Tuesday, January 16, 2018


FLASHLIGHT NIGHT: Rhyming picture book to take out to the tree house

by Matt Forrest Essenwine with artwork by Fred Koehler

Suppose that I want to write a friendship
picture book adventure.
It will come alive through three important elements.

 Let's say these are -

tree house

And to up the stakes for me as a writer,
let's say I'll pull it off in rhyme.
Beautiful rhyme. Not just rhyme for when you play word games at home.
You know what I mean. The beautiful quality of
the low percent of submitted rhymed manuscripts that can become traditionally published

I hope you'll sit down soon with the rhyming picture book, FLASHLIGHT NIGHT.
The text is by debut picture book author Matt Forrest Essenwine
& the art is from the well-known award-winning creator, Fred Koehler.

This is a poem story alive with the promise

of high adventure unfolding
in the sedate backyard tree house. The friends 
flash the light to discover that it:

Shines a path where waters rush
reveals a hole in the underbrush

Oh my gosh! What's next? Don't 'cha wanna know!!!

The illustrations by Fred Koehler are like a nocturne gallery. 
The nightshade from scene to scene heightens the child’s delight in overlooked 
but important clues. I went back to look at them up close, as soon as
I read this book about the adventures & friendship of a girl and two boys. 

To celebrate publication, the two creators agreed to tell me something about their childhoods.


“Hi, thank you for doing a post, Jan! I really appreciate that.”

                                   (The book deserves a lot of spotlight, Matt.- jga)

“Growing up in rural New Hampshire, I developed an appreciation for nature from a young age.
 We lived on 10 acres of mostly wooded property, and although I was not allowed to go 
deep into the woods, the woods were all around me and therefore afforded me a great 
opportunity to use my imagination.

"I never had a tree house as a child, but I did have something I called my “hideout,”
which was an area just off of our lawn that consisted of lots of large, flat stones, thick juniper bushes, 
and a couple of large, easily-climbed trees. Some days I would pretend I was a bad guy 
hiding from the law, while other days I was the good guy trying to track down the baddies.
My hideout was also my “secret” place to have lunch. Mom would give me my food 
and I would head out to one of the flat rocks there and eat underneath the tree. 
And even though this little area was right along the edge of the lawn and only 
15 feet or so away from the road, I felt like I was in my own little world!

"I suppose it is no wonder, then, that the natural world and my sense of family have
 played such crucial roles in my writing, both for adults as well as for children. 
I am fortunate that dad has not sold the place yet – at 82, he still lives on that same 
old dirt road surrounded by woods – but I know that a not-so-little piece of me 
will be lost the day he does.”

                      (This paints an evocative picture, Matt. And so great about your Dad. – jga)

I first encountered Matt’s work via the Poetry Friday crowd.
I anticipate Matt’s poems & stories to appear in many forthcoming picture  books. In fact,
his second picture book, which he co-authors, is due out in April.
Go visit him here.


“When I was a kid, our house backed up to an acre or two of Florida scrub. 
Through the woods, I had neighbors whose dad worked construction and 
brought home all the scraps of job site lumber. In those trees, we would build 
the most elaborate fort systems, with tight ropes lines between the trees, trap doors, 
and even underground bunkers. We had more fun than any other kids on the planet, 
and probably could fend off pirates better than the Swiss Family Robinson.”

             (I see the foundations of an artist’s mind in those constructions, Fred.
                                                      Thank you! – jga)

I first encountered Fred's talented work in the hilarious, minimalist-word story by 
poet Rebecca Kai Dotlich,  ONE DAY, THE END.  
This year I anticipate Fred’s Pacific garbage patch-set debut novel.

Also, travel along as KidLitTV reveals, via a talk with Rocco Staino, 

I ordered FLASHLIGHT NIGHT from my local indy, Midtown Reader.

My child days hideout memories include a tree seat my father nailed into one of our beautiful,
old dogwood trees, so I could read up there, undisturbed & also, the creek ravine woods that 
beckoned me not far from that tree. Earlier, at our first house, I loved the fresh-scented,
old pine fairy woods. It rose up dark green on damp dirt on the side of our house that was 
opposite from the neighbor's aromatic dairy farm. 

Readers of the Group Blog: good luck with all your rhymes, especially the picture book kind. - JG Annino

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Critique Groups: Part 2 - by Kathy Halsey

Back in November before the deep freeze hit most of the country, I asked a question in KidLit 411 about critique groups. That question warmed up the FB chat, so today I give you part 2, advice from writers who frequent the 411 "water cooler." (Here's part 1, the Nov. post on critique groups.) 

Advice  and Links from Others
In my first post, I discussed that one may not find the "right" group and that cycling through a few 
groups/partners is really part of the process. Author and 12x12 leader Julie Hedlund agreed. 
Julie said, "One thing people should know is that it can take some time to get the 'right' group. Don't be disheartened if you try a few groups before finding one that's a great fit."

On a related note, writer Michele Blood cautioned, "RUN AWAY if you smell trouble. I learned the hard way.
However, trouble rarely happens when you connect via SCBWI or in respected groups such as Julie's, 12x12Sub It Club or Sub Six. 

Susan Uhlig Ford has written number of posts on critique groups and also wrote SCBWI guidelines, too. Here are links to some of her posts:

  • For beginners and those needing a new group look here.
  • For various types of critique groups. Look at detailed methods here.
  • Susan also offers a way to classify comments after a critique and what to do with them here. Personally, absorbing comments and suggestions usually is my sticking point. 
  • Finally, Susan suggested we look at critique rules and how/when to break a rule over at The Write Conversation blog here.

What Else Can a Critique Group Do?

My current group of six writers meets weekly even if we all can't make it online that night. It's important to establish routines and habits, so sometimes only a few of us meet. On such evenings we may not work on anyone's manuscript but still do writerly work. We might do any of the following:
  • Read picture books to each other that could be used as comp titles for WIPs. Since we use Google hangouts, we can share the illustrations, too.
  • Discuss webinars or classes we recently took and share notes.
  • Brainstorm new ideas or share beginnings and endings of WIPS to see if they work as "bookends" for each other.
  • We also keep a private FB page and post agent alerts and submission opportunities. 
Why does all this work? This group is a BEAST 
because we all contribute content and energy to making our goals into realities. Not all critique groups run this way, but our combined efforts make us accountable to each other. In this new year of possibilities, may you find the right critique partner/group for you. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Welcome to a New Year of GROGGING!

by Sue Heavenrich and Patricia Toht

Welcome back to the GROG Blog! I hope you have brand new notebooks and your pencils have been sharpened... A question at the back?

Yes, as you have noticed we have switched to Wednesdays. You'll get the same wonderful information and support for your writing as in the past - but in the middle of the week. Can't think of a better way to celebrate half-way-to-Friday, can you?

 January seems like a natural start to new literary beginnings, whether it's a new story or heading off on idea-collecting expeditions. And I'm not the only one - there's a whole bunch of people who brainstorm story ideas at this time of year. We gather at our digital water cooler over at StoryStorm, where we share insights on the art and craft of writing. (Registration is open through January 9th).  By the end of the month we've got 30 (or more) ideas so we can hit the ground running in February and work on getting the stories onto the page. If you need help finding ideas, check out Stalking the Wild Ideas from last year. Then pull on your woolly socks, grab a cuppa, and start scribbling.

In addition to changing our posts to Wednesdays, we have a brand new writer joining our ranks: Eileen Rajala Meyer. Let's give Eileen a warm and GROGgy welcome!

Eileen has authored three picture books and has contributed poetry to anthologies and children's magazines. Patricia Toht popped by for a quick New Year's chat with Eileen.

PT: Welcome, Eileen! We're so glad to have you here!

EM: Thanks, Patty! Joining a group blog seems like so much FUN, and I've long admired friends who actively blog and create online resources for writers.
Recently, my husband and I made a big move (literally). After spending many, many years in the Midwest, we've decided to also spend part of the year working and living in North Florida. I love my new town and friendly neighbors, but find that I miss my circle of KidLit friends. By joining the GROG, I'm hoping to better connect with writers and illustrators online, so that my KidLit community is with me wherever I go.

PT: My New Year's resolutions always seem to be to complete last year's resolutions. Do you make resolutions? 

EM: I love lists, and I love goal-setting, so New Year's resolutions are right in my wheel-house! 

Actually, joining the GROG helps me check off one resolution right away - to get more involved in the online KidLit community. Hooray! I look forward to connecting with my fellow GROGgers, interviewing authors and illustrators, and seeing what our readers have to say.

A second item on my list is to be more consistent with morning walks. When I'm in Florida, I usually spend an hour walking at sunrise, and this quiet time allows me to accomplish a few different things. First, I begin my day with exercise -- always a good thing for those of us who sit at a desk for much of our day. I also have time to give thanks for the day stretching before me; this "attitude of gratitude" helps me begin the day in the right frame of mind. And, finally, I use the time to mull over current writing projects and sort out options. Often I'll come up with a new approach to a stumbling block. And getting up early is worth it to experience this magical scene!

PT: So, anything special on the horizon for you? 

EM: I'm delighted to share that I've sold a picture book, THE SUPERLATIVE A. LINCOLN: POEMS ABOUT OUR 16TH PRESIDENT, to Charlesbridge Publishing. It will be released in late 2019. 

This project initially received rejections from agents that I queried. I heard: "Poetry is difficult to sell. We love this content -- would you rewrite it in prose?" I held out hope that the poems would eventually find the right home. The manuscript went on to win the Most Promising Picture Book Award at the 2015 SCBWI Summer Conference in LA. The award led to finding my agent Deborah Warren at East West Literary Agency. She submitted the work to publishers where she saw the best fit, and it connected. I'm very excited to work with the amazing folks at Charlesbridge!

PT: Well, we are so lucky to have you join us, Eileen, and can't wait to follow your explorations in GROG land!

Readers, if you think that Eileen looks familiar, it's because she has stopped by the GROG before. Check out these posts in May 2015 and February 2016. You can learn more about her on our "Meet the GROG authors" page, and over at her website. Check out her picture books, too:

HAPPY NEW YEAR, readers!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

used with permission, Lorie Ransom  See more of her cartoons at The Daily Drawing.

Unfortunately the diagramming construction is incorrect – even scarier than a visit from grammar ghost. The last part of speech is a predicate adjective, so the line should point back to the “being” verb like this:
You (Mr. Scrooge) | have been \ bad
                                                       \ very