Monday, December 30, 2013

A Belated Merry Christmas

Christmas is the perfect time to celebrate our blessings. Despite this time of mourning, our family has much to be thankful for. I hope you and yours have had a wonderful Christmas season. We look forward to a bright new year.
"The Gift of Stories," Roosevelt library tree, the White House. Image by Marty Katz

Bear Ye One Another's Burdens

Thank-you to all those who have sent their condolences, who have held my hand, who have understood in the midst of our grief. May God bless you all richly.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

ReviMo Reminder

'Just a reminder to sign up for ReviMo, January 12-18, 2014. It's a brand-new event, and a brilliant way to to make the most of your PiBoIdMo momentum. So get on board for Meg Miller's week of intense revision and jump-start your writing in the new year!

Sign-up from now until December 23, 2013

Friday, December 6, 2013

PPBF: Nora's Chicks

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

Nora's Chicks
Written by Patricia MacLachlan
Illustrated by Kathryn Brown
Candlewick, 2013, Fiction, ages 3-7, Lexile 490L

Lonliness, Immigration, Farming

"When Nora came to America from Russia, she came with her mother, her father, and her baby brother, Milo. She brought a bag of clothes, two dolls, and her blanket."

Nora's family emigrates to the American prairie from Russia. The landscape, the house, the life is much different, making Nora ache for her old home. Nora becomes nursemaid to a flock of chicks, helping her overcome her loneliness and transforming her new environment into her new home.

"Nora smiled for the first time. " interior art by Kathryn Brown, available at R. Michelson Galleries.

What I Love:
Tired of turkey yet? How about some chicken? I've actually been saving this gem for a while ('not sure why.) The water color illustrations are an obvious draw. The author? Well, yeah, if Pat MacLachlan writes directions on how to shampoo the carpet, I'm gonna be first in line to read them. It's a quiet book about self discovery and the triumph of one small girl, based on recollections of Pat's family history.

Courtesy DIYProjectNetwork

1. Make your own flock of chickens with these crafty hens cut from cereal boxes. They might be too advanced for little ones, but I really couldn't resist posting them here. So Cute!
2. Egg and pepper snacks. No, the irony is not lost on me. One blogger mom said you should be committed to a psych ward if you even considered making these. My kids think they are the coolest things on the planet and can't wait to make them. You decide.
3. We have our own chickens. Whether caring for adult hens, or starting from scratch (couldn't resist the pun) tending a flock has been a great experience for my family. My daughter's first grade teacher incubates eggs each year with her class. Here are a few resources if you want to give it a try.
Courtesy KiddieFoodies
4. Learn a little Russian. Here is a great link to the Cyrillic Alphabet for kids.
5. Study Russian immigrants or immigration in general through history or picture books!

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday, December 6, 2013 from Susanna Leonard Hill.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Gift of Libraries

“When I discovered libraries, it was like having Christmas every day.”
Jean Fritz

Ex Libris, E. J. Wheeler

Sunday, December 1, 2013

SkADaMo Week #5 Finale

Well, it's been fun, but Sketch A Day Month has ended. Here is the last batch of sketches. You can still check the other participants' sites. And of course, you can see all my SkADaMo pieces here.

Thanks again to Linda Silvestri for her organization of this event, her darling logo, and her idiomatic puns throughout November.

character sketches with rain gear

character expressions
I dare you!

portrait artist
an alien ate my sandwich

Monday, November 25, 2013

Our Songs Will Be Heard

"We who continue to be creative - we who battle that chatter - are heroes. Our stories will get written and told, our paintings will be seen, our songs will be heard."

-Gail Carson Levine

Bookplate of author, Fernando Rivero de Andrea

Sunday, November 24, 2013

SkADaMo Week #4

Here are my sketches for November 17-23. I haven't honestly had a good sketch every day, it's been a rough week. But these were all done in the last few days, so I hope that counts.

Click here to see the many other talented participants. Thank-you to Linda for creating this fabulous, fun (exhausting) event.

intergalactic buddies

I feel like this guy.
Illustration Friday "Tail"

new picture book character 

a brave warrior

Monster on a leash. 
A spaceman? Really?

Friday, November 22, 2013

PPBF: Baby Loves You So Much!

Today's Perfect Picture Book Friday pick

Baby Loves You So Much!
by Eileen Spinelli and David Wenzel
Baby Loves You So Much!
Written by Eileen Spinelli
Illustrated by David Wenzel

Ideals Children's Books, 2007,
Fiction, ages 3-8

Siblings, Babies

"Baby loves you so much!" That's what Mom says when Baby wakes me up in the morning screaming . . .
Waaaaa! Waaaaa!
"Baby wants you to be awake too," says Mom. "To enjoy this bright new day."

Great. A baby brother who thinks he's an alarm clock.

Big sister can't seem to get through her day without a series of mishaps caused by her baby brother. In each instance, Mom reminds her that drooling on her homework, chewing on her toys, and throwing his lunch are just the ways Baby says, I love you. But big sis is not so sure.

What I Love:
Eileen Spinelli, poet extraordinaire, surprises and delights in this gentle non-rhyming picture book. She includes irresistible sound-effects, like Zaaaa, Slurple, and Boink!

I love artist David Wenzel's illustrations. His clever use of perspective and warm tones put the reader in the story. As a bonus, the book includes a full color, pull-out growth chart.

Every sibling struggles with the nuisances of the baby in the house. This story is a gentle reminder that babyhood has charms as well. It makes a great gift for a struggling child.

Bonus for new big sisters/ brothers:
1. Discuss baby's milestones with the sibling so they can look forward to changes and not be frustrated by false expectations.
2. Let older kids make their own baby book to record their sibling's changes. They can include themselves or chart their growth in a big kid book.
3. Reminisce about big brother / big sister's babyhood. Make an album or start a journal.
Courtesy Hope Studios
4. Have the kids make their own t-shirt celebrating being a big brother / sister. Spoonful has a fun idea using bleach pens.

Bonus for any reader:
5. Play the game Spinelli creates, with your own family members or the family pet. It's sort of like Pollyanna's glad game. Every time someone makes a mess, find the silver lining.
6. Make sweet LifeSaver and jellybean pacifiers.

Check out all the recommended titles for Perfect Picture Book Friday for November 22, 2013.
Thanks to Susanna Leonard Hill.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

IF: Tail

Tail by Joanne Roberts

Here's the latest for Illustration Friday. It's Prismacolor cool gray markers on paper, and below, the pencil sketch.

"Tail" sketch, Joanne Roberts

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Interview with Marcie Colleen, Ask the Educational Consultant Blog Hop

We are so honored to be a participant in the
Ask the Educational Consultant Blog Hop.
Writer and educator Marcie Colleen is here to answer a few questions of specific interest to picture book writers.

And now, let's

1. Most how-to books don't include writing educational content. Which resources do you recommend for writers who want to learn to create teacher's guides and other supplemental materials for their books?

 The very first resource an author should turn to is the actual book. Chances are, up until this point, the author has only looked at their story through the lens of a storyteller. However, in order to create supplemental materials, the author will have to look at their book through a teacher’s eyes. Here are a few steps to help with that process:

  • Read carefully through the book, taking note of all themes/issues/elements that would be interesting to a classroom. Leave nothing unturned. Carefully scrutinize the setting, characters, and plot to uncover the hidden academic value in the story.
  • Take the extracted elements from the story and flesh them out through research. For example, if the story’s main character is a penguin living in Antarctica. Research penguins (their personalities, interactions with other penguins, daily life, living conditions, etc). And research the Antarctic (climate, living organisms, map study, etc.) How does the personality and actions of the penguin in the story compare or contrast to penguins in the natural world? How about personalities, interactions with other penguins, daily life, living conditions, etc). And research the setting? These are wonderful jumping off points for students to further study the book and learn fact from fiction, while also learning about geography, habitat and penguins. 
  • Reference the Picture Book Month’s Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms. Even though I created it, I have found myself using it as a resource! Not only does it provide several classroom activities that can be tailored for any book, it also aids in knowledge of what ELA, Math, Science and Social Studies mean. With this information it is easier to find where a story fits in.
It is time-consuming, however can be a lot of fun to create these materials for your books. My suggestion would be to create a few simple activities and not to get bogged down with a full cross-curricular guide, unless education is in your background and a passion of yours. Other resources can be the School & Library Markets department at your publisher, as well as freelancers like myself who provide such services or consultations.

I am looking to launch a consultation service in 2014 for those who wish to save money and create the materials themselves. I also look to offer workshops and webinars to help authors in this way. If anyone is interested in either of these services, please email me at

2. More publishers are looking for authors with marketing ideas. When querying, should you include information on how your manuscript fits in the classroom, to show editors you've done your CCCS homework?

In my opinion…and this is purely MY OPINION…is no. Just as a good teacher will be able to look at your book and immediately find value to bring to his/her classroom, a good editor knows what makes a good book…and whether or not it “teaches any lessons” is not important at that point to a traditional publisher (educational publishers are a different thing altogether). Regardless of CCSS (Common Core State Standards) or other state mandated learning standards, the story must be good. An editor will be able to detect whether it has what it takes. 

Also, keep in mind that editors are editors. They are not educators. Therefore, for some of them the CCSS is confusing and sounds like a foreign language. Do not weigh down your query with a lot of gobbly-gook that they might not understand. What a turn off that would be! Perhaps this is also when an agent would be handy because they would know which editors were CCSS savvy. 

Once your book goes to Acquisitions, the Marketing and School & Library Departments will probably discuss CCSS and other potential for that market, but again, it is their job to be able to see these qualities within your book. It is not your job. You are a storyteller. 

Now non-fiction is different. But for a fiction picture book, the focus must be on the story, not on its academic value.

3. How do you convince schools to book author visits in this climate of economic cutbacks?

Many authors do create classroom materials or hire a professional to write a Teacher’s Guide for the sole purpose of marketing. It does give you a bigger chance of booking if you can provide such items. However, the reality is that money is tight all around. I would suggest providing a variety of opportunities at different price points (Author Visit, Assembly Speech, Skype chat, etc.) Provide a Teacher’s Guide online for free download. This will at least help get teachers interested in using your book in the classroom. And most importantly, be accessible. Create relationships and you will become the author teachers think of first when booking visits.

4. If you have considered Skype visits, what should schools do differently to prepare and get the most out of your visit?

Skype visits can be an excellent economical alternative. Although not as hands-on as a classroom visit, students can benefit greatly from these conversations. Skills in question-writing and asking, listening, and oral presentation are so important and can be highlighted in preparation for a Skype visit. 

After reading the author’s book(s), teachers should work with students to develop questions and the skills to present these questions. Note taking during the Skype visit can also lead to post-visit writing activities, such as journalistic reports, response essays or thank you letters.

5. In one interview, you mentioned you'd taught a Children's Literature course which was basically a course in writing teacher's guides.  Do you have plans to offer it as an e-book or a writing workshop?

Yes! I would love to. At this point it is all just brainstorming. But definitely subscribe to my blog at to be kept up to date on such events. I would be open to suggestions or opportunities anyone might have, so contact me and send them along! 

Thank-you for taking the time to share your insights. We look forward to making a greater impact on the educational community and long life to the picture book form.

Don't miss any of the other informative stops on her tour.

Lauri Meyers

Jean Reidy

Darshana Khiani

Joanne Roberts

Tina Cho, Nov 25

Julie HedlundDec. 4

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Note on The Inner Critic

I think every writer, illustrator, and artist struggles with the voice of the inner critic. We smash our ideas before they are even on paper. We are more critical than any editor, and we beat our inner child until he is weeping in despair.

Statler and Waldorf, Jim Henson's toughest critics.
There is a time and place for self-criticism.
It isn't during PiBoIdMo. 

Maybe you've been lamenting your less-than-Newberry efforts so far. Here is some advice* from those who've been there, gleaned from last year's Picture Book Idea Month posts.

"Gag your inner critic! . . . stop perfectionizing! . . . Write down ALL the ideas you consider. You don’t know what will piggyback on them or what new variation will emerge." -Deb Lund

"I try not to reject . . . ideas too early, because there is no telling where they will end up." -Peter Harren

"I allowed myself to indulge in my imaginative whims.  . . . This was new. The feeling of having nothing to lose, so why not? I was no longer thinking about what I thought the publishing industry wanted to see. I was drawing what I wanted to see for myself." -Kelly Light 

"There's a fine line between a crazy, out-there idea, and a really brilliant one." -Aaron Reynolds

If you are still struggling, read the posts below in their entirety and repeat after me,

"I will not allow my inner critic to shout too loudly or too often."

Why not share your thoughts here, or on the PiBoIdMo Facebook group. Sometimes stating the fear out loud puts it in perspective. Happy brainstorming!

You can see last week's Quips and Tips post on Crazy story ideas here.
*You can read the original posts on Writing With Kids (While Raising Them): Aaron Reynolds, Deb LundKelly LightPeter Harren

Monday, November 18, 2013

Golden Hours

"No wealthy monarch can possess/ A greater store of golden hours/ Than can be found in happiness/ Of birds and books and flowers."

Sunday, November 17, 2013

SkADaM0 Week #3: Updated!

Badge and Challenge by Linda Silvestri

blueberries in season
Here are some sketches for this week. I'm behind, but will attempt to update the rest today. So much for a day of rest! Click here to check out the many other talented participants. A huge thanks to Linda for creating this fabulous sketching community.
building a boat


Disappointing news

Dressed in Daddy's clothes
Hmmm, I'd better practice drawing scissors. :(

Thinking about Illustration Friday "tail"

Saturday, November 16, 2013

More Influences: Scarry, Knight, Bates

Picture Book Month
Last week, I featured a trio of children's book illustrators who have had a big influence on my life and work. This week's illustrators are no less talented. I have no doubt at least one of them has impacted your artistic sensibilities as well.

Children's book legend Richard Scarry has a place in everyone's consciousness, I think. I only had a few of his early books, but sometime in the 70's I found Busytown and was hooked. I received the Puzzletown Farm for Christmas, and begged for all the sets, though my parents thought me a bit too old by then. I was enamored with the detail of the illustrations, the romantic depictions of everyday life in a small town, and the full-fledged world which made me want to jump into a book and linger there.

One of many Puzzletown playsets
featuring characters from Richard Scarry's books.
His books still delight readers, not for their nostalgia, but for their timelessness and relevance to children today, as evidenced by the reissuing and rebranding of his body of work.

 "I’m not interested in creating a book that is read once and then placed on the shelf and forgotten,” Richard Scarry once said. “I am very happy when people write that they have worn out my books, or that they are held together by Scotch tape. I consider that the ultimate compliment.” 

He evidently pioneered a method of transferring his drawings to board, called "blueboarding," not unlike how some modern illustrators print their scanned sketches directly to watercolor paper.

Which of Richard Scarry's books inspired you most?

Need to get in touch with your inner child? Download fun Busytown activities from Random House.

The Bunny Book, by Richard Scarry
Richard Scarry's brilliant vocabulary builders.
Richard Scarry's Busytown

Cricket Magazine
August 1984

At age 9, I discovered Hilary Knight. Wow. His work renders me speechless. (no easy feat!)

Perhaps it will come as a surprise that it was not Eloise who captured my attention. Truthfully, I didn't read Eloise until I was 30. I adored his soft colors, his storytelling, his imagination, and his masterful ability to distort the figure into the most expressive and graceful poses.

 It was only much later that I learned Hilary Knight has illustrated from Broadway to Sax Fifth Avenue and everywhere in between. Mr. Knight, who celebrated his 87th birthday recently, is as prolific as ever. And I still get paralyzed when I turn a corner and see his unmistakable artwork.

Hilary Knight's Cinderella
A French girl who looks remarkably like Eloise
A Walk in the Park, by Hilary Knight

The last inspiring illustrator for today is the incomparable, Amy June Bates.

Her work, like that of Hilary Knight, leaves me breathless each time I see it. I picked up an early reader about Susan B. Anthony because I couldn't stop staring at the art. It didn't take long for me to track down her various volumes. Amy's work is fresh and unique. Her subdued palette gives her illustrations emotional impact. Her characterizations are lively. In an age where smooth, digital style prevails, Amy's obvious brushwork seems even more outstanding. Amy seems like the kind of artist whose style will continue to evolve, which can only mean the best is yet to come.

Go to Julie Danielson's Seven Impossible Things interview for an absolute feast of Amy's work.

From I Will Rejoice,
by Karma Wilson
Amy June Bates sketch

Painting of boardwalk  by Amy June Bates

If you haven't yet discover these wonderful illustrators, I hope you will take the time to explore their work, and that you are inspired to greater artistic achievements.