Saturday, November 30, 2019

FEDERICO AND THE WOLF Cover Reveal (plus a giveaway!)

In a little less than six months, my picture book Federico and the Wolf will be published! Federico and the Wolf is the story of young Federico, who has plans to make the perfect pico with his Abuelo. But the lobo he meets in the woods while on his way to grandpa's shop has a plan of his own! Federico and the Wolf is a gender-swapped, rhyming retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, with Mexican flair! With Spanish language woven into the text, and a recipe for The Perfect Pico at the end of the book, Federico and the Wolf is a fractured fairy tale you won't want to miss.

The idea for Federico and the Wolf came to me in January 2017, during Tara Lazar's Storystorm challenge. I wrote a draft of the story that same month, and worked on revisions over the next few weeks. That summer, my agent sent it out into the world. And in November that same year, it was picked up by Anne Hoppe at Clarion. That was two years ago!

I could not be happier with how the book is coming together. It is illustrated by Elisa Chavarri, whose colorful and bold art add fun and flavor to the story. And the cover captures the heart of the book beautifully. I hope you agree that it is hard to resist!

Federico and the Wolf will be my fourth published book. But it is also my first, because it is the first that I have sold without my amazing writing partner, Corey Rosen Schwartz. I hope to publish many more books in the future, both with Corey and on my own.

To see the cover of Federico and the Wolf, and enter for a chance to win a copy of the book, simply follow the link below. As always, my newsletter subscribers earn an extra entry. The book will not be published for another six months, so you'll have to wait until then to receive your copy. But it will be worth it!

You must be 18 or older to enter. U.S. addresses only, please. Ends December 7, 2019.


Saturday, November 23, 2019

My 2019 Holiday Book Giving Guide

Board Books

For Christian-themed stories, consider Glenys Nellist's Good News! series. Each book is a sweet and simple introduction to a sound, Biblical concept.

Love is Kind by Laura Sassi is a sweet story with darling illustrations. This board book edition should be in every family's board book collection. 

Picture Books

For a funny read-aloud look for The Great Gran Plan by Elli Woollard, illustrated by Steven Lenton, a fractured fairy tale that combines Little Red Riding Hood with The Three Little Pigs.

In the market for a counting book? One Dark Bird by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Frank Preston-Gannon is a beautifully illustrated lyrical counting book about starlings.

Middle Grade

Fans of historical fiction may enjoy Lifeboat 12, a historical verse novel by Susan Hood. This story is emotionally gripping and fast paced.

If your reader enjoys smart, quirky stories that are darkly funny yet filled with hope, with a splash of magic for good measure, consider Very Rich by Polly Horvath. It's perfect for anyone who enjoyed Ingrid Law's Savvy or Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

For fantasy fans, look for Dragon Rider: The Griffin's Feather by Cornelia Funke, the long-awaited sequel to Dragon Rider. Also look for the third book in Brandon Mull's Dragonwatch series, Master of the Phantom Isle.

Young Adult

For fans of strange, action-packed science fiction adventure, consider Skyward by Brandon Sanderson.

Toxic by Lydia Kang is another science fiction page turner for readers who enjoy a little romance.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Lessons from the #PBChat Mentorship Applications

This past spring I agreed to be a mentor for the first ever #PBChat Mentorship Program. If you're not familiar with #PBChat, it is a weekly event on twitter hosted by Justin Colón during which participants discuss various topics related to the writing and illustrating of picture books. Justin started the mentorship program "to aid un-agented, traditionally unpublished authors and author-illustrators on their journey toward publication by helping develop their craft, stories, and submission materials while arming them with business-related insight and information during the course of a free, three-month mentorship." Find out more about Justin and #PBChat on his website, Justin Colón Books.

I was honored to be asked to be a #PBChat mentor, and I knew immediately that I would be open exclusively to applicants who write in rhyme. Many promising writers applied to be my mentee for the program, and it was a challenge to choose from among them! I ended up choosing one mentee and offering full critiques to two other writers.

For the rest, I promised to write something up on my blog about some common trouble spots I saw in applicants' manuscripts. Here are the biggest ones, and some tips on how to fix them in your writing.

1. Not enough story

Writing a story in rhyme is a challenging process. If you're not careful, you can easily end up with a manuscript that lacks the proper balance between story and rhyme. Be intentional about it from the start. If you want to write a rhyming picture book, it is best to know the story you want to tell before you begin writing so that the rhyme doesn't take over. This doesn't mean you have to have it completely figured out. A basic idea of the story's arc may suffice. If you are struggling with this issue, try writing your story in prose, and then convert it to rhyme.

2. Unsatisfying story resolutions

This is related to the first issue, but it's more specific. A story's resolution--how the conflict gets resolved (or not)--can make or break your text. If it's too easy, it's unsatisfying. On the other hand, if you get too carried away or complicated, it's not believable. And for rhymers, it can be especially hard because we are often too focused on making sure our writing flows nicely and rhymes perfectly.

Let's face it. Endings are hard. When considering your story's resolution, focus on what will make it the most satisfying for your reader. Here are a few ideas on what to avoid in your manuscript endings:

  • the problem goes away without any obvious reason or effort from the main character
  • the main character has an "aha!" moment that seems to come out of nowhere
  • the resolution comes too abruptly
  • logistical inconsistencies

3. Lack of character growth

Your main character needs to take a journey, even if the entire story takes place on his or her bedroom floor. Character growth can be shown in a variety of ways. It can be as simple as persevering when learning something new, like how to tie one's shoes, or as complicated as overcoming a fear. Look at your manuscript and consider if and how your character changes by the end of the story. Remember: character growth doesn't have to be the point of your story, but it should always be a part of your story.

4. Forced rhymes

A forced rhyme happens when a rhyming word seems out of place in the context, or feels like it forces the story in an unnatural direction. Remember: a unique or unexpected word isn't necessarily always the best choice. When in doubt, consider whether you would choose a word if you were writing in prose. If it doesn't seem natural to you (or to your critique partners), find another option.

5. Meter troubles

Meter can be a tricky thing to get right. Two of the most common mistakes I see in rhyming manuscripts are 1) missing or added beats that cause the reader to stumble and 2) a rhythm that feels unnatural or forced, such as when a stressed beat falls on a word (or a syllable in a word) that is not normally emphasized.

Though few, if any, rhyming texts are going to flow smoothly for every reader thanks to the differing ways we speak, there are steps you can take to make it as polished as possible. Read a lot of rhyming manuscripts aloud and note when something makes you stumble. Do the work it takes to find the words and phrases that fit naturally into your story's meter. And have a lot of different people read it for you (and to you).

Writing in rhyme is a challenging but worthy endeavor, as long as you are willing to do the work to make your text as polished as possible. For more writing tips, visit my Writing for Kids page on my website, where you will find posts and resources for writers of rhyme and prose. Also, consider joining me for my SCBWI webinar on October 19, Don't Tip the Scale: Balancing Story and Rhyme in Picture Book Texts.

Happy rhyming!

Friday, August 16, 2019

Saying Goodbye to a Friend

Let me tell you about my friend Cap.

Cap and I first met on a Sunday morning at church several years ago. She was sitting in the pew directly behind us, so my husband and I introduced ourselves during greeting time. "My name is Cap," she said, and I remember thinking what an interesting name that was.

It was impossible not to like Cap immediately. She was one of those people that seemed to radiate the joy and love of Jesus. She continued to sit behind us every Sunday, and we always greeted her warmly, and I often sat to chat with her while everyone around us was making the rounds.

Before long I discovered that two of Cap's grandsons--of whom she was immensely proud--attended the school at which I worked. I remember the delight in her eyes when I told her that I worked with each of them regularly in my capacity as a para. As if that didn't delight her enough, when she learned  I was an author with my first picture book soon to be published, she was so tickled and impressed that she insisted on hearing all about it.

Cap was around 74 years old at the time, and not in the best of health. But she stayed active and was always full of joy and optimism, even when she was recovering from an injury or surgery. Nothing could keep her down for long.

In June of 2015, Cap was one of the first people to show up for my first ever book store event, celebrating the release of WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? Here she is standing next to me as I signed her copies of the book (she bought several).

Over the past few years, I've gotten to know Cap fairly well through our chats at church, impromptu visits in her cozy living room, and occasional phone conversations. I learned that Cap was not her real name, but a nick name given to her by her Navy husband early in their marriage. She was immensely proud of her children and grandchildren, and her love for her husband (and his love for her) was nothing less than inspiring. She was married at 17, and she and her husband would have celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary later this month.

Eventually, Cap stopped sitting behind us on Sunday mornings and started sitting with us. She would come into the sanctuary, moving slowly but intentionally with the aid of her walker, and look toward our usual spot. I loved the way her eyes lit up when she saw me.

Cap was a dear friend. She was also my biggest fan. Bigger than my own mother, if that is possible. She always wanted to know about my next book, always insisted that I keep her up to date so that she wouldn't miss out, always reminded me how proud she was of what I had accomplished. If I got an update from my editor, Cap got an update too.

So, naturally, when I received the F&G's of TWO TOUGH TRUCKS several months ago, I went for a visit. Cap was delighted to see the early, unbound version of the book. I even brought my iPad along so she could see the digital version of the not-quite-finished FEDERICO AND THE WOLF. She was tickled. And she couldn't wait to see each of those books in finished form.

Unfortunately, Cap passed away last week, so she never got a chance to see those books in published form. But I am so glad to have been able to share their journey with her. Even more than that, I am so glad to have been able to call such a delightful, loving woman my friend. I will miss her a lot.

And if you didn't know her, you missed out.

Monday, July 29, 2019

My daughter is getting married!

Samantha and Zac

My daughter is getting married next Sunday. Now, I'm not usually a very sappy or emotional person, but I can't help but think of all the things that will be different once this week is over. This week is the last week of wedding planning, but also the last week for a lot of other things.

The last week of having all three of my children living under my roof,
sharing a bathroom,
sharing laughs,
sharing looks across the table.

The last week of preparing nightly dinner for five,
of cooking together,
of adding each of their requests to the grocery list.

This is the last week I will be able to knock on my daughter's door to say
Good morning
What time do you work today?

The last week of sleeping at night
with her just on the other side of the wall,
only a few steps away.

This is the last week of having any say
in what time she comes home
or how late she sleeps in
or whether she should really wear that skirt.

The last week
before my family grows bigger,
welcoming a new member,
a second son.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

TWO TOUGH TRUCKS update, and giveaway WINNER!

Vroom! Zoom! TWO TOUGH TRUCKS, my and Corey's next picture book, will be released into the world on September 17, 2019. That's just over two months from now!

TWO TOUGH TRUCKS, in case you didn't know, is not just about trucks. It's also a first-day-of school friendship story! How perfect, then, that it will be out right around the beginning of the school year. If you are looking forward to this book's release, here are some ways you can help rev up support for it over the next few weeks:

  • Add it on Goodreads
  • Request and/or hold it at your public library
  • Preorder a copy for a little one in your life
  • Tell your friends and family
There will be some celebrating going on as the book's release date gets closer, so stay tuned!

And now...announcing the winner of the Summer Book Giveaway:

Rebecca Levington!

Congratulations, Rebecca! I'll be in touch via email.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Updates and a GIVEAWAY!

I know I've been away from the blog for a while, but not without good reason. Since my last post at the beginning of May, I've been preoccupied with:
  • Daughter #2's college graduation
  • Son's high school graduation
  • Son's graduation party
  • Vacation to the mountains in Colorado (where I saw a moose for the first time)
  • Enjoying time with my hubby during his two week's off
  • Revising a picture book with Corey
  • Critiquing three picture book manuscripts (I offer paid critiques now)
  • Preparing for the #PBChat Mentorship program
  • Revising a middle grade verse novel for an agent
  • And planning my daughter's wedding, which is happening in ONE MONTH!
In the midst of all of that, my two books had birthdays. WHAT ABOUT MOOSE? turned 4 and HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS turned 3! So, as a slightly belated celebration, I'm giving away one copy of each to a lucky winner! Simply fill out the form below to enter. Ends Wednesday, July 10 at 11:59 p.m. The winner will be announced on Thursday, July 11!

Good luck, and enjoy the rest of your summer!