I usually write about a variety of literary devices on the Wonder of Words Blog. But since today is Star Wars Day and my household lives on the edge of everything galactic, I am deflecting to all things Star Wars. For us, reading Star Wars books is akin to watching the movies (over and over). Die-hard Star Wars fans already know the movie was NOT based on a novel. The movie script was made into a novel (written by ghost writer Alan Dean Foster, a fantasy and fiction writer) and published three months before the movie release. It promptly sold out.
In further research, I discovered there is now a plethora of books ranging from picture books to cookbooks and everything in between about all the Star Wars adventures.
For the bakers and cooks among us, check out the Wookiee Cookies recipe in The Star Wars Cookbook, or the Darth Malt recipe featured in The Star Wars Cookbook II.
For young readers, Golden Books has a whole series of Star Wars stories including Star Wars I am a Jedi, Star Wars I am a Droid, and Star Wars I am a Hero.
While I devoured all things Star Wars my library had to offer, love at first sight for me was Star Wars: The Secrets of the Jedi. It is a historical documentation of the Jedi and the Force, as well as the lives of Jedi legends including Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and the beloved Jedi Master, Yoda, told by none other than Luke Skywalker.
It is an interactive reading experience with a translator card and a popup holocron, which is a device used to store knowledge and wisdom. It can only be accessed by “those skilled in the Force.” (And yes, I had to look up what it was!)
No matter what you’re looking for in terms of the Star Wars Realm, there is much to be had. Enjoy your search and May the Force be with You!
Welcome, Word Wonderers! Today we’re chatting with children’s author, Charlotte Offsay, about her debut picture book that releases in just two weeks, THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP. I am so excited for this book. Growing up on the Gulf Coast and participating in coastal cleanups with my children make this story very relatable, and any story with the many-hands-working-together-as-one theme is sure to make my heart absolutely melt.
Candice: Thank you for being here, Charlotte, and for writing such an accessible book on a global problem. Where did the original spark come from and how did it become the beautiful book we’ll hold in our hands in March?
Charlotte: Thank you so much for having me on your blog and for your kind words about The Big Beach Cleanup! The inspiration for this story stemmed from my desire to write a story about little hands joining together to make big change. I passionately believe that if enough ends join together, we can change the world. The story didn’t come together right away though and I struggled for a long time to find a way in. It wasn’t until a couple of back-to-back events with my two young children collided that The Big Beach Cleanup started to come to life. First my superhero obsessed son looked at me one morning and said, “I don’t feel like being a superhero today.” I jotted this down in my brainstorming journal as something to noodle on later and hurried my kids out the door (agreeing that I didn’t feel like being one either!). I later had a few environmental conversations with my children about some trash on the street on our walks to and from school.
It was these conversations that connected the dots for me and the idea of not needing to be a superhero, little hands joining together, and doing our part to protect our oceans collided. I went home and wrote the first drafts of what is now The Big Beach Cleanup. The manuscript went through extensive revisions and early drafts didn’t even include the sandcastle competition that the manuscript now revolves around! Luckily, my incredibly supportive critique partners were willing to stick with me through my countless drafts and along with an inspiring critique during an Inked Voices Workshop with Albert Whitman editor Christina Pulles, the manuscript was ready for submission. It eventually sold to that very same editor! Christina Pulles shared my vision for the manuscript and selected the perfect illustrator for our book – the talented illustrator and ocean activist, Katie Rewse.
Candice: I love that the story revolves around a sandcastle competition! Where would we be without our critique partners? And I got goose bumps when you said “if enough join together, we can change the world.” Such a powerful statement. What is your favorite part of the creative process?
Charlotte: Oh! What a great question! I guess the beginning stages of a new manuscript are probably my favorite. I absolutely love the feeling I get when an idea crawls under my skin and won’t let me rest until I’ve gotten it out. I become somewhat obsessive writing and rewriting, pulling every mentor text I can find and pacing my kitchen back and forth searching for the perfect words. I guess it’s that all-consuming feeling that I adore the most – the feeling that I have something that I just have to find a way to share with the world.
Candice: Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? If so, do they ever cross into your writing?
Charlotte: Hmm, most of my creativity finds its way onto the written page and regardless of my wishing, my illustration skills are continually outdone by my first grader. In terms of hobbies, I am a big workout enthusiast and can be found in our home gym in the early hours of the morning. I love a good high cardio workout with extremely loud music. None of this has crossed over into my writing yet, but the question is getting my wheels turning!
Candice: Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?
Charlotte: I know a lot of people find creativity in different ways, some go for walks in nature, some make lists and mix humorous combinations, others try word associations and see where their minds take them. My story ideas tend to come from the things that I am most passionate about or the things in my life that I am most consumed with at that point in time. For example, I have another book coming out in September with Beaming Books called How to Return a Monster. It is a humorous how-to story about a young girl who tries to return her new baby sibling in the mail. At the time I began dreaming up that story I was consumed with how my daughter would react to her new baby brother being brought home and wanting to embrace/normalize all of her emotions!
My creativity tip is to think about the things in your life that matter most to you or that consume the most space in your mind and think about how you could approach that topic from a child’s perspective.
Candice: That is such great advice! How To Return A Monster sounds adorably child-centric. Can you tell us more about it and any other projects you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?
Charlotte: Yes, thank you for asking! I have two other upcoming picture books. How to Return a Monster which I mentioned above is being illustrated by Rea Zhai and is coming out this September from Beaming Books. A Grandma’s Magic is a picture book celebration of grandmothers and all the ways in which they are “magical.” It is being illustrated by Asa Gilland and publishes with Doubleday Books for Young Readers in Spring 2022.
Candice: Oh, I love anything magical and grandparents truly are! I’m excited for you, Charlotte, and appreciate you being here!
Y’all be sure to request THE BIG BEACH CLEANUP at your local library come March and preorder at your independent bookstore. If you prefer to shop online due to the pandemic, consider purchasing through bookshop.org. You can choose for your money to go to your local indie bookstore, or if you don’t have one in your area, it goes into a pot to be divvied out among indie bookstores.
Charlotte Offsay was born in England, grew up in Boston, and currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two small children. Born into a family with a love of travel and adventure, Charlotte enjoys exploring new places and cultures. She is a former corporate finance client specialist who now spends her days caring for her family, volunteering in her local community, traveling, and using her experiences to fuel her true passion: writing. Through her work, Charlotte hopes to make children laugh, to inspire curiosity, and to create a magical world her readers can lose themselves in time and time again. Visit Charlotte on her website at http://www.charlotteoffsay.com and follow her on Twitter @COffsay or Instagram @picturebookrecommendations. Charlotte is represented by Nicole Geiger at Full Circle Literary.
Katie Rewse is an illustrator based on the south coast of the UK, in Bournemouth. She graduated with a master’s degree in illustration at the Arts University Bournemouth in 2017. When Katie is not illustrating from her little home studio by the sea, she enjoys exploring the coast with her husband in their camper van. Visit her website at www.katierewse.com.
Call to Creativity:Do you have a brainstorming journal? Now is the best time to start if you don’t! Write down ideas that capture your wonder and attention, then, like Charlotte suggests, look at it from a child’s perspective. How would eight-year-old you connect the idea-spark dots?
Welcome, Word Wonderers! Today we’re chatting with the co-author of MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD, Kirsti Call. I hope y’all are ready for some punny wordplay, because this moo-velous masterpiece delivers. Its playful rhyme is so much fun to read aloud.
Hi, Kirsti! How did y’all get the inspiration for your story?
Kirsti: My co-author, Corey Rosen Schwartz and I wanted to write a story that takes advantage of my background as a therapist. When we came up with the title MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD, we knew this was a story we had to write! And let’s face it, with the 2020 pandemic, we can all stand to read a story about bad moods es-cow-lating and then cow-miserating to feel better!
Candice: I love that you have a background as a therapist. I was actually wondering that as I read y’alls story the first time. And I absolutely adored that it was Mootilda’s act of kindness, her “cow-miserating” with the chickens, that got her out of her funk. Thinking of others has definitely helped my moods this crazy year. What is your favorite part of the creative process?
Kirsti: I love getting the spark of a new idea and writing a terrible horrible no good first draft– just writing down everything that comes to mind and allowing it to be THE. WORST.
Candice: Do you have other creative outlets? Do they work their way into your writing?
Kirsti: I make music with my family–we sing together every day. Here are my kids singing a COVID parody the family worked on. And here’s the MOOTILDA SONG my 14 year old daughter wrote–my 10 year old son is Mootilda’s voice and I’m the one in the cow dress. I plan to collaborate with my children to write songs for all my books. And one day, I’d love to write a picture book that has a song as part of the text!
Candice: Dang. I am SO IMPRESSED with your family’s talent and creativity! That is amazing (and hilarious. Totally related to the “introverted so it’s a bliss” line.) Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?
Kirsti: For me, creativity comes in the quiet moments. Letting my mind wander and giving myself permission to stop focusing on solutions allows more space for creativity. My best tips? Take a walk, listen to the sounds of nature, take a break from your screen. You’ll find your muse in the quiet moments.
Candice: Giving yourself permission seems to be key: to set aside space for creativity–to daydream, to write the ‘worst’ first draft. That permission is so liberating! Great advice. Creativity usually seems to inspire more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?
Kirsti: I’m working on boardbooks, picture books, a chapter book, middle grade and YA. Corey and I just finished a story about a daddy rooster who says Cock a doodle DON’T! And in March 2021, COW SAYS MEOW is coming out with HMH, and next Fall COLD TURKEY (also co-written with Corey) comes out with Little Brown.
Candice: Exciting things on the horizon! Congrats, Kirsti. Thank you for being here and sharing your creative insights and moo-sical talents!
Y’all be sure to request MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD at your local library and independent bookstore. If you prefer to shop online during these trying COVID times, consider purchasing books for holiday gift-giving through bookshop.org. You can choose for your money to go to your local independent bookstore, or if you don’t have one in your area, it goes into a pot to be divvied out among independent bookstores.
Kirsti Call co-hosts the PICTURE BOOK LOOK podcast and co-runs ReFoReMo. She reads, reviews, revises and critiques every day as a 12×12 elf, a blogger for Writers’ Rumpus, and a member of critique groups. She’s judged the CYBILS award for fiction picture books since 2015. Kirsti’s picture book, MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD (Little Bee) debuted September 1st, 2020. COW SAYS MEOW (HMH) and COLD TURKEY (Little Brown) release in 2021. Kirsti is represented by Emma Sector at Prospect Agency. Visit her website at www.kristicall.com.
Co-author Corey Rosen Schwartz is the author of The Three Ninja Pigs and several other rhyming picture books. She lives in Warren, New Jersey, where she’s spent many years eating ice cream and visiting farms with her two moognificent children. Visit her at www.coreyrosenschwartz.com.
Illustrator Claudia Ranucci graduated with a degree in graphic design and illustration at the Istituto Superiore per le Industrie Artisitche in Urbino, Italy. Her books have been published in France, Portugal, China, Japan, Korea, Mexico, and Brazil. She currently lives in Madrid.
Call to Creativity: 2020 has been a trying year for all of us and of course, some more than others. But for this call, let’s look for the silver linings. Have you learned any new skills, new appreciations, or like Mootilda, a new perspective of thinking of her barnyard friends? How can you turn that silver lining into a picture book?
Welcome Word Wonderers, as we explore a colorful Indian market today with children’s author, Meera Sriram. Meera and I connected at last year’s Fall Writing Frenzy kidlit contest, so when I saw she would be releasing a gorgeous picture book set in a bustling Indian marketplace, I reached out to her. What better way to escape my own backyard and travel somewhere new to me?
Candice: Welcome, Meera! When and where did you get the inspiration for A GIFT FOR AMMA?
Meera: When my kids were little, I often searched for multicultural picture books for early learning. They were hard to find but the few we read were enriching in many ways. Since then, a book on colors set in a cultural backdrop was always on my mind. I grew up in India and every time I stepped out to the street, there was so much to take in – colors, textures, smells, chaos, sounds! But capturing and packing all of that into a picture book manuscript was the challenge. I had tried a few different drafts and given up. In 2017, I pulled out the manuscript and started playing with it, incorporating active as well as sensory elements. Soon, the colors and markets seemed to come alive.
Candice: That’s the hardest part about picture books–packing so much in while not overcrowding the story. You definitely found that balance! What is your favorite part of the creative process?
Meera: Revisions! A first draft usually makes me happy because I’ve actually acted on an idea. Then, at a certain point down the road you realize that the story has great potential. You start rolling up your sleeves and paying attention to hook, rhythm, imagery, and start to push harder to shape it up into something that’ll stand out. Sometimes, this happens when you get positive feedback or insightful direction from critiques. I love to discover and navigate the possibilities that open up during this process. With every iteration, words grow richer, plot tighter, ending stronger, and a small sprouted idea transforms into a full story arc.
Candice: Love this! I always say creative people are creative in a lot of different ways. Do you have other outlets or hobbies? How do they cross into your writing?
Meera: I love photography and very often I attempt to communicate through a visual composition. I used to photo blog for a few years, where the writer in me took a back seat and allowed a picture to speak for itself. To me, objects, light, and placement are equivalent to characters, plot, and setting. I also enjoy decorating interior spaces, and again, I try to include things like memorabilia and art to make the space feel lived in and to tell stories.
Candice: Leaving room for the illustrator is something I struggle with so it sounds like your photography interest helps with that–great idea! Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?
Meera: I believe we’re all creative all the time! Like when we cook or garden or hang a picture or play with a kid. Some of us pause longer and invest more because it brings us joy. If we let life happen and engage with the world, we’ll find countless ways to express creatively. I believe the important thing is to take the time to stop, listen, look closer, and soak in the moment.
Candice: Great advice–listen, look closer, and soak it in. Creativity usually seems to inspire more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?
Meera: Yes! Coincidentally, it’s about a very creative person. My next picture book, BETWEEN TWO WORLDS (Spring 2021), is a biography on Amrita Sher-Gil, the Indian-Hungarian artist who was a pioneer of modern Indian art. And I can’t wait to see the creativity Ruchi Bakshi Sharma will bring to the illustrations. I’m also working on edits for another picture book (yet to be announced) and I’m enjoying the collaborative process with my editor and illustrator. I have another idea for a book for which I’m trying to draw from within to find the best way to tell the story.
Candice: That sounds amazing! I love creative coincidences. Thank you for being here with us as we listen, look closer, and wonder at words, Meera. And congrats on A GIFT FOR AMMA’s release!
Want to travel within this lyrical, colorful story? Be sure to request it from your local library or independent bookstore. They do so much for our communities and need our support during this pandemic. You can find it online at bookshop.org which also supports local indie bookshops (you can pick your own local indie if they’re an affiliate. If not, it goes into a pot to be divided among indie bookstores.)
Meera Sriram grew up in India and moved to the U.S in 1999. An electrical engineer in the past, she now enjoys writing for children, leading early literacy initiatives, and advocating for diverse bookshelves. Meera is the author of picture books, The Yellow Suitcase (Penny Candy Books, 2019), A Gift For Amma: Market Day in India (Barefoot Books, 2020), and the upcoming title, Between Two Worlds (Penny Candy Books, 2021). She has also co-authored several kids’ books in India. Meera believes in the transformative power of stories and likes to write about people, places, and experiences less visible in children’s literature. For more information, visit meerasriram.com
Mariona Cabassa studied illustration at the Massana Art School and completed her postgraduate degree at the School of Fine Arts in Strasbourg, where she also learned how to speak French. She has illustrated more than 80 books in Spain and other countries. She lives in Barcelona, Spain.
Call to Creativity: is there a subject in children’s literature that you’d like to see more of on bookshelves? Think about ways you could put a new, creative spin on a book of colors.
Hi, Word Wonderers! Are your kids driving you bananas as we stay safe and stay home? Have they uttered the dreaded, whiney B-word? (Bored–ugh.) Send them outside with this gorgeous new picture book by Lindsay Leslie, DUSK EXPLORERS, out this past Tuesday. It’s an exciting adventure down memory lane for me and a lyrical manual on exploring and discovering how the familiar streets and yards change as night approaches. I’m eager to talk to Lindsay on how this story came to be and how she finds creativity in memories and the world around her.
Candice: Thanks for being here, Lindsay! Tell us about the inspiration for your story.
Lindsay: We’ve all heard folks in the children’s literature world say steer clear of rhyme unless you can do it really well. So, in 2016, I watched Julie Hedlund’s Verse Curse session as part of The Picture Book Summit to see what all the fuss was about. What I took away from the session was a fierce love of free verse–the lyricism and rhythm–rather than the rhyme. I’m not exactly sure what Julie said that sparked my idea for DUSK EXPLORERS during that session, but I think it was to drum up a memory from childhood that would translate to today. The first thought that leapt into my mind was the invigorating and freeing moments I had with my sister and neighborhood friends playing after dinner in the summertime. We played all the games, shared all the secrets, laughed all the laughs until the street lights blinked on and the sun disappeared. Another reason for my writing this story was I desperately want these moments for the children of today, for my children. I want them to have the unbridled freedom of roaming the neighborhood streets, so they can build their autonomy and self-confidence, and enjoy all that’s available to them just outside their front door.
Candice: Admirable goals and your story definitely accomplishes all that. I prefer the lyricism and rhythm of free-verse, too. My critique partners help me come to my senses when I get a random wild hair to write in rhyme. 😉 What is your favorite part of the creative process?
Lindsay: My favorite part is always the beginning and all the possibilities of a new story. Nothing thrills me more than having a cool concept pop into my mind and writing that first draft. I like to let my mind go and just drum up whatever it wants. Then the hard part begins. I think I’m terrible at editing on my own. I get pretty stymied. I work really well with the direction of CPs and my editors, so I know this is an area of improvement for me… to wrangle myself during the editing process.
Candice: Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? Do they cross into your writing?
Lindsay: Loads! I’m crocheting right now. I love to free draw with my kiddos. I love strength training and cycling. I used to ride a lot before I had children, and now I’m enjoying long rides with them. I also love to bake pies, as I used to own a pie company back in the day. You would think I would have written a story inspired by those times, but nope. The right idea hasn’t come to me yet. I’m waiting, though. I think all creative outlets and hobbies inform one another in some way. I just couldn’t tell you how. I think that work is being done in my subconscious.
Candice: A pie company?! How fun! Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?
Lindsay: Truly listen and observe. I don’t think there is any one way to find creativity, but there are lots of ways to increase your chances of your mind being open to the function of thinking creatively. I think listening and observing do just that for me, and then I start asking the “what if” questions. Also, I’m really digging writing workshops right now. I need to take more. I’ve always been a coachable person, so taking a workshop kind of fills that bucket. It gives me a coach for the moment and I can get out of my own way.
Candice: One of the positive effects of the coronavirus are a plethora of digital workshops and I’m definitely taking advantage of those. Creativity usually seems to lead to more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?
Lindsay: Oh, I have many! I have about four picture books I’m currently writing right now. I also have a middle grade I’m trying to edit. (See above about being a terrible self-editor, because that’s where I am right now with it.) I actually wrote a picture book based on my MG WIP. How’s that for procrastinating on editing? I also have awesome news I wish I could share, but I can’t yet. Soon, I hope!
Can’t wait to hear more! Thanks for answering my questions, Lindsay. And congrats on DUSK EXPLORERS’ release!
Want this gorgeous book in your neighborhood? Be sure to request it from your local library or independent bookstore, they do so much for our communities and need our support during this pandemic! You can also find it at www.bookshop.org which also supports local indie bookshops (you can pick your own local indie if they’re an affiliate. If not, it goes into a pot to be divided among indie book stores.)
A diary keeper, a journalism major, a public relations executive, now a children’s author—Lindsay Leslie has always operated in a world of written words. She likes to bring her unique outlook on life, quirky humor, and play with words to the page in picture books. Lindsay is the author of THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS, NOVA THE STAR EATER, and DUSK EXPLORERS (Page Street Kids). She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband, two sons, two fur-beasts, a guinea pig, and a tortoise.
Ellen Rooney, who also illustrated Her Fearless Run, loves illustrating and designing nature-related work. She has her BFA from the University of Victoria. A painter, printmaker, and collage artist, she resides in British Columbia, Canada, with her husband.
Call to creativity: sift through your childhood memories for exciting things kids today can do as they’re staying home. Comment with your brainstorms for a chance to win a non-rhyming picture book manuscript critique from me!
Hi, Wonderers! Thanks for being here as we focus on finding creativity, this time from illustrator Lisa Johnston Hancock. Lisa and I met when our kiddos became friends in preschool–they’re both big into bugs and being creative. Her picture book, YELLOW-SPECKLED BLACKBIRD, written by Dylan Pritchett, released February 18th with MacLaren-Cochrane Publishing.
Candice: Welcome to the Wonder of Words (and today Wonder Of Pictures!), Lisa. You know I adore your nature-infused paintings. Where did you get the inspiration for how you wanted to visually tell the story of the Yellow-Speckled Blackbird?
Lisa: I get inspiration from many different sources. I like to visit parks, zoos, beaches or anywhere to see actual birds in action. My children are also great sources of inspiration for poses. They love watching me work and get really excited when I ask them to model for me. I keep a folder of reference photos for birds, children and environment that I use as inspiration. I knew that the bird was going to be a Starling and the story would take place in an urban environment to illustrate how we see nature all around us.
We don’t have to be out in “nature” to appreciate the natural world.
I worked on these illustrations almost 2 years ago and at that time, I was working strictly in watercolor and beginning to explore digital media. The majority of this book was created traditionally with a little bit of digital for editing.
Candice: What is your favorite part of the creative process?
Lisa: My favorite part of the creative process is working through color schemes. I find color to be the most challenging part of illustrating a picture book and I like the challenge. The color palette can visually express the mood or tone of a story so it’s important to get it right. I will try out several different color palettes before I settle on one.
Candice: Color palettes do make such a difference! I don’t think I really understood that until I started studying picture books. Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? How do they cross into your artwork?
Lisa: I love birds, insects, animals, trees and plant life. Basically, exploring nature whenever I have the chance. We recently moved to California and hummingbirds are EVERYWHERE! We have several species that hang around all year because the climate is so mild. Any extra time that I have is spent with my two children. I would say that yes, they definitely cross over into my artwork.
Candice: I enjoy seeing all your California creatures come alive on your social media. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?
Lisa: I would say that if you are struggling, go for a walk or pencil in a coffee date with a fellow creative. What I like most about this area is that the people are so friendly. I think it’s because the weather is so nice. The traffic is not great, as you may have heard. Be that as it may, I have found that other illustrators are ready and willing to meet up for a coffee and drawing session or to talk of creative things. It is incredibly inspirational to have an artist community. It doesn’t even have to be local. With social media, you can reach out to other creatives just to say hi, or ask what brush they used. As creatives we tend to be introverts and I’m somewhere in the middle. I try to put myself out there and I recommend that you do the same.
Candice: I agree, social media has definitely helped me as an extroverted introvert. It’s tough to put yourself out there but the payback is so worth it. The critique group behind this shared blog is my case in point! Creativity usually seems to lead to more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?
Lisa: I recently finished illustrations for “Sophie’s New Song” that will be self-published by author and psychologist, Michelle Whitfield, in April. I’m also working on some promotional material for her.
My goal for 2020 is to complete a dummy for a picture book that I wrote, as well as a few finished illustrations that I can share with publishers. In October, I attended a workshop at the Highlights Foundation and received some really helpful, constructive feedback. I will be working on that this summer and possibly attending the SCBWI conference in L.A. I mean, I’m so close now.
Candice: That’s right! No excuse not to go. I cannot wait for your picture book to be submission ready. Having seen a mock-up dummy I know how amazing it is. Thanks so much for being here today!
Y’all be sure to check out Lisa’s artwork on her website and social media links. You can request YELLOW-SPECKLED BLACKBIRD at your local indie bookstore or online at Bookshop.org which also helps support independent booksellers.
Lisa Johnston Hancock is an award-winning studio artist, picture book illustrator, and art educator. She enjoys creating work that focuses on environmental education, encouraging a lifelong positive attitude toward the natural world. Lisa recently moved with her husband and two children from sunny Southern Alabama to sunny Southern California.
2020 is David Harrison’s 50th year of writing for children. In that time, he has penned more than 100 books, including 21 poetry collections. His books have won numerous awards, have been translated and anthologized. He is Drury University’s poet laureate. David Harrison Elementary School in Missouri is named for him. He has spoken at conferences, workshops, and visited hundreds of schools.
After Dark, David’s 97th book and 20th collection of poetry was released earlier this month. Three more are scheduled for publication later this year, and one for 2021.
His first book – a picture book, The Boy with a Drum – was published October 1, 1969. His second, Little Turtle’s Big Adventure, was read on the air by Captain Kangaroo. His third, “The Book of Giant Stories,” won a Christopher Award.
Many of David’s books combine nature, science, poetry and humor. Both science and poetry require observation and the ability to describe what is observed. As a biologist and a poet, David has developed a lifelong habit of watching wildlife – and writing about it.
After Dark was inspired by sitting on the patio, listening and watching night life by the lake – as well as family camping trips from when he was a child. The 21 poems featured here are chock full of interesting scientific facts.
His last book, And the Bullfrogs Sing (Holiday House, 2019), is a free verse poem about the life cycle of frogs, accentuated by the chorus Rumm, Rumm, Rumm” and other bullfrog noises.David’s love of nature began when he was a youngster, camping with his parents (who also instilled in him a love of reading) and playing in his backyard. He studied biology in college and has two science degrees. Before he began to write, he worked as a pharmacologist and parasitologist. But it was a creative writing class he took while a science major at Drury in the 1960s, and a professor who encouraged him to write, that launched his writing career.
David’s ideas for poems and stories “appear everywhere in everyday life.” For example, one afternoon when David found insects under his welcome mat, he wrote this:
Bugs moved under
my welcome mat.
If bugs can’t read,
I’ve always said
that bugs are pests,
but bugs who read
are welcome guests.
(From BUGS: POEMS ABOUT CREEPING THINGS, Front Street, Incorporated, 2007.)
About poetry, David says:
“Poetry ranges from doggerel to sublime. At its worst, it should be shot on sight. At its best, it protects our language and reminds both writer and reader that every word has meaning and only the right one will do for the purpose at hand.”
When writing poetry collections, David tries to find the cadence and sound that fits the subject. He looks for ways to make each poem stand alone, but still fit the collection. He avoids common, over-used meter and rhyme schemes like a-b-c-b. He says, “I want my menu to feature a variety of offerings so readers don’t grow weary of the same-old-same-old.” He may combine various poetic forms with free verse poems in the same collection. Often, a poem will show him what form to use – “it just sort of develops, and I roll with it,” he says.
His advice to aspiring authors is “Dare to be different.” He explains: “By that I mean know the market but don’t worship it. If you read a book you like, enjoy it and move on. No point following someone else’s idea. Listen to your own voice, your own experiences, your own beliefs and feelings and passions.”
Happy birthday to the Wonder of Words blog! Today marks our one year anniversary and we couldn’t have done it without our readers and our awesome guests. So, thank you all!
Speaking of awesome guests, today’s blog post is about a story I first read on a twitter pitch event. As soon as I read Amanda Jackson’s query and first lines, I knew this would be a real-live book one day.
Welcome to the Wonder of Words, Amanda! I’m so glad we connected during Study Hall and in the debut group, New in Nineteen. I’m excited about your beautiful and important book coming out. When and where did you get the inspiration for your square-who-wants-to-roll-like-a-circle story?
It was late 2016, during the one year my husband and I lived in Northern California. We moved there for his job, and the circumstances were such that I didn’t work. That gave me the time and brain-space to discover my love of writing for kids. So, that’s actually when I started writing picture book stories altogether. That’s one reason I will always be thankful for that crazy year.
I have a deep hope for a more inclusive and understanding society. That hope was what inspired this story. Sam is for anyone who feels they don’t fit, in whatever way.
Such a beautiful hope and your book captures that sentiment perfectly. I love it. And it’s amazing what we can accomplish when we have the brain-space! What is your favorite part of the creative process?
I have two favorites:
– Inspiration. Who doesn’t love being inspired?? There’s nothing like discovering a new idea for a new story. It feels like falling in love.
– Revision. After the initial excitement of inspiration, drafting the story can feel like slogging through mud. But once I get it on the page, and it has every element it needs, I love all the little challenges that come with smoothing it out and making it shine.
Falling in inspiration is the best. Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? Do they ever cross into your writing?
I do! I enjoy cooking, crocheting, and crafting. I haven’t seen them cross into my writing yet, but they do play an important role. Sometimes my writing muscles need a break, and they offer other creative options.
Love the alliteration, Amanda 😉 Do you have any tips about finding creativity?
My best tip would be to try to pay attention. Because I really think creative inspiration is all around us, and it’s more a matter of recognizing it. I do my best to be aware of the moments I feel that creative spark—moments that makes me laugh, curious, explore, cry, ask questions, get angry. Those are usually the moments that hold that starts to stories.
The act of paying attention is so important. Creativity usually seems to inspire more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?
Sure! When I began writing, I naturally gravitated toward more serious stories. Lately I’ve been playing with punchier, sillier stories that make me laugh as I write them. Such a fun change of pace!
I love silly stories, can’t wait to read ‘em! Thanks so much for being here, Amanda. I have My Shape is Sam preordered and am looking forward to Sam rolling in!
Blurb: “In this debut picture book, Sam is a square who lives in a world where everyone has a job to do, depending on their shape. But Sam doesn’t want to stack like the other squares…
He wants to roll like a circle!”
Published by Page Street Kids, wonderful illustrations by Lydia Nichols
What is a hope you harbor that could inspire others? Comment by Sept 13th with yours, or mention your latest picture book work-in-progress, and as a special birthday gift to our readers, one lucky random comment will be chosen to get a critique not just from me, but from the whole Wonder of Words team!
“We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” Toni Morrison
As readers, we are drawn to words. Over the years I have been drawn to Michener, Uris, Tolkien, Barbara Kingsolver and Barbara Ehrenreich. As a youngster in Poland, I was raised on the works of Janusz Korczak, the poetry of Jan Brzechwa, Maria Konopnicka and (in translation from Spanish) Monro Leaf’s The Story of Ferdinand. After we arrived in the United States, I read Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Books, Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Dolittle stories and Maguerite de Angeli’s Door in the Wall. And of course, there were all the classics – the Brothers’ Grimm, Johanna Spyri, Jules Verne, Charles Dickens. Who are some of your favorite authors?
As writers, we know words matter. I often say, “Words are my world”. “In the beginning was the word.” We paint the world through words. We develop characters and plot with words.
As parents and teachers, we teach children to use words wisely.
This is increasingly important when our country’s leaders use derogatory, negative, foul language and resort to name-calling. As someone who was called names, tormented and bullied due to cultural and neurological differences, I’m sensitive to this type of language.
What message does it teach our children? How should we respond?
I suggest we respond with love by teaching kindness. Being kind can make a huge difference in someone’s life.
Some books that teach the importance of our words, kindness and inclusivity:
The Big Umbrella words and pictures by Amy June Bates. Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers 2018. 32 p; 89 words
There is always room for everyone under the big umbrella that loves to gather people in. This free verse, beautifully illustrated poem shares the message of inclusiveness in a fun way. Our hearts have the same capacity to expand – there is no limit to how many people we can love and include.
Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller ill by Jen Hill. Roaring Brook Press 2018. 32p; 400 words
When Tanisha spills grape juice all over her dress, her classmate tries to be kind. But it is not always easy. Examples of kindness include giving, helping, and paying attention. These small acts are important and build more acts of kindness.
If you plant a seed words and pictures by Kadir Nelson. Baker and Bray 2017 (an imprint of Harper Collins).
In this short poem, we learn that the things we plant grow and grow and grow. They can be carrots or tomatoes, selfishness or kindness.
Words and Your Heart words and pictures by Kate Jane Neal. Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, 2017.
In her debut, Kate Jane Neal explains simply and directly the power our words have. She shows how our words impact others – both for good and for evil.
Here is a poem I wrote about words:
WORDS: HANDLE WITH CARE
As children, we were told to say:
“Sticks and stones may break my bones,
but words can never hurt me.”
Yet words often cause injury and pain…
The scars don’t show,
but the wounds may never heal.
or their absence
They can hurt, or they can heal.
They can bruise, or they can mend.
They can kill – or give new life.
evoke image, smell, taste, sound, mood, feel.
Words have power.
Words are real.
tell a story,
convey a message,
convince the skeptic,
stir up mood and feelings.
Use them with care
to encourage, engage, enrich.
It is said: “The pen is mightier than the sword.”
can change lives.
can change the world
one word at a time.
What is a quote or poem that resonates with you?
What are some of your favorite books that teach kindness?
How can your words help change our world?
Share it in the comments to pass along the power of words.
We have a super creative author up on the Wonder of Words blog today, Erin Le Clerc, author of the picture book, I’VE GOT A COW CALLED MAUREEN. What a title, right? As soon as my kids saw it, they were clamoring to read it.
Thanks so much for being here, Erin. I love the book’s positive message of finding something you’re good at and letting it shine. My kids LOVE the yodeling. What inspired your unique story?
Erin: It’s my pleasure–thank you so much for hosting me! I love that your kids are yodeling.
I’ve Got A Cow Called Maureen is based on the true story of how my Nana Maureen began her journey to becoming Australia’s Champion Swiss Yodeler in the 1940s!
A few years ago, I was participating in a picture book writing course with Children’s Book Academy and I was struggling to come up with an idea for a book. I adore my Nana, so when my mum suggested I write about her, I tucked the idea away for further consideration. A few weeks later, she told me that every time my Nana went into her country town, and her mother introduced her to a local farmer, they’d always exclaim “Why, I’ve got a cow called Maureen!” It drove Nana crazy, but it made me laugh, and I knew I’d found an “in” that would let me tell my Nana’s story with a dash of humour!
Candice: Children’s Book Academy is amazing. (Here’s a link for those curious.) And yes, that ‘in’, or hook, is what gives a story life. I love that this is based on your Nana. What a wonderful gift to her and your family. What is your favorite part of the creative process?
Erin: I have two favourites!
I always feel that the first flush of an idea or story inspiration – the part that finds you racing to get everything down on paper – feels a bit like flying! I find this the easiest part of writing, and I love when an idea, title, or some form of concept appears as if by magic.
When it comes to the “hard slog” part of writing, I’m one of those weirdos who ADORES editing. I love tightening sentences, and making sure my stories feel lyrical, colourful, emotional, or truthful. Michelangelo said “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it”. I feel the same about story ideas and first drafts, and the process of polishing them into a manuscript!
Candice: Fabulous quote. That first flush of inspiration is my favorite. I call it the Divine Spark because you’re right, it does feel like magic. Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? How do they cross into your writing?
Erin: I do! In addition to writing, I love to crochet, I sing in a choir, I enjoy beading, hand-quilting, sewing, and all manner of crafts. I love to decorate my home (it’s like Aladdin’s cave of wonders!), and I’m learning how to draw/paint, which really is an exercise in letting go of my inner critic and perfectionist!!
Candice: Do you have any tips you’d like to share with the Wonder of Words readers about finding creativity?
Erin: I am learning that creativity is something you need to create space for. Sometimes we are “struck with inspiration,” but more regularly, it’s when you sit down and give focused time to a creative project that your brain really starts firing! I also believe in the concept of “Artist Dates” where you go for a walk, go on a fun outing, do something that lifts your spirits, visit a gallery/museum, or even see a movie. When we push ourselves too hard, our body and brain don’t much like it. Rest is an essential part of creativity!
Candice: I’m guessing you’re a fan of Julia Cameron’s “The Artist Way”. I am too. Creativity usually inspires more creativity. Are you working on other book projects that you could give us hints about?
Erin: I have three manuscripts that I am currently submitting to agents. They’re all “gently psychological” stories – about mindfulness, feeling grumpy, and setting body boundaries – but with a whimsical twist! I’m also writing a fantasy adventure middle grade novel that I’m really excited to get out into the world!
Candice: I adore whimsical twists. Middle grade has a special place in my heart so I’m eager to find out more about that. Good luck with your agent hunt. Thanks so much for being here, Erin, and for sharing your creative tips and inspiration!
I knew she’d be the perfect author to feature for the creativity post based on her back-of-the-book bio: Erin Le Clerc grew up with seven siblings, three ghosts, two eccentric parents, and a multitude of farm animals in a crumbling abandoned hospital in the suburbs. This vastly informed her imagination! She’s tremendously proud of her Australian “bush heritage”, which she inherited from her Nana Maureen. She spends her “9 to 5” working as a psychologist, and her “5 to 9” writing adventurous tales.
Here’s how to find her book: by ordering through your local independent bookstore, or on Amazon
Writing prompt: Ask older family members about their childhood to see if it sparks any inspiration. Leave a comment before the 15th, and I’ll randomly pick someone to win a picture book critique from me.