Tuesday, May 24, 2016


The day is finally here. HENSEL AND GRETEL: NINJA CHICKS has hit the shelves!

As you may know, HENSEL AND GRETEL is a companion book to THE THREE NINJA PIGS and NINJA RED RIDING HOOD, both by Corey Rosen Schwartz. I was honored and excited when Corey asked me to to collaborate on a third book in her already popular Ninja series. This book is full of action, humor, and poultry puns, and I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as Corey and I enjoyed writing it!


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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Seven Key Characteristics of Well-loved Picture Books

I've learned a few things in my years as a parent, librarian, and author about what kids generally want from books, particularly picture books. Though every child is different, and tastes can vary widely, there are a few characteristics of picture books that seem almost guaranteed to please the majority of young readers. Books with these qualities are the books that a child will request over and over at bed time. They always seem to be checked out at the library and get the most damage because they get the most attention.

Whether you are writing picture books or choosing books to add to your own child's reading pile, keep these characteristics in mind:

1. Wonder. If a book amazes a child or captures his imagination, he will want to read it again and again. Or maybe sit there and pore over the illustrations for hours. Some picture books that fall into this category are JOURNEY by Aaron Becker and WHAT DO YOU DO WITH AN IDEA? by Kobi Yamada.

2. Humor. Every child loves a good laugh, and a book that gets a child giggling to herself or laughing out loud is sure to make it into the "read it again" pile. One of my favorite humorous picture books is CHLOE AND THE LION by Mac Barnett.

3. Rhythm. Whether in rhyme or prose, the best picture book texts have rhythms that naturally flow like waves that rise and fall. The perfect example of a non-rhyming book with a natural, flowing rhythm is WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak.

4. Clever titles. Sometimes a title alone is enough to endear a book to a child, or at least get him interested in reading it. Consider the books PINKALICIOUS by Victoria Kann and Elizabeth Kann and INTERRUPTING CHICKEN by David Ezra Stein.

5. High concepts. When authors take two cool concepts and mash them together, what you have is a high concept book that is sure to catch a young reader's attention. This would include titles like INTERSTELLAR CINDERELLA by Deborah Underwood or SAMURAI SANTA by Rubin Pingk.

6. Interesting illustrations. When an illustrator goes beyond illustrating the text to make a book her own, adding fun or surprising details in the pictures, kids notice. Two great examples of this are CHICKS AND SALSA by Aaron Reynolds and LENNY & LUCY by Phillip C. Stead.

7. An emotional arc. A picture book that tells a story a child can relate to on an emotional level is one that will not soon be forgotten. And it is often those books that help a child fall in love with reading. A couple examples of picture books with strong emotional arcs are TEENY TINY TOADY by Jill Esbaum and A DANCE LIKE STARLIGHT by Kristy Dempsey.

Monday, May 02, 2016

13 Lies Your Inner Critic Likes to Tell You

As writers, we all struggle with confidence now and then. The early days can be brutal as we struggle to transform a passion into a skill. Criticism from outside sources can be painful, but if you learn from it, your writing improves and your confidence grows.

The worst criticism doesn't always come directly from outside sources, but from yourself. When you are feeling vulnerable after a series of rejections or you can't see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, you may entertain the lies that your inner critic likes to whisper.

It's good to know what those lies are, so that you can look your inner critic in the eye and tell them to take their negativity and scram! So here are 13 of those lies, and how you can rebut them!

1. You aren't really any good at this writing thing.

No one is a perfect writer; there is always room for improvement. But even if you need A LOT of improvement, that doesn't mean you're no good. If you're passionate about writing, you must have at least a modicum of ability. So start where you are, and go from there.

2. No one will ever want to read your work.

It may seem like this at times, but that doesn't make it true. You will find your audience one day if you keep it up, even if it's small.

3. Pursuing your dream is a waste of time.

Bogus! It doesn't matter if your dream is to publish a novel or to ride a unicycle around Lake Superior. Pursuing your dream will help you grow in your skill and as a person.

4. It doesn't matter how much you practice.

"Practice makes perfect" isn't technically true, but the more you work on honing your craft, the better you will be.

5. Writing a children's book is a silly idea.

Ha! This could only ever possibly be true if children's books themselves were silly, trivial things. And we all know that is far from true!

6. You can't write about that. You don't have the experience!

Yeah, yeah, I know. One of the "rules" about writing is "write what you know." But if we all took that too seriously, we would seriously limit ourselves as authors. Of course, life experience can do wonders for our writing, but reading and research can go a long way too.

7. You need a writing degree to be taken seriously.

Nope. Not a bit true. Lots of people write (and get published) without having ever stepped foot inside a college classroom, much less having earned a writing degree. I'm one of them!

8. You're too old to write a book.

If you're capable of generating ideas and turing them into stories, you are young enough to write a book.

9. You're too young to write a book.

See number 8. Switch "young enough" to "old enough." The younger you are, the more practice you may need, but that doesn't mean you are ever too young to start!

10. You don't have time to write a book.

Sure you do. You just have to use the time you have wisely.

11. Your voice isn't important enough to matter.

Isn't your voice different from the voice of every other individual on the planet? There you go.

12. You have to be funny to write a children's book.

Nope. Not every children's book is supposed to make kids laugh.

13. You don't have anything unique to offer.

See number 11. If you, as an individual, are unique, then you have something that no one else has. Your "you-ness." Take some time to discover what that is, and make it work for your writing.

What has your inner critic been whispering in your ear lately?

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Poetry Week by Week: Haiku challenge!

It is the final day of Poetry Month and the final challenge for Poetry Week by Week! I hope you have enjoyed following along as we celebrated poetry for the past month.

And now it is time for the haiku challenge!

It has been raining a lot around here. Hailing too. I love a good rainstorm, especially when it brings with it a decent amount of thunder and a little bit of pea sized hail. When I love something, I often want to write about it, so that explains the inspiration for the haiku I am sharing with you today.

Click clack tip tap ping!
On the windows, walls, and doors.
Hail says, "Let me in!"

I hope this exploration of poetry has inspired you in some way. National Poetry Month may be coming to a close, but poetry can be enjoyed any time by anyone!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Poetry Week by Week: Six Brilliant Haiku Books for Kids

I believe that haiku is a very accessible form of poetry for kids, both to read and to write. Haiku is short, and the "rules" are simple (and can be bent a little). In all the haiku books I've read in preparation for and during this Poetry Week by Week celebration, a few gems stand out. I hope you will take the time to read them and enjoy them as much as I did!

GUYKU: A Year of Haiku for Boys by Bob Racza, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Don't be fooled. This book is not only for boys, but according to the author it was inspired by boys and the things they do. This book celebrates all the things that outdoor loving kiddos enjoy doing throughout the year. It is a delight to read!

I Haiku You by Betsy Snyder

This is a collection of haiku about love. Love between friends, for family, for pets, or things that people (especially kids) enjoy. Quite a charming little book!

DOGKU by Andrew Clements, illustrated by Tim Bowers

A picture book, told completely in haiku form, about a stray dog finding a home. Dogs and haiku--what a perfect combination!

If Not for the Cat by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Ted Rand

A gorgeous collection of haiku about various animals, from one of the most beloved children's poets. 

WON TON: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku and WON TON and CHOPSTICK: A Cat and Dog Tale Told in Haiku, by Lee Wardlaw, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

If you've been following along, you will have seen my review of WON TON and CHOPSTICK that I posted yesterday. Both of these books are adorable, sweet stories about new pets and are told completely in haiku form. Don't miss them!

Do you have any favorite haiku books? I'd love to hear about them. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Poetry Week by Week: Haiku: Review of WON TON AND CHOPSTICK

Last year during National Poetry Month I reviewed the adorable book WON TON: A CAT TALE TOLD IN HAIKU by Lee Wardlaw. This year, I'm moving on to its companion, WON TON AND CHOPSTICK: A CAT AND DOG TALE TOLD IN HAIKU.

This book is as charming and adorable as the first one. Won Ton, now happily content in his home with his boy, finds his life disrupted when the family brings home a puppy! Told completely in a series of haiku verses, this story is clever and sweet and funny. Best of all, Won Ton's voice is every bit as catlike as it is in the original.

If you haven't read these books, you should. They are perfect for anyone who loves stories told in poetic forms, especially if they are fond of pets!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Poetry Week by Week: Guest Poet Kristy Dempsey

I am excited to have my friend and fellow picture book author Kristy Dempsey join us to celebrate haiku for the last week of Poetry Month (and the last week of my Poetry Week by Week Celebration and Challenge)! I am honored that she took a little time out of her busy life as a mom, wife, author and librarian to share a few haiku with us.

Welcome Kristy!

I tend to think of haiku as nature poems, and I also tend to have a sense of wonder and curiosity about nature, so I am always asking questions of nature as I observe. These poems definitely reflect that. Also, I like ending haiku with a question because I think it invites the reader to reflect.

Solitary guard
Single sentinel on watch
Will they ever hatch?

Twinkle, twinkle star
Behind the clouds, you’re out there
Make your wish for me?

An army of ants
marched past this rock, little one
Did you lose your way?

About the poet:

Kristy Dempsey grew up in South Carolina and now works as a teacher-librarian in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, a bustling city of 5 million people. She is the author of Me with You (Philomel), Mini Racer (Bloomsbury), Surfer Chick (Abrams) and A Dance Like Starlight (Philomel), a JLG selection, ALA Notable Book, Bank Street Best of 2015, CCBC 2015 Choice, and the winner of the 2015 Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text. Four more picture books will publish in 2016, including Superhero Instruction Manual (Knopf, May 2016), a guidebook for the youngest aspiring heroes. 

Be sure to check out Kristy's website and blog, kristydempsey.com and follow her on twitter @kristydempsey. And be sure to check out her picture books too!