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1. It’s Summertime—Walk and Read in the Park!

It’s school summer vacation time, and libraries across the country are hosting their summer reading programs. What better way for young readers to meet the challenge than to combine time outdoors and reading a picture book! Check out your local parks’ programs to see if there’s a Storybook Walk in your area. In St. Charles county, Missouri, the St. Charles Library foundation is once again hosting Storybook Walks in the parks. This year there are four locations, the newest storybook walk at Heartland Park in Wentzville, Missouri. Visit the St. Charles Library foundation website for more information including locations and featured picture books for May, June and July. In Quail Ridge Park in Wentzville you’ll walk around the lake on a paved walking path surrounded by trees and plants. You might see a turtle, a fish, a dragonfly or other wildlife as you walk. At St. Charles Community College in Cottleville the story is set on a paved path around a scenic lake with a fountain. On our walk a couple of days ago, the evening sun shined through the waters of the fountain to create a beautiful rainbow. A crane kept turning its back on me as I tried to get a picture. I have yet to visit Heartland Park in Wentzville and Fox Hill Park in St. Charles, but they’re on my list. So if you haven’t already signed up, visit your local library and kick off your summer reading with a walk, and a story!

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2. Peggy Reiff Miller and The Seagoing Cowboy

It’s always very special to be able to share good news and a new book by a writing friend, but especially so when it’s such a great picture book. I learned about the Heifer project and the seagoing cowboys from Peggy Reiff Miller when we met through our critique group for children’s writers in Northwest Indiana. Since that time, through her research and interviews with former seagoing cowboys, she has become an expert on their history. Peggy has had several magazine articles published about the subject, as well as a DVD documentary, A Tribute to the Seagoing Cowboys. Her first picture book The Seagoing Cowboy, was released earlier this spring. Peggy has also had children’s stories published in Highlights for Children and in My Friend and Lighthouse. Please welcome, Peggy, as she tells us a little bit about her book and her passion for writing it. What was the inspiration for your book? Why did you feel a need to write it? My grandfather was a seagoing cowboy to Poland in 1946, but I never heard him talk about his experience. When I got interested in writing, I thought the topic would be great for a YA novel. I had an envelope of photos from Grandpa’s trip that my father had given me, and I knew some men who had been seagoing cowboys, so in 2002, I started interviewing them. I realized this was a lost, but important, history that needed to be told; and I’ve been telling it for all ages in as many ways as possible ever since. What kind of research did you do before writing your book? I started with the interviews of men who had made the livestock trips to Europe after World War II. One cowboy led to another, and another, and I’ve interviewed nearly 200 of them and have been in contact with about that many more. For my novel (still unpublished), I did a lot of reading about the organizations involved in the livestock shipping, the ships, World War II on the home front, Poland’s history, etc. I read books written and watched movies made during that time period. I collected copies of diaries and photos of the seagoing cowboys and studied those. I made trips to several archives to find the historical materials behind the story. So I was able to draw on all of this research for the picture book, which is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the larger story but, at the same time, is a composite summary that captures the seagoing cowboy experience. What kind of marketing did you do—was it easy to find an editor who wanted to publish this book? I’ll answer the second part of the question first. I had seven rejections before Brethren Press bought the manuscript. The story is a piece of Brethren history, so they were the natural fit for the book. The kind of marketing I did pre-publication is the reason Brethren Press was willing to take on this project. I had been researching, writing magazine articles, and speaking about this history for ten years before I received my book contract. In addition, I had produced a DVD photo-story documentary from the photos cowboys had shared with me, which I had successfully marketed; and I had created a seagoing cowboys website. With this platform, Brethren Press knew I would be actively involved in marketing the book. Had I not had any of that past involvement, I seriously doubt they would have taken the chance on it, as they are a small press and picture books are quite expensive to produce. What were the challenges in bringing your book to life? The biggest challenge was finding and creating a concise story line that did everything I wanted the book to do. With so much research behind me, it was hard to let go of the nonfiction “telling.” What encouragement helped you along your way? Our writers’ critique group, The TaleBlazers (we miss you since you moved to Missouri!), and another critique group I was in at the time gave me incredible encouragement and support. As did my husband and daughters and my church family. What kind of networking do you do as an author? I belong to SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and I’ve made many wonderful contacts through that organization, networking not only with other writers, but also with publishing professionals. Because of having submitted my manuscript for a marketing critique by the wonderful Blue Slip Media team at an SCBWI conference, and then recommending Blue Slip to my publisher, Brethren Press hired them for some promotional work that has gotten the book into places that would have been hard for us to reach without their help. I’ve also done a lot of networking among seagoing cowboys and their families, as well as within Heifer International, the development organization of which the seagoing cowboy history is a part. What projects are you working on now? I’m serving as a historical consultant to Heifer International and doing research for a German author who has been contracted by Heifer to write a book about their shipments to Germany throughout the decade of the 1950s to help Germany recover from the war. I’m also gearing up to write an adult history of the beginning decade of Heifer. An adult book about the seagoing cowboys has long been in the works, and I blog twice a month about this history on my seagoing cowboys website. I also have another picture book manuscript related to Heifer’s German shipments that I’m ready to start submitting. More than enough to keep me fully occupied! Can you tell us something about your personal life – inspirations, plans for the future, goals, etc.? The seagoing cowboys are my inspiration. Sitting in their homes and hearing stories from a very formative time in their lives has been an honor and a privilege. As for the future, I keep telling my friends that I have enough work to keep me busy until I’m 110 (I’m currently 68). So my plans are to keep doing what I’m doing, but hopefully at a slower pace than I’m currently managing. When my husband retires at the end of this year, we’ll want to make more time in our lives for our married twin daughters, their husbands, and two little grandsons to whom the book is dedicated. What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given about writing? Not to take rejections personally. Revise when needed and re-send. Do you have any advice for beginning children’s writers? Persistence pays off. There are many talented writers who are never published because they give up when the rejections start coming in. And there are many mediocre writers who become good writers because they continue learning at every opportunity and persist in sending out their work. It’s not a profession for the faint-hearted. But the rewards of hearing from satisfied readers or watching a child hug his or her new book makes it all worth the effort. Thank you for your insight and inspiration, Peggy! Peggy lives with her husband, Rex, in Goshen, Indiana. You can find out more about Peggy and her book on her author website. Read more about the cowboys on Peggy’s Seagoing Cowboy website and her Seagoing Cowboy blog. The Seagoing Cowboy, Brethren Press 2016 by Peggy Reiff Miller, illustrated by Claire Ewart ISBN: 978-0-87178-212-0

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3. Picture Book Poetry Collections!

Here are some picture book collections of poetry that I enjoy—I hope you do, too! Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josse Masse Another collection of ‘reverso’ poems in free verse with a fairytale theme, like Mirror, Mirror, each poem is paired with the same poem read in the ‘reverse’ direction. For example, For love, / give up your voice. / Don’t / think twice and Think twice! / Don’t / give up your voice / for love. A fun way of looking at poetry. A Frog Inside My Hat compiled by Fay Robinson, illustrated by Cyd Moore This is a ‘First Book of Poems’ published in 1993. Authors old and new, from Edward Lear (There Was an Old Man With a Beard) and Robert Lewis Stevenson (Nest Eggs), to Nikki Giovanni (The Dragonfly) and Arnold Lobel (Although He Didn’t Like the Taste), the poems are simple concepts with large colorful illustrations. Big, Bad and a little bit Scary, poems that bite back! illustrated by Wade Zahares This one is a collection of poems about animals that are just a bit scary that include poems by poets like Ogden Nash (The Panther), Mary Ann Hoberman (Lion) and Karla Kuskin (The Porcupine). Great rhythm and rhyme here, and illustrations that jump off the page! Other picture book authors of poetry collections that I love to read are Heidi B. Roemer (Whose Nest is This?), Rebecca Kai Dotlich (When Riddles Come Rumbling: Poems to Ponder), and J. Patrick Lewis (Please Bury Me in the Library). For authors of collections of poems with a theme, check out anything by Jack Prelutsky (The New Kid On the Block), Lee Bennett Hopkins, especially those for beginning readers (Good Rhymes, Good Times), Bruce Lansky (A Bad Case of the Giggles), and of course, Shel Silverstien (Where the Sidewalk Ends)! If you’re a dog lover be sure to check out Name That Dog!, my book of poems about dogs and their names. And if you’re a parent looking for a book of poetry to read to your young child, take a look at my picture book From Dawn to Dreams, Poems for Busy Babies. Poem in your Pocket Day is tomorrow, April 21st—don’t forget to tuck a poem in your pocket to share with others you meet!

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4. Poetry Month and Picture Books in Verse

It’s Poetry Month once again, and I’ve been bringing home bags of rhyming picture books from the library! Here are some of my favorites, so far. Bedtime at the Swamp by Kristyn Crow, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan A perfect 'read' for poetry month, or any time of year. "Splish splash rumba-rumba bim bam BOOM!" The fun rhythm and language in this 'scary' bedtime story will capture young readers' attention. Great illustrations, and a fun ending— with a mom after my own heart. This one is my new favorite picture book in verse! The Cow Loves Cookies by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Marcellus Hall All of the animals on the farm love their own special food, even Cow. But what Cow loves to eat is not quite what you’d expect, because “the cow loves cookies!” Readers will enjoy the rhyme and rhythm in this book, and look forward to the punch line after each animal is fed their food. Find out ‘why’ Cow loves cookies so much, and what Farmer’s favorite food is, at the end of the story. Fun illustrations add to this great read-aloud picture book. Goodnight, Ark by Laura Sassi, illustrated by Jane Chapman GOODNIGHT, ARK gives readers a close up look at Noah and the animals on the ark. "All Aboard!" Noah calls. That night, after Noah is in bed, the storm gets worse and the animals run to join Noah in his bed--until the skunks arrive. Read to find out how Noah gets them all back to sleep again. Well written rhyme and rhythm, and colorful illustrations. Bubble Gum, Bubble Gum by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith "Bubble gum, bubble gum, Chewy-gooey bubble gum..." Everyone gets stuck in the bubble gum on the road! What do they do when a big blue truck comes down the road right toward them? And how do they save themselves from the big-bottomed bear? A fun read for poetry month or any time. Mortimer’s First Garden by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Dan Andreasen Another great book by Karma Wilson, and perfect for spring! This book is a combination of lyrical prose with rhyming verse. Little Mortimer Mouse loves sunflower seeds. Tired of brown, and longing to see some green after winter, he overhears the children talking about planting a garden. He's not sure he believes in the miracle that will change one seed into more seeds by putting it in the ground and covering it with dirt. But he gives it a try, and has faith. (If you love this book you'll also love Mortimer's Christmas Manger). April—National Poetry Month— Writer or Reader, it’s a good time to get back in touch with poetry and rhyme in children’s books. If you enjoy books in verse, then you’ll want to follow the daily blog posts by authors, editors and agents on Angie Karcher’s RhyPiBoMo. Sounds like a secret language? It’s just ‘code’ for Rhyming Picture Book Month!

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5. RESCUING IVY— Journey to Publication

One hundred years ago, in a small town in Tennessee, a circus elephant named Mary was put to death. She had killed a circus worker defending herself from his abuse. RESCUING IVY was inspired by this true story, but it has a much happier ending. Today I want to congratulate Karen Kulinski from Griffith, Indiana on the launch of her middle grade novel, RESCUING IVY! It’s very exciting to join a friend in celebrating their new book, but especially so when you’ve shared the ups and downs of the writer’s journey with that friend for so many years, as Karen and I have. And I have the inside scoop! Writers sometimes get stuck on an idea and it just won’t let go! I asked Karen what her inspiration was in writing this book. Here’s what she had to say. “Mary (the ‘real’ elephant) was my inspiration. From the beginning I felt that I was writing the book to make up just a little bit for the fact that no one spoke up for her in 1916, no one tried to save her. By rescuing Ivy in my book, I like to think that it might in some way make up for what happened to her. It sounds crazy, I know, but then there is a bit of craziness in all writers or they wouldn’t be doing what they are doing.” Unless you’re a writer, you probably wouldn’t imagine the time and work that goes into writing a book, especially a children’s book. ‘Picture books can be written in a day,’ some think, and a novel, in a few weeks. You might be surprised to learn that it took nine years for RESCUING IVY to come to life! I asked Karen: What kept you going? What kept you from giving up on IVY? Here’s what she said. “From the beginning, I felt that I was born to write this book. The idea grabbed me and never let go. Everything fell into place like magic while I was doing the research. And the actual writing of the book went easier than any other writing had. And along the way I had the encouragement of my husband and my writing friends.” ‘Research, in fiction!?’ you might ask. But a writer needs to know the world they’re writing about. They need to be in that world, with all their senses, and the feelings that go with it in order for the reader to believe what the characters feel and why they act the way they do. Here’s what Karen had to say about her research for RESCUING IVY. “My research took me to two small traveling circuses to watch the elephants help raise the huge circus tents just like Mary would have in 1916. It took me to Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, which was the site of the winter layoff of the Ringling Brothers Circus for many years. Baraboo is the home town of the five Ringling brothers and the site has been turned into a museum, with a wonderful research library. My research took me to Riddle’s Elephant Sanctuary in Arkansas to talk to the people there about elephant behavior, especially circus elephant behavior. And it took me into books, reading about early 20th century circuses in books loaned to me by the Circus World library.” The book was finally ready! It had been written, received critiques from writing friends, and had been revised many times. I asked what some of the obstacles were that stood in the way before Karen’s book was finally published. “I spent three years submitting and waiting,” Karen said. “Editors took months to get back to me with rejection letters. Some held the book for as long as a year, and another rejected it after 18 months when the editor who I was working with left for a different publishing house that only published books in series. In all, IVY got 25 rejection letters! Then I sent it to High Hill Press—and they loved it! They planned to publish it the next year, but it took 2 ½ hears before it was finally published.” And it’s well worth the wait! In RESCUING IVY, Danna’s favorite circus elephant, Ivy, is wrongly accused of killing a circus worker. Young Danna was witness to the scene, but no one will believe her story! Danna convinces her older brother, and together they team up with a young circus worker and some hoboes to rescue Ivy from being put to death. Young readers will enjoy the photos and facts about real elephants and the circus at the end of the book. Included are websites where readers can find more information about the circus, hoboes and animal rights. Thank you, Karen, for sharing some of your journey of RESCUING IVY with our readers here! You can find out more about Karen and her books on her website, Down at the Depot. Then, read her blog, Off the Rails. RESCUING IVY High Hill Press 2016 ISBN-10: 1606531034 ISBN-13: 978-1606531037

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6. Here’s Your Sign!

Spring is on the way—the signs are all around us! The grass is getting green again, daffodils and hyacinths are blooming. Birds are singing! You can’t miss the signs. But sometimes the signs are not quite as visible. A late winter snow storm or some cold winds might hide them. Like looking for spring in March, as writers we sometimes look for a sign to let us know that we’re on the right track. A sign to show us that we should keep going! Or a sign that tells us where to go next. The signs are there, but sometimes we have to look a little harder, and believe a little more, to see them. As a new writer I wondered if I was wasting my time writing stories for children. Was I really any good? Or was I just kidding myself. So far I had kept my writing life a secret between myself and my husband. One day I picked up a copy of the Writers Market Book at the library. As soon as I took it to the check-out desk, my secret was out! The librarian happened to be a writer, and invited me to a writers' critique meeting—sign #1. As uncomfortable as I was sharing my writing with strangers, I went to the meeting. I made lifelong friends and got lots of encouragement there—sign #2. I started to submit my work to children’s magazines and had a poem and a short story accepted. Sometimes even rejection can be a sign! A sign to get out of my comfort zone and move ahead. I had written a short story that I loved. I sent it to every children’s magazine I could find, and they all rejected it! But I still believed in it—sign #3. I sent it to Little Golden Books—and they liked it. One of the Family was my first published picture book. Do you need a sign? Like Peter Pan or Winnie the Pooh, sometimes you just have to believe in yourself a little more to see it. 2016 is Leap Year—is this your sign? Is this the year for you to take that ‘leap’ and really sit down to write your poem, short story, picture book or novel for young readers? Do you have stories already written? Maybe you’ll leap forward and join a critique group to get feedback from other children’s writers! Check your local library, or your local chapter of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) for critique groups for children’s writers. ‘Spring Ahead’—is this your sign? Spring is just around the corner. Last week-end those of us on daylight savings time had to set our clocks forward one hour. It was time to ‘Spring Ahead!’ Have you revised until you’re satisfied that your manuscript is the best that it can be, and are you waiting for a sign that says ‘This manuscript is ready! Send it in!’? Check out the publishers online, both magazine and book publishers, and get it out there. If you’re a member of SCBWI, check out the SCBWI Work-in-Progress awards and submit your manuscript. You’ve nothing to lose! Just make sure that you get it in before March 31st. Are you a poet? Lucky you, April is National Poetry Month! Is this your sign? For lots of information, inspiration, and writing challenges check out Angie Karcher’s blog for RhyPiBoMO, Rhyming Picture Book Month. Read the daily blog posts by authors, editors and agents about rhyme and rhyming picture books. Follow the links to even more poetry fun. Next check out the Reading Rockets website for video interviews with children’s poets, booklists, books on poetry, activities and more. In June SCBWI Missouri celebrates ‘Critique Across Missouri.’ Members will be hosting critique groups at different locations across the state. Non-members are welcome, too! Keep your eye on the SCBWI Missouri website for upcoming information and locations. So Here’s Your Sign! Wherever you are in your writing, just take a leap and spring forward!

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7. Celebrate Read Across America Day, March 2nd!

Read a book, and celebrate Read Across America Day! Read Across America is an annual event sponsored by the National Education Association (NEA). It is a motivation and awareness program that calls for every child in every community to celebrate reading on March 2, the birthday of beloved children's author Dr. Seuss. Click here to take the pledge! For printable activities, and tips on celebrating Read Across America, go to the Seussville website! Find more tips and resources on the NEA website. Here are a few quotes on the importance of reading— "Children are made readers on the laps of their parents." — Emilie Buchwald (author and publisher) "I used to walk to school with my nose buried in a book." — Coolio (musician, rapper, chef, actor, and record producer) "You may have tangible wealth untold. Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be — I had a mother who read to me." — Strickland Gillilan (American poet and humorist) “The single most important thing a parent can do to help a child learn to read is to transmit a love of reading.” –Phyllis Hunter, National Fellow of the Institute of Learning Join me, and read a book today!

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8. World Read-Aloud Day, February 24th!

What do all writers have in common? They love to read! And those of us who write for children want to inspire children to feel that way, too. I love events that promote reading for children. On February 24th the Children’s Book Council (CBC) is sponsoring World Read-Aloud Day. This KidLit event “calls attention to the pure joy and power of reading aloud, and connects the world as a community of readers.” To get ready for the big day, the CBC has introduced 7 Strengths that celebrate all of the ways that reading makes us resilient and ready to thrive in school, work and life. They are: Belonging, Curiosity, Friendship, Kindness, Confidence, Courage, and Hope. Click here to read more about how these strengths relate to reading aloud, then click on the link there. Some ways that reading to your child is beneficial are— --it improves your child’s attention and listening skills --it helps build vocabulary, comprehension, and language skills --it improves your child's creativity and imagination -- Books are great teachers of different emotions like sadness, fear, anger, and joy --Reading to your child is a great way to bond with your child. from Rainbow Star Books Reading to an older child is beneficial as well. According to Jim Trelease, author of the Read-Aloud Handbook, “A child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until eighth grade…. A fifth grader can enjoy a more complicated plot than they can read themselves.” To read more on the benefits of reading a-loud, check these websites: Reading Rockets Rainbow Star Books Great Kids! Follow along with the Children’s Book Council at twitter— @litworldsays and #wrad16

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9. More on Best Picture Books of 2015

Here are my thoughts on just a few more of the picture books published in 2015 that I read and loved—and a couple from other years that were new to me. I hope you enjoy them as well! TWO IS ENOUGH by Janna Matthies, illustrated by Tuesday Mourning Running Press Kids, 2015 Written in rhyme, TWO IS ENOUGH is a wonderful tribute to single parents. Illustrations show different types of families of two doing everyday things together. I like the variety of things that these families do together, and I like that the types of families shown are varied as well. MOTHER BRUCE by Ryan T. Higgins, author and illustrator Hyperion, 2015 Bruce is a grumpy old bear who doesn’t like anything—except eggs. He has lots of fancy recipes that he uses to cook the eggs that he takes from the birds in the forest. Then one day four goose eggs and a fizzled out fire change everything. What’s a bear with mistaken identity to do? Fun twist at the end, but you’ll have to read it yourself! Wonderful illustrations that add to the story and the fun. LITTLE RED GLIDING HOOD by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Troy Cummings Random House, 2015 Little Red loves to ice skate. She swizzles and twizzles across the ice. She wants to enter the skating competition to win a pair of brand-new skates, but she needs a partner. She goes to the house of the three little pigs and ends up with the most unlikely partner ever! Read the story to see if Little Red and the Big Bad Wolf will finish the race and win the shiny new skates. Great story with a nursery rhyme theme and fun illustrations (especially if you’ve ever loved to ice skate!). SWEEP UP THE SUN by Helen Frost, photos by illustrator/photographer Rick Lieder Candlewick, 2015 SWEEP UP THE SUN invites readers to spread their wings and 'soar.' Author Helen Frost, well known for her award-winning YA books of poetry, shows her versatility with this poem for young readers. Beautiful photographs add to the reader's experience, and added back matter gives information about the birds in the book. HOW TO BECOME A PERFECT PRINCESS IN FIVE DAYS by Pierrette Dube, illustrated by Luc Melanson Windmill Books, 2010 It was not in Princess Stringbean’s nature to walk with dainty steps or keep her hair and her dresses looking neat and perfect. The moment her feet hit the dirt, she's off and running! What else can a royal mother do but send her daughter to Perfect Princess Academy. When the class is over, Princess Stringbean receives a full refund from the academy instead of a diploma, but she manages to bring home a trophy that make her mother proud. A nice twist on a ‘princess’ story that shows that everyone, even a princess, has their own special talents. NEW OLD SHOES by Charlotte Blessing, illustrated by Gary R. Phillips Pleasant St. Press, 2009 Follow the story to see how a pair of sneakers goes from new shoes to old shoes, and where they travel along the way. They’ve ‘walked, kicked and played,’ but where will they end up next? I like how the story shows that things can still be something of value to another person, even when they are no longer new. Beautiful, colorful illustrations add to the story. I'm looking forward to all of the new picture books to come in 2016!

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10. Thoughts on Some of the 2016 Award-Winning Picture Books

A Shout-Out to all of the award-winning children’s books of 2016! Congratulations to the authors and illustrators of those books as well as the picture books that appear on lists of best children’s books for 2015. Click here for a more complete list of awards for children’s books. What exciting news that this year a picture book text won the Newberry Award. I believe it was well deserved. I rode the city bus quite often as a child, and can relate to some parts of the story myself. Below are my thoughts on a few of the award-winning picture books—I’m still reading! I hope it will make you run out to the library or local bookstore to read them for yourselves! LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET by Matt De La Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin, 2015 Winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal A 2016 Caldecott Honor Book A 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book A New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Book of 2015 A Wall Street Journal Best Children's Book of 2015 I once heard Matt De La Pena speak at a conference, and I was inspired by his story. Now I’m equally inspired by his picture book, LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET. When CJ and his nana leave church on Sunday morning they take the bus to the last stop on Market Street. CJ is feeling sorry for himself, and sees only what he doesn’t have. But when he begins to ‘see’ with more than just his eyes, he finds the real beauty in the people around him. I love how the illustrations add detail which adds to the overall experience. Told with beautiful, poetic language, this is a wonderful story that shows that you don’t have to have a lot yourself to be able to help others, and that if you look around, you can find ‘beautiful where you never even thought to look.’ FINDING WINNIE, The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Balckall Little, Brown and Company, 2015 #1 New York Times Bestseller Winner of the 2016 Caldecott Medal Maybe it was the long title, eleven words in all, but for some reason I wasn’t particularly looking forward to reading the text of this book. So I put it at the bottom of my pile. All of that changed when I started reading. I discovered that I’d saved one of the best for last. FINDING WINNIE begins with the story of Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian who purchases a bear cub from a trapper on his way to England during World War I. Winnipeg, or Winnie as she was called, traveled to England with the soldiers and was put in a zoo when they left to fight in the war. The story of Harry and Winnie stops here, but as the narrator says to her young son, “Sometimes you have to let one story end so the next one can begin.” The second part of the story begins with a real boy named Christopher Robin. The friendship between Christopher Robin and Winnie was the inspiration for the books about Winnie the Pooh, written by Christopher Robin’s father, Alan Alexander Milne. What makes this book even more special is that the story is told to Harry Colebourn’s great-great-grandson by his mother. Wonderful illustrations add detail to the story, and include a family tree and an album with photos of Winnie with Harry and the soldiers. This is a wonderful read for all. DON’T THROW IT TO MO! by David A. Adler, illustrated by Sam Ricks Penguin Young Readers, 2015 Winner of the 2016 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Mo is the youngest player on the Robins football team. He’s not the biggest or the fastest player on the team, but his passion for the game is an inspiration. Coach has a plan, but will it work? This is a great book for beginning readers with a good story, colorful illustrations and a great ‘take-away’ for readers at the end. TROMBONE SHORTY by Troy ‘Trombone Shorty’ Andrews, illustrated by Bryan Collier Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2015 2016 Caldecott Honor Book Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Award TROMBONE SHORTY is the story of Troy Andrews, noted musician and trombone player from the Treme neighborhood in New Orleans. The language and use of dialect, along with the rhythm of the text and beautiful illustrations, puts you into the story. As you read you can ‘feel’ the influence of music in the main character’s life as you follow him from a young boy with the broken trombone twice his size, to Grammy nominated musician and inspiration to all young musicians. In the author’s words, “I’m living proof that as long as you work hard, you can make your dreams take flight.” I want to linger just a bit on the last quote from Trombone Shorty, in particular the part that says “…as long as you work hard, you can make your dreams take flight.” Success is sweet, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Anything that is done well takes time, and hard work. Like musicians, authors and illustrators spend many years learning the basics of their craft before working on a picture book. Then authors put in many hours finding just the right words that will connect with the reader and their emotions. Illustrators do the same, making their artwork a perfect fit for the text. But it’s definitely worth the journey! Once again, my sincere congratulations to all!

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11. Happy New Year’s Resolutions!

Happy New Year—2016! Once again I’m thinking of resolutions that will improve my writing life, and my life in general. It’s nice when your resolutions actually push you to do better, and when you see the difference it makes when you follow them. It’s very encouraging, and validating. Every year I find myself repeating past resolutions. Write more, read more, eat less…. When you think about it, some things can always be improved upon. No matter how much effort I put into my writing last year, I can always improve on that somehow this year. The same goes with other areas of my life. I read friend and author Margo Dill’s blog post last week. She talked about focusing on ‘one-word for 2016’ in place of making New Year’s resolutions. The idea came from the book One Word That Will Change Your Life by Jon Gordon, Jimmy Page, and Dan Britton. The way that it works is that you choose ONE WORD as a theme for your life for ONE YEAR and live your life focused on that one word. If I were to choose one word, it might be the same as Margo’s—Organization. But I am a list-maker! So under ‘organization’ I would probably list things like— Organize my day to include reading (sub-headings: for pleasure, for learning), writing, social media, family, friends, prayer, meals, walking, etc. Organize my files so that I can find what I’m looking for! Organize my calendar—so I know what I’m doing! Organize my website, so other people know what I’m doing. And so on, and so on… Whichever way works best for you, I hope that you find more time for those things in your life that are important to you, and that you love to do. I hope that you discover what is important to you in your life, and that you find ways to fit those things into your days. And I wish you many blessings this year! I’ve seen 2016 referred to as ‘Sweet 16.’ Wishing you all 'Sweet Success' in this new year! You can find information and resources about creating your own one word on this website: http://getoneword.com

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12. Creating Memorable Christmas Characters

December has been a great beginning to the Christmas season for us. Seeing the Christmas lights in Branson, a couple of familiar holiday stories, then dinner and a Christmas show kicked it off. Following that were two wonderful holiday meetings with writers. And seeing the grandkids in their school Christmas programs topped it all off! There’s nothing like Christmas lights and the singing of carols to get you in a happy holiday spirit. Top that with the smell of cookies from the oven, the taste of hot chocolate, a cozy blanket throw and a holiday movie and you’ve got all the five senses covered! Ok, I’m back to thinking like a writer again. I’m writing in between all of these Christmas ‘sens-ations’ because I know that if I stop for very long, it will be so much harder when I come back to it. (And because I’ve got the edits for some revisions of TOAD that I want to keep up with, too). There are so many Christmas stories that we love to read or watch on video or TV year after year! I think it’s the characters that really make the stories so memorable. Here are a few to think about. A song that the junior high school band played reminded me of this one. You might recognize the following words, taken randomly, from a well known Christmas song— …you’re as cuddly as a cactus …your brain is full of spiders …you’re a nasty, wasty skunk …your heart is full of unwashed socks and so on, from “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Wow, what a guy! What great similes and metaphors. Then there’s the familiar story of someone who’s left out because they’re different, and ends up saving the day— who else, but “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer!” Character drives the story. Rudolph is rather quiet, and it takes Santa to recognize his importance. But when you change your character, the story changes, too! When Rudolph is sick on Christmas Eve, he calls on his cousin Leroy to cover for him. Leroy shows up driving his pick-up truck and wearing a John Deere tractor hat. Leroy is a more confident character. It’s his actions and appearance that show us his character. At the start, the other reindeer aren’t too sure about a reindeer who goes ‘two-stepping across the sky,’ and makes ‘jingle bells with a rebel yell.’ But he soon has them all ‘scootin’ a hoof on every single roof, by the light of a neon moon.’ It’s “Leroy the Red-Neck Reindeer!” Think about “The Night Before Christmas,” and its many variations. Or “Snowmen at Night” and “Snowmen at Christmas.” Put the characters in a different setting and you have a new story. Narrow in on a specific Christmas character and you might have come up with “Drummer Boy” (by Loren Long). Or focus on the animals in the barn instead of people on the first Christmas night and you might have written “The Animals’ Christmas Eve,” the Little Golden Book, by Gale Wiersum. In “It’s a Wonderful Life” it’s the main character, George, who changes at the end of the story when Clarence, his guardian angel, helps him to see the impact that he made on many lives. The movie was based on the short story, “The Greatest Gift,” written by Philip VanDoren Stern in 1939. Unable to find a publisher, Stern sent his 21-page booklet to friends at Christmas in 1943. It was published in Readers’ Digest and Good Housekeeping magazines, and Stern privately published the story in 1945, when it came to the attention of producer David Hempstead. The movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” came out in 1946 and became one of the 100 best American films ever made. Wishing you all wonderful Christmas characters, and a wonderful season of celebrating the holidays!

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13. Thanksgiving Blessings—On Family, Friends and Writing

This year, as always, I’m most thankful for my family—my husband, my kids and extended family, too. I’m also thankful for friends—friends through the years of growing up (past and present), friends I’ve met through writing and through church. Some years I have other special things to be thankful for, and this is one of them! Here are some special moments in my writing journey to be thankful for this year. I’m very excited today to share my news that my picture book TOAD IN THE ROAD will be published by Schwartz & Wade (a division of Random House)! I’ve been sitting on this news for awhile, just waiting to be sure that it wasn’t going to ‘go away!’ You won’t see the book in bookstores for a couple of years yet, but it’s definitely coming! So I’m thankful for Anne Schwartz and for Anne Kelly at Schwartz & Wade who share my excitement and my vision for TOAD. Last month I signed with agent Kirsten Hall of Catbird Agency! Kirsten is a children’s author, former editor of children’s books, as well as a picture book agent. We met at the Missouri SCBWI Fall conference at the end of September. After talking with her at the conference and later on the phone, I knew she would be a great agent for me, and we’re off to a good start! So I’m thankful for SCBWI, and for Kirsten, who has already been a blessing. In October I talked about the SCBWI Work-in-Progress awards, and how TOAD IN THE ROAD won the award for picture book text—another thankful moment this year for my writing! This year I have two board books that were published by Highlights for Children’s Let’s Grow book club for toddlers age 0 to 2 years. They are WHEELS GO ‘ROUND and A DAY AT THE ZOO. I’m thankful for editor Susan Hood who worked with me, and for Highlights for publishing my books—my first board books for children. I’m also thankful for the author visits that I’ve had this year, visiting schools and events for children’s writers. I want to add that these things did not happen without quite a bit of work and study over many years. In this year, I attended two small writing events and one major conference for children’s writers, one online conference and four webinars, and five local author events. I chose events that were for or by children’s writers, some where I would be able to submit my work to editors or agents following the event. I participate in two critique groups every month with other children’s writers (unless I’m out of town). At these meetings we read each other’s manuscripts and give and receive valuable input on our writing and story. I also keep in touch with a group of writing friends from Indiana, and we sometimes critique each other’s manuscripts—and receive more valuable input. I also do volunteer work for Missouri SCBWI. So it’s very exciting when things come together and we have those great moments in writing! And I’m thankful for those of you here, who read and share my thoughts on writing for children, and who share my good news. Thank you for visiting, and coming back! I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving Day, but mostly I hope you have lots to be thankful for.

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14. Rhyming Picture Book Revolution!

Join the Rhyming Picture Book Revolution! If you’ve ever been told (or read) ‘Don’t write in rhyme,’ ‘Editors won’t look at rhyme,’ or ‘Rhyme doesn’t sell,’ read on! My friend, Angie Karcher, started the rhyming picture book revolution in 2014 when she initiated RhyPiBoMo—Rhyming Picture Book Month in (of course!) April! RhyPiBoMo is a month long celebration of children’s poetry during poetry month with blog posts by well known children’s poets and others in the field of children’s poetry, poetry lessons and poetry-writing exercises. This year is the debut of the Rhyming Picture Book Revolution conference, which will be held in New York City on December 4th through the 6th. On the evening of Friday, December 4th, the award for the Best Rhyming Picture Book of 2015 will be announced! If you’re not able to attend the conference, you can opt to view a live recording of the conference, which includes the following sessions: Session 1: Reject ~ What’s NOT working in RPB manuscripts. Session 2: Revolt ~ The story and meter MUST be perfection! Session 3: Rules ~ Poetic techniques and lyrical language Session 4: Rewards ~ The heart of the story brings them back! As a perk, following the conference, you will be invited to submit your own manuscripts to Editor Justin Chanda, Editor Rebecca Davis, Agent Kendra Marcus and Agent Jodell Sadler. don't miss the RPB Revolution auction page with links to autographed books and items donated by authors, illustrators, agents and editors, including autographed books, a critique or a phone session with an agent! Check out the KidLitTV website for a list of the top rhyming picture books of 2015. One of my new favorites, and just in time for Thanksgiving, is Sharing The Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Jill McElmurry (Schwartz & Wade/September 2015). While you’re there look around a bit and click to find Kidlit Radio, book trailers and more. Don’t miss the daily blogposts about Why Picture Books Are Important on the Picture Book Month blog. And remember, good rhyme does sell! It takes a lot of hard work to get your rhyme there, but what a joy it will be to read when you’ve finally got it just right!

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15. Think Poetry in Picture Books—Poetic Tools to Try

Think ‘Poetry’ and add that extra dimension to your picture book. All picture books are poetic in some way. That doesn’t mean that they need to be written in rhyme. Think— language rhythm emotion detail In my earlier blog I listed some tools that you can use to ‘show’ and not ‘tell’ when writing a picture book. These included— Dialogue “Wow!” said Mr. Slinger. (from Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, Kevin Henkes) Action "...he roared very loud. RAAAHHRRRR!" (from Library Lion, by Michelle Knudsen) Body language "Mr. McBee frowned as he walked away." (from Library Lion, by Michelle Knudsen) Your 5 senses "The wind it shrieks like bobcats do..." (from THAT BOOK WOMAN by Heather Henson) Detail (language) “If they see me, they’ll pluck out all my feathers, stuff me with bread crumbs, and cook me for Thanksgiving dinner.” (from Turkey Surprise, by Peggy Archer) When you think about the poetic side of a picture book, you find even more tools that can help you ‘show’ instead of ‘tell’— Onomatopoeia –Thump, thump! Squawk! Hard and soft letter sounds Soft sounding consonants are: R, J, M, N, S, V, W (C and G) —use for a quiet or sentimental mood. Hard sounding consonants are K, D, Q, T, B, P (C and G) —use if you want a more active or upbeat mood. Similes –"...as pleasing as ticks in a taco." (from Ginny Louise and the School Showdown, by Helen Lester) Metaphors –It’s a piece of cake. Alliteration and Repetition –"Click, Clack, Moo!" (from Click, Clack, Moo! by Doreen Cronin) Short and long sentences (or words) Using short words or sentences is more active, more tense; it speeds things up Using longer words or sentences creates a pause; it slows things down Look at these books and others at your local library. Thinking in terms of poetry when writing a picture book adds another dimension to your story. So think like a poet, and give your writing that extra oomph using some of the ‘poetic tools’ listed above! /

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16. Picture Book Idea Month—PiBoIdMo!

On her blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them), Tara Lazar has created another way for authors to celebrate Picture Book Month. She created PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) as a 30-day challenge for picture book writers. PiBoIdMo is not a challenge to create 30 first drafts, or 30 completed manuscripts. Just 30 story ideas that might eventually be developed into a picture book. As Tara explains it, “The object is to heighten your picture-book-idea-generating senses.” And to help you, during November there will be daily blog posts by picture book authors, illustrators, editors and other kidlit professionals will help inspire you. And prizes (did I say prizes!?). You have until November 5th, that’s Thursday of this week, to sign up! Just visit Tara’s blogsite to sign up! While you’re there, check out today’s post by Joan Holub on fresh ways to get picture book ideas, and sign up to win a prize! When you’re finished there, go to the Picture Book Month.com website to read today’s first post of the month by Trisha Speed Shaskan on Why Picture Books Are Important! Then find links to author/illustrator blogs, picture book resources, literacy organizations and more ways to celebrate Picture Book Month there!

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17. Coming Soon—Picture Book Month! November 2015

Read * Share * Celebrate! November is Picture Book Month! Picture Book Month is an international literacy initiative that celebrates the print picture book during the month of November. Every day in November, there is a new post on the Picture Book Month website from a picture book champion explaining why he/she thinks picture books are important. In last year’s celebration, Debbie Ridpath Ohi shared her insight on why picture books are important: “Picture books are important because childhood is important. Picture books help inspire today’s young people into becoming tomorrow’s thought leaders.” The 2015 Picture Book Month Champions are: Sudipta Bardan-Quallen David Biedrzycki Paulette Bogan, Mike Curato Matthew Gollub Julie Gribble Julie Hedlund Carter Highins Molly Idle Joe Kulka Jennifer Gray Olson Kathryn Otoshi Anne Marie Pace Rukhsana Khan Robin Newma, Penny Parker Klostermann Eric Litwin Loren Long Deb Lund LeUyen Phan Matt Phelan Stephen Shaskan Trisha Speed Shaskan TJ Shay Whitney Stewart Holly Stone-Barker Mo Willems Natasha Win Matthew Winner and Paula Yoo Join the celebration and party with a picture book! Thanks to the following who put together their worldwide connections to make Picture Book Month happen— Founder: Dianne de Las Casas (author & storyteller) Co-Founders: Katie Davis (author/illustrator) Elizabeth O. Dulemba (author/illustrator) Tara Lazar (author) Wendy Martin (author/illustrator) Thanks also to Joyce Wan for the beautiful logo and to Marcie Colleen for the Teacher’s Guide and Curriculum Connections in each post. from: http://picturebookmonth.com/

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18. Soaring to New Heights!

On September 26th Missouri SCBWI held its fall conference for children’s writers and illustrators, Soaring to New Heights. It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday in fall, with something to offer for children’s writers of all genres. Here’s the Wrap-Up! EB Lewis, award-winning author/illustrator of children’s picture books, was the keynote speaker. Others representing picture books were Connie Hsu, editor at Roaring Brook Press and Kirsten Hall, agent and owner of Catbird Agency. I also did my part for picture book writers in the picture book intensive along with Connie and Kirsten. Representing middle grade and young adult were Brianne Johnson, agent at Writer’s House, Kate Sullivan, editor at Delacorte Press, and author Jennifer Brown. Behind the scenes, not present that day but doing written critiques, was Melissa Edwards, agent at Aaron Priest Literary Agency. I didn’t attend all of the breakout sessions, but attended the ones that focused on writing picture books. The day started off with artistrator, EB Lewis, who talked about Art and Picture Books. He said that the illustrator creates a ‘visual’ language in which you read images like words. Each image moves a story forward. Something that, as a writer, I had not thought about before. Keeping that in mind helps me as a picture book writer. Agent, Brianne Johnson talked about Character Driven Picture Books. She said that character influences plot and voice. You want your character to ‘want’ something deeply and not be shy about it! When developing your character, you should look at your character’s values, behavior (including virtues and flaws or weaknesses), and Traits (they should be unique, and have heart). You can put your character in any situation and you know what is going to happen. Picture book agent, Kirsten Hall, talked about Pitching Your Work. Your pitch to an agent or an editor should be short and sweet, and include a short summary, a small amount of interesting relevant biographical info about yourself, and be visual. Include comparable titles that are successful and refer to books that the editor has previously edited. Kirsten’s advice— 1—Pitch to the right editor at the right house 2—Be confident 3—Stand out, be different 4—Remain optimistic 5—Be happy! The Picture Book Intensive started off with editor, Connie Hsu. Three things that Connie looks for in a picture book are character, voice and arc. She said to avoid stereotypes when developing characters. Ask yourself ‘why’ your main character is a child or an animal, and how that moves the story along. Regarding voice, ask: who is the narrator and who is the audience? At the end of the story the main character should learn something, and change somehow. There should be a satisfying ending with an emotional resonance, or ‘take-away,’ for the reader. Agent Kirsten Hall talked about picture book basics. Picture books are written for children ages 4-8. A picture book is structured with a combination of text plus art. The format is a book with 32 to 40 pages—the pages are divisible by 8—although some newer picture books are 90-100 pages! She gave us 20 tips for writing picture books from editors. Among those were— Begin at the library or bookstore—ask for their 10 best-selling picture books and read them. Think visually. Know your characters and their world. Know the parts of your story PUSH the emotion. ‘Cheesy Tip’—Be Nice and Be Professional (also echoed by Connie Hsu) Also stressed by both Kirsten and Connie, and among ‘Editors’ Tips’ was— Check your story’s ‘Readability’ by reading your picture book text out loud—over and over! Twenty times or more in one sitting! My own author part of the picture book intensive focused on 'Show, Don’t Tell.' Why 'show?' We ‘show’ to keep the reader’s attention by making the story more active, putting images in the readers’ minds, and drawing them into the story. We want the reader to ‘feel’ what the main character feels. What do we want to show? We show characters, emotions, story, setting and time. How so we 'show'? Some ‘tools’ that help ‘show’ instead of ‘tell’ are— Dialogue Action Body language Use your 5 senses Detail (Language) And, since all picture books have a poetic quality, there are also ‘poetic tools,’ which I’ll talk a little bit about in my next blog post. See you there!

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19. More Stories in the Park

What’s better than a walk around the lake? How about a Storybook Walk around the lake on a beautiful summer evening! BARK, GEORGE! by author/illustrator Jules Feiffer was the featured picture book on the Storybook Walk at St. Charles Community College in Cottleville, Missouri last month. Three of our grandchildren were visiting, so we decided to make an unofficial stop and check it out. When George's mother tells her son to bark, he meows. She tries again and he quacks, oinks and moos. George is a dog and something’s definitely not right. So his mother takes him to the vet, who finds some interesting things when he reaches down George’s throat. Our four-year old granddaughter used her imagination to add even more hilarity to the story! BARK, GEORGE, by author/illustrator Jules Feiffer, HarperCollins 1999 Last week I took home a new bunch of picture books from our local library. Here are just a few of my favorites out of the two bags that I checked out. MEMOIRS OF A HAMSTER by Devin Scillian, Illustrated by Tim Bowers, Sleeping Bear Press 2013 Seymour has the perfect life—a bowl of seeds, a cozy pile of wood shavings, and room to run. He never wants to leave. Until Pearl the cat convinces him that life outside his cage is even better. If you’ve ever had a hamster (or not) you’ll love this book about Seymour’s adventure. Illustrations are colorful and a great compliment to the text. LIBRARY LION by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, Candlewick 2006 One day a lion enters the library, upsetting Mr. McBee who works there. Since there are no rules about lions in a library, the lion makes himself at home. While he waits for story hour, he makes himself useful, helping the staff and the people who come to the library. However, when the librarian falls and the lion is caught running and being loud, things change. Is there ever a good reason to break the rules? Find out in this story. Illustrations fit the quiet atmosphere of a library and compliment the story, adding detail. GINNY LOUISE AND THE SCHOOL SHOWDOWN by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger, Disney Hyperion, 2015 The Truman Elementary Troublemakers were a bad bunch. Cap’n Gatastrophe, Destructo Dude, and Make-My-Day May did not follow the rules, and pretty much made school miserable for everyone. Then Ginny Louise came to school. Find out if she has what it takes to turn things around when she is challenged to a show-down. Colorful, fun illustrations and lots of play on words make this a fun book for readers young and old. WATER IS WATER by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin, Roaring Brook Press 2015 “Water is water, unless…” I love the format of this book about water and its different forms—steam, clouds, fog or rain for example. Information is simply presented, in a wonderful poetic voice. More information is given at the end in greater detail. The book is illustrated in beautiful paintings, showing the different seasons and adding to the information presented in the text. Click on the link below the picture to find out more about the Storybook Walk at St. Charles Community College!

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20. Read Some Books and Celebrate National Dog Day!

Today is National Dog Day! I didn’t have a dog when I was growing up, but we did have two dogs (at different times) after my husband and I got married. We got our first dog, Skipper, because our son had been begging for a dog when I found out we were having another baby. So we ended up with a new puppy and a new baby at the same time. Skipper was more of an outside dog. We had him in a large fenced yard, but that didn’t hold him back. He would jump over the fence and visit the neighbors around the block. Once when we were walking him, an older lady sitting on her porch said to us, “Oh, I see you have my dog!” That’s when I found out that Skipper led a double life. Skipper was the main character in a true story that I wrote for Guideposts magazine in 2007. It involved building a stable for our new outdoor Christmas nativity scene and our ‘lost’ dog. It ended finding Skipper snuggled up next to the Baby Jesus in the stable in our front yard. Our second dog, Snickers, was the inspiration for my picture book NAME THAT DOG! Puppy Poems from A to Z. Snickers was more of an indoor dog, though she loved being outside. We got her when our youngest daughter was in high school, so I had more time to get attached to this dog. She’s in many of the poems in my book. Pets are a great inspiration in many ways. Here are some of my favorite books about dogs, including some classics from the past. A PET FOR MISS WRIGHT, by Judy Young, illustrated by Andrea Wesson, Sleeping Bear Press 2011 Miss Wright is a writer, and writing is a lonely job. She decides that she needs a pet to keep her company, but finding the perfect pet for a writer is not easy. Find out what makes a dog the perfect pet in this book. PINKERTON, BEHAVE! by author/illustrator Steven Kellogg, Dial Books for Young Readers 1979 Pinkerton is a loveable puppy, but he just won’t behave. He sets a bad example for the other dogs and flunks out of obedience school. But when a burglar comes into their home, it takes a little girl to know just the right commands. Anyone who has had a new puppy will relate to Pinkerton and his family in this book. THE HALLO-WIENER, by author/illustrator Dav Pilkey, The Blue Sky Press and Scholastic 1995 The other dogs tease Oscar because he is short and long. But sometimes using what makes you a little bit different can save the day. PRETZEL, by Margret Rey, illustrated by H.A. Rey, Harper and Row and Scholastic 1944 Pretzel started out just like his brothers and sisters, but by the time he was grown he was the longest dachshund in the world. Read about the different ways that Pretzel uses his special size, and how he wins the heart of Greta in this story. BARK, GEORGE, by author/illustrator Jules Feiffer, HarperCollins 1999 When George's mother tells her son to bark, he meows. She tries again and he quacks, oinks and moos. George is a dog and something’s definitely not right. So his mother takes him to the vet, who finds some interesting things when he reaches down George’s throat. The BISCUIT books by Alyssa Satin Capucilli, illustrated by Pat Schories, HarperCollins I Can Read series of books about a puppy and his adventures. http://alyssacapucilli.com/books-category/world-of-biscuit/ The HENRY AND MUDGE books by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Sucie Stevenson, Simon & Schuster/Aladdin Ready to Read series of books about Henry and his big dog, Mudge. Books about HARRY by Gene Zion, illustrated by Margaret Bloy Graham, and the books about BENJY by Margaret Bloy Graham, Harper & Row and Weekly Reader Books. A couple of middle grade books about dogs that I like are: LOVE THAT DOG by Sharon Creech, HarperCollins 2001 This novel in verse is told from the viewpoint of Jack, the main character, as he learns to enjoy writing poetry when he writes about his dog. A great introduction to novels in verse, this one is hard to put down once you begin. ADVENTURES OF PACHELOT, books one, two and three, by Wendy Caszatt-Allen, Mackinac Island Press 2007 Travel back in time with fur traders, sailors and Native Americans as Pachelot, an Australian Shepherd, tells his story of life in the wilderness with the early explorers in the seventh century.

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21. Finding ‘Voice’ in Children’s Picture Books

We went to our grandson’s Kindergarten celebration the other day. When it was over he gave me a big hug and said, “You smell like you guys’es place.” I wasn’t sure what that meant, but the smell of an older relative’s house when I was a young child came to mind. Then I thought of the building where our granddaughters’ gymnastics classes were held and how it smelled like sweaty socks. I hoped I didn’t smell like either of those! But I think I was ok, since he gave me a loong hug. Later that night I started thinking about voice, and how in the same way that you sometimes identify certain places with smells, you identify certain authors and their characters by ‘voice.’ When I think of Robert Munsch, I always think of his humor and use of onomatapoeia— ‘Varoooooooooommmm,’ and ‘blam, blam, blam, blam, blam!’ When I think of the Frances books by Russell Hoban I can’t help but think how the voice of Frances comes through in the short rhymes that she makes up when she’s thinking or talking. No one can write about farm animals quite the way that Doreen Cronin does. And the voice of Steven Kellogg is unique, whether he’s writing about a snake eating the wash or bringing characters to life as in Johnny Appleseed or Pecos Bill. Voice is the way that only you can write. Laura Backes says in Writing-World.com— “Voice is like a fingerprint; it makes the story uniquely yours.” Click on the link to read Laura’s post on voice. Voice is probably the least ‘teachable’ part of writing a picture book. Because it’s not really taught, it’s a part of you already. You just have to ‘find’ it. The way to do that is to write. Write spontaneously, without thinking about a polished manuscript. Write your first drafts, and don’t go back until you’ve finished. Don’t stop to correct grammar, or to fix story or develop your characters. All of that comes later, with revision. The more you write, the more your ‘voice’ will come through. Here are a few more books to look at— THAT BOOK WOMAN by Heather Hensen is told in a narrative, Appalachian voice. ONE THOUSAND TRACINGS by Lita Judge HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOODIGHT? and other ‘Dinosaur’ books by Jane Yolen LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE by Kevin Henkes Read more about Finding Your Voice at — Highlights Foundation blog for children’s writers. Lee and Low Books Live Guru

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22. What Makes a Good Picture Book

Earlier this year I discovered some great webinars on writing for children. A webinar is a seminar conducted over the internet. The cost of attending varies. Some are free. Some, sponsored by the Society of Children’s Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) regional chapters, are offered at a reduced rate for members. Others cost more. All are easily accessed if you have internet access. Last month I logged on to the 12 X 12 Webinar--What Makes a Good Picture Book with Emma Dryden and Julie Hedlund. The talk was about what makes a good picture book and how to write one. Emma Dryden talked about qualities that make an outstanding picture book. They are— 1—Read-aloud-ability—Read your own text over and over, ten times in a row! 2—Rhythm 3—Musicality 4—Illustration possibilities As a freelance editor and consultant, Dryden looks for distinctive main characters, and a main point of view. The reader, who is a child, must be able to relate to the main character. Voice— One way to develop your picture book character is by giving them a distinctive, memorable voice. Ways to do that: Use rhythm Use a refrain or a tag Change some of your narrative into dialogue One example of a book whose main character has a great voice is THAT BOOK WOMAN. The author Heather Hensen’s main character has a narrative, Appalachian voice which gives his voice a ‘tone.’ “Why, even critters of the wild will keep a-hid come snow like this. But sakes alive—we hear a tap tap tap upon the window-glass. And there she be—wrapped tip to toe!” Regarding whether to write your story in 1st person or 3rd person, Dryden said that most picture books are told in 3rd person, and there is more than preference to consider here. Young readers (ages 3-6) are not emotionally developed enough to understand (or make the connection to) ‘I’ in a story. Making the leap from ‘me’ to ‘I’ is more difficult because the young child can’t put themselves into someone else’s shoes. They ‘get’ the narrator better. She said that it’s often the same with middle grade books and for the same reason. Emotions— A great picture book ‘shows’ emotions well. One example of a picture book that ‘shows’ emotions is LIBRARY LION by Michelle Knudsen (illustrated by Kevin Hawkes; Candlewick Press 2000). I checked this book out from the library and it’s become one of my favorites. Here’s one example of ‘showing’ emotion from the book— “Story hour is over,” a little girl told him…. The lion looked at the children. He looked at the story lady. He looked at the closed books. Then he roared very loud. RAAAHHRRRR!" I think the reader can easily figure out that the lion is not happy that there are no more stories. Show, Don’t Tell— Dryden looks at whether the author can ‘show’ not ‘tell’ the information in the manuscript. Ways to do that: Do something with body language Use dialogue Dialogue can get dull, and feel flat. It needs some action with it. What to do? Have some activity along with your dialogue. Change it up—think ‘page turns.’ Dummy your picture book to see what page turns can do. Alternate dialogue and narrative. And if no one else is around, your characters can talk to themselves. Regarding non-fiction picture books, the advice was very similar. Develop your main character. Create a voice in narrative non-fiction. Hone in on a particular aspect of a figure’s history. A wonderful example of a non-fiction picture book was MOON SHOT by Brian Floca (Atheneum 2009). This book is also one of my favorites. Floca uses a poetic (but not rhyming), rhythmic, narrative style: Here below there are three men… who—click—lock hands in heavy gloves, who—click—lock heads in large, round helmets. One quality of a good picture book is ‘musicality.’ Like music, a picture book text has a beat and has pauses. Is writing lyrically or rhythmically a learnable skill? “Absolutely!” both Dryden and Hedlund agreed. But it takes discipline. Read a lot of picture books out loud! Use sound effects to help create a rhythm. Use the help of a critique group. Keep in mind the top two qualities of an outstanding picture book— Read-aloud-ability and Rhythm—even in narrative. Now it’s your turn to sit down and create an outstanding picture book! Emma Dryden is a past editor of board books through YA and has edited over 500 books. She currently does freelance editing and consulting. You can find her at: www.drydenbks.com @drydenbooks (Twitter) Dryden books (on facebook) Emma's blog Check out these upcoming or ongoing webinars and podcasts for children’s writers: Picture Book Craft Intensive: Telling Children's Stories in Today's Market An On-Demand Webinar Guest Speaker: Mary Kole Chapter Book Craft 101 with Simon & Schuster editor, Amy Cloud October 20, 2015 from 7:00-8:30 pm hosted by North Texas SCBWI very reasonable price with reduced rate for SCBWI members Keep your eye on this Writers’ Digest link to up-coming webinars And take a look at the SCBWI Podcasts, which are free to members! SCBWI brings our members engaging podcasts with leaders in the children’s book field. Sit in on these conversations to get informed and inspired! For information on how to become a member of SCBWI, click here or go to http://www.scbwi.org/about/.

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23. The ABC's of Poetry Webinar

Earlier this year I discovered some interesting Webinars for children’s writers. In February I signed on to The ABCs of Poetry: Writing in Poetic Form for Children & Young Adults, hosted by Texas SCBWI, featuring Leslea Newman. Leslea is an award-winning children’s author, and teaches Writing for Children and Young Adults at Spalding University’s brief-residency MFA in Writing program. Leslea’s focus was on formal poetry, and poetic forms. “Formal poetry is poetry that sticks to a traditional pattern or structure that often uses rhyme, rhythm, and repetition as well as other poetic techniques.” Poems that don’t stick to a rigid form still make use of attributes of formal poetry such as rhyme, rhythm, repetition, meter, and uniformity of stanza length. Rhyming couplets, which contains four-line stanzas with the second and fourth lines rhyming, is a simple form of formal poetry. Many of her own poems are written in rigid forms with prescribed structures. These include the pantoum, villanelle, terza rima, sonnet, sestina, cinquain, haiku, rondeau and triolet. Just hearing those words intimidates me! But Leslea’s webinar explained the types of poetry in a way that even I could understand, giving examples of each. Here are just a few. The ghazal, a Persian form of poetry, contains internal rhyme before a repeated refrain at the ends of the lines. Read Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s poem “NAAMAH AND THE ARK AT NIGHT.” The ballad is a French form of poetry consisting of four-line stanzas. Using simple, direct language, the emphasis is on plot and story-telling (a heroic act). An example is THE PIRATE QUEENS by Jane Yolen. Haiku is a Japanese form of poetry consisting of three lines. The entire poem should be as long as one breath, and should contain some description of nature, and have an aha! moment and an element of compassion. Read GUY KU by Bob Raczka, or WONTON by Lee Wardlaw The pantoum, from 15th century Malayan literature, consists of 4-line stanzas of indefinite length and optional rhyming. Every line in a pantoum is used twice. Leslea gave a few reasons for writing formal poetry. A few of them are: •It develops your ear. •Formal poetry soothes the reader. •It provides a built-in tension of expectation and surprise. Leslea said “I find writing formal poetry especially helpful when writing about emotionally wrenching situations.” See her book, I CARRY MY MOTHER. Books on poetic form— A KICK IN THE HEAD: AN EVERYDAY GUIDE TO POETIC FORMS by Paul Janeczko and Chris Raschka. THE BOOK OF FORMS: A HANDBOOK OF POETICS by Lewis Turco. Leslea Newman is a poet, a teacher, and a mentor. Find out more on her website at: http://lesleanewman.com/ Check out these upcoming or ongoing webinars and podcasts for children’s writers: Picture Book Craft Intensive: Telling Children's Stories in Today's Market An On-Demand Webinar Guest Speaker: Mary Kole Chapter Book Craft 101 with Simon & Schuster editor, Amy Cloud October 20, 2015 from 7:00-8:30 pm hosted by North Texas SCBWI very reasonable price with reduced rate for SCBWI members Keep your eye on this Writers’ Digest link to up-coming webinars SCBWI Podcasts, which are free to members! SCBWI brings our members engaging podcasts with leaders in the children’s book field. Sit in on these conversations to get informed and inspired! For information on how to become a member of SCBWI, click here or go to http://www.scbwi.org/about/.

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24. Rhyme and Meter Clinic with Renee' LaTulippe on KidLit 411

In May I signed on to “KidLit 411 “Rhyme and Meter” with Renee’ LaTulippe. Renee used poems submitted by participants and talked about what worked and what didn’t, and why. She started off with some basic vocabulary. Meter = stressed and unstressed syllables + metrical feet + metrical lines A metrical foot = a unit of measurement made up of stressed and unstressed syllables which are repeated in a line of poetry A metrical line = the number of metrical feet in a single line of poetry iamb = u/s da Dum trochee = s/u Dum da anapest = uu/s da da Dum dactyl = s/uu Dum da da spondee = s/s Dum Dum pyrrhic = u/u da da truncated foot = leaves off a beat at the end of a line enjambment = when the end of one line flows into the next—it carries the reader and the story forward Renee stressed that when writing poetry, you should count stressed feet—NOT syllables. Rising meters—create an upbeat or happy mood ends on a stressed beat (iamb and anapest) Falling meters—create a heavier mood ends on un-stressed beat (trochee and dactyl) Types of Rhyme 1—Perfect Rhyme—also called exact rhyme, full rhyme or true rhyme What— 1—the last stressed vowel is the same in both words 2—all subsequent sounds are the same 3—consonants preceding the last stressed vowel are different As In—light/sight groovy/movie crispy/wispy flamingo/bingo When— Perfect rhyme is the most common type used in children’s poetry and rhyming picture books. 2—Slant Rhyme (also called near rhyme, half rhyme, approximate rhyme, partial rhyme, off rhyme, or oblique rhyme) What— 1—the sounds are close, but not identical 2—the words often (but not always) contain a repetition of the final consonant or vowel sound As In—bug/rag slant/vent who/through tougher/suffer When— Slant rhyme can be used to good effect in free verse and prose. It’s best avoided in rhyming children’s poetry and picture books. Some tips for writing poetry— Rhyme shouldn’t drive the story 1—stick to plot—write it out in prose to test it 2—write a 1-sentence summary of each stanza, in the right order; then read it in order —is it vague or general? 3—use words that move the story forward 4—every word counts and is there for a reason Ways to Vary Meter—Tools for Varying your verse 1—enjambment—keeping thoughts flowing from one line into the next 2—Caesura—a pause in the middle of a line so the reader takes a breath 3—Really Specific imagery—to take us into the world of the story 4—Really Specific diction—to give us concrete people and places and events to hold onto 5—Sound devices—to delight the ear—don’t overdo it—don’t create tongue twisters 6—Refrain—use a refrain with a slightly different meter or rhyme scheme (careful!) 7—Variations in meter—subtracting or adding an unstressed beat now and then (careful!) 8—Mixed meter—Do Not Try This At Home unless you know the 4 main meters inside and out, and how they do and do not work together! The biggest obstacles to publication of rhyming picture books— meter—when the reader stumbles reading it pacing—plot—page turns read-aloud-ability Renee is a children’s author and poet, and freelance editor. She teaches an online writing course, The Lyrical Language Lab. You can find details at http://www.nowaterriver.com/the-lyrical-language-lab/. Read more about Renee on her blog, No Water River.

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25. Congratulations to the SCBWI Work-in-Progress Winners!

The Work-in-Progress awards are given by the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) to assist children’s book writers and illustrators in the publication of a specific project currently not under contract, and they are awarded in several categories. SCBWI recently announced this year’s winners. They are— Young Adult Fiction: Twisted by Erin Stewart Nonfiction: Tomboy: The Daring Life of Blanche Stuart Scott by Donna Janell Bowman Multicultural Fiction or Nonfiction: Walking on a Tightrope by Suma Subramaniam Picture Book Text: Toad in the Road by Peggy Archer Middle Grade Fiction: Chasing Gold by Beth Cahn Chapter Books/Early Fiction: Haunted Key Mystery: Help! I’m Haunted by Lorrie-Ann Melnick The Don Freeman Illustration Grant: Published Award: Jacob Grant Pre-published Award: Corinna Luyken I’m on top of the world because my picture book, TOAD IN THE ROAD, won the award for picture book text. I’m more used to rejections and close calls, than winning, and I was completely caught off guard! So I’m super excited. The award helps by putting the winning manuscripts in front of editors, thus eliminating the agony of submissions and finding that so many publishers of children’s books are closed to unsolicited manuscripts. No guarantees of acceptance, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. My journey with TOAD began when my husband and I were walking one morning at Quail Ridge Park. It was a quiet morning, and it had rained the night before. As we walked past a wooded area, a little toad sat in the middle of our path. Like many writers, my mind goes off on tangents sometimes, and I started thinking, ‘in the middle of a puddle in the middle of the path….’ As the day went on I started playing with the words in my head until I had to stop and write it down. It came to me in rhyme, and the verse wasn’t coming together very well yet. I was also working on something else at the time. So I put my ‘toad story’ aside. For about a year... That’s when were walking again at Quail Ridge Park, this time with our 8 year old grandson. He wanted to go off the paved path onto a dirt trail and, of course, we did. It wasn’t long before we discovered hundreds of tiny toads on the trail! My story of the ‘toad in the road’ came rushing back to me, and later that day I got it out from my files and worked with renewed inspiration. I enjoy writing poetry, and I have two poetry collections published, but TOAD IN THE ROAD is the first picture book that I’ve written in verse. I had lots of fun with the words and toad’s journey, but writing really good verse with really good rhythm is not easy! It took lots of revision, and writing some of the verses over and over. Then making sure it flowed—from beginning and middle to the end. My critique groups liked it, and they offered some very helpful comments. Finally I finished writing the story, and topped it off with some ‘toad facts’ at the end. Researching the facts about small toads was interesting and fun. I hope that somewhere an editor will connect with my story and want to publish it. You Can’t Win if You Don’t Try! Just so you know, this wasn’t the first time that I submitted a manuscript for the WIP grants. I’ve sent a manuscript in several times, and didn’t win. But it was good practice. And I found that there are other perks of submitting besides winning. The year that I submitted “The Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving Day Feast,” I received an email from one of the judges following the contest, who just happened to be an editor. She invited me to submit my manuscript to her at her publishing house! That editor eventually rejected it, but it boosted my confidence, and TURKEY SURPRISE was later accepted by an editor at Dial. I submitted FROM DAWN TO DREAMS another year. It didn’t win, but it received a Letter of Merit from SCBWI, and my poetry collection was later published by Candlewick. So if you’re a member of SCBWI and working on a manuscript that you’re passionate about, start getting it ready to submit in 2016! Write your story, take it to your critique group for their input, and revise your heart away until it’s as good as you can make it! Submissions for 2016 will be accepted starting March 1st. Check the SCBWI website for more information. You can read more about the awards and the winning entries by clicking here or below the SCBWI logo on the left.

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