Thursday, May 29, 2014


untitled (135)There are three things the Groggers can agree upon. 1) We love children. 2) We love books. 3) We love children's books. So it is no surprise that we wanted to share this post with you.

As you are aware by now, many of us are fascinated by nonfiction picture books. From science driven ones (Dianna Aston) to biographical focused ones (Barb Rosenstock, Audrey Vernick, Emily Arnold McCully, et. al.) to historical fiction (Kelly Starling Lyons, Judith St. George, Don Tate, Eve Bunting, et. al.).
The text and illustration are so captivating that we cannot stop turning the pages.

untitled (139)The days of the “boring textbook format” in nonfiction is fading away like rotary phones and landlines. And we are ecstatic about this. So we are constantly keeping up with the buzz on the changes in publishing and its effect on nonfiction. In doing so, we came across this article and thought we should share.

This information was first published on an education blog which stated, "There are 7 categories of nonfiction" in kidlit. (You can find the information here.

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1.) Data: In more friendly terms, you might call this category Fasts Facts. It includes Eyewitness Books, The Guinness Book of World Records, and my own book Animal Grossapedia. These are the concise, fact-filled books that groups of boys love to read together and discuss.

2.) Expository: You might call this category Facts Plus because the facts are interwoven into a content-area explanation. This is could be considered “traditional” nonfiction in some ways, but there’s nothing old-fashioned about today’s expository titles. Their engaging text and rich, dynamic art and design are sure to delight as well as inform young readers.

untitled (137)3.) Narrative: This is a category we’ve heard a lot (I mean A LOT) about in the last few years. It’s the current darling of awards committees. Narrative titles present facts in the form of a true story with a narrative arc. As you learn about the next few categories, I think you’ll see that some of the books that have been lumped into the narrative category should really be thought about on their own terms, based on the author’s approach to the information. Creative nonfiction, historical fiction, and faction will fall under this category.

untitled (142)4.) Disciplinary Thinking: These books reveal how scientists and historians go about their work, how they evaluate evidence and form theories. The structure could be narrative, but it usually isn’t. This category might also be called something like Experts at Work. Scientists in the Field books are the perfect example, but there are plenty of other examples. Skull by Mark Aronson is one that immediately comes to mind.

untitled (143)5.) Inquiry: This category could also be called Ask and Answer. In these books, the author raises a question or a group of related questions and then seeks the answer. Sally Walker’s Written in Bone and What Bluebirds Do by Pamela F. Kirby are great examples.

untitled (144)6.) Interpretation: For these books, authors research a topic widely, find their own meaning in the information, and present the content from that point of view. Charles and Emma by Deborah Heiligman is the first title that leaps to mind, but I’d also put books like Those Rebels, Tom and John by Barbara Kerley in this category. I think we’ll see more of these books in the future because this type of presentation directly supports Common Core.

untitled (145)7.) Action: This is category offers a separate spot for titles that invite young readers to take action. The most obvious examples include Citizen Scientists by Loree Griffin Burns and the Science Play series by Vicki Cobb. I’m not sure this system is the be all and end all, but it’s a very interesting way for writers, teachers, librarians, and other book lovers to think about nonfiction. It stretches the way we think about current books and future possibilities, and I think that’s extremely valuable.

Do you know what you are writing? Do you know in which category your manuscript belong? Take the Challenge. Find some of these books, read them, and come back here and post the title, author, and category. Trust us, you will not be disappointed in your findings. Better yet, you will have a new love and discovery for all things nonfiction.

Check out some of these titles. And if you have any suggestions, please tell us what we should read. Leave a comment.
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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Glance at Picture Book Genres ~By Suzy Leopold

When writing picture books for children, consider the definition of genre and the categories of each, that are used to classify picture books for children's literacy.

What is a genre?  The definition can be defined as:

gen・re [zhä′ rǝ] n.  
A book type, classification or category of literature that is defined by content, form and style.  
The following are the most common types of reading genres:
  • Poetry
Poetry often uses rhythm and rhyme to convey a message or story.  Sound, imagery and figurative language may be included.  Poetry is written in verse to inspire the reader to respond with feelings and thoughts.

  • Autobiography
A story based on true facts about the life of a real person written by that person.
  • Biography
A story based on true facts about the life of a real person written by another person.  Memories, letters, diaries and journals are all part of this genre.
  • Informational
Texts that are written based on facts about a variety of topics, such as animals, cooking, gardening, history, science, geography, space, weather, reference books, etc.

  • Fantasy
A story that is make-believe.  It includes elements that are impossible in real life, such as magical powers or talking animals.
  • Historical Fiction
A fictional story that brings past events alive. The setting is real, however, the characters are not real.
  • Realistic Fiction
A story that could happen in real life.  The made-up characters are not real.
  • Science Fiction
A fantasy type story that blends futuristic technology with scientific elements and facts that are not possible in real life such as time machines, space travel and robots.
  • Mystery
A story that is suspenseful and is solved at the end of the story.
  • Traditional Literature
Stories that are passed down from generation to generation.  This genre includes tall tales, folktales, fables, legends, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, myths and even songs.
These are ten broad categories of genres.  There are many lists of sub-genres that include more categories and detail.

Marcie Haloin, along with Gaylynn Jameson, JoAnne Piccolo, and Kari Oosterveen created a more indept list of genres.  This compiled list, Genre Characteristics, is based off of an informative, resource book, Writing Essentials, written by Regie Routman [Heinemann: Portmouth, NH, 2005].  
On a future post, check out examples of book titles for each of these ten picture book genre categories. 

Do you have a favorite genre that you prefer to read about and/or write about? Consider expanding your craft of writing by trying new genre categories.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Interview with John Schu Part Two!

Book Advocacy:

1.  Can you share a bit about the formation of the Nerdy Book Club?

Donalyn Miller, Colby Sharp, and Cindy Minnich are the founders of the Nerdy Book Club. You can read more about the Nerdy Book Club here.

2.  How do you use social media to promote books?  

Social media makes me a better librarian, a better reader, and a better advocate for children’s literature. I use Twitter and my blog (Watch. Connect. Read.) to provide a glimpse into my reading life. Both places allow me to share the books my students and I are excited about. If I am away from Twitter for more than twelve hours, I start feeling anxious. I need to share. I love to share.

3.  How on earth do you fund all the give aways you offer on Twitter?

I love paying it forward. I personally fund 98% of the books I give away on Twitter and my blog. It is how I support the authors and the books I believe in.

4.  What are you feeling passionate about right now?

If you follow me on Twitter or read my blog, you’ll see that I am feeling extra  passionate about these five books right now.

1. Revolution by Deborah Wiles

2. A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

3. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

4. The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat

5. Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DiCamillo; illustrated by Chris Van Dussen

Now, in your style, What should I have asked you about that I did not?

Todd, you should have asked me what children’s literature character I am taking on vacation this summer. The answer: I’m not sure yet! Look for an announcement on my blog in a few weeks. (Here is last year’s announcement:

Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday Finds Two Mentor Picture Book Biographies by Kathy Halsey

As promised from Monday's post, I found two great picture book biographies as my mentor texts for my rough draft on Mary Colter, architect of the Grand Canyon and other Southwest buildings. I've been following the wonderful Nancy I Sanders' Blogzone with her step-by-step directions to crafting a biography in one week. (Nancy also has other series for three weeks and longer. Check it out.) She recommended basing our plot on a published book to emulate pacing, conflicts, and resolution. I was lucky enough to find Jabari Asim's Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington and Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx by Jonah Winter.

Why I Chose These Two Mentor Texts
Since I am writing about a "minority," a woman who broke the glass ceiling as an architect, I wanted to see how other diverse figures broke through to their successes. Sonia Sotomayor is our first Latina Supreme Court Jutice while Booker T. Washington's journey to the Hampton Institute on foot with just fifty cents in his pocket breaks barriers of color and poverty.
Metaphors for Life
The other two themes that unified my mentor texts were the glorious way the authors and illustrators chose defining images that illuminated the lives of their subjects. Sonia was seen as a lovely flower that grew and blossomed. From the biography, "Sometimes the most beautiful moonflower blossoms in an unexpected place-on a chain link fence, near broken glass, next to an abandoned building watered by someone whose name you might not even know."  
In Fifty Cents and a Dream, Asim focused on four pages in Washington's second autobiography that talked about his journey to be educated. Illustrator Bryan Collier reiterates the journey motif by depicting Washington's shirt as a map. Illustration is married to text in this slice of life biography as Asim writes in one beautiful two page spread,"He walked most of the five hundred miles to Hampton Institute. It was a journey of many days through the mountains of Virginia to reach the sea. The wind nipped at his weary bones, and the hard ground made his feet ache. But he walked on."  
Poetry in Biography
I chose wisely for my mentor texts and really learned so much more about two amazing people, Sonia and Booker. The inspiration of creating a metaphor, an overarching image of a person, is so strong in these books, it makes for enjoyable reading. These poetic picture books do not sound like the boring biographies I was forced to read in school! Writers, readers, and teachers rejoice- there is a new way to write non-fiction and I plan to master this technique by reading these two books each time I write more of my rough draft on Mary Colter, architect of the Grand Canyon. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

DIVERSIFYING KIDLIT (Part 1): #WeNeedDiverseBooks


There is a campaign to diversify Kidlit. There has always been conversation concerning the lack of multiculturalism in the publishing industry especially in "Kidlit". But a couple months ago, the conversation was brought to the forefront when Walter Dean Myers and his son, Christopher, wrote articles in the New York Times entitled "Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books?"  and "The Apartheid of Children's Literature." 

The article sparked conversations, comments, and conflicting ideas - both good and bad - about the lack of "People of Color (POC)" in books geared towards children.

 The truth is I love great books. I love books with characters that enables me to feel like I am she and she is me. I love books with awesome settings. Settings I can visualize just by closing my eyes and letting my imagination be my aircraft zooming through a place I long to visit. And I love books with problematic plots. Plots that twist and turn, flip and flop, and whirl and twirl out of control that I am flipping the pages while begging for it to end happily. 

 But I would be telling stories if I said I did not agree with the article. I think it is important that we tell stories so each child can relate. I think it is important that children see themselves in books. As Todd Burleson said to me in a conversation we had, "Books should serve as windows and mirrors. Mirrors so children can see themselves. And windows so they can look into the lives of others." This statement was so profound. I loved it. He is right. That is why #WeNeedDiverseBooks.

As writers, we should all aspire to touch every child. We want them to cry, laugh, and connect with the characters. We want them to dream about the setting as they explore the crooks and crannies with their imaginations. And we want them to walk away saying, "This is one of the best books I've read."

Now, your question is "What is #WeNeedDiverseBooks?" According to their website,

"We Need Diverse Books is a grassroots organization created to address the lack of diverse, non-majority narratives in children’s literature. We Need Diverse Books is committed to the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality. We recognize many kinds of diversity, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, people of color, those impacted by their gender, those with disabilities, ethnic/cultural/religious minorities, etc. Our mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.
In order to accomplish our mission, we reach out to individuals and groups involved in many levels of children’s publishing—including (but not limited to) publishers, authors, distributors, booksellers, librarians, educators, parents, and students."

How can you help? You can start off by joining the campaign. Tell us why #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Use the hash tag and tweet your response. Then you can choose to upload a picture of yourself with your reason and post it on Twitter. Join the Facebook group. Follow them on Tumblr. Take Kate Messner's Challenge - I did!

Where to find #WeNeedDiverseBooks:

Tumblr :
Twitter :

What are authors and lit agents saying about this campaign?
Mike Jung@Mike_Jung May 9
because there are people who describe advocacy on behalf of readers who lack privilege as "whining" and "complaining."
Agent Erin Murphy Retweeted by and 1 other
More like these! (Pulled off EMLA archive shelves and EMLA clients' backlists.) More more more!


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Journal [jûr′ nǝl] n. A Personal Record ~By Suzy Leopold

Many people, young and old, keep journals-artists, students, teachers, librarians, gardeners, farmers, athletes, politicians, scientists, writers, chefs, and many, many more. 
Most writers use a journal to record everyday events and topics that interest them.  These journals may include daily entries that record news and events that are personal in nature.  They are private and not intended for others to read as one writes about personal experiences, thoughts and dreams, in a diary.  Others who write in a journal may want to share their thoughts, recordings and reflections. These individuals enjoy sharing, with a trusted reader, who is interested in the subject matter or information. Favorite quotes, jokes or delicious recipes can be passed on from a writer to a reader.  Some journals are considered working journals that record observations and facts, such as crop, plant and weather data. A double-entry journal, is a way to share, read and respond while rotating the journal between two writers. Most often a double-entry journal dialogue is between a teacher and a student.  These journals become a written conversation for learning and growing.  

The American Heritage dic•tion•ar•y defines the word journal: [jûr′ nǝl] n. A personal record of occurrences, experiences, and reflections kept on a regular basis; a diary.

Did you know that Leonardo 
da Vinci kept over forty notebooks?  He wrote about his activities, and recorded plans for his engineering projects.  If Meriwether Lewis had not kept a journal, while exploring across North America, we would not have a glimpse of his travels, during the time he lived, nor the geographical information that he recorded in his journal. The beloved, world class diary, The Diary of Anne Frank, was written while Anne and her family hid in an attic, from the Nazis during World War II.  Reading her remarkable child diary connects the reader to the horrors of the war. President, Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth president kept a kind of diary.  On little scraps of paper, he jotted down thoughts and sometimes referred to these notes in his speeches. Our beloved president was a powerful orator.  His love for the written word was evident in his love for books. As a young man, Abraham always had a book stashed away. He read whenever he found a chance to do so, sometimes finding a moment in between chores on the farm. On a page from Abraham's schoolbook he wrote the following poem: 

Abraham Lincoln
his hand and pen
he will be good but
god knows when

There are many purposes for keeping a journal or two or more.  A journal has many functions and uses.  Writing in a journal is an excellent place to jot down personal experiences, thoughts and memories.  

For additional information, refer to a previous post by JanieTickling Your Muse or How to Spark Ideas Using Glitter and Crayons.

Many readers and writers use journals to enhance their writing from beginning to end. It is a great format to write about books.  Keep a reading log of books you are reading.  Scribe your thoughts about the book.  Summarize and evaluate the book.  Would you recommend the book to others?  Consider recording ideas, information, data and facts, or rhyming words about topics that you wish to write about.  

As a writer, brainstorm thoughts and make lists in a journal. Use a journal for pre writing that is spontaneous and written in a first draft form. Try a strategy referred to as quickwriting.  It is an informal ramble of words on paper to develop and generate ideas.  Jump start your writing with some writing prompts that may spark some creativity.  Make a list.  Doodle. Sketch. Create a graphic organizer. Think of bold beginnings, mighty middles, and exciting endings. Add mementos and ephemera.  Jot down words and more words. Keep on writing. Just focus on your thinking and ideas; not grammar and spelling.  The revisions and editing can follow later.  Use a variety of writing implements.  You can use more than a pencil. Try writing with colored pencils, markers, or even a collection of rainbow colored pens.
Keep a pocket size journal or notebook in your purse or backpack for moments when bright ideas pop into your head.  Writing in a composition notebook or even a spiral bound notebook, make great journals. 
Create and keep a variety of journals and begin writing for many purposes.  One can never have too many journals.  Just think of the many possibilities.  What type of journal do you write in?  What kind of journal will you create to write in on a daily basis?

Monday, May 19, 2014

These Biographies Are NOT "Slight" by Kathy Halsey

Define "Slight," Please
Recently I attended an informative book talk hosted by an educator/books festival impresario. She discussed 60 books in 90 minutes and her knowledge of the genres was impressive. However, she kept referring to the picture book biographies being reviewed as "slight." These "partial" stories did not include birth to grave information.

Now, being a non-fiction aficionado, beginning my first draft of architect Mary Colter's life, I beg to disagree. A partial take on someone's life is not "slight," it's actually a creative way to draw young children into a true story. These slice of life stories are a way to open up a biographee's life via little-known facts, a focus on one event, or on the motivating circumstances that created the drive to be unique or outstanding. I personally find this type of biography fascinating, and I know kids and their teachers would prefer them, too!  

Friday, May 16, 2014

How to Write a Rebus Story by Tina Cho

One way to break into writing for children’s magazines is to write puzzles, activities, and rebus stories. That’s how I started writing long ago for Stories for Children and Clubhouse Jr. In fact, my fourth rebus will be published this summer in Clubhouse Jr.

A rebus story is a very short story that uses words and pictures that stand for words. These stories are written for young children just learning to read. Often, the endings of these stories include a surprise, a twist, or some kind of humor. I like to think of the ending as a punch line. Since these stories are for beginning readers, simple vocabulary and lots of repetition is best.

I get my rebus story ideas from activities my children do. For example, one time we went miniature golfing. That led to a sale, "A Golf Ball Mystery," in which a groundhog had stolen the ball out of the hole. Another summer we bought the kids insect nets for the clouds of dragonflies that hover in late summer. I wrote a rebus about my kids trying to catch dragonflies and butterflies. In my story, they caught nothing. But in the end, as they sat under a tree, Daddy caught them and took them out for ice cream. So this coming summer, look for great opportunities to turn a family outing into a story!

Before you write a rebus, check the magazine you’re targeting because each magazine has specific guidelines regarding word count. Study 3-5 rebuses of the magazine you want to write for. How many pictures do they include in the rebus? If the magazine seems to use 7-10 picture words, then try to write your story so it will include the same amount.

Formatting a rebus is a little different in that you need to tell the illustrator which words will be pictures. I use brackets around each word that will be a picture. Others highlight or underline the word they think will make a good picture. For example, this is how I typed the beginning from my rebus “Catching On,” Clubhouse Jr, June 2013. 

[Daddy] bought [Anna] and [Isaac] [butterfly] [nets]. [Anna] got a [pink net], and [Isaac] got a [blue net]. [Anna] ran through the [park] chasing [butterflies]. [Isaac] ran through the [park] chasing [dragonflies]. 

And here's what the beginning looks like in published form with the illustrations.

Here are a list of magazines that I know of that accept rebuses. Feel free to let me know of others, and I'll add them to the list!
  • Clubhouse Jr.
  • Highlights
  • Ladybug (Ladybug guidelines don't mention rebuses, but I know Ladybug has published rebuses.)
  • Turtle (Turtle guidelines don't mention rebuses, but they also publish them.)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Off to Acquisitions! ~ by Patricia Toht

An editor loves your story? Ice that bottle of champagne!

 But don’t pop the cork just yet…

If you’re working with a larger publishing house, your editor will need to take your story to Acquisitions.
"Nobody Expects a Doodle of the Spanish Inquisition" by Alejandra Ramirez
No, not the Inquisition!

Acquisitions. I know, it sounds so mysterious! But at a recent SCBWI workshop, one session gave interesting insights into the process. But first, let me set things up.

Acquisitions varies among publishers. Some call it the Pub Board. There may be a separate Editorial Meeting. But whatever the name, Acquisitions usually involves one or more editors, the publisher, the art director, and…

Dum da dum dum. Marketing and publicity. The money people.

Photo by

While we all may wish that book decisions be made on literary value alone, that's not reality. As Harold Underdown says in his article here, "The books still matter, but so do the finances."

Your editor will lovingly compile an Acquisitions Proposal for your book. Again, differences abound, but it would likely include a summary of the book, the target audience, and “comp titles” (similar books) along with their sales figures.  (For a great post about researching comp titles, check out this post by Jill Corcoran.)

The Acquisitions Meeting is a chance for all parties to discuss the possibilities for your book and ask any questions or raise concerns they might have.

At the workshop I attended, Erica Finkel, Assistant Editor at Abrams, gave us a peek at three of these discussions and the types of questions raised. Of course, the first thing they look for is good writing. But they also look for:
• What is the author’s sales track? (New authors are riskier.)
• What are the comp titles sales?
• Can they afford the author?
• Is it too similar or different to the publishers other projects?
• Will it be a series or stand-alone?

One surprising thing for me concerned comp titles. It’s actually a plus if there are strong-selling titles out there that are similar to your book – it shows interest. If your book is “something we’ve never seen before,” that can actually work against you because the publisher must take a leap of faith, with moneybags in hand.

In the discussion about a novel, voice came up frequently. Are the voices of multiple characters distinct? Can readers identify with each character? Are there too many characters? Does an adult point of view creep in?

Two picture book discussions elicited a variety of questions. Is the humor and language appropriate for the age group? Is the underlying message clear enough? The story is strong, but does it pull the reader in emotionally? Strengths mentioned were character growth, strong ending, and tapping into a popular subject with a creative twist.

At the end of the Acquisitions Meeting, the editor has an answer:
• Yes! The project moves to offer.
• No. The editor loved it, but just couldn’t drum up enthusiasm.
• Maybe. Back to re-writes.

Hopefully, the answer for you will be YES!
Photo by Andy Price
You can read more about Acquisitions herehere, and here. Or take a peek at the process at Peachtree Publishers.

Artwork in today's post used in agreement with the Creative Commons license.