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1326. Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Jennifer Yerkes

(Click to enlarge)

This interview has been several years in the making.

Back in 2012, when I juried for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, I was delighted to see a little book called Drôle d’oiseau, published by France’s Éditions MeMo in 2011. The book went on to receive a Mention for the Opera Prima Award that year. (The Opera Prima Award is given to debut artists.) It also received here in the States the 2013 Gold Medal for the Society of Illustrators’ Original Art award, as it was released in the U.S. by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky as A Funny Little Bird. Jennifer, as you’ll read below, was born here in the U.S. but now makes her home overseas — and has for many years. (So, yes, her debut picture book was published in French yet translated later into her mother tongue, as she notes in a response below.)

The book was described by professional reviewers as fresh, innovative, highly-original, thought-provoking, infinitely clever … I could go on. To say the artwork is spare is an understatement. Yerkes’ protagonist in the book consists of primarily negative space, as you can see in some of the spreads below. Pictured above, in fact, in the spread opening this post is the cover art. (It pains me to put a border around it, but I want you to be able to click on it and see it in more detail, if you’re so inclined, and if I don’t put the border, I think cyberspace adds a big, ugly thick border. Also, please note that if you click on it, the colors in the larger version are slightly off. They’re brighter than they appear in the book.)

Where was I? Oh, it’s a delightful book on many levels, and I’m glad Jennifer’s here to talk about it, to share lots of art, to let us know what’s next for her, and to give us a peek into her sketchbooks. We’re going to have lots of coffee. A typical breakfast for her involves that and then, “about two hours later: four slices of well-buttered toast. Or if I’m lucky enough to make it to the bakery, a cinnamon ‘cross.’” I say we splurge and have all of the above.

I thank her for visiting. Let’s get to it …

* * * * * * *

Jules: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Jennifer: Author/Illustrator, as of a couple years ago. Graphic designer/Illustrator first, though.

Jules: Can you list your books-to-date?


  • Drôle d’oiseau [spread pictured below], published by Éditions MeMo, 2011 (A Funny Little Bird, the North American edition, was published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky in 2013)
  • À vue d’oeil (or At First Glance), published by Éditions Notari and out on shelves as of 25 April
  • Une parfaite journée printanière (or A Perfect Spring Day), a work in progress with Éditions Notari, which should be out early next year, if all goes as planned!

“Le monde était vaste et beau.
[The world is full of beautiful things, he thought.]“

Jules: What is your usual medium?

Jennifer: I’ve used various mediums over the years, depending upon the project. Drôle d’oiseau was supposed to be a cut-paper project, for example. But there was the problem of shadows. So I did something I thought I’d never do and … went digital.

When not doing things digitally, I usually fall back on markers and pens and pencils in the end, though there’s been a recent watercolour resurgence.

The story I’m currently working on is being done with coloured pencils. It makes me so very happy to be working everything out entirely by hand!

Jules: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?

Jennifer: My frst two published books and the book in progress are marketed for age ranges from 0-8. But I’ve done illustrations for all ages. In the end, the style used comes partly from the targeted age group , I guess. But it always develops with the reading of the accompanying text and/or the conversations with my clients. I love playing with forms and colours, whether digitally or with paper and scissors and so on. But I also love drawing and painting in simple to more detailed ways. I don’t think I could stick to one style all the time.

Rhymes and Lullabies From My Countries

by the Strasbourg-Neuhof Main Library & Django Reinhardt Cultural Center
(Neuhof, Strasbourg), 2013

Jules: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Jennifer: I spent a great deal of my childhood in Iowa City, Iowa. Then I spent years moving around Europe, studying and—ahhh!—just being. Then a great friend of mine called me in Budapest to ask if I was ever coming back to Strasbourg, and I said, “funny, but I was just trying to decide what to do next!” And next thing I knew, I was looking for a place in Strasbourg. And a few years later, that great friend of mine and I got married. That was more than a decade ago, and here we still are, stompin’ around. Though now we’ve got twin mini-stompers in tow!

From Jennifer’s sketchbooks

Jules: Can you tell me about your road to publication?

Jennifer: I was creating an illustration project for a group of very small children. The idea was that I would create a story, and they would use different techniques over a period of months to illustrate it, and then we would print the results. I’d done this before with young children, but never this young. Some of them had difficulty holding a crayon! And many of them came from tough backgrounds. So I needed to come up with something to really intrigue them. And also something that could be easily illustrated in pleasing ways — in order to help that initial intrigue grow into real interest.

One day, I had the phrase “drôle d’oiseau” foating around in my head. A number of ideas floated through, while ruminating on what could be so funny about a little bird. And then, without any warning, the whole project just came together: the kids would dress up an otherwise unadorned “funny little bird”!

So, I wrote the story — but quickly realised that this was the story that the illustrator inside me had been waiting for for years, and so…

“Le plus souvent, c’était comme s’il n’était pas là. Ou presque.
[Most of the time, it was as if he was invisible. Or almost.]“

(Click to enlarge, though the colors in the enlarged version are a bit off)

“A présent, le drôle d’oiseau n’est plus solitaire, même s’il reste encore très discret ….
[Now the funny little bird isn't alone anymore. And he never shows off.]“

(Click to enlarge, though the colors in the enlarged version are a bit off)

I came up with another project for the workshop and started working on the funny little bird myself. And when I’d finished, I hemmed and hawed, not knowing what to do with it, and my husband said, “SEND IT!” So we went into the boys’ bedroom and looked at the spines of our favourite French books. Éditions MeMo was everywhere on those shelves, so I emailed them.

And two days later, I got an email from Christine Morault (the Mo of MeMo), saying, “We are interested. IF you are willing to cut some of the text.” And I said, “I am MORE than willing to cut some text!” The truth is, I had already started doing that. Which, looking back on it all, seems to have augured well for the months to come: the fact that we were seeing eye-to-eye from the start, even before we’d gotten to know one another, I mean.

And the rest is history!

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From Jennifer’s sketchbooks

Jules: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?

Jennifer: My (still under construction) site: cargocollective.com/jennifer-yerkes and ye aulde blog: jennifer-yerkes.blogspot.fr (in French, but there’s a translation option on the left-hand side. Keeping two blogs, one in English and one in French, was too time-consuming!)

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(Click to enlarge)

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Jules: If you do school visits, can you tell me what they’re like?

Jennifer: I love doing school, library, etcetera visits. Really and truly. To start with, the adults who program them are usually doing so because they like your work. And they’ve almost always instilled some—or a lot—of that in the children. Often, they’ve prepared for the visit by doing amazing projects, based upon your book. So it is obviously gratifying. But it is also humbling, because you see all that they’ve put into their work, and you are witness to an immense amount of imagination and intelligence.

To date, most of my visits have involved short workshops, which is a lot of fun and also, frankly, inspiring. One of the simplest things I do with groups of children is also an across-the-board favourite. Afer a reading, followed by questions and answers and discussion, I give them an A3-size piece of paper on which are printed the eyes, beak, and legs of Funny Little Bird, in different poses taken directly from my first book. The children are invited to dress their bird in whatever way they wish. I give them ideas, of course, because some children need that kind of kick-start. But whether they are inspired by one of my ideas or do their own thing, the birds they create are truly, extraordinarily wonderful. I would love to print a book of their works, to be honest!

(Click to enlarge)

Jules: If you teach illustration, by chance, tell me how that influences your work as an illustrator.

Jennifer: Ahh … hm! I teach Illustration to children aged 3-12 and Design to 18-22 year-olds. A big part of how teaching (both illustration and design) influences my work has to do with the amount of studying up you need to do as a teacher. You have to know that you know what you’re talking about. And you have to come up with lesson plans that interest both the students and you, their teacher. Otherwise, why bother? So you’re always researching, always on the look-out for new ideas, new ways of bringing something good out of your students.

The truth is that it’s thanks to teaching small children how to illustrate that I came up with the “idea I’d been waiting for all my life”! It feels like it was bound to happen. I wasn’t thinking of the children, exactly, nor of the things that I want to teach them about life; it all just came together, seemingly spontaneously. It wasn’t until my copies of that first book arrived that I realised what an enormous number of experiences actually went into it, including those of a mother and art teacher and old kid.

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More from Jennifer’s sketchbooks

Jules: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Jennifer: À vue d’oeil was out on the shelves on 25 April. Although it’s a wordless book, there is a kind of a story in there. But it’s more of a game than a story: trickery involving shapes and colours and patterns.

I’m currently working with the Notaris on Une parfaite journée printanière [pictured below], creating images using only coloured pencil. It’s something of a challenge, which I always enjoy. In any case, every time I sit down to work on it, I feel like I’m sitting down with a friend. Sometimes I lose track of the time. Last night, for instance, I looked up after a while and was shocked to see that it was 2 a.m.!

(Click each to enlarge)

I’m also working with a friend of mine, Claire Perret, on a book with the working title Il s’est passé quelque chose (or Something Happened). I wrote the story a few months back, but every time I started sketching it out, I’d see her illustrations on the pages in my head. Thankfully, she saw her illustrations on those pages, too!

From the sketchbook …
(Click to enlarge)

After those are done, there are a number of ideas for children’s books that are vying for attention. And I’m also working on two ideas for graphic novels, one with the working title Flight and the other called Nunzio (the title of the play by Spiro Scimone that inspired it).

Otherwise, I’m creating a pop-up image for an exhibit; a cut-out-and-fold-and-glue accordion-style book for a Swiss literary journal called Le Persil; and I’m finalising and starting to think of sending out feelers for a project for a wooden block set I call Little Architect.

(Click to enlarge)

Mmm. Coffee.Okay, we’ve got more coffee, and it’s time to get a bit more detailed with seven questions over breakfast. I thank Jennifer again for visiting 7-Imp.

1. Jules: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?


: Good question!

I have two published books. The one with text began with the title. The wordless book began because I was looking at a children’s book, and at first glance, I saw a shape within a part of one of the illustrations, which had nothing to do with the intent of the illustrator — and my book was pretty much born then and there. The text and images for the one I’m currently working on came together pretty much at the same time, though I needed to work out the text before I could really get going on the images. Their choreography and the flow of the phrases really have to work together.

Jennifer: “These [above and below] were some of the preliminary sketches for
À vue d’oeil

and, in an accidental way, a couple of the preliminary sketches for another project that I printed myself but that I’m hoping to be able to publish for real, soon, which I call ZUT! Alors or OH! Well… I’d already finished a ‘chapter’ of ZUT! Alors and printed it up but hadn’t yet gotten back to the other ‘chapters,’
when I got the idea for
At First Glance, while working on another project with the Notaris. This gave me the chance to work with a few of the ideas that were originally for ZUT, though I think that the windmill is the only one that comes pretty much directly from the earlier project/idea. These sketches were scanned for a mini-exhibit in a boutique called Nairami in Bologna this year.”
(Click each image to enlarge)

Most of the small, hand-made books I’ve made are either wordless or word-thrifty. When a wordless book/pamphlet/other comes about, it’s often because of a phrase or a word that kick-starts images in my head. But sometimes it’s just a funny idea that kicks things off. And the squillions of ideas for books that have been piling up all over my studio over the years follow similar patterns as the ones outlined above, depending upon the weight of the words.

I really enjoy the research process and tend to get caught up for a long time in sketching out possibilities — sometimes even just sketching the same thing over and over, until something in me decides that this is (or isn’t) “it.” More than that, though, I think I just need time to think — to let things sink in, sift out, come together, reach a conclusion. Then, when I “really start working,” I really start working.

More of the sketches mentioned above
(Click each to enlarge)

2. Jules: Describe your studio or usual work space.


: I’m between studios right now. I love my home studio, with its stained glass windows and balcony doors and cozy-but-open, funny-formed space and the walk-in supply closet. But I really had to get out of the home and have some contact with the outside world. When the chance came, I hemmed and hawed a bit … and then jumped at it. It’s only been a few months now, but I really feel like it was the right decision.

Besides myself, there are several other graphic artists, my designer studio-mate, a screen-printer and illustrator, a DJ, a small publishing house, and four arts associations in the same building. But I still work from home on the weekends or when the job is demanding.

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Jennifer: “The blocks on my desk were the boys’ — until I ‘borrowed’ them.”


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Jennifer: “Some of the kinds of things that can be found
in the deepest recesses of the studio closet …”


Jennifer: “There is a little scrap of paper at the edge of the pink DVD box with ‘a full rigged ship’ printed on it, which has been following me around for years and years — doggedly but discretely begging me to DO something with it …”
(Click to enlarge image)

3. Jules: As a book-lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Jennifer: “[This is] 7- or 8-year-old Jenny on a sick day.”


: [she laughs] Oh … so-o-o-o many books, so little space! [She laughs again, and starts racking her brain]

For one thing, I was one of the crowd of kids who received Cricket magazine, starting somewhere close to Volume 1. There were so many great authors and illustrators between those pages.

And then, of course, there was Maurice Sendak. Everything by Maurice Sendak. My favourite Sendak book is Kenny’s Window. It makes me hollow with grief to think that the person who came up with that story is no longer with us.

And every single thing I’ve ever read by Arnold Lobel. My boys and I laugh and laugh every time we read Mouse Tales. And I weep just thinking of “Tear-water Tea” or “Owl and the Moon.”

Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day still gives me goosebumps. It’s so gorgeous and dreamy. Leo Lionni’s Frederick and many of his other titles, too.

And I recently nabbed a few old faves from the bookshelves, before my parents moved out of our childhood home, including Wallace Tripp’s Jennifer’s Rabbit; Strega Nona; Who’s Got the Apple?; Squawk to the Moon, Little Goose; Too Much Noise; The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night; the Eva Le Gallienne version of The Nightingale; Gorey’s pop-up, The Dwindling Party …*

Also, The Maggie B., given to me (and in a way to my little brother, too) just before the birth of our first little sister. A huge influence, really — and still a favourite with my 10-yr-old boys, too. (I have a book’s worth to say about picture books and supposed age-appropriateness.)

My parents were English-majors-turned-editor and -bookbinder and gave us books for every occasion. There were four children, which over the ages, meant a LOT of books. And one of the great things about being the oldest of four was that I could still gorge myself on great books that were ostensibly for younger children until I was leaving home for college. And that next Christmas, my parents gave me the Lisbeth Zwerger version of A Christmas Carol, which, I think, sealed my fate as a lifelong children’s book reader and collector.

*I know I’m going to be sick about leaving someone(s) out when I read this later, but in the interest of leaving some blog space for your next interviewee …

4. Jules: If you could have three (living) authors or illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose? (Some people cheat and list deceased authors/illustrators. I won’t tell.)

Jennifer: Tomi Ungerer* (though it would have to be a couple of glasses of whiskey), Enzo and Iela Mari (whom I’m counting as one), and Katsumi Komagata.

* I’m cheating a bit here, because although we’ve met, we’ve yet to have a glass of wine or whiskey together: Tomi Ungerer’s Strasbourg home is very close to ours, and last October, we met in the local grocery store. We were chatting as he paid and bagged up his groceries, and he asked, “Do you have a car?” I said, “No, but I’m the mother of twin boys, so I have strong arms!” He laughed and let me take his bags, and we walked back to his home, chatting all the while. He is such a charming, easy-going person that it took until I’d left and was some distance from his home for the reality of it all to settle in. A funny little aside: My husband and I are huge fans of Ungerer’s work and decided to name one of our twins after him. The boys were meant to be born around 7 January, but they popped out unexpectedly on the morning of 28 November. And couple of years later, reading a bio of Ungerer, I noticed his birthdate: 28 November 1931! (Our other little whippersnapper is called Leo, after Leo Lionni.)

Image (and detail) for an arts festival, called Ateliers Ouverts (Studio Open Doors),
in Strasbourg (from May 2014)
(graphics — S. Riedinger)

5. Jules: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Jules: [she squints at the stereo] The Fall, Siskiyou, Ian & Sylvia, Music From the Penguin Café, Yo La Tengo, Tune-Yards, Richard Thompson, Debut Italian 3 + 4, Randy Newman, Sufjan Stevens, Fredo Viola, The Sixth Great Lake, Daniel Johnston, Rufus Wainwright (his dad’s in the other room), The Tallis Scholars, and a number whose cases are turned around.

Our stereo dates from about 1988 (no, I’m not joking), so only one of those albums is actually loaded, but I can’t tell which!

Jennifer: “The music corner … Our 1988 stereo is in the apéritif caddy on the bottom left. The stacks of CDs are in the place usually designated
for the Picon and Martini bottles.”

Sometimes I feel a real need for music when I create, and other times at the end of the day, I look up, shake my head, rub my eyes, and realise that it’s been silent all day (except for the scraping of pens and pencils or the tapping on the keyboard)!

Jennifer: “These are from a failed attempt to paint ‘play mat’ canvasses for [my] boys, when they were very small. Though they played on them, they didn’t do it much in the way I was hoping. I’m not much with acrylics, for sure, but I think the perspective problem was just too much for them, so they decided to just play on a painting. Heh! There were a couple of details that I’m still kind of fond of, though,
so I include the pics for fun.”

(Click each to enlarge)

6. Jules: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Jennifer: As a kid, I dreamed of becoming a race car driver. Sometimes I still do. (But I’ve never owned a car!)

(Click to enlarge)

Image created for the exhibition of Venus Elsewhere Circle Magazine, April 2014,
plus one of the images created to facilitate the workshop “Me Martian?”

7. Jules: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Jennifer: Umm … Yeah:

“How did it feel to be translated into your mother tongue?”

Tough. I still don’t really know how to answer that one!

Jennifer: “[This is] from one of the many ‘portrait’ series
one of our sons has produced.”

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire * * *

Jules: What is your favorite word?

Jennifer: Can’t decide. “Whippersnapper”? Or “criminy”?

Jules: What is your least favorite word?

Jennifer: Any of a number connected with racism, misogyny, bigotry of any kind.

Jules: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Jennifer: The wind in the trees, water lapping, crickets chirping, delighted laughter …

Jules: What turns you off?

Jennifer: Racism, misogyny, bigotry of any kind.

7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)

Jennifer: “Hogwash!” (when I don’t feel like really cursing).

Jules: What sound or noise do you love?

Jennifer: The wind in the trees, water lapping, crickets chirping, delighted laughter.

Jules: What sound or noise do you hate?

Jennifer: Tires screeching.

Jules: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Jennifer: Race car driver! (I know, I know, but even if I were a race car driver, I wouldn’t want to hear tires screeching!)

Jules: What profession would you not like to do?

Jennifer: Honestly, I don’t know how dentists can stand it.

Jules: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Jennifer: “Come in, stranger.” Then a pearl-handled guitar could start strumming, and familiar voices might be heard joining in: “I know you’re weary from all your miles, just sit right there in your easy chair and tell me about all the places you’ve been ….”

Either that, or “Don’t worry. I don’t mind that you were wrong. Come on in and make yourself at home!”

* * * * * * *

All artwork and images are used with permission of Jennifer Yerkes.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred, © 2009 Matt Phelan.


3 Comments on Seven Questions Over Breakfast with Jennifer Yerkes, last added: 6/13/2014
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1327. Kidlit Events June 10-16

We have two events happening this week, one YA and one picture book. But this isn’t any ordinary picture book signing—this is a very special event in support of the Ronald McDonald House featuring a special book from Newbery Honor and National Book Award Finalist Kathi Appelt. Your place in line will be assigned when you purchase the book from Blue Willow Bookshop, so if you don’t want to wait in what I expect will be a very long line, hurry to buy your copy ahead of time! See you there!

June 10, Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. TROUBLE by Non Pratt
Blue Willow Bookshop
Non Pratt, YA Author

Non Pratt will discuss and sign TROUBLE, her debut novel for young adults. From Publishers Weekly: Friendship, betrayal, lust, and love are recurring themes in U.K. editor/publisher Pratt’s first novel exploring the trials of a British teen after she finds out she is pregnant. Reluctant to reveal the identity of the baby’s father, 15-year-old Hannah is surprised and relieved when her new friend, Aaron, offers to pretend he is responsible. But Aaron’s motives run deeper than wanting to help Hannah: part of him hopes that acting nobly might make up for previous actions that ended in tragedy…

June 14, Saturday, 1:00 p.m. MOGIE THE HEART OF THE HOUSE
Blue Willow Bookshop
Kathi Appelt, Children’s Author

Newbery Honor and National Book Award finalist author Kathi Appelt  will discuss and sign her newest picture book, MOGIE: THE HEART OF THE HOUSE.

Mogie is a real-life Labradoodle with a special talent: he always knows just what a sick kid needs! Give that dog a puddle and he’d splash. Give him a whistle and he’d roll over. Give him a rule and he’d break it.

One day a passel of puppies was born. Each puppy was designated for a Very Important Job, like Service Dog, or Search and Rescue Dog, or Groomed for the Show Ring Dog. Each puppy, that is, except Mogie. Mogie was a ball-chasing, tail-wagging, moon-howling pup. Not the kind of pup for any of those jobs! But there is a place that is just right for Mogie: a very special house where sick children and their families can stay while they undergo long-term treatment. A place with children who NEED a ball-chasing, tail-wagging, moon-howling pup. And there’s one little boy in particular who needs Mogie. And Mogie is about to prove he’s the best darn pooch in the passel. Based on a true story, this heartwarming picture book is published in conjunction with the Ronald McDonald House.

Note: In order to go through the signing line and meet Kathi Appelt for book personalization, please purchase MOGIE: THE HEART OF THE HOUSE from Blue Willow Bookshop. At the time of your purchase, Blue Willow will issue a signing line ticket that indicates your place in line. Your book and signing line ticket can be picked up at the event.

June 14, Saturday, 4:00 p.m. 
River Oaks Bookstore
Quinn Holliday, Author & Ryan Shaw, Illustrator

Join the Quinn Holliday, author of MACGYVER THE BEST BIG BLACK DOG for a reading and signing. Ryan Shaw the illustrator will be drawing for the kids as well!

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1328. A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na

Book of SleepHave you ever wondered how animals sleep? For many little ones, it will be a surprise to find out that some animals sleep standing up, and some animals sleep in the daytime, and some animals sleep alone and some sleep in a group, and some even sleep with one eye open. Even though this book doesn’t have many words, it doesn’t need them to move the story along. I think this book would be a perfect story to read at bedtime with its peaceful illustrations and simple message, but it also lends itself to fun conversation too. Sleep tight!

Posted by: Mary

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1329. To sleep, perchance to dream

A lyrical bedtime reverie; an open-only-at-night library run by a little librarian; a toddler’s pre-dawn escapades; and a kooky bedtime cruise: four new picture books help smooth the way from daytime activity to bedtime quiet.

zoboli big book of slumber To sleep, perchance to dreamSimona Mulazzani’s lush folk art in cozy nighttime colors lends a magical, drowsy atmosphere to Giovanna Zoboli’s The Big Book of Slumber, a large-format ode to the joys of dreamland. Translated from the Italian, soothing rhyming couplets are full of rhythm and repetition: “Mouse ate her apple and read her nice book. / Who else is sleeping? Just take a good look.” Appealingly drawn sleeping arrangements include some captivatingly out of the ordinary: Hippo sleeps on a sofa, giraffes in sleeping bags, and seals in armchairs propped up in the trees. (Eerdmans, 2–5 years)

kohara midnight library To sleep, perchance to dreamWelcome to The Midnight Library, written and illustrated by Kazuno Kohara, a friendly spot for animals from “all over the town” to “find a perfect book.” A little-girl librarian and her three owl assistants cheerfully bustle around the packed bookshelves, where small dramas are happily resolved alongside library business-as-usual. This dream of a library is designed with lots of reading nooks, comfy chairs, lanterns, and trees. The gentle story and vibrant compositions have an old-fashioned sensibility and simplicity that capture the enchantment of the middle-of-the-night goings on. (Roaring Brook, 2–5 years)

sakai hannahs night To sleep, perchance to dreamHannah’s Night by Komako Sakai begins enticingly: “One day when Hannah woke up, she was surprised to find that it was still dark.” Hannah’s day holds all sorts of surprises — because it’s still the middle of the night. Everyone else is asleep, so she eats cherries from the refrigerator; then, emboldened, Hannah gleefully borrows all her sound-asleep sister’s best stuff and takes it back to her own bed to play with. Sakai is a master at capturing toddlers’ body language and expressions, and her brief text clearly telegraphs the freedom Hannah feels on this toddler-sized adventure. (Gecko, 2–5 years)

farrell thank you octopus To sleep, perchance to dreamFor those who’d rather embark on silly bedtime adventures, Thank You, Octopus by Darren Farrell is a hilarious nautical comedy of errors. “Bedtime, ahoy,” Octopus declares. His young shipmate isn’t thrilled. Doting Octopus knows that a warm bath, jammies, and a favorite story can help make the transition easier, and he’s prepared — in theory. He talks the bedtime talk, but his best intentions wildly miss their mark. A “nice warm bath” sounds lovely (“Thank you, Octopus”), but a page-turn shows Octopus and boy headed into a huge vat of egg salad. “Gross! No thank you, Octopus.” Farrell’s detailed cartoon illustrations cleverly foreshadow the antics. (Dial, 3–6 years)

From the June 2014 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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1330. Review of Gaston

dipucchio gaston Review of Gastonstar2 Review of Gaston Gaston
by Kelly DiPucchio; 
illus. by Christian Robinson
Preschool, Primary    Atheneum    40 pp.
6/14    978-1-4424-5102-5    $16.99    g
e-book ed.  978-1-4424-5103-2    $12.99

Bumptious Gaston looms over his elegant poodle sisters Fi-Fi, Foo-Foo, and Ooh-La-La; they’re “no bigger than teacups,” but he’s “the size of a teapot.” Like a good twenty-first-century parent, Mrs. Poodle praises her well-mannered daughters (“Good.” Well done.” “Very nice”), while Gaston gets an encouraging “Nice try” for his sloppy slurping. Out in the park, they meet a family like theirs but in reverse: bulldogs Rocky, Ricky, and Bruno and their petite sister Antoinette. Were Gaston and Antoinette switched at birth? Should they trade families? It seems like the right thing to do until they try it, only to discover that what looks right doesn’t always feel right. So they trade back, to general contentment. DiPucchio’s lively, occasionally direct-address text was made to be read aloud (“And they were taught to walk with grace. Never race! Tip. Toe. Tippy-toe. WHOA!”). In Robinson’s elegant illustrations, the dogs’ basic white forms — on saturated acrylic painted backgrounds of cheery sky blues and grass greens — have minimal yet wonderfully expressive facial details; with the simplest of settings, all eyes will be on the action. Excellent messages about family, differences, and friendship are implicit. But first, just share and enjoy.

From the May/June 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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1331. Happy Father’s Day from the Snuggery!

How to Cheer Up Dad

By Fred Koehler


June is the month for Dads, grads and brides to be front and center. For all those dads out there who point out the overkill for Mother’s Day, lament their own second-class status and lack of attention on Father’s Day, here is one picture book that tries to set it all right!

Little Jumbo, a small pachyderm, notices his dad is having an off day. But isn’t it odd that right from the start, dad starts off with HIS BAD day as Little Jumbo’s is just humming along. Hmm. Cheer up dad; it’s one on one time with your son! And as Little Jumbo starts his observations of dad by taking his emotional temperature, he fails to notice that the downturn in the “glad factor” in dad’s humor lessens by half immediately after breakfast. Might the downturn have something to do with the cutie Little Jumbo shooting the raisins his dad has lovingly provided on Jumbo’s cereal and aiming them in a fully loaded trunk, onto the CEILING?

Bath time for Little Jumbo results in a parade of raisins trailing through tousled towels on the floor. And guess what? This small pachyderm hates overalls post bath, so he turns into a little neighborhood “streaker” with his dad in full pursuit. Ah, the appearance of the unexpected in one’s progeny takes parental pachyderm patience to new levels here.

Things mood-wise are reaching critical mass as Little Jumbo suggests DAD needs a time out, perhaps? Wrong tack, small elephant child, as any small reader could advise that YOU will be the one with the time out!  

What to do? How can one small elephant cheer up his dad? Why naturally enough, start with the simple things; they usually work best! And a hug starts things off on the RIGHT foot, followed closely by a catch with dad. Things ARE improving! Ice cream cones followed up with fishing is a great way to make dad feel needed –and JUST MIGHT make Little Jumbo a tad happier too! And what better way to bring the energy level down after a tough day than a snuggle and a book, followed by the role reversal of Little Jumbo tucking a tuckered out dad into bed.

Hey, Little Jumbo has this cheering up dad thing down cold. That is until the new day dawns with a whole new set of ways to relax dad needing to be devised by Little Jumbo, who is at it again with ways to unrelax him. Twas ever thus!

Fred Koehler’s debut book is just in time for Father’s Day. And every dad can surely identify with young ones who are eager to help you “ree-lax”, but are oblivious to the reasons why you need to. Kids and pachyderms – Ya gotta love’em!


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1332. Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation, by Duncan Tonatiuh (ages 6-9)

How do we make history meaningful for our children? Make it meaningful and relevant. My students are definitely interested in the Civil Rights Movement and especially the battle for school desegregation, but they always want to know what it was like here in California.

Duncan Tonatiuh brings an important story to life for children in his newest book, Separate Is Never Equal, but really it's about more than being an important story. This is a story that children will relate to, will be able to imagine going through themselves.
Separate Is Never Equal: 
Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation
by Duncan Tonatiuh
Abrams, 2014
Your public library
ages 6-9
*best new book
Sylvia Mendez and her family fought for their right to go to their local neighborhood school in Westminster, California. The school district placed Sylvia and her brothers in the “Mexican school” school because of their skin tone and surname. They filed a court case, eventually winning the first legal challenge to the decades-old practice of "separate but equal."

Tonatiuh combines clear text and folk-inspired art to bring this important story to children. I especially like how child-centered the story is. All children will appreciate how much their parents want the best education for them, and how unfair the segregated system was in California.

I highly recommend a short video available through PBS Learning Media: Mendez vs. Westminster: For All the Children/Para Todos los Niños, produced by Sandra Robbie.
click for link to PBS Learning Media
This short video (8 minutes) combines original photographs with present day interviews. Seeing Sylvia today and hearing directly from her makes the story even more "real" to students. Many students find video a very powerful learning tool, and I consistently find PBS Learning Media and excellent resource. This would be a very effective way to provide more background information to this story, both with primary sources and expert interviews.

You might also find these resources interesting to share with students:
The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Abrams Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2014 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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1333. Picture Book Monday with a review of Going Places

I know a lot of people who find it very hard to 'jump' into the unknown, to do something unconventional. It is scary to do, of course it is, but the rewards can be priceless. Today's picture book is about a boy who discovers that thinking out of the box and taking a risk can be truly wonderful.

Going PlacesGoing Places
Peter and Paul Reynolds
Illustrated by Peter Reynolds
Picture Book
For ages 5 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2014, 978-1-4424-6608-1
Rafael has been waiting all year to have the opportunity to participate in the Going Places go-cart competition. He raises his hand so fast in class that his teacher gives him the first go-kart kit. The kit includes precise instructions, which Rafael really appreciates because he is good at following directions.
   With care, and following the directions exactly, Rafael builds his go-cart, and when it is complete it looks exactly like the one shown in the directions. Feeling pleased with himself and his go-cart, Rafael decides to see what Maya is doing. She hasn’t even started working on her go-cart because she is so busy drawing a picture of a bird.
   The next morning Rafael goes to visit Maya again to see how her go-cart construction is progressing, and he sees that she has built a flying machine. Of sorts. Rafael tells his friend that her creation is “cool,” but it isn’t really a go-cart. Maya challenges Rafael by saying, “Who said it HAD to be a go-cart?” At first Rafael isn’t quite sure how to respond to these words, but after some thought he realizes that Maya is right. No said that one had to use the kit to create a go-cart.
   There is nothing wrong with following directions. Nothing at all. However, when you dare to venture away from the instructions and to think outside the, box interesting things can happen. This is what happens to Rafael and Maya, who, by working together, discover that the sky is the limit when it comes to coming up with fresh, creative, and innovative ideas.
   This wonderful book will help young children to discover (and older readers to remember) that thinking outside the box can lead to grand shared adventures in creativity. 

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1334. The Cynja, by Chase Cunningham & Heather C. Dahl | Dedicated Review

Get ready for some serious action in the first volume of a new comic-book-style picture book series about malicious cyber attacks, The Cynja.

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1335. Learn About “The Cynja” with Chase Cunningham and Heather C. Dahl

The cyber world is filled with battles between good and evil—it’s as thrilling as any comic book—and yet it didn’t have its own superhero. So we started thinking, what would you call someone with super powers in cyberspace? What would they look like? They’d need to be smart and stealthy, wouldn’t they? And have awesome weapons? And before you could say “DDoS attack!” we had “the Cynja”—a cyber ninja!

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1336. Artmaster Shirow Di Rosso Discusses “The Cynja”

Shirow Di Rosso is the Artmaster behind the new comic-book-style picture book series about malicious cyber attacks, The Cynja.

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1337. #583 – Dixie Wants an Allergy by Tori Corn & Nancy Cote, illustrator

dixie allergy.

Dixie Wants an Allergy

by Tori Corn & Nancy Cote, illustrator

Sky Pony Press      4/01/2014


Age 4 to 8      32 pages


“It’s Dixie’s first day of school, and some of her classmates are sharing about their allergies. Bridget tells of her wheat allergy and how she gets to order a special meal from restaurants, Dixie thinks that must be a really special meal! And Charlie had to be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance once due to his dairy allergy. Dixie thinks that must have been thrilling! Dixie races home and begins to eagerly search for the slightest sign of an allergy. After many failed attempts, Dixie discovers she is allergic to something after all. But is getting what you wish for actually as exciting as it once appeared?”


“On the first day of school, Dixie got to know her classmates. Some of them said they had allergies.”


Have you ever wanted something so much you would do almost anything to get that thing? Dixie feels that way about having an allergy. Her kindergarten classmates talk about special bracelets, special restaurants meals, special school snacks, and even special rides in an ambulance, all because they have an allergy. This all sounds grand to Dixie. She goes home and begins searching for her allergy.

Dixie crawls under her bed and sniffs week-old, rank socks and dust bunnies. Nothing happens. She sniffs fresh flowers and waits. Nothing happens. She eats handfuls of pistachios and waits. It works! She gets a stomachache. Mom says she just ate too many pistachios. Oh.

Are you laughing yet? Dixie is a cute little girl. Of her six new friends, three get special treatment because of an allergy. I doubt Dixie understood an allergy is like being sick, and it is definitely not fun. None of her new friends were complaining about their allergy or saying it was a bad thing to have. Maybe Dixie should have asks some questions as she admired the allergy bracelet.

ambI do love her ingenuity when giving herself spots. Dixie must have a little understanding about allergies. Of course, those red spots do not itch or raise up into a welt. The illustrations use backgrounds of blue and yellow. Even the sky is yellow to represent a hot day. If Dixie had noticed the pinpoint eyes on her classmates, she would have noticed the allergy kids—except for special restaurant meals kid—were not happy when telling of their allergy.

Kids will enjoy Dixie Wants an Allergy, but it is best suited to kids with siblings or friends that already have an allergy, as a way of explaining the disease. According to the World Health Organization, nearly half of all school-age children have an allergy. To help explain the “special treatment” of some students, teachers of young children can read the kids Dixie Wants an Allergy.

braceletI really love the illustration of Dixie marking herself with a red marker, hoping a fake allergy would be as much fun as a real allergy. I don’t have that spread to show you, but when you do see it, it will give you a belly-ache-laugh, especially if you have kids. The author doesn’t leave the story just yet. Dixie goes to school and tells her new friends about her allergy. Then comes a twist. A new thing to be jealous of and wanting for yourself. It’s always something, right? Here is a hint: it involves a photograph.

I like Dixie Wants an Allergy. The story will hold children’s attention, it will make them laugh, they might learn to be careful of what they wish for (as they might just get it), and the twist will start up a new topic of discussion—laughs and smiles included.


Buy Dixie Wants an Allergy at AmazonB&NSky Pony Pressyour local bookstore.


Learn more about Dixie Wants an Allergy HERE.

Meet the author, Tori Corn, at her website:  [http://toricorn.com/

Meet the illustrator, Nancy Cote, at her website:   http://nancycote.com/

Find more books at the Sky Pony Press website:  http://www.skyponypress.com/

Sky Pony Press is an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.


Also by Tori Corn

What Will It Be, Penelope? coming soon in 2014

What Will It Be, Penelope?
coming soon in 2014






Also by Nancy Cote

Watch the Cookie!

Watch the Cookie!

Ella & the All-Stars

Ella & the All-Stars






dixie wants an allergy


Filed under: 5stars, Children's Books, Debut Author, Library Donated Books, Picture Book Tagged: Allergies, children's book reviews, Inc., Nancy Cote, picture books, Sky Pony Press, Skyhorse Publishing, Tori Corn, watch what you wish for

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1338. Tippy-Tippy-Tippy, Splash! by Candace Fleming, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

In 2002, Candace Fleming, along with the superb illustrations of G. Brian Karas, created a story of hungry bunnies and a determined farmer that call to mind Farmer MacGregor and Peter Rabbit. While the competition can be fierce, Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! is ultimately a story where everyone wins. In Tippy-Tippy-Tippy, Hide!, the rabbits are back and looking for a warm place to spend the winter

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1339. 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #385: Featuring Javier Martínez Pedro

(Click to enlarge)

This morning’s featured book, José Manuel Mateo’s Migrant, illustrated by Javier Martínez Pedro, is actually one that was awarded the New Horizons Award at the 2012 Bologna Children’s Book Fair, which was the year that I juried. It was originally released in Spanish in Mexico in 2011 as Migrar. It has been published here in the States this year, just released in April by Abrams Books for Young Readers — with text in Spanish on one side of the book and text in English on the other. This makes me happy to see. (The New Horizons Award provides special recognition for illustrators from Arab, Latin American, Asian, and African countries.)

The book was created in the style of a codex, or one continuous illustration, along with Mateo’s words, presented in an accordion fold. It works like this:

“I used to play among the roosters and the pigs,” the book opens. It’s told from the point of view of a young boy in Mexico, who lives in a village with “no pens, nor walls between the houses. On one side of the villages were the mountains; on the other side, the sea.”

The boy’s father works on land owned by someone else, and he and his sister have a happy life, running and play. But one day, money for planting dries up, and the boy’s neighbors leave. “In the end, my dad also left. No one remained in town but the women and us children,” Mateo writes. With his mother not allowed to plant and work on the lands (simply because she is a woman without money) and not able to find other work, she and her children leave. Thus begins the boy’s perilous journey with his mother and sister to cross the border into the United States in order to find work and the boy’s father.

Many reviewers have already praised the book for its empathetic look at the complex (and very relevant, as Booklist notes) issue of migration. The book closes with an Author’s and Artists’s Note, which discusses the dangerous journeys many families make to the U.S.: “They launch themselves on a journey full of danger because they have the hope of finding a job and of living in peace, or because they want to reunite with their family. They leave because of poverty, mistreatment, or violence.” Later, they note that when many children migrate, they cannot legally prove their names upon arrival in the U.S. …

“nor can they request documents to do so; many times they cannot even manage to find out what their real age is. For this reason we have created this book: to demand these children’s right to exist.”

It’s powerful stuff.

Javier Martínez Pedro’s one long illustration is, as you can see here, detailed and intricate, and it’s artwork to pore over. Here is the entire piece of art that makes up this accordion-style book:

(Click to enlarge cover)

MIGRANT. Copyright © 2011 by José Manuel Mateo. Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Javier Martínez Pedro. Spanish and English version published in 2014 by Abrams Books for Young Readers, New York. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher.

* * * * * * *

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’ Kicks * * *

1) Yesterday, Maira Kalman was at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, where they are exhibiting her pieces from The Elements of Style Illustrated until September. It was wonderful to hear her talk about her work.

2) This photography exhibit is fascinating, too.

3) This conversation between Peter Sís and Margaret Ferguson is pretty wonderful, just like Sís’ new book.

4) And this conversation between Phil and Erin Stead and Cece Bell is equally great.

5) I sort of re-discovered how much I love Neko Case’s “Ragtime.” It’s so happy and triumphant (I guess you should know it comes on the CD right after a song about how she struggled with depression for a while there) that it makes me tear up every time. “I’ll reveal myself invincible soon.” I mean, right? RIGHT!

Also, I love good songs about how music moves through people’s lives (like Elbow’s “The Bones of You” and 10,000 Maniacs’ “Verdi Cries”).

6) Opportunities.

7) Looking ahead.

(Hey, my last two kicks are so Little-Willow, aren’t they? She’s usually way more eloquent, though.)

What are YOUR kicks this week?

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1340. Book 3. "Josephine" By Patricia Hruby Powell And Christian Robinson

When I first heard about Josephine Baker, way back in my youth, I found her fascinating. I don't know if it was the banana costume, the gyrating hips, or the life in France, but I was impressed. So when I heard there was a picture book bio, I decided to keep an eye out for it.

Josephine, The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell with illustrations by Christian Robinson is a sharp and arty book.  It's written in free verse that is both effortless to read and expressive and intense. Many picture book bios don't cover an entire lifetime. This one does. I think Hurby Powell is able to do that because she uses dance and Baker's experiences with the segregated world she was born into as threads that keep her focused.

Baker's experience with segregation and work as a civil rights activist give this book another level of interest. As with Persepolis, it doesn't feel as if the reader (this reader, at least) is being instructed. A segregated world is just the well-defined setting for the book.

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1341. What I’m Doing at Kirkus This Week

Today over at Kirkus, I write about two (relatively) new biographies, Barbara Kerley’s A Home for Mr. Emerson (Scholastic, February 2014), illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham, and Susan Goldman Rubin’s Everybody Paints!: The Lives and Art of the Wyeth Family (Chronicle, February 2014), pictured above.

That link is here, and next week I hope to have art from each book.

Until Sunday …

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1342. Your Kidlit Questions Answered! Part IV

Graphic by Edna Cabcabin Moran

Graphic by Edna Cabcabin Moran


Yes, we’ve gotten to a fourth installment! Or maybe I can call this THE FOURTH STALL?


(P.S. I loved this book. It includes one of my favorite things to write about—a secret place that adults don’t know about.)

So, there have been three previous Q&A’s…check them out here: Part I, Part II, Part III.

Without further ado…Part IV!


berylreichenberg asks:
If you already have several picture books published, what are the best blogs and other sites to use to get the word out and market your books?

So many kidlit authors tend to stick with promoting on writer blogs, which is certainly good, but we can be preaching to the same audience over and over again. I, myself, worry that people are gonna get sick of me.

Instead, look to librarian blogs, parenting blogs, teacher blogs, homeschool blogs, bookseller blogs and other “gatekeeper” sites that target those who buy children’s books.

Technorati.com is a good place to search for top blogs in various categories, like books, education and parenting.

Some blogs have review policies, so read them and reach out. I receive many unsolicited requests every month. I can’t accept them all, but I do what I can. Bloggers are always in search of good content, so you’ve got nothing to lose by asking for coverage. Make sure you appeal to that blog’s readership with your pitch. (I receive pitches that don’t come close to interesting my audience, which tells me the sender is doing a mass mailing rather than targeting me specifically.)


Pat Miller asks:
When you have a drawer full of PiBoIdMo drafts that just don’t seem to get off the ground, how do you maintain your motivation to dig back in and make one of them sing?

Another tough question!

I have barrels full of uncompleted manuscripts. Honestly, I tend to think that if I’m not “feeling” them, they’re not worth my time, at least not at the moment. I might feel them later, so that’s why nothing ever gets tossed.

Jerry Spinelli’s EGGS was in a drawer for 20 years when his wife Eileen made him pull it out. He reread the manuscript and felt re-energized. Neil Gaiman got the idea for THE GRAVEYARD BOOK 20 years before he actually wrote it. He wanted to wait to become a better writer because he knew the idea would be challenging.

Other writers will argue that you cannot wait for the muse, you just have to keep pounding on the manuscript. I tend not to do that because I have enough ideas that do sing to me, in key and on beat.

And hence we get to the reason why I do PiBoIdMo—the more ideas in your file, the more potential manuscripts you’ll have. You can ditch one idea and move onto another. In my experience, the best manuscripts have begun when I have stopped working on a manuscript that’s been giving me headaches. It’s like my brain has suddenly been freed from its chains. My upcoming title, I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK, came about after I ditched a struggling manuscript. The words for BEAR just flew out, whereas I was laboring hard on the previous story and it just wasn’t working.

Bear Book final cover

Sometimes changing the voice or POV in a manuscript is enough to get it revived.

A critique partner pow-wow can also provide a boost. Just sit around with some best buddies (and coffee and coffee cake) to discuss the challenges and concerns you have. Ask for suggestions and solutions. If you can’t do it in person, Google hangouts are fun, especially since you can stay in your jammies. I truly believe critique partners are not just for completed manuscripts, but those in progress, too.

When all else fails, go for a walk or take a shower. Research shows that “thinking on our feet” leads to creativity. And mundane, repetitive tasks give our minds freedom to wander.


Amymariesmith asks:
I’m going to my first SCBWI regional conference in June. Any tips on what to bring?

Have fun, Amy! You should bring:

  • A list of your PB ideas. I think it’s great to get a professional’s opinion about whether your story ideas are marketable or if they’re too common and need work. You might have an opportunity to sit down with someone to discuss them.
  • Your manuscripts. You never know when a critique opportunity will arise.
  • A list of industry questions. I know I tend to forget everything once I arrive at a conference. If there’s something you want to know, write it down and keep it handy. There’s often panel discussions where you can post your questions.
  • A notebook and pen to take good notes. (Then when you go home, type up your notes. This will help them soak into your brain.)
  • A camera. Take pics and share them.
  • Your business cards. Even if you’re unpublished, you’re still officially a “writer”. You want to connect with professionals and potential critique partners. If you’re having meals there, hand them out to those sitting at your table. Everyone else will remember to hand them out, too!

Side note: sometimes at conferences I’ve seen unpublished writers carrying plush likenesses of characters they’ve created. This seems like a smart idea, to attract attention and questions about your work, but some professionals just think this is strange. Great writing is guaranteed to attract positive attention, not gimmicks.


Mrs. Ricefield asks:
I would also love to hear more on how to make the best out of conferences you attend. Thank you for the question.

See my suggestions above on what to bring. Also, make friends. See someone standing alone? They’re an introverted writer, but writers love to talk about writing, so go say hello. This is your opportunity to network and gain a support system. Have fun and be yourself.

Don’t go with too many expectations—it’s rare to get a book deal or an agent at a conference. (But be sure to follow-up if someone expresses interest. Things happen AFTER the event.)

Volunteering at a conference is also a great way to get one-on-one time with professionals and to be remembered. Why not volunteer to pick up agents and editors at the train station or airport? You’ll have time to chat and get to know them.

Ask editors about life outside the office. You’ll connect on a more personal level and you’ll be one of the few people who aren’t trying to squeeze a book deal out of them. Editors are people, too. They get tired of being pitched, poked and prodded.


Great friends at the NJ-SCBWI Annual Conference. Authors Ame Dyckman, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Kami Kinard.


Angela Turner asks:
I am writing a nonfiction book in narrative form but I want to put notes on the same page that tell a little more with more specific language. What is the proper way to show this in your manuscript?

While I haven’t written this kind of book before, I suggest using a format similar to how we place art notes in a picture book manuscript. Use brackets to denote the sidebars. Like this: [Sidebar text:].

Maybe someone more experienced with these manuscripts can comment below.


Joy Moore asks:
How would you describe your writing style?

A quirky, punny word-a-palooza.


Brenda Harris asks:
If an author-illustrator is self-publishing, who are the most important people (editors, art directors, etc) I should ask advice(hire?) from about my dummy book. And- where can I search and find these legit helpers?

There are independent editors with decades of publishing experience whom you could try. Just a few:

Read through each consultant’s site to determine the best fit for your writing style.

Also, be aware of current publishing scams and hustles. There are those who prey on writers with dreams of publication. Check out Preditors & Editors.

Before you begin, you should know the distinction between true self-publishing and publishing via a vanity press. Read this blog post.


Thiskidreviewsbooks asks:
I’d really like to know what your best time to write is (and the importance of having a set time to write).

Erik, I don’t have a set time to write. I have found that routine tends to stifle my creativity. I know some writers insist upon writing the same time every day, in the same place, with the same materials, claiming that routine means they write whether or not they’re in the mood. And I suppose that does work nicely for a lot of writers. It doesn’t work nicely for me.

I’ve never been a routine person. Something about my personality always eschews routine. I cannot remember to take a daily vitamin. I don’t wake up the same time every day nor go to sleep at a set hour. I have a tough time eating leftovers.

I like changing things up. Sometimes I write in the morning, sometimes late at night. Different times of day can lend varying moods to my writing. Same as with different places—sometimes I write in bed, sometimes in the kitchen. Occasionally I work on my back deck, at the park or at the library.

And I don’t write every day. That may have to change when I start writing novels and I’ll need to get more words down, but for now, I take writing breaks. Two days on, one day off. Three days on, three days off. One day on, four days off. (GASP!) Again, I change it up a lot. And sometimes these breaks are dictated by family or other obligations.

With this non-routine routine, I’ve had no shortage of creativity, no writer’s block. I’ve got four manuscripts under submission right now and four under construction.

The bottom line is that there’s no “right” thing that works for everyone. It’s totally up to you to find your creative groove. Don’t take anyone else’s advice unless it resonates with you.


Charlotte asks:
Why does it seem that there are so many women writing for children, attending SCBWI conferences, posting here, etc., and yet by comparison there seem to be so many successful children’s books by men? Ya know what I mean? Certainly there are tons of successful children’s books by women, but the rations have me baffled. At the last SCBWI conference I attended, women outnumbered men 98-2. Even if there are more children’s books by women authors, the ratio is not 98-2, not even close. So what’s going on? Do men feel more free to write wackier stories? Do women censor their own out-of-the-box impulses? Do editors and agents subconsciously give men more leeway to push the boundaries/break the rules? Do women tend to write more lesson-y stories? Are there just as many men writing and they just don’t show up at conferences? Whaddaya think?


Charlotte, you may want to check out the VIDA Count. VIDA has found a distinct imbalance between the amount of literature by women that’s published and awarded versus that of men. See these articles:

From VIDA’s FAQ:

But don’t women read more? Don’t they buy more books? Don’t they edit these journals [and books] and read slush? And therefore—isn’t this largely the fault of women, as well?

First: sexism pervades our culture, and so it is often unconsciously absorbed/internalized by everyone, including women. Feminism is an act, not a bumper sticker. It requires the constant re-evaluation of one’s assumptions, habits, and biases. By being a part of the system, women are often a part of the problem.

Further, as Sarah Seltzer points out,

“In my experience, the reality may even be worse than the numbers. Women who are allowed to be prominent — and this is not to erase those who do it on their own merit, because their numbers are growing — often don’t challenge the worldview of those who hire them. In fact, given all the anti-feminists like Caitlin Flanagan, Katie Roiphe and Christina Hoff Summers taking prime media real estate, it would seem that for women, reinforcing sexism is a good formula for vaulting ahead.”

Sarah Seltzer, Jewish Daily Forward, March 2012, “Byline Bias – and What We Can Do About It.”


Stacy Couch asks:
I was wondering about the different stages of birthing a PB. PiBoIdMo does a great job re: brainstorming. Maybe posts about craft would help bring those ideas to life.

  • Character-driven picture books: What they are, what makes a character sing.
  • Plot: How to plot a PB.
  • Plot: Why stakes matter.
  • Rule of Three
  • Plot and the Rule of Three.
  • Different Genres within the PB World (Quiet, Noisy, Character-Driven, Interactive, Etc.)
  • External vs. Internal Conflict
  • Allowing Room for the Illustrator

Then perhaps a series about critique groups (how to find them, how to set up one), conferences (purpost, intensives, tips) and another querying agents, editors (the importance of etiquette, researching them beforehand).

I’d love to see more craft-related posts, though, since any agent or editor would focus on the work itself.

Great suggestions, Stacy! I’ve covered some of these topics already. Check out:

I’ll cover all your suggestions in craft posts soon. Thanks for the input!


In closing, thanks to everyone who submitted a question. This was a fun series and I hope to make it a recurring blog feature!

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1343. Environmental Book Club

I found another good book for our club.

I didn't expect to like Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor with illustrations by Laura Beingessner as much as I did. Picture book bios are often problematic to me. They sometimes seem too old for picture book folks, too young for older ones, so who are they for? This one, not so much. Definitely for mid-grade school readers. Maybe third or fourth grade.

The first thing that struck me about this book is that very early on we hear that Rachel as a child explored the outdoors by herself and had a mother who had an interest in nature. This child got her start without any formal environmental instruction, such as we would want for children these days, and, yet, she turned into Rachel Carson.

Another thing I liked about this book, and, yes, this is just me, is that it describes a woman's story. Carson as a young woman had needy family to deal with. As often happens with achieving women of her era, she had help. In her case, her mother hustled to pull together money for school. She was encouraged by a female college professor. A male superior at the Bureau of Fisheries advised her to submit work to The Atlantic. She was a professional woman without a personal family. If you read the Epilogue, you'll find that after Silent Spring was published critics referred to her as "an hysterical woman." Someone asked "why a spinster with no children was so concerned about genetics."

Okay, so maybe I got into this story because of the feminist angle I read into it. But, really, the part in the beginning about simply growing up enjoying the outdoors was very significant, too.

Love the period illustrations, too.

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1344. Your Kidlit Questions Answered! Part I

You asked for it, you got it, Toyota.


Sorry, no car giveaway here. Not sure you’d want a ’77 yellow hatchback anyway.

What you’ve got are your burning kidlit questions with my answers. Please remember that these are my opinions and not necessarily gospel. (I can’t sing, anyway. Except, apparently, for 70′s car commercial jingles.)

If you have follow-up questions, please leave them in the comments!


Writenit asks:
Is there a better place than Amazon to search to see if the fabulous (at least in my head LOL) idea you came up with has already been done a million times?

Besides Amazon, try searching WorldCat.org, the world’s largest database of library holdings. A simple Google search is also a good idea. Try the various types of Google searches, including images and news.

But just remember, even if your title is taken or your idea has been published, there might be room for your manuscript, too. General ideas can be similar, but the execution can result in wildly differing stories. Of course, if there’s an extremely popular book with your idea, odds are that a publisher won’t take a chance on a directly competing book. In other words, if your dragons love tacos or your crayons are going on strike, you probably want to look elsewhere for ideas.


Patricianesbitt asks:
Do you have any inside tips as to what themes or topics publishers are looking for?

This information is always changing. Right now, I hear that character-driven picture books are all the rage.

“Looking for” details can often be found at SCBWI conferences and on blogs when a particular agent or editor has been interviewed. You might want to search for conference bios, where professionals often divulge their wish lists.

You’ll also want to visit the bookstore at least once or twice a month. See what’s being displayed face-out (publishers have paid for this promotional opportunity). Are there are a lot of books on one particular subject, like trucks? Well then, the truck ship has probably sailed. (Whoa, that was a mixed metaphor, huh?) Once you see an abundance of one kind of book in the stores, the end of that craze is probably upon us. Remember pirate books during the Johnny Depp “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies? I went to a conference around that time and the editors practically screamed, “No more pirate books!” Sometimes they know more about what they DON’T want than what they DO.

Bottom line: everyone wants a good story. You don’t have to write to the marketplace’s demands. In fact, I suggest that you don’t. Whatever idea stirs up the most passion in you is the manuscript you should be writing. Your enthusiasm will be evident on the page—and that is always appealing.

And always remember Karma Wilson’s example. McElderry’s sub guidelines said “no rhyme and no talking animals” when she sent them BEAR SNORES ON, which turned out to be a huge hit, launching her successful career. It was a great manuscript, so the DON’T guidelines became moot.



Maria Matthews asks:
Is it better to aim at writing a current popular topic or to write a quirky unusual book?)

As I noted above, “currently popular” isn’t your best bet, simply because the books released today got purchased as manuscripts two to four years ago, on average. So you can’t necessarily catch up to what’s hot. And what’s hot is always changing. You never know what the next “big thing” will be.

That’s why I suggest writing from your heart. If quirky and unusual is what you enjoy, then by all means, write quirky and unusual!


Josh Funk asks:
How do you get awesome illustrators to do “head shots” for you? (like AJ Smith did  in your previous post)

When I first began my blog seven years ago, I paid illustrators to do graphics for my site, like this watermelon-themed banner by the talented Val Webb.


Now that my blog has become well-read, I often ask on Facebook or Twitter for a particular graphic and someone volunteers their services, in exchange for a mention and link. I’m usually blown away by the response, and so grateful!


Jdewdropsofink asks:
So after reading your previous post, I want to know the super secret story techniques you learned from Sudipta?

I’ve learned a ton from Sudipta. If ever you get a chance to hear her speak or teach a class, grab the opportunity. I’m going to send you to her very pink site instead of spilling her secrets here…


Nicole Snitselaar asks:
I would like to know, how much details you must write down when you are planning a PB without words…?

Only as much detail as you need to get the idea across. Be as succinct in your word choices as you are while writing a regular picture book. Paint the overall picture but don’t go into minutiae. You still must leave some things for the illustrator to fill in.

Author Linda Ashman has posted her manuscript for NO DOGS ALLOWED, which is nearly wordless. Check it out here. It’s an excellent example.


Tune in for Part II tomorrow, kidlit fans!

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1345. Your Kidlit Questions Answered! Part II

Continued from yesterday

Jennifer Kirkeby asks:
What do you do to keep yourself motivated? Especially after rejections?

You know how “location, location, location” is real estate’s most important criteria? Well, “new work, new work, new work” is how I keep myself motivated. A new story is always so exciting, isn’t it?


I’ve seen writers try to sell the same manuscript year after year. On one hand, it’s good to be persistent, but on the other hand, you should know when it’s time to move on. Once you’ve finished a manuscript and started submitting, work on something new. Always have your list of ideas ready. Review them. Grab onto whatever resonates and start writing. An editor might not like what you’ve just submitted, but they might like your NEXT project. The more projects you have, the better your odds of becoming published.

Don’t let rejections get you down. Everyone gets them. It’s the nature of our business. I’ve gotten so many now that they’ve lost their sting. I read the rejection, absorb the comments, decide if I agree or disagree, and move on.

Not every manuscript is for every editor—and a rejection doesn’t mean your story’s terrible and it will never find a home. Editors can reject a manuscript because it competes too closely with one of their existing or upcoming books, or because it doesn’t fit with their imprint’s personality and goals. An editor with a bug phobia may stay away from beetle books. An editor might even love your story, but their team isn’t as enthused.

Remember a rejection is not a personal attack. They are rejecting the work you submitted, NOT YOU. YOU are marvelous. YOU are creative. YOU just need to write another story.


Yangmommy asks:
Hi! I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation at the MD/DE SCBWI in Maryland last month. It was the highlight of my day (and I still find myself saying, “whhyyy?”)!  But I left wondering more about how and when to insert the art notes. In the margins? Within the text (but doesn’t that break up the flow?)? Do you have an example you can showcase on your blog?

An art note can be written in the body of your text, right after the words the art will accompany. I typically put the art note in brackets and italicize the text, like this: [Art: bear tickles alien.]

I’ve also written manuscripts with so many necessary art notes that my agent has submitted them in graph format. This is because the art notes broke up the flow of the story too much, making it difficult to read. The graph format allows an editor to scan through the story easily while still being able to comprehend the illustrations. I explained this in a post here.


Tim asks:
I attended a picture book writing conference recently, and the presenter asked for a show of hands of all those who at least occasionally wrote manuscript in rhyme. Nearly every hand in the room went up. And many new rhyming picture books are published each year. Yet aspiring PB writers are told frequently that rhyme is a very tough sell. So I’d love to see a post or two on how to sell rhyming PBs. Not tips on how to write in rhyme–there are lots of resources for that–but on how to SELL it, including the no-nos either in queries or in manuscripts that will stop an editor or agent cold.

Tim, there are no tricks to selling a rhyming manuscript other than making that rhyming manuscript GREAT. (There’s nothing you can say or do to sell a sub-par manuscript.)

Editors see a lot of bad rhyme, which is why they often tell new writers to avoid it. Rhyming manuscripts that don’t sell:

  • use common and predictable rhymes,
  • feature wonky meter,
  • veer off in an unbelievable direction to meet the rhyme scheme,
  • use awkward sentence structure to make a rhyme work,
  • feature too many near-rhymes, or
  • explore an overdone theme.


What’s a GREAT rhyming story? A manuscript whose rhyme scheme is original and whose meter is consistent. A manuscript that features an appealing, marketable hook.

For a picture book, some agents and editors zip right past the cover letter to get to the meat of the manuscript, so I don’t think anything is going stop them cold, unless you’re wildly unprofessional and stuff your envelope full of glitter.

Your query/cover should:

  • address the agent/editor by name,
  • explain why you are submitting/targeting that editor/agent/imprint,
  • compare/contrast your book to existing titles,
  • include a brief synopsis,
  • offer a short bio (only with information relevant to writing for children), and
  • have a polite closing.

It should be one page only.

The manuscript should be double-spaced in a 12 pt serif font, like Times New Roman.

Again, don’t use gimmicks. Good writing and a professional presentation is all you need to attract an agent/editor’s attention.


Ginger asks:
What does a picture book look like in written form and do you add picture ideas?

I mentioned the standard format above. Here’s a pic of what the first page of a PB manuscript might look like:


The second and each subsequent page header will include “Name/TITLE” on the left and numerical page number on the right.

Regarding art notes, that really requires its own post! See these previous posts:

The bottom line is that you only include art notes if it’s not clear what’s happening from the text alone. For instance, if your text says “Felix was happy” but he’s really upset, you need an art note so the illustrator doesn’t make him smile.

Write something like: “Felix was happy. [Art: Felix isn’t happy.]” You should not write “Felix was happy. [Art: Felix is stomping his feet, wearing red, waving his arms and sticking his tongue out.]” That’s far too specific and doesn’t leave the illustrator room to interpret Felix and his feelings.


Part III to come tomorrow!



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1346. Don't Turn the Page! by Rachelle Burk, illustrated by Julie Downing

Don't Turn the Page is a completely charming, cozy book-within-a-book by Rachelle Burk, perfectly paired with illustrations by Julie Downing. Don't Turn the Page is also a standout for being published by Creston Books, a brand (two seasons) new children's book publisher based in Northern California dedicated to resurrecting the "golden age of picture books, when fine books were edited and

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1347. Following Up with Duncan Tonatiuh …

Duncan: “My artwork is very much inspired by Pre-Columbian art, especially by Mixtec codices from the 14th century. That is why my art is very geometric, my characters are always in profile, and their ears look a bit like the number three.
My intention is to celebrate that ancient art and keep it alive.”

“In the new trial, the Mendez family received support from the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Japanese American Citizens League, the American Jewish Congress, and other organizations. … Sylvia was amazed that people of different backgrounds and from different parts of the country who had never met her family were
getting involved in the case and trying to help them. …”

(Click to enlarge spread and see full text)


Last week at Kirkus, I chatted with author-illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh about his newest picture book, Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation (Abrams, May 2014). That Q&A is here.

Today, I follow up with some early sketches and dummy images Duncan sent, as well as a bit of final art from the book.


* * *


Dummy Images:






Some Final Art:


“The Mendez family did not give up. … Mr. Mendez created a group called the Parents’ Association of Mexican-American Children. He tried to collect signatures for a petition to integrate school so that all children, regardless of their skin color or background, could have the same opportunities. …”
(Click to enlarge spread and see full text)

“One day, a truck driver overheard Mr. Mendez trying to convince a worker to sign his petition. ‘You know,’ said the truck driver, ‘you could file a lawsuit.’ …”
(Click to enlarge spread and see full text)

* * * * * * *

SEPARATE IS NEVER EQUAL: SYLVIA MENDEZ & HER FAMILY’S FIGHT FOR DESEGREGATION. Copyright © 2014 by Duncan Tonatiuh. Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, New York. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher. All other images reproduced by permission of Duncan Tonatiuh.

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1348. Your Kidlit Questions Answered! Part III

In case you missed it:

Grab your PiBoIdMo mugga joe and let’s get to it, shall we?



mvanhierden asks:
When submitting query letters for picture books, is it standard practice to include a manuscript?

Always follow an individual’s submission guidelines. Some agents/editors don’t ask for a query first because a picture book is a short read. They’ll ask for a cover letter and the manuscript instead. And even though some want the full manuscript, they’ll still ask for a query letter with it. Why? They want to hear how you SELL the story.

Not sure what goes into a query letter? See yesterday’s post.

But everyone is different; pay attention to their guidelines. Guidelines are in place to help an agent/editor work most efficiently, according to their preferences. Therefore, not following guidelines is subject to an immediate, automatic rejection.


stackofmanuscriptsAnne Bromley asks:
I heard recently that one needs at least 3 polished, ready-to-submit picture book stories in order for an agent to take serious interest. Has this been your experience as well?

Yes, this is what I recommend—have at least 3 to 5 picture book manuscripts polished and ready for submission.

An agent will rarely take a writer based upon one manuscript alone. Yes, it happens, but your odds are so much better if you have several ready. Why? If the agent likes your work, they will almost always ask for MORE WORK. An agent wants to ensure that they are a good fit for you, so they want to connect with a body of work, not just one piece. If they like your submission and want to see more but you don’t have anything else, you’ve wasted an opportunity.

More books ready means more books to sell, which is preferable for the agent. If they can’t sell one manuscript, they have another to sub immediately.

But what about an editor? The same holds true. They could like your manuscript but not have the ability to publish it for whatever reason. They may ask for something else. You want to have that something else ready!

And honestly, you become a better writer with each manuscript you complete. So although you might have only one ready to submit, wait until you have more because the next manuscript might be the better sell.



Patricia Tilton asks:
When do you set aside a MS after many rejections, even though it’s polished, been through editors and you’ve done the revisions and more revisions? Or do you just keep submitting?

Tough question, Patricia! I feel like this is dictated by a gut feeling more than anything else.

I have an agent, so my rejections always include a reason. If I receive compliments and suggestions, then the manuscript is on the right track and we keep submitting. If I receive a lot of similar suggestions for improvement, I take it back and revise.

For those without an agent, if you receive only form rejections without any personal rejections, it’s a signal that perhaps the manuscript needs more work.

It’s not uncommon to hear of manuscripts rejected 20 or more times, so sometimes it’s about just connecting with the right editor at the right time.

If you’ve submitted widely without a bite, I’d recommend putting the manuscript aside and coming back in a few months to see if you can make improvements. Then try another round. Again, some rejections are about timing rather than quality, so a new round of submissions can yield new results.


Carrie Brown asks:
We know, as writers, to revise until our very best work is present. Then, we know to send it out to our critique groups and revise some more. Repeat. Repeat again. Etc. Once our work is “the best it can be,” do you think there is a secret numbers formula as to how many subs a manuscript should go through before being shelved? What if, for example, a manuscript goes through a period of requests mixed with personal feedback from agents, and then said changes are made and it goes back out to be met with chirping crickets? Then what? Just like everything in the writing world, I know these questions will be met with subjectivity, as well. But this inquiring mind values your opinion!

Yes, as you’ll see by my answer above, it really is subjective, a gut feeling. I’ve known writers who have submitted 27 times with rejections and the 28th time was the charm. I’ve known writers who have revised a manuscript on and off for nearly 10 years before it was bought.

I suppose my suggestion is to keep plugging away as long as you feel passion and confidence in your work. Again, sometimes it’s about timing more than anything else.

Let’s go to the scenario you proposed—if you’ve made changes that were requested but have only heard crickets in response, I would probably go back to the previous version. When you revise based upon suggestions from one individual, it’s purely being done to meet their specific taste. And if they don’t like it after the changes have been made, it probably wasn’t the right move.


Jo Dearden asks:
In your query letter, when it comes to describing your Picture Book, should you include a short paragraph in the style of a jacket blurb, or should it be a straighter description (like a mini, paragraph-long synopsis)? This is assuming you’re sending the whole text to the agent/publisher.

Yes! It’s an excellent idea to write your synopsis in the style of jacket flap material. This kind of paragraph whets the appetite and makes the reader want to dive in. Pick up a bunch of picture books at your library and study the book jackets. Try to emulate them.

Book jackets cartoon

Guess what? There one final installment coming tomorrow!

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1349. What Makes a Great Picture Book - Tip 4

Pull Readers in Early

Too often beginning writers delay the introduction of their story’s plot or conflict. Delaying that introduction can cause readers to quickly lose interest and not bother reading any further. A great picture book pulls the reader quickly into the story by introducing early on the problem faced by the main character – typically on the first spread and preferably on the very first line.

I WANT MY HAT BACK by Jon Klassen is a perfect example of this. In the very first sentence we learn the bear’s problem. His hat is gone. The second sentence builds on the conflict telling us the bear wants it back. This immediate introduction to the story’s plot pulls readers in quickly and has them turning page after page until they know how the problem ultimately gets resolved.

Of course, even worse than not introducing the conflict of the story early, is not introducing it at all. A great picture book needs an engaging plot and it needs to be introduced as early as possible.

Time is running out to register for the Picture Book writing workshop I'll be teaching at the WIFYR conference June 16-20.

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1350. Special Kids-Special Needs

Hi All,
I just wanted to let you know that the latest edition of Guardian Angel Kids E-zine is now available.  This is the E-zine that my publisher puts out monthly.  Every month is a different topic.  This month features special kids with special needs.  It contains stories, poems, and articles for kids as well as articles for teachers and parents.  If you get a chance, stop by and check it out.  It’s well worth the visit.    The link for it is http://www.guardian-angel-kids.com/
While you’re there, you can see some of the games and activities that I designed for this E-zine as part of the creative crew there.

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