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A Combination of Mythology and Modern Storytelling:

Greek Mythology has long been a fascination with readers of every age level. Have you ever wondered what a Greek god or goddess was like as a child? Wait until you learn about Jennifer Buchet’s debut picture book, Little Medusa’s Hair Do-Lemma, illustrated by Cassie Chancy. We will have a whole new understanding on what it means to have a bad hair day!

ME: Jennifer, thank you for visiting our blog today! We are so excited to hear the behind the scenes details in creating this most adorable “Tiny Medusa”!

JB: Thank you for having me! Throughout my various careers, I‘ve always been writing–everything from advertising copy to radio ads, websites to magazines and more. And since every medium has its own approach to words, I’m always learning something new! For example, the other week I heard the phrase “hedge words.” Are these bushy evergreens laden with colorful verbiage? Not exactly, but I did learn why these hedges need trimming!

ME: I am always fascinated with the background of a writer! So interesting. Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?

JB: As picture book authors, every word counts. But that doesn’t mean our stories have to be “no frills.” Rather, each word and every sentence must move the story along. In my debut picture book, Little Medusa’s Hair Do-Lemma, I originally began with this opening:

Little Medusa finally got her very first snake on her birthday. She was so excited, she danced and twirled around her room.

This does set the stage, but it’s also wordy and rather bland (yucky first draft 101!). After several revisions, the opening now contains more action.

Little Medusa was delighted when she got her very first snake.

I love including sensory elements beyond what the character sees, like tasting, hearing and touching. For example, Little Medusa discovers she doesn’t like having her new serpentine friend slither through her hair (can’t really blame her!) This sets up the character’s challenge, but I knew I needed to expand on that feeling, so I added these lines:

“…she couldn’t fathom was so great about traditional Gorgon hair. 

It was itchy.

It was buggy

And it was positively scaly when Addie shed her skin.”

This is much more relatable and if the reader squirms even just a tiny bit, my job is done!

ME: You even succeed in hooking the reader with great suspense in your revised opening line. What a wonderful story line. Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?

JB: I allow myself to write wordy, adjective-filled, too-long, early drafts! Most of my drafts easily begin at 700w. Once I’m satisfied with the arc and character development, my inner editor comes out to play with all her highlighters. 

Bam, change passive words to present! Bam, remove adverbs! Bam, delete hedge words, AKA those pesky filler words such as “usually; very; suddenly; almost.” 

I’ve also discovered that contests have helped me become a stronger writer. Contests challenge the muse and for those with limited word counts or quirky themes, they really challenge the brain! In fact, I love them so much that last year, I co-created the non-fiction contest #SunWriteFun.This challenge included both minimal word count and a summertime theme. Reading all those entries certainly inspired me and I know the contest inspired others!

ME: I completely agree. Reading others’ writing is such great exposure to styles, structures, and just plain sensational stories. Would you like to share an example of a before and after where you needed to show more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?

JB: In the climax of Little Medusa’s Hair Do-Lemma, my heroine makes a really big decision. Like many of us, she begins to second-guess herself. Rather than describe how she’s feeling with emotive adjectives (she was happy, sad, confused, doubtful, etc), I wrote the scene using physical actions. 

Little Medusa bounced around the room.

Until the bouncing slowed to a jump, the jump to a hop

And Little Medusa became still as a statue.

Not only did this drill down big emotions for little readers, it also provided the illustrator (the talented Cassie Chancy) with oodles of room to work with. Bonus—that last phrase ties neatly into the whole Gorgon statue-turning talent! 

ME: Oh my gosh, we are so excited to see the finished product! The illustrations are just precious! Writing is about balance. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?

JB: If someone invented a timer for creatives that trumpeted “perfecto,” they’d be rich! Sometimes it’s hard to know when your story is just so. There are definitely fantastic checklists to use that ensure one has incorporated all the “write” elements, but I think in the end, it’s a gut reaction. You know when your story is ready to share, whether with your critique group, your agent or editor, etc.  As for finding that balance between show and tell, I believe it’s an acquired skill for most. Read a lot and write even more, for as you hone your craft, you learn when those beautiful rosy words are really just hedges needing a trim.

ME: You have made so many valid points, Jennifer! Working on the craft of writing is definitely a rewarding journey we all make time for.

Learn more about Jennifer:

Jennifer Buchet is an award-winning author, pre-kindergarten educator and self-proclaimed foodie. Her kid lit career officially started in 2011, writing for Cricket Media. Today, she is a regular feature contributor for Faces magazine while also creating new picture books and chapter books. 

Spare time is a rather elusive creature in her home, but when Jennifer does find it, she enjoys creating exotic meals, creating writing contests, crushing her family in games of Catan and searching for fey in the woodlands. Her debut picture book, LITTLE MEDUSA’S HAIR DO-LEMMA (Clear Fork Publishing) slithers onto shelves May 2021.

You can swap tales & recipes with Jennifer here:

Twitter @Yangmommy

Email: Buchetbooks@gmail.com

Website: buchetbooks.wixsite.com/mysite

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A Multigenerational Story of Tradition, Renewal, and Hope:

As we all know, in addition to reading for sheer enjoyment, another is to learn about others, their cultures, and traditions. Annette Schottenfeld’s debut picture book, NOT SO FAST, MAX: A Rosh Hashanah Visit With Grandma, illustrated by Jennifer Kirkham, does all of these! Annette shares how the seeds for this piece were planted years ago when her children were young, their Grandma visited, and all of them would go to the apple orchard. We are excited to share her journey of showing a beloved family tradition! In late May, Annette will be back to share her second picture book: Obi’s Mud Bath (Spork – Clear Fork Publishing), illustrated by Folasade Adeshida, which releases this summer!

ME: Annette, thank you for visiting our blog today. NOT SO FAST, MAX: A Rosh Hashanah Visit With Grandma, will be out in the world very soon. We are very excited for you!

AS: Thank you for inviting me on your blog. I love the theme Best in Show

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

AS: When I begin writing a story, I try not to limit myself with too many rules. I start with a base story structure, but I don’t worry about creating magic in the first draft. This rarely happens. Then I go back and start the revision process, stripping down and simplifying the text. I like to see that the bones are solid. 

Next comes the sparkle that brings the story to life. Since I am not an illustrator, I need to leave room for the artist to tell their end of the story as well. This means selecting each word strategically. Picture books have so few words and each one counts. 

Here are some examples from NOT SO FAST, MAX: A Rosh Hashanah Visit With Grandma (Kalaniot Books, March 2021).

Action A sign next to my desk reads: Let Verbs do the Heavy Lifting.

Max followed along. 

This does not tell the reader much about Max.

Let’s try a more active and expressive verb:

Max stomped along.

Now we see there is something that Max is not happy about. 

Scene Unless it matters to the storyline, certain elements of the scene should be left up to the illustrator. If the writer has done their job well, the illustrator will know how to portray the scene.

Each year when the leaves turned colors…

The reader (and illustrator) know it is fall.

Sensory Elements Considering all the senses – sight, smell, sound, taste, touch – when writing helps bring the story alive. 

Thump! Plop!  

Gravel crunched under the tires.

The branches created a cozy space. 

These lines tug at the readers’ senses.

ME: That is a great process and I love the sign about letting the verbs do the heavy lifting! Are there specific strategies, tools, or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?

I create a character profile for each character in my story. Examples of things I might note: Do they have a unique hobby? What kind of a friend are they? Are they a morning person?

By getting to know my characters inside out I instinctively understand how they will react to certain situations. Their consistent actions and voice make them real, relatable, and reliable to readers.

placing words intentionally is another way to show what is happening in the story.

Let’s take a look at some examples from OBI’S MUD BATH (Spork Books, Summer 2021).

Once again, the friends 

yanked and yanked,

huffed and puffed,

and little by little

the tire loosened,

until FLUMP it was off.

In the example above, breaking out the words slows the action and sets the pace. You can see the effort that the characters are putting into this.

And then, just when he thought he couldn’t go any further… 

By using an ellipsis, anticipation is created, and readers will want to turn the page to see what happens next.

Another trick is to read the story aloud. I tape myself reading and listen to others reading the story to catch things I wouldn’t have otherwise. Does it sound as I intended? Does it generate emotional reactions? If the answers are yes, it’s a win! 

ME: 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?

In OBI’S MUD BATH, I altered my wording to paint a more vivid picture for the reader.

Before:

“Could that be mud?” 

Without warning a snake uncurled, slithering up to Obi.

After:

“Could that be a puddle of mud?” 

But mud didn’t slither and hiss. 

In the first line, adding the word “puddle” made the image more specific in the reader’s mind’s eye. In the second line, I stopped “telling” and instead “showed” that it was a snake.

ME: You make such good points about the revising process, especially reading our manuscripts aloud. 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?

Great question! I create a physical dummy after a few rounds of editing my work. This gives me a visual perspective. I see if the problem is stated upfront and if the who-what-when-where-why are all addressed. I get a sense of the flow and pacing of the story. Is there too much copy, dialogue, or detail on certain pages? Does the narrative arc land properly? Does the ending add a twist, and is it satisfying? 

I will then edit again and submit it to my critique group. These are ‘my people’ who know their craft and provide honest feedback. I always find their input helpful. I’ve learned that if everyone is pointing out something similar, there is a reason.

Then, I put the story away. I do not rush to submit. Looking at it with a “fresh eye” is extremely valuable and telling. Rereading after a period of time, I find things jump out at me. Final edits are made. At this stage, I listen to my inner voice and start to submit!

ME: Thank you, you have given us so many tools and examples to help us with our writing!

Annette Schottenfeld’s debut picture book, Not So Fast, Max: A Rosh Hashanah Visit With Grandma (Kalaniot Books), illustrated by Jennifer Kirkham, releases March 2021.Her second picture book, Obi’s Mud Bath (Spork – Clear Fork Publishing), illustrated by Folasade Adeshida, releases in the summer of 2021.

Learn more about Annette:

Photo by Andrew Werner

Annette is passionate about writing for children, hip-hop dance, and environmental issues, believing all have the power to change lives. A registered dietitian and expert baker, she created the decadent Uglie Muffin. Shhh, the recipe is a secret! Annette lives in New York with her husband and two kids.

You can find Annette online on TwitterFacebook, or annetteschottenfeld.com.

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

When writing for a variety of ages, showing looks different. For younger audiences, often simple language is used while for older audiences more detailed language is selected. The reader’s experience is shaped depending on the topic. Sit back and enjoy this marvelous interview with the very talented and experienced Gabi Snyder who has two beautiful picture books that do just this! Talk about Best In Show! Tails are wagging everywhere over her debut picture book:

TS: We are so thrilled to have you with us today. I really enjoyed your virtual launch with Robin Rosenthal. Your audience had a terrific snapshot into what you both contributed in creating TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE. The story is so clever and the wording so precise. Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene, and sensory elements?

GS: Great question! I think the answer depends in large part on what type of story you’re writing and who your intended reader is. When writing picture books for the very young, you may want to keep your text super simple and rely on the illustrations to convey most of the action and imagery. For example, the text in my debut picture book TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE, illustrated by Robin Rosenthal and recently out from Abrams Appleseed, is very simple. The first two spreads read:

One dog stands alone.

Two dogs on a trike.

As we move through the story, a new dog is added with each new form of transportation. A sneaky cat follows the dogs, but the cat is not mentioned in the text. So when reading the story with a child, the child might notice something (the cat following) that the adult (the reader), seems unaware of. That can add a fun twist to reading! 

If I’m writing for an older picture book audience, I might add more imagery and strong active verbs, but it will depend on the story I’m trying to tell. In my second picture book, LISTEN (illustrated by Stephanie Graegin and out in spring 2021 from S&S/Wiseman), the focus is on listening and mindfulness. The story begins with the noise of a busy morning and draws the reader closer as it encourages listening to quieter and quieter sounds. So when drafting and revising LISTEN, choosing the perfect sensory details was vital. At the start of the story, I use sound words like “BEEP! WOOF! ERNT-ERNT! VROOM!” to convey the overwhelming noise the child faces when she steps out into the world. In contrast, later in the story, as we move to quieter sounds, I include the more lyrical lines, “brush-rush-hush/Wind through trees/Listen.”

TS: You raise so many great points. And these examples are priceless. As writers, we have to be so present as to what benefits the topic and reader most. Are there specific strategies, tools, or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?    

GS: One strategy I like to use is thinking about how the story can appeal to every sense. Often, with a picture book, the illustrations convey many if not all of the visual details. So, unless it’s central to the plot, I’ll probably leave out visual details like the color of shirt a character is wearing. Instead, I’ll focus my text on appealing to other senses. I’ll consider whether I might incorporate sound words, especially onomatopoeia. And I’ll ask, can I add smells, tastes, and sensations? All of those sensory details paint a more vivid picture for the reader and bring them closer to the action. 

TS: You are right! I share this thought process with my students regularly. Would you like to share an example of a before and after where you needed to show more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?

GS: Here are a few spreads from the first draft of LISTEN:

Listen…

…to learn.

…to understand.

…to feel.

Listen for new words, new sounds, new songs.

I revised to add more specific, vivid imagery. Here’s how those lines read in the final version:

Listen past the crunch of gravel and the scrape of chalk.

Can you hear new words? Listen to each sound.

Some pop, like quick and snappy, while others stretch, like

looong and leisurely.

Listen.

TS: Wow! The language following your revision is gorgeous. The sensory details take the reader on such a great experience! And this is no easy feat! It takes time to revise even just one section. I can’t wait to read LISTEN!!! Writing is about balance. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?

GS: I recently attended the SCBWI Summer Spectacular (virtual conference), and listening to all the amazing panels, I was struck by how many creatives mentioned the importance of finding the “heart” or “essential truth” in your manuscript. I also noted that a few creatives mentioned the importance of putting yourself back into your child mind and remembering what’s real and true for a child. I think the balance of show versus tell will often be easier to find if you’ve first zoned in on the heart of your story, a heart that is real and true for a child. Further, if you’re writing a picture book, the text should feel incomplete without the illustrations. In other words, you should leave much of the showing to the illustrator. The illustrator is your co-creator and gets to tell at least half of the story! 

I also find that reading my story aloud helps me get the rhythm and pacing right. It can be even more helpful to have someone else read the story aloud to you so you can hear where they stumble over your words or phrasing. Even having your computer read aloud can help! As you ‘relisten to the complete text, think about the continuity of your imagery and language. If, for example, your manuscript is a humorous story about dogs, maybe you’ve included some silly dog-related puns. If so, you might consider whether there’s a way to push the dog wordplay even further. 

And, of course, it can be extremely helpful to gain feedback from trusted critique partners. Finally, if you’re stuck or uncertain about any aspect of your manuscript, put it away for a week – or even a month. Coming back to your manuscript after time away will allow you to approach it with a fresh perspective. Happy revising! 

Gabi’s Bio:

Gabi’s debut picture book, TWO DOGS ON A TRIKE, illustrated by Robin Rosenthal, released May 19, 2020 from Abrams Appleseed. Her second picture book, LISTEN, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, is due in spring 2021 from Simon & Schuster/Wiseman.

Gabi studied psychology at the University of Washington and creative writing at The University of Texas and is a member of SCBWI. When she’s not writing, she loves taking nature walks, visiting Little Free Libraries, and baking sweet treats. She lives in Oregon with her family. Learn more at gabisnyder.com.

Learn more about Gabi and her latest books at:

Website: gabisnyder.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Gabi_A_Snyder

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

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How Illustrations “Show” the Story: featuring Terry Sirrell

Happy Fall Everyone! I hope the new season finds everyone safe and healthy. As authors, we spend precious time searching for the right words to show our characters and their emotions. What does this journey of storytelling look like for an illustrator? I never fully understood until I had the honor of observing the illustration process as the talented Terry Sirrell brought WALKOUT to life. From the early stages, I marveled at every step, the time required, and the unwavering talent Terry displayed on every page. His years of experience bring a deep and rich perspective to showing a story through art!

*I added my middle initial since we have the same initials!

TMS: Terry, it’s such an honor to have you here today! WALKOUT is a beautiful book. Your dedication, talent, and expertise have brought Maddie and Stella’s story to life in a way readers will never forget!

Whether drafting or revising, what are the initial steps you take in creating characters and scenes from a manuscript? 

TS: After reading the manuscript, I first start creating the characters with a lot of very loose thumbnail sketches to get a feel for what they will look like. When I like the way the characters are looking, I’ll then do a larger, tighter sketch to show the art director. Once approved, I’ll start working on the scenes of the book with loose thumbnail sketches. This is when I break down the manuscript to separate spreads throughout the book to match the story with the pictures.

TMS: Watching these steps unfold was so exciting! Meeting Maddie and Stella for the first time was such a special moment. I loved opening your emails with the newest developments! These steps alone show your impeccable attention to the planning and details involved. Are there specific strategies, tools, or resources you use? Do you have any favorites?

TS: I have a specific style to my illustration work, but my strategy is to tweak my style a bit to match a story depending on if it’s a more serious story or if it’s a funny story.The tools I used to use were pencils, pens, ink, Dr. Martin Dyes, and watercolor paper. These days I’m strictly digital. I work on a 22″ Wacom Cintiq attached to my iMac computer. I love it! A Cintiq is a digital drawing board. Instead of drawing on paper, you draw on a glass monitor.

My resources are on the internet. I’ll do a Google search if I need to see what something looks like, I used to go to the library for picture references. Plus, you can learn so much on the internet. I’ve been illustrating for many years, but I haven’t illustrated a children’s picture book since I started working on the computer. So I thought I would take an online course to brush up on my book illustration skills and to explore to see if there was anything different I needed to do to get work again in this market. My friend told me about an online course he was taking named the Children’s Book Academy, owned by Dr. Mira Reisberg.

So I signed up and took her children’s book illustration course. Mira was great, I really learned a lot of new stuff and was reminded of some things that I already knew. I really liked that she encouraged me to use textures in my work. Thanks, Mira!Here’s a link to Mira’s website in case you’re interested in learning more about writing or illustrating a children’s book. I give it an A+!

The Children’s Book Academy

The Children’s Book Academy: The best places for children’s book writing and illustrating courses for complete beginners to award-winners.

TMS: I agree Terry! Mira’s classes offer so much to students at every stage of their journey. I love her classes too! How do you decide to make changes or maintain what you have created? Are other professionals involved like an editor and/or publisher?

TS: Working on a computer makes it a lot easier for changes compared to working traditionally using paper and paint. I’m pretty good about making changes if the art director, editor, or publisher wants them. I trust their eye and the art usually turns out better.

TMS: Would you like to share an example of a before and after of a character or scene for the reader?

TS: Sure, here’s a before and after example.

TMS: This is so interesting to see how the features of characters change throughout the process. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for illustrators in terms of striving for that balance in creating images that best portray the story?

TS: For me, it’s a gut feeling, I just know what I’m looking for in my work. Of course, the art director, editor, and publisher will let you know also. Read the story a few times so you get to know the characters and where the story takes place. My tip for illustrators, new and the seasoned pro would be to keep drawing and keep learning wherever you can.

Mastering the Right Shades

TMS: Yes, because you never know where it will take you! In this case, Maddie and Stella’s story! What a pleasure to have watched you take this project from start to finish! I learned so much about illustrating! Thank you for sharing your process with us, Terry!

Terry’s Bio:

Cartoonist and illustrator Terry Sirrell has been in the creative business for many years. His first job out of art school was an assistant art director at the Field Newspaper Syndicate where he put together sales kits to promote all of the cartoon strips to newspapers around the world. Later, he became an art director in advertising, then moved on to his illustration career. You may have seen his work on the back of Cap`n Crunch and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes cereal boxes. His cartoons and characters also have appeared in the advertising of numerous major corporations and in dozens of publications including Reader’s Digest, Newsweek, Highlights Magazine, Clubhouse Magazine, Boys’ Life, Girls’ Life, Woman’s Day, National Geographic Kids, Family Fun/Disney, The New York Daily News, and The Chicago Tribune. Terry also illustrates children’s books and cartoon maps. The most recent book he illustrated is WALKOUT, which can be purchased in book stores, on Amazon, and other online bookstore websites. 

Learn more about Terry and his amazing illustrations at:

Website: http://www.tsirrell.com

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

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

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/TSirrell

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

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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