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:
Mix together a list of kind acts.
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.”
Editors wanted a triple-decker club sandwich, and I all I had handed them was bread. I needed more layers to create a mouthwatering manuscript.
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]
In the final book, readers can follow the hunt for an adorable missing dog. (Don’t worry, the dog is ultimately reunited with its family.)
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
editors. After a few nibbles from different houses, Maria Dismondy at Cardinal Rule Press sunk her teeth in and offered me a contract.
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/