Finding Creativity

Moo-velous Creativity with Kirsti Call

Welcome, Word Wonderers! Today we’re chatting with the co-author of MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD, Kirsti Call. I hope y’all are ready for some punny wordplay, because this moo-velous masterpiece delivers. Its playful rhyme is so much fun to read aloud.

Hi, Kirsti! How did y’all get the inspiration for your story?

Kirsti: My co-author, Corey Rosen Schwartz and I  wanted to write a story that takes advantage of my background as a therapist.  When we came up with the title MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD, we knew this was a story we had to write!  And let’s face it, with the 2020 pandemic, we can all stand to read a story about bad moods es-cow-lating and then cow-miserating to feel better!

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

Candice: I love that you have a background as a therapist. I was actually wondering that as I read y’alls story the first time. And I absolutely adored that it was Mootilda’s act of kindness, her “cow-miserating” with the chickens, that got her out of her funk. Thinking of others has definitely helped my moods this crazy year. What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Kirsti: I love getting the spark of a new idea and writing a terrible horrible no good first draft– just writing down everything that comes to mind and allowing it to be THE. WORST.

Candice: Do you have other creative outlets? Do they work their way into your writing?

Kirsti: I make music with my family–we sing together every day. Here are my kids singing a COVID parody the family worked on.  And here’s the MOOTILDA SONG my 14 year old daughter wrote–my 10 year old son is Mootilda’s voice and I’m the one in the cow dress.  I plan to collaborate with my children to write songs for all my books.  And one day, I’d love to write a picture book that has a song as part of the text!

Candice: Dang. I am SO IMPRESSED with your family’s talent and creativity! That is amazing (and hilarious. Totally related to the “introverted so it’s a bliss” line.) Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?

Kirsti: For me, creativity comes in the quiet moments.  Letting my mind wander and giving myself permission to stop focusing on solutions allows more space for creativity.  My best  tips? Take a walk, listen to the sounds of nature, take a break from your screen. You’ll find your muse in the quiet moments.

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

Candice: Giving yourself permission seems to be key: to set aside space for creativity–to daydream, to write the ‘worst’ first draft. That permission is so liberating! Great advice. Creativity usually seems to inspire more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?

Kirsti: I’m working on boardbooks, picture books, a chapter book, middle grade and YA. Corey and I just finished a story about a daddy rooster who says Cock a doodle DON’T!  And in March 2021, COW SAYS MEOW is coming out with HMH, and next Fall COLD TURKEY (also co-written with Corey) comes out with Little Brown.

Candice: Exciting things on the horizon! Congrats, Kirsti. Thank you for being here and sharing your creative insights and moo-sical talents!

Y’all be sure to request MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD at your local library and independent bookstore. If you prefer to shop online during these trying COVID times, consider purchasing books for holiday gift-giving through bookshop.org. You can choose for your money to go to your local independent bookstore, or if you don’t have one in your area, it goes into a pot to be divvied out among independent bookstores.

Kirsti Call co-hosts the PICTURE BOOK LOOK podcast and co-runs ReFoReMo. She reads, reviews, revises and critiques every day as a 12×12 elf, a blogger for Writers’ Rumpus, and a member of critique groups. She’s judged the CYBILS award for fiction picture books since 2015. Kirsti’s picture book, MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD (Little Bee) debuted September 1st, 2020. COW SAYS MEOW (HMH) and COLD TURKEY (Little Brown) release in 2021. Kirsti is represented by Emma Sector at Prospect Agency. Visit her website at www.kristicall.com.

Co-author Corey Rosen Schwartz is the author of The Three Ninja Pigs and several other rhyming picture books. She lives in Warren, New Jersey, where she’s spent many years eating ice cream and visiting farms with her two moognificent children. Visit her at www.coreyrosenschwartz.com.

Illustrator Claudia Ranucci graduated with a degree in graphic design and illustration at the Istituto Superiore per le Industrie Artisitche in Urbino, Italy. Her books have been published in France, Portugal, China, Japan, Korea, Mexico, and Brazil. She currently lives in Madrid.

Call to Creativity: 2020 has been a trying year for all of us and of course, some more than others. But for this call, let’s look for the silver linings. Have you learned any new skills, new appreciations, or like Mootilda, a new perspective of thinking of her barnyard friends? How can you turn that silver lining into a picture book?

Finding Creativity

Multicultural Inspiration with Meera Sriram

The Wonder of Words Finding creativityWelcome Word Wonderers, as we explore a colorful Indian market today with children’s author, Meera Sriram. Meera and I connected at last year’s Fall Writing Frenzy kidlit contest, so when I saw she would be releasing a gorgeous picture book set in a bustling Indian marketplace, I reached out to her. What better way to escape my own backyard and travel somewhere new to me?

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

Candice: Welcome, Meera! When and where did you get the inspiration for A GIFT FOR AMMA?

Meera: When my kids were little, I often searched for multicultural picture books for early learning. They were hard to find but the few we read were enriching in many ways. Since then, a book on colors set in a cultural backdrop was always on my mind. I grew up in India and every time I stepped out to the street, there was so much to take in –  colors, textures, smells, chaos, sounds! But capturing and packing all of that into a picture book manuscript was the challenge. I had tried a few different drafts and given up. In 2017, I pulled out the manuscript and started playing with it, incorporating active as well as sensory elements. Soon, the colors and markets seemed to come alive.

Candice: That’s the hardest part about picture books–packing so much in while not overcrowding the story. You definitely found that balance! What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

Meera: Revisions! A first draft usually makes me happy because I’ve actually acted on an idea. Then, at a certain point down the road you realize that the story has great potential. You start rolling up your sleeves and paying attention to hook, rhythm, imagery, and start to push harder to shape it up into something that’ll stand out. Sometimes, this happens when you get positive feedback or insightful direction from critiques. I love to discover and navigate the possibilities that open up during this process. With every iteration, words grow richer, plot tighter, ending stronger, and a small sprouted idea transforms into a full story arc.

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

Candice: Love this! I always say creative people are creative in a lot of different ways. Do you have other outlets or hobbies? How do they cross into your writing?

Meera: I love photography and very often I attempt to communicate through a visual composition. I used to photo blog for a few years, where the writer in me took a back seat and allowed a picture to speak for itself. To me, objects, light, and placement are equivalent to characters, plot, and setting. I also enjoy decorating interior spaces, and again, I try to include things like memorabilia and art to make the space feel lived in and to tell stories.

Candice: Leaving room for the illustrator is something I struggle with so it sounds like your photography interest helps with that–great idea! Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity? 

Meera: I believe we’re all creative all the time! Like when we cook or garden or hang a picture or play with a kid. Some of us pause longer and invest more because it brings us joy. If we let life happen and engage with the world, we’ll find countless ways to express creatively. I believe the important thing is to take the time to stop, listen, look closer, and soak in the moment.

Candice: Great advice–listen, look closer, and soak it in. Creativity usually seems to inspire more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?

Meera: Yes! Coincidentally, it’s about a very creative person. My next picture book, BETWEEN TWO WORLDS (Spring 2021), is a biography on Amrita Sher-Gil, the Indian-Hungarian artist who was a pioneer of modern Indian art. And I can’t wait to see the creativity Ruchi Bakshi Sharma will bring to the illustrations. I’m also working on edits for another picture book (yet to be announced) and I’m enjoying the collaborative process with my editor and illustrator. I have another idea for a book for which I’m trying to draw from within to find the best way to tell the story.

Candice: That sounds amazing! I love creative coincidences. Thank you for being here with us as we listen, look closer, and wonder at words, Meera. And congrats on A GIFT FOR AMMA’s release!

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

Want to travel within this lyrical, colorful story? Be sure to request it from your local library or independent bookstore. They do so much for our communities and need our support during this pandemic. You can find it online at bookshop.org which also supports local indie bookshops (you can pick your own local indie if they’re an affiliate. If not, it goes into a pot to be divided among indie bookstores.)

Bio-Pic-MS

Meera Sriram grew up in India and moved to the U.S in 1999. An electrical engineer in the past, she now enjoys writing for children, leading early literacy initiatives, and advocating for diverse bookshelves. Meera is the author of picture books, The Yellow Suitcase (Penny Candy Books, 2019), A Gift For Amma: Market Day in India (Barefoot Books, 2020), and the upcoming title, Between Two Worlds (Penny Candy Books, 2021). She has also co-authored several kids’ books in India. Meera believes in the transformative power of stories and likes to write about people, places, and experiences less visible in children’s literature. For more information, visit meerasriram.com

Mariona Cabassa studied illustration at the Massana Art School and completed her postgraduate degree at the School of Fine Arts in Strasbourg, where she also learned how to speak French. She has illustrated more than 80 books in Spain and other countries. She lives in Barcelona, Spain.

Call to Creativity: is there a subject in children’s literature that you’d like to see more of on bookshelves? Think about ways you could put a new, creative spin on a book of colors.

Finding Creativity

Exploring Inspiration with Lindsay Leslie

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. 

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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.

Dusk Explorer Spread

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.

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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.)

Lindsay Leslie Headshot

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 SPINELESSNOVA 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!

Finding Creativity

Finding Inspiration in Nature

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? LJH 3.14 pic1

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. LJH 3.14 pic2

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.

LJH march14Lisa 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.

www.lisajohnstonhancock.com
www.instagram.com/lisajohnstonhancock
www.twitter.com/LisaJHancockArt
www.facebook.com/LisaJohnstonHancockArt

For this month’s Call to Creativity, go for a walk. Observe the nature around you. Comment with an observation that inspires you and a random comment will win a picture book critique!

About, Book Reviews, Finding Creativity

David Harrison: Fifty Years, One Hundred Books

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,
explain that.
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.”

Finding Creativity, Uncategorized

It’s A Blog & Book Birthday!

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! Happy birthday Wonder of Words!

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.
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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.

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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! wowaj2

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

Here’s the link to her author website where you can preorder My Shape is Sam, out September 17th: www.AmandaJacksonBooks.com

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!

Book Reviews, Finding Creativity, Uncategorized

Words Matter

“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

Be Kind copy

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).

If you plant a seed copy

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.

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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.

Words

 or their absence

have power:

They can hurt, or they can heal.

They can bruise, or they can mend.

They can kill – or give new life.

Words

evoke image, smell, taste, sound, mood, feel.

Words have power.

Words are real.

 

Words

tell a story,

convey a message,

convince the skeptic,

stir up mood and feelings.

Words.

Use them with care

to encourage, engage, enrich.

It is said: “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Words

can change lives.

You

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.

 

Finding Creativity, Uncategorized

Finding Inspiration in Hidden Talents with Erin Le Clerc

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.

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Mermaid Girl & Dinosaur Boy practicing their yodeling skills in a tree, of course, just like Maureen!

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! WowELC5

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-wowELC6quilting, 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!

Erin LeClerc Bio PhotoI 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

And here’s how to find and follow Erin:

Website: www.erinleclerc.com.au

Twitter: https://twitter.com/erinleclerc
Insta: https://www.instagram.com/erinleclercauthor/ & https://www.instagram.com/theresilientcreative (the latter is inspiration and encouragement for fellow writers and creatives!)
Facebook: www.facebook.com/erinleclercauthor
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18863103.Erin_Le_Clerc

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.
Finding Creativity, Uncategorized

Picture Book Debut & How ‘What Ifs’ Inspire Creativity

Hi y’all! We have a special guest on the Wonder of Words blog today—one I’m excited to introduce (though needs no introduction), debut author AND fellow critique group partner, Sandra Sutter. Welcome, Sandra!

Thank you, Candice, for asking me to share a little about my debut picture book and my overall creative process. I love working with you and our other critique partners on this blog, but I have to admit it is a lot of fun to drop by as a featured guest, too.

Where did you find the inspiration for your story?

Like many authors I know, my child gave me that initial spark of inspiration for THE REAL FARMER IN THE DELL. He is one of those kids who will ask a million questions about anything you can possibly imagine. That can be inspiring and, well… exhausting, all at the same time. With this story, I was walking by as he looked up from his iPad to ask, “Did you know the farmer took a wife?” When I explained that yes, that was how the song went, he replied, “Well, I did not know that!” Then I thought… it doesn’t have to go that way, does it? What if the farmer didn’t take a wife? What if the farmer didn’t live in a dell? I ran off to write down answers to these and other questions, and out of this, my story was born. Cover The Real Farmer in the Dell

I have a couple of those Million-Question-Kids, too! Love that your son’s question led to the What-If game in a sense. What is your favorite part of the creative process?

I am an ideas person; my head is filled with them. I like to look at things from different angles, brainstorm, then get it out on “paper” and see a story come to life. This is also one reason I like to do critiques. To see the way someone else tackles a subject or comes up with a completely unique storyline. It is fascinating to think of all the stories already out there and yet to be written.

Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? How do they cross into your writing?

The short answer is yes, I do. I just wish I had more time to do them. I am not an illustrator, but I love to draw and paint for inspiration. It might be a picture of an animal or the main character in one of my stories, or just colorful lines on a paper. I also like photography and used to do more of it when my kids were babies. It was just for fun, but it was a creative outlet for me when I was working as an attorney before going full into writing as a career. My “hobbies” would be mountain biking, hiking, cooking, yoga, and traveling.

I love yoga too. A few minutes in usually leads to me running for paper and pen. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?

I had to be “open” to creativity before it really took hold in my life. Before I started writing, I was a counselor for four years and then an attorney for ten. With the exception of being able to think outside-the-box and help people re-write their own narratives, I didn’t see myself as creative. I wasn’t very “artsy”, or so I thought. But then these stories started to pop into my mind and I couldn’t shake them. I just HAD to get them on paper even if it scared me to have anyone read them. When I allowed myself to do this, it was like someone opened the flood-gates in my mind and a river of ideas poured into my life. So here I am.

As far as a practical tip, I find it helpful to use time-blocking strategies. Schedule an appointment with yourself to be creative in whatever way you like as if it were a doctor’s appointment or a parent-teacher conference. You can accomplish absolutely nothing during that time, but at least do something you love. For example, I aim for at least one day each month that I draw or paint something. No writing!

Wonderful how you phrased that, being open to creativity, because that’s exactly how one needs to be. 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?

I am one of those writers who tends to juggle a dozen or so projects at a time. I like the variety, and sometimes one project bleeds into another which can also lend itself to unexpected, but beautiful outcomes. One of my newer projects is a picture book about possibilities and probabilities. Again, my son may have something to do with that! I have also started a second middle-grade novel about a boy who has to navigate changing peer relationships and an absentee mother who reappears after his single-parent dad wins the lotto. Don’t ask me where that came from, because I have no clue. The idea just appeared one day and now I have to write the story.

Of course, there have been other wonderful creatives that helped bring THE REAL FARMER IN THE DELL to life. My publisher, Callie Metler-Smith, at Clear Fork Publishing and Dr. Mira Resiberg, my editor and art director, were instrumental in bringing it all together. They found the incredibly talented illustration team, Chantelle and Burgen Thorne, to put the right pictures with my words. I couldn’t have done it without this exceptional group of people!

Thank you so much for having me on the blog, Candice. It has been a pleasure!

Enjoyed our interview, Sandra, and always your insightful critiques. Congrats again on your debut!

Connect with Sandra at:

www.sdsutter.com
https://twitter.com/sandradsutter
https://www.facebook.com/sandrasutterauthor/

THE REAL FARMER AND THE DELL officially releases March 19th but if you’re like me and can’t wait ‘til then, you can ask your favorite indie bookstore to pre-order it, or purchase it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble:

https://www.amazon.com/Real-Farmer-Dell-Sandra-Sutter/dp/1946101885/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1550347017&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Real+Farmer+in+the+Dell

And: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-real-farmer-in-the-dell-sandra-sutter/1130070330?ean=9781946101884

For y’all’s creativity challenge inspired by this interview, play the What-If game to encourage brainstorming. If you have or are around children, listen for prompts they may inadvertently send your way. Let me know in the comments and I’ll randomly choose a winner for a picture book critique by me!

Finding Creativity

SYNERGY!

When Janean, a friend and fellow writer, asked me to collaborate on a story I was hesitant. For 30 years, I have written solo: articles, books, poems, stories.

Yes, I have critique partners. I know that picture books are a marriage of two great minds – the writer and illustrator –further refined by the editor. That’s part of their unique magic!

Still, I found it difficult to grasp why two writers would work together on a story. Research revealed that collaboration between authors is not uncommon, so I asked a few authors to describe how they worked together.

The prolific author of 376 children’s books Jane Yolen has worked with other writers often, including her son and daughter. She partnered with others because she admired their work, needed their expertise, or ’to give a foot up’ into publication. “Two authors share their talents, their research, and provide a critical eye,” she said. “It’s important to set ego aside, decide whose name goes first, and share the royalties and advance equally.”

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Amy Gugliemo, a member of my northern NY Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, has had several partnerships. She was first approached by a parent to work jointly on a book about her art-based curriculum which taught all subjects, including math and science. She enthusiastically agreed. The result was the Touch the Art series of books with Julie Appel. Later, Amy partnered with Jacqueline Tourville, another critique group friend. ”Jacqueline and I have similar sense of humor and we spent a lot of time swapping work, so we just started writing together,” she said.

 

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While Julie and Amy would meet in person or chat on the phone, Jacqueline and Amy work through email, sending drafts to one another for edits. “We will go back and forth until we’re both happy,” says Amy. “I’ve been very lucky with my collaborations and I would be open to working with other authors in the future. Publishing is a difficult sport and the best thing about collaboration is having someone to share the ups and downs of the business. It’s always great to celebrate with a friend!”

 

Matt Forrest Esenwine teamed up with Deb Bruss on the story Don’t Ask a Dinosaur. Matt and Deb are in the same SCBWI writers group. According to Matt, Deb gave Matt a general concept and a few lines, but no plot or ending. This sat by his computer for a few months, until he figured out where to go with it. They revised it about 20 times, sharing the versions with one another using Google docs and receiving feedback from their critique group. “One good thing about working together is the back-and-forth of ideas. You have to be able to compromise, and let go of the idea that this is your baby. Co-authored projects are a joy to complete, knowing two people have put so much time, talent, and effort into one little book,” said Matt.

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David Harrison and Sandy Asher co-authored the play, Jesse and Grace: A Best Friend’s Story. Sandy would write a poem from Grace’s point of view, send it to David, and he would respond from Jesse’s POV. Since neither knew in advance what the other would say, “the telling was spontaneous and personal and related to the interior thinking of each character,” said David.

Trisha Speed Shaskan and Stephen Shaskan teamed up on their graphic novel series Q & RAY and picture book PUNK SKUNKS. They like to formulate ideas together, then brainstorm the conflict. “You need to allow ample space for everyone’s ideas and keep things positive,” they wrote in a Storystorm blog post. They believe finding someone you fully trust and maintaining mutual respect is essential.

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I began to see that working together is synergistic – the effect is greater than the sum of its parts, resulting in a better story than when each writer works alone. I have high hopes for the story Janean and I are creating together.