My apologies for being away from this blog for a few weeks. My husband Jerry passed away and I’ve been busy with things resulting from that.
This week I’ll be back on my regular Tuesday and Friday schedule. Thank you for visiting here.
The Best Pet of All
Written by David LaRochelle Illustrated by Hanako Wakiyama
Published by Dutton Children’s Books in 2004
I like The Best Pet of All. It is a cute story. The illustrations are cute. The main character is a cute little boy. And the best pet is cute, too. But I’ve never heard anyone recommend it or use it as an example of a great picture book.
“Why not?” I wondered.
Then I remembered a really cute story that I wrote about ten years ago. I bravely sent it off to one of the big New York houses. And I actually got a personal reply from an editor. I was thrilled!
She thought my story was really cute, BUT—it was too slight.
What the diddly did that mean?
So, I set out on a search for an explanation of slight. I got several opinions. I finally concluded that a picture book story that is slight is missing a critical ingredient. It’s missing a premise. It’s missing a core dramatic issue that is played out through the plot and brought to satisfaction at the conclusion.
According the Nancy Lamb in Crafting Stories for Children, “The premise is what your book is about. Premise is not the plot. It is the underlying idea that supports the plot…Think of premise as the foundation of your plot, the essential truth you want to convey. Premise is the truth that gives shape to your story and meaning to the lives of your characters.” (p. 176)
My story was cute and funny. But it had no premise. No foundation. It had nothing of substance to make it appeal to a wide audience. Nothing to make a thoughtful child read it again and again.
It couldn’t satisfy the editor’s question of why the story should exist.
The Best Pet of All is, in my opinion, another slight story. The main character doesn’t undergo change. He gets what he wants—the pet—but he doesn’t grow.
Question: Have you been working on a story that just isn’t coming together and you don’t know why? Try to write the underlying idea of your story in a clause or sentence. Try answering the question, “Why should I publish/read this particular story? What is it going to leave me with? What am I going to take away from this story?”
Other than a few chuckles, that is.
Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career
By Nancy I. Sanders
Isn’t this the craziest book title you’ve ever seen? That’s what I was thinking for months before I finally gave in to my urge and ordered it. I’m so glad I finally got smart enough to seek Sanders’ professional and fun advice.
Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career is different from any other “writing” book I’ve ever seen. So different that I think it just might work!
And it is PRACTICAL! It’s as if Sanders is sitting across the table from me sipping her Chai and telling me, “Now this is what I do, honey. Try it. It might just work for you, too!”
I haven’t finished the entire book yet. But the first half (about 100 pages) have impacted me dramatically. It answered practical questions I’ve struggled with for years about time management, about goal setting, about motivation, about actually making some money from my writing instead of paying for it as an expensive hobby!
I LOVE her concept of the Triple Crown of Success. I LOVE her idea of setting three separate goals for the three separate reasons I write. It has done away with a lot of ambiguity and struggle in my writing life.
Practical advice that really lit my fire. Her ideas are so simple, so practical, so slap-you-in-the-face that they really energized me. I’ve been wishing and hoping and planning and praying to land a picture book contract for years. Sanders’ advice gave me the motivation to move that desire to the top of my list, and gave me practical steps to take toward accomplishing it and becoming a career author.
Hey! My writing life could be a picture book.
Little Jeannie wants to be published more than anything else in life. But, this and that keep getting in her way. At her darkest moment she takes positive action to overcome those obstacles and makes her dream come true. In so doing she grows confident and strong. And she gets a publishing contract, too!
By the way – some writing friends and I recently had a conversation about writing easy readers and early chapter books. Guess what, writing friends.
Sanders has also published Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Beginning Readers and Chapter Books. Check out both titles at www.YesYouCanLearn.wordpress.com.
Thank you, Nancy! Thanks, and double thanks.
The Stranded Whale
By Jane Yolen Illustrated by Melanie Cataldo
Published by Candlewick Press in 2015
According to the “Author’s Note” in the back of the book Yolen has again created a specific story with specific people, and in a specific place and time to convey to young readers something that happens about 2000 times a year worldwide.
It is the characters she created and their emotional responses to the sperm whale’s beaching that make this story alive, and elicit an emotional response in the reader.
Yolan chose to set this tale in 1971—a time prior to cell phones and to the highly capable and technically enabled Coast Guard children are familiar with in the 21st Century.
Three children find a vulnerable whale beached near their home. Despite their heroic efforts and those of the 1971 Coast Guard and volunteers the story ends sadly. The final pages of Yolen’s tale show us the children’s emotional responses to the tragedy. I believe readers will empathize with their sense of loss.
Yolen’s “Author’s Note” is also loaded with interesting factual information about whale beachings. My guess is that this information ties in with core curriculum standards in our school systems.
The Stranded Whale makes this information more than palatable. It makes learning about whales and beaching and rescues touching and memorable.
Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication
By Ann Whitford Paul Published by Writers Digest in 2009
Writing Picture Books is written for those of us who write–picture books, of course!. Yes, much of the material is applicable to other forms, but it is focused on the art of creating picture books.
Paul explains clearly about using poetic methods and devices to make your manuscript read-aloud-able. To turn it into a story children and parents will fall in love with.
She provides hands-on revision exercises and tips on researching the picture book market and creating queries and proposals for editors, and MORE. You’ll find some of her “tips” on her website, too.
I’ve high-lighted so many sections of this book it’s difficult to find unmarked text!
If you long to see your work published on 32 glossy pages with breathtaking artwork, try Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide From Story Creation to Publication.
Published by Philomel in 2015
On last week’s venture to the Union County Library I tried to borrow a variety of picture books to temporarily place ON MY SHELF. Last Friday I shared Jane Yolen’s sweet book for young children You Nest Here with Me.
I also borrowed two very different books by Jane Yolen, Stone Angel and The Stranded Whale. Both lean heavily on nonfiction material as part of a fictional story. Both are for older elementary and middle school children to enjoy. Both are illustrated beautifully, but in a very subdued media. To me the illustrations redirect the reader’s attention straight to the text and to the information conveyed through the stories and characters.
Stone Angel is a historical fiction story involving fictional characters in a tale that was lived out in truth thousands of times during World War II in Europe. A Jewish family in Paris was forced to flee. Forced to live in the woods for months. Forced to walk their way to Spain. Forced to cross the southern portion of the North Sea and the English Channel to live in safety until World War II was over.
Yolen succeeds in bringing information about World War II to life by allowing readers to see it through the hearts and minds of one small family. She personalizes events that happened in a distant place and time, and in a totally different culture with a vastly different worldview.
I believe middle schoolers will enjoy this book as much as lower elementary children. But, be prepared to answer a lot of questions that this tale is bound to gender in your listeners’ minds.
I think that is exactly what Stone Angel was created to do.
The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression
By Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
Do you ever have difficulty SHOWING how your characters feel? Do you tend to slide backwards into TELLING your readers what your characters are thinking? Among other things it makes for too much internal dialogue which slows your story’s pacing down, which turns readers off.
The Emotion Thesaurus is a useful and user-friendly tool to help you fix that. It was written and published by the owners of the Writers Helping Writers blog.
The Emotion Thesaurus helps writers SHOW 75 emotions through body language (physical signs), mental responses and internal sensations associated with each emotion. The Table of Contents lists the emotions in alphabetical order. Let your fingers walk right over to the correct page number and you’ll find the following info for each of those 75 emotions.
If you can use a dictionary you can use The Emotion Thesaurus to elevate your writing of prose and poetry. It can help us writers avoid telling instead of showing; using clichéd emotions; over dramatizing or melodramatizing; relying too heavily on dialogue or thoughts to express emotions; providing too much backstory to validate a character’s emotions or responses.
Ackerman and Puglisi hope that this book will provide a launchpad for writers; that The Emotion Thesaurus will help writers brainstorm their own ways of SHOWING instead of TELLING readers about their characters.
The price is reasonable and you can order direct from their Writers Helping Writers blog, or from other online book dealers. My copy is parked adjacent to my Children’s Writer’s Word Book. Yep.
Now, take a deep breath. Minimize your manuscript into the tray, and click on the link above before you clench your jaw until your teeth crack, scream and pound on your desk, or sweat yourself out of your skin over making those characters believable!
Interesting stuff from Mary Blount Christian
You Nest Here With Me
Published by Boyds Mills Press in 2015
You Nest Here With Me is a quiet book. A bedtime book, true. But it makes me want to jump up and down and shout, “I want to write a book like that!”
Mom is tucking her child in at night. They are reading about birds, their nests and their nestlings. Mom goes through a string of birds—some familiar, some not. Every few pages she reminds her child, “You nest here with me.”
Sounds simple, right? Here are some reasons why I think this book is incredible–not simple–in the world of picture books:
Thanks, Linda Martin!