In the last year and a half authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, publishers and book sellers are missing in-person events. So I thought I’d share a post I wrote after I was at the ALA conference in Chicago in 2017. This is why in-person events are so special!
I loved my elementary school librarian and her wonderful quiet space filled with books waiting to be explored. She always knew just what to recommend and, when she saw that my appetite for books exceeded my weekly check-out limit, she suggested that a friend and I pick our books together and trade halfway through the week. For me, librarians know where to find all the answers and all the good books, so it was an honor to be invited to sign copies of my new book, The Day I Ran Away, and my upcoming No More Noisy Nights at the American Library Association Conference in Chicago, where so many lovers of books and knowledge gather in one place.
Although I’d seen the list of exhibitors online, I was awestruck by the number of booths, their size and scope, and the variety of publishers and industry-related products represented. As my husband and I wandered the halls prior to my signing, I pointed out publishers with whom I’d had contact over the years (too many rejection letters to count!) and looked for books I’d seen reviewed. I noticed some LONG lines of excited attendees waiting for an author’s signature, and then other authors with no line at all. I grew a bit apprehensive, as my signing time got closer. Would people want copies of my books?
We found the booth and were met by the wonderful staff of Independent Publishers Group (IPG), who distribute for Flashlight Press and hundreds of other independent publishers. The author who was signing before me did have a line, and in fact, ran overtime into my slot to give away as many books as possible. When the IPG staff member announced that they’d run out of her books, I piped up and suggested that folks wait, because I’d be giving away books in a few minutes too. Librarians love books, especially free ones! They asked what my books were, so we handed out two samples which they looked at and passed down the line to share.
By the time I began signing, I had my own line of excited librarians who were thrilled that they didn’t have to choose between The Day I Ran Away and No More Noisy Nights, but could have one of each. Although I had less than a minute with each librarian, it was exciting to speak with people from all over the US and Canada. With the ALA conference in Chicago this year, many attendees were from the Midwest, but folks also came from California, Texas, Utah, New York, North Carolina, Maine, Florida, Arkansas, and more that I cannot recall. There were public and private school librarians, university librarians, and public librarians. Many were gifting their free books to family or friends, and others were donating to their schools. I loved hearing their enthusiasm not only for my books, but for their work in sharing books with children.
Before I knew it, my time was up, and IPG cut me off! Several people then asked my husband if I could sign for them, so we moved to the corner of the booth and gave away a few more of the remaining books. In all, we gave away about 160 books!
One last highlight: the IPG booth was located near the Library of Congress booth, and it was heartening to see Carla Hayden, the new director, being treated like a rock star with interviews and people clamoring for a moment of her time! When my first picture book was released in 2004, my son was excited to point out that a copy would be forever kept in the Library of Congress. An amazing thing to think about!
It was such an uplifting day! Librarians know that reading is essential to understanding ourselves, our world, and our place in it. When we learn how to “find friends” in books, we are never alone. It is my hope that these wonderful librarians will create lifelong readers, and lifelong readers will help make this world a better place.
Have you ever wanted to run away? Maybe you are thinking, YES, just yesterday when the work was crazy, the car needed an oil change and the refrigerator had somehow eaten all the food and was wanting to be filled AGAIN.
Now you do remember wanting to run away when you were a child? I think most children do at some point. The injustices of childhood loom large. Everything happens above you. Decisions big (we’re having another baby) and small (blueberry yogurt instead of cherry) are made without you. Just when you are in the middle of something important (the biggest block tower ever) it’s bedtime, and it seems the rules are constantly changing (don’t lie, unless the neighbor got an ugly haircut).
In Noisy Nora, by Rosemary Wells and A Baby Sister for Frances, by Russell Hoban the main character feels ignored and replaced because a new sibling has arrived. And Max in Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak has suffered the injustice of being sent to bed without any supper. And so, they run away to escape. In my book, The Day I Ran Away, Grace feels she’s been wrongly banished to her room and packs up to run away only to be thwarted by the fact that she’s not allowed to cross the street.
As a child I remember one time packing my little suitcase and heading down the road (I actually just went next door), but mostly when I needed to “escape” I picked up a book. When the weather allowed, I took my book to swing under a willow tree. Books allowed me to forget my problems big and small and they gave me examples of how others solve their problems.
Being a child or a grown up can be difficult. Wanting to run away may just mean we need to escape for a bit so we can face our problem with fresh eyes. And when we return we might hope a good dinner is on the table!
Grace comes home for Spaghetti and Meatballs, her favorite! I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s her favorite because it’s a family favorite often requested when my kids are returning home.
In honor of Pasta Day (yesterday) this month’s recipe is early!
The Niner meatballs and sauce recipes. Be sure to use the slider to see both!
Yesterday was World Mental Health Day. Whether or not you or a loved one struggles with a mental health problem it is important to understand them. To understand their impact on individuals, families and communities.
Because my son has OCD I had first hand knowledge about OCD and it’s impact on him and our family. That is what lead me to write Mr. Worry: A story about OCD. And that lead to I Can’t Stop: A story about Tourette syndrome. Through my books I’ve been able to interact with individuals and families with these disorders.
This summer I was honored to be asked to participate in the International OCD Foundation’s virtual summer camp for kids. I was amazed! They create a wonderful virtual camp for kids from all over the world. They were able to listen to speakers and interact with each other and amazing volunteers.
My part was small. I read Mr. Worry and then took questions. I was awed by the questions and insight these elementary age kids had about themselves and OCD. While I didn’t get to see any, my activity was for them to make word clouds about themselves because it is important to realize that you are more than your disorder.
Try making a word cloud. Think about words that tell about you. Or make one about feelings you have, people in your life, things you’d like to do.
Last week we took a quick look at picture book construction. All editors and publishing houses have their own methods, but in my personal experience, the editors I worked with laid out the words using a book dummy. They also noted illustrations ideas on those pages to share with me and the illustrator. Laying the story out is important because page breaks are. We want the reader to keep turning the pages ! So authors should be thinking about page breaks and story layout as they revise their manuscript.
TO DO THIS authors and illustrators might make a STORY BOARD
To make a story board take a long piece of paper and fold it so you get 16 rectangles and you will divide each in two for your 32 pages (see above). These are called thumbnails. You can plan your illustrations by doing a sketch or writing what it would be. You can write your text in, but if it’s a lot of words you could put first and last word.
OR a BOOK DUMMY
A book dummy can be made a couple of ways. You could take 8 sheets of paper, fold in the middle and you’ll have 32 pages. Or you can make a smaller one by folding a large sheet of paper in half one way and then the other. Then cut on those folds. Fold in half and you have a 16 page signature. How many do we need to make the most common number of pages in a picture book?
Some things to think about
So how will you decide where to break your story? These are some things to consider:
Suspense: Think about books you’ve read-picture books or chapter books. One of the things that makes us want to turn the page or read more is wondering what is going to happen on the next page. So suspense is important in thinking about your page breaks.
Illustrations: You want your illustrations to be different on each page, so as you look at your text you think about how you might illustrate those words or use pictures to add to the story.
White space: In most books you don’t want so many words on a page that there’s not enough room for pictures or that it looks overwhelming to read.
Question in the text: answer on next page
Stop a sentence in the middle: SYLVIA WAS LATE FOR SCHOOL, SO SHE TOOK A SHORTCUT THROUGH THE BUSHES AND ALMOST TRIPPED OVER A…. (KITTEN) on the next page
Transition words: Then, When, But, And, Until and Ellipsis SYLVIA WAS LATE FOR SCHOOL. SHE LEFT ON TIME, BUT…
Rhythm: of quick page breaks, build anticipation
When an editor works on your story your page breaks might change, but thinking about them has helped you submit a better story!
IF YOU take the time to write a picture book, the last thing you want is for the reader to put the book down before they’ve finished it. You want them to keep turning the pages. So it’s important what we decide to put on each page.
WE OFTEN call any book with illustrations a picture book, but there are really 2 types of illustrated books:
Story books: Where the text tells the whole story and can be read without illustrations
True picture books: where the pictures and words combine to tell the story.
So you need to know which type of illustrated book you’ve written as this will determine the book’s length and how the story is laid out on the pages.
Next we need to think about how picture books are constructed.
Most picture books are 32 pages and there’s a reason why.
Picture books are made from SIGNATURES-not the kind where we write our name. In printing a signature is: a group of pages that are printed on both sides of a sheet of paper. The paper is then folded, cut and trimmed down to the finished page size. So pages are laid out and printed on large sheet which is cut in half (so you have 4 sides) then cut in half again (8 sides) and folded so you have 16 pages. Most picture books have 2 of these.
So you have 32 pages, but some of these may be used for a title page, dedication, copyright material. So 28 pages for your story.
With 28 pages it will be important to plan how the words will fit into those pages. Is there room in the story for rich illustrations that add to the experience and to the story?
Next week let’s look at story boards and book dummies as a way to plan your story.
It’s Labor Day! I hope you are relaxing from your labors. Growing up a LONG time ago and on the East Coast school began the day after Labor Day. While all the schools where I live now have already put in many days of school I still think of Labor Day as the official start. In my youth Labor Day would find us watching the Jerry Lewis telethon as we frantically finished sewing clothes for school. While my forays into sewing are few and far between these days I still get the itch to sew this time of year.
I also get the itch to read new things, learn new things and cover some books with brown grocery bags🙂! I’ve never been a crossword puzzle person, but I recently tried the Washington Post’s Daily Mini (+weekly Meta) and I’m hooked. They are small and you can check each word as you do it. I know crossword fanatics would never do that, but that little bit of help has kept me playing and I find I am solving them more quickly. I’m also learning how crossword puzzle makers think!
I was thinking how picture books, while glorious in their own right, are also a mini step for readers into the world of reading and how story works; for that matter how life works. The pictures give clues to help with the words. The new reader builds confidence as they read book after book. Eventually the reader moves on to bigger things, hopefully returning on occasion to the rich worlds offered by picture books. I don’t know if I’ll ever “move on” to bigger crossword puzzles, but my daily mini is perking my interest and giving me confidence.
Now for some book reviews
If Kids Ran the World, Leo and Diane Dillon, The Blue Sky Press 2014
Inviting, bright illustrations show the world as it should be where kindness reigns and food, shelter, medicine, education and love are there for everyone. This world exists if Kids ruled the world. Until the world shows them otherwise kids assume all things are possible. May this book inspire us to find the child inside, see the world as it should be and strive to improve it each in our own way. An afterward suggest ways to make the world a better place.
“And kids now that the most important thing in the world isn’t money, or being king or queen, or pushing other people around. It’s love: giving it, sharing it, showing it.”
A Perfectly Messed-up Story, Patrick McDonnell, Little Brown and Company 2014
A quirky, humorous mixture of real images and drawings that break the 4th wall. Louie is a character in HIS story. He’s happily going along when he find that someone has dropped jelly on the page, thus ruining the story. He is talking to the reader about it when plop some peanut butter drops on him. Then Louie finds fingerprints and orange juice. He gives a lecture on the importance of books and begins again only to find someone has colored in the book. He tries to start again but decides it’s just a messy old book no one will want and he gives up. The story starts without him and he finds out that everything is just fine. And Louie decides it is just fine, messes and all!
“Everything is fine. I’m still here. You’re still reading. And it is a pretty good story. Messes and all.”
I am a Thief!, Abigail Rayner, Illus Molly Ruttan, NorthSouth Books, 2019
Eliza Jane Murphy, who sees herself as a model student, becomes a thief when she takes a sparkly stone from a display of green things in her classroom. But then her “heart stopped singing”, her letters “went wonky” and she was “too heavy to swing.” She begins to explore her feelings by asking the adults in her life if they’ve ever stolen something. It turns all of them, except her dad, admitted to some minor thievery in their lives. But that doesn’t make Eliza Jane feel any better. So she tells her parents and knows what to do. When she returns it and confesses her teacher said she was brave. She realizes that “nobody is just a thief. Everyone is a lot of things”. Just as she is about to close her investigation on the family thieves she discovers her dad stealing the last piece of cake! Nice lessons showing we are all more than our mistakes, that adults make mistakes too, and that admitting to and learning from mistakes is what counts.
One of the things I love about being an author is meeting other authors! Writers are a welcoming lot. They understand the ups and downs of the profession. They are always there to cheer the successes and offer support in the failures. I have author friends that live right here in Indiana. Ones I’ve meet at book events and others I’ve only meet online. I love connecting with all of them. So I thought I’d share books from some of my friends.
And a recipe!
Robin’s book has some persistent peacocks trying to get their wings on some mac ‘n cheese. Once they do they’re not so sure they like. That made me think of a recipe I enjoy
Mr. Worry is an example of the advice often given to authors to “write what you know”. Mr. Worry was the first book I had accepted for publication and it was something I knew very well. This story, about a child with OCD, is close to my heart because it came from experiences my son and our family had with OCD. Many of the moments depicted in the story were similar to moments my son had, but not all.
Because it was my first book and because of my closeness to the story I was excited to receive the first sketches for comment. I liked the illustrator’s style, palette, and the things he chose to illustrate. (This book is more of an illustrated storybook, where the illustrations aren’t necessary to understand it.)
There was one illustration that concerned me.
In the story Kevin learns to separate himself from the OCD by giving it a name. He calls it Mr. Worry. The illustrator’s depiction of Mr. Worry looked like a scary devilish creature. Since the book’s target audience was children who worry about things, I was concerned this would not be a helpful image. When I voiced my concern, the editor asked how I pictured Mr. Worry and I described something similar to what became Mr. Worry.
The best picture books are a true collaboration between the author, illustrator and editor. Each brings their own vision and expertise. As is true in most things working together and listening to each other, makes the final product even better.
It’s time for a RECIPE!As a tie-in to the book it is a super easy ice cream recipe for Brownie Batter No-Churn Ice Cream found at DELISH.COM.
This month I want to talk about the relationship between the text and illustrations in picture books. There is a distinction between a picture book and an illustrated story book. The pictures in the former should add to the story. In the later they just show something from the story.
Think about a book like Jan Brett’s THE MITTEN where lots of things are happening in the pictures that are not in the text, but without them you wouldn’t understand the story.
Generally, picture books are shorter. So, an author thinks about this as they write. They don’t waste words on descriptions unless it’s necessary to the story. An author needs to “leave room” in the story for the illustrator.
The entire text of THE DAY I RAN AWAYis written in dialogue. Grace recounts her day as her dad tucks her in. The bedtime scenes on the left side of the spread and the daytime on the right.
This posed a bit of an illustrative challenge. While the things that happened during her day were varied, the bedtime scenes would be somewhat repetitive.
Enter the creative editor, Shari Dash Greenspan. She suggested that Grace do bedtime yoga. I must admit that I was skeptical at first, but I loved the ways Isabella Ongaro depicted Grace, Dad and Charlie dog winding with the simple poses. It added to the story.
In my text the little girl is not named and there are no dialogue tags. Shari suggested I choose a name and that would be shown in the illustrations. The reader who looks carefully at the pictures will find her name.
I loved this idea and was thankful for it later as I began to talk about my book at schools or bookstores. Much easier to talk about Grace, than the little girl or the main character.
As you study picture books look at how the pictures add to a story. Are things missing if you just look at the pictures or if you just read the words?