On My Shelf BLOG

Feathers Not Just for Flying

51qrw4rngql-_sy384_bo1204203200_Feathers Not Just for Flying is a nonfiction picture book written by Melissa Stewart and illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen. It was published by Charlesbridge in 2014.

Feathers Not Just for Flying is a beautiful book. Brannen’s illustrations are soft as down. The palette is muted colors of the earth, sky and sea. Easy on the eyes, yet inviting the reader to study every inch of beautiful space.

Stewart’s text is also soft and gentle. Yes, each page is filled with interesting tidbits about a specific bird and what makes its feathers useful and unique to that bird. But her language is both inviting and easy to follow. The way the text is laid out invites the readers eyes to skim and skip from one bit of text to another.

As I meandered through the pages I remembered my attempt a few years ago to create a book with the same format. I thought it was pretty good. But a couple of publishers did not. I soon learned the facts I had garnered through many hours of research were soon inaccurate. Research on the particular animals I chose is constantly revealing new things about them.

So, I filed it away. But reading Feathers Not Just for Flying has inspired me to pull the manuscript out and dig into updated research.

In the back matter Stewart explains to readers that AFTER tons of research she spent three years “tinkering with” the text of the book. I exhaled! You mean I’m not alone in spending years writing and rewriting the same manuscript? Hurray!

And (according to her website) Stewart has published more than 130 books! I’d call that a full-time job.

ph_ms1On Stewart’s website she has posted her “Revision Timeline” for another of her books, No Monkeys, No Chocolate. From inspiration to finished books on shelves was TEN years!


I feel so much better now about my own snail-paced writing process.

Thanks, Melissa.


Reading Starts Here

Square Mikey Meme“Picture books live on, in the physical world and in our psyche, ever ready to be performed again. And that is a joyful thing.”



I rediscovered a website that is all about picture books. I’m enjoying my short visits there. In 2012, and 2013, Candlewick Press put up the website “Reading Starts Here.” It contains 365 very short videos related to specific picture books. Some videos are of editors or other staff members at Candlewick. Many are by school teachers and librarians. Some are videos of parents and/or kids reading their favorite picture books aloud.

But all videos on “Reading Starts Here” are about picture books and their impact on people—both big and small.

Drop in and keep clicking. I’m sure you’ll find inspiration for new picture books and maybe ideas for trailers for your current books.

Have fun!

A book titled BOOK

If you have an obsession with books…

If you are never without one, just in case you have a minute or two of waiting time…

If you need to charge your Kindle more often than your cell phone…

If you can’t possibly think of a better gift than a beautiful book…

51ukkugng9l-_sx258_bo1204203200_You will love the charming picture book titled, simply, BOOK. David Miles birthed it from his imagination. Natalie Hoopes breathed life into it with (I can’t find the best word to use here) with enchanting illustrations. Familius published it and shared it with the world in 2015.

The sparse text and the elaborate artwork weave together to deliver the message that there is nothing else in the world quite as wonderful as a book.

And that’s all I intend to tell you about it.

You really need to experience this picture book for yourself. And then maybe share it with a person about half your height. Be sure you take your time and savor every detail.

I borrowed BOOK from my local library. But I might just need to buy a copy of my own to keep ON MY SHELF so I can enjoy it again and again.


Get Caught Reading Picture Books


“Picture books live on, in the physical world and in our psyche, ever ready to be performed again. And that is a joyful thing.”


Did you know that May is Get Caught Reading Month? I didn’t, and I almost missed the whole thing!

You can find out about this initiative at GetCaughtReading.org and have an entire year to prepare for it. Now that’s what I call planning ahead.

I asked some friends of mine to get caught reading picture books so I can share with you here. Looks like everyone is having a great time!


Oh, you have only ONE MORE DAY to get caught reading something fabulous, so, get crackin’!

MANY THANKS to Stephen Prahl, Jan Prahl and Amie Parham for the pix. Keep reading!


And MORE THANKS to Ellie Wakeman and her first picture book Bella Gets Rescued.




Now I need to get busy. I have a FEW

picture books I want to read, too!


Building Relationships with Editors

Mentors for Rent

I was sharing in the Writing for Children Facebook Group (previously the Mentors for Rent Facebook Group) about some submissions I was making, and how some were to editors I have relationships with and others were to editors I’ve never had contact with. Several folks had questions, and I said I would share a bit more about these relationships–how they start and how they work–for me, anyway.

How Do They Start?

  • Often in-person meeting at conference or event. I have developed relationships with editors who critiqued my work or who I heard speak at conferences. An in-person meeting is a great place to start.
  • Speaking together at events. Being a speaker puts you on a professional level, so you’re slightly more on even ground. There are often speakers-only events at conferences, too—cocktail parties or whatnot. Those chance for conversation help you both get a feel for whether you might work…

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Frank and Lucky Get Schooled


Frank and Lucky Get Schooled by Lynne Rae Perkins was published by Harper Collins Children’s Books in 2016. This crazy dust jacket is a hint as to what is inside.

This is one of the most fascinating picture books I’ve read. On one level it’s about a boy (Frank) and his dog (Lucky) and their relationship. But each page holds more, much more, than a plot point or character revelation.

Frank and Lucky Get Schooled shows Frank and Lucky going about their lives together and separately always learning and growing. Learning. A lifetime of learning. That is what Frank and Lucky Get Schooled is about on a second, maybe deeper level.

Or is their relationship the deeper level? Hmmm. Have to cogitate on that one.

Perkins is both author and illustrator. (Oh, I’ve wished a 1000 times I had studied art and children’s literature.) So, the page layouts of this book are varied—very varied.

  • Some pages have one full-page illustration with superimposed type.
  • Some pages have one or two vignettes with a line of type.
  • Some pages have speech balloons.
  • Some pages have several sequential boxes that show the story.
  • Some pages have a map.
  • Some have pull-outs.
  • There are even a couple of double-spread.

Very interesting. I’ve read it three times and I’m going back for more.

But the most intriguing aspect of this book for me is that the text is this synergistic weaving of the narrative about Frank and Lucky, AND piles of nonfiction information about multiple disciplines of the sciences and mathematics and even a little history, art, geography and foreign languages thrown in. Both the narrative and the information seem to be part of a casual conglomeration of scientific information delivered by a precocious ten year-old narrator.

The nonfiction material is woven in effortlessly. Just like a talkative ten year-old answering your casual question about how his day went with a ten-minute sentence rehashing everything from brushing his teeth that morning to losing his socks on the way home from school.

art-nouveauIt’s wonderful!


And such a sneaky way to “school” unsuspecting readers.

AND writers who desperately want to become picture book authors. <sigh>

Buy it. Borrow it from a library. Sit on the floor and read it at a bookstore. It’s crazy cool!

More Online Resources for Writers

write-593333_1280Websites come, and websites go. The same is true of blogs and cell phone numbers, right? And so we make a habit of updating our “address books” or we become bogged down in dead addresses.

The following sites offer valuable information and opportunities for writers. Please give them a click to find those that meet your needs.

Oh! Please let them know that Jean Matthew Hall sent you their way! Thanks.

Critque Circle                         https://www.critiquecircle.com/

Scribophile                             http://www.scribophile.com/

K.M. Weiland                         https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/

C.S. Lakin                               http://www.livewritethrive.com/

Writer’s Digest                       http://www.writersdigest.com/

Institute for Writers               https://www.instituteforwriters.com/about/institute-of-childrens-literature/

Writers Helping Writers        http://writershelpingwriters.net/resources-for-writers/

Nancy Sanders                        https://nancyisanders.wordpress.com/

beautiful-15728_1280Word Weavers International  http://www.word-weavers.com/

Cyle Young                             http://www.hartlineliterary.com/cyle_young.html  & http://cyleyoung.com/

Almost An Author                  http://www.almostanauthor.com/

SCBWI                                    https://www.scbwi.org/



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