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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: picture book fiction, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 10 of 10
1. New Voice: David A. Robertson on When We Were Alone

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

David A. Robertson is the first-time children's author of When We Were Alone, illustrated by Julie Flett (Portage & Main Press, Jan. 6, 2017)(available for pre-order). From the promotional copy:

When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things about her grandmother that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long braided hair and wear beautifully coloured clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family?

As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where everything was taken away.

When We Were Alone is a story about a difficult time in history and, ultimately, a story of empowerment and strength.

What first inspired you to write for young readers?

So much of my writing is aimed at creating social change, especially in the area of relations between First Nations people and non-First Nations people.

I believe that change comes through education; what we learn from history, and its impact on contemporary society. In Canada, we have a long history of mistreatment concerning the First Nations people. As Canadians, we need to learn about this history. So, my work tries to educate in this way.

In terms of young readers, I believe that change comes from our youth. These are the people who shape our tomorrows, and they need to walk into tomorrow informed on the important issues and histories. If they do, we’ll be in a pretty good place.

What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

graphic novelist-writer of Irish-Scottish-English-Cree heritage
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada looked at the history of the residential school system, and its impact, and from that research, including residential school survivor testimony and documentation, it came up with a list of recommendations.

One of those recommendations was that the residential school system’s history needed to be taught in school as early as kindergarten.

When I saw this, I recognized that there weren’t many resources for teachers (i.e. books) that addressed the residential school system for younger learners.

So, I set out to write one, and that’s how When We Were Alone came about.

I wanted kids at that young age to learn about the system in a way that they could understand and engage with.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing the text to life?

For me the challenges mostly involved sensitivity and appropriateness. This is a difficult history to tell, especially to younger learners. So, I needed to tell the story in a good way.

It took a lot of research and consultation, it took finding the right rhythm in the passages to connect with readers, and we needed to find the right illustrator, too, which we did in Julie Flett.

Of course, writing these stories always has a psychological effect on you as the writer, too. Understanding that the kids you are writing about really went through these things is tough. But knowing that kids will be learning and growing and sharing makes it worth it.

What model books were most useful to you and how?

Also illustrated by Julie Flett
I have the benefit of having five children. So, I’ve read my share of children’s books. This helped in terms of finding a good structure for When We Were Alone, and rhythm.

These two things are very important, and there are certainly some commonalities in books that really work in terms of how they are told, not just what is told in them.

What advice do you have for beginning children’s-YA writers?

Read a lot of children’s books, or YA books. Figure out styles, structures, approaches from the best. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be ready to write a good story that really connects with your reader.

It always comes down to reading first, and then hard work and a bit of skill.

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2. New Voice & Giveaway: Maria Gianferrari on Penny & Jelly

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

Maria Gianferrari writes both fiction and nonfiction picture books from her sunny, book-lined study in northern Virginia, with her dog Becca as her muse.

Maria’s debut picture book, Penny & Jelly: The School Show, illustrated by Thyra Heder (2015) led to Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars (2016)(both HMH Books). 

Maria has seven picture books forthcoming from Roaring Brook Press, Aladdin Books for Young Readers, GP Putnam’s Sons and Boyds Mills Press in the coming years.

Could you tell us about your writing community--your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional, craft and/or professional support?

In the spirit of my main character, Penny, an avid list maker, here are my top five answers:

1. Ammi-Joan Paquette:

I am so grateful for my amazing agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette!

Where do I begin? I owe my writing career to Joan, for taking a chance on and believing in me. She has been sage guide, a cheerleader and champion of my writing from the get go.

She’s made my writing dream come true!!

2. Crumpled Paper Critique (CP):

I would not be where I am today without my trusted writing friends and critique partners: Lisa Robinson, Lois Sepahban, Andrea Wang, Abigail Calkins Aguirre and Sheri Dillard. They have been such a wonderful source of support over the years, in good times, and in bad.

Yes—it’s kind of like a marriage—that’s how dedicated we are to each other’s work! They’re smart, thoughtful, insightful, well read, hard-working and the best critique partners one could hope for!

We have a private website where we share not only our manuscripts, but our opinions on books, ideas, writing inspiration and doubts. I treasure them and wish we lived closer to one another to be able to meet regularly in person. Hugs, CPers!



3. Emu’s Debuts:

Like many other writers, I’m quite a shy and introverted person. If you’ve seen that classic hamster ball cartoon about introverts, that’s me! Having a book debut is extremely intimidating.

I was so lucky to have joined the ranks of Emu’s Debuts, so named for clients and debut authors affiliated with Erin Murphy Literary Agency (EMLA).

The Emu’s Debuts blog is a place for sharing thoughts on the craft of writing and illustrating, being debuts, and most importantly, helping launch our books into the world. I have since fledged, but it was so helpful, reassuring and fun to be a part of this community of very talented, kind and generous people. Check out the current flock of Emus.



4. Tara Lazar:

Picture book author extraordinaire, and founder of PiBoIdMo (picture book idea month), Tara has also been a generous supporter, not just of me, but for all the pre and published picture book authors and illustrators out there. Thousands of writers participate and are inspired by guest posts during PiBoIdMo, November’s picture book idea challenge. She shares insights on craft, the field of publishing, new books, interviews, giveaways, etc. on her popular blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them), throughout the year.

When the news of the Penny & Jelly sale broke, Tara kindly offered to host me of her blog. Later, she invited to be a contributor for PiBoIdMo, and last year she also participated in my blog tour for Penny & Jelly.

5. Kirsten Cappy of Curious City:

Kirsten’s a kidlit marketing guru and owner of Curious City. She was invaluable in sorting through the mire that is promotion.

Kirsten’s clever and creative and had so many wonderful ideas for promoting Penny & Jelly in ways that would be most comfortable for an introvert like me. She designed a Jelly banner with original art from illustrator Thyra Heder for use as a photo booth so kids could “be” Penny and pose with Jelly, as well as gorgeous postcards and business cards.

I especially love the talent show kit for library and classroom use that Kirsten designed. Please feel free to share and use it.

As a picture book writer, you have succeeded in a particularly tough market. What advice do you have for others, hoping to do the same?

1. Write What You Love:

Write what you’re obsessed with. This will help you not only endure the inevitable rejections along the way, but also the winding road of revision.

My debut nonfiction book, Coyote Moon, was released this July. It initially began as an article on suburban coyotes for "Highlights."

Well, "Highlights" rejected it, but I wasn’t ready to let go of my manuscript.

The coyotes kept howling in my head, so it morphed into a poetic picture book.

Several revisions later, it won a Letter of Commendation for a Barbara Karlin grant from SCBWI; many more revisions later, it was acquired by Emily Feinberg at Roaring Brook Press. And I am so in love Bagram Ibatoulline’s illustrations. They are absolutely stunning!

2. Read. Read. Read:

Then read some more. I once read that before attempting to write one picture book, we should first read 1,000. But don’t just read them, see them as teachers, as mentor texts for your own work.

One of the most helpful exercises is to hand-write or type the words of my favorite picture book texts, to feel the rhythm of the and pulse of the story in my fingers, to get under the story’s skin—see its bones or structure and the way the muscles and sinews, rhythm, refrain and repetition, are bound together. Doing this helps us find a story’s heart, its elusive soul and helps us understand our own work.

Consider joining founder Carrie Charley Brown’s ReFoReMo, where picture books are studied as mentor texts. Get ready to dig deep!


3. Don’t Give Up!

Persevere! Keep swimming! Rejection is at the heart of this journey and it’s not usually a linear journey, it’s more circuitous, with ups and downs along the way.

Take it one day, one moment at a time, and celebrate all of your successes, both big and small.

And remember, keep improving your craft, and building your connections, you will get there!

(See #1 again)

4. Play and Experiment:

To find your writing voice, play with different points of view. Change genres. Try out different structural techniques like letters, or a diary format or lists, like I did with Penny & Jelly.

Think about the shape of your story. Is it circular? Could it be a journey? Would a question and answer format enhance it? Does it have a refrain?

I’m not an illustrator, but you can do the same kinds of things to find your visual voice—switch sketching for sewing, or painting for clay. And most of all, embrace your inner kid and have fun!

5. Reach Out:

Connect with your local and online writing community—there are so many valuable resources out there. You’re reading Cynsations, so that’s a great start! If you haven’t already joined SCBWI and found a critique group, that’s a must. As I mentioned above, join Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo challenge in November, or Paula Yoo’s NaPiBoWriWee to write a picture book a day, which takes place in May.

There’s a plethora of writing groups on Facebook. One I highly recommend is Kidlit411, co-run by Elaine Kieley Kearns and Sylvia Liu. It’s such a wealth of information for authors and illustrators on writing/illustrating craft, on promotion, on submissions for agents and editors, revision—all kinds of things. And to borrow Jane Yolen’s title, above all, Take Joy!

Cynsational Giveaway


Enter to win an author-signed copy of Penny & Jelly: The School Show and Penny & Jelly: Slumber Under the Stars. Eligibility: U.S. only. From the promotional copy:

This young and funny picture book introduces the soon-to-be star of her school talent show: Penny. Despite her desire to knock everyone's socks off, Penny's having a tough time deciding on what talent she might have. With a little help from her dog, Jelly, Penny tries out various talents—from dancing to unicycling, fashion designing to snake charming—with disastrous results. That is, until she realizes that she and Jelly have a talent to share that's unlike any other.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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3. The Magic Horse of Han Gan by Chen Jiang Hong

The Magic Horse of Han Gan by Chen Jiang Hong (Enchanted Lion, 2006)(originally published in French as Le Cheval magique de Han Gan (2004)). A look into the life of painter Han Gan, who lived in China 1,200 ears ago, that incorporates a legend about one of the horses in his paintings coming to life. It's always a high burden to offer art reflecting a great artist, but Hong more than succeeds. Magical, indeed, with an underlying theme of the relationship between art and peace. Ages 6-up. See a review from the February 2007 issue of The Edge of the Forest. See also my bibliography of children's books with Chinese and Chinese American characters.

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4. Author-Illustrator Interview: Lynne Barasch on Hiromi's Hands

Hiromi's Hands by Lynne Barasch (Lee & Low, 2007). Hiromi wants to spend more time with her sushi-chef Papa so she begs to go to the fish market with him. When he sees her interest is sincere, he begins to teach her about the fish. Later, she decides her dream is to be a sushi chef, just like him. Ages 4-up. See a preview of the story and read a Book Talk with Lynne from Lee & Low.

Lynne Barasch has written and illustrated several award winning children's books, including Knockin' On Wood (Lee and Low 2004) a notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People and winner of the Patterson prize for Books for Young People. Radio Rescue (Farrar Straus and Giroux 2000) was an ALA Notable Children's Books and on the Texas Bluebonnet Award Masterlist. She was born in New York and raised on Long Island but has lived in New York City most of her adult life.

What first inspired you to write and illustrate for young readers?

All my life I have painted and done drawings. I went to art classes as a child and to the Art Students League on Saturdays when I was in high school. I went on to Rhode Island School of Design but left to get married after one year. Years later, I returned to Parsons School of Design and graduated in 1976.

The first inspiration for a picture book came when my little girl Cassie was in kindergarten. She got on the wrong bus and went to the wrong school on her second day of school! I called that story, "The Bus Fuss."

It is still unpublished but I was hooked..and never looked back. My fingers can barely keep up with the projects in my mind.

I never had formal training to write but was always an avid reader.

Can you describe your path to publication--any sprints or stumbles?

After "The Bus Fuss" and years of working on other things, I went back to Parsons and met the wonderful writer-illustrator and teacher Brooke Goffstein. Through a series of phone conversations that lasted hours each, I somehow learned what and why I was writing. I was, as Brooke said, shot out of a cannon. I wrote four books, complete with illustrations, in a matter of months. They are the core of my work. Old Friends (FSG, 1993), "The Ansonia Ghosts" (unpublished), Sixty Four "Cottage Street" (unpublished), and "Good Feet" (unpublished but through this came Knockin' On Wood).

Could you update us on your recent releases?

Radio Rescue (FSG, 2000). This is the true story of my father's ham radio days in New York when he was a boy in the 1920s.

The Reluctant Flower Girl (HarperCollins, 2001). A young girl comes to terms with her sister's upcoming marriage. Inspiration for this was my eldest daughter's wedding. Her two little sisters combined are the basis for the flower girl in my story.

Knockin' On Wood (Lee and Low 2004). This is the biography of Peg Leg Bates, the famous African American tap dancer extrordinaire (he had only one leg).

A Country Schoolhouse (FSG, 2004). A grandfather tells his grandson about his rural school days in the 1940s in a three-room schoolhouse.

Ask Albert Einstein (FSG, 2005). Based on a true event and an article that appeared in the New York Times in 1952, this is the story of a little sister who writes to Albert Einstein to get math help for her big sister.

Could you tell us about the story behind Hiromi's Hands (Lee and Low 2007)?

I first met the real Hiromi as a shy kindergartener in my daughter, Dinah's class. It was Dinah who suggested I write this story about her friend.

Hiromi was delighted when I approached her with this idea. She was very helpful and emailed me answers to my countless questions along the way. And I got to know her better during this process. One day, she could write her own story, being articulate and thoughtful as she is!

As an illustrator, I am always writing with pictures in my head. I don't use paragraphs when a few words will do!

Honors and Awards

So far, Hiromi's Hands has received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews.

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5. SCBWI Bologna 2016 Illustrator Interview: Rahele Jomepour

By Angela Cerrito
for SCBWI Bologna 2016
and Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Rahele Jomepour was born in Mashhad, Iran. She moved to the United States in 2011 and graduated with MFA in Visual Arts from Iowa State University in 2015. 

She is a professional children's picture book illustrator and painter, living and working in a tiny city of Ames in the state of Iowa. 

Rahele has illustrated seven children’s books, including Donkey in the Woods, The Great hunting, The Lion and the Rabbit, The Grape Garden. Follow her Instagram/blog.

I really enjoyed the detailed coffee cup illustrations on your website. What inspired this set of illustrations?

I started to draw on paper coffee cups right after I came back from the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, summer 2013. I was overwhelmed with a lot of fabulous information I had received from the workshops and people who share the same love of picture books.

I actually went to the university’s coffee shop and ordered my regular coffee. While I was reviewing my notes from the conference, I started to just draw on my paper coffee cup as a mental break.

Suddenly I found the surface of the coffee cup very smooth and very friendly to work with in pencil. I looked around and imagined myself and other people as different type of animal characters - rabbits, dogs, cats, etc. Later, I started to think how cool it would be if I kept all of my coffee cups every day and instead of drawing in my flat sketchbook, use my coffee cups as my daily round sketchbook.

This unique dimension altered my understanding of composition, forgoing page borders in exchange for unending movement. I found this idea to be vital in illustrating a story - propel the viewer toward a world without borders and limitations imposed by the edge of a page.

All drawings include every simple joy we have in our routine life and sometimes we forget about them. The illustrations help my audience to take a look back into their inner child and invite it to come up and play the life and enjoy the freedom of uninhibited self-expression. This open-ended approach to storytelling helped me find a new style in illustration.

You categorize your children’s art in your website into two categories “fine & detailed” as well as “loose & simple.” Is this a decision you make before starting on a piece? Or is it something you decide after completion?

Mostly this is an afterthought. Some works are highly detailed images of simple ideas, other times they are sketches containing a great deal of meaning. These categories describe how I’m feeling at the time.

Some works I really focus on, and curate every detail. Other works I’m just not so patient with, and need to just get the basic point across and move on.

But the major differentiation is not always in terms of graphic detail. Sometimes I spend extra time on subtleties that illustrate complexities of life, whereas other times I just want to make something that is easy for people to relate to.

There are times in our lives when we look at every little detail, and focus on it intently, and other times in our lives where we just want to ‘take it easy’. I only make the distinction on my web site to aid the viewer, not necessarily to define my work.

What was the inspiration behind "Donkey in the Forest," your piece that was a finalist for the SCBWI Bologna Illustrators’ Gallery?

"Donkey in the Forest" was part of a series of images associated with a series of books I recently completed with a publisher in Iran. These books were part of a national curriculum that millions of young people took part in, as part of national testing.

I was honored to be included in this project, as it drew on stories and themes that have been part of Iranian culture for hundreds, even thousands of years. Stories are the conduit of human understanding through the ages. It is through metaphor that we grow and maintain a sense of who we are, our place in this world, and our duty to grow.

The donkey represents so many aspects of humanity. His reflection is our reflection, and through his life experience we evaluate our own. Have we grown? Have we been content with our own understanding of the world? Is it a fact that everything we believe is true?

Letting go, and connecting with the small animal that is ourselves is a step toward understanding these broader issues. The donkey is simply a trusted friend with whom we can travel, each on our own unique journey.

How has your art changed over the years?

Art for me over the years has changed with my life, as anyone else. As a teenager in Mashhad, Iran, I was interested in testing limits as any normal teenager would. I felt lost and alone, burying myself in books and culture well past the limits of my own neighborhood and city in an attempt to know that which is not widely known, or see that which is not readily available in a confusing and contradictory world. In my twenties, I was concerned with independence and growing past my preconceptions of those expectations upon me. There were a number of pieces of art that I produced that I was excited to publicize, but I knew better as it may have proven difficult for my family or detrimental to my career.

I grew past this impulsive and sometimes mischievous phase into my thirties as a master’s student at the University of Tehran. Unfortunately, I had not yet understood the boundaries and cultural limitations that my work tested, and I left before I was finished with my MFA.

Since coming the U.S., I have tempered my message, working to understand the deeper meanings of my roots, while also refining and broadening my messages to appeal to a wider variety of audiences, enabling people to think and question the world around them without fear of persecution.

The donkey relates to us that we are all put on this Earth to live, and breathe, and feel and love, right or wrong, and that it’s ok to relate to an image that may reflect our emotions at the time. The donkey also carries with him the test of human character over time, that all of our cultures have come from somewhere, and are worthy of patience and understanding.

What are you working on now?

I have several projects at the moment. Project Art at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is part of the “Percent for Art”--an effort promoting education and cultural understanding within public spaces.

Two projects focus on public spaces and our relation to them. The BenchMarks project in Iowa City takes a simple public object, a bench, and creates a metaphor for public engagement, encouraging passers-by to relax and enjoy a peaceful moment that their community has provided.

The second project is through City Sounds, The Des Moines Public Piano Project. This project takes used pianos, subjects them to visual artistic interpretation, and places them throughout the greater Des Moines area in attempt to draw out and engage the public in well-mannered frivolity under the sun, with music and sound at their fingertips.

I have also begun collaboration with a New York agency working on a new and evolving project focusing on education-oriented work for school-age children.

What advice would you offer someone just starting out in the field of children’s book illustration?

The common adage in writing is “Write what you know.” Illustration is no different, in that one should illustrate what they see, both through their eyes and through their mind.

Likewise, this is not as easy as it sounds, so don’t be afraid to see things differently. Not every dimension is well-defined, and not every answer is questioned.

Cynsational Notes

Angela Cerrito is a pediatric physical therapist by day and a writer by night. She thinks she has the two best jobs in the world.

Her latest novel, The Safest Lie (Holiday House), was named a finalist for the 2015 Jewish Book Award, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Older Readers and a Notable Social Studies Book for Young People.

Angela Coordinates the SCBWI Bologna Interview series, volunteers as SCBWI’s Assistant International Advisor and is a Cynsational reporter in Europe and beyond.

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6. Hallmark Great Stories Award

By Cynthia Leitich Smith
for Cynsations

The Hallmark Great Stories Award will recognize and celebrate the power of storytelling by honoring new children's picture books that celebrate family, friendship and community and that exhibit excellence in both writing and illustration.

Annual nominations will be reviewed by a multi-disciplinary panel of esteemed judges. For the inaugural year, judges include Betsy Bird, Alfredo Lujan, Alan Bailey and Cheri Sterman.

Eligible books include those published by publishers in the United States between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2016 and must be entered into the competition by the publisher. The inaugural winner will be announced in March 2017.

The winning picture book's author and illustrator each will receive a special award medal and $5,000. If the author and illustrator is the same individual, the cash prize is $10,000. In addition to traditional distribution, the winning book will be available in Hallmark Gold Crown stores nationwide.

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7. Author Feature: Julia Durango

Julia Durango on Julia Durango: "I was born in Las Vegas of all places, but my family moved often and by the time I finished high school I'd attended seven schools in five states (California, Utah, Rhode Island, Indiana & Missouri). I moved again to attend the University of Illinois where I received degrees in Latin American Studies and Political Science. I traveled frequently to Latin America during that time, but mostly to Colombia, where I worked in a program for street children. Now I live in Ottawa, Illinois, with my two sons (ages 6 and 10). In addition to writing children's books, I work full-time at the public library in Ottawa and I review funny books for kids with my pals Andrea Beaty and Carolyn Crimi over at www.ThreeSillyChicks.com."

Congratulations on the upcoming publication of Angels Watching Over Me, illustrated by Elisa Kleven (Simon & Schuster, March 2007)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Angels Watching Over Me is an adaptation of the African-American spiritual by the same name. My mother used to sing me to sleep with it when I was a baby, and I in turn sang it to my boys...only my youngest son would take forever to fall asleep, so I'd keep making up new verses until he finally dozed off (at which point I'd make myself a stiff drink and remind myself not to have any more babies!).

Your previous titles include Dream Hop, illustrated by Jared Lee (Simon & Schuster, 2005). Could you tell us a bit about this book? What did Jared's illustrations bring to your text?

Dream Hop was inspired by my oldest son when he was going through a particularly bad bout of nightmares. One morning he woke up and asked if I'd ever "dream hopped" from a bad dream into a good one. I started writing Dream Hop the same day. As for Jared Lee, my sons and I are huge fans of his Black Lagoon series (written by Mike Thaler, Scholastic) so we were thrilled when he signed on for Dream Hop. His illustrations are a perfect blend of scary and silly!

Along with Linda Sue Park, you also are the co-author of Yum Yuck! A Foldout Book of People Sounds, illustrated by Sue Ramá (Charlesbridge, 2005)(interview with Linda Sue). Could you describe the process that you shared with Linda Sue?

Much of what I know about writing I've learned from Linda Sue, so collaborating with her was a treat. The process itself was something like: one hundred e-mails, two dozen phone calls, and one crucial brainstorming week-end in New York City. It could also be described as: mucho research, beaucoup drafts, molto fun.

What advice do you have for beginning picture book writers?

Think like a kid. Get rid of your "wise elder" voice. Let loose and have fun (it shows!).

What do you do when you're not writing?

Between my job at the library and the hard work of raising boys (i.e. playing Legos and Guitar Hero and basketball...whew!), I'm usually too tuckered out for much else. I may be the only person in America who has never seen an episode of "American Idol" or "Desperate Housewives" or "Lost." But I read and do a crossword puzzle every night without fail. Nerdy-girl habits die hard.

What can your fans look forward to next?

Pest Fest, a picture book illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster, June 2007); The Walls of Cartagena, an historical fiction novel (Simon & Schuster, 2008); Under the Mambo Moon, a story in poems (Charlesbridge, 2009), and Go-Go Gorillas, a companion to Cha-Cha Chimps, illustrated by Eleanor Taylor (Simon & Schuster, 2009). I'm also working on a project with my lovely critique partner, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer (author of Reaching for Sun, Bloomsbury, March 2007), which has been a blast!

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8. Author Interview: Janet Wong on The Dumpster Diver

Janet S. Wong is the author of eighteen books, including three titles published this year: Before It Wriggles Away, part of the Meet the Author Series (Richard C. Owen, 2007), Twist: Yoga Poems, illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Margaret K. McElderry, 2007)(excerpt), and The Dumpster Diver, illustrated by David Roberts (Candlewick, 2007).

Janet S. Wong on Janet S. Wong:

I am a poet and a picture book author
because I can't sit still for very long

I am an eater
always hungry for dim sum, sushi, gnocchi, noodles, potato
chips, blueberries, roast pork skin and stinky cheese

I am a West-coast woman living near Princeton, NJ (a trailing spouse)

I am an Alaska Airlines MVP Gold and nearly a United Premier

But first-most I am a mom
driving my son here and there (and there and there)
and doing a whole lot of waiting

What about the writing life first called to you?

I was in a tiny children's bookstore looking for a gift for my young cousin. I had an armload of picture books, books that I wanted to buy for myself because I loved them so much. That's when the idea hit me: people wrote these books. Why couldn't I be one of them? What a different life that would be!

I was a lawyer then. I was making a ton of money, and I love spending money--but I was so miserable that the money wasn't worth it. I wanted to do something important with my life, and I couldn't think of anything more important than working with kids. I knew I couldn't be a teacher; I had tried substitute teaching in a local elementary school while I was a student at Yale Law School, and it was the hardest job I've ever had! I decided that writing books for kids would be fun and would also give me the feeling that I was helping to make a better world.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

I decided to write picture books because that's what I was attracted to. I've never been much of a novel-reader; it's the problem I described above with sitting still. I loved the way the silly picture books made me happy, the way the serious picture books made me pause and think/feel/react beyond the book, the way you can get so much from a picture book in a five-minute reading.

Congratulations on the publication of The Dumpster Diver, illustrated by David Roberts (Candlewick, March 2007)(inside spread)! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

I was at an arts fair and saw a chair made from old wooden skis. I asked the artist, Kerry Wade, what gave him the idea to use skis. He said, "Oh, I'm just a Dumpster Diver!" About a third of the way through The Dumpster Diver, I made Steve and the kids build something out of old wooden skis. In the original draft, they transformed the skis into a chair (imitating real life), but my very keen editor Kara LaReau (also an author) suggested that I make the creation something a little more unusual. Several drafts later the skis became a "Paraskater!" (which kids love).

What did David Roberts' art bring to your text?

I bow down to David for being a genius-inventor. For instance, look at what he created with nothing more than these words: "And an old table plus two banged-up skateboards plus a ripped crib mattress plus a hand-held shower plus thirty-two screws and a roll of duct tape can become...anything we want it to be."

The hand-held shower isn't used just as a prop. If I'd drawn it, it would've been a visual prop and nothing more. But David hooked it up to a very long hose, squirting at the other kids!

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

One thing I kept waffling over was whether to have Steve the Dumpster Diver get hurt. I didn't want this book to be heavy-handed and preachy. Didacticism: the kiss of death in reviews! I didn't want my book to discourage "respectable people" from Dumpster diving. I wanted this book to be a call-to-action to all of us to stop wasting so much stuff, and an inspiration to make new things from junk.

But I also didn't want thousands of kids to start crawling into Dumpsters. Their parents would hate me. And how would I feel if some kids got hurt or sick? My solution was to have Steve get cut on broken glass and rusted metal when the Dumpster trash collapsed under him--and to have this inspire the kids to start collecting their Useful Junk in a different way. Kind of corny, I know, but as I said, I am first-most a mom--and I want my readers to stay out of trouble!

Are you doing any special promotions in conjunction with the release?

All for Kids Books in Seattle is working with me on The Dumpster Diver's Junk Is Good contest. Kids and adults can enter by building something or imagining something built from junk, and there are categories for individual entries, team entries, and classroom entries. We've received some pretty neat feedback. Apparently there are a lot of people out there with a whole lot of junk in their closets, basements, attics, and garages!

You're one of children's literature's most distinguished poets! How would you describe the current state of the children's poetry market? What changes have you seen over the course of your career? What do you anticipate for the future?

When I started writing in 1991, it was easier to sell an unthemed collection of poems, poems about whatever. And because of this I was able to write a wide variety of poems (varied in tone and subject matter) in Good Luck Gold (Margaret K. McElderry, 1994) and A Suitcase of Seaweed (Margaret K. McElderry, 1996)(excerpt), including poems about racism and ethnic identity, a poem about cheating, and poems about illness and death--all alongside silly poems about food, celebratory poems about birthdays, and odes to friendship.

But things quickly became different, soon after I started. It became apparent (at least to me) that collections must have a theme, in order to sell. I've written themed-collections on mothers, driving, dreams, superstitions, and yoga. But I have a ton of poems that would be hard to fit into a themed book--and so, for now, those poems sit in my computer or on little scraps of paper scattered throughout the house.

What advice do you have for beginning picture book writers?

Don't give up.

Getting published is like winning the lottery; you can't win if you don't play. Write like crazy, snatching little bits of time and capturing ideas before they disappear. In Before It Wriggles Away, my Meet the Author book, photographer Anne Lindsay shows me writing at the dentist's office, writing in the car, writing at my son's fencing practice, writing late at night, writing at the lake--writing everywhere and anywhere, even if just for five minutes at a time. If you wait until you have a whole free day to start writing your story, you might never write it!

Once you've written a shoebox full of stories, send your best stuff out. If your books come back with rejection letters, send them out again. Rejection is part of the process.

In the meantime, while your stories are out circulating, revisit them with a critical eye. Write different drafts. Don't try for better writing, just different writing. Experiment. See what you can do. If you were a basketball player, would you practice only lay-ups? No: you would challenge yourself, you would take risks in practice. Take risks with your writing. And have fun!

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9. Author Interview: Andrea Beaty on When Giants Come to Play

Andrea Beaty on Andrea Beaty: "I come from a very big family and a very small town in southern Illinois. There weren't a lot of thrilling things to do in town, so we had to make our own fun. We roamed the fields and woods looking for adventures and we made up sports. Our favorites were chasing each other around the yard with old tires and trying to make each other laugh until we begged for mercy. Of course we were easy tire targets because we kept falling over laughing. It's hard to say if we looked more like a bad Monty Python sketch or narcoleptic goats.

"Our mother was a voracious reader and filled our house with books so when I wasn't on an adventure or blowing soda out my nose from laughing too hard, I was reading. I had about a hundred things I was going to be when I grew up: spy, detective, arctic explorer, interpreter for the U.N., pirate, English veterinarian, head of the CIA, pool shark...

"I think the great thing about being a writer is that I can still be all of those things if I just keep writing! I guess I've already been a giant, an architect, and a bear doctor! What's next?"

What about the writing life first called to you?

It was probably the voices.

What made you decide to write for young readers?

It wasn't really a conscious decision. In my late 30s, random ideas and snippets of stories started popping into my head when I was gardening, taking a walk, or picking lint off my children. These ideas were all about giants, pirates, and slugs. A lot of them were in rhyme.

I started playing with the ideas and writing them down and they turned out to be kids' books and poems.

Maybe I would write for adults if they read more books about giants or slugs or pirates. Adult books can be so dull!

Perhaps someday that market will open up and I will at last write the Great American Novel in which GIANT SLUG PIRATES RULE THE UNIVERSE!!!! Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

(See what I mean by "the voices?")

Could you tell us about your path to publication, any sprints or stumbles along the way?

Syncopated is the word that comes to mind when I describe this journey. I started submitting stories to publishers about a year after I started writing. During the next three years, I had flurries of activity--getting some interest from editors, finding a literary agent and winning a Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators grant for When Giants Come to Play, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Abrams, 2006).

These exciting times were always followed by long, slow periods when it seemed nothing would ever happen again. Even after I sold my first two books (at one time!), it was about three years before I sold more books. That was a bit hard, because I had bizarre delusions that once I sold my first book, the rest would be a cakewalk. Of course, that was nonsense and I knew it, but it was easy to think I'd be the exception to that rule!

I learned that the only way to stay sane during the lulls was to keep writing and not to get bent about the rest of the process. Of course, that was easier said than done.

It helped when I quit stalking the mailman to see if he had any book contracts for me. I used to love the way he said things like, "If by 'contract,' you mean 'restraining order' then yes!" and "Two-hundred yards is two-hundred yards, lady!"

Sometimes I miss those days, but in the end, I realized that the best way to use my energy was to write. Getting published is a fantastic, fun, and thrilling joy ride for me, and I'd be a liar if I said it wasn't. But as sappy as it sounds, it's really the deep satisfaction of writing that makes this journey the most exciting. Getting a new idea and being sucked into other worlds and stories is just plain magical.

Plus, I believe that when writing stops being magical, I won't write anything worth publishing anyhow! I try to spend my energy on the writing and figure the publishing part will follow. So far, I've been lucky and it has.

Your debut title is When Giants Come to Play, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Abrams, 2006). Congratulations! What was your initial inspiration for writing this book?

Many of my books start when a word or phrase gets stuck in my mind. There are a lot of cobwebs in there so it can happen pretty easily. In this case, the word "giants" got stuck in my brain and rattled around for a bit. It grew into the phrase, "When giants come to play." That was an idea with potential.

I went to bed and literally woke up in the middle of the night with the complete book in my head. I wrote it down and polished it up the next day and sent it off to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators grant competition for unpublished writers. I was thrilled a few months later when it won the runner-up Barbara Karlin grant!

Writing When Giants Come to Play was a turning point for me. After I wrote it, I felt tingly for a week. I loved this book and felt that I had found my voice when I wrote it. Before Giants, I thought of myself as a person who wrote. After Giants, I thought of myself as a writer.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

I have to say that this was a strange book in that sense. It happened VERY fast and didn't involve a lot of emotional or psychological challenges.

This book hit me like a lightening bolt and was mostly complete in its first draft. And yet, it didn't sell to the very first editor who saw it! Or even the second! What was that about?????

About a year after I wrote When Giants Come to Play, I started working with a wonderful literary agent named Barry Goldblatt (agent interview). He read the book and said that it needed a story arc. A what???? How could my perfect book need work????

Of course, Barry was right, and after I added a new beginning and end to the story, it was so much better than the first draft. This sold to Susan VanMetre who was at Dutton but shortly after left for Abrams Books for Young Readers. I had met Susan at a conference and wanted to work with her, so we took Giants to Abrams, too. Susan signed on Kevin Hawkes to illustrate the book, which was simply beyond thrilling!

What did Kevin's art bring to your text?

Kevin's art captured the soul of these giants! He captured the whimsy and wonder of the text and played the jokes to the perfect pitch. He gave them the perfect balance between rough and gentle. Kevin's giants are a bit gruff but, at the same time, a bit childlike. They are devoted to the little girl, Anna, and treat her so tenderly.

Much of the humor of the book was written into the original manuscript via art notes, but Kevin took those ideas and ran with them even further. In some of the scenes he went entirely in new directions I hadn't considered. It was thrilling!

Kevin Hawkes is a wonder!

You have another picture book and a novel coming from Abrams and five picture books coming from Atheneum Books for Young Readers! Wahoo! It looks like you already have a hearty body of work in the queue. Please tell us how you smashed the odds in a tough picture book market!

I really and truly do not know. The only explanation I have is luck, timing, and a great agent! (And of course, I eat my Wheaties!) I have been extremely blessed in being able to sell some books in a tough market, but I don't take it for granted. Getting published seems to be a feast and famine adventure. I know that while I'm on a roll now, I might not be next year. I try to take it as it comes. (And eat my Wheaties!)

What advice do you have for beginning writers?

When you get an idea, write it down. It sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how fleeting good ideas are. I know this because last year, I had the idea for the Great American Novel. Alas, I forgot to write it down, and now I can't remember what it was! I think it had something to do with giant pirate slugs.

Write for yourself. Don't try to please someone else when you write. It won't work. It's never possible to predict what trends will come down the road. Don't waste your time trying.

Not every piece of advice you get will be useful. (That probably includes some and/or all of this advice!) Always think critically about input you get on your writing. If it doesn't ring true to you, ignore it! Not everybody is going to get what you do. Most probably won't! The important thing is that YOU get it!

Join the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators if you want to write for kids. It's a great place to make contacts and find folks who have gone down the path before you. It's also a great place to meet folks who are at the same point in the journey as you. Both are extremely valuable! Plus, kids' writers are just plain fun! Get to know some!!!

Eat your Wheaties!

How about picture book writers in particular?

Oh boy! I'm full of advice on this topic! But before following my advice, readers should remember my earlier point. Advice should always be taken a grain of salt. Each writer has to listen to their inner voice and learn to trust themselves--even when it means discarding tried and true rules or advice from folks like me.

Having said that, this is the advice I offer to picture book writers.

-- Let the art do the heavy lifting. Don't add unnecessary descriptions in the text when they could be and should be handled by the artist. Sometimes that means including art notes, but use them only when you must. For example, an art note is important when some action takes place in the art but not in the text. Art notes are annoying and a bad idea when used to say what color the slug's shirt should be or what the weather is like unless it is vital to the plot. Before including an art note (or text in your story for that matter), ask yourself if it furthers the action of the story. If it doesn't, pitch it.

-- Picture books are, in my opinion, a form of poetry. Each and every word has to belong, make sense, and add to the sound of the book. If a word or phrase doesn't do that, cut it out.

-- I prefer short picture books. Any text that runs over 750 words needs a very good reason to do so. Most don't have one. There are many fine longer books, but if they work, it's because they NEEDED to be longer.

-- NEVER write a book in rhyme unless the book demands it. Writing rhyming books is more a function of music than poetry. (IMHO!) I think most people either have a natural facility with rhyme or they don't. If you don't have that, don't sweat it. Stick with prose, and you'll be ahead of the game.

-- If you do write in rhyme, always strive to use the unexpected word instead of the easy/obvious choice. Read authors like Lisa Wheeler who are masters of rhyme. Sailor Moo is a rhyming masterpiece. [ See Sailor Moo, Cow at Sea by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Ponder Goembel, Atheneum, 2002 (author interview).]

-- Write out loud. Picture books are almost always intended as books that are read aloud. It is ESSENTIAL that you read your book out loud so you can tell how it sounds. In fact, I write out loud. It is almost impossible for me to write a word without saying it aloud at the same time. This helps me internalize the rhythm of the book and has the added benefit of making people think I'm nuts. They tend to leave me alone and I can get more writing done! It's a win-win situation!

-- Never write a book with the intention of making a point. Kids and editors can smell that a mile away and will run off screaming!

-- Eat your Wheaties!

You are one of the three geniuses behind one of my fave blogs, Three Silly Chicks! Could you share with us the story behind this fabulous team effort?

Geniuses? Actually, we prefer to be called Mad Chick Geniuses Who Plan to Take over the World. (Just saying . . .)

Boy, how I love the Three Silly Chicks! www.ThreeSillyChicks.com

It's a blog from me and two of my favorite children's authors who write funny books: Carolyn Crimi (author interview) and Julia Durango (author interview). We review funny picture books and novels for kids. Sometimes we have silly contests and we love to interview our favorite funny authors.

And we have a cool logo!

Our hope is that Three Silly Chicks will be a good resource for anybody looking for funny kids' books. That could mean teachers, librarians, parents, chickens or even giant pirate slugs! Everybody loves funny books! (At least everybody we like!)

The Chicks happened because we all have the same agent who holds a retreat every year for his authors. We get together and talk and laugh and learn from each other for a long weekend. It's brilliant! At last summer's retreat, there was a conversation about blogs. Someone said that a great way to do a blog is with someone who has similar interests.

Zap!!!

I looked at Carolyn. She looked at me! We had a blog! Julia came by a few minutes later and she was in, too! It was fantastic.

It's fun because we all have our own flavors of humor and we learn about funny new books from each other.

And sometimes when we're feeling lazy, we just spend the whole afternoon in the coop wearing funny glasses and doing the Chicken Dance. I love it!

What do you do when you're not writing?

The Chicken Dance, of course!

What can your fans look forward to next?

I am tickled to say that I have a number of books on the way.

Iggy Peck, Architect
Illustrated by David Roberts
Abrams Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-0810911062
August 2007

Iggy is a kid who is passionate about architecture. He builds from anything in his reach, including pancakes, chalk or even dirty diapers! Things get complicated for Iggy when his 2nd grade teacher turns out to hate architecture almost as much as he loves it.

Doctor Ted
Illustrated by Pascal LeMaitre
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 1416928200
Spring 2008

When a bear named Ted wakes up one morning and bumps his knee. He looks for a doctor everywhere. When Ted can't find a doctor, Ted becomes a doctor. Ted is a great doctor and can diagnose almost any condition on the spot. Alas, Ted's talent lands him in trouble at school.

Cicada Summer
Novel (ages 9-12)
Abrams Books for Young Readers
2008

Who is the strange new girl in Olena? The girl with the odd scar and a secret? Only Lily notices that this strange girl steals from Fern's store and lies. Only Lily knows this girl means trouble. Lily Mathis is the only one who knows. Lily could tell, but she won't. She never tells anybody anything... ...not since Pete.

Firefighter Ted
Illustrated by Pascal LeMaitre
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Spring 2009

Ted returns to save the day as a firefighter.

Hush, Baby Ghostling
Illustrated by Pascal LeMaitre
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Summer 2009

A tender, humorous rhyming picture book tells of a mother ghost trying (not very successfully) to get her baby ghostling to sleep.
Master Ted, True Artiste
Illustrated by Pascal Le Maitre
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
2010

Ted returns, with paintbrush in hand, as a master artiste!

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10. Small Beauties: The Journey of Darcy Heart O'Hara by Elvira Woodruff, illustrated by Adam Rex

Small Beauties: The Journey of Darcy Heart O'Hara by Elvira Woodruff, illustrated by Adam Rex (Knopf, 2006). Darcy notices life's little gems--the spider web, the pebbles--and so it is she who carries with her the most vivid memories, the family heritage to a new land. With evocative, realistic illustrations, this lovely picture book works well both as one family's story and a window into the past. Ages 6-up.

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