Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The "Ask The Education Consultant" Blog Hop Wrap-Up and A WINNER!!!

First off, I want to thank each one of my gracious hostesses who asked such wonderful, thought-filled questions on my Blog Hop.  It was an absolute pleasure to be a visitor on each one of the blogs, but boy am I tired!

I have done my best to respond to all comments left on the posts and I encourage everyone to go read them if you have not already.  I feel like we created quite a little "ins and outs" of picture book education.

You can find all of the posts here:

Rosanne Kurstedt
Lauri Meyers
Darshana Khiani
Joanne Roberts
Tina Cho
Julie Hedlund

Thank you again, ladies for a wonderful month!  Your support and enthusiasm means so much to me.

Please also continue to share the Picture Book Month Teacher's Guide.  Picture Book Month might be over, but the crusade lives on.  :)

And now for our winner of the One Hour One-on-One Education Consultation (chosen from Random.org)

(drumroll please)


Congrats, Julie. 

In this consultation, Julie will receive:
  • a thorough evaluation of her existing School Visits and education materials
  • a strategic plan on how to better position her books for the classroom market
  • activity and lesson plan ideas which align her books to the Common Core State Standards
  • A $150 VALUE for FREE!!!
In 2014 I will be launching my Consultation Services.  I look forward to starting with Julie.  Stick around for more information on how you, too, can benefit from a One-on-One Consultation!

Friday, December 6, 2013

From Skeptic to Backer: An EXCLUSIVE "Hot-Seat" Interview with Julie Hedlund, and Why I Decided to "Back" Her Kickstarter Campaign

I am not always the most open-minded person.  I admit that. So when my good friend, Julie Hedlund, announced that she would be testing a new "hybrid model for publishing" and launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund her next picture book, MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN, I was grumpy leary.

Quickly, within my writing community, I started to hear others talk of their own confusion with Julie's project.  Others had questions too.  It was then that I approached Julie, who graciously answered every single one of my interrogations questions.

Julie was able to answer all of my questions, relieve any doubts I had and EVEN turned me from skeptic to backer!

It is my pleasure today to be able to share all of this with you, as Julie has offered to answer my questions (and maybe your's) on the blog.  That's right!  Today, I put my friend in the Hot Seat.

I hope you can read this interview with an open-mind.  There is a lot of good information here.  And with 6 days left to Julie's campaign, perhaps you can find it in you to join me as a backer for this very special project!

Welcome, Julie....

"Wood Ducks" by Susan Eaddy, illustration for MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN

I understand how this project is not self-publishing, seeing as you have a publisher behind you. However, how is this project different from publishing with a vanity press?

Great question! The author/crowdfunding consultant I’ve been working with throughout this campaign, Scott James, defined hybrid publishing as the following:

1. The publisher has the right to accept or reject the manuscript

2. The publisher has the ability to distribute the manuscript widely to online and physical bookstores.

3. The publisher offers all services required for publishing, including editing, book design, graphic design, art direction, etc.

Little Bahalia, of course, meets all three of those criteria, and I’m glad they accepted my manuscript! In my mind, the biggest difference between hybrid publishing and publishing with a vanity press (or self-publishing), is that you pay the vanity press or self-publishing service and they publish the work without regard to the content. Which by the way, doesn’t mean the content is bad, it just means it’s not vetted by the company offering the publishing services.

What roles have your agent and the publisher played in this project?

My agent was heavily involved in helping me negotiate the contracts between myself and the publisher and the illustrator. Likewise, Little Bahalia played a huge role in providing the contractual structure for the project since it some of the initial financial terms are different from a traditional deal.

Little Bahalia also provided editing of the manuscript, and is now doing art direction with the illustrator, Susan Eaddy. Once the illustrations are complete, they will design the book, produce it, and print it - just as all publishers do.

What about the Kickstarter model was of interest to your publisher? To your agent? And why was Little Bahalia not able to take this on traditionally?

For my agent, this provided a way for her to help me get a book published that we both felt had merit and would be well-received by readers, but for reasons I explain in this video, might not have been picked up by a major publisher. By assisting me in this non-traditional, hybrid deal, she’s kept herself relevant to me, to my career, and she will of course earn her standard 15% commission once the book is in print.

For Little Bahalia, this was an opportunity for them to publish a title they loved but was a bit outside their typical publishing model (digital-first, then print). As an indie publisher with limited resources, as much as they loved the manuscript, Little Bahalia would not have been able to front the initial costs of publishing due to their existing commitments and the nature of their list.

So it really did end up a win-win-win for everyone. I get to publish another book, my agent earns a commission while at the same time learning how to navigate the waters of hybrid publishing contracts, and the publisher gets to publish a book they love and believe will sell once it is in print.

Today publishers are asking their authors to do so much more in terms of promotion for their book. Do you see this model as yet another way that the bulk of “the work” falls on the author?


But make no mistake. Unless you are already a well-established, multiple bestselling author (and in some cases even then), authors must work if they want their books to do well. We can cry all we want about it, but while writing is an art, publishing is a business. I don’t feel I’ve done less work to support A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS than I have crowdfunding MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN.

In other words, the way we work and advocate may vary from book to book, but the fact that we must work and advocate changes not. :-)

What I think is exciting about crowdfunding is that, while it is certainly a huge amount of work, it is an empowering option for authors with great books, solid platforms, and the willingness to “just do it.”

This model sounds like a ton of work and in some cases, stress. What is the benefit for authors versus the traditional publishing model?

In my “Why I am Crowdfunding My Next Picture Book” series on my blog, I discuss several major benefits of crowdfunding (I believe I’ve already addressed the amount of work in the previous question.) They include: creative control; experimenting with new publishing models and sharing with other authors in the process, the time to market, and the ability to demonstrate demand prior to publication. I would encourage your readers to go through that series if they are interested in all of the details.

I am in love with my kidlit writing community. However, my biggest concern is that the writing community becomes a place where fellow writers are constantly asking me for money for their projects. What are your thoughts on this?

Well, when authors promote their books, they’re asking you to buy them. In other words, they’re asking you for money. Crowdfunding is no different except that the request for $ comes earlier in the publication process. In the same way that we couldn’t buy everyone’s book in the kidlit community, even if we wanted to, we can’t contribute to every project that comes along. We buy the ones, or back the ones that resonate the most with us and/or were written by the people closest to us.

The number of people in my network/platform is in the thousands. As I write this post today, there are 154 backers of MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN. Some of them didn’t even come from my network. Clearly there are MANY people in my orbit who chose not to back this project (or never got the word on it or forgot, etc. etc.). And you know what? That’s perfectly okay! I certainly did not have the expectation that everyone I knew would back this project, and I take ZERO offense. I really mean that.

Besides, given the amount of work and initiative it takes to pull off a successful crowdfunding campaign, I think we’re still quite a ways away from it becoming a “commonplace” strategy for authors.

Often a complaint about self-published books is that they “published” before they are “ready.” How does this model uphold the high quality standard that publishers have had in children’s literature?

This model is quite traditional in that the publisher had to accept/acquire the manuscript on its merit.

Furthermore, my agent would not have elected to take this on if she did not believe the book was “ready.” And again, although the funding comes from a different source, everything else (editing, art direction, book design, production) remains the same - conducted by a publisher with vast professional experience with these skills.

Here I must add that all of this CAN be done well with self-published books too. The key is that the author must put together a team to make sure every piece of the publishing puzzle is handled with the same level of expertise and professionalism that comes from a traditional publisher. Some authors may possess some of those skills themselves, but where they are lacking, they need to hire experts to fill in the gaps.

There are very few distribution options for self-published books. Will your book be available in Barnes & Noble, indie bookstores, etc?

Yes, yes, and yes! One advantage of having a publisher is that the published books go into the major book distribution databases and become available to every online or physical book retail in the country.

Julie Hedlund is a Children’s author. She’s had two books published as interactive storybook apps for the iPad by Little Bahalia Publishing -- A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS and A SHIVER OF SHARKS. A print version of TROOP was released in fall 2013.

Julie is the creator of Julie Hedlund’s Template for Storybook App Proposals and the founder and host of the 12 x 12 picture book writing challenge, with more than 500 members. She is a monthly contributor on Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books children’s literature podcast, a PAL member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and a contributing editor on the subject of 21st Century Publishing for Children’s Book Insider (CBI). She has been a speaker at SCBWI, O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing, and other industry events.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The "Ask the Education Consultant" Blog Hop!

Happy November, everyone! 

This month I am embarking on a Blog Hop about all things Education.

So be sure to check me out on these fabulous blogs this month.  And don't forget to download the Picture Book Month Teacher's Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms!

Thurs Nov 7      
Lauri Meyers
Mon Nov 11      
Jean Reidy
Wed Nov 13      
Darshana Khiani
Wed Nov 20      
Joanne Roberts
Mon Nov 25     
Tina Cho
Wed Dec 4        
Julie Hedlund

And for an added treat, check out my interview on Rosanne Kurstedt's blog from last week!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ask the Education Consultant: A Picture Book Month Blog Hop (with giveaway!)

Its almost November!  And therefore, its almost Picture Book Month!!!

Have you registered to be an Ambassador yet?  All set to celebrate?  Visit www.picturebookmonth.com to get started.

This year I am super excited because I have joined the Picture Book Month Team as the Education Consultant. 

I am also extremely proud to introduce you all to the Teacher's Guide I created for the intitiative called "Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms". 

This comprehensive Teacher's Guide aims to validate and inspire teachers to include picture books in their curriculum, while also providing evidence that picture books do, in fact, fulfill the learning standards of the Common Core.  You are going to want to download it here.

So, in celebration of Picture Book Month and "Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms", I will be embarking on a blog hop!

How does it work?

1)  Email me at marciecolleen@gmail.com , letting me know you want to host me on the blog hop.

2)  Together we will pick a date for your post to publish.

3)  At least 3 days before your date, you  need to send me 5 questions that you want to "Ask the Education Consultant".  These questions can be about the Common Core, picture books, Teacher's Guide, marketing for school visits, classroom practice, etc. Its up to you!

4)  I will send my answers asap.

5)  Publish our interview on the date selected.

One lucky host will win...

 a One hour One-on-One Education Consultation on the Phone, in which you will be able to get advice on your own classroom practice, school visits, or manuscripts (published or unpublished). Maybe you just want to know how you fit into all of this Common Core stuff.  Whatever it is, be you a writer, a teacher or a librarian, this phone consultation will be chock full of advice and tips.

Ready?  Let's get hopping...

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Value of "Fresh Eyes"

You only get one chance to make a first impression, right?

It's true for dating.  It's true for job interviews.  And its true for...

wait for it...


Recently, during a phone conversation with my agent, I asked when in the process is it best for me to send work to her.  I found her answer brilliant. 

She said, "It's up to you.  But just remember that you only get my fresh eyes once."


I hadn't thought of it that way. 

Writers need critiquers because we need eyes that are not so "close" to the story.  We need "unbiased" readers. However, each time a critiquer reads a piece they become closer and closer to it, whether they realize it or not.  And THEN if they actually contribute to some of the revision, you are dealing with a VERY close critiquer.

I might go as far as saying that having someone look at your piece more than twice is dangerous.

So, what are my tips for keeping my critiquers "fresh"?

1)  Belong to more than one critique group.  Of course, these are time consuming, however maybe belong to one in-person group and one online group.  And remember, critiquing other's work will informs your's, too.

2)  Have a few critiquers who are better than you.  That sounds weird, but I have a few published friends who I admire so much.  And once in awhile, when a piece gets to a certain level, I ask one of them if they can read it.  But remember, always respect other people's time.  Do not abuse this relationship.

3)  Pay for critiques.  There are people who do this sort of thing.  Find them online.  Find them at conferences and workshops.  Splurge. 

4)  Use Rate Your Story.  It's a free service.  And although you can't be guaranteed a thorough critique, it's a start.

5)  Don't rush to submit.  Do the work.  Do the heavy lifting first.  Don't abuse your submitting power.  It's better to delay giving your manuscript to ANYONE and wait til its ready. Put your best work out there ALWAYS!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Children's Author Blog Hop!

Wow.  I haven't been posting a lot lately.  Things seem to be happening at super speed and I just haven't had time to make sense of it all for myself, let alone blog about it.
Rosanne Kurstedt

But, I have been asked by friend and fellow author, Rosanne Kurstedt, to participate in a Children's Author Blog Hop and I thought it would be a perfect way to fill you all in to what I have been busy doing.

First, I want to thank Rosanne for bringing me along for the Hop.  Rosanne and I met at a New Jersey SCBWI event last November and have become friends.  I have had the honor of reading some of her writing and it is always a joy.  Rosanne also has her PhD in Education and is an Adjunct Professor, Fordham University, co-author of Teaching Writing with Picture Books as Models (Scholastic, 2000) and former upper elementary school teacher.  Quite a cool lady.  You can read her Blog Hop post at http://rlkurstedt.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/childrens-author-blog-hop-2/.

For this Blog Hop participating authors answer four identical questions and then invite three more kidlit authors to join in the “Hop.”

And now...my responses....

What are you working on right now?

Well, I recently went out on submission for the first time!  I know, right?  Super cool!  Shout out to my amazing agent, Susan Hawk of The Bent Agency.  So...my job right now is to not think about the fact that I am out of submission.  Not sure I am succeeding.  But I try.

I am working on revising a few other manuscripts and gearing up to mine for more ideas during PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) in November.  If you have never participated, you will want to this year!  Check it out at www.taralazar.com/piboidmo

How does it differ from other works in the genre?

My stories are usually pretty quirky...yet on the sweet side.  One of my WIPs (works-in-progress), however, is quietly sweet.  No jokes, really.  So, I am not sure it is very different from other works in the genre, but it feels good to branch out and try something new for myself.  It is also based loosely on a true event that happened in my neighborhood in Brooklyn.  So that is new for me, as well.

Why do you write what you do?

I have always been drawn to picture books.  In fact, even when I taught High School English, I created an elective class on Children's Literature in which we studied the themes and issues in picture books. 

I also love that picture books are little packages.  I don't have commitment issues, but they seem more accessible to me than sitting down to write a 75,000 word novel.

AND, I love being incredibly silly and acting like I am 5 years old.  So, why not  be 5 and get paid for it!?

What is the hardest part about writing?

Taking my incredibly active and silly imagination and making it translate on to paper.  In words.  Sometimes I have such amazing ideas, but the words fail me. 

Its important to have patience.  Let the idea simmer and sautee for a bit.  Play with some words.  Jot down ideas.  Don't force them.  Trust your personal process.  That's when the magic happens.

Alright!  Now I get to introduce you to three very special ladies who I am tagging on this Blog Hop!

Joanna Marple

Joanna Marple has been telling stories ever since she learnt to speak - long and short stories, true and not-so-true stories, stories to entertain friends and children. Now she is busy writing these stories into books - picture books and YA, almost always with a strong element of adventure and multicultural locations and characters. She is now living on her third continent, studying for an MFA in Creative Writing at Stony Brook University, New York. Follow Joanna's blog, Miss Marple's Musings at www.joannamarple.com and on twitter @joannamarple.

Jen Hill

Jen Hill is the illustrator of THE BOY WITH PINK HAIR by Perez Hilton, and the author and PERCY AND TUMTUM: A TALE OF TWO DOGS.
Jen's award-winning career as an animator, illustrator, and writer of children's books undoubtedly informs her jovial fine art paintings. In her gouache compositions, Jen uses folkloric characters to drive playful narratives rife with mischief, humor and mystery. Her work is a pictorial encapsulation of the creepy charm that ghost stories, tall tales, folklore, and fairy tales make us nostalgic for.
Jen is also an animator. Her children’s television credits include Time Warp Trio (Discovery Kids Channel), Home Movies (Cartoon Network), and Sesame Street.
Jen is a graduate from the Rhode Island School of Design, where she studied children's book illustration with David Macaulay and Judy Sue Goodwin-Sturges. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Visit her at

Amber Alvarez

Amber Alvarez is a Hawaiian-girl gone Brooklyn. A graduate of New York's Pratt Institute, she has had the good fortune to slip behind the wizard's curtain and give life to heart-warming characters everywhere from Scholastic Entertainment to Sesame Workshop.  A passion for K-3 education lead her to a development position at BrainPOP Jr. There she helped create award winning animated content currently seen in classrooms across the world. She now lends her creativity to the role of senior games designer at BrainPOP's GameUp. Amber is currently channeling more than a decade of experience in award winning children's content into the dream role of picture book author/illustrator. Find her on twitter @SheSureis.

Alright, these ladies are super fabulous!  Follow their blogs and to see their answers!  Blog Hop away!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Alliteration: what are your thoughts?

This past Sunday I had the great opportunity to attend a workshop in Princeton, NJ which was sponsored by the NJ Chapter of SCBWI.  The workshop was taught by the extraordinary, Ame Dyckman and was officially titled a PB Word Count SMACKDOWN!  And Ame indeed did provide many awesome tips to keeping that word count low.

Ame Dyckman is a wonderful presenter.  If you ever get the chance to attend a workshop taught by her...run to it!  She is just dynamite in her knowledge and energy.  And is the the perfect person to teach a workshop on word count.  Her own picture books, including the ever-popular BOY + BOT usually weigh in around 300 words or less.  Yet, no one can argue that her stories do not pack a whole lotta heart and punch in those few words.  In fact, my first  encounter with Ame was when I found BOY + BOT on the shelves of my local indie bookstore.  I was compelled right away to write this blog post: BOY + BOT: A lesson in simplicity.

And then I was lucky enough to become FRIENDS with Ame and she graciously appeared on the blog again for the WriWOPi (Writing Without Pictures series).  The post is one of my most popular on the blog to this very day.  You can read it here.

Anyway, you get the picture.  Ame Dyckman knows her stuff when it comes to word count.

So...this workshop not only included listening to Ame and her tips to SMACKDOWN word count, it also gave participants the opportunity to have their "long" manuscripts read aloud and to have Ame weigh in on how to slice 'em up a bit.

Which brings me to the idea of alliteration.

I use alliteration.  Its one of my Picture Book tools like onomatopoeia.  I use it to spice up a manuscript.  It makes the wording "fun".

However, in this workshop it became very clear that reading alliteration aloud can sometimes bog down a story and make it seem longer than it is.

Perhaps alliteration does the exact opposite of what we want it to do.

In a few manuscript examples which were read aloud, alliteration slowed down the reader.

Back in June I had Ame critique one of my manuscripts at conference and she flagged my moments of alliteration with this very thought.  And to be honest, I didn't really listen to her...until Sunday.  It was so obvious that the alliteration seemed forced...too literary in a way. 

I think to the SKIPPYJON JONES books.  They are packed with alliteration and internal-rhyme.  Of course they also weigh in extremely long at over 1000 words.  However, when I read them aloud I get tired, my tongue gets twisted and the kids get a little lost.  It is only when I pop in the cd that comes with the book that I enjoy the story.

So, I wanted to start a dialogue.  What do you think of alliteration?  Do you use it?  What are your experiences? Let's talk...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Calling All Teachers: A Picture Book Month Special Request

For lovers and readers of Picture Books, it seems clear enough.  Picture Book are invaluable.  And PB-friendly educators know that they can be used to teach a wide variety of concepts and therefore should be included in any classroom curriculum.  However, with an increase interest in learning standards and the Common Core, sometimes Picture Books are looked at as “not making the grade.”

This November, join Picture Book Month as we celebrate the genre and shed light on the educational value of Picture Books.

I have been given the amazing honor of being named Picture Book Month’s Education Consultant and have been working hard to create a Teacher’s Guide addressing how to use Picture Books across the curriculum and to meet the Common Core, as well as other state mandated standards.  It has been a huge undertaking, but I am passionate about this and cannot wait to share the completed Teacher’s Guide with you in November.

In past years PBM has featured daily posts by authors and illustrators stating “Why Picture Books are Important.”

This year, teachers, I want to hear from YOU!

Why are Picture Books important to your classroom teaching?

Do you have an anecdote about:

·         Using Picture Books to teach Math, Science, Social Studies or ELA concepts?

·         Reaching an uninterested kid through Picture Books?

·         Using Picture Books, especially fiction, to teach to the Common Core?

·         A Picture Book that you return to year after year to teach certain concepts?

If so, you can be a very special CONTRIBUTOR in this year’s Picture Book Month celebration!

Write up your testimonial regarding the importance of Picture Books in the classroom (750 words, or less, please) and email it to me at marciecolleen@gmail.com.  Include a picture of yourself.
Those who participate will be featured in the Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide which will be available for download at www.picturebookmonth.com starting in November.

And of course, teachers and non-teachers, grab an Ambassador Button to place prominently on your social media or website.  Then visit www.picturebookmonth.com for ideas about celebrating! Let's get the word out this year that Picture Books have value!

Monday, August 26, 2013

16 Peanut Butter and Jelly Reads (Picture Books Made Better When Read Together)

In July Barnes & Noble's blog featured a post of Classic Literature Peanut Butter and Jelly Reads (Books Made Better When Read Together). You can read their post here. It is a delightful post, but kidlitters were left saying, "wouldn't it be great if they did this for picture books?"

Well, just wishing was not good enough for the Awesome Picture Book Group (APBGers, for short), my online critique group. Nope, we decided to make it happen.

So, it is with great pleasure that I bring you Peanut Butter and Jelly Reads (Picture Books Made Better When Read Together) by the Awesome Picture Book Group.

Kirsten Larson's picks...
Boy Were We Wrong About the Dinosaurs by Kathleen Kudlinski and Dinothesaurus by Douglas Florian
Do you still think dinosaurs were reptiles? Guess again. Did you love the Brontosaurus? It never existed. Kudlinski’s book is an entertaining look at how science is constantly evolving, using kid-favorite dinosaurs as her example. Dino lovers will enjoy Florian’s twist on traditional dino books. He couples his dino-rific poems with fanciful illustrations that show the dinosaurs’ personalities and unique traits. Troodon, the smarty pants of the bunch, is pictured with a graduation cap, for example. Dino fans will love these two different takes on dinosaur stories.

Moonshot by Brian Floca and If You Decide To Go To The Moon By Faith McNulty
Moonshot is by far the best-told tale of the Apollo 11 mission. Floca has done a ton of research, but has simplified his text relying upon a rhythmic, lyrical style and detailed illustrations. In If You Decide To Go To The Moon, McNulty writes in the second person, challenging children to imagine themselves on a Moon mission. Pack up your PB&J and orange juice and climb aboard.

Marcie Colleen's picks...
Caps For Sale by Esphyr Slobodkhina and I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
There is no doubt that having something stolen is frustrating, especially a hat. In the classic Caps For Sale, we meet a peddler who carries his wares on his head. However, being a peddler can be tiring and when he takes a rest under a tree, several monkeys steal his hats. Its monkey see, monkey do at its most comical. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen also features a stolen hat, a stare down and frustration, however the outcome is quite different. Perhaps both of these books can be read, not only for enjoyment, but for a look into options of conflict resolution?

Blackout by John Rocco and The Dark by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Jon Klassen
Children are often afraid of the dark, however both of these stories explore darkness in a new and exciting way. In Blackout, a city experiences loss of power and therefore loss of normalcy. Yet, the city becomes alive with new excitement. Rocco’s illustrations evoke whimsy and magic. Lemony Snicket’s The Dark features the dark as a personified character which lives in Laszlo’s basement. One night, the dark comes upstairs to Laszlo’s room, and Laszlo goes down to the basement. Children will be mesmerized by Klassen’s stark illustrations while reading how Laszlo confronts his fear and stops being afraid of the dark.

Jennifer Young's picks...
On The Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman​ and On The Day You Were Born By Debra Frasier
Tillman sets the mood with a text that whispers a sweet angelic tone.  The moon, stars, rain and wind are personified. They share the wonderful marvelous name of the new born baby with the world for all to celebrate. In the picture book, On the Day You Were Born, Frasier speaks directly to the reader as well as Tillman’s On The Night You Were Born. Just like Tillman’s book, the news is spread far and wide. Animals pass along the word from animal to animal of the marvelous news. The Earth, the sun, the moon and gravity as also personified, same as in Tillman’s book, and they make special promises to the new born baby.

Those Darn Squirrels by Adam Rubin and Muncha, Muncha, Muncha by Candace Fleming
From the start, Rubin paints an unlikable main character with Old Man Fookwire who hates certain animals but somehow wins over your heart in the end. He loves to paint birds and in order to keep them around during the winter he leaves them food in his feeders. Unfortunately, squirrels love bird food too and they manage to steal it. “Those darn squirrels!” The more Old Man Fookwire builds his “Veritable fortress around his birdfeeders” they always break in.  In the picture book, Muncha, Muncha, Muncha, Fleming introduces a gentle man named Mr. McGreely who loves to eat veggies and he grows a garden full of them. But three sneaky rabbits love them just as much as he does. “Muncha, muncha, muncha.” Mr. McGreely gets mad. Each day he builds a bigger fence around his little garden, but they still break in. Finally, he builds the most impenetrably fence and he waits.
So, which band of sneaky bandits from these two books were able to figure out a way to get in and eat? You’ll have to read both to the end to find out.

Wendy Greenley's picks...
The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Amanda Hall and Emily’s Art written and illustrated by Peter Catalanotto
One book is nonfiction with an adult point of view and the other uses a fictional child’s point of view but the message in each reinforces the other. When artists pour their soul into their work, no matter whether they are children or adults, criticism stings but artists persevere because the worth of their art isn’t measured in any single viewer’s judgment, the value is in the joy of artistic expression and creation.

Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus, illustrated by Jose Aruego and The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and illustrated by William Nicholson
Some picture books are kid pleasers. Some picture books resonate better with age. And I’m talking about the age of the reader. While little ones will certainly enjoy these books too, the real pleasure is for the adult reader. Bring tissues.

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle and Edwina The Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct by Mo Willems
My heart does a special pitter patter for unlikely friendship stories. Not necessarily the interspecies nonfiction friendships (although I like those too!). What makes these two books work so well together is that the friendships come about without any character in either book working towards it as a goal. The friendships develop naturally, without fanfare, but still carry a mighty wallop at the end. I grin every time I reread these.

Rena Traxel Boudreau's picks...
Good News. Bad News by Jeff Mack and Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds. Illustrated by Peter Brown
Besides having bunnies in both stories both do a beautiful job of leaving room for the illustrator while telling a compelling story. In fact both stories need the illustrations in order for the story to make sense. One ending made me laugh and the other made me cry. Perfect to read together.

Hug Time by Patrick McDonnell and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Both are lyrical and beautifully written. They are stories that can be read time and time again and not lose meaning. One has simple pictures and the other complex yet the illustrations fit the text. When I picture them together I could see a "wild" child running around hugging everyone.

Julie Rowan-Zoch's picks...
Big, Bad Bunny written by Fran Billingsley, illustrated by G.Brian Karas and The Black Rabbit created by Philippa Leathers
There is the obvious tie with rabbits in this book - or not! - which you'll see when you read them. Both books have a wonderful climactic arc, just like the roller-coaster ride my Aunt Peg had taken my brother and I on back in Baldwin: the heights not too horrifying, just enough for a satisfying taste of excitement! And there is the innocence, fear, imagination - and protection from something familiar. Both have been infused with visual energy, and executed in traditional mediums: watercolors, acrylics, pencil and ink.

Owl Babies written by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson and Little Lost Owl created by Chris Haughton
A gentle understanding of longing and fear between the 'missing' parents or offspring comes across in both of theses titles, nicely reversed for comparison. Both illustration styles are simple, yet vary enough visually, and in humor and cadence, to stand out when enjoyed together!

Stephen Cahill's picks...
Dogs Don't Do Ballet by Anna Kemp, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie and Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees
Dogs Don't Do Ballet is about a little girls' dog who has a dream to become a ballet dancer. Her father keeps reminding her though that "dogs don't do ballet". However, much to everyone's surprise, he's very good. Giraffes Can't Dance is about a giraffe who everyone thinks is an appalling dancer. The difference here is that Gerald, the giraffe, does not believe in himself. But with the help of a musical cricket he finds his style and everyone sees how wrong they were.

Nobody Laughs at a Lion by Paul Bright, illustrated by Matt Buckingham and I Am The King by Leo Timmers
The first is about a lion who gets no respect from any of the other animals. Until he reminds them of his mighty roar. But in I Am The King the lion does not have to do anything to gain the animals' respect. They take turns wearing a crown they have found. But on realising it belongs to a lion they promptly hand it back. Nobody messes with a lion.

Beegu by Alexis Deacon and Q Pootle 5 by Nick Butterworth
When an alien crash lands on earth, falls out with the locals (apart from the children), but is rescued by his folks versus an alien crash landing on earth and the locals help him fix his ship. 

Thanks for stopping by. We hope you choose to enjoy some of these pairings with a cold glass of milk.

What about you? What PBs would you pair together for a yummy combination? We'd like to hear from you!

Monday, August 19, 2013

ONE WORD with Hazel Mitchell and Nicole Groeneweg: an interview

Writers are lovers of words. We admire them.  We collect them.  We savor them.  Words are powerful, and writers know that every word counts.  But what if our words were limited and had the possibility to run out?

 In One Word Pearl (by Nicole Groeneweg and illustrated by Hazel Mitchell) that is exactly what happens.

Pearl loves words. All kinds of words. Words make up songs, stories, poems . . . and what does a lover of words do? She collects them, of course!

But one day, most of Pearl’s words are blown away, leaving her only a few which she keeps safely in her treasure chest. After that day, she uses each word carefully—one at a time, until she has no words left. When her teacher asks her questions at school, she doesn’t answer. When her friend wants to know what she has for lunch, she can’t respond. What will Pearl do without her precious words? Will she ever find them?

One Word Pearl is a wonderful story about choosing your words carefully—there is no better lesson to writers.  And today I am happy to introduce a very special interview with both Nicole and Hazel.

Welcome to you both!

Nicole, what was the inspiration behind ONE WORD PEARL?

I love words and when I was brainstorming for the  NAESP fiction contest, I knew the story had to be about a little girl who loved words, too. The NAESP (National Association for Elementary School Principals) Foundation has an annual fiction contest with two winners: one picture book and one chapter book.  One Word Pearl  and Seers by Kristine Bowe were the winners for 2012, the second year for the contest.  Entries are due March 15 each year.  The winners of the contest win a contract with Charlesbridge Publishing. You can find contest guidelines at http://www.naesp.org/naesp-foundation/national-childrens-book-year-contest

Can you share a little about Pearl’s journey, from first draft to publication?

Writing Pearl was different than writing any of my other stories. I knew I wanted to submit a story for the NAESP and had thought of writing about a 'word girl'. It was early February when I checked to see the deadline for submitting.  The website had posted the wrong date (2/15), so I got to work. I wrote One Word Pearl in three days! Most of my stories take me months to write and even longer to revise.   I had already sent off the story when I saw the real due date (3/15). I decided there was nothing I could do and maybe it was even meant to be. I was thrilled when I received the phone call that I'd won!  At the time of submission, the story was set in Pearl’s home with her mom, dad, and little brother. My editor suggested setting the story in a school. So I revised and revised and revised...and voila One Word Pearl was reborn.

Hazel, what was it that inspired you to take on the illustrations for One Word Pearl?

I loved the manuscript and immediately related to Pearl. I used to cut words out of magazines and newspapers and make up my own comics when I was a kid. And I saw a lot of potential for interesting illustrations.

Pearl is absolutely adorable.  Hazel, can you describe a little bit about your process in creating such delightful characters?

Sure. I immediately saw Pearl as kind of Asian (because of her name I think) and as sassy, quirky and a little geeky. She is DEFINITELY not a Princess. My first port of call was to google Asian children and take a look at their features. Pearl has great hair and it has a bit of a life of its own! I also wanted to give her fun clothes and big ‘ol shoes. I did a lot of rough sketches, which I showed to the publisher and after a couple of tweaks Pearl was with us. I also wanted her to have a sidekick friend. A lot of the pictures show Pearl on her own, so I wanted her to have a companion. And maybe it was the Asian connection, but I thought of a colourful bird who would supplement her emotional reactions in the story. I really love that little bird!

After several rounds of rough drawings, that got more finished every time, the finals are in pencil. I then scan them into photoshop and use digital colour. I DID use a lot of collage and scanned in watercolour textures I made by hand. Some of the pages have over 150 layers in them. It can be confusing if you don’t know where you have put something! But a lot of fun to do. I also cut out a lot of words (just like Pearl) and used them in the book.

The genre of picture books is so unique.  Nicole, can you describe a bit of your experience with “leaving room for the illustrations”?

A picture book is a marriage between text and illustrations. A writer wants the illustrator to add her own spin to the story, so she doesn’t include every little detail. Some of the story is even told in the illustrations.  One art note in the One Word Pearl manuscript suggested that the treasure chest read 'Pearl's Word Chest.' Instead of making the story to wordy, details like that can be shown in the pictures.

Hazel, as the illustrator, added her own touches to the story. She included the story starters and phrases in the illustrations. Her favorite words pop up all over the book. Hazel's addition of the parrot, a bird that also likes words, is genius!  These are the details that make a picture book sing.

What was it like to see Hazel’s illustrations for the first time?

I was nervous while I waited.  You never know if the illustrator is going to make your little girl a rhinoceros or a panda or some other imaginative creature.  When I saw Pearl the first time, I fell in love with her all over again.  Hazel did an amazing job capturing the heart of the story!  I don’t think anyone else could have depicted the story better.

Was there any communication between the two of you during the production process?
Nicole:  No.  I knew Hazel was going to be the illustrator.  I congratulated her, but never made suggestions about the illustrations.  She’s the expert on that. 

Hazel  I communicated directly with the publisher on the illustrations and had no notes on anything, it was a pretty much free rein for me! But made easy by Nicole’s writing.

I am always fascinated by the daily routines of creative people.  So, imagine it’s a random work day.  What’s on the agenda?

Nicole: Since I’m a 1st and 2nd grade teacher, I have to squeeze my writing in to my day. I teach all day and then tutor.  After that I spend a little time brainstorming ideas.  When I have an idea that I like, I research and write. This can happen during the week, but it usually happens on weekends. I often bounce ideas off my students when we share our writing in class.  In the summer, I attend writing workshops and writers’ conferences. I guess I don’t have a real routine.

Hazel: I work in my home on the first floor, so it’s only a step to my studio. Depending on what my work schedule is like dictates when I get up. If I am deep into a project I get up in the early hours, because it is on my mind and then sometimes sit down and keep going and going. But usually that’s when deadlines are coming close. Usually I get up about 7am, feed the dog, pick up the house, send the hubby to work and make my tea. Then I check email, answer stuff, do social networking for a bit and check my list for the day. After a shower I’m ready to do whatever is on the schedule. I break for something eat about 1pm and usually am straight back into it afterwards until my hubby gets home. I do work in the evenings at times. Somewhere in the day I try to do some exercise and leave the studio. Ha! But routine tends to be different some weeks, you may have school or bookstore visits and occasionally you’re at a conference or speaking. I am very lucky to have a career I enjoy so much.

One Word Pearl is the winner of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) Children’s Book Competition in the Picture Book category.  What do you see as the take-away for children reading Pearl’s story? 

Nicole: I want the readers of One Word Pearl to love words, too.  I hope they will look and listen to the world around them and learn new words every day. Maybe they’ll even make their own word collection, too.  I also think teachers will be able to use this book in their writing workshops to inspire young writers.

Hazel: I think one of the great things about this story is that encourages children to think about words and stories and what fun they can be!

In the spirit of ONE WORD PEARL, let’s have a little fun with one word answers.   

Your favorite word?

Nicole: Love

Hazel: Tosh

Your least favorite word?

Nicole: Mucus

Hazel: Rejection

A word that makes you laugh?

Nicole: Pickle

Hazel: Persnickety

A word that makes you cry?

Nicole: War

Hazel: Goodbye

A juicy word?

Nicole: Electrify

Hazel: Superlicious

A word you would like struck from the English language?

Nicole: Very

Hazel: Actually

A word to describe who you are?

Nicole: Resourceful

Hazel: Wacky

A word to describe what you want to be in 10 years?

Nicole: Wise

Hazel: Productive

Advice for pre-published writers and illustrators?

Nicole: Read. Read every day. Read all kinds of stories. Then write. Write every day. Write all kinds of stories….and then revise, revise, revise…

Hazel: Practice

Thank you both for stopping by.  We wish One Word Pearl the greatest success.  In a word, CHEERS!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Being in the Driver Seat: Getting An Agent (an interview in 14 questions, Part Two)

On Monday, Rena Traxel (an online crit partner of mine) and I shared Part One of our interview on my agent search process. 
Thank you for all of your messages of congrats and your questions, as well.  Please feel free to write any questions you have in the comments and I will make sure to answer.  And please know, everyone's journey is different. 
Today we bring you my journey, Part Two.
My awesome critique partner Marcie Colleen recently signed with her dream agent Susan Hawk from the Bent Agency. I was pretty impressed by her level of cool headedness. I also peppered her with questions throughout the whole process (pitch, considering multiple offers, contracts etc). We thought we would share those questions and answers here with you so that you too can find your dream agent.

Did you talk to any of Susan’s clients? Is this important?

I did.  Susan had offered to put me in touch with one of her picture book clients and I took her up on it.  It’s good to get other clients’ opinions on the agent and to know how their career has been going. 

The contract!
The questions I asked were:

1) Have you gone out on submission with her yet?  If not, why?

2)  How is she to edit with?  Do you feel she understands the genre of PB?

3)  How would you rate her communication?  How often are you in touch?

4)  What made you choose rep from Susan?  And how long has she been your agent?

5)  How would you describe your own stories?  (I consider myself quirky/funny)

The last question was important to me because Susan said that I was unlike the other picture book clients on his list and I wanted to make sure.

Did you talk to about your career and about marketing with Susan?

Yes, Susan has a marketing background and so she was very clear that she looks to represent a career, not a book.  And she also stated that she works with her clients for the life of the book, not just until publication date.

For our in-person meeting, Susan walked in and after a brief chat she said, “so, do you want to talk about your stories?” She pulled out my 4 manuscripts and proceeded to walk through each one, line by line, telling me what she loved about them, what might need to be revised, where she could see them fitting into the marketplace and how to be strategic in our subbing.  She was so excited and so knowledgeable.  It was amazing.

Is Susan a writer outside of being agent? Does it matter?

Honestly, I don’t know.  She could be writing the Great American Novel in her spare time, and I wouldn’t know.  Although most agents don’t have spare time, especially agents with small children at home.  What I do know is that Susan is an avid reader and book lover and she finds great enjoyment in her work as an agent.  That is all I need to know.

Does Susan go to book fairs in the US and in Bologna? Why is this important?

She does.  Lots of agenting is about building relationships.  So I think it’s important that agents are visible and out there and making connections with editors in the business.  And although there is always the phone or email, what a difference face to face contact can make.

How many years has she been in the business? Does it matter?

Susan has been in the publishing industry for 15 years, mainly in Children's Book Marketing.  She was the Marketing Director at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, and previous to that as the Library Marketing Director at Penguin Young Readers Group. While at Penguin, she also worked for a time in Dutton Editorial, acquiring projects for that list.  She has also worked as a children's librarian and a bookseller.

To me, this does matter.  Not only does she have experience in editing, marketing and selling books…but I know she has lots of “friends” in the business, too.

When you signed with Susan what sort of details did you have to go over before signing?

At our in-person meeting (which ran almost 3 hours) Susan offered representation.  And although I wanted to dance and shout and accept right away, I didn’t.  Instead, we parted ways and I took a few days to wrap things up with some of the other agents I had been in conversation with.  Two days later, I phoned Susan and accepted.  Immediately she sent the contract. 

Now, one of the reasons why I even want an agent is because I don’t like reading legalese.  And yes, this contract, although short, had a lot of legalese in it.  So, I had my lawyer read through it.  We questioned some wording.  We asked questions regarding certain details.  Susan was very open to any questions and making changes. Bottom line, we needed to both agree on the contract. 

My advice is to not be shy when it comes any contract.  If something doesn’t make sense, ask.  If something doesn’t sit right with you, offer an alternative wording.  It’s better to be clear and on the same page right from the beginning than to deal with confusion or frustration later.

The best mailbox delivery ever!
Finally are there any red flags that a writer should look out for when considering an agent?

Hmmm…that’s a tough one.  I’m no expert.  But I would say, any time someone pressures or hurries you. Or if someone is not interested in getting to know you or doesn’t want to talk specifics with your stories.  Also, if someone raves about one book, but ignores the other work you have done or is quick to reject another piece without giving ideas on how to make it work.  These would be red flags for me. 

Otherwise, just be in the community.  People talk.  Ask questions about agents from others.  And if anything seems weird or suspect to you, trust your gut.  

Thanks Marcie for sharing your experience with us. Congrats on getting one step closer to living your author dream.

And thank YOU, Rena, for allowing me an easier way to share my story. 

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