- Engaging interest
- Encouraging experimentation
- Inviting participation
- Using memory to create character/story depth without self-disclosing
Apparently, in my new role as "author", I had temporarily forgotten that.
|Roberta, by Cindy|
|Sue ready to net more book ideas|
|Leslie, looking for the next spider|
|Lindsey's picture book biographies |
about Gwen Frostic and Gerald Ford
|Lindsey and her father|
|Integrated beach in South Africa|
|A sample of Lindsey's journaling|
|Illustrator Charly L. Palmer at work|
Meet Dominguita Melendez, intrepid knight of the neighborhood, who, along with her squire, Pancho Sanchez, have brave adventures and do good deeds just like Don Quixote in Dom’s favorite book.
Definitely Dominguita is a delightful chapter book series for ages 6-9 released this month by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster. In a starred review, Kirkus called it “a charming adventure that will encourage kids to become knights in their own communities as well.”
In Dominguita, better known as Dom Capote, Cuban-American author Terry Catasús Jennings has created a character who is determined, independent and resourceful, and who just happens to be a child of immigrant parents.
|Terry Catasús Jennings|
Terry Catasús Jennings knows what it’s like to feel different. Her family, including her father who had been jailed during the Bay of Pigs invasion, emigrated from Cuba in 1961 when she was twelve years old. Terry was immediately enrolled in an American school. The problem was that she only knew enough English to recite the days of the week and months of the year. Like Dominguita, Terry found refuge in books, especially the classics she read with her abuela.
Each book in the Dominguita series is based on a beloved classic: Knight of the Cape on Don Quixote, Captain Dom’s Treasure on Treasure Island, All for One on The Three Musketeers, and Sherlock Dom on—you guessed it—Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Terry about the series and her writing career.
Tell us a little about your journey as a writer and how it led to this series.
I always dreamed of being an author, but family pressure led me to a more “practical” career. I majored in math and physics and worked in finance for many years before I decided to give writing a chance. At first, I wrote articles and essays. The first essay I ever submitted—about teaching my daughter to drive—was published by The Washington Post. Then I moved on to writing educational content for the Smithsonian Science Education Center and non-fiction books for children. Finally, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel, an upper MG book about a Cuban girl.
Submitting that novel (still unpublished) led me to my agent, Natolie Lakosil. I pitched the idea for the Dominguita books to her in 2018. She was enthusiastic, so I got right to work. The series sold rather quickly. I signed the contract in May of 2019, and the first two books are being released this month, March 2021.
Tell us about the illustrator.
The books are illustrated by Fátima Anaya, who lives in El Salvador. I LOVE the illustrations. Fátima got the characters just right—Dom’s spunky face and the wonderful Roco, the dog whose belly is so low it almost touches the ground and whose ears are so long that they do. The costumes are so creative—and the colors she uses are wonderfully vivid. Her work is just terrific.
In the first book, Knight of the Cape, Dominguita is reading Don Quixote to stay close to her Abuela who’s had to move to Florida because she’s getting forgetful. When the class bully says Dominguita reads because she doesn’t have any friends, she has to come up with a better idea: she’s studying to be knight. He laughs. “Girls can’t be knights.” Dominguita decides to prove him wrong. She adopts the name Dom Capote, Knight of the Cape.
How is Dom like Don Quixote?
Both Don Quixote and Dom Capote failed spectacularly! But both eventually transition from fantasy to reality. They come to understand and accept themselves as they are, including their shortcomings and failures. They both recognize the value of love and friendship.
Having based the characters on those in Don Quixote, how does that work in the rest of the series, where the books are based on other classics?
In each book, the character relationships stay the same. Dom is the visionary, Pancho brings her down to reality, and their friend Steph is the even keel rule-follower. The events and key scenes echo the classics but the novels are each a contemporary story. For example, in Captain Dom’s Treasure, Dom finds an old map in a library book with a telltale X marking an unknown place. She and her crew set off to find treasure like Jim Hawkins did in Treasure Island.
In All for One, inspired by The Three Musketeers, Dom and her friends set out to foil a villain’s dastardly intention to spoil their friend Leni’s quincerañera party. They use the ultimate musketeer weapons—chocolate covered toilet plungers.
I know you’re a big fan of writers’ critique groups. Did you work with a critique group on these books?
I sure did. I belong to two critique groups, and at one point, I was writing too fast to be able to wait for the meetings. So one group critiqued the second book, and the other did the third. They were a big help!
(For more information on Terry's work with critique groups, see https://www.blogger.com/blog/post/edit/1295379888006925064/3563527391626195485)
What do you find most rewarding about writing children’s books?
The reward is connecting with a reader and making a difference. My hope is to reach children and cement the belief that there are no “others.” Dominguita is every child. Whether she is American, Cuban or the descendant of a purple popsicle, she loves and misses her grandmother, tries to manipulate her brother, sometimes disobeys her parents, loves sweets. She has moments of brilliance and moments of sheer folly. She is just a kid who happens to live in a household where black beans and rice with a side of plantains are a staple.
Thanks, Terry, for sharing your journey with us. We wish you every success with Definitely Dominguita.
Grog Blogger Eileen Meyer here -- I’m delighted to invite author and poet Michelle Schaub to join us with a guest post today! Michelle is sharing the story of a manuscript that was near and dear to her heart, but had been rejected numerous times. After she took a break to re-envision her project, and then revise accordingly – IT SOLD!
Here’s the story of KINDNESS IS A KITE STRING, releasing April 1st (and I'm not FOOLing you!) with Cardinal Rule Press.
When I first decided to write a concept book about kindness, this was my recipe:
Fold in some lyrical language.
Season with rhyme.
Plain and simple. Unfortunately, a little too simple. Here’s some of editorial feedback I received after my first round of submissions:
“I don't think this feels like a real picture book, but more like something you'd see in a kid magazine.”
“I wish there were a clearer protagonist or some tension.”
“I love the message here, but I'm afraid that I don't think that there is enough story for this to work on our list.”
LAYER 1: AN ARC
I knew most editors had a taste for character-driven manuscripts with strong story arcs. While I didn’t want to write my text as a narrative, I wondered if I could suggest an arc through the illustrations.
About this time, I saw a commercial that sparked an idea. Set in a city, the commercial starts with one man’s kind deed: he stops a lady from crossing the street in front of a speeding car. In turn, that lady helps a mom carry her stroller off the bus. The mom then helps another person, and the kind acts ripple forward.
I decided to use art notes to suggest a similar chain of kind deeds in my manuscript. As a rule, I try to limit art notes. I like giving illustrators room to breathe their own life into a picture book. But in this case, I felt the needed to provide a visual nudge to editors so they could picture how my simple words might ignite a rich visual narrative.
I added this open-ended art note to the beginning of my manuscript:
[For each spread, I have provided art suggestions for one possible way the chain of kindness might grow through a diverse community; however, I am open to other visual interpretations.]
Then on each page, I included a short note that suggested a kind act and “actor” for that spread. Ultimately, Claire LaForte put her own delightful spin on my art notes. She created a beautiful visual story of a diverse individuals coming together to spread kindness.
LAYER 2: A QUEST
My own kids always enjoyed picture books where they had to search for something in the pictures. (Think Richard Scary’s Lowly Worm.) This gave me the idea to suggest a “hunt” for a missing pet. So, I added this art note to the first spread:
[No one notices a pet has slipped out. In subsequent illustrations, family members put up lost pet posters/search for pet]
LAYER 3: EDUCATIONAL HOOK
I wanted to make sure educators found my book tasty. As a language arts teacher, I knew curriculum standards across grade levels focused on teaching similes and metaphors. So, I started brainstorming tangible, kid-friendly objects to which I could compare kindness.
Kindness is like sunshine because it warms you.
Kindness welcomes others like an open door.
When you let it out, kindness can lift spirits like a kite string.
To infuse educational flavor, I reshaped my text as a series of comparisons and added an author’s note to further explain the concept of similes and metaphors.
My newly layered concept book “sandwich” was ready to deliver to
Now that I can hold KINDNESS IS A KITE STRING in my hands, I really appreciate the value of the added layers. They provide readers with a reason to return to the book again and again and discover different ways to satisfy their appetite… and spread a little kindness!
Michelle Schaub is a language arts teacher and award-winning children's poet. In addition to her upcoming book, Kindness is a Kite String, The Uplifting Power of Empathy, she is the author of the picture book poetry collections Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmers’ Market, (which won the 2018 Growing Good Kids Award and 2019 Northern Lights Book Award,) and Finding Treasure: A Collection of Collections. She also wrote the bedtime STEM book in verse, Dream Big, Little Scientists. Her poems appear in several anthologies, including A World Full of Poems (DK, 2020) and Hop to It, Poems to Get You Moving (Pomelo Books, 2020) Aloud. Michelle shares lessons and mentor texts for using poetry to boost literacy at www.poetryboost.com. Find out more about Michelle at https://www.michelleschaub.com/
|upstate NY ~ Sue H|
|Wilmington, VT ~ Sue H|
|Pandemic painting ~ Suzy L|
Today I (Tina Cho) welcome my writing friend and one of my critique partners--Carrie Finison! Her latest picture book, Don't Hug Doug, hit bookstores the end of January. Carrie is sharing some expert advice on writing in second person point of view and benefits of doing so. Take it away, Carrie!
One day, when Doug was hammering and gluing and generally minding his own business, some relatives stopped by. They’d been invited to lunch.
Aunt Muriel wrapped him in a pillowy, billowy embrace. “Such twirly curls! And such big, brown, puppy dog eyes!”
“He’s squishier than a jelly doughnut,” said Uncle Hank-the-Tank.
“Dug-ga-hug-ga,” babbled sticky Sukey.
They hugged him and squeezed him and squooshed him and smooshed him.
Their hugs made Doug feel as shriveled and wrung out as a week-old balloon. But he thought it would be rude to say so.
He tried going stiff, but they just hugged him tighter. He tried going limp, but they just hugged him longer…and longer…and LONGER.
I liked the story told this way, but I could not get the ending right. In one version, Doug built a robot for his relatives to hug instead of him. In another version, he adopted a puppy to soak up their attention. In another version, he set up a booby trap with a giant stuffed animal who took on their enthusiastic embraces.
While these endings were fun, and funny, they felt wrong because they didn’t truly solve Doug’s problem. Yes, he managed to avoid his relatives’ hugs — this time. But what about next time? Or the time after that? Eventually, he’d be right back where he started. His real problem wasn’t avoiding a single hug — it was getting his relatives to listen to him and accept the fact that he didn’t want hugs from them.
THAT problem felt insurmountable. How could Doug solve this problem? How could ANY kid solve it? The truth is, adults often don’t listen to children’s wishes when it comes to hugging (and lots of other things, too) — and often they don’t even think to ask in the first place.
Doug, I realized, could not force his relatives to listen to him — but I could. As the writer, I could make readers say things out loud. I could make them say things to each other. I could give them an invitation to interact — with the book, and with each other.
I rewrote the story in the second person point of view, addressing the reader. Here it is in published form:
The beauty of writing from the second person is that you create an interactive experience. In this case, I wanted both child and adult readers to have plenty of practice asking and answering the question, “Do you want a hug?” So I made them say it out loud, right in the text of the book. (Cue writerly cackle.)
And, I could give them a chance to physically practice a high five as an alterative to hugging.
Thinking more broadly, the second person point of view can be helpful in an array of circumstances:
- You want your reader’s experience to be interactive — either verbally (the reader says things out loud) or physically (the reader physically interacts with the book in some way).
- You want to immerse your reader in the experience of the main character. In these books, the narrator addresses the main character of the book as ‘you’ and the reader “becomes” the main character.
- You want to persuade the reader.
- You want to convey a familiar childhood experience in a humorous way.
Don’t Feed the Coos by Jonathan Stutzman, illustrated by Heather Fox
Don’t Push the Button by Bill Cotter
The Elephant’s Guide to Hide and Seek by Kjersten Hays, illustrated by Gladys Jose
Flying Deep: Climb Inside Deep-Sea Submersible Alvin by Michelle Cusolito, illustrated by Nicole Wong
How Do You Dance? by Thyra Heder
How to Babysit a Grandpa by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish
How to Wear a Sari by Darshana Khiani, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
If You Decide to Go to the Moon by Faith McNulty, illustrated by Steve Kellogg
If Your Monster Won’t Go to Bed by Denise Vega, illustrated by Zachariah O’Hora
The Iridescence of Birds: A Book About Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
The Secret Code Inside You by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Steven Salerno
Warning: Do Not Open This Book! by Adam Lehrhaupt, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe
When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree by Jamie L.B. Deenihan, illustrated by Lorraine Rocha
When Your Elephant Has the Sniffles by Susanna Leonard Hill, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman
You DON’T Want a Unicorn by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Liz Climo