On My Shelf BLOG

The Perfect Pet

IMG_1552The Perfect Pet written and illustrated by Samantha Bell

Published by Sylvan Dell Publishing (now named Arbor Dale Publishing)


When my daughter was about twelve years old she wanted a pet—a special pet—an exotic pet. So she and her Dad starting researching things like chinchillas, flying squirrels and hairless rats.


Thank goodness none of those came to live at our house. Our daughter finally settled on a Toy Fox Terrier and loved it dearly. Whew! We really dodged a bullet on that one!

You’ve probably searched for the perfect pet for your kids, too, at some point.

One of the beautiful picture books ON MY SHELF is entitled The Perfect Pet. It was written and illustrated by my sweet friend, Samantha Bell. She is a very talented, gentle, godly friend.

The Perfect Pet is the story of a child going through the process of selecting the perfect pet. Sounds simple, huh? Not so much. This child and mom actually use the process of elimination as they go through the Kingdom Animalia to the correct species. But, wait. Is this the very best pet for this particular child? Or is there something better out there?

The rhyming text is bouncy and cute. It familiarizes children with several terms in the classification system in a cute way.

It’s one of my favorites, though, mostly because of Samantha’s adorable artwork.

If you’re homeschooling or simply reinforcing what your kids are learning at school your elementary aged kids will love this book. The publisher has included lots of interesting back matter. And Sylvan Dell (now Arbor Dale) provides lots of online activities for young readers to enjoy. Your kids probably won’t even realize they are learning anything!

Blessings, Samantha. I know you’re busy working on new books right now. You always are.


Stein on Writing

Stein on Writing, written by Sol Stein

Published by St. Martin Griffin in 1995


IMG_1602Stein on Writing is perhaps THE book on professional writing. I suppose it’s been reviewed or summarized millions of times – and that is not just a literary cliché. At every writers conference I attend some speaker(s) refer to it.

For me it is a book I’ll read again and again, and refer to in-between reads.

The subtitle sums it up: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Centry Shares His Craft Techniques and Strategies.

Stein on Writing is comprehensive. It covers or touches on every possible aspect of writing literary works for publication, I believe. It’s seven sections are:

  •       The Essentials
  •       Fiction
  •       Fiction and Nonfiction
  •       Nonfiction
  •       Literary Values in Fiction and Nonfiction
  •       Revision
  •       Where to Get Help


Stein on Writing is detailed. I read this book about four years into writing for publication. Much of it went over my head at that time. But, even those sections became trigger points for me. When I would be reading a book on a particular aspect of writing, or participating in a workshop the “new” things I was learning would jump back to my memory of reading about it in Stein on Writing.

Does that make sense?

I am re-reading the book at this time and it is proving to be even more instructive, more valuable to me now than the first time through. I now have quite a bit more experience and Stein’s advice makes a lot more sense to me now.

Stein on Writing is foundational. It seems to me that Stein touches on everything we should be aware of when writing for publication.

Stein on Writing is practical. Tips, shortcuts and practical examples of good writing fill the pages. This is information I can put to use in my own manuscripts.

The chapter titled, “Liposuctioning Flab” probably stuck with me best. It’s on cutting every word that isn’t critical to the story. It’s becoming something I do well.

If you can purchase only one book about the craft of writing THIS is the one. Even if you only write little picture books for kids, like me.


Sage Snippets from SCBWI

Short and sweet and spot-on advice. Thanks, Tara.

Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)

I awoke this morning and thought, “What a fine day for a new blog post.” Of course, I also thought, “What a fine day to go swimming” and “What a fine day to finish reading that book.” Sensing that I have packed today’s schedule, I decided that said blog post would have to be ultra-short. (I would have said “uber” short, but that word has been bogarted by some taxi service.)

So here I have pieced together quick quotes and sage snippets from the SCBWI events I attended in the spring—New England SCBWI and New Jersey SCBWI.

I hope you enjoy while I do the backstroke with a soggy book.


“A picture book is an amazing thing, a world unto itself. You can do anything in those 32 pages and that is the thing I love about it.” ~David Wiesner

“As I create, I am continually asking myself ‘why is…

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Being Frank

By Donna W. Earnhardt. Illustrated by Andrea Castellani.

Published by Flashlight Press in 2012

Being Frank is another debut picture book. It’s the brain-child of my sweet friend, Donna W. Earnhardt. She, like Tameka, was also a Mudskipper. We did some serious critiquing and had a lot of fun in that critique group.

Are you seeing yet how important it is to participate in an honest critique group?

Being Frank is a delightfully funny story about a boy named “Frank” who learns the painful way that being totally “frank” isn’t always the best policy. The story reinforces the truth that the truth is always best, but sometimes the truth needs to be a little sugar-coated.

I love the way Donna named her characters silly but significant names in this book. The characters include friends like Dotty and Carol; adults like his teacher Ms. Zaroma and his principal Mr. Wiggins; Mom and Frank’s wise old toenail-clipping Grandpa. Can you guess why their names are significant? No? Read the book!

The elementary-aged kids in your life will love watching Frank learn a valuable lesson while they have a good laugh.

Oh! Did I mention that Being Frank has been translated into other languages and was a teacher favorite in England?

Little books often travel to faraway places.

Thanks for an adorable story that teaches a complicated social skill, Donna! I’m proud to be your writing buddy.


The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes

IMG_1560The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

By Jack M. Bickham

Published by Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, 1992.


I’ll bet you’re saying, “1992!! That book is too old to do me any good.” I disagree.

I first read The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes in 2005. I was brand new to writing for publication. I’d been at it about a year and wasn’t having much success. You see, I made a FEW of the mistakes Bickham talks about in this book.

As promised, Bickham BRIEFLY covers the top mistakes new writers make. For me it was a goldmine. Though I didn’t understand a lot of the material in the book at that time, it gave me a foundation – a reference point – for the skills I would need to develop. For me that was great.

I really like to know not only where I’m headed, but how I am going to get there.

The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes gave me a glimpse of my destination as a writer and the steps I would need to take in order to get there.

Now that I’ve been writing for publication twelve – yes, that’s 12 – years I know a little more than I did in 2005. I still have LOTS to learn. So, I find The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes helps me brush up, gives me a quick review of the skills I’m working on. This sort of kick-starts my memories of the stuff I’ve been learning from other books, conferences, workshops, courses, critiques, and reading books in my genre.

This little book will have a place ON MY SHELF for years to come.

I give it five highlighters.  MARKER_1 MARKER_1 MARKER_1 MARKER_1 MARKER_1

Around Our Way on Neighbors’ Day 

Tameka Book 02By Tameka Fryer Brown. Illustrated by Charlotte Riley-Webb.

Published by Abrams in 2010.

Tameka Fryer Brown was one of my fellow-Mudskippers. We were jubilant to celebrate her first published picture book with her, Around Our Way on Neighbors’ Day.

I love the happy rhythm of the poetry in this book, and that the illustrations complement it beautifully with bright colors, bold strokes and lots of movement.

Around Our Way on Neighbors’ Day celebrates family and friendship in a noisy, busy urban neighborhood. The neighbors share games, music, friendly debates in the barber shop and a variety of ethnic dishes on Neighbor’s Day. It’s a bouncy, upbeat book that kindergartners and first graders love.

Thanks, Tameka!IMG_1401

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print

By Renni Browne and Dave King, Illustrated by George Booth

Published by Quill: Harper Collins in 1993.

In 2004, I was in an amazing critique group called the Mudskippers (For a 5 minute video about nature’s mudskippers click here.) As a group we Mudskippers read together and IMG_1400discussed a little book that has proven to be an invaluable resource for me year after year. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself  into Print.

At only 200 pocket-sized pages it seems slight. But every line of every page is packed with useful information.

I give this book 5 out of 5 highlighters.              MARKER_1 MARKER_1 MARKER_1 MARKER_1 MARKER_1

Browne and King’s twelve chapters cover with clarity and precision key areas that every fiction writer needs to hone.

  •       Showing AND Telling
  •       Characterization and Exposition
  •       Point of View
  •       Dialogue (two chapters)
  •       Interior Monologue
  •       Easy Beats (for dialogue)
  •       Using white space for dialogue and pacing
  •       Unintentional repetition
  •       Proportion (finding the right balance of details in description and action)
  •       Sophistication (avoiding constructions that slow the story down such as –ing and      as clauses and phrases.)
  •       Voice (definition and tips on encouraging developing your distinctive fiction voice.)

Incredible techniques for writing and critiquing fill every chapter.

Reading and re-reading Self-Editing made me aware of subtle characteristics that make writing great instead of good, and how to both identify and use those characteristics to elevate my writing to a higher level – a publishable level.

Probably the most useful thing I absorbed from Browne and King’s Self-Editing is something I use every time I write, revise, re-write or critique.



Assume that your reader is intelligent and can figure some things out for her/himself.

  •       Resist the urge to add too much description or detail.
  •       Resist the urge to use adjectives and adverbs instead of strong nouns and verbs.
  •       Resist the urge to give your reader more than a smathering of backstory.
  •       Resist the urge to use a lot of interior monologue – thoughts.
  •       Resist the urge to give your reader information dumps.
  •       Resist the urge to write a paragraph when a sentence will do.
  •       Resist the urge to TELL me about your character or plot when you can SHOW me.

I have a long way to go as a writer. But Self-Editing has brought me a long way from my first attempts. I believe that putting into practice the fundamentals in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers has transformed much of my writing from ordinary to something special.

And that something special is what agents, editors and readers are looking for.




Picture Books Are for Grown-Ups, Too


IMG_1390As I write picture book manuscripts I keep in mind that I want to create opportunities for young children and the adults who love them to snuggle up in a comfy chair, at a picnic table, in a car during a long trip, or under a quilt at bedtime to read and experience the story together. I know that publishers design picture books to appeal to both young children and adults.

Some picture books appeal more to children, I think. Those seem to be the ones that they beg us to read aloud again and again until the covers fall off and pages go missing.

However, some of the picture books I cherish, in my opinion, appeal more to the adult than the child. When I find a book like that I simply MUST buy it and read it again and again to my grandchildren, and to myself. Those that I own all seem to be based on a deeply personal experience in the author’s life.

In my opinion they are also books that authors have earned the right to have published. How? I think through long careers of writing successful books, and by having consistent sales figures over those long careers. I also suspect they are the books that come from deep in the authors’ hearts.

I’ve collected a few of those books. We may come back to visit each one later. Meanwhile, I’ll list them below so that you might read them and learn from them. Study them. Dissect them. Figure out why they appeal to readers of all ages.

At this time ON MY SHELF I have the following cherished books.

The Christmas Tree Ship by Carol Crane. Illustrated by Chris Ellison. Published by Sleeping Bear Press in 2011.

Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. Illustrated by Sheila McGraw. Published by Firefly Books in 1986 and again for 59 printings. My copy was published in 1999.

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Published by Candlewick Press in 2007.

The Old Woman Who Named Things written by Cynthia Rylant. Illustrated by Kathryn Brown. Published by Voyager Books (Harcourt) in 1996.

Loon Summer  written by Barbara Santucci. Illustrated by Andrea Shine. Published by Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers in 2001.

Papa’s Gift  written by Kathleen Long Bostrom. Illustrated by Guy Porfirio. Published by ZonderKids in 2007.

Firefly Mountain written by Patricia Thomas. Illustrated by Peter Sylvada. Published by Peachtree Publishers in 2007.

Crow Call written by Lois Lowry. Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Published by Scholastic Press in 2009.

I hope you’ll enjoy them, too. If you read any of them, PLEASE come back and comment here about the reasons you did or didn’t like the book.


Creating Characters Kids Will Love

Creating Characters Kids Will Love by Elaine Marie Alphin (http://elainealphin.blogspot.com/)

Published by Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio. 2000.

Cvr Creating Characters“Kids read because a magical closeness springs up between them and the characters in books and stories…They read because a writer has brought a character to life on the page for them.”     (Introduction to Creating Characters Kids Will Love)

This book makes a promise to inform me with specifics and techniques of creating characters I want my readers to identify with. And it DELIVERS!

I give it 5 out of 5 highlighters!   MARKER_1 MARKER_1 MARKER_1 MARKER_1 MARKER_1

Each section of each chapter of each unit contains numerous recommendations for me to “Read the Pros” who have succeeded in using the principle or technique Alphin explained in that section. Reading just a few of the recommended books kept my library card white hot for months.

Each section also contains several writing exercises (dubbed “Try it Yourself”) specific to that principle or technique. I actually DID some of them and they helped.

Alphin divides her book into four sections:

  • Characters: How to explore and use memories to create well-rounded characters
  • Plots: How to create plots worthy of those characters
  • How to create heroes and villains; useful secondary characters; animals, aliens and other special characters; and the place of grown-up characters in children’s literature
  • How to bring nonfiction to life for readers

I believe that ug what I learned in Creating Characters has elevated my skills at creating, developing and revealing memorable characters.

Two big things that I have applied to my writing are:

  • In exploring my own childhood memories I must capture the EMOTIONS attached to the incidents I recall. The specific places, events, etc. of my childhood memories will not work for a new generation of kids. But, tapping into the emotions I experienced WILL resonate with today’s kids. I need to show my readers the deeper truth of what my memory taught me. I need to be willing to change the details of the event that actually happened to me while holding on to the emotions I experienced.
  • What readers want to see in a picture book character is what Alphin calls potency –  “personal power resulting in growth.” Without that the main character will not appeal to the child reader or listener. Also, I must first show the reader the main character’s frustration and determination.  Then, I have to show the main character drawing on inner strength and resources that the young reader (listener) can identify with. A picture book character that kids love has to establish potency by dealing with the story situation in a way that grows out of his/her character.

Though I am nowhere near perfecting these two skills, Creating Characters explained and detailed them in a way that I could put them to work in my own manuscripts.