Dorothea Lange

Carole Boston Weatherford did it again in her biographic picture book Dorothea Lange: The Photographer Who Found the Faces of the Depression. Albert Whitman & Company published this picture book in 2017. The mostly grayscale illustrations are by Sarah Green.

51h8i2ykwol-_sx405_bo1204203200_Weatherford’s text mostly describes factual events along the plotline of Lange’s life. But it certainly isn’t boring. The text highlights the events, places and people most pertinent to Lange’s story of creatively reinventing herself.  Details of her life are documented in the back matter.

I found the grayscale media an appropriate reflection of Lange’s black-and-white photographs of Americans who were dramatically affected by the Great Depression-the “less than fortunate” people as Weatherford calls them in the back matter.

Lange’s empathetic photographs brought national attention to the poverty and injustice of the Great Depression era.

I think young readers might find inspiration in Lange’s decision to change her life’s focus from doing a job that catered to the wealthier Americans, to following a career that made a difference in our American culture during that era.

Again, I think elementary school teachers will find Dorothea Lange especially useful when tied to American history and social studies.



Photo Courtesy Creative Commons

I write encouraging words for children. Words of hope, joy, peace, reassurance and truth. For years I’ve been developing my skills in writing picture books. It’s no easy task to tell a complete story with strong characters and a satisfying resolution in 500 words or less.

But I love that challenge.

I also love that picture books create an experience for a child with a loving adult. Together they share and laugh and build intimate connections.

Over the past year I have delivered several “finished” picture book manuscripts to my agent Cyle Young. He’s been shopping them around. Thanks, Cyle!! And I’m still developing more picture book ideas as I wait.

Several long-established authors have all given me some advice to follow while I wait. Now I pass it along to you.

WRITE FOR MAGAZINES!! Do you know that several children’s magazines reach several 100,000 homes with children? And that doesn’t include public libraries.

Let’s say one of my picture books is a smashing success. It sell 10,000 copies. That’s exciting!! But compare that to hundreds of thousands of copies of my little poems or articles. Do the math. That’s a big deal!

A few years ago I set a goal of learning to write Rebus Stories well enough to have one published by Highlights. A Rebus? Why would I work for years trying to master those silly little stories with pictures for words?

Simple—it’s a goal that will move me forward as a children’s writer. And, like picture books Rebus stories must be very tight, have a winsome main character, a story problem, and a satisfying ending PLUS a humorous or unexpected twist at the end. All this in about 100 words.

It takes skill. Skill that I want.

I write other things for children’s magazine:

  • Poems and rhymed verse
  • Puzzles
  • Nonfiction articles
  • Creative nonfiction stories
  • Short fiction

Every acceptance is a small success., and a stepping stone on the path to being a published picture book author.

So, what do you write while you are waiting?



For the next few Fridays we’ll look at some picture books created to inspire children to be creative themselves. Some tell the story of a famous artist or photographer. Others encourage children to create something themselves.

61v3frnalrl-_sx472_bo1204203200_The first is Action Jackson written by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. It is illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker. Roaring Brook Press published Action Jackson in 2002.

The book begins with a disclaimer that not every detail of the story is factual. However, the sequence of events, the personal habits of artist Jackson Pollock and his method of painting are factual.


The biographical details of Jackson Pollock’s life are minimized in this picture book. What is emphasized is his creative process. He used ordinary house paint and ordinary canvas. He painted in an old barn. He sat and thought a LOT before he started each project, and often in the middle of the process. He described his paintings as “energy and motion made visible.”

I think the most inspiring portions of this picture book are Pollock’s use of ordinary materials, his less than artistic education and his unique style.

The Back Matter of the book gives biographic details and bibliographic information for sources the authors and illustrator used. I think teachers will find Action Jackson especially useful.


Courtesy of Pixabay

For Part 1 on “Show, Don’t Tell” please step

into my  Magic Mirror right here.

For example, today I finished reading a MG novel, Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, published by Walden Pond Press in 2011. One of the best things about this book is that I became immersed in WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE STORY NOW. I wasn’t reading ABOUT the events of the story. I was in that story moving and listening, hearing and feeling alongside the MC, Hazel.

Ursu didn’t TELL me a story about Hazel. She created a world and dropped me and Hazel in the middle of it. Ursu enabled me to see, hear and feel along with Hazel.

Edelstein says effective fiction writing shows rather than tells, reveals rather than explains, evokes an experience rather than sum up what happened. How does a writer do that? By allowing the reader to experience and discover the information the reader would see, hear, feel for himself if he were living in that story world. (Chapter 42, page 102)

Browne and King say that SHOWING writers create scenes that allow the reader to “watch events as they unfold”. They allow readers to experience what is happening while it is happening rather than have the writer describe what happened after the fact.

Here’s an example (remember, I write for children.)

Tom was a weird little duck. So weird the other ducklings didn’t even want to play with him. They didn’t even want to paddle down the same side of the creek as Tom.

Here I have TOLD you that Tom is a weird duck. Then I backed that up by TELLING you how the other ducks treat him.

Let me try a rewrite of that: (Be merciful; this is a five-minute rewrite!)

Tom paddled into the reeds. He tried to be as still as a stone. Maybe the others wouldn’t find his hiding place. He peeked through the cattails. Tim, Tony, Tanya, Tad and Tucker were all swimming on the far side of the creek. Tom heard them laughing.

“I’m sure glad that weirdo Tom isn’t around. I don’t even like to swim on the same side of the creek as he does,” Tad said.

“That’s right. He does some strange things!” Tonya said. “Did you see him trying to catch bugs with his feet?”

All of the other ducklings nodded in agreement.

In this version did I TELL you anything about Tom? Or did I SHOW you how he feels by SHOWING you what he does and thinks and says? Did I TELL you what the other ducklings think of him? Or did I let you eavesdrop on the comments the other ducklings made about Tom?

See the difference?  Now YOU try it with one of your stories. Please let me know in the comments how it turns out. Thanks.

Dog Loves Drawing

If you are a fan of Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates you’ll love her 2012 picture book Dog Loves Drawing. It was published by Alfred A. Knopf.

51mqxzynthl-_sx260_Dog not only loves books he is as curious as a house-full of cats.

One day a package arrives addressed to Dog. Inside he finds a lovely book. But the book has no words or pictures. Inside the cover is an invitation from his Aunt Dora to “draw some adventures.”

With the same sketchy, pencil illustrations as Dog Loves Books Yates chats her readers and guides them through dog’s adventures with child-like squiggles, doodles, lines and stick people. It’s delightful!

As a first grade teacher I would have built an entire day’s plans around Dog Loves Drawing making sure to include free time with lots of pencils, crayons, chalk and those gigantic sheets of Manila paper.

My class and I would probably have had way too much fun for being at school that day!


“Show, don’t tell” is probably the first bit of wisdom I received (from everyone) as a fledgling writer. In pretty much every book on writing, at every conference I’ve attended, at some point in every webinar and seminar I still find a session on “Show, don’t tell.” Here’s what I’ve learned.

red ride hoodFor this discussion I’m borrowing information from three books ON MY SHELF:

TELLING a story involves narrative. The writer describes what is happening in the story present. Or the writer explains how a character looks or behaves. The writer explains the setting behind the events that are occurring in the story present. The writer TELLS me “about” stuff.

It helps me to remember that TELLING a story is like the “once upon a time” stories I heard in childhood. This and this happened to the MC. Then this happened. Then, oh, my, worse and worse things happened until the story ended like this.

However, SHOWING a story involves creating an experience for readers. When you are SHOWING a story you not only pull back a curtain children-2267201_1920and let the reader watch what is happening, you plunk the reader down in the middle of the action and emotion of the story. You don’t describe the MC as short, round and rosy-cheeked. You show her to the readers through the eyes of another character, or, through her actions and reactions to an event that is happening.

Again, it helps me to think of SHOWING as the writer rolling a movie for the reader, so that the reader becomes intimately involved in the story, that she experiences the story as it unfolds.

It also helps me to remind myself to use specific, descriptive NOUNS, and specific, colorful VERBS. And, to avoid ADJECTIVES and ADVERBS when possible.

Is that it? Come back next week, folks, for Part 2 of this exciting adventure!

Coyote Moon a NF Picture Book

Coyote Moon was written by Maria Gianferrari and was illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. It was published by Roaring Brook Press in 2016.

Coyotes are opportunistic hunters. They’ll eat almost anything 512ueuwnmul-_sx260_from mice to eggs to birds and rabbits. That is one reason they continue to thrive in areas that are populated by people. They are also adaptable. So, they find a way to hunt or scavenge, and a place to hide during the day wherever they live.

But who would have thought they would make a great subject for a beautiful picture book? Not me. But Gianferrari’s sparse text and Ibatoulline’s beautiful images work together to make an informative and beautiful story with just enough “fright” to still be safe for little ones to enjoy.

The text sticks to the facts and doesn’t intrude upon anthropomorphism at all. We see the coyote’s nature as a hunter. We see her motivation is to provide for her den full of cub. We see the natural order of animal eating animal. But we sense no “fairy-tale villain” in this story.

The gorgeous illustrations veiled by nighttime help to maintain a feeling of distance and safety for small children, in my opinion.

It’s a great book to read to your own children or grandchildren. And it is also a great candidate to read to a classroom of children learning about ecosystems and adaptability.



Children’s Book Categories

CC read-316507_640The publishing industry is ever evolving. Books written for Young Adults 10-12 years ago would not interest today’s teens for the most part. Even story forms and categories of children’s books change year-to-year.

Using two of my favorite books ON MY SHELF as guides I’ll try to define several categories of children’s books. Remember: the term genre refers to the type of story your book tells. Categories refer to the classification of children’s books by age and reading ability.

The two books ON MY SHELF are Picture Writing: A new approach to writing for kids and teens by Anastasia Suen, and The Writer’s Guide to Crafting Stories for Children by Nancy Lamb.

24_OPT_P24_017Genre defines the setting of your story (contemporary, historical, futuristic.)  It also defines what type of goal or need your main character has (mystery, adventure, sports, science fiction, humor, suspense or horror, romance and many more types of goals.)

Now, on to contemporary Categories. These have changed a great deal over the past ten years, and they will probably continue to be refined and redefined.


CC learning-422692_1280They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. They are for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. They tend to be “interactive” using novelties like lift-up-tabs, textured papers and fabrics, pull-tabs, squeaky things, mirrored paper…you get the idea. These books are most often assigned to writers by publishers. They focus on concepts associated with very young children’s worlds.




The age categories for picture books seems to be in flux. Various publishers assign their own exact age groups. However, these books are usually aimed at preschool, kindergarten and lower elementary students. They are usually noted as ages 3-6, or 4-8. They are printed in galleys of 8 pages, so the finished books are either 32 or 48 pages.


As the name implies they are for kindergarteners and first, maybe second graders. They are usually about 1000 words long and depend heavily on illustrations.  Easy Readers use controlled vocabularies, sentence structure and sentence lengths. There are several generally accepted sub-categories here:

Emergent Readers (Level 1) usually for kindergartners

Early Readers (Level 2) usually for first graders

Transitional Readers (Level 3) usually for second graders, depend on phonics. Sometimes are divided into chapters that are actually stand-alone stories all about the main characters.

Fluent Readers (Level 4) are usually for second and third graders. Are divided into chapters that are continuations of the same story.


Are for children who can read independently. They are usually divided into 8-10 chapters, some of which end in cliff-hangers.


Are divided into chapters and are 10,000-16,000 words long. They often use humor and emphasize characters over action. Most chapters end as cliff-hangers. These are like short novels with a somewhat controlled vocabulary.


ID-10076958Lots of changes have taken place in this category the past 10 years. We now identify them as Young YAs and Older YAs. Their structure is that of a good novel. Their vocabulary is on an adult readers level. The primary difference between the two is subject matter and language choices. Older YAs broach pretty much any subject matter, and use any language that adult novels use. Younger YAs avoid mature subjects, language and references to sex, drugs, alcohol and violence.

Publishers of Inspirational or Christian YAs usually have different standards here than general market publishers.

Is this confusing enough for you? I hope not! My hope is that I can use the books ON MY SHELF to help clarify these details for myself AND for you.


The Night Gardener

“Welcome to Grimlock Lane, where something magical is about to change everything…and everyone.”

511uhv8a2glDoesn’t that name-Grimlock Lane-tell you all about the setting of this picture book tale? It’s a not-so-happy, not-exciting, not-beautiful place.

The Night Gardener was written and illustrated by The Fan Brothers (Terry and Eric) who are both artists of multiple media and of words.

The sketches in muted tones of green, gray and brown create a “magical” feel just right for this tale.


The story of the mysterious Night Gardener softly shows us how one person can change an entire boring, run-of-the-mill town into a magical place. The Night Gardener shares his beautiful secret with one other person. That person picks up the tools and carries on that yen for beauty.

And, the beauty the Gardener leaves behind changes everyone in this quiet town.

Hmmm…makes me think about the beauty of words that I want to leave behind when I’m gone from this life.

So, what are you doing with the beauty that God has given you to share?