Friday, October 26, 2018


I’m happy to report: award-winning author, poet, teacher and mentor Ann Whitford Paul has revised and expanded her 2009 go-to hands-on guide on writing picture books, aptly named WRITING PICTURE BOOKS! Writer’s Digest releases this 2018 edition November 13.
I’m even happier to report:  YOU can win a free copy in our Book Giveaway!  Be sure to check the entry details at the end of this post.

This news is truly headline-worthy for anyone writing a picture book today.  Our world and thus children’s book publishing have changed in ways that impact both the stories we tell and how we tell them in the picture book format.
Think: the turbulent financial times 2008 brought us.
Think: WeNeedDiverseBooks.  STEM.  Common Core. Graphic illustrations.  Herstory. #OwnVoices. Meta books.
Pete the Cat’s Misadventures still appeal to young readers.  Mo Willems’ fans grow mightily on an annual basis.  Tomie DePaola remains beloved.
Our stories still need to offer Universal Truths and recognizable sentiments so they connect with readers.
The picture book, however, has changed with the times.

Fortunately, Ann’s attention to the process, from story creation to publication, hasn’t lessened. (Note: read my 2009 Thumbs Up review.)
Idea generation.  Character creation.  Point of View.  Beginnings and Endings.  Plotting. Word count. Rhyme and more.  Ann’s easy-to-grasp instruction once again shines.
As for the rich and relevant examples and hands-on revision exercises, again, Ann understands HOW we as writers learn – and hone – our craft.

“What’s new?” you ask, "..revised...expanded?"
That is but one of the questions Ann graciously answers in the interview that appears below.
You have my word: the 2018 edition of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS is every bit as right-on and write-on as the first edition.  Be sure to enter our Book Giveaway so you might win a copy. And if you don't, you can always pre-order. :)

I offer Ann my sincere thanks - for sharing the details of her newest edition with our TeachingAuthors readers, for donating two copies for two Book Giveaways but more importantly, for writing this invaluable textbook. She makes a challenging task – i.e. writing picture books, easier.

Happy Reading and Picture Book Writing!

Esther Hershenhorn
Thanks to A JOURNEY THROUGH THE PAGES for hosting this week’s Poetry Friday Roundup..

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What prompted you and Writers Digest to revise your 2009 edition of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS?

Writer’s Digest approached me about a revision, because we were approaching the ten-year
anniversary. We’ve both been thrilled with the response to the first edition and I jumped at the opportunity because so many changes have occurred in the business since the first edition. Also, I’ve learned a lot of things through my own writing and wanted to share this new knowledge with writers.

How did your revision reshape the book’s organization as well as content? What additions and/or enhancements can the reader expect to find? What subtractions might they miss?

The organization remains the same but with additional chapters—on basic plots, page turns, finding an agent, the business of publishing. In addition, all book examples were replaced with books published within the last ten years. I also rewrote all the examples and quizzes so that writers who might have read the first book, would have additional illustrations of concepts to help solidify their knowledge. The one thing you won’t find in the new edition of the story is the No-no’s in a Manuscript Quiz. There simply wasn’t room. But I also did write a new one and will post it on my web-site after the book comes out.

IMHO: WRITING PICTURE BOOKS is the #1 go-to text on how to write a picture book. I’ve used it with my students and writers since 2009.  Can you share a few glowing responses, a few Fan Letters you’ve received from writers who learned and honed their craft via this book? 

Oh, darn! I should have saved some fan letters, but sadly I have not. I can tell you that periodically people e-mail me about how the book has helped them, how they’ve done the exercises, and sometimes even sold a book. I LOVE getting those notes and probably should have saved some of them. I do respond to each one, but, unfortunately, I have a niece who is a professional organizer and she has taught me to purge, purge, purge! I’m grateful though to anyone who writes—the truth is that a positive letter makes my day and spurs me to keep writing. So please don’t be shy. Let me know how my book has impacted you.

You noted in your 2009 edition that you wrote WRITING PICTURE BOOKS in memory of the unforgettable Sue Alexander and that a portion of the proceeds of this book would help fund the SCBWI Barbara Karlin Runner-Up Grant.  How has this support “recognized and encouraged the work of aspiring picture book writers” and how will it continue?

I’ve spoken to many recipients of this award and they all say how much it boosted their self-confidence and sometimes even led to publication. It was a pleasure to be able to support picture book writers.

In honor of the publication of this new edition, Writer’s Digest Books and I are establishing through SCBWI the Ann Whitford Paul-Writer’s Digest Most Promising Picture Book Grant of $1,000 to be awarded yearly.
After judging non-specific genre children’s books contests, it became obvious to me that picture book manuscripts were easily ignored. I think the prejudice that short must be simple to write is responsible for that. Writing picture books with their focus, brevity and lyrical prose can be terribly difficult. I struggle sometimes for years to get my stories right. I wanted to recognize that struggle and honor those who write these short, but challenging, manuscripts.

Can you share news of the latest Ann Paul picture books?

 The same year that the first Writing Picture Books came out, so did another book of mine titled IF ANIMALS KISSED GOOD NIGHT. Its sales were good, not spectacular, but still I was surprised when FSG took it out-of-print. Then much to my even bigger surprise, they republished it as a board book with a new cover. The sales sky-rocketed. And then, the publisher asked me to do another IF ANIMALS SAID I LOVE YOU and IF ANIMALS CELEBRATED CHRISTMAS. And next year there will be a fourth IF ANIMALS WENT TO SCHOOL. So I’ve been busy with these.

Finally, picture books do indeed do important work.  Today’s picture books bring so much to the page: diversity, social justice, activism, gender equality.  Yet there still remain bedtime stories, tales of forever maternal love, first-day-of-school titles, just to name a few.  What is your take on the important work this format does and why sales of picture books are again on the rise?

I LOVE this question! I came to writing picture books after years of bed-and-nap time reading to my children. In our too-busy world, those quiet times, sitting skin-to-skin reading together, were a gift to all involved. Adult and child alike were fully committed, focused on the same thing. We shared the tactile experience of the smooth pages, the quiet whoosh of the page turns, the bright visuals and of course, the words, the glorious musical words. No wonder sales of picture books are on the rise! We need those moments of togetherness more than ever.

Picture books are the first introduction for children to reading. They are enticed in by the pictures. The words sneak up on them and suddenly, they are saying them along with us and even pointing specific words out. Studies show that children who are read to come to elementary school well ahead of those who haven’t had those experiences.

Our books let children know they’re not alone when dealing with a bully, that other parents divorce, too, and that there are places in the world where people live differently. When they develop empathy for the characters in our books, they can translate this to real lives.

But it isn’t enough to write just any old book. If our words aren’t compelling and lyrical and tell a powerful story, children’s interest in reading will wither and die. We are the first step on the road to becoming a life-time reader who can discern fact from fiction, and that is an awesome responsibility.
                                                                    * * *

So, readers, to enter our drawing for a chance to win your very own copy of Ann Whitford Paul’s 2018 edition of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS (Writer’s Digest), use the Rafflecopter widget below.  You may enter via 1, 2, or 3 options.
If you choose option 2, you MUST leave a comment on TODAY’S blog pose below or on our TeachingAuthors Facebook page, sharing your Favorite Picture Book published between 2009 and 2018.

(If you prefer, you may submit your comment via email to: teachingauthors [at} gmail [dot] com.)

Email subscribers: if you received this post via email, you can click on the Rafflecopter link at the end of this message to access the entry form.

NOTE: if you submit your comments via email or Facebook, YOU MUST STILL ENTER THE DRAWING VIA THE WIDGET BELOW.  The Giveaway ends November 8 and is open to U.S. residents only.

P.S. If you’ve never entered a Rafflecopter Giveaway, here’s info on how to enter a Rafflecopter Giveaway - and the difference between signing in with Facebook vs. with an email address.

Remember: there will be TWO lucky winners!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, October 19, 2018

3-in-1: Poetry Tool, Song a Writing Exercise

Howdy, Campers, and Happy Poetry Friday! The link to PF is below.

 TeachingAuthors' posts this round are about the various ways we continue to school ourselves in the craft of writing. Bobby kicked us off by discussing a new book on craft she's studying while also re-reading a favorite classic. Esther shared about being inspired by a new collection of essays from fellow teacher Sharon Darrow. Mary Ann also turns to books for her re-education, not only craft books but new fiction, too. In contrast, Carla's ongoing education comes from talking to and working with other writers. Carmela went "back to school" by attending the SCBWI-Wisconsin 2018 Fall Retreat and Conference held in Green Lake, WI

And I've gone back to school singing.

We're four weeks into my ten-week class on Writing the Children's Picture Book at UCLA Extension. This week we learned about some of the poet's tools (rhyme, rhythm, alliteration, metaphor, simile, sounds, repetition). Can I teach them everything in one three-hour class?  I can't. So I focus on my favorite:                                                 

There are so many books from which to choose! I usually read aloud: YOU NEST HERE WITH ME by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y.Stemple, illustrated by Melissa Sweet; WAIT, written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis (a story written in 18 words...99% are either "hurry!" or "wait!"); BUZZ by Janet S. Wong, illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine (all the ways "buzz" is in our lives); RED IS BEST by Kathy Stinson, illustrated by Robin Baird Lewis ; WHEN I WAS YOUNG IN THE MOUNTAINS by Cynthia Rylant (fabulous details), illustrated by DianeGoode; MILLIONS OF CATS by Wanda Gag, first published in 1928; ALL THE WORLD by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee (we saw how much heavy-lifting illustrator Marla Frazee did to tell this story; give the illustrator room to dance!), and the classic, WHAT DO YOU SAY, DEAR by Sesyle Joslin, illustrated by Maurice Sendak.

Repetition makes words playful or powerful or mournful or hopeful. Listeners can't help but join in.

Next, I teach them to sing this sea shanty:

Deep Blue Sea (traditional) lyrics may vary

Deep blue sea, baby, deep blue sea (3x)
It was Willy what got drownded in the deep blue sea

Wrap him up in a silken shroud (3x)
It was Willy what got drownded in the deep blue sea

Dig his grave with a silver spade (3x)
It was Willy what got drownded in the deep blue sea

Lower him down with a golden chain (3x)
It was Willy what got drownded in the deep blue sea

Then I tell them that musician Jim Bell changed the words but followed the format of this song. He writes: “When my daughter was 6 ½, she said as we were driving to school one day, “Daddy, they won’t have a war before I’m 21, will they?”  Before I could respond, she added, “Or at least they don’t shoot little girls before they’re 7, do they?”   Not long after this I was singing her to sleep and found myself taking an old tune to form a song of reassurance that we adults can sing to the children of the world.”

Deep Blue Sea
new words by Jim Bell
Deep blue sea, baby, deep blue sea (3 x)
Now there’s peace in all the lands & o’er the deep blue sea

Sleep my child, you are safe and sound (3 x) for
Now there’s peace in all the lands & o’er the deep blue sea

Just yesterday war clouds hung so low (3 x)
But now there’s peace in all the lands & o’er the deep blue sea

Love of life finally turned the tide (3 x)
And now there’s peace in all the lands & o’er the deep blue sea
words © 1982 John Bell

Next, I show them lyrics I've written to this melody:

Take my hand, baby, walk with me (3 x)
Sing a song and I’ll harmonize (3x)
Once a seed, baby, now a tree (3 x)
Reach across towards the other side (3 x)
Hold me close and I'll hold you, we'll watch the bright sun rise.
words © 2018 April Halprin Wayland

And finally, leaving the traditional lyrics up at the front of the class as a mentor text, I give them time to write their own words using the pattern of this song.

Try it yourself--with this song or with one of your favorites and see where it takes you, where it takes you!

Thanks for hosting Poetry Friday at Friendly Fairy Tales, Brenda!

posted with hope by April Halprin Wayland, with help from Timmy the tin boy on his goose (Timmy is acting out today and refuses sit up straight...)

Friday, October 12, 2018

Taking Myself "Back to School"

I've so enjoyed reading my fellow TeachingAuthors' posts about the various ways they continue to school themselves in the craft of writing. Bobby kicked us off by discussing a new book on craft she's studying while also re-reading a favorite classic. Esther shared about being inspired by a new collection of essays from fellow teacher Sharon Darrow. Mary Ann also turns to books for her re-education, not only craft books but new fiction, too. In contrast, Carla's ongoing education comes from talking to and working with other writers.

So what can I add to this discussion? Well, this fall, I went "back to school" by attending the SCBWI-Wisconsin 2018 Fall Retreat and Conference held in Green Lake, WI. I was invited to attend the conference as a presenter on a panel discussing "The Truth of Creating: Rejections, Waiting, Perseverance and Inner Critics." You can see the panel participants in the photo below.

Left to right: me (Carmela Martino), E.M. Kokie, Deanna Singh, Stef Wade,
Joanna Hinsey, and moderator Michelle Houts
But being a presenter didn't keep me from being a student, too. While I don't recall learning anything specifically about the craft of writing, I came away with insights into more productive ways to approach my writing process. For example, one of the breakout sessions I attended was "Come to the Page as You Are … Wired," presented by Genevieve Artel, a creativity coach. I reflected on the impact of what I learned from Genevieve in my latest Creativity Newsletter. If you're not a subscriber, below is the gist of what I said:

In the presentation, Genevieve talked about how understanding our personality type can help us improve our creative life. She notes in the session description:
". . .  every individual is uniquely wired with cognitive preferences, flow states, and strengths. Many of the frustrations we experience on our journey are the result of a perceived set of practices that go against our intrinsic nature." 
I rode to and from the conference with fellow Illinois author Cathy Velasco, who attended Genevieve's session, too. We were both intrigued by the presentation, and Cathy later sent me a link to this piece on The Myers-Briggs Types of 101 Famous Authors. (If you aren't familiar with Myers-Briggs, the article includes a brief explanation at the beginning.) There are lots of online quizzes to determine your Myers-Briggs type, but I've found the results to be inconsistent. That's why Genevieve recommends working with someone like her who's specifically trained to do personality profiles.

However, I have received a consistent result from all the quizzes I've taken regarding one of the Myers-Briggs traits: Introversion vs. Extraversion. The definitions of these words in Myers-Briggs terminology don't exactly match our everyday usage. (Which is why I'm using the Myers-Briggs spelling for Extravert and Extraversion.) For example, I am definitely an Introvert as defined by Myers-Briggs. That doesn't mean I dislike being in groups or public speaking. The fact is, I enjoy teaching and presenting. But I can only be "out in the world" for so long before I start to feel drained. To put this in Myers-Briggs terms, I draw energy from being alone rather than from being around others.

Even though I've known this about myself for a long time, I never thought about what my introversion means to my writing habits. Inspired by Genevieve's talk, I spent some time researching the topic and found a terrific website called Write with Personality by Andrea J. Wenger. On the site, Wegner provides helpful strategies for writers based on their Myers-Briggs personality type. For example, in this post, she emphasizes the importance of what she calls "Playing to Your Strengths." The post links to other articles on the site specifically for either introverted or extraverted writers. Wenger also notes:
"The 'right' techniques are the ones that work well for you, even if they don’t work at all for your coworker or critique partner."
At the SCBWI-Wisconsin conference, Genevieve shared an important tip for Introverts like me: we need to recognize our need to be alone and give ourselves permission to do so. But as Wegner points out here, too much alone time can cause introverted writers to "lose sight of their audience." She provides ideas for how to avoid that problem. Conversely, if you're an Extravert, it may help you to know this tidbit from Wegner; ". . . there are more extraverts in the U.S. population, but more introverts among writing instructors. If you’re an extravert, the natural writing process of introverts may not work well for you at all." I'm glad that even though I'm one of those introverted writing instructors, I always tell my students there is no one right approach to writing--you have to find what works for you.

I'm so glad I attended the Wisconsin retreat, and I look forward to continuing my education at future events. The next will be the ACFW Chicago one-day Write to Success Conference on Saturday, November 3, in Schaumburg, IL, which will feature topics of interest to both beginning writers and published authors. In addition to expanding my own education, I'll be presenting on the subject of "Turning Life into Fiction." If you're in the Chicago area, I invite you to join us. Even if you can't attend the conference, you're welcome to browse the free Book Expo that will follow!

See details here.
I'm also looking forward to attending the Windy City RWA retreat Feb. 22-23, 2019 in Naperville, IL. James Scott Bell will be presenting a full-day workshop on "Writing a Novel They Can’t Put Down.Registration is now open if you'd like to join us.

Don't forget to check out this week's Poetry Friday round-up hosted by former TeachingAuthor Laura Purdie Salas at Writing the World for Kids.

And remember to always Write with Joy!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Learning from Friends

In honor of the start of another school year, we TeachingAuthors have been writing about various ways we “school” ourselves.  As usual, my fellow TAs have written eloquent blogs on this topic in a wide variety of ways.   I’m taking a different direction.  One of the ways I believe we as writers continue to learn is to talk to other writers.   Most of our families don’t quite “get” what we do, or why we do it.  Sometimes I don’t understand it myself.   That is why developing friendships with other writers are critical.  They understand.   

I’ve had the blessing in my life of having a fellow writer in my local area.  Darcy Pattison is a nationally known author, writing teacher, and independent publisher.   Click here for Mims House Books.  We met for the first time many years ago when her first book came out (a picture book), and mine (an adult inspirational) was about to be released.  We got to know each other slowly through our local SCBWI chapter—which Darcy started in our state.   

I was beginning to write my first nonfiction book for young readers in those days.  I bought stacks and stacks of how-to books, which are still in my bookshelf.  I devoured books about character and setting and formatting manuscripts and on and on.  Learning all these things was necessary.  But at some point there comes a time in a writer’s life when you have learned enough about how to write and you need to actually do it.  The next step is what I call: Put your seat in a seat and work.   In some ways that is when your real education as a writer begins. 

As the friendship between Darcy and I grew over the years, so did each of our published books.  (Her list is far longer than mine!)  Our writing styles and the types of books we each write are very different but we have been able to help each other.   The main way I believe we help each other is not in the form of manuscript critique—although we do that for each other.  It is in the way we discuss our work—over countless cups of coffee, phone conversations, emails and texts.  We bounce ideas off each other.  We brainstorm together.  We discuss how to handle various situations that come up in publishing.  We support each other.  We are sad for each other when disappointments come.  And we rejoice with each other when good things happen.   

In the words of E. B. White in Charlotte’s Web:

It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.  Charlotte was both.”

My friend Darcy is both.  I look forward to a friendship that lasts for many more years as we learn from each other.  

I hope each writer who reads this blog will find a writing buddy-or maybe a whole group of friends to support them.   

Carla Killough McClafferty

Darcy Pattison and I with our books at the Arkansas Reading Association conference.  

CONGRATULATIONS TO COLLEEN K, the winner of our TA giveaway!! She will receive a copy of Great Morning! Poems for School Leaders and Read Aloudby Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.  Enjoy the book Colleen K.