Friday, July 31, 2009

The Publishometer

It's Book Business Friday.
Wow. I wondered if these things really existed. Now we have proof from the children's book editor who writes "Editorial Anonymous." So, if we're not celebrities, we can just use this handy guide to find out whether our manuscripts will be accepted by a publisher. No more need to agonize by the mailbox. (Notice the two areas in which we can shine--"Quality of Writing" and "Consumer Interest in Topic"-- our secret weapons!) Read all about it here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


It's Real Kids Thursday. Don't you wonder if little boys 1000 years ago were fascinated with clattering, wooden wagons like they are with vrooming, shiny vehicles now? Maybe cars were really invented, not so much for transportation, but just to satisfy this genetically based craving. Young children have certain topics which they love to think and talk about, act out, and read books about. They also have to deal with lots of real frustration and challenges every day. Wouldn't the little boy in this video just love to curl up on a lap and read a great book featuring cars and trucks? We can make the books he would love to read. What story would you write for him? In the mean time, somebody get this child a rubber band!
(BTW, See the title of the video? That's put on by the original uploader of the video, not me.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Plot Type #3

It's Writing Wednesday. Time to look at plot types again. (As we did here.) Today, it's the third type: Misunderstanding, Discovery, and Reversal. The main character has a misunderstanding about himself, or someone else, or something in the world. Through the course of the story, he makes a discovery, or realization. Then, towards the end, he has a reversal in which he changes his thinking and/or behavior. Let's take Where the Wild Things Are. Remember the story? Max gets sent to his room for acting wild, right? So, what does he misunderstand? What does he discover? What's the reversal? He misunderstands about how he feels about his home and the people who love him. He runs off to another land where he is free and is the boss. But he discovers that he's lonely and wants to feel loved. The reversal of his behavior comes when he sails home. Two more examples are Harry the Dirty Dog and The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Read them, and other stories, to recognize this plot type. Have you written a story of this type?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Art Materials

It's Illustration Tuesday. One of the wonderful things about picture books is the great variety of art styles and the wide range of techniques that illustrators use. The most recent Caldecott winner, Beth Krommes, used scratchboard. Sometimes, but by no means always, the publisher includes this info in the front of the book. (See what a librarian, writing in the School Library Journal, has to say about that here.) If you're an artist, it's instructive to know how the pictures were created. If you're writer or reader, it's just plain interesting to know what the materials were. If you're a little vague about what some of those fancy shmancy art terms may mean, here is a handy guide on the website, Picturing Books. If you illustrate, have you thought about stretching into new media? Remember how fun doing scratchboard is? Sometimes we need to shake it up a bit!

Monday, July 27, 2009


It's Monday, time for Picture Books Past. Some of the differences we can notice between older picture books and contemporary ones include the messages of cultural values and acceptable behavior which are frequently tucked here and there. Books, and other media, present many strong suggestions to children. Can you see Mister Dog's casual pipe smoking being included in a book today? Can you imagine Walter the Farting Dog being published fifty years ago? By looking at books from the past, with their (to us) obvious morality lessons or old-fashioned ideas, maybe we can better judge the books of today, including the ones we are creating. What's seems normal and natural for one time period may look quaint or wrong in another time. How will the books of today look in the future? Times change and so do the messages we give to kids. Just look at Fred Flintstone.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Book Sales

It's Book Business Friday. Ever wonder how sales and promotion are handled at big national chain book stores? Notice how bestselling books like Fancy Nancy are really easy to find? On the blog of Nathan Bransford, a literary agent with Curtis Brown, Ltd., he has an "insider" guest writing about the sale of books from publisher to book store to consumer. Eric introduces himself as a sales assistant at a major trade book publisher. This discussion is not focused particularly on children's books, but the industry as a whole. Find out how and where the money goes. As he says, "Co-op, in short, is the process by which we work with an account to determine which of our titles get special treatment: placement at the front of the store, on endcaps, in special displays, &c." Find out lots more here.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Feel the Beat

It's Real Kids Thursday. Children love to move their bodies. They hear rhythm and they just naturally respond. When we create picture books, we can have wonderful rhythm built into the structure of the story and into language we use. A cumulative story has a structural beat. Sentences with repetition have a language beat. Think about bringing children into your story by giving them rhythm to respond to. When was the last time you did the chicken dance? Never?!! It's fun, try it. Party time!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Purpose Achieved

It's Writing Wednesday.
When we introduced the four basic plots here, we said that understanding plot types can give us a handy road map when we are dreaming up our stories. We talked about the first type, the Series of Events. Today, let's think about the second plot type, the story of Purposed Achieved. In this type of story, the main character wants to achieve some goal, she works towards that goal, and she eventually succeeds in achieving that goal (or something equally appropriate.) Examples of this type of story include Swimmy, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, and Knuffle Bunny. Remember what Mike Mulligan's goal was? How did he achieve it? Have you used this plot type in stories you've written? Read a few favorite picture books you may have at home, or go to the library and pick up a batch, and see if you recognize the plot type. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


It's Illustration Tuesday. Eric Carle is a children's book creator who brings lots of joy to his books, and they, in turn, give joy to children and grown-ups. He brings joy to the creating of his books because of his playfulness and love of color. To make a good book, it's helpful to be playful and experimental in the process. If you illustrate, enjoy the rainbow of your paints, if you're a writer, in your colorful words. Play is the way!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Looking Back

It's Monday, Picture Books Past. There's a rich history of book making in the development of the modern picture book. It's nostalgic to look at favorites from our own childhoods, and informative to look at other books that were made even farther back in time. Some are classics, some are remembered only by collectors and historians. But when we explore these with our writers' eyes, and illustrators' eyes, we can learn and enjoy them in a special way. We are creative colleagues, separated by time from the folks who made them. An easy way to look at some older books is through the International Children's Digital Library. On that website many books from the past can be viewed, page by page. There are some beautiful and fun books here that your grandmother or great-grandfather might have read. Take a look here.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Peek Inside A Publisher

It's Book Business Friday.
Most publishing companies put out a list of new books for sale twice a year. Publishers have different ways of getting the word out to publicize these new books they have to sell: catalogs, advertising, sales reps, etc. Another way they let the world know is by trying to make potentially influential people, like key librarians, aware. Some publishing houses host librarian previews in their offices and invite those folks. You can read a description of one of these events here on the blog of Elizabeth Bird, a New York City librarian. Enjoy taking a look inside the offices of Henry Holt.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


It's Thursday, Real Kids Day here.
Watch children. Eavesdrop on their conversations--at Target, at the library, at the grocery. What emotions do you see? What kind of conflicts are there? What makes them smile or laugh? What upsets them? How do they interact with other children?
Use these observations, maybe not necessarily for specific story ideas, but to remember what it's like to be a child. And to think about what a child would care about deeply. We are writing for them. We want them to find our stories fascinating.
Here's a little brother interaction to watch off YouTube. How about thinking up a story about siblings?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Basic Plot Types

It's Writing Wednesday.
The four basic plot types are great to store in your brain. When making up a story, you can plot using your instincts for storytelling and let your imagination, and the action, flow. Like taking a drive. But, uh-oh! It's getting dark. And maybe you made a wrong turn back there at the last intersection. So, what if you get lost or unsure about your storytelling progress? Thinking through the basic plot types, and understanding what type your story is, can be a handy roadmap. They can be very helpful to understand what's happening within the stories you write so that you can fix flaws.
One of the four basic plot types is:
Series of Incidents--The main character goes through a series of events--this happens, then this happens, then this happens. The action moves along in sequence towards a logical ending which often puts the character back, in some way, to where she was at the beginning. The Snowy Day is an example, as is Harold and the Purple Crayon and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Read them and see how it works.
Can you think of other examples? Do any of your stories have this plot type?

We'll talk more about each plot type on future posts. Here, here and here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Creating Characters

Today is Illustration Tuesday. When you take a story down to the bare bones, it is a character with a problem. Children want to meet interesting folks when they open a book so we need to take some time to develop the characters in our picture books. They need personality! Mo Willems talks about the process of getting to know his characters before they star in a book. It's the same for writers and illustrators.

Monday, July 13, 2009

What's Up With This?

We're going to explore the great big wonderful world of creating picture books and selling picture books. The foundation that holds it all together is the child reader.
How do you make a picture book that children will enjoy? We'll talk about plots, characters, structure, pacing, mood, subject matter, illustration, age levels, fiction and nonfiction, fun, language, theme...etc...everything to make a great book for younger children.


We're celebrating picture books and the process of creating them.
Time to party!