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 Justin started the mentorship program "to aid un-agented, traditionally unpublished authors and author-illustrators on their journey toward publication by helping develop their craft, stories, and submission materials while arming them with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!

Saturday, May 04, 2019

12 Picture Books about Gardens: A Read, Discuss, Do! Book List

Gardens can be so many things. A pot of flowers on a front step, a manicured flower bed in a city park, even a stretch of wild prairie! These books explore gardens in all their forms, inviting readers to got out and get involved in nurturing their own little piece of nature.

I hope this list of 12 garden books inspires you to not only talk about gardens and nature with your kiddos, but also to get out and explore some gardens with them, and maybe even plant a little (or big) garden of your own. All it takes to get started is a pot, some soil, and a seed!

Badger's Perfect Garden by Marsha Diane Arnold, illustrated by Ramona Kaulitzki

A story about gardening, friendship, and unexpected results. Use this book as inspiration to plant your own perfect (or perfectly imperfect) garden.

Anywhere Farm by Phyllis Root, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

This book shows readers--in bouncy, lilting rhyme--that gardening can happen anywhere. In an old pot or an empty lot! Let this book inspire you to grow your own "anywhere farm" whether you have room for one pot on the front step or a back yard of your own!

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small

Another beauty that shows gardening can happen anywhere, even in a city full of concrete!

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal

There's a lot going on in the garden all year long, both above and below ground. Perhaps this book will inspire you to take a closer look at what's happening in the garden, whether in your own back yard or at a local park.

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown

Nature sprouts up in abandoned human places, inspiring a young gardener to learn and grow along with this "curious garden." This book might inspire you to look for places where curious gardens are trying to grow. The cracks in a city street? Inside an old, abandoned car? An empty lot that's overgrown with weeds and wildflower?

Florette by Anna Walker

Another gorgeous book about bringing a garden to the city.

My Busy Green Garden by Terry Pierce, illustrated by Carol Schwartz

What kinds of busy birds and bugs can you spot in a garden near you? Even a simple patch of grass has a lot of life buzzing in it. Look closely!

Mortimer's First Garden by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Dan Andreason

Let this sweet little book inspire you to plant a seed and watch it grow!

We are the Gardeners by Joanna Gaines, illustrated by Julianna Swaney

A story about a family's journey to becoming gardeners, and all the ups and downs that came with it. Maybe this book will encourage you to learn and grow with gardening in your own way!

Dig In! by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, illustrated by Mary Peterson

A simple and bold book for the littlest gardeners that will encourage them to dig in the dirt. What will they discover? There are lots of things to discover when planting a garden!

Green Green: A Community Gardening Story by Marie Lamba and Baldev Lamba, illustrated by Sonia Sánchez.

A rhythmic story about bringing green to the city, with lots of helpful information in the back about how to make your own community more free as well as ways to support pollinators.

The Magic Garden by Lemniscates

A beautiful book that encourages readers to go out and experience that magical wonders that a garden can bring to light. This book includes extensive back matter for the curious reader!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019


The title just about says it all for I'M JUST NO GOOD AT RHYMING and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-ups by Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith.

Doesn't the title alone make you want to flip open this book to find out what mischievous stuff is going on in there? Do it! You won't be sorry. This delightful book of poetry has something to amuse every kid or kid at heart, whether they think they like poetry or not. The poem "Out on the Farm on a Saturday Night" alone is more than worth the effort. What does an upside-down cow sound like? How about a sideways cow? I bet you're wondering!

Full of fun word play, irresistible humor, and clever poem structures, not to mention delightful illustrations, I'M JUST NO GOOD AT RHYMING is a must-have poetry book for every home or classroom library. Whether during National Poetry Month or All Year Long, it would be nonsensical for you to miss out on this brilliant book of poems!

I borrowed it from the public library. And I don't want to bring it back. So I guess I better go buy my own copy. You come too! Or go check it out at the library. But don't forget to bring it back, no matter how tempting it is to keep it for yourself!