Monday, May 8, 2017

When the librarian/children's writer goes on vacation...

Last month I went on a short trip to Canada with friends and family. No writing, no emails - just lots of good food, history, and sights. But of course, I could not truly leave the children's book world behind.

I found myself wandering into the cutest store, pulled in by their adorable clothing designs. Not long after, I made the connection from this:


to these:

Turns out the store, HATLEY, is the parent company of Little Blue House, which was started by author/illustrator Nicholas Oldland's parents! He went on to publish 4 more picture books starring those adorable woodland creatures who are out to hug trees and be friends and all that good stuff! Check out their story on the website for more charm and adorableness.

So not only did I buy the pajama pants, but I bought notepads and other things I had to have. And I promise I am not being paid when I say that the pajama pants are SOOOOO comfy! My kids are completely jealous that they bought lame t-shirts somewhere else.

Lesson #1 - you cannot escape from adorable picture books once you are hooked, even if you leave the country.
Lesson #2 - not only does Canada have Justin Trudeau, they also have amazing pajamas.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

When Manuscripts Haunt You

I am finally putting away the folder for a middle-grade manuscript I started in 2003. Without going into boring detail, it was the first manuscript I ever wrote, and what spurred me on to write children's fiction. In the past 14 years I revised it here and there (the first chapter maybe 546 times but who's counting), sent it out a few times, and literally and figuratively stashed it in the drawer for years on end.

But it haunted me.

When I saw that a new book had come out with similar themes, it haunted me.

When I sat down to write something else, it called to me like a drunken teenager at a frat party - "Write me, you know you want to. Everyone else is doing it."

I almost totally avoided writing anything in 2014 because I couldn't bear to SIT in the chair by the desk where it hid.



But slowly over that year, I made the decision to REALLY work at writing. I joined a great, new critique group and a few online writing communities. And once the real writing happened, it was only a matter of time before I would have to tackle this manuscript. Mind you, it wasn't haunting me nearly as much when it knew I was doing all these awesome writerly things. I think it knew I was coming for it.

So I am now done revising it on my own. Not another word shall be changed in that manuscript unless requested so by an agent or editor. It was really fun to crack open the second half of the manuscript (which needed it the most) and just go for it. But now, it has been exorcised.

I  went to a writer's workshop this weekend where I got to hear an amazing keynote address by writer Alice Mattison. Even though she writes adult manuscripts and short stories, her words rang true for everyone.

"Protect your writing time - other people are not going to
 protect it for you."

But what I loved most was this quote about revision and reading your own work:

"If you can get your book not to recognize you..." (she suggests reading in a different part of the house or possibly wearing a hat) "...what it will do is, what you want to do is, read it as if you didn't know what was coming."

I guess my disguise was more pounds and wrinkles than I had 14 years ago. Maybe after all this time I managed to sneak up on IT and read and revise a totally new manuscript. After 14 years, maybe it was.


Thursday, March 2, 2017

I HEARD A ROAR - #50 Precious Words Challenge


I'm finding that writing contests are a great way to get inspired! So here's my entry in Vivian Kirkfield's

#50 PRECIOUS WORDS WRITING CHALLENGE



In honor of Dr. Seuss' birthday, Vivian is having us write a story using only 50 words, unlike Dr. Seuss who used limited words over and over again. Get it? Two different approaches to a fun writing prompt that I suggest you try!

So here's mine, inspired by what I do a my job all the time - try to entice young readers! Whether it's getting the shy one to come to storytime, or getting new readers to challenge themselves in a new genre, I spend a lot of time connecting kids with books. It's my passion! Thanks for reading!

I Heard a Roar

Mama said, story time?

No.

It’ll be fun.

No.

You’re friends are going in-

I watched them run to the door.  I stayed near Mama.

 She might read one you’ll like?

Lions?

Maybe dinosaurs, boats?

You read.

I’ll be right here.

I walked to the door. I heard a roar.


Monday, February 6, 2017

Book Club Pick: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys


It was my turn to select a book for my neighborhood book club, and after much deliberation, I chose Sepetys' awesome 2016 YA novel about 4 characters and their journey through Prussia to reach the Wilhelm Gustloff ship in 1945. SALT TO THE SEA
Sepetys does a wonderful job telling the story from the four different points of view - Joana, the Lithuanian nurse; Florian, the Prussian apprentice; Emilia, the quiet Polish girl; and Alfred, the sailor.They were escaping the Russians, escaping the Germans, escaping their own pasts. They didn't know they were headed for one of the worst maritime disasters in history.


The response from my Book Club was really positive - they liked the story and really loved learning about a page from history that they hadn't heard of. I would recommend this book for a variety of ages, and would make a great choice for a mother/daughter teen book club.

Said author M.T. Anderson of the story, "once again, Ruta Sepetys acts as champion of the interstitial people, so often ignored - whole populations lost in the cracks of history."

This page has a great photo of the Wilhelm Gustloff and an interview with Sepetys
NPR - More Died on This WWII Ship Than on the Titanic and Lusitania Combined

Click here for this awesome Penguin Random House video of Sepetys discussing why she chose this subject to write about (about 8 minutes long) Totally worth sharing with your group.
Ruta Sepetys Discusses Salt to the Sea

Penguin Discussion Guide & Questions

Friday, January 6, 2017

Little Penguins Friday!

I'm getting ready for Winter storytimes to be starting at my library, so I've been gathering new books and coming up with themes (Children's Librarians LOVE a theme). This new book by Cynthia Rylant has been in my pile since I got it in, so I thought I'd share with Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books community! I would usually do this on my work blog, but this is going to serve as a reminder to me of what a great picture book by 2 major award-winners can look like. The text and illustrations complement each other picture-book-perfectly!


LITTLE PENGUINS
Words by Cynthia Rylant
Pictures by Christian Robinson
Schwartz & Wade, 2016
Ages 3-7, fiction
Acrylic & collage
Themes: penguins, winter fun, clothes, snow, Antarctica

Snowflakes? Many snowflakes.
Winter is coming!
Mittens? Many mittens.

And so begins the classic tale of venturing out to play in the snow. But in the hands of Rylant and Robinson (who illustrated Schools First Day of School and Last Stop On Market Street) this tried and true story becomes a charming look at 5 adorable big-headed penguins and their Mama as they dress, sled, and enjoy warm cookies and sippies after. The spare text is enhanced by the fun illustrations that little ones are sure to love.

Here are a few places you can find rhymes and craft extensions when using this story with children. Also, check out Christian Robinson's The Art of Fun page if you need some art inspiration!

And according to Artsy Craftsy Mom, it's Penguin Awareness Day on January 20. Who knew?

Storytime Katie - Penguins

KidLit Library - Penguins

Artsy Craftsy Mom - Penguin Crafts

Friday, December 30, 2016

2016, the Year of Trying It All

2016 started off with a writer friend encouraging me to try Julie Hedlund's 12x12 program for picture books writers. I had been focusing on a middle-grade novel for so long that I really needed an excuse to take a break from it and write some new things.
I made some new friends along the way and it really jump-started my year of trying everything I could to absorb as much as I could about writing for children. So to get it all straight in my head, I started a list of what I did in 2016 - Trying It All. 

Then... Julie Hedlund, challenged participants of her 12 Days of Christmas for Writers series to post SUCCESSES (rather than resolutions) on our blogs this year. She believes the way New Year's resolutions are traditionally made come from a place of negativity - what DIDN'T get done or achieved in the previous year.  Instead, she suggests we set goals for the New Year that BUILD on our achievements from the previous one. I decided to participate in this Anti-Resolution Revolution! Here is my list for 2016. 
(All of this also helps to explain to my husband where all that money went and to anyone who asks, what I do all day when I'm not at work!)

January
I signed up for:
Julie Hedlund's 12x12 Challenge
Basically, the goal is to write and revise a picture book each month. I started out strong, got lost in the Spring and Summer, but finished respectably! The community of writers and mentors on the site as well as on Facebook and thru webinars is what makes this program so invaluable.

February
Road trip to NYC:
KidLit TV
Besides the great party, I got to know KidLit TV which is a great resource I now use in my day job as a Children's Librarian.

carpoolers
With the awesome Julies

Susanna Leonard Hill's Making Picture Book Magic - this is a 4-week online course with about 20 'lessons' that are so helpful when crafting a picture book. This course is great for beginners up thru intermediate writers who want to make sure their manuscripts are complete. I don't know when Susanna finds half the time to do all the great things she does on her blog but I am always inspired.

I also participated in a "Pitch Party" for the first time. These are ways to pitch your manuscripts on Twitter, where agents and editors might read them and indicate that you can send them a query. The one I did was called #PitMatch - where admins match your pitch to an agent or editor they feel might be interested in it. I did manage to get a match, but ultimately never heard back from the agent...

March
Those whispering pines

Held annually in March on the University of Rhode Island campus, this writer's retreat is listed as one of the best ones in the country. This year I only went for the day, but I had gone for the whole weekend the year before. You'll hear advice and writing exercises from authors, agents and editors while still having time to write or make some new like-minded friends.
Whispering Pines Retreat

This year I heard presentations by agent Jessica Sinsheimer who started #MSWL Manuscript Wish List - one of my favorite sites for writers. Author Jennifer Jacobson gave a great talk on "The Enemy of Fictional Density" which was incredibly helpful. I also got a chance to submit to Editor Mary Lee Donovan who was so lovely in her timely response to me. Well worth the money!

April
Time for the annual NE-SCBWI Conference in Springfield, MA. I've gone for the day and have also stayed over - get a friend for a roommate and it's much more fun! You never know what you're going to get at this conference. It all depends on the workshops you sign up for and actually get. The keynote addresses are usually amazing and I love to see illustrator's artwork outside the ballroom. In 2016, my favorite takeaways were meeting educator Donalyn Miller and attending an awesome writing workshop with author Jo Knowles (who may be the sweetest teacher in the universe). I had a great critique with an agent who seemed to indicate that with one minor adjustment, my manuscript was ready to go out. Though ultimately I didn't hear back from her - such is my luck.
Awesome critique group ladies!
May & June
were ultimately consumed by my kids' events. I did, however, faithfully go to my Critique Group!

July

Summer is completely weird for me and writing, mostly because my kids are home and it takes me 2 months just to get use to a new routine!  I did manage a trip with a friend to Jeff Kinney's An Unlikely Story Bookstore to hear a panel of Middle Grade authors talk about their upcoming books. Check out their events calendar and take a trip!

Secondly, I (sort of) participated in Kate Messner's Teachers Write! summer writing camp on her blog. I think it's a great idea filled with writing prompts and great lessons. I wish I spent more time with it but I have gone back and revisited some of the daily activities. Did I mention this one is free? Kate only asks that you purchase books by the mentors if you can.

August
I entered a writing contest offered by one of the groups I am in, where an editor gave everyone a picture book title prompt and read all the submissions. What I learned with this was that sometimes, what you hear that an editor wants is not really what an editor wants. Almost everyone who entered took his title at face value and probably wrote some great stories. They just weren't the stories he wanted.

September
I was brave this month and decided to attend the Squam Lake Writer's Retreat offered as part of NE-SCBWI - all by myself! Of course I saw and got to hang out with some familiar friends and faces during the weekend, all beside the picturesque setting of Squam Lake, New Hampshire! You can read about my first time submitting to a First Pages event at Pretty or Pretty Creepy?

October & November
I've combined these months because I took an 8-week online course, Revising and Reshaping Your Novel or Chapter Book, offered by Kid's Book Revisions editors Harold Underdown and Eileen Robinson. It started a little slow so I was getting nervous, but ultimately it picked up and got to the meat of revising a middle grade manuscript. I couldn't attend every webinar but I have a nice file to go back to and some great handouts.

One other fun thing in October was getting to meet the awesome Raina Telegemeier who came to speak at an event sponsored by R.J. Julia Independent Booksellers. All we had to do was sit and listen, but Raina really offered great inspiration to writers, young and old! 
Go Raina! signing for my daughter and friend
December
Wow, I'm exhausted. But then I saw that Susanna Leonard Hill was offering her annual holiday story contest and I thought, what the heck. I attempted a rough draft, then I thought some more about it (for a few weeks actually) and gave up. Then one day before the deadline, I finally got the story I wanted to tell re-arranged in my head and got it done. I was extremely excited to be one of 12 finalists out of about 80 entries or so! Then I found out I won 4th place! And that was just enough to encourage me to do this whole crazy writer thing for another year...

HAPPY 2017!


Monday, December 12, 2016

Tis' the Season!

2016 has been my year of TRYING EVERYTHING - at least when related to writing children's books. That post will be coming at the end of the month, but before we say hello to 2017, I figured I would try one more thing to also get me in the holiday spirit - a fun contest courtesy of Susanna Leonard Hill!
Check out her amazing blog here: SUSANNAHILL.COM

The 6th Annual Holiday Contest!!!!
12-days-1

So the challenge is to write a children's holiday story using the basic format/concept of The Twelve Days of Christmas, not to exceed 300 words. I thought about it for a week (as is my style), then wrote it yesterday. Here goes:


The Twelve Days Before Christmas
Twelve days before Christmas, mom bought me a sparkly, bright light-up necklace that blinked red, silver and green – just like real holiday lights.

Eleven days before Christmas, Luis said my necklace wasn’t quite as cool as his talking Christmas tie. The new girl, Lucy, said it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

Ten days before Christmas, Mr. Silver said I should put the necklace in my desk until the end of the day.

Nine days before Christmas, mom and I brought cookies to the neighbors who give us coconut cake on Kwanzaa.

Eight days before Christmas, my necklace stopped blinking.

Seven days before Christmas, mom replaced the batteries and told me not to sparkle quite as much.

Six days before Christmas, I asked Lucy what she wanted for Christmas. She looked down at her feet and said snow boots would keep her dry.

Five days before Christmas, we sang in the holiday concert. I wore my necklace for Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, but not for the Native American Winter Song.

Four days before Christmas, Mr. Silver found five shiny, gold chocolate coins for Hanukkah on his desk.

Three days before Christmas, Ms. Pam had to remind me not to leave my necklace on the bus.

Two days before Christmas, I gave Lucy the necklace. She smiled and twirled and said the colors glowed – like friendship.

On the day before Christmas, I asked Santa to bring Lucy the most sparkly pair of snow boots he could find. And more batteries.