Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Picture Book Dummies for Smart Writers by Guest Author Carrie Finison

Today I have a special guest--my critique partner, Carrie Finison! Her picture book, HURRY, LITTLE TORTOISE, TIME FOR SCHOOL! published July 19th from Random House Studio. I've been able to follow this story from draft to picture book. As a kindergarten teacher, I also can't wait to use read it to my students. Welcome, Carrie!

I’m a picture book writer, not an illustrator, but over the years making a picture book dummy has become an essential part of my drafting and revising process. 

Picture book dummies are well known in the domain of picture book author-illustrators. When an author-illustrator submits a story for publication, most often the submission includes a full-scale mockup of the book (pages that turn, with rough illustrations), some finished art samples, and the manuscript text. In my first few years of writing picture book texts, it never occurred to me to try and make a dummy. I can’t draw, right? What’s the point?

But once I tried it, I discovered that making a dummy — with pages that actually turn — helped my writing immensely. A dummy allows me to see how my story flows from page to page, whether there is enough change from scene to scene, whether I’m using the suspense and drama of the page turn adequately, whether the amount of text on each page is comparable, and simply put, how it feels to read the story as a “real” book.

Here's an example of how the process of making dummies helped me refine the text of my recently-released book, HURRY, LITTLE TORTOISE, TIME FOR SCHOOL, ultimately illustrated by Erin Kraan, but first illustrated by me with stick figures!

First, some background. The dummies I make are small. I make them by folding 4 pieces of printer paper in half so that I have a booklet that measures 5.5 inches wide and 8.5 inches tall. Then I cut that booklet in half, right in the middle, so that I have two smaller booklets that measure 5.5 inches wide and 4.25 inches tall. Each of these smaller booklets has 16 pages. At this point, I insert one booklet into the other for a 32-page book. Sometimes I staple along the spine, but it’s not really necessary.

(For a little more information on picture book structure, here’s a recent and excellent post from SCBWI Southern California about why picture books are 32 pages)

You could achieve the same thing simply by folding 8 sheets of paper in half. The reason I like to make smaller dummies is so that I can carry them around with me, in my purse or jacket pocket, to read and make changes whenever I have a spare moment, especially while I am waiting around at my kids’ various practices, lessons, and so on.

When I first got the idea for HURRY, LITTLE TORTOISE, TIME FOR SCHOOL, I knew that it would push my dummying skills into overdrive, for a few reasons.

First, I envisioned that the story would actually use the physical structure of the book as part of the storytelling. Little Tortoise begins her journey on the far-left side of the first two-page spread. As the story progresses, she moves, inch-by-inch, toward the far-right side of the scene. This visually mirrors the slowness of her journey.

Second, I wanted to use both dialogue bubbles and onomatopoeia in the story. Both of these needed to appear near the characters that were speaking or making sounds, but also needed to flow from left to right on the page in an order that made sense to the reader.

This is the first dummy I made for the book. At this point, the main character was actually “Mr. Tortoise” and he was hurrying somewhere for reasons that remained mysterious. The fact that he was a teacher and running late for school was not revealed until the end of the story.

To add the text to my blank dummy booklet, I reformatted the text in my manuscript to have a 1-inch margin on the left side and a 3-inch margin on the right side. This means the text occupies about 4.5 inches in width, and therefore will fit onto the pages of my 5.5-inch wide dummy. Then I print the text and cut out the text blocks for each page, and tape them into the book.

There are probably lots of other ways to do this, but I like the freedom this method gives me to position text on the page, take it out again and cut it up differently, and so on. I also like working with my hands and this method takes some time with all the cutting and taping, which is great for when I need a break from staring at my computer screen!

Usually, I repeat this dummy process two or three times. However, as I mentioned above, HURRY, LITTLE TORTOISE stretched my dummy-making to the limits, because I needed to make sure that the story would work with the physical structure of the book.

In order to make my life a bit easier, I ended up creating a document in Word to contain my dummy. I set a custom paper size in my printer settings (under Page Setup in Word), to 11 x 4.25 inches. This would ensure that the dummy that printed out was the same size as the ones I was used to working with. Then, on each page of the document, I created a two-column table, with borders.

I used stock-photo silhouettes to position my animal characters exactly where I wanted them on the page, and typed my text right into the document, rather than my tried-and-true taping method. 

When I printed the dummy, I cut out the “pages.” After that, there was some finagling with taping the front and back of each page together so that the story would flow correctly. But of course, all that taping gave me a break from the computer so that was fine with me.

Finally, after many drafts, suggestions from my critique groups and agent, Mr. Tortoise became Little Tortoise, and Little Tortoise landed a publishing contract (in addition to being on time for school)!

The bottom line is, reading a picture book is a physical experience. As writers, it can immensely benefit us to recreate that physical experience, as nearly as possible, as part of the drafting process.

If you have another method for making a picture book dummy, be sure to share it in the comments! 


Written by Carrie Finison

Illustrated by Erin Kraan

Random House Studio, July 19, 2022

Thank you so much, Carrie, for sharing the dummy process for your new book! 

Carrie Finison writes picture books with humor and heart, including Dozens of Doughnuts (Putnam, 2020), a Junior Library Guild selection; and Don’t Hug Doug (Putnam, 2021), an ALA Notable Children’s Book, which received starred reviews from both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. Her most recent picture books are Lulu & Zoey: A Sister Story (Running Press Kids, 2022), and Hurry, Little Tortoise, Time for School! (Random House Studio, 2022).
She lives outside of Boston with her husband, son, and daughter, and two cats who permit her to work in their cozy attic office. For updates and giveaways, subscribe to her newsletter, check out her website, or follow on Twitter or Instagram.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

My Summer Reading is for the Birds!

 Birds abound all around us. So this summer my sit-under-a-shady-tree reading includes a collection of books about birds. They are equally suitable for reading beneath a beach umbrella.

National Geographic Kids bird guide of North America 
There’s always room to tuck a field guide (and even a pair of binoculars) into your beach tote or backpack. The NGK field guides are kid-friendly and filled with more than bird IDs. Check out this review by the Celebrate Picture Books team. Of course, you can always leave the field guide at home and load the Merlin app to your phone.

Backpack Explorer: Bird Watch, by Editors of Storey Publishing 
This book leads kids through the basics of birding – from how to identify common birds to learning about migration, where birds live, and even their songs. There are lots of hands-on activities as well as interactive mini-field guides for such things as eggs, bird tracks, and what sorts of nests birds build. And there’s a birding log where kids can record their bird sightings, and stickers for completing activities. Pairs well with binoculars, a granola bar, and water bottle.

On Gull Beach, by Jane Yolen
What’s a beach without gulls? If you’re headed to the ocean, or a lake, make sure you take this for a read-along. Check out my review here.

Odd Birds: Meet Nature's Weirdest Flock (Board book), by Laura Gehl 
This board book just hit bookshelves last month and is a fun way to introduce littles to some unusual birds. 
Eight birds are featured: the frigatebird, with a bright red throat pouch; the blue-footed booby, with feet as advertised; the shoebill stork, ostrich, a very stinky hoatzin, and oilbird; the California condor – the largest flying birds in North America; and the burrowing owl, possibly the cutest. Gentle rhymes introduce the birds, and photos with more information are included at the back.

Chickenology : the ultimate encyclopedia, by Barbara SandriDepending on where you live, chickens may well be part of the local bird fauna. This book is aimed at the 7-and-up crowd, and is fun to browse. Who knew chickens are so cool? Check out this review by fellow author, Jilanne Hoffmann

So You Want to Be an Owl, by Jane Porter 
If you want to be an owl, you have to go to Owl School. That’s where you learn everything you need to know about hunting, seeing in the dark, and flight. No wings? A shame… but you can practice hooting, toe swivels, and being alert. A fun way to learn more about owls.

Bird Show, by Susan Stockdale
Imagine if birds held a fashion show! This book is the next-best thing. Check out my review here.

A Peek at Beaks: Tools Birds Use, by Sara Levine
Wings are nice to have, but beaks can’t be beat. That’s because beaks are built-in tools that can help comb your feathers, scoop up food, and even show how you feel – if you’re a bird. Check out my review here

How to find a bird, by Jennifer Ward
If you’re going to watch birds, you need to find them. And Jennifer Ward shares all the secrets. Check out this review by fellow author, Carol Baldwin

Birds don’t build blanket forts or sand castles. They build nests. Here are two fun-to-read books about building bird nests.
The Nest That Wren Built, by Randi Sonenshine - check out my review here

This is the nest that Robin built : with a little help from her friends, by Denise Fleming
Check out this review by fellow book-lover, Joanna Marple

Lovebird Lou, by Tammi Sauer
There are tons of stories about birds. Here’s one published just a few months ago. I love it because my husband’s name is Lou. You’ll love it because it’s a sweet story about family and finding yourself. Check out this review by friend and fellow STEM Tuesday blogger, Maria Marshall

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Summer Fun: ESCAPE TO PLAY: Becky Gehrisch and Independent Publishing by Kathy Halsey

Book Review

Summer time! Wouldn't you like to be with these adorable pups and escape and play? Doesn’t that bubble bath look perfect on a hot summer’s day? Escape to Play is a summer treat that combines three mischievous dogs who create loads of unsupervised fun while the farmer is hard at work. 

Author- illustrator Becky Gehrisch ’s charming art and bouncy rhyme combine with an “Easter egg” in the character Norman, a mouse. Add the surprise elements of classic paintings such as Van Gogh’s sunflowers and  Munch’s The Scream, and you have an engaging, interactive read. This picture book has a great “re-readability” factor, too. I give this one "four paws up."

Craft Chat with Becky and Kathy

 Kathy:  How did ESCAPE TO PLAY become the book it is now? Did you at one time think of legacy publishing as opposed to independent publishing? 

Becky: Escape to Play was a fifteen-year process—your writing audience might know how that goes! It can sometimes take a while to see an idea to fruition. I spent years writing and illustrating while I worked at home raising kids. In that time, I joined SCBWI and studied the art of picture book making and storytelling. I am glad that I took the time to research so that my story and book was as polished as possible.

After graduating from the Ohio State University with a degree in art, I was burned out. Escape to Play came about organically. I had started with a painting of my dogs in a bubbly bathtub. This painting was the first painting in a year after graduation where I decided to have fun and make art for myself. Each page was a 40-hour painting that followed the dogs’ day on the farm while the farmer left for the day. If you look closely, the clocks on the wall have the correct time of day!

Originally, I had submitted Escape to Play to over 40 publishing houses. During this time, a different publishing house approached me to illustrate for them, but I looked at the contract and decided I wanted to have complete control over my work. More importantly, I wanted to retain full intellectual rights over my creations. Because of this, I stopped my submission process. I slowly began planning and eventually started my own publishing company, Bookling Media. 

Kathy:  What’s the best thing about being the publisher, art director, author/illustrator of your book? What’s the hardest part? 

Becky: Bookling Media was designed to be an independent publishing company so I am thankfully not wearing all the hats that a self-published author might wear. I hired an art director/typographer, editor, and used off-set printing (as opposed to print on demand). I do not have all the skills as an individual to produce a high-quality book on my own. I created the publishing company not to do things myself, but to control the publication of my book and give others the same opportunity to keep the full rights to their books.

Having two businesses, Bookling Media (publishing company) and Gehrisch Arts (artist and author company) has been challenging. When I am ready to take on author-illustrators through Bookling, the process will be straight-forward: They are the author-illustrator, and I am the publisher. The hardest part currently is knowing when I am publisher and when I am the artist because the lines get blurred. Two sets of accounting, two sets of inventories, two of everything to keep separate. Now that I’ve done it once, these details have fallen into place for future book productions. 

Can you name these classic paintings? They're in the book!

Kathy: I love the added book elements you created: back matter, the art that kids discover, and Norman, the mouse. All add interactivity to the book. How did they come about?

Becky: Thank you! I am thrilled that I took the time to add these elements. The educational addition is a wonderful way share my love of art history. Fun fact: I almost had an art history minor! Having the backmatter section explain art styles in a simple but not in a patronizing way, was important to me. I feel that kids can handle big concepts as well as detailed illustrations. I love details, as evident in my illustrations! Having a reason for the reader to go back and absorb the details as they search for the artwork on the walls has been very rewarding for me.

Norman came about for the similar reasons as the real-life artwork. The inspiration for him came from books I read as a kid where you could find something again and again throughout the book. However, instead of just Norman being on each page, I wanted the reader to know to find him. On the title page, Norman invites the reader to find him.

Kathy:  What’s your biggest takeaway you’d like to share with those who may want to start their own publishing company?

Becky: Great question! It is important to decide if you want to self-publish or start an independent publishing company. Starting an Independent publishing company has meant that I have a team of long-time industry professionals working together to produce a book. The intention of Bookling Media has always been to publish other author-illustrator’s work. If you want to start a business, it requires investment and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Kathy:  Tell us about your upcoming events and what you’ve learned re: author visits.

Becky: I will be at several summer author-events around Ohio from libraries to bookstores to teaching at the Thurber House! The author visits I’ve done this spring have taught me to continue to have fun with the kids. They have great questions and love interacting with my Norman puppet. In preparation for my visit, kids get to use art to color images from the Escape to Play Coloring Book. This has been a great asset to author visits.

Something for author/illustrators to consider is to have a good visual presentation. I include my childhood artwork, original drafts of the story, and art process videos. The kids realize that art can sometimes take a while to make but just like a puzzle, the challenge is rewarding! At the end of the day, encouraging students to enjoy art and reading is what it is all about for me!

Folks can see my upcoming events here.

Kathy: What are you working on now?

Becky: In my author-illustrator role, I am working on lesson plans for teaching art and writing classes this summer. I have several picture book ideas, but they are on hold as I do book events and build up Bookling Media. In my Bookling Media role, I am working on marketing and distribution for Escape to Play and preparing to open submissions for author-illustrators to submit this fall.

Becky’s Bio:

Becky Gehrisch is the founder and Executive Director of Bookling Media, an independent press redefining the kidlit publishing industry, book by book! Bookling Media focuses on picture books created by author-illustrators. Becky has an art degree from The Ohio State University. She has served as the Illustrator Coordinator for the Central and Southern Ohio SCBWI chapter. Since Bookling Media’s start in 2020, Becky has built and led the team through the publication of their premiere title and is now focusing on maturing the company’s supply chain and distribution capabilities.


Becky's social media handles and website:


@Booklingmedia (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)

@GehrischArts (FB, Instagram, Twitter)

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Summertime Reading List

By Suzy Leopold

Take a break from the summer heat and discover seven books to add to your summertime reading list.

Someday Is Today 22 Simple, Actionable Ways to Propel Your Creative Life

Written by Matthew Dicks

New World Library, 2022

Stop dreaming. Stop procrastinating. Stop hoping for someday. 

Creative individuals will find this book thought-provoking. 

Simple, practical strategies are shared to help make your dreams come true. Inspiring and amusing, the author shares a plan of action. 

“Someday Is Today will give you every tool to get started and finish that _______ (fill in the blank). 

What are you waiting for? Start today to realize your creative dreams.

Born Hungry Julia Child Becomes “the French Chef”

Written by Alex Prud’homme

Illustrated by Saran Green

Calkins Creek, 2022

Julia Child’s grandnephew is the author of this biography picture book. One of America’s most celebrated chefs, Julia believed every meal should be special and encouraged everyone to enjoy their meal. 

She made cooking fun.  

The back matter includes an author’s note, books Julia wrote, TV shows she starred in, and a recipe for Oeufs Brouillés-Scrambled Eggs. 

Bon appétit”


The Gardener of Alcatraz: A True Story

Written by Emma Bland Smith

Illustrated by Jenn Ely

Charlesbridge, 2022

The opening lines are sure to make the reader want to turn the page: “The boat chugged out of San Francisco and into the bay. Sound nice? It wasn’t. This was no pleasure outing, let me tell you. Gulls squawked. A foghorn moaned. And Elliott Michener, prisoner #AZ-578, stared into the fierce wind. Ahead loomed an island topped with a concrete fortress, watchtowers, and barbed wire.

The back matter includes a timeline, additional facts and information, an author’s note, and a selected bibliography.


The Woman Who Split the Atom: A True Story

Written by Marissa Moss

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2022

Lise Meitner was born in 1878 in Austria. In 1906 Meitner earned a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Vienna. 

This forty-chapter middle-grade book shares the many challenges Meitner encountered during her lifetime. She experienced discrimination and racism. She was stripped of her position as a professor and her citizenship--all rights under the Nuremberg Laws enacted against Jews. 

The award-winning book includes graphic drawings by the author, Marissa Moss. The well-researched novel shares a timeline, a glossary, profiles of scientists, and more.  

All from a Walnut

Written by Ammi-Joan Paquette

Illustrated by Felicita Sala

Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2022

The opening line is sure to entice the reader with curiosity: “One chilly morning when Emilia woke, there was a nut on her nightstand.” 

Turn the page to read a tender story that Grandpa shares with Emilia. The story behind the walnut includes Grandpa’s journey across the ocean with a walnut in his pocket.


Written by Deborah Kerbel

Illustrated by Josée Bisaillon

Owlkids Books, 2022

Follow another journey. This time it is with a maple seed, also known as a whirligig, a helicopter, or even a maple key in this wordless picture book. 

This delightful wordless picture book shares the wonder of nature as readers are encouraged to observe, explore, and discover. Maple seed facts are included in the back matter to support the STEAM curriculum.

Celia Planted a Garden: The Story of Celia Thaxter and Her Island Garden

Written by Phyllis Root and Gary D. Schmidt

Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Candlewick Press, 2022

In 1835, Celia Laighton was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. At four years old, the Laighton family moved to White Island. Celia's father is the keeper of a lighthouse on the desolate island located off the coast of Maine.

Celia adored the sea, the rocks, the birds, and the many colors of the island. She became a gardener, a writer, and a painter. Celia’s flower gardens were as pretty as her poems.

Pour yourself a tall glass of iced tea or lemonade and enjoy this short stack of seven books. 

Time to play Summertime Bingo in the summertime breeze. Can you cover a row of four books or five books? I challenge you to read nineteen books this summer. Cover every square of the Bingo card to win at "Blackout Bingo".

May you enjoy reading these seven summertime books as you dig deep to acquire new knowledge and information. 

Explore and discover the picture book elements in these books: unique themes, similes, strong voices, beautiful imagery, and fun onomatopoeia. Writers may find a mentor text or two to support a writing project.

Several of these titles are sure to delight readers of all ages. Help kids to avoid the Summer Slide by sharing as read-alouds during story time. 

Summertime is for reading. It's the kind of reading where you don't want to book down as you get swept away for hours.