Best in Show, Uncategorized

Friendship and Empathy: Helping A Friend Who Has Experienced Trauma

Have you ever wondered how some authors take heavy topics and show their story in a way that helps others be more mindful of others’ feelings? Joanna Rowland is very experienced in this area and in her newest picture book, Big Bear Was Not The Same, she accomplishes just this! Beautifully illustrated by John Ledda, Joanna and John show readers how to be more empathetic and supportive to a friend who has experienced a traumatic event. I’m so glad Joanna could stop by to talk about her book today!

TS: Hi Joanna! Your book is such a good reminder of how to be there for someone. Whether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?

JR: One of the things I love about picture books is that illustrators can show so much through their illustrations that I don’t need to tell. I have one line, “Little Bear tried all sorts of things to cheer up Big Bear. But nothing worked.” It was so fun to see the ways illustrator John Ledda used to show Little Bear trying to cheer up Big Bear. I don’t need to tell the reader in words what was happening because they can see it in the pictures. Because the story I wrote is about trauma and responses to trauma, it was important for me to sometimes say the action. One example: “Oh, no! said Big Bear, and he ran away.” I felt it was important to say the action when it was a response to trauma to help kids better understand how someone might act when they are traumatized. In Big Bear Was Not The Same, Big Bear has been traumatized by a forest fire. When things remind Big Bear of the forest fire, he responds with fight, flight, or freeze. It was important to show Big Bear having that action when things reminded him of the fire. I think learning about how people who have PTSD respond to things, helped me know I needed to have more action scenes when Big Bear was triggered.

When I was writing the story, my critique partners were great for letting me know if it felt like something was missing. My books are always better by seeing how they respond to what I write and their feedback. 

TS: You made great decisions in those scenes especially because young kids are just learning about life and some of the difficulties they may experience. Are there specific strategies, tools or resources you use to incorporate more showing/descriptive language?  

JR: Reading picture books is a great way to learn about language and craft. I read different picture books every day. One of the fabulous perks of teaching five-year-olds. I love reading lyrical books. Cynthia Rylant does a beautiful job of using descriptive language in her books.

When I’m trying to make a word list, I like Word Hippo   https://www.wordhippo.com/

I also like looking up idioms here https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/ I find idioms can be a fun way to help me think more creatively on how I want to use words.

TS: These are terrific resources. Thank you for sharing! Would you like to share an example of a before and after where you needed to show more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?

 JR: Sure, this is an Early draft of Big Bear text example with too much telling:

It was only a matter of time before something set off Big Bear to think and feel

like the day in the woods was happening all over.

Sometimes, a smell set off Big Bear.

And Big Bear ran away.

It was only campers having dinner. But Big Bear relived that scary moment in the woods anyway.

Final version of Big Bear text example:

Some days, Little Bear and Big Bear had good days that almost felt normal.

But one smell could change it all.

SNIFF

Big Bear froze. 

“Don’t worry, Big Bear. It’s just kids making s’mores. You’re so big and brave. Nothing can scare you. Right?”

But Big Bear shivered.

Little Bear worried. “Do you want a hug?”

But Big Bear didn’t answer.

TS: I love the difference between the two versions. Much more emotion and heart in your final version! How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?

JR: I do learn from rejections. Pre agent, I used to send things out too soon occasionally, and if they didn’t connect emotionally, I knew I needed to go back to find the heart. My critique group is great at letting me know when I’ve hit that right emotional chord. So, if you aren’t in a critique group, find one. They are so valuable. Honestly some books can take me years to get right, and some weeks. Explore different structures with how to write your book, try writing it in different points of view, and revise. Big Bear took quite a few drafts because I wrote it in 3rd person and most of my other published books have been written in 1st person, so it was a learning curve for me to think about dialogue and how to write the action scenes in the book. Sometimes it’s okay to tell. I felt it was important to say the words, “Big Bear froze,” because freezing is one of the responses people have when they have been through a traumatic event. But I think leaving more room for the illustrator whenever possible, makes for a stronger book.  See how other authors show the balance in published books. You will learn so much from reading. What showed the action? Was it dialogue, text, or the illustration? Have fun and don’t be afraid to experiment. Copy your manuscript and practice deleting chunks to see if it’s better with or without. Sometimes less words, is more powerful. But most importantly, keep trying

TS: Critique partners are those objective eyes and ears. Reading other books is such a great habit to develop, I agree. Wishing you continued success with Big Bear, Little Bear and future books. Thank you for stopping by!

Joanna Rowland grew up in Sacramento, California, where she still lives today with her husband and three children. She teaches kindergarten by day and writes picture books at night. In the summer you’ll find her by water or cozying up with a book. She is the author of The Memory Box: A Book about Grief; The Memory Book: A Grief Journal for Children and Families; Stay Through The Storm; When Things are Hard, Remember; and Always Mom, Forever Dad.

You can find Joanna online at:

Website: https://www.writerrowland.com/

Twitter: @WriterRowland  

Instagram:  @writerrowland 

Facebook: Joanna Rowland

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.