On My Shelf BLOG

Picture Book Rubrics

One of the best ways to learn the ins-and-outs of writing great picture books is to study great picture book. Many accomplished children’s authors testify to not only reading hundreds of picture books, but to re-typing them line-by-line into manuscript form. It helps them see patterns and devices that work together to make those other picture books successful.

Other hopefuls evaluate picture books using an outline or rubric.

Fellow blogger Nancy I. Sanders offers on her blog several aids for doing this. Specifically there are two rubrics for evaluating picture books: “First Page Picture Book Rubric” and “Picture Book Rubric. I find those rubrics also help me when I’m critiquing my own or other writers’ manuscripts. They are most useful to me for fictional picture books.

Click here and choose the correct tabs to download Nancy’s rubrics. She offers lots of free stuff here for children’s writers.

On that same page you can purchase her terrific duo of books for those of us who write for children–Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career and Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Beginning Readers and Chapter Books.

IMGP8805 - CopyI summarized the first title here for you.

Please visit Nancy’s blog and take advantage of those freebies.

And, please tell her that Jean sent you!


Story Engineering

51i0lzgdhtl-_sx323_bo1204203200_Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing by Larry Brooks was published by Writer’s Digest Books in 2011.

Had I opened this book six years ago (2011) I wouldn’t have made it through the first chapter. Here I am half-way through the book twelve years into writing, learning and meager success in publishing, and I have almost stuffed Story Engineering into a drawer about a dozen times.

It’s good. No, it’s great stuff. Fascinatingly complex stuff. Larry Brooks writes like a genius in my opinion. I, unfortunately, don’t read like a genius.

Some of his Pauline sentences come close to giving me a headache.

Brooks explores in minute detail what he calls the Six Core Competencies of successful writing. He doesn’t skimp on the details. But I am having difficulty absorbing all of the details in this exposition.

He also proposes that both types of story tellers, writers—planners and pantsers—must master these Six Core Competencies in order to succeed. They simply do it from two different starting points. They are headed for the same destination, riding the same train, they are simply taking two different routes to getting there.

He says in Chapter One, “The Six Core Competencies comprise the first storytelling model I have seen that brings all of the necessary components and skill sets of successful storytelling under one approach.”

I can buy that.

Brooks devotes 50 intertwining chapters to these Six Core Competencies. So far I vote for him being amazingly knowledgeable. But I’m having trouble wrapping my head around all that he has to say.

Story Engineering is NOT for the beginning writer. Shucks, it’s not for the median writer, I think. The pages of my Kindle version are dripping with yellow. I keep highlighting things I think I need to remember. That’s about half of the words, so far.

The Six Core Competencies fall into two categories:

  • The four basic elements of story
  • The two narrative skills required to effectively implement those elements

It’s not until the bottom of chapter three that he actually lists and gives a cursory explanation of the six.

  • Concept
  • Character
  • Theme
  • Structure
  • Scene Execution
  • Writing Voice

I’ve read about all six from the perspectives of dozens of writers. But Brooks attempts to weave them all together in a complex and beautiful design that guarantees the success of your efforts.

I have to admit to you that I’m plodding my way through the 300 some-odd pages. This isn’t light reading. Not for me anyway.

If you are totally serious about writing novels or screenplays. Story Engineering is well worth your considerable investment of time. Just stick your brain into the best brain-sharpener you can find first. In my opinion keeping up with Brooks is going to take the sharpest brain you can put to the task.



Collaborative Writing

By Crystal Bowman

Crystal Daughter
Crystal Bowman & Teri McKinley

I’ve had a few co-authoring projects over the years that were one-time contracts with no further commitments to another author. But now that I’m writing with my daughter, Teri McKinley, this could be a long-term collaborative relationship!

Teri was only 8 years old when my first book came out. I often brought her to my book signings where she enjoyed being my “side-kick.” She studied journalism in college, but decided that wasn’t her thing and majored in interior design instead.

After she finished grad school, got marriage, and settled in TX, I began sending her my manuscripts, asking for her feedback. I was amazed at her insights, suggestions, and creative ideas, and she was amazed at how much she enjoyed being my personal editor.

When My Grandma and Me was published in 2013, I told my editor at Tyndale that my daughter’s name should have been on the cover since she helped me so much.  My editor said, “Well let’s get her name on the next book!” And that’s what happened. Teri and I co-authored My Mama and Me which received the 2014 Logos Bookstore Award for best picture book. Our next book for Tyndale was M is for Manger—an alphabet book which tells the Christmas story in chronological order. We’ve also been co-authoring for Discovery House and have helped them launch children’s products for Our Daily Bread.  The first two books are Our Daily Bread for Kids and Our Daily Bread for Preschoolers. Two new board books have just been released to launch Our Daily Bread for Little Hearts. Adam and Eve’s 1-2-3s and A is for Ark hit the shelves in March.

People often ask what it’s like working as a mother-daughter team. For us it has been a dream come true. We love how it keeps us connected since we live in different states. With our close relationship, we can push each other to do better because we don’t have to worry about hurt feelings or walking on eggshells. Our board books and picture books are written in rhythm and rhyme, so it’s good to have double input. If one of us feels the rhythm is off or the wording is awkward, we revise until we are both satisfied. We can be open and honest and just have fun with these wonderful projects that allow us to teach children about God.

I’ve been writing children’s books for over two decades and never imagined writing with my daughter. But it’s no surprise to God—to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or think. (Ephesians 3;20)



Crystal Bowman




Your Thankfulness Rubs Off on Others

A Writer's Playground

A Writer's Playground Fotosearch_u17996074


A Writer’s Playground–a place to find wordplay, writing prompts, reasons to celebrate, and monthly calendar activities for kids and those young at heart  “Your Thoughtfulness Rubs Off on Others” by Linda Martin Andersen


Linda Martin Andersen. Copyright 2017.

I saw four turkeys in my backyard last week.  Oops, it’s turkey season.  I hope no hunters are reading this.  Turkeys, Thanksgiving, and giving thanks go together, but I’d like to encourage you to think of thankfulness all year long.  I’m convinced your thankfulness rubs off on others. 

What does the expression “rubs off on others” mean? Check here for clarification:  http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/rub-off

An example:  A bad mood can rub off on you, but so can a good one, especially when the person shares their thankfulness.

Recently, I spoke to an employee at the gym I attend.  When I asked her how she was doing she said, “I am thankful.” When I asked her to…

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Learning EVERYTHING About Writing

I read a lot. Mostly nonfiction and picture books. I learn from what I process through my eyes by using my hands. Always have.

Today I want to show you some of the material I study that is NOT ON MY SHELF. I study the moments in the lives of the children around me.

The happy moments. The sad moments.

The celebrations. The holidays.

The individuiality. The uniqueness.

The accomplishments. The disappointments.

The milestones. The adventures.

And the rainbow of their reactions to the events of their lives.

I watch and study and remember. I contemplate and search for seeds.

Seeds that will grow and bloom in my heart, and in my imagination.

Seeds that will sprout into story ideas and characters to write about.

I can’t learn EVERYTHING there is to know about writing from my books you know.

And neither can you. So, where do you get YOUR story ideas?

How To Hit the Side of a Barn Part 2


Donna Earnhardt is the author of Being Frank, illustrated by Andrea Castellani. When Donna isn’t homeschooling or battling the laundry, she’s writing children’s stories, poetry, songs, and mysteries. You might find her fishing the Pee Dee River, hiking in the mountains with her family, or visiting her hometown of Cordova, NC. She lives in Concord, NC, and Being Frank is her first picture book. IMG_1550

Follow Donna’s personal blog here.


If you are looking for a magic formula to make your writing “funny”, you will be looking forever. BUT… we can work hard and learn how to perfect our craft, using every word to its best potential.

Here are a few things to consider when trying to “hit the side of the barn”

  1. Ask yourself, “How do your characters respond to weird and unexpected situations?” This is fertile ground for infusing humor into the story.
  2. Is your character funny? Or are they funny only when in certain situations? How is he or she funny? What makes them tick? Use this informatioin to your advantage. Allow the reader to see the humanity in the character… and thus, the humor.
  3. What internal struggles can be shown through humor? What external struggles can be shown through humor?
  4. Leave room for the unexpected — or your predictable plot becomes an obsolete one.
  5. Is the humor appropriate for the situation your character is in? If not, is that part of the character’s flaws? Does he laugh at the wrong times? Make jokes at the wrong times?
  6. HAVE FUN when you are writing. ENJOY IT! You get to make kids laugh… don’t miss out on the fun of creating!
  7. Humor is subjective. A dear friend of mine despises fart and burp poems. I, on the other hand, find them hilarious. Don’t try to please everyone when writing funny stuff… because you won’t.
  8. Know your target audience and read, read, read! If you are writing a picture book for 3-7 year olds, don’t include jokes about puberty and dating. Read the type of books you want to write, go to conferences, and get critiques. Check out this great resource from Darcy Pattison.
  9. Study the different forms of funny. Try to identify them as you read the types of books you want to write. This will help you see the big picture and vast variety of humor in children’s books. Here are a few that I’ve identified, but definitely not all:

Witty funny, gross funny,

cheeky funny, “punny” funny,

Make you slap your brother-funny,

Hip-sarcastic-deadpan funny.

  1. IMPORTANT: Be aware of the fact that the people who are buying the books (usually the adults) are not going to enjoy the same kind of humor as the ones READING the books (usually the kids). But whatever type of humor you write, remember what the editor told me, “Don’t make the readers the “butt” of the joke.”
  2. Know that it is okay to fail. A lot of humor can come from our “failed” attempts at something. Think about all the stories we write. The characters in our stories and poems usually fail several times before they triumph. Why should we be any different? Some people are naturally gifted at humor, most folks have to work at it. “I think the next best thing to solving a problem is finding some humor in it.” – Frank A. Clarke
  3. FUN FACT: It’s okay to look to something OLD in order to make something NEW! Check out one of my most recent poems, The Shark Who Cried Hook. It’s a new take on the old story, The Boy Who Cried Wolf!
  4. Tap into your inner 6 year old, 12 year old, and 17 year old. What made you laugh when you were a child? A teen? A young adult? Make a list for future projects.
  5. Mark Twain once wrote, “Humor must not professedly teach, and it must not professedly preach, but it must do both if it would live forever.” It’s a fine line – but one we must be aware of. A great example to read is, “Hug of War”.
  6. If you are interested in writing funny poetry, or even if you aren’t, head over to Kenn Nesbitt’s site and practice with some of his poetry lessons and prompts. He’s the former Children’s Poet Laureate (2013-15), so you’ll be learning from one of the best!

Langston Hughes once wrote, “”Like a welcome summer rain, humor may suddenly cleanse and cool the earth, the air and you.”  Who knows? Your “funny writing” just might be the rain that cools someone’s dry, weary land. So go out….

And hit those barns!

Plot & Structure

Plot & Structure written by James Scott Bell 511ihkfg63l-_sx332_bo1204203200_was published by Writer’s Digest Books in 2004. Its power-packed 234 pages present an exhaustive look into writing great plots and giving your novel or nonfiction book structure that will drag your readers through to the last page.





jsb-author-photo-2015James Scott Bell writes suspenseful crime fiction and thrillers.  He has also authored numerous books on the craft of writing.





Plot & Structure is crammed with the basics of writing great fiction, tried and true methods Bell employs, and quotes and information from other celebrated authors and editors. Each chapter takes things step-by-step in detail. And each chapter ends with some serious exercises to help you apply the principles of that chapter.

Here are a couple of meaty quotes from the beginning pages:

  • The daily writing of words, once it becomes a habit, will be the most fruitful discipline of your writing life.
  • The main difference between successful writers and unsuccessful writers is persistence.

Bell introduces you to his own “simple set of foundational principles” for success. It is his LOCK system. “Lock stands for Lead, Objective, Confrontation, and Knockout.”

He then explains each principle briefly:

  • In the best plots, that Lead is compelling, someone we have to watch throughout the course of the novel.
  • This character has an objective. A want. A desire…An objective can take either of two forms: to get something or to get away from something…Solid plots have one and only one dominant objective for the Lead character.
  • The reason is confrontation. Opposition from characters and outside forces bring your story fully to life…Make things tough on him. Never let him off easy.
  • …the ending must have knockout power…So take your Lead through the journey toward her objective, and then send the opposition to the mat.

In later chapters in Plot & Structure Bell goes into greater detail about each principle.

Plot & Structure delves into everything from what a plot is to writing killer beginnings, middles and endings. It offers premium advice on writing scenes, creating character arcs, plot systems and patterns, and plot problems (and cures).

The book ends with a detailed check list  for your WIPs plotting, and a template for creating great back cover copy.

If you want an intense dig into learning about plot then Plot & Structure is for you.

How To Hit the Side of a Barn Part 1


donna_s_headshot2-250x232Donna Earnhardt is the author of Being Frank, illustrated by Andrea Castellani. When Donna isn’t homeschooling or battling the laundry, she’s writing children’s stories, poetry, songs, and
mysteries. You might find her fishing the Pee Dee River, hiking in the mountains with her family, or visiting her
hometown of Cordova, NC. She lives in Concord, NC, and Being Frank is her first picture book.IMG_1550

Follow Donna’s personal blog here.


Several years ago, my hubby invited me to play “disc golf” with him. It is much like regular golf, but there are no balls, no clubs, and no holes in the ground. The “balls” are discs that look like Frisbees, the “clubs” are the arms/hands, and the “holes in the ground” are usually giant alien trash cans. (Okay, they aren’t alien trash cans, but that’s what they look like to me.).

We started the course and my hubby showed me what to do. He stood to my right, a good five feet. He pointed toward the alien trash can. “Aim that way,” he said, “and release.”

I looked straight ahead, kept my eye on the target, practiced my aim (like all good golfers do!) and RELEASED.

As soon as I let it go, it knew something went terribly wrong. My hubby did, too… because he immediately ducked.

“HEY!” he yelled pointing in the other direction, “I said aim THAT way!”

Thankfully, I missed him, too, or he would have ended up with a disc-shaped bruise in the middle of his face.

More recently, my physical therapist told me to bounce a ball off of a trampoline (while standing on one leg). He soon discovered what my hubby already knew. “You can’t hit the side of a barn.”


Like aiming and throwing a disc or a ball, it seems that writing “funny” would be as easy as hitting the side of a barn… but as I’ve demonstrated, it’s not always like that.

In my early years of submitting to children’s magazines, one of the editors was kind enough to write a short editorial note on one of my rejected stories. She complimented me on a thing or two, but then told me WHY they rejected it. “You made the children in the story the ‘butt” of the jokes. We don’t publish stories like that.” She went on to explain that they love humor, but not at the expense of their targeted audience.

To be honest, I was shocked when I read her words. I couldn’t believeJean Donna 2012 I’d written a story like that. That was NOT what I’d intended to do. But when I went back to read what I’d written through the lens of her critique… I realized she was right. I thought my story would make the readers laugh – but instead, the reader would have felt laughed “at”.

That was never my intent. I tried so hard to get a laugh, that I failed to realize that I missed the target completely (much like my incident with the disc golf!).

So how DO we “write funny”? How do we learn to “HIT THE SIDE OF A BARN”?


Most Significant Books Part 2

Read part 1 of this post here.

I follow the A3 blog-“Almost An Author.” Several weeks ago a post challenged me to list the ten most significant books I have read.

IMG_1350So I started my list.

Most of the books are not about writing. They are about living. I hope you’ll be challenged to read a few of them for yourself.

AND please share with us (in a comment) or (on my Facebook author page) a few titles that have impacted your life.

I might want to read them, too.

You can read the first half of my list of Significant Books here. Today I’ll pick up where we left off.

41neomarv-l11 by Leonard Sweet

Imbedded in my heart that I cannot become a dynamic, effective Christian alone. God brings different people of different personalities and backgrounds into my life to sand away my rough edges and to shape me into the person God intends for me to become.




Hungry For GOD and The Sacred Echo by Margaret Feinberg51vyqoavhrl-_sy346_

Both books showed me dramatically that God is speaking to me in every aspect of my life, through every person in my life, during every incident and season of my life. I need to be continuously listening for Him to speak.









The Writings of Amy Carmichael

Her meditations and poems reflect for me the intimacy that God wants to share with me.



Jane Yolen’s picture books

Yolen has written many, many books for children. Her picture books have become a standard for me to work toward. They show me what beautiful and wonderful things can come from the creativity God has given me.


 Gates of Excellence and other nonfiction books by Katherine Paterson

Paterson’s thoughts on writing for children helped me to clarify and define what “Christian writing” and “Christian literature” is to me.


Windows of the Soul and other books by Ken Gire

Reveal to me how God can appear to me and speak to me (and, in turn, other people) through every tiny aspect of life.



Helps me deal with people who don’t respect my healthy boundaries, helps me establish and keep healthy boundaries. I use it as a reference book and reminder when I detect that I am letting my boundaries slip.

Cloud and Townsend have written many spin-offs of Boundaries for specific relationships. I’ve stuck with the original book, and have read it several times PLUS used it for reference.


Nasty People 512bog9ofdil-_sx329_bo1204203200_

Helps me deal with several very difficult people in my life.  I recommend it to other people living in difficult relationships, and it always helps them, too.




51plnk1ypdl-_sx323_bo1204203200_The Shack

Though I don’t agree with every aspect of The Shack  reading it challenged my concept of God and my opinions about how God reveals Himself and deals with individual people–how He meets us where we are, and communicates with us in specific ways we can comprehend. Reading The Shack forced me to THINK, to critically examine details of my own personal theology.



Wow! My list is even longer than I thought! How about YOUR list? Will you please share a few titles or authors which have impacted you? 

Bringing Big Doctrines Down to Kid Size

How can we teach Bible doctrine to children in ways that they can understand?

By Crystal Bowman

CrystalBowman100As a Christian children’s author, my main message to children is that God loves them and cares about them very much. But I believe children can understand some deeper biblical truths as well. The word ‘doctrine’ describes what we believe and why. So how can we teach Bible doctrine to children in ways that they can understand?

  • Is God Real? Children can be taught that there’s a God in heaven, but we can go deeper when we explain the evidence of God’s existence in nature. In Our Daily Bread for Kids (Discovery House) I wrote a devotional “Can You See It?” which explains that even though we cannot see the wind, we can see what it does. Wind blows a sailboat across a lake. It blows the leaves on a tree and carries a kite through the air. Children understand these examples from everyday life. In the same way, we know God is real because we can see what He does. We can look at the sun, moon, and stars He created. We can see God’s beauty in rainbows and sunsets, and we can see His power in a mighty ocean. Children can have a greater awareness of God’s existence by learning to see Him in the world around them.


  • What Is Grace? The way to teach grace is to help children understand that God already loves us and we don’t have to earn His love. God gives us blessings we don’t deserve. It’s like getting a present when it’s not your birthday, or getting an A even though you got the answers wrong. One of my picture books Do You Love Me More? features a child who is trying to do everything right to earn God’s love. The mother finally explains to the child that God already loves him, but by doing good things we can show God that we love Him back.


  • What Is Faith? When teaching a concept such as faith, a writer needs to give examples of what that looks like, since concepts are concrete objects. Noah had faith when God told him to build a boat even though it had never rained. Abraham had faith when God told him to move to another country, even though God didn’t tell him where to go. Through sharing stories like these, children can learn what it means to have faith and trust in God.

Of course, there are many others Bible doctrines that young children can understand if they are taught with age-appropriate examples and kid-friendly language. Whether it’s kids’ devotionals, Bible story books, or picture books, writers can reach little children with big doctrines by using carefully chosen words—and that’s one of the challenges of writing for children!   

CrystalBowman100Crystal Bowman is a former preschool teacher, award-winning author, national speaker, and Mentor for MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers). She has written more than 100 books for children, three books for women, numerous magazine articles, and Bible study materials. She also writes stories for Clubhouse Jr. magazine and lyrics for children’s piano music.

She has written books for many popular children’s series, such as Little Blessings, The Berenstain Bears, and I Can Read. She is the co-author of Our Daily Bread for Kids, Our Daily Bread for Preschoolers, My Mama and Me, and M is for Manger. She and her husband enjoy living in both Florida and Michigan (wherever the weather is best!)