteration.  Alliteration is in the air, in awe inspiring abundance much like the autumn leaves.

Alliteration, by definition, is “the repetition of usually initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables.” There are so many examples of this in everyday life.  Business’s like Dunkin Donuts, Chuck E. Cheese, Bed, Bath, and Beyond are perfect examples, as are famous people like Jesse Jackson, Kim Kardashian, and Doris Day.   Even Super Heroes get in on the alliteration action (did you see that one?) with their real names.

Captain America real name isBucky Barnes.  The Hulks real name is Bruce Banner. Spider-Man goes by Peter Parker.  Superman’s real name (Clark Kent) has the same sound (although it doesn’t start with the same letter), but his girlfriend Lois Lane does.

Alliteration can also be found in poetry, music and literature.  William Shakespeare clearly had a handle on the topic when he wrote “Good night! Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow.” (Romeo and Juliet).  Edgar Allen Poe opened his poem The Raven with “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary…”  But my favorite poetic alliteration comes from Paul McCartney’s song, Let it Be. Inspired by a dream about his late mother, Paul wrote the song that includes my favorite alliteration, “Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.”

In my research of the topic, I was amazed at the lack of picture books written in the alliterative form.  I did manage to come across books at my local library.

If You Were Alliteration written by Trisha Speed Shaskan, illustrated by Sara Gray, explains by example what alliteration is and then gives an example.  “If you were alliteration, you would be the same sound repeated at the beginning of two or more words in a phrase or a sentence.” Ms. Shaskan used “Ulysses the Unicorn spots a UFO as he makes a U-turn on his unicycle” as her example. The illustrations are colorful and delightful.  Beyond the definition and examples of alliteration, the author has included a game to play, a glossary of terms and where you can go to learn more about alliteration.  You’ll have to check out the book for the instructions for the game!

Walter Was Worried was written by and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.  Not only is this delightful book written in alliteration, the illustrations include the emotion the characters were feeling “when the sky grew dark”.  You will have to check this one out.

Of the few books I found on alliteration, Betty’s Burgled Bakery, written and illustrated by Travis Nichols is clearly my favorite!  It fits in the “graphic novel” category although it is a picture book.  When Betty arrives at work to find everything missing, she calls the “gumshoo zoo” detective agency to report “A bread bandit burgled my bakery before breakfast!”  To find out how the case is solved, you’ll just have to read the book!

I am lucky to have been blessed with a lifelong love of learning, blessed with friends who fancy writing as much as I do and the opportunity to share my stories with you all.  Thanks for stopping by!

Best in Show

Strategies for Showing Versus Telling

Hi Everyone!

Welcome to our fourth blog post! What an honor it is to be able to interview authors on their strategies for showing readers their stories through the most amazing selection of words. Ever WONDER how they accomplish this? Best In Show blog posts will showcase authors sharing their strategies for captivating the audience through showing, not telling. In addition, I will share some tips for building the love of reading in an era where technology largely competes for a child’s attention. I hope you find the information useful whether you are writing your next book, presentation, or looking for ways to encourage a child in your life to read, read, read!!

Our WONDER OF WORDS guest today is picture and chapter book author, Ariel Bernstein (www.arielbernsteinbooks.com). I had the pleasure and honor of working with and learning from Ariel in a critique group in 2015-2016 and saw her talent for showing versus telling right away. It has been such a joy to watch her career as an author blossom. My students Skyped with her last fall and learned so much.

TS: Hi Ariel, Congratulations on the recent release of your new chapter book series WARREN & DRAGON (Viking Children’s, 2018). Thank you so much for spending some time with me today. Where do your story ideas originate from?

AB: It’s hard to pinpoint exact places where story ideas originate from! Often when an interesting idea pops into my head, or I see something interesting happen in real life, I will write it down. Later on, I’ll try and see if I can turn the idea into an actual story. For example, during one winter I heard a kid say, “I want the cold to go somewhere else.” I thought that could become a funny story of a kid trying to convince winter to go away. I wrote the picture book and although it never sold, I enjoyed the experience of writing it.

TS: When revising manuscripts, how do you identify which areas need more showing and less telling?

AB: Sometimes it’s hard for me to have a good perspective on my own writing. I get feedback from other writers who give me critiques, and if they think I need to show more and tell less, I listen!

TS: Are there specific strategies you use to incorporate more descriptive language?

AS: I try not to use much descriptive language with a picture book as the illustrations will show almost everything. With the chapter book, sometimes during revisions I’ll see that a scene moves too quickly, so to slow it down I will try and add descriptions of people and places.

TS: How do you know when you’ve finally got it just right?

AS: It’s hard to answer this because if you wait a while and look back at a manuscript, there’s always a chance you’ll want to change something! But after listening to feedback from critique partners and revising a number of times, it comes down to instinct that my manuscript is ready to be sent to my agent. And then she might have suggestions for revisions! And if an editor acquires it, there might be even more revising.

TS: Do you have any tips or suggestions for how writers can be more aware of painting that full picture for the reader and listeners?

AS: This isn’t new advice, but it’s the perfect one – read, read, and read some more! Read like a writer – figure out how a book you enjoy draws you in (is it the interesting characters? The setting? The voice?), how it keeps your attention (the chapter endings? The quick pace? An engaging plot?), and how the ending leaves you feeling satisfied (are all loose ends tied up? Is there a twist ending? Does it make you want to re-read the book?). Be aware of these things when writing and revising your own work.

TS: My students love Owl, Monkey, Warren and Dragon. Your characters are relatable to readers of all ages. They remind us what it is like to behave and express emotions and that is a wonderful thing! Thank you for sharing you gift of words with us and we look forward to many more books!

warren and dragon.jpgowl and balloon.jpg

You can find Ariel’s books at:

www.arielbernsteinbooks.com

Facebook: fb.me/ArielBBooks

Twitter: @ArielBBooks

Instagram: @arielbbooks

Tips For Creating Lifelong Readers:

Reading is a whole lot easier when kids learn early in life how much fun it can be. Here are five easy tips as everyone settles into those Back To School routines:

-Read bedtime stories to your kids every night: let them choose the story

-Always ask questions as you go: helps keep kids engaged

-Read and repeat: this helps build confidence

-Read more pages and fewer screens: have more books available than phones

-Visit your local library: this can be such a fun family outing

Thank you for joining us today and enjoy our next post by Gabrielle Copeland Schoeffield on November 3rd!!