Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Hooray for Henry Herz! ~ by Patricia Toht

Today, we welcome a very IMPortant author to answer some IMPortant questions about his IMPortant new release. Welcome to the GROG, Henry Herz!

Are you a fantasy fan, Henry? Your new book, WHEN YOU GIVE AN IMP A PENNY can be considered a fantasy picture book. What elements of fantasy work well with the brevity of a picture book?

Yes, I've been a big fan of the fantasy genre, ever since reading WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE repeatedly in elementary school. Then I read THE LORD OF THE RINGS in sixth grade, and I was hooked. Not only do I now read and write fantasy, but I interview fantasy (and sic-fi and KidLit) authors on my blog at

I don't think picture books are uniquely well-suited for fantasy. However, illustrations of fantastical creatures or settings quickly immerse young readers in alternate worlds. And that's what fantasy is all about.

(President Obama is a fan of 
Here's a video clip of him reading it at the 
White House Easter festivities.)

Which came first, the imp or the format of the story?

The format - at this early stage of my writing career, I've chosen to focus on authoring picture books. The imp was a minor character in my first book, MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES. Due to its sheer silliness, my favorite rhyme is "Hey Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle." In MONSTER GOOSE, my version of that rhyme features a minotaur, centaur, faun, and an imp. The imp's personality really peeks through in the illustration. He made it clear to me that he deserved his own story.

Your publisher is Pelican Publishing in Gretna, Louisiana. What are the perks of working with a smaller publisher?

Let's first distinguish between the terms independent and small publishers. "Independent publishers" (IPs) are those that are not part of a larger corporation (e.g. the Big Five). "Small publishers" are defined in the 2007 WRITER'S MARKET as those that average fewer than ten titles per year. So, while all small publishers are independent, not all IPs are small. Pelican Publishing puts out about 60 titles per year. They are an IP, but not a small publisher.

Excellent distinction, Henry! Thank you!

Having a book put out by a large publishing house, without question, offers some powerful advantages, including greater market reach, publishing industry relationships, more staff, and bigger budgets (and advances), than is the case for smaller publishers. That said, there are significant benefits to working with IPs, including:

* Ease of access *
* Closer relationships *
* Greater influence for author *
* Author's promotional efforts more visible *
* More flexibility *
* Greater speed to the process *

Was the process with IMP different from your first book, MONSTER GOOSE NURSERY RHYMES?

The process was exactly the same, except (thankfully) without the debut author nervousness accompanying my first book!

Illustrator Abigail Larson is perfect for this book. This is the second pairing of your words with her pictures. How did that come about?

Handshake illustration by
Tsahi Levent-Levi.
Most of the time, publishers provide an illustrator for authors that do not illustrate their own stories. However, I broke that rule because I wanted to have illustrations in the event I decided to self-publish MONSTER GOOSE. I found Abi on, and we decided to collaborate. Fortunately, we were able to interest Pelican in our work. After that, a second collaboration seemed like a natural thing to do.

Do you use mentor texts when writing?

I don't use mentor texts when I write. However, I read tons of picture books for inspiration and to hone my craft. WHEN YOU GIVE AN IMP A PENNY is clearly a medieval fantasy homage to Laura Numeroff's IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE, in that it also has a cyclical plot structure and an adorably cheeky protagonist.

I noticed that your sons are co-authors. What do each of you bring to the story? Who has the final say?

I involved them at an early age to spark an interest in reading fantasy. They serve as beta readers, giving me feedback and a kid's perspective on my early drafts. So far, I've been able to maintain creative control...
Henry and his boys

Your top tips for aspiring picture book writers?

I can offer eight tips for picture book writers here. I'd say the top three are:
#1 Have no fear! 
Don't be scared to put words to paper. Don't flee from constructive criticism. Don't be afraid of rejection. They all line the path to traditional publication.

#2 Be tenacious, even on crappy days. 
Becoming published isn't easy. But it won't happen if you stop trying. The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Revise, revise, revise. But remember that perfect can be the enemy of good enough. At some point, you need to submit!

#3 You need to be thick-skinned and 
learn to roll with the punches. 
Understand that a publisher's or agent's rejection isn't personal, but it is highly subjective. Many great works of literature were rejected repeatedly before being published, so you're in good company.

How did you score all your amazing interviews with authors and illustrators on your website?

By reading and genuinely admiring their work, building a relationship on social media or in person (I attend SCBWI conferences, WonderCon and San Diego Comic-Con), and by asking nicely.
Henry (and hat) at WonderCon this year.

What's next, Henry?

I'll keep writing! I have three books coming out soon. LITTLE RED CUTTLEFISH (Pelican, Fall 2016) is an aquatic retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, but with a sassy cephalopod protagonist. MABEL & THE QUEEN OF DREAMS (Schiffer, Fall 2016) is a bedtime picture book inspired by Mercurio's soliloquy in Romeo and Juliet. Little Mabel was an expert at not going to sleep. But Mom had the Queen of Dreams in her quiver of bedtime tales. The Queen paints children's dreams, so she only visits when their eyes are closed. DINOSAUR PIRATES (Sterling, Spring 2017) is a comical mashup of two kid favorites. A T-Rex with a pirate-y patois! Cap'n Rex leads his dinosaur pirates in search of booty. As they encounter obstacles in their quest, the apex predator "encourages" his crew to think outside the box. When the treasure is found, Cap'n Rex wants to keep it for himself, but the clever crew turns the tables on him.

Wow, Henry, you're a busy guy! How will we ever be able to keep up with you?

You can always find me at my website. Or follow me on Twitter via @Nimpentoad.

Thanks so much for stopping by Henry. 

Hmm, I wonder what happens if we give Henry a penny...

Monday, March 28, 2016

Monday Musing: Blue Balliet: Author Visit Observations by Kathy Halsey

Author visits? Why, Kathy, you're a pre-pub writer, right? Yes, but  Blue Balliet visited Canal Winchester Elementary School, a 3-5 grade building from which I retired. Blue specializes in MG mysteries and infuses her art history background in her plots. I came along for the ride to learn/observe from this award-winning writer. Even if you are a pre-pub writer, I suggest you tag along on an author visit if the opportunity arises. 

Lessons Learned

1. It's an author "visit." Blue took the time between large group presentations to walk the halls, notice student work posted in anticipation of her visit, and duck into classrooms. She even signed a rocking chair after listening to odes and scripts written by 5th grade gifted students.
2. Be flexible. Blue's visit was scheduled the day before spring break so the entire school schedule flipped that day. Lots of prep and logistics go into a visit, so kids may be keyed up. Blue had extra books to sign during her "down time" and did so graciously.  Motivated students mobbed her to purchase extra books even though pre-ssale books were available. 
3. Hook your audience with your presentation. Writers hook readers with books, but make your presentation is kid-friendly, too. Blue shared her real writing life with us - writing in her laundry room, stacks of drafts piled high, pictures of herself as a kid. 
4. Visuals trump words. Presentations can happen in the gym, the auditorium, anywhere a school can pack in hundreds of students. Canal's kids sat on the floor in a darkened lunchroom. Blue's powerpoint could be seen by all because of the visuals.
5. Let the kids interact with you. Leave time for student questions. Since acoustics weren't the best, Blue repeated the questions for all to hear before answering. 

6. Interact with staff members, too. Teachers/staff help you create an avid readership. Share tidbits about the books and your writing process because teachers will include this "insider" knowledge with their classes. Blue ate lunch with the teachers and posed for pictures with our staff. 
7. Make autographing personal. Blue personalized six different books with messages that matched the theme of each book. Amazing! Why not come up with an autograph for your manuscripts now? It's a great way to distill your WIPs to their true essence. (Plus, it's fun to dream.) Here's my copy of HOLD FAST.

8. Have a memorable website for fans to extend their learning process. Blue's website blew me away. Just like her books, a strong theme appears. It features architecture, art, and discovery. Take a look at this!
9. Curriculum connections are key. Blue makes word mobiles and students did, too. Big questions motivate Blue's writing and Winchester Trail kids asked big questions on word walls.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Story Time ~By Suzy Leopold

Many people love good bookstores. But writers, well . . .  we are enamored with our local indie bookstores as places of wonder.  These brick-and-motor stores are the heart of the community offering much more than books.

The sight of shelves packed with books from all genres, the sound of the children’s enthusiasm, and the rustling of turning pages all warm my heart.
Children's Books
Mrs. Sue shares stories
during story time
My favorite independent bookstore is located in Edwardsville, Illinois. The two-story yellow frame house is inviting and comfortable with numerous spots for adults and children to plop down and read. This bookstore is family owned and operated and offers numerous events including story time for children. At Afterwords Books, Story Time takes place every Tuesday at ten o’clock and Saturday at 11:00am.
Afterwords Books
Edwardsville, Illinois

As a writer under construction, my relationship with LuAnn Locke, owner of Afterwords Books, has become beneficial for both of us. Every Tuesday I spend time with little bookworms and their families sharing the love of literacy during Story Time at Afterwords Books.

Afterwords Books
LuAnn Locke, Owner

Since this community bookstore goes above and beyond to make itself a destination for families to share the love and value of reading, while browsing bookshelves for just the right book, I am excited to participate in story time. 

Reading books to kids in the neighborhood offers me, as a pre-published writer, an opportunity to connect with the children in our community. Story time has become an extension for my writing. Spending time with the kids gives me an insight into books that capture the kids’ attention, their likes and dislikes and most importantly their reaction to the books that I read and share with them. The kids always let me know their thoughts about the books through active participation and positive reactions. If a book is “liked”, the kids share two thumbs up. A thumb held in the horizontal position indicates the listeners “kinda liked” the book and thumbs down, well you know what that means. Thus far, I have noted all thumbs up. 

Many GROG Blog readers know how important it is to read and study stellar picture books. What better way to analyze top notch literature through the eyes of my reading buddies.

My motto is: Read, Write and Create Every Day. 
And that I do try to do each and every day. However, there are times when reading during story time is the best excuse for not writing. 

I can't help but feel I belong here, just as I did in the classroom and just as I do with my after school and summer school reading buddies.
Story Time
Story time helps me to grow as a writer. Support your local indie bookstores.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A Peek Behind the Curtain

By Janie Reinart

Have you ever wanted to know what goes on behind the scenes of a kid lit contest?

Here's your chance. A recent post shared how the lovely Vivian Kirkfield came up with the idea for the 50 Precious Words contest. 

Now, you can peek behind the curtain and see how the winning entries were chosen.

What was your process for selecting winners? 

Janie, I had no idea there would be such a tremendous response for the #50PreciousWords Contest. I thought that I’d get maybe a dozen or so entries. As the days went on, and the stories continued to stream in, I was thrilled. 

I had listed several guidelines when I first posted the contest. So as each story came in, I made sure each entry followed those. Amazingly, everyone’s story was 50 words or less.  I read each story – then I read it again out loud. If it made me smile, if it was unique, if it touched my heart…any of those things…I put a star next to it on the list I had made of all the entries. 

If it was well-written with all the important elements of beginning, middle, and end, I put another star next to it. I thought that when all was said and done, I’d have a few stories that had stars. Nope! I had over 100 stories that had stars. 

So then I read each story out loud four times…if I loved it more each time I read it, I put a big check next to the name. I thought I’d have just a few like that. Nope! I had fifty. 

So then I asked my husband if he would listen to the stories…he is a published author, former elementary school teacher, and lover of books and reading. That helped me cut the list down to thirty. 

And for the next four hours, I read and reread those thirty stories…looking for the ones that I would buy if they were at the bookstore. Looking for the ones I would grab from the library to read to my grandchildren. Looking for the ones I thought would appeal to kids the most because they were clever or sweet or unique or funny or inspiring

Those were four of the most difficult hours of my life. Now I understand better how difficult it is for editors who fall in love with manuscripts, but can’t take them for one reason or another. Or how hard it is to be an agent and have to turn away a writer who writes really well, but whose work you don’t connect with as much as you feel you need to in order to represent them successfully. 

I had always heard this was a subjective business. YES, IT IS! And being on the other side of the table was heartbreaking. 

 Did you use a rubric?  

If by rubric you mean a weighted system of scoring…then no, I did not. I went with my gut, the overall feeling the story gave me. The problem is that each story was unique…some rhyme, some prose, some free verse. About totally different topics. 

Stories, after all, are about how they engage the reader…a story that my sister raves about might be one that I hate. Just because a book sells a million copies, doesn’t mean it will appeal to me. 

Over a hundred stories in the contest deserved a prize…but I had to whittle it down by what I felt constituted a great story. Which is probably different from how someone else feels. 

Did you have helper elves to help make selections?  

Ah…helper elves…now that would have been a GREAT idea! However, having expected maybe a dozen entries, I didn’t think I would need any help. 

As I mentioned, my husband graciously stepped in to assist. When I do the contest again next year (YES< I will absolutely positively make this an annual event), I plan to enlist the help of a couple of critique buddies…one has already volunteered. 

I think that will give me a sense of peace of mind that the responsibility is not all on me…it wasn’t the time that it took that I objected to. Anyone who knows me well, knows that for me, time spent reading stories is golden, and I could do it 24/7. 

Because I thought I’d only have a dozen entries, I arranged for the winners to be announced the day after the deadline. Oops! I read and reread stories all night long till at least 3am. And of course, I had been reading them all along as they came in. 

Next year, I will definitely give myself a couple of days between deadline and announcing the winners. 

Do you have any tips for writers for next year’s contest? 

I don’t know if the writers needed any tips. The stories were of such a high quality and I was blown away. WHOOSH! Seriously, the entries were wonderful. Many of the writers placed their entry on their own blog and shared the contest on social media channels

And I’d love it if people would comment here on the GROG post, email me, or message me on Facebook and let me know how I could improve the 50 Precious Words Contest for next year

I really appreciate this opportunity, Janie, to share. It was my first challenge to other writers…and I was honored by the enthusiastic response! No doubt about it…this is the BEST kidlit community ever! 

It was my pleasure.  Everyone give a round of applause for Vivian! Thank you for inviting us to have some fun. 


Monday, March 21, 2016

Pushing On and Why We Write - by Kathy Halsey

"Kathy, I so understand that time of writing in the desert. I feel kinda clogged myself. We must push on, though." This email greeted me yesterday from writer friend, Sherri.

Time in the desert. I actually lived in the Phoenix desert for 4 years, but metaphorically I am living my own writing desert. Maybe you've been to that desert, too. If so, let's chat and throw up a dust storm...out West we call them haboobs! (Funny word for a scary situation.) 
Last year I was on a writer's high. I wrote a draft a month and revised monthly, too. But in 2016, I don't have that drive to create. I'm parched for many reasons - minor health issues, critique group funk, and the general malaise a writer feels after parting with an agent. We don't like to talk about this stuff, but I'm "Chatty Kathy," and I'm talking! 

Just before my agent left, I began writing a story about cats and libraries. I wrote on and off; I had no great ambitions for the manuscript, except I LIKE cats and WAS a school librarian for 15 fantastic years. I just finished my second draft last week and felt thrilled. I found that I could finally write and that the writing soothed me. And I was so proud of myself, I read the story to my long-suffering hubs and the tween I watch/babysit twice a week. I even had my computer read it to me. Then I sent it out for feedback to a few writer friends who have never read my work before. (a big leap for me.)

Now here's the dust-kicking from my desert boots, my Big Oprah "aha" moment. I MADE myself happy by writing. THIS is why I write. I can't describe the pleasure I feel when I finally get into a story and finish it, even if, technically, it's just so-so! I write for myself, to entertain myself, to transcend myself, to exist in a place where there isn't arthritis, medical bills, and all the flotsam of life. Writing gives me power. It's mood-altering. And I had forgotten that!!!!!! (excessive exclamations.) 

So, I'm OK. And if you're in the desert, you'll find your water soon, and you'll be OK. Just dip your toe into a topic you enjoy and write for no other reason than to entertain yourself. Have fun. Giggle at your own puns, your own way with words, your own voice. Tell the story to yourself and soon you will be telling it to others. And, by golly, you'll feel better! 

Usually I post informational topics, but today, I'm revealing my feelings. Sometimes, I think we writers need to reveal feelings to let others know they're NOT alone in the desert. So, this "Chatty Kathy" feels like she's in the cat-bird seat right now and hopes you'll push on, too! Watch out world, I'm priming my pump and writing for ME! 

Friday, March 18, 2016

It's Spring! Let's Get Outside!

By Leslie Colin Tribble

The vernal equinox is this Sunday, March 20 and is the official first day of spring. In most of the country, spring is making its sweet entrance, (although we had snow today in Wyoming), so I thought I'd encourage everyone to make an effort to spend more time exploring outside this year. Take your child, take your grandchild, take a dog or take your pet pig, but make some concentrated time to get reacquainted with nature. It doesn't take much to walk around the block or go visit your nearest park. Plus it's good for you - there are all sorts of recent studies detailing how great nature is for us in all aspects of our lives (and this study, this one and this one just to cite a few).

If you're taking kids with you, it's fun to have a couple of nature guides to take along. My favorite for the 4-10 year old set are the Take Along Guides.

Since it's spring, I thought this one was good to start with. 

This set features a number of titles and I think all of them are great. There's just enough information to keep you and the young ones interested and help with identification. Each page lists one caterpillar, bug or butterfly with the same subsections - What It Looks Like, What It Eats, and Where to Find It. The back pages are blank and intended for a scrapbook - a great place to record your own findings and sketches.

The three subsections for the bird book are Bird, Nest and Egg. How often do you discover a bird nest and wonder which bird built it? If the trees and shrubs in your location haven't totally leafed out yet, now is a great time to go on a nest hunt.

This series is a little older (late 1990s), but it's still available online through several vendors. They're published by Cooper Square and have various authors including Mel Boring, Leslie Dendy, Diane Burns, etc. and many illustrators like Linda Garrow, 

Each book also has one or two nature-related activities to try. You can make your own plaster tracks using the directions found in the Tracks, Scat and Signs guide.

These books are the perfect companion for your budding naturalist or even an older naturalist who needs a little reminder of what's out in the woods. 

Happy Discovery and Happy Spring!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Blasted Rejections! ~ by Patricia Toht

In the past few weeks I've seen multiple posts about manuscript rejections. 
Thanks to Charles M. Schulz,
we know how Snoopy deals with rejection!
Why, I wonder? Has there been a burst of replies? Perhaps agents have hit a response window for submissions sent as the New Year began. Perhaps editors are clearing their desks in preparation for spring sales meetings or the Bologna Book Fair. Or perhaps writers have assumed a rejection after sending manuscripts into the Black Hole of Publishing -- "You won't hear from us unless we're interested" -- and enough time has passed to consider them dead in the publishing pool.

Whatever the reason, some terrific advice is being offered in the blogosphere: 

On the Institute of Children's Literature site, Jan Fields welcomes you to her "Pity Party." Among the many fine points she discusses, Jan reminds us is that "rejections are about specific manuscripts in specific situations." 

I learned this lesson at the 2014 SCBWI LA Conference. An editor admitted that she had passed on Pat Zietlow Miller's picture book, SOPHIE'S SQUASH. She just didn't connect with the manuscript. Well, the author was at the same conference, accepting her Golden Kite Award for SOPHIE'S SQUASH, which had been published by Schwartz and Wade and received four starred reviews!

Tara Lazar offers an extensive list of "Common Rejections and What They Mean."  My latest rejection, just last week, was a form rejection. That's my second least-favorite type of rejection, with nothing constructive to offer. (For my least favorite, refer to the Black Hole, above ^^^.) But in the past year, I've also heard "It's too quiet," "It's not right for us at this time," and "I didn't quite connect with this in the way I'd hoped." Tara de-mystifies these phrases in her post. Check it out.

So, how do you feel about rejections? I usually feel like this:
Photo by Lawrence Whittemore.

Often, a wise quote is enough to lift my spirits.

"Fall seven times, stand up eight." ~ Japanese proverb

"So you're taking a few blows. That's the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines." ~ The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

"Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." ~ Thomas Edison

But sometimes my funk is deep. When that happens, I often pull out an old buddy of a book to get me through. BIRD BY BIRD: SOME INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE by Anne Lamott always makes me laugh and reminds me that even a successful writer has a multitude of demons. And yet she also has a path out, step by step, bird by bird.

Recently, I also looked over my copy of
 THE WRITER'S BOOK OF HOPE: GETTING FROM FRUSTRATION TO PUBLICATION, by Ralph Keyes. The author devotes an entire chapter on "Keeping Hope Alive." I love some of his suggestions:

1) Build a Consolation File -- a collection of information about famous writers who were repeatedly rejected, like JK Rowling, Dr Seuss, and Madeline L'Engle. Author websites can also offer insight and reassurance, such as Dan Gutman's rejection letters for HONUS & ME.

2) Study the acknowledgements in novels. Ralph Keyes says that these often confirm that the author was discouraged while writing their book, they received support from encouraging people in their lives, and that support helped them complete the book and get it published. 

3) Attend conferences and courses. Because writers are often so isolated, this will help you see that you are not alone in your feelings and frustrations, nor in your odd work habits. (How many of you write in your jammies? C' honest...) You can join SCBWI, or meet with a critique group. Be part of a Facebook community. Connect through blogs. Find your peeps. ('Tis the season for Peeps!)

4) Indulge in dubious motives for writing. Do you ever write to satisfy your ego? Do you write to express anger? I admit that I'd love to send a published book of mine to the college professor who told me I was a lousy writer and should give it up. That usually riles me up enough to start working again!

Ralph Keyes offers several other ways to keep despair at bay and hope alive. (Chapter 9 in my edition.)

Rejection stinks. Someone doesn't like your baby. You have every right to feel crabby and blue. Just don't let it derail you. If all else fails, make a game of it. Heather Ayris Burnell has invited the Sub It Club to play Rejection Bingo with Kirsten Larson. Now that's a great way to deal with rejection!

How do you deal with rejection?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Tips on Craft, Critiques, & Agent 101 by Kathy Halsey

I sprang into March with many recent webinars, meet-ups, and SCBWI events and I'm sharing them with GROG readers today. Here's to springing forward and new growth for us all!

Taking Writing to the Next Level

YA writer Emery Lord, author of OPEN ROAD SUMMER and THE START OF ME AND YOU, shared her thoughts at a recent Central Ohio SCBWI meet-up. More about Emery here.

1. That old adage, "show not tell" can be broken, especially in longer works. A writer should think WHEN to show and WHEN to tell.  Think - what's the intention of doing so purposefully.
2. When creating character depth, imagine your main character's parents and family. They are the central part of a child's identity, even in YA. 
3. Create/free associate a vocabulary list of your main character that includes his/her set of references. Emery's example: if your protagonist is religious the list might include "holy," "communion,"  "dove," "olive branch." Pull from this list for analogies, metaphors,  figurative language to set the tone of the book.

Being a Good Critique Partner

In a recent KidLIt College webinar with Heather Alexander, Pippin Properties, the emphasis was on big picture issues. Avoid line edits. Heather shared house renovation analogies. Don't change the "wallpaper," when the "blueprint" is lacking. 
1. Look at character arc for growth/change in character, flat characters, characters to whom kids will relate.
2. Motivation is the motor of the story. Can you find the core emotion that moves your character forward? Drill down and keep asking "WHY?"
3. The narrative arc is impossible to untangle from from character. All stories must have exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and a resolution. In a critique, all these elements need to be examined.
Photo by Juliana Lee
Agent 101- Vicky Selvaggio

Vicky Selvaggio, Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, pulled back the curtain on how she acquires clients to a packed house in Columbus, via Central Ohio SCBWI.
1. Know your communication style/needs and that of your perspective agent. Vicky emphasizes that this partnership IS a relationship.
2. Vicky says her job is to push, encourage, support her clients. Clients have a job, too. Read voraciously in your genre, make connections with editors at conference and pass that info on to your agent. Be open-minded with revisions.
3. Both agents and client should keep submission logs. SCBWI, THE BOOK has a great template in the back. You should know where your work is, who has it, and eventually receive feedback on your work. 
4. Realize that good agents put their current clients' needs first (red flag if they don't), so response to your query may take more time than you'd like.

Hope you've found a few tips that puts the spring back in your step. If you'd like to share a tip from a recent webinar/class/event you've taken recently, add it to the comments section. SPRING FORWARD!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Picture book fiction origins: your own told tale

by J.G. Annino
ALLIGATOR BABY is one of the silliest picture books
I know to feature the swamp survivor as a character.
A new baby in a human family is the author’s invention.
And that baby brought home from the hospital is
an alligator.

I work and live in Florida, so I’m a magnet for snappy
& Snapsy alligator picture books, to read as a volunteer
in schools with BookPALS.

What is new to me about this title, learned from visiting
the website for this book for the first time, is that it began
as an oral story. How cool is that? It was made up to entertain
the author's family & then told over and over long before it ever

As I moved to other titles at the site of American-turned-
Canadian author Robert Munsch, I began to understand
that originating a told story in my family or with children
I spend time with & perfecting it, is a path to writing that
I should return to more often. 

Perhaps it intrigues you, as a way to try a story. Make it
up as you go along, first. At naptime/bedtime, at
family events, at made-up storytime.

Other picture book titles that Munsch transferred
from originating as a made-up oral story,
to an actual book, include MAKEUP MESS

My family story that became a manuscript was told
by my father, about my grandfather. It involves
a farm boy, a model T-Ford, the Pine Barrens &
a trip to the Atlantic Ocean.

I added an ox and a bear to it. And it’s also so close to my
heart because it’s my first picture
book manuscript that ever received a compliment
(although not a contract) from an editor.

I looked up ALLIGATOR BABY this week because I’m
scouring resources for alligator crafts, poems & stories
to present at a storytime  next month during an open-air
regional arts festival.  

I’m  pretty sure I’m going to share ALLIGATOR BABY.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Precious Words

Get ready for some fun. Meet the lovely Vivian Kirkfield, the creator of the 50 Precious Words Contest.
Vivian Kirkfield

I had the pleasure of meeting Vivian in person. You can't help being drawn to her warm smile, great discussions, and upbeat personality. Her motto is: Writer for Children - Reader Forever.

Vivian is represented by Essie White at Storm Literary and has a book coming in spring 2017 from Creston Books.  


Sweet Dreams, Sarah is the story of Sarah E. Goode, the first African-American woman to own a U.S. patent. After the Civil War, former slave Sarah moves north, with freedom in her pocket, hope in her heart, and dreams swirling in her head. The story showcases not only the invention but the spirit and determination of the inventor herself. Congratulations, Vivian!


Janie: What are you working on now?

Vivian: At the end of 2015, I participated in Kristen Fulton’s 12 Days of Nonfiction (I’m a sucker for challenges as many of you know). Starting 2016 with more than a dozen subjects I’m excited to write about has been incredible. 

In January, I delved into the fascinating life of Joseph Montgolfier, the inventor of the first hot air balloon. I wrote the story…gave it to some of my critique partners…revised…gave it to more critique partners…polished it and sent it to my agent who LOVED it. The Boy Who Dreamed of Flying is now winging its way to eight or nine editors. Fingers crossed that one of them will love it also. 

In February, I wrote another nonfiction picture book that is still going through revisions. And now that it is March, I’m trying to decide which my next project will be. I love to be researching one story, writing another, revising a third, and polishing a fourth. This is actually the process Kristen follows…and it seems to work well for me.

Janie: What is your writing routine?

Vivian: At this point in my life, I am retired from teaching and all the other careers I had. I’m able to devote quite a bit of time to writing. This probably makes me less disciplined, since I know I can stay up till 3am…which those of you who see me on Facebook in the wee hours of the morning will attest to. 

I work several hours in the morning, several hours in the afternoon, several hours in the evening…sometimes I’m writing something new. Other times, I’ll pull out an old manuscript and see if I can create something new and exciting with it. 

I do get waylaid with blogging and social media…and as I mentioned before, I am a sucker for challenges. Although the experts say we should do our concentrated writing in the morning and not even check emails or Facebook, I must admit…I don’t follow that advice even though I know I should.

But this is supposed to be fun, right? And for me, it is! Total bliss! Even the rejections are just a necessary part of the process and I try to see them as steps on the ladder. And some ladders have lots and lots of steps.

Janie: What is your favorite craft book? 

Vivian: There are so many great ones out there. My favorite is Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul. Well-laid out and easy to navigate, I also love the action plan at the end of chapter which encourages you to be working on your own manuscript using what you have learned. 

I’ll mention another craft book as well…Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I found that book quite enlightening...other writers also feel doubt…wow, so I am not the only one. And I think this is why it is so important to be part of a writing community. We all need support and encouragement.

Janie: What inspires you to keep writing? 

Vivian: Life inspires me to keep writing. History inspires me to keep writing. (for me there is nothing better than to latch onto a golden moment of history that has been forgotten and is calling to me to bring it alive for young readers) 

Things I hear, things I read inspire me to keep writing. Even my husband is constantly coming up with clever titles and ideas. “Hey honey,” he’ll say, “this would make a great kid’s book!” 

And my grandson inspires me to keep writing. He slept over last night and I commented that his blankets were all over the place and it looked like he had been exercising while he was sleeping. “Sure, Grandma,” he said. “That’s because I was sleepercizing.” 

Then when he left the breakfast table, my husband said, “See you later, Alligator.” And without a moment’s hesitation, Jeremy replied, “After while, Grandpadile.” So now I have two possible story ideas to add to the others. I just need to find a better way to keep track of them all.

Janie: How did you get the idea for 50 Precious Words?

Vivian: Many years ago, Bennett Cerf (one of the founders of Random House) bet Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) that he couldn't write a kid's book using only 50 different words...of course, Dr. Seuss proved him wrong with Green Eggs and Ham..there is a website that talks a bit about it: Some friends were talking about Dr. was his birthday on the 2nd...and I thought, hey, what fun...let's try to write a kid's story with only 50 words total.

Here are the rules:

  1. Write a story appropriate for kids ages 12 or under, using only 50 words…they can all be different words, or you can use some of them over and over…just as long as the total word count for the story is 50 or less.
  2. It can be prose, rhyme, free verse, silly or serious…whatever works for you.
  3. Title is not included in the word count.
  4. No illustration notes please.
  5. Post the story on your blog if you have one and put the link in the comments OR post the story in the comments.
  6. Deadline for posting the story or the link in the comments is Friday, March 18th…that gives you two weeks.
  7. Winners will be announced on Saturday, March 19th.
  8. Prizes? Of course! In honor of Women’s History Month, a copy of Miss Moore Thought Otherwise by Jan Pinborough. Kristen Fulton is going to donate a place in her April Nonfiction Archaeology class and I am offering a mini-critique.

So are you up for the challenge? Check out my entry on Vivian's site. I look forward to reading yours. Show me your 50 precious words.