Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Book Giveaway and Guest Teaching Author Interview with Ann Whitford Paul!

We have two firsts today--our first Guest Teaching Author interview, and our first Book Giveaway!

We are happy to welcome author, poet, and teacher Ann Whitford Paul to as our first Guest Teaching Author. Ann is the author of 17 picture books for children. Her poetry has been published in numerous anthologies, and she teaches picture book writing through the UCLA extension program. Ann’s latest book, Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication (Writer’s Digest Books) is her first book for adults. [We plan to review Ann's book in an upcoming post.]

To celebrate Ann’s appearance on our blog, we are giving away an autographed copy of Writing Picture Books. To enter the drawing, see the instructions at the end of this post. Also, be sure to come back Friday, when we begin our own series of posts on writing picture books.

Ann, can you tell us how you became a Teaching Author?

I started teaching writing in gratitude to the wonderful teachers who poked and prodded and pushed me to write my best, and who shared the secrets of their craft. It took me five years of writing and 118 rejections before I sold my first manuscript. Hopefully by teaching I can help other authors reach their goal of publication before I did. When speaking to students still in school, I hope my experience will encourage them not to give up on any dreams they may have for their future.

What's a common problem/question that your students have and how do you address/answer it?

My adult students always want to know first of all how to get an agent and I tell them that their first question should be: How do I write a fantastic, one-of-a-kind picture book?

My students in elementary school are usually most curious about how I get my ideas. Contrary to what they believe, it isn’t a magical process. In fact, ideas are all around us. The problem is we don’t trust our ideas will be of interest to others. Let me give you an example. I wrote a picture book titled Hello Toes! Hello Feet! Everyone could write a book about feet and each book would be different, because we each bring our own emotions and outlook to the subject. Too often writers say, “Anyone could write about feet. It’s too boring.” What if I had told myself that this was a silly, stupid subject? It never would have become a book. Trust that the things that grab you will also grab an audience, and trust that your take on a subject will be unique.

Would you share a favorite writing exercise for our readers?

My favorite exercise that I share with adults and children and that I use often to find my passion on a subject requires choosing an object, any object at all. It can be an eraser, a marshmallow, a paper clip, a green bean, etc. Then I give them a sheet of paper (pictured below). It has four columns. The first is titled FACTS, the second FANTASY, then FEELINGS and last of all FUZZY CONNECTIONS. In the first column, list all your factual observations, i.e. size, color, smell etc. In the next column, let your mind go wild. What if your object, say a green bean, was really a pencil that wrote only green vegetable words. Maybe it’s a rocket taking fleas to Mars. In the column marked FEELINGS you could bring up old memories. Perhaps green beans made you gag when you were a child or you remember fondly helping your mom gather them from the garden. FUZZY CONNECTIONS should call forth metaphors and similes. Write and write and write any ideas that come into your head. Don’t worry if you put a fuzzy connections under feelings. Just keep writing until you can’t think of any more. Then go back over your paper. Invariably I find I’ve written something down that grabs me or turns on a little light in my brain that says, “I’d like to write about that.” If not, start all over again with a different object.

What a wonderful exercise, Ann. It will make a great Writing Workout for our readers, and for writing teachers. Can you tell us, what one piece of advice would you give teachers?

My advice: Forget about book reports. Watching my children, now grown, and the stress caused by writing or art projects about the books they read inspired me to write this poem:


Whenever I read a book,

my teacher makes me
write a report.
“At least ten sentences,”

she says. “Neatly!
No Erasures!”

So now I think

I know reading and reports
go together like roller and coaster,
Mom and Dad,
and Santa and Claus.
Do we really want children to associate a book with an assignment? Anything you can do to keep the joy of reading alive will be the greatest gift you can give your students.

Can you share a funny (or interesting) story related to your career as a Teaching Author?

I love doing school visits because the children are enthusiastic and honest, so honest in fact that one day after I’d given my spiel about writing using my quilt [You can see the quilt and download the explanations of each square here .] a sweet-looking fifth grader raised her hand and asked “Do you have to be old to be a writer?” This was at least ten years ago. Perhaps today she’d wonder if I’d ever met a dinosaur!

Tell us about your best (or worst) writing teacher.

I was fortunate enough to study with two fabulous teachers without whom I probably would just be publishing my first book. Their names were Sue Alexander and Myra Cohn Livingston. They were both tough and never afraid to tell me my mistakes. I still remember what Sue Alexander wrote about one of my stories, “This doesn’t work and it’s boring too!”

They both expected their students to work and assigned enormous amounts of homework, believing that the best learning comes from doing. But it wasn’t all bad. They encouraged me to persist and when they gave praise, I knew it was honest and heartfelt. When they deemed something worthy of publication, they helped find editors for it. The greatest gift they gave me was the truth about my work, good or horrible, potential or garbage. I only hope everyone can have the same experience with their writing teachers.

Ann, thanks so much for taking time to talk with us today. Thank you also for providing our first book giveaway, an autographed copy of your brand new book. Instructions for entering our drawing are provided below. But first, readers may want to watch the trailer for Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication:

Before entering our contest, please read our Giveaway Guidelines post here.

Now, for the contest requirements:
For the next two weeks, the Teaching Authors will discuss the topic of picture book writing. To kick off that discussion, we'd like readers to share their favorite picture book titles. So, if you would like a chance to win an autographed copy of Ann Whitford Paul's Writing Picture Books, you must post a comment to today's blog post giving us the title and author of one of your favorite picture books, and the reason behind your choice. To qualify, your entry must be posted by 11 pm Friday, July 17, 2009 (Central Standard Time). The winner will be announced by 11 pm, Saturday, July 18, 2009.

We look forward to reading your comments. Good luck, everyone! And don't forget to watch for more book giveaways coming soon, including one when we review Ann Whitford Paul's Writing Picture Books.


Anna Staniszewski said...

Great interview!

I would have to say my favorite picture book is The Red Book by Barbara Lehman. I love how it tells a complete and complex story through illustrations alone, and that it makes the reader a part of the story.

Eric Carpenter said...

My favorite picture book is Solomon the Rusty Nail by William Steig. I love how Steig incorporates so many of his reoccurring themes and ideas into this wildly exciting story of a rabbit with a particular talent. And of course Steig's illustrations are as brilliant as ever.

Laurie said...

It's cruel to have to choose just one picture book when there are so many I love, but for rib-tickling fun I have to choose Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett. I love the "story within a story and the use of color in the illustrations to offsets the fantasy aspect of this whimsical tale. But most of all it's a hilarious tale that reaches the child in all of us.

Lori Degman said...

Thanks for the great interview and the book giveaway!

My favorite book for the "mom" in me is LOVE YOU FOREVER by Robert Munsch. I still get choked up reading it after 20 years! My favorite book for the "child" in me is THE GIVING TREE by Shel Silverstein. I love the message and the simple text and illustrations.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this wonderful interview.

Ann Whitford Paul was one of my teachers, and mentors. I look to her the way she looks to Sue Alexander and Myra Cohn Livingston. If you are ever able to take her class at UCLA Extension, don't miss it. I am sure her WRITING PICTURE BOOKS will become the go to book for all PB writers.

One of my favorite PB is Ann Whitford Paul's IF ANIMALS KISSED GOOD NIGHT. Perfect rhythm and rhyme with a fresh, loving, silly twist on the 'ol bedtime book.

Patricia said...

I hope I'm not repeating myself, but I don't see my post, an hour later.
Thanks for the blog and the interview.
Wish I had a great teacher like MLC.
Favorite books:
Ginger by Charlotte Voake because it's simple yet profound and about the nature of love and acceptance.
Oink? by Margie Palatini because it's a riot.
My Cat the Silliest Cat in the World by Bachelet because the irony is magnificent.

Katie said...

This sounds like an awesome book that a teacher should have!!!! One of my all time favorite picture books is Stellaluna by Janell Cannon!

Tara McClendon said...

Thanks for the interview. I like One Duck Stuck by Phyllis Root, because it takes teamwork to get the duck out of the swamp. My oldest enjoyed the repeated verses even before he could read, and my youngest is also a fan.

Sheila Siler said...

I choose "Lunch" by Denise Fleming. The colors are rich and appealing an the story simple. I find even my preteen and teens pick it up and still look at it from time to time!

Maxine said...

Great interview and thanks for the giveaway! I just found this blog and bookmarked it; I will surely be back. I have so many favorites, but if I must choose one picture book it would be Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?, Dr. Seuss's Book of Wonderful Noises. I don't think I enjoyed reading any book as much to my children and now my grandchildren. It's so much fun making all those noises, and I think Mr. Brown is the cutest character ever. In fact,Mr. Brown was a household name around here!

writerlady said...

I really enjoyed the interview--especially what Ann said about how we teach children to associate a book with an assignment--so wrong!

My favorite picture book is Roxaboxen by Alice Mclerran (author) and Barbara Cooney (Illustrator). It is wonderful-- like every summer vacation (staycation) of imagination you've ever had as a kid. :)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Nice to meet you, ladies! Ann, what do you suggest as a way to interact with the book, beyond the book report? (Just so I can be armed and ready when my kids face the dreaded assignment!)

No need to enter me. You were nice enough to send us e-mail asking us to post about this contest. We were more than glad to; it's up at Win a Book.

I hope we can help spread the word about many other great things you guys are doing here.

Anonymous said...

Hi! Fun question. My favorite picture book is Go Dog Go by P.D. Eastman. Every time I read this book it brings back wonderful childhood memories.

Suzanne Slade

KR said...

I teach kindergarten. It's so hard to choose. I'm going to go with a new favorite. Otto Grows Down by Michael Sussman. My kinder kids loved it and it was a great jumping board for journal writing.


Vodka Mom said...

That was fascinating! I look forward to more, more, more!!

Beverly Patt said...

Ooo, this was hard.
But I'm going to say my fave is
BARK, GEORGE by Jules Feiffer.
The text is simple but the idea/plot is fabulous. A great payoff belly laugh at the end, no matter how many times you read it.
The mother's and vet's expressions are priceless:)


Unknown said...

My favorite children's book is "Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse" by Kevin Henkes. I enjoyed it because I thought Henkes captured the essence of a young child's behavior. Lilly reminds me of myself when I was her age. I also loved school and my teachers. I found the part where Lilly misbehaved humorous.Pam Matar

Lesley (aka Upper West Side Writer) said...

Not exactly an original choice, but my favorite would be "Where The Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak. I just remember it so clearly from my own youth, and if I have kids, it will be one of the first ones I buy for them. I still enjoy it, incidentally, and am (perhaps sacrilegiously) looking forward to the movie very heavily. Thank you!


Diana Duke said...

Thanks for the great insights in the interview! Although it's so hard to choose, my current PB favorite is "The Missing Piece" by Shel Silverstein. My son always asks why the main character leaves behind the missing piece for which he'd long searched, and I love getting to explain that sometimes our flaws are what make us who we are. It's a priceless message, and the illustrations are simple and touching.

Scott said...

Wow, what a great site and outstanding interview!

Currently my favorite picture book is Skippyjon Jones by Judith Schachner.

I love the ability to join Skippyjon in his alter ego by using my version of a Spanish accent. The kid's reactions are priceless even if it does "tax the tongue."

Victoria said...

Very interesting interview! Thanks!

One of my favorites is If You Give A Mouse A Cookie by Laura Numeroff. It's a funny story children can relate to and I enjoy the way it's told. utgal2004[at]yahoo[dot]com

Anonymous said...

I thought the interview was great.
My favorite picture book is Romeow & Drooliet by Nina Laden.
The basis for this book is William Shakespeare's play, Romeo and Juliet.
It is a sweet story with a surprise ending.
June Sengpiehl

Anonymous said...

Susan wanted to know how to interact with books other than book reports. I think a discussion is much less formidable. Perhaps a simple "tell me about the book," or "what did you like about the book," or whatever you want. My children, not being artists, stressed out even more when the assignmnet was to draw a picture or create a mobile. Really I believe reading books should be its own pleasure. Save the tests and reports for the the textbooks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the interview! It was very helpful for me as a writer. My favorite picture book is Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe. I love his incredible illustrations and the rich lesson of the story, that little acts of kindness and mercy, when done in secret, are rewarded openly. I read this book repeatedly during my growing up years, and it was one of the books that inspired me to start writing multicultural texts myself.

Cynthia Iannaccone said...

One of my very favorite picture books is called SHADOWS ARE ABOUT by Ann Whitford Paul.... not only is it beautifully written, but it is also a very different way to look at something thats always around us, something that we don't often see or pay attention to it..
I love the ending because it sooo true. And lastly, looking at shadows is a fun game of observation to play with young kids!

Jennifer said...

My favorite picture book is Henry Works, by D.B. Johnson. I love the illustrations, especially of rain and water. I also enjoy the counter-cultural view of what is important for work.

Dawn M. said...

My favorite is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, illus. by Lois Ehlert. The text is such fun to read aloud and the illustrations so vibrant.

Katy said...

It's so difficult to choose just one favorite. Hmmm... if I have to choose one at this very moment in time, it would be KING BIDGOOD'S IN THE BATHTUB by Audrey and Don Wood. What humor! What an ending! What a fun and wonderful book!

I've already heard good things about Ann's book. Can't wait to read it!


Cindy Strong said...
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Cindy Strong said...
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Get Published TV said...

this is an excellent interview. Great information. Awesome work. Two thumbs up.

check out Get Published TV - episodes on writing and publishing your own book

Megan said...

Glad to find this blog; i bookmarked it! Thanks for the interview.

Oh, so many good ones but if I go with first thought I'd say Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Simple yet vivid pictures I still remember, especially the first and last pictures. He uses sounds, senses, color, and simplicity to tell an unforgettable story of an ordinary day. My daughter, who has never seen snow, just loves it.

I also love I Am A Bunny by Richard Scarry. Another simple one, with gorgeous, child-friendly pictures of the seasons that just draw you in. My little one spent hours looking at the butterflies and leaves.

StinkyLulu said...

Thanks for a great interview!

I keep returning to LITTLE OINK by Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Jen Corace. It just makes me happy.

Jenni Bielicki said...

Great interview! As we all know, there are a zillion amazing picture books. Right now, the one I love and connect to most is Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty. Brilliant rhythm and rhyme. For the romantic in me, I love Sixteen Cows by Lisa Wheeler.

Bobbi Miller said...

A great interview! Every picturebook is my favorite! My current favorite is the newest PB from Marion Dane Bauer, THE LONGEST NIGHT. Illustrator Ted Lewin uses only three colors to create the atmosphere for this very strong and emotional poem. The book begins: The snow lies deep. All through the forest, animals long for dawn's warmth...

Sheri Dillard said...

Great interview!

My favorite picture book is Bark, George by Jules Feiffer. I love the simple, matter-of-fact humor. (Like when George meows, the vet simply reaches in and pulls out a cat. Problem solved. Or is it?) :)

thedillard5 [at] yahoo [dot] com

KarlaAnn said...

Hi. Great blog and interview. Thanks!

My favorite picture book is I Ain't Gonna Paint No More! by Karen Beaumont.

The drama from page turn to page turn is great for my little ones to participate in. We absolutely love the humor :-)

Susan Bearman said...

Thanks for the post and the contest. I have two real oldies as my fave picture books:

A is for Annabelle by Tasha Tudor. I love the delicate drawings, the whole idea of this beautifully outfitted doll, and lines like:

"I is for India, whence came her shawl."

Isn't that much prettier than: Her shawl came from India?

My other favorite is I Can't Said the Ant by Polly Cameron. One of the best rhyming books ever; the entire kitchen comes to life in a wonderfully collaborative effort. Sadly, I think this is out of print.

JoPatt said...

I remember a few years ago I had taken my children who were very young at that time to the public library. It was their favorite thing to do on a Friday afternoon, because we would sit and hear the book being read for story time that day and then we would pick out a few books and videos to take home for the weekend.

My 2 year old daughter came running over with a strange little book and demanded that I read it on the spot. With that sweet little crinkle in her nose and her pouty little lips - I just couldn't refuse. The name of that book was "Stop That Pickle" by Peter Armour and Andrew Shachat, and I will never forget it.

Though I was reading it for my children who truly adored it, I found my self thinking about the story and the illustrations days later. They laughed for hours afterwards just remembering funny scenes and things that were said, especially that one repeated line..."Stop that pickle!"

I have never forgotten that book and its beautiful illustrations and my daughter’s turning 6 in October.

Larissa said...

One of my favorite picture books is Tuesday by David Weisner. I love the imagination and fun pictures, where kids can find something new every time they read it. And, as a first grade teacher, it made a great writing exercise. ;)

trager said...

Thanks for the interview! I love so many picture books, but which ones do I have more than one copy of? Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is the favorite. If Max is going to be a wild thing, then, darn it, he is going to be the king of all wild things! He sails to the island where he is the most powerful creature. There is no better line than "Let the wild rumpus start!" I love the pictures, no text, depicting the rumpus in the middle of the book. I also have more than one copy (and many collectible items) of Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. Twelve little girls in two straight lines, the smallest is the beloved red-haired protagonist, appealing to both little boys and little girls. She is brave and good-hearted and funny. The illustrations seem simple by today's standards, I guess, but they appeal because of the simple lines and primary colors.

Unknown said...

I loved the interview and really love the "idea" exercise with the four columns. I think it's a great way to build a poem or story, not just the idea :)

Anyway, to narrow down which picture book is my absolute favorite is virtually impossible because the ones I love each have their own individual flavor and can't really be compared. What I'll do is mention my most recent favorite: "Let's Do Nothing" by Tony Fucile (a Disney/Pixar animator, his first picture book). I fell in love with it from the moment I saw the cover and the title, and was blown away from the first page on. It was evident to me that his style is that of an animator, so I wasn't surprised when I read the mini-bio on the back book flap stating all he'd worked on.

This book is hilarious and SO easy to read. I literally laughed out loud several times and find myself recommending it to people when I'm milling around B&N. Great stuff, and thanks for the interview!

Corey Schwartz said...

Oh, gosh. I'll pick Knuffle Bunny Too because I can so totally relate to the middle of the night pick up! Been there!

Carmela Martino said...

We have a winner! Check out my post for Saturday, July 18, for details.
Whether or not you won, I hope you'll keep reading--we have more giveaways planned for August and September.