Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Talking to Your Reader with Second Person POV--Guest post by Carrie Finison

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!

As I shared recently on Beth Anderson’s blog, the early drafts of my picture book DON’T HUG DOUG were all written in the third person, with a traditional narrative arc. An early draft of the manuscript began this way:


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.

By using the second person perspective, I was not only helping my main character make his wishes clear, but also giving readers space, practice, and opportunity to think about their own wishes, and perhaps verbalize them — the takeaway that I wanted for readers from the beginning.


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.

 As always, the best way to get familiar with writing this way is by looking at mentor texts. Here are a few that demonstrate the broad range of what can be done with the second person point of view.

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

Bio: Carrie Finison writes picture books with humor and heart, including DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS (2020), DON'T HUG DOUG (2021), and the forthcoming HURRY, LITTLE TORTOISE, and LULU & ZOEY (2022). She lives in the Boston area with her family. For updates and giveaways, subscribe to her newsletter, check out her website or follow on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The CYBILS Awards ~ by Christy Mihaly

A round of applause, please, for the dozen delightful books that have won Cybils Awards for 2020. Recommended reading for all! 

For details about the books and how to order, see the Cybils announcement, here. I've shared the covers of all the winning books at the end of this post. 

The Cybils, a blogger-powered program, recognizes books that librarians, educators, and other children's book bloggers are itching to put into the hands of young readers. This year, 987 books were nominated. The official mission statement explains: The Cybils Awards aims to recognize the children’s and young adult authors and illustrators whose books combine the highest literary merit and popular appeal. If some la-di-dah awards can be compared to brussels sprouts, and other, more populist ones to gummy bears, we’re thinking more like organic chicken nuggets. We’re yummy and nutritious.

I was honored to be chosen as a nonfiction panelist for the yummy and nutritious Cybils this year. As a Round 1 Panelist, I worked with a crew of outstanding book bloggers to name the finalists at the end of December. This year, some categories were combined. We reviewed all the nonfiction nominees, with three subgroups for elementary, middle, and high school levels. That was more than 200 books. 

It was a great chance to read many excellent books that had escaped my attention in this pandemic year. All the panelists were engaged and well-informed. As we read, we compared notes online, and for the final vote we conferred (for hours!) by Zoom to narrow our choices to the short-listed finalists for each level. I, for one, was glad that I didn't have to choose the single "best" book in any category. 

Having seen the review process, I can attest that the winners have got to be outstanding. If you're not familiar with any of these, check them out! And let's get more great books into the hands of more readers. Thanks!

Just announced Feb. 14, the worthy winners are:  













Warm congratulations to the winners, and very happy reading to all!

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

13 Ways to Eat a Fly by Sue Heavenrich and Many Ways to Create Great NF with Kathy Halsey

 (updated Feb 12)

Author Sue Heavenrich with "fly catcher" and her newest book!

Book Review

When I  look at this image of Sue Heavenrich and her picture book 13 WAYS TO EAT A FLY, I know I'll experience an engaging read mixed with scientific facts. Sue delivers with a great story replete with lyrical language, poetry, and layered text. Young readers will delight in the "ick" factor of how flies can be eaten ( a wood frog swallows and use its eyeballs to push flies down the throat), while educators will eat up the back matter and layered text that expands the grade levels for read alouds and study. David Clark's fun illustrations lend added engagement to this STEM picture book for children PreK to third grade. Science, rhyme, humor, and math are all packed into this delightful book published by Charlesbridge.

Craft Chat with Sue and Kathy

Sue and I have known each other since 2015 when we met at a nonfiction writing retreat along with other members of our GROG blog team. We've shared stories and supported each other for years. Our conversation reveals what it truly takes to get a book published - the time, the revisions, the persistence. 

Kathy: 13 Ways to Eat a Fly had a long gestation period. Tell us how this book came to be.

Sue: Back in either 2012 or 2013, I began with the idea of an informational book while at the Falling Leaves Retreat. It was so informational, it was boring. At the 2015 retreat, agent Kendra Marcus (Bookstop Literary) helped me see it really wasn't a book yet. It lacked a narrative thread, she said.  I couldn't figure out how to revise it... but since I had a "revise and resubmit" with Charlesbridge Senior Editor Alassya Pusey, I got back to work.

I read, researched, and channeled the classic One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. I added humor and  streamlined the manuscript. Eventually my critique partner Lisa Amstutz suggested I send it to her agent, Vicki Selvaggio (now at Storm Literary). Although she did not take me on as a client, Vicki offered encouragement and helpful comments. The book came full circle with Charlesbridge set to publish it February 16, 2021. My advice? Aim for rejections with feedback. Revise, resend, and see what happens!

Kathy: Like you, I love the research stage of writing nonfiction along with finding the right structure. Explain your research process and how you added the counting element and other hooks to the manuscript. (I define a "hook," as added layers that make a story unique.)

Sue: I began with a list of animals that eat flies but wanted to know what type they ate. This led me to introducing different families of flies. I wanted to write about the diversity of flies. I also created a spreadsheet of plants that eat flies and fungus that eats insects that turns them into zombies. 
Kathy: Yes, such fun to hook kids with an idea like"zombifying" a fly! Take a look. 

Sue: For the structure, I played with the "how-to" concept adding another layer to my original idea of a counting book, but then did a reverse structure so each spread has fewer flies. The ending arrived when I thought of flies as someone's "fast food." Chris Mihaly and I investigated field guides to eating flies when we wrote Diet for a Changing Climate, our middle grade book.

Kathy: I also enjoyed all the creative ways you employed back matter created for 2 audiences, adults and children.

Sue:  I say, "It isn't a book if it doesn't have back matter!" I researched the USDA website to design a nutritional analysis label for flies: how many flies make up a gram, how many calories, vitamin content, etc. Illustrator David Clark and I also added a "jokey" poster of the edible parts of a fly, too.

Kathy: Thanks Sue for the chat about craft, critique, commitment needed for the publishing journey. We'll end with sharing "Entomology Barbie" who suggests that you order an autographed copy of 13 Ways to Eat a Fly through Riverow Bookshop's website link:

Sue Heavenrich is an educator and trained biologist turned children's author. Her recent books include Diet of A Changing Climate, with GROGger Chrisy Mihlay, Sky Spies and Are Ants Like Plants? and 13 Ways to Eat a Fly. (Feb. 16, 2021)You can find her exploring cool stuff right outside her back door, blogging for the GROG, and on her personal blog, Archimedes Notebook.  Click here for Sue's author Facebook page. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

YES! You DO Actually Use What You Learn in School

 Guest Post by Jennifer Swanson

Today we are turning the blog over to award-winning nonfiction author Jennifer Swanson. Jennifer has written more than 40 nonfiction books, mostly about science and technology. She’s been a STEM girl since age 7, when she started a science club in her garage. She created the STEM Tuesday blog and  has a science podcast for kids, with her cohost Jed Doherty, called Solve It! for Kids 

Think back to the days when you were in elementary school, or even high school or college. How many of you remember sitting in class thinking, “Why do I have to know this? There is no way I’ll ever use this again?” Come on. I know that you have at least one class where you thought this.  I’ll be honest. I did. A lot! Particularly when I was in math, English, or yes, even some science classes. 

Believe it or not, those topics that we are sure we will never use again, we always do. Especially if you’re a writer. Well, that’s what’s happened to me. And I’m sure a bunch of you, too.

The thing is, as a writer you are always told to “write what you know”. That’s a great statement but it can carry more weight than you intend. We’d all like to think that that statement means that we get to write what we are passionate about. Sometimes that’s  the case. And sometimes we write what is offered to us so that we can get a paycheck and keep moving forward

As a new writer starting out, particularly in the nonfiction world the first thing you learn is that you say “YES” to a job that is offered to you. My first few writing jobs were with educational publishers. There you are competing against a bunch of other authors for a work-for-hire job. In order to stay at the top of the acquiring editor’s writer list, you needed to work quickly and diligently to keep getting assignments.

That means that if you get asked to write a book about Electrical Engineering, you say yes! Even if you didn’t do very well in that class in college, as my college roommate reminded me. When I emailed her that I was writing this book. Her exact words were, “Does your editor know you got a ‘D’ in that class?” Uh, no. I sort of left that part out. 

 The COOL thing about using things that you learned years ago is that now you have DISTANCE. Years later when you pick up this topic again, you may find it  much easier. Why? First of all, no tests! And also, you can learn the topic the way you want to, which is not always the way the teacher presents the material.

How did this book turn out? Well, the whole series was a Junior Library Guild Selection and got great reviews. Not bad, huh?

The funny thing is that researching this book actually changed the trajectory of my writing. I learned a lot about electrical engineering, of course, but I also learned that I loved writing about engineering and technology. This book is where I was first introduced to the self-driving car!! (The self-driving car is a big thing for me. If you know me, you know this to be true). 

Is this the only book where I’ve used stuff I learned in school? Nope. When Workman Publishing was looking to expand their Big Fat Notebook series to high schoolers, I got an email from the editor asking me if I wanted to write the chemistry book in that series. Now, this should be a no-brainer, right? I have a B.S. in Chemistry. Uh, yeah, that was 30 years ago. Did I ever think that I’d be writing a chemistry book all these years later. No.

 And yet, I had tons of fun doing it. The trick to using what you never thought you would is that you find out it’s actually kind of fun. Plus, now, you can explain things that you remember were difficult for you.

Take chemical bonds. Some kids have problems with these. But now, I get to take the time to explain it in a way that a kid would understand. (and I do, too, now)


And here’s where that math comes in. Yep! I got to use fractions, units and conversions, all in dimensional analysis. 


So why am I talking about all of this? To let you know that if you’re a writer, you may be asked to write about anything. This is true of both nonfiction and fiction authors.

The point is, don’t say no. You can do it! 

Besides, saying yes to one book, you just might be inspired to write a different one. One that is your own idea. As you can see, my obsession  passion for self-driving cars led me to write this one Without doing the Electrical Engineering book, I may never have written Save the Crash-test Dummies (Peachtree Publishing)

 If you take a look at most of the books I’ve written, you’ll see that I tend to use a lot of what I learned in school. Yes, there is a lot of science, but also history, technology, math, social studies, and don’t forget the after-school sports!

Here is my challenge to you, think about something you thought you’d never use again. Then look around. Have you used it? And if not, then I challenge you to do so. It may open a whole new world of ideas and opportunities for you. 

 Jennifer's books have received starred reviews and other accolades, including Booklist Best Tech books, Green Earth Book Honor award, a Florida Book award, multiple California Reading association awards, and National Science Teaching Best STEM awards. An accomplished and exciting speaker, Jennifer has presented at National NSTA conferences, Highlights Foundation workshops, the World Science Festival in NYC, and the Library of Congress National Book Festival. Visit her website at