Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A Look at an Indie Bookstore - What Writers Can Learn by Kathy Halsey and Patricia Toht

Take a peek with me and GROGger Patty Toht into indie bookstore life. Patty is a former bookstore owner, children's author, and now a librarian. I began my career as a teacher, transitioned to being a school librarian, and now work part-time at an indie bookstore. Welcome to indie life, a whole different world than big box stores and Amazon.
Bookstore owner Melia Wolf of Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers & me

Never Never Land, Patty's children’s bookstore in the suburbs of Chicago

Open the door to Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers on any given day. and books lovers will find the owner and staff busy with a myriad of tasks. In one week, the store hosted middle grade author Alan Gratz, David Shannon, book talked middle grade fiction to a small group of parents, former teachers, and grandparents and that was just three days of a typical week. 

As Patty explains, there are so many tasks that the independent owner takes on that are sourced out to others in national operations. A funny misconception Paty had was that, as a bookseller, she would have loads of time to read books! As the owner/operator, her days were packed with a huge variety of tasks, from ordering and stocking to helping customers to scheduling employees and paying bills. All of her reading was done at night.

 Indie Bookstore 411
Your local indie may not have the inventory of a big box store, the money to hire publicists, accountants, or a huge sales force. However, you local independent bookstore will have these unique qualities that can't be duplicated elsewhere.
  • Booksellers who are book aficionados and genre experts who can find you just the right book. For example, my indie, Cover to Cover in Upper Arlington Ohio has booksellers who are former teachers, librarians, and gamers. We know the newest picture books, YA authors personally, science fiction and fantasy for all ages.
  • Indies develop a relationship with you, know your tastes, offer discounts for frequent customers, and treat you like a friend. Relationships with customers matters to them.
  • Programs that support that local community and the schools such as local/national author visits, book clubs, a third space with is safe, writer workshops, and professional development for preservice teachers. This Thursday, Cover to Cover will host best-selling YA author Edith Pattou at theUpper Arlington Main library from 6-8 PM. 
 How Books Are Bought
At Cover to Cover in Columbus, Ohio, book sellers are always updating their orders on what books to buy. Staff members can recommend books, discuss them with the owner, and a decision is made. Staff knows that if we recommend a book, we need to be able to hand sell it. Here's another audience, children's workers may think about as they write. 
Patty shares other ways that bookstores acquire titles. (Cover to Cover also uses these three primary ways to get stock.)

• "Sometimes I met directly with a publisher’s representative.  We would flip through the catalogue and discuss the titles. Often the rep had F&Gs of picture books and ARCs of novels so I could actually see what the interiors looked like and read jacket copy. We would also discuss any marketing plans for the books, as well as book displays and special deals.
• If the publisher didn’t have a rep to call on my tiny bookstore, I thumbed through catalogues and read the descriptions of the titles. I usually began by ordering books from tried-and-true authors or illustrators and then moved onto books that seemed to be a good fit for our clientele.
• I also worked with two distributors, Ingram and Baker & Taylor. These companies  carried books from most publishers (kind of like an Amazon for booksellers). These companies were great for smaller restocks of top sellers and for filling special orders. But their discount wasn’t as good as ordering directly from publishers."
Check out all this fabulous children's nonfiction at Cover to Cover Books for Young Readers!
The  Best Way to  Promote Your Books
Before I began working at Cover to Cover, I frequented the store, driving across town to support my independent bookseller. I bought books, attended author signings, and introduced myself to owner Melia as an avid reader and writer. Its important to connect authentically and early in your writing career to really establish a good working relationship. (I'm pre-published, but I'm a big fan of Cover to Cover.)
Author Patty offers this advice for authors.

• "Stop by! Ask if the bookstore carries your book. If they don’t, show them a copy so they can read it. Let bookstore owners get to know you, love you, and love your work.
• Refer your local friends to your indie. Remind them that, at an indie, you get to hold are read actual books rather than ordering by a description. Indie sellers know what books their customers love and are very adept at putting the right book into the right hands.
• Sign stock! Customers like giving signed books as gifts.
• Have a launch party or other event! It’s fun to have special occasions to celebrate with customers." 

 I'll be recommending Patty's rhyming picture book, Pick a Pine, for this holiday season!
The holiday season is upon us. Let's support authors and independent bookstores and give some extra holiday cheer to those in our industry this year. Curl up at an indie bookstore soon!

Cover to Cover has this wonderful space for reading and lounging. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

What's New at the Library? by Leslie Colin Tribble

More new books are flying off the shelves in our Children’s Library. Here’s a quick round up of some recent favorites.

The Day You Begin – Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez
I’m breaking away from my usual reviews of animal-related books with this one, but it’s so good. Of course, it’s from noted author Jacqueline Woodson, so you know you’re going to love it. The Day You Begin is overflowing with hope and wonder, and yet packed with those hurts that children experience when they feel they don’t belong.  But words, beautiful lyrical, flowing words and meaningful, simple illustrations combine to create a welcoming book that tells children that even when there are others who don’t look or sound or eat like you, that maybe, just maybe, when you begin you can fit into the world.

I Walk with Vanessa – Kerascoet
This is a wordless book about bullying. The illustrations are so simple, yet I loved the expressions the children exhibit - you know exactly what they’re feeling.  Despite the lack of words, you could engage in a lot of discussion with the child or children you’re reading this to. All kids know how hard it feels when you’re singled out but also how good it is when someone comes alongside as a friend and helper. This would be a great book to use with older kids too, when talking about bullying.

Run Wild – David Covell
I like this book for the sentiment and the abstract, but eye-catching illustrations. This book is all about the wonders of running wild through the mud and grass and sand and shore. It’s about the freedom and exhilaration of just being out exploring and even getting bumps and bruises.  As an environmental educator, I appreciate that message because I feel children aren’t allowed to be outside as much as they should be. Read this book to a child and then find a place where you can be outside, together, experiencing nature. It’ll be good for both of you.

Good Rosie – Kate DiCamillo and Harry Bliss
This is a dog book, so of course I picked it up. It’s about Rosie who wants a friend, but isn’t sure how to make one. What I find interesting about this book is its length – it reads a bit like a chapter book because it’s divided into nine parts.  It has 36 pages of text and illustration, so it’s definitely longer than the average picture book. The story is cute and useful for talking about friendship, loneliness and how to be a friend. The pictures of the dogs are engaging – you might just want to find a Rosie of your own.

My Pet Wants a Pet
This is a great book about wanting a pet, because really, doesn’t everyone want a pet? Personally, I lobbied long and hard for a baby musk ox, but my parents were unreasonably against that idea. The illustrations and pet/owner pairs makes you want to keep turning the page to find out how this cascade of animals will end.

Weather Girls - Aki
Weather Girls is a sweet rhyming book about young ladies ready to get outdoors in any weather, in all seasons. The illustrations of the girls are adorable and they make exploring the world around them look so much fun - and it is! This is a powerful book to share with the girls in your life, especially ones that might be timid about experiencing life outside.

There have been so many wonderful books flowing through our cataloging department into eager hands in the children's library. My list is a lot longer this these top choices, but you'll have to wait until my next post to learn about more great picture books.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Polar Bear Island Review & Q&A Debut PB Author Lindsay Bonilla -by Kathy Halsey

Polar bears, penguins, and "flipper slippers," what could be more enticing for young readers and picture book writers alike? Today I  review my critique partner's debut. We chat about process, what happens between signing a contract and publishing and more!

Review of Polar Bear Island
Since I've been intimately connected to this book when it was still a  work in progress, I'll admit, it's hard to review it without squealing. (It's a special joy when critique partners become authors.) Therefore, I'll don my school librarian hat and review it via that lens. 

Polar Bear Island was peaceful, quiet and for polar bears only. But one day Kirby the penguin floated up, and Parker the Mayor is having none of it. Parker agrees that Kirby may stay for one day, but when the other bears see Kirby's invention of flipper slippers, they want a pair, too. Kirby writes to her family, shares her adventures and soon, they're on the island, too, bringing sled beds, snow cones, snow chutes, and lots of excitement. Parker takes a fall and the penguins soothe him and bring him back to health with their good will and inventions. Now the sign that read "Welcome to Polar Bear Island. No Others Allowed," reads "Welcome to Polar Bear Island. Others Allowed." 

Playful language, characters that children will enjoy, and a subtle message of inclusion make this a perfect book for our times. Illustrator Cinta Villalobos's palate of cool colors juxtaposed with the warm cheerful hues of the penguins add energy and fun to the story. Although Amazon and Kirkus reviews peg the book for ages 3-5 / 3-and up, elementary age students, grades 1-5, will enjoy the story, too. ( Our school librarian took the book home to her 6th grader who loved it.) Lindsay has created some great classroom extensions for welcoming others that educators will appreciate.
Our first look at the book while at Northern Ohio SCBWI conference 2018. Janie Reinart and I made Lindsay read Polar Bear Island aloud. After all, Lindsay's a professional storyteller.

Q & A with Lindsay Bonilla

K: Share with us how this book was picked up by Sterling Children's Books and how you almost didn't meet your editor. (Chance and talent made the difference.)
L: I met my editor at the SCBWI Roundtable Retreat in Michigan. I heard about the retreat from a random Facebook post. I loved the unique format and decided to apply. When I was accepted, I was super-excited, but that’s also when reality set in. The retreat location was a nine hour drive from my house. I’m not much for long drives; I was 4 months pregnant at the time. I debated whether or not to go. Ultimately, the possibility of what *could* happen is what got me there, and I’m so glad it did! 

It’s probably not healthy to go into every retreat or conference thinking that you are going to get a book deal out of it, but I think you should go full of expectations. Maybe it won’t be a book deal, but but a wonderful new friendship, a renewed sense of passion for your work, or a critique that unlocks something in a manuscript that’s stumped you for too long. Go expecting to receive something great!

K: What steps did you take to publicize Polar Bear Island from pre-order to launch?
L: I think the most effective thing I did was to start reaching out to friends and family early on to tell them about the book. As soon as it became available for pre-order, I set a goal of telling one new person about it daily, usually via an email or facebook message. I enlisted my family and friends to help spread the word too! 

I reached out to bloggers to see if they would be interested in sharing my book on their blog. This summer, while I was doing my storytelling tour visiting libraries across the state, I also passed out lots of bookmarks to build excitement! 

Then I looked into  book festivals and conferences in my area that would be a good fit for my book. This month alone I have attended/presented at the Virginia Hamilton Multicultural Literature Conference, the Books by the Banks Book Festival and the Ohio Educational Library Media Association Conference. I have made great contacts at each one! 

I think most creatives don’t like thinking about publicity/marketing, but it is an absolute must in this industry. Re-frame the idea of publicity as sharing what I'm most passionate about and making connections with others has helped me to enjoy it more. 

K: As a professional storyteller and mother of two active toddlers, how do you manage your time to write and do events? (Tips for other busy moms appreciated.)
L: Ha! I’m still trying to figure out the best way to manage my time! Let’s just say there is never a dull moment. I have to make use of nap time every single day, and I spend more than my fair share of evenings catching up. My oldest is in preschool in the mornings now. During that time I go to the YMCA with my youngest. They have a Child Watch program that your child can be in for up to 2 hours. I work out for the first hour and then I take out my laptop and write or send emails. To any author moms out there, I can’t recommend the YMCA enough!

Since I don’t have a lot of time to myself, I try to involve my children in the stories I’m writing or telling. I try out new story openings on them or play act the stories with them. The other day my oldest amazed me by being able to quote from memory the first four stanzas of one of my manuscripts. He is as invested in the story as I am! Sharing my work with my kids makes it more rewarding. 

Overall, my best advice is this: don’t think so much about the time you don’t have to write.  Focus on making the most of the time you DO have. If you can’t actually sit at your computer/notebook to write, work out as much as you can in your head! 
K: Tell us about the picture book's main theme and the "AmBEARsador Program." How did you come up with ideas that educators can use to extend the book's impact?
L: Polar Bear Island is about welcoming others and learning from those who are different. Every day that I read the news it becomes more clear how critical this message is right now. I created the AmBEARssador program with the hope of getting children to connect to the theme and make it real in their own lives and communities. First, I started brainstorming activities and questions that I thought would engage readers on a deeper level with the book’s theme. 

After that, I shared the ideas with good friend, fellow writer and immigrant researcher, Nalini Krishnankutty. Her perspective was very insightful and helped me to deepen my own understanding of the themes. I was very lucky that Sterling was 100% behind me as I developed these ideas. They did the design work for all of the extension activities which can be found here. 
K: What has been the most fun so far that you're a published author? What should other debut authors know that you learned?
L: At my launch party, a little girl I’d never met before showed up practically hugging my book. She looked at me and said, “I’m such a big fan!” I didn’t know that anybody outside of friends and family would even have the book yet. It was pretty magical. Seeing children connecting with the book has definitely been my favorite part because that’s why I write in the first place. 
Then at the Books by the Banks Festival a man came to my table and said that he’d come on behalf of his wife. She was a teacher in New Jersey and had planned to come to the festival but fell ill. My book was one of the titles she’d requested. To know that a teacher was excited to share the book with her students was also extremely meaningful to me. 

I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned on this journey is just to “do you.” By that I mean it’s easy to compare yourself to other authors and second-guess yourself, wondering if you should be doing more of what they are doing. It’s good to take inspiration from others, but ultimately, we each have to carve out our own path in the industry and determine what success is for ourselves. For me, that may mean being very choosy about which promotional events I do and how often/far I’m willing to travel because snuggling with my kiddos is pretty high on my priority list right now. 
K: Tell us about upcoming appearances. What are you working on now?
L: I have some appearances coming up at local schools and libraries — everything from telling pumpkin folktales for Halloween to doing interactive performances of my book to doing Christmas-themed folktales. Check my calendar here! 

The list of what I’m working on is pretty long — a fairy-tale mash up, a pirate tale, and a book about the power of storytelling are just a few.

Also, I can’t say much yet, but I got some good news last week and look forward to being able to share some exciting book news soon! 

Lindsay signing my book at the Ohio Educational Library Media Association conference

Lindsay Bonilla is a professional storyteller and author of children's books. You can connect with her via her web site, and on twitter at @lindsaybonilla. She still has openings for author visits or storytelling visits for the 2018-2019 school year. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Great American Read ~By Suzy Leopold

Writers are readers and readers are writers. These two activities are reciprocal. They both go hand-in-hand. What are you currently reading? Perhaps you are reading a stack of picture books as mentor texts to support your writing. 

Picture book writers seek out currently published books from libraries and book stores to study the craft of writing for children. 

The best advice for writers is simple. READ. 

Do you know how important it is to read across genres to support your writing? It is one of the best strategies for improving as a writer.
The Great American Read

Beginning in May of 2018, Public Broadcasting Services [PBS], began a series of television programs depicting 100 best loved novels. The TV series, hosted by Meredith Vieira, featured documentaries and recommendations of best loved books by authors and celebrities from throughout the country. This popular campaign was a great success.

The eight-part series featured fiction books published from the past during the 1600s and recently published books from 2016. Various genres were included: Young adult novels, historical fiction, adventure, classics, and more.

We Want You

Click on this link to read the 100 list of books to learn more. You'll note many titles familiar to you. If you're like me, you will see the list includes many familiar and favorite books. I'm quite certain many of them are on your bookshelves at home.
Whether you consider reading a new title from the list of 100 books or revisiting a beloved classic, you are sure to grow and learn by spending time reading a book from the PBS Great American Read.

You may even want to take The Great American Read Quiz.
Everyone was encouraged to vote for their favorite book. There were more than four million votes. A final vote for the best loved book took place on Tuesday, October 23rd. The Grand Finale Great American Read premiered yesterday. There were more than 300 guests, authors, and literary experts, and book fans.

And now for the Top Five Finalists including the #1 best loved book. Let's begin the countdown . . . 

#5 THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien


#3 HARRY POTTER (series) by J. K. Rowling

#2 OUTLANDER (series) by Diana Gabaldon

It's time to unveil American's best-loved novel. America voted for . . . 

by Harper Lee
by Harper Lee
Time to celebrate The 2018 Great American Read!

If you weren't able to tune-in to the unveiling of the top five picks, click here to watch The Grand Finale.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

At a Loss for Words? Try Making a Word Bank by: Barb Rosenstock for Sherri Jones Rivers

I first met Barb Rosenstock several years ago at a summer writing conference. I was fortunate to get a critique session with her on a picture book bio. She was tough, but encouraging, saying she thought it was 100% marketable, but not in the rambling shape it was in at that time. I am still working on that manuscript, and her suggestions made it much better and helped tighten it up. She introduced the conference attendees to the idea of a word bank, showing how she used one for her book Fearless. She graciously agreed to sharing her expertise with readers of the GROG.


Writers know words...lots of words, way more than the average non-writer, enough to win trivia contests, enough to plead guilty to reading the thesaurus for fun, enough to remember esoteric roots, prefixes and suffixes...words, words, infinitum, ad nauseum, ad mortem. So, why, while writing this week, will so many of us stare at the space where the next sentence should begin and think, "Yep, I'm totally out of words"?

What the world casually calls "writer's block" is, to a working writer, an hour or a day or a week of losing time and money. Not to mention the general fussing, freaking out and feelings of failure that can send creativity packing and self-esteem plummeting for way longer than necessary. We know we're good at words and writing is "just words" after all, so...what's the big deal, why are we making things so hard on ourselves?

Writing for children, and writing picture books in particular, depends intimately on which word is used, when, and why. Whenever you're trying to communicate deeply and authentically, that next sentence is not "just words." It's "just" the right word and the right word after that, and after that until those magic words THE END. And by "right" I mean perfect, or at least as perfect as we know how to be until our editors encourage us to be more perfect. Striving for perfection is necessarily daunting.
     As an un-trained writer, when I was starting out, that "what's the next word" panic used to stop me from a good writing day way more often than necessary. One morning, while working on the manuscript that became The Camping Trip that Changed America,    

I was stuck (again). But that day, for some reason, I stopped beating myself up and realized that of course, I knew the words. I just needed a better way for my brain to access them more easily as I was creating.

So, still in somewhat of a panic, I wound up creating a super simple tool that has worked for me. This is a writer's tool that I've taught to pre-published writers and also to kids as young as kindergarten. It's called a "word bank." And this is how it developed.

Remember now, I was stuck, not actively writing the story. So, just to feel somewhat productive, I started a new document and listed what I thought might be all the major themes of my story. In the case of The Camping Trip (at the time titled "Teedie & Johnnie"), this is the list I wrote that day:


I got out the thesaurus (today I would use the synonym finder in and if you have a better site than that, please tell me about it!) I don't have the space (and you don't have the patience!) for me to show each theme, but using Environment as the example, it looked something like this:

     Environment: surroundings, area, background, ecology, elements, habitat, pollution, geography, home, environmentalist, ecosystem, climate, atmosphere, conservationist, get away, wilderness, wild, untamed, etc.

It was not a rote copying exercise. I did not list every word I found. I left out what had nothing to do with my story (like the word/name "Marco" which is still listed under environment, and I still don't know why). I also left out words that would obviously never be in a children's book (like the word "gnotobiotics," but on the other hand, you never know!).

Making these lists, I was not instantly hit with a bolt of lightning.

I was not even convinced that the exercise was worthwhile. I ignored the part of me that said (repeatedly) that it was probably a waste of time. It wasn't until I had looked up all the themes and listed all their related words, that patterns started to emerge. Over the next hour or so, it was as if the word bank itself helped my brain work in a different way. I noticed that the word "mood" came up in two or three of my themes, as did ideas of friendship and compatibility. I began to connect my themes in relationship to each other. I realized that relationships can grow in nature, and that those relationships can be transformative. Muir and Roosevelt built a friendship--what did that mean for my story? What did that mean for the country? And the next thing I knew, I was no longer stuck; in fact, I had so many words and inter-related ideas than I could hardly get them all on the page.

Later, for other themes, like Trees, the benefits were different but just as important. In listing related words like "leaf, branch, root, trunk, cones" I realized that so far in my drafting, I hadn't really brought my characters (or my audience) into the trees. I needed to show what it was like sleeping next to trunks, gazing up at pine cones, brushing against branches. The "word bank" helped me specify details and actions. In general, my word listings helped with verb and adjective choice. "Support, steady, bond, respect, trust, spirit, play" were words or ideas that made themselves into the final manuscript from my initial listing in the word bank.

After this first word bank, I made others for the drafts of my next four books. Studying the words that were related to my themes taught me that a picture book is much more complex and interesting when its themes and language interplay. For example, there's a scene in The Noisy Paint Box where the young Kandinsky 

paints a painting and says, "It's music!" But because of a word bank on the theme "music," I later added the very specific action "waltzing his painting around the house." The idea of this child's body movement taking cues from the music he experienced while painting then proceeds throughout the book. The verb choices in that book were entirely driven by the word banks that were created the week I was stuck on a very early draft.

Someone recently asked if I make a word bank for every book now. The honest answer is not always. Certainly, almost never as thoroughly as I needed them initially. Recently though, I did make an extensive list of "claustrophobia" related words for 
Otis and Will Discover the Deep. 

I knew I just wasn't getting the right feeling of adventure/terror/danger, and the list would help. It did. I believe the initial word banks did their real job of changing the way I think about writing a picture book story. The word banks taught me to focus on the ideas in my writing but also on all the alternative meanings and manifestations. I've learned more confidence in my words and the value of spending thoughtful time seeking connections between them.

 But if tomorrow or next month or next year, I find that familiar "blocked" panic setting in, I know I will remember to stop, invest a little time, deposit some words into a simple word bank and watch the benefits accrue. If you think this simple tool might work for you, please give it a try. It might help you turn a work in progress into a work in publication.

Barb Rosenstock loves stories best. She's the author of award-winning nonfiction and historical fiction picture books, including the 2015 Caldecott Honor Title The Noisy Paint Box, illustrated by Mary Grandpre. 2018 titles include Blue Grass Boy with Edward Fotheringham, The Secret Kingdom with Claire Nivola, Otis and Will Discover the Deep with Katherine Roy and Through the Window with Mary Grandpre. She lives near Chicago with her family and two big poodles.


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Writing as a Team

by Sue Heavenrich and Christy Mihaly

You might not normally think of writing as a team sport. Usually it’s done one-on-one, author wrestling to pin ideas to the page. But a few years back, the two of us decided to team up. The result of our collaboration is Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought (Twenty-First Century Books/Lerner, Oct. 1, 2018). The book, YA nonfiction, tells young readers how our dining choices can make a difference to the earth. Trying unexpected foods – weeds, invasive species, and insects – may help solve the global hunger crisis and, at the same time, reduce agricultural emissions of greenhouse gases.

We had been critique partners for a few years when, talking at a conference, we realized that we had each been developing a book (separately) about entomophagy—the practice of eating insects.  It occurred to us that we might have the perfect project for a collaborative effort. We both wanted something that was fun to read, and also gross enough to capture the interest of middle-schoolers. Being critique partners, we had a good feel for the quality of each other’s writing. More importantly, we trusted one another. So we felt confident that we could work as a team to pull off a book project.

From the beginning, we viewed this book as a joint project. As a biologist (Sue) and environmental lawyer (Christy), both of us were already familiar with collaboration. And we felt that our different backgrounds would enrich the project. It’s also important to note that we stuffed our egos in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet so we could focus on creating the best work we could.

When you think about writing with a colleague, there’s a good chance you’re visualizing meetings at the local cafĂ©. Living 345 miles apart made that impossible, but we made good use of modern technology. We scheduled regular phone conversations to go over plans, set goals and deadlines, and keep the lines of communication clear. We divvied up tasks and then shared first drafts of chapter sections via email (rural internet still leaves a lot to be desired). Initially, one person would write a section, and we’d swap files and revise what the other wrote. This helped us develop a uniform voice for the entire book. Rubes that we were, somehow we thought that with two of us working on the project we would each do half the work. Ha! Christy calculates we did twice the amount. But the book is all the better for it.

Phone calls played another role, too. They gave us a chance to get to know each other on a more personal level. Drinking coffee and talking about the dog, the dishes, the kids… and then the BOOK. We did some of our best brainstorming over phone lines.

For more on collaborative writing, check out Tina Cho’s interview with STEM writers, Margaret Albertson and Paula Emick.

Here’s a list of tips for collaborative writing success.