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.

Book Reviews, Uncategorized

Neurodiversity in Children’s Picture Books

Yes, I know Autism Awareness Month is April – not August. But they both begin with the letter ‘A’. And autism is a lifelong condition. It does not go away when spring ends and summer begins. It does not go away when a child grows up and turns 18. Approximately 1 in 59 children has been diagnosed with some form of autism spectrum disorder, according to the CDC.
I am neuro-diverse. I recall the day I stumbled on the website nldline.com while helping a library patron search for books on learning disabilities for math rather than language. My eyes opened wide. There were people with the same issues as me! What joy!
My own neurologically atypical existence was complicated by the fact that I am an immigrant. By the time I was ten, I had lived on three continents, and spoke three languages. That could be why my issues and challenges were not taken seriously and sometimes attributed to cultural difference.
When I was growing up in the 1960s, little was known about neurodiversity. I had difficulty in group conversations, so I tended to stay to myself – and came to believe I was shy. (I’m not). Even as an adult, group conversations still pose a problem. I don’t read body language well so I don’t know when it’s ok to speak – so I either stay quiet or interrupt.
I was told I was immature and would grow up eventually, or that I was lazy and not trying hard enough. Now I know that I have slow processing speed, and that is why everything takes longer.
Yet no matter how hard I tried, I kept failing at certain things. I never learned to ride a bike, or to throw and catch a ball. We tell our kids, “You can do anything if you try.” But this is not true. Not only will I never be a brain surgeon – I’ll never be a ballerina because I have dyspraxia. I’m a klutz.
We’re all different – and that makes for an interesting world. No matter which spectrum we belong to, everyone has strengths, and everyone has challenges. All humans are equal. All have dignity.
I have gathered some recently published books that feature neurologically diverse characters. Most are fiction. The last two are nonfiction biographies About Temple Grandin, a neuro-diverse woman whose contributions to science and inventions resulted in groundbreaking improvements for farms worldwide.


A Friend for Henry

by Jenn Bailey, ill by Mika Song. Chronicle Books 2019. 32 p. ; 535 words.
2020 Schneider Family Honor Book.
In this story about searching for a friend in a new classroom that is too loud and too close, Henry’s analytical, literal personality comes through. A touching story that will appeal to anyone looking for friendship but especially to those with neurological differences.


How to Babysit a Logan

by Callie Metler-Smith, ill by Cindy Vattathil. Clear Fork Publishing 2019. 32 p; 407 words.
What a great message about how a pet can be a best friend. Such a wonderful bond between the cat and the boy! Shows we all need and can give support. Beautiful illustrations and a great story for all kids! The cat, Thunderbolt, explains how he spends his time making sure Logan is safe and loved. A beautiful bond between a pet and an autistic boy. encourages discussion and understanding about what life is like with autism. informational in such an easy, conversational tone

This Beach Is Loud

by Samantha Cotterill (au/ill), Dial Books, 2019. 32 p.; 318 words.
Even fun things can feel overwhelming. For all children – but especially children on the spectrum – new things and things with sensory overload can be overwhelming. This book does an excellent job of portraying this feeling, and the tension is resolved joyfully at the end. This book also shows the use of calming activities like breathing and counting. As a word nerd rather than a picture person I found some of the circular text that goes off the page very difficult to read.

Too Sticky! Sensory Issues with Autism

by Jen Malia ill by Joanne Lew Vriethoff. Albert Whitman, April 1, 2020. 32 p.; 1,005 words.

The own-voices book portrays sensory issues and Holly’s struggle well. We see the MCs feelings and the support she gets from her family. The slime science experiment relates to STEM concepts. It shows empathy. However, I thought for a picture book at over 1,000 words it was a bit too long. Also, the child-protagonist is constantly prodded by adults and does not solve her own problem.

Noah Chases the Wind

by Michelle Worthington ill by Joseph Cowman. Redleaf Lane (an imprint of Redleaf Press), 2015. 32 pages; 449 words.
Winner of the silver medal in the Moonbeam Children’s Books Award in the Picture Book 4–8-year-old category from Independent Publisher ; Winner of the Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award
The first two lines say it all: “Noah knew he was different. He could see things that others couldn’t.” The rest of the story shows the beauty of being different. This is a story for every child who feels different or sees the world through a different lens – not just those on the spectrum or with sensory integration disorder. This whimsical story also highlights Noah’s special interest in weather.

The boy who said nonsense

by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky ill by Nicola Anderson. Albert Whitman & Company, 2016. 32 pages; 862 words.
Celebrates diversity. Because Tate doesn’t communicate like other children, it takes time to recognize is special gift for math. Shows we’re all unique and need to be valued for our gifts in spite of challenges we may have.


Cy Makes a Friend

by Ann Marie Stephens ill by Tracy Subisak. Boyds Mills Press, 2019. 32 p.; 252 words.
A wonderful, fun read! Many children have trouble making friends because they are shy or different. This is a great book for everyone who feels vulnerable and is afraid to reach out to make friends.

Benji, the Bad Day and Me

by Sally J. Pla, Ill by Ken Min. Lee & Low Books, 2018. 32 p.
Everyone has a bad day occasionally. This story reminds me of the classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. But here, the main character Sammy’s brother Benji, who comforts him, is autistic. The book touches on the feelings not just of those who are neuro-diverse, but their siblings. The author notes, “It’s important to note that no two autistic kids are alike, and their needs and behaviors will always be different.”


Uniquely Wired

by Julia Cook, ill by Anita DuFalla. Boys Town Press, 2018, 32 p.
In this first-person narrated story, Zak, a boy who is autistic, shares his quirks, interests and view of life. However, the author fails to address uniqueness – because no two people on the spectrum are alike – and describes some autistic traits as gifts, confusing many readers. The author needs to learn more about the subject before attempting to write about it.

All My Stripes: A Story for Children with Autism

by Shaina Rudolph (Author), Danielle Royer (Author), Jennifer Zivoin (Illustrator). Magination Press, 2015. 40 p. Gold Medal, Mom’s Choice Awards
Zane the Zebra has many stripes! The book brings an important message about accepting our differences.
After a troubling day at school when his autistic qualities – sensory issues, inability to communicate with his classmates, wanting to do a project differently and not understanding figurative language – make him feel different, his Mom explains that only one of his stripes is autism. He has many other excellent stripes, like honesty, curiosity, caring, and navigation. Zane feels better about himself and comes to understand that all the stripes together make him who he is. There are many pages of helpful information in the backmatter.
The problems with the book are that some of the incidents would not really happen. No teacher would leave a kid behind during a fire drill, cowering under the desk until the firemen arrived.

A Manual for Marco: Living, Learning, and Laughing With an Autistic Sibling by Shaila Abdullah, ill by Iman Tejpar. Loving Healing Press, 2015. 36p.
This book is written from the point-of-view of an eight-year-old girl learning how to deal with her autistic brother Marco. Presented in a notebook format, she writes down the things her brother does. The reader sees the importance of acceptance and love.
Backmatter contains a list of of things to remember to make life with an autistic sibling easier. Also included are resources for more information about autism.

How to Build a Hug: Temple Grandin and Her Amazing Squeeze Machine by Amy Guglielmo , Jacqueline Tourville , and Giselle Potter et al. Atheneum Books for Young Readers , 2018 ; 48 p.
A wonderful story about overcoming obstacles, especially emotional and sensory ones.
A wonderful story about overcoming obstacles, especially emotional and sensory ones. The story begins with a problem and shows how Temple felt as a child, how she found her own unique and creative solution from experiencing the world around her. The backmatter author’s note shares more about Temple Grandin and her amazing scientific contributions as a pioneer in her field.

The Girl Who Thought in Pictures: the Story of Dr. Temple Grandin By Julia Finley Mosca Ill by:Daniel Rieley. The Innovation Press, 2017. 40 p.
Written in rhyme with beautiful illustrations, this account addresses Temple’s challenges and accomplishments. The story shows how being inclusive makes a positive impact on everyone. Backmatter includes a letter from Temple Grandin, interesting details from the author’s interviews, a timeline and a two-page prose biography.

Best in Show

Writing Is Mining- featuring Beth Anderson

Hello Everyone!

I hope this blog post finds you all having a great summer in our new normal. Today I am thrilled to have Beth Anderson as our featured guest. As you know, she is an accomplished writer focusing on narrative nonfiction and historical fiction picture books. Her quote “Writing is Mining” holds such truth. She describes writing in these genres as digging for those special memories, emotions, and meaning. Beth has wonderful strategies for showing in these areas.

TS: Beth, thank you so much for being our guest today and congratulations on your October release of “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses: How James Kelly’s Nose Saved the New York City SubwayWhether drafting or revising, how do you know when it is necessary to show action, scene and sensory elements?

BA: Thank you so much for inviting me to share some thoughts on the essential “show vs. tell.”

I believe in action wherever it makes sense – the more the better. Keeping the characters active keeps the reader turning pages. Actions reveal character so it’s a huge part of the emotional arc. But there also has to be the flow in and out, along with weaving in needed context. Constant action for the sake of action is exhausting! 

Scenes carry the emotional arc of the main character as well as the plot. They move the story forward, stepping-stones in the character’s transformation that build to the story’s end. If a scene doesn’t serve that purpose, then it needs to go or be revised to carry a piece of the emotional arc. Sometimes, even “internal” scenes can be active. Here’s an example from Lizzie Demands a Seat with the additional challenge of required context:

She eyed empty seats. Despite being born a “free black” in a “free state,” she’d never been treated as equal. She’d been rejected, restricted, and refused by schools, restaurants, and theaters. Suddenly late-for-church wasn’t as important as late-for-equality. Lizzie stood firm.

Passengers murmured.

Horses snorted.

Pedestrians gathered.

Finally, the driver held up the reins. “We need to go.”

Scenes play out best with action, and if you can use action to transition between scenes, do that, too. “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses, releasing Oct. 13, was a huge challenge regarding transitions between scenes. There was so little information on James Kelly’s days in the NYC subway, all I had were anecdotes with the potential to be priceless scenes. I had to find a way to organize them with a special “heart” thread and effectively transition between scenes to avoid an “episodic” feel. Here’s an example of an active transition that lets us pause with the character and progress to the next scene:

“Exhausted, he paused and peered through the crowd gathered at the movie poster. Even superheroes needed help.”

And here’s an example from An Inconvenient Alphabet where I used imagery to actively transition. Instead of saying that Noah Webster wanted to reform American English spelling, it became:

“Armed with the twenty-six letters of the English alphabet everyone knew and loved, Noah launched a spelling revolution—ready to turn “rong” spelling into “rite.””

Sensory elements enrich the reading experience by inviting readers into the moment, immersing them in the setting, and connecting readers to characters on multiple levels. As you will see in “Smelly” Kelly’s story, I use sensory elements liberally!

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

 

I use the online thesaurus a lot. If you can find just the right word, it can make an illustration note or other words unnecessary. For instance, recently I replaced “took” with “claimed.” It made a huge difference—adding attitude.

I can’t resist onomatopoeia. But besides sounds, I also ask myself – What would that look like? In “Smelly” Kelly, there are lots of stinks. Instead of trying to describe the stink in the New Yorker Hotel, it was more fun to show the reaction to the smell.

“Maids pinched their noses. Guests fled. Engineers analyzed and pondered, but they couldn’t figure out where the leak was coming from.”

I also try to “show” emotions, especially what cannot be shown easily by an illustrator. When Kelly realizes he’s not doing enough, I tried to show that feeling of inadequacy:

A broken steam line blasted water pipes.

Kelly shook his head. Someone could’ve been burned. Sniffing wasn’t enough. He needed to listen, to hear sounds no one else heard.

There’s some physical movement there, but mostly I take you inside Kelly’s head. And that’s another powerful way to achieve more showing. Many writers call it psychic distance. Once I learned about it, my writing changed and became more immediate. The example above doesn’t say “he thought” or “he scolded himself” or “he realized.” Cutting the “head verbs” eliminates that filter between the reader and the character. It’s like the difference between indirect speech (He told me to stop.) and direct speech (STOP!). If you go straight to the words or realization or thought, the reader feels it as the character, and it eliminates the “telling.”

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

BA: Sure! I looked back at an early version of “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses. Here’s one line that was very “telling”:

“He settled into an apartment and took a job with the subway.”

Because that involved an action (took a job in the subway) that set off the whole story, I needed to show motivation and the emotion behind that decision. It evolved into a scene with “showing” and delightful illustrations:

James set out to find a job, but, as always, his incredible nose proved troublesome.

Fish market—no!

Sanitation—no!

Meat packing—NO!

He felt a rumble below the sidewalk and peered through the grate. The damp air bristled with mystery.

TS: Writing is about balance. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?

BA: Generally, I think showing appears in scenes and telling in transitions. Emotion and important action pieces require showing. That’s what keeps your story alive, where you want the reader to connect. Telling can speed up the narrative to get to the good stuff, but too much can bog it down. Showing and telling are intertwined with pacing, characterization, and point of view. It’s truly a complicated dance. When I researched to prepare a presentation on point of view and really examined how it works in a picture book, I found that the “camera” goes in and out—and that in and out is achieved with showing and telling, and also involves “proximity.” Just another reason to read and analyze LOTS of books!

TS: Wow, Beth! You have given so much to think about. Your knowledge and command over the elements are so strong and comes through your writing vividly. Thank you!

 

Beth Anderson, author of Lizzie Demands a Seat, An Inconvenient Alphabet, and “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses, is drawn to stories that open minds, touch hearts, and inspire questions. A former educator who has always marveled at the power of books, she hopes that voices from the past will help children discover their own. Beth has more historical gems on the way!

Learn more about Beth and her amazing books at:

Website: bethandersonwriter.com 

Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram: @Bandersonwriter

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beth.anderson.33671748

signed copies of books available from Old Firehouse Books

Uncategorized

Welcome to Debut Author Jolene Gutiérrez

Hello Everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

TS: Could you share an example of a before and after where you needed to show more and found the right words to paint the image for the reader?

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

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

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

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

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

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

TS: Writing is about balance. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?

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

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

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

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

Facebook: facebook.com/writerjolene

Twitter: twitter.com/writerjolene

Instagram: instagram.com/writerjolene

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/writerjolene

Pinterest: pinterest.com/writerjolene

 

Preorder Links:

Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader:

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

Bionic Beasts:

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

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!

Best in Show, Uncategorized

The Wonder of the Littles, a Board Book Series

Hello Everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

Paper Tiger

roaring/stomping

stalk

pounce/play

jump

hunt

chuffing

growling/prowling

grrrrr

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

Little Tiger

prowling,

growling,

on the jungle floor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Hippo

puzzling,

nuzzling,

finds a playful bird….TELLING

So I changed it too…

Little Hippo

puzzling,

nuzzling

finds a red-billed bird…

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

TS: You work through this with such preciseness and clarity. What a challenge. Writing is about balance. How do you know you’ve got it just right? What tips or suggestions do you have for writers in terms of striving for that balance of showing versus telling?

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

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

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

Julie Author Bio:

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

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

Julie is represented by Essie White of Storm Literary Agency.

Where to find Julie:

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

Twitter: @juliedawnabery

Facebook: julieabery

Instagram: juliedawnabery

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.

words and your heart copy

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.

 

Pitch It to Me

~ THE PITCH IT TO ME CHALLENGE ~

Welcome back for the fourth PITCH IT TO ME CHALLENGE! For those of you who missed the last challenge, our special guest pitcher, debut author Erin LeClerc, captured the most votes to take top honors. A big round of thanks to Erin and author Marcia Berneger for participating in the challenge, and to all who dropped by to participate.

For this round, Shirin Shamsi, author of the middle-grade novel, LAILA AND THE SANDS OF TIME (June 2019, Clear Fork Publishing), has sent in a pitch for her picture book manuscript, BASEBALL-A-SAURUS. How clever of her to blend such wonderful hooks – baseball and dinosaurs – into one story!

As if having a book about baseball isn’t exciting enough for a pitching challenge, let’s add on top of that a fabulous guest-star pitcher, Linsday Leslie, who has two – yes two! – picture books out this year with Page Street Kids. Her debut, THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS, came out in February, while NOVA THE STAR EATER just recently hit the shelves in May. Lindsay has a third on the way, DUSK EXPLORERS, which is due out next year. So you can see, Lindsay is pretty much setting the picture book world on fire right now!

Make sure to take a look at the extra information included below about each of these amazing authors.

Now on to the challenge. Take a look at the three pitches in the voting box. They are in no particular order so you’ll never know whose is whose (the author’s, mine, or our special guest pitcher). Vote for your favorite, and if you are so inclined, leave a comment, too. We love hearing from readers/voters!

You have until July 4, 2019, to cast your vote. Please vote only once, but feel free to tell your friends about us and get them in on the action.

 

ABOUT SHIRIN:

Shirin has lived on three continents and sees herself as a global citizen.  She loves to share stories from her heritage to inspire understanding and appreciation for all cultures and diversity. As a current member of SCBWI and 12×12, Shirin has taken many courses to improve her craft. For her, writing is like breathing.

Connect with Shirin at: 

Website: shirinshamsi.com Twitter: @ShirinsBooks Instagram: Shirinshamsi1

Find Shirin’s book at:     Amazon  /   Clear Fork Publishing

ABOUT LINDSAY:

A diary keeper, a journal writer, a journalism major, a public relations executive—Lindsay Leslie has always operated in a world of written words. When she became a mom and began to tell her kids bedtime stories, Lindsay connected the dots to children’s literature. 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 and NOVA THE STAR EATER (Page Street Kids). Her third picture book, DUSK EXPLORERS (Page Street Kids), will launch in the spring of 2020. Lindsay lives with her husband, two young boys, and two fur-beasts in Austin.

Connect with Lindsay at:  lindsayleslie.com@lleslie

Find Lindsay’s Books at:

https://lindsayleslie.com/books/this-book-is-spineless/

https://lindsayleslie.com/books/nova-the-star-eater/

CONCLUDING REMARKS: 

Yep, my lawyer-speak is still alive and well. Let’s wrap this up, shall we?

I want to thank Shirin Shamsi and Lindsay Leslie for participating in this WONDERful word challenge. They are two talented authors who I hope you have enjoyed getting to know more about here. Thank you for stopping by (and voting)! Until next time . . .

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.

WowELC7
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.