This month I’m looking at how authors think about illustrations as they write. I CAN’T STOP: A STORY ABOUT TOURETTE SYNDROME leans more toward the illustrated story side of the spectrum. You could read the text and know what is happening without the pictures. But the pictures help bring a challenging subject to younger readers.
I am not an illustrator. So, I look forward to the sketches to see how an illustrator “sees” my story. For this book the illustrator, Meryl Treatner used models for her illustrations. When I received the sketches there were many things I liked, but I felt that some of the children looked older. As written the final pages of the book took place during recess. The text was:
One day at recess, Nathan and Josh saw some kids whispering and laughing. “Those kids better stop.” Josh was mad.
“This is a funny tic.” Nathan laughed. “I call it ‘the chicken’.”
Josh smiled. “It does look like a chicken, but they shouldn’t make fun of you.”
“They don’t bother me,” Nathan said, getting in line for the tornado slide. “Not with a friend like you.”
The final page showed Nathan going down the slide. The text:
Nathan sat at the top of the slide. “Look out below!” He closed his eyes and pushed off. He was a marble rolling down the slide, heading for the bowl. He knew that the tics were part of him, but they wouldn’t always get in the way.
“Watch out, tics,” he thought. “You don’t stand a chance.”
The children who were making fun of Nathan looked too old to be in elementary school. The editor did not want to ask the illustrator to redo those illustrations as she would have to pay new models, so I was asked to rewrite the ending.
One day on the way to the soccer field, Nathan and Josh saw some kids whispering and laughing. Josh was mad. “Those kids better stop,” he said.
“This is a funny tic.” Nathan laughed. “I call it ‘the chicken’.”
Josh smiled. “It does look like a chicken, but they shouldn’t make fun of you.”
“They don’t bother me,” Nathan said. “Not with a friend like you.”
The final spread showed Nathan kicking a soccer ball.
During the game, Nathan took a shot and watched the ball fly into the net. As the kids cheered, he grinned.
He knew that the tics were part of him, but they wouldn’t always get in the way. Watch out, tics, he thought. You’re not the only moves I can make!
At first I wasn’t happy that I was going to do a rewrite, but making a book is a collaborative effort. So I did a minor rewrite to accommodate the illustrator, and once I did, I decided it made for a stronger ending anyway. What do you think?
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?
I have a confession to make. I always keep a book in the bathroom and I always read a little anytime I’m in there. I’m not sure exactly when this started, but I think for those minutes throughout the day I slip into whatever world I’m reading about. It’s Get Caught Reading Month and we don’t need any bathroom pictures, but what are the strangest places you read a book?
I spent a morning this month gathering picture books at the Garrett Public library. The children’s librarian is a friend and she and her staff helped me find a large stack of picture books about various topics. So I thought I’d review a few and maybe you “get caught reading” one of them this month!
You Nest Here with Me Jane Yolen & Heidi E. Y. Stemple Illustrated by Melissa Sweet Boyds Mill Press, 2015
Soft, earth-color water color and mixed media illustrations bring a variety of birds to life as a mother puts her daughter to bed telling her that like a baby bird her nest is anywhere, they are together. Each bird species is seen in its environment. Pigeons on concrete ledges, catbirds in greening hedges. The mother concludes that birds are safe in nests while they grow, “learning all they need to know. So till you’re big as big can be…You’ll nest right here in our house with me.” Informative back matter gives a few facts about the 14 birds depicted in the text. This would be a great book to read this month for Mother’s Day and if you looking for screen-free things to do, bird watching is fun!
You Be Mommy Karla Clark Illustrated by Zoe Persico Feiwel and Friends, 2020
In a role reversal, mommy is tired and asks her daughter to be mommy tonight. Colorful illustrations show all that mommy has done from working, cleaning up messes, being a chauffeur, caring for pets, and little things like wiping noses and granting wishes! As her daughter tucks her in, going through their bedtime ritual, she gets tired too and wants Mommy to be mommy. So Mommy rallies and carries her little one to bed. As she tucks her in she says, “for you’ll always by my little treasure. And I’ll be Mommy forever and ever.” A gentle reminder to a child of all that parents do in a day, but reassuring too.
A House for Every Bird Megan Maynor Illustrated by Kaylani Juanita Alfed A. Knopf, 2021
Told in the first person, the main character talks with the birds she’s drawn when they don’t choose to live in the bird houses, she’s drawn for them. Then the birds begin to chat with each other and trade houses. But our young creator wants to be in charge. She wants the birds to stay where she put them. In frustration she says, “but I was trying to help. I made a house for every bird. How was I supposed to KNOW what you like?” To which a bird replies, “ask us.” And so, she learns that you “can’t tell a bird by its feathers.” To know birds or people you have to take the time to get to know them! In the final spread the birds are around a table. Before she draws birdseed for all she asks what they like to eat and it turns out her birds like things like nuts, bugs, fruit and veggie burritos!
The illustrations are warm and inviting with lots to look at and discover-bird wearing hats, houses made of grapes and more. The main character’s drawings looking like a child drew them. I think seeing them in a book will give confidence to other young artists.
Gifts of the Magpie Sam Hundley Capstone Editions, 2021
Very clever book as Magpie (a bird known for collecting objects) makes things for her friends, but she misunderstands what her friends want because of homonyms! So, the mouse wants another mouse for a friend and gets a computer mouse, the goat wants Spring (the season) and gets a metal spring, the squirrel wants nuts and gets a nut that goes with a bolt. At first the friends are disappointed, but they begin to see how useful Magpie’s gifts are. Everything that creates the illustrations were “dug relics”-treasures unearthed by hunters using metal detectors and shovels. End pages explain the scrap art, give information on magpies and homonyms and suggest you make scrap art and send the author a picture.
“Mistakes happen, but creative thinking can turn blunders into wonders!”
And then it’s Spring Julie Fogliano Illustrated by Erin E. Stead A Neal Porter Book, 2012
I love Erin E. Stead’s illustrations in this quiet and hopeful book. The colors are soft and earthy, the faces expressive and there is so much to look at. When the white of winter ends all the world is brown and a little boy, dog, bunny and turtle plant seeds and wait for green. The sun and the rain come but still it’s brown. The boy and his companions engage in other spring activities and wait. And wait. Until finally all the world is green. Waiting is hard, but good things come.
“And it is still brown, but a hopeful, very possible sort of brown.” Haven’t we all seen this in Spring!
AND I love when people get caught reading books from my Flashlight Press family. Check out all their books here!
When my children were young the only screen we had to worry about was the TV. And since we didn’t get cable, the few channels we got weren’t a big problem. But now, as my children raise their children, screens are as much a part of our lives as a refrigerator. Let’s face it, we are all addicted to them. So a screen-free week might be impossible, but maybe intentional screen-free time can be achieved with some planning.
Hide the screens
If you wanted to have an ice cream free week, you wouldn’t keep any in the freezer, so when it’s screen-free time put the screens out of sight. Tablets, iPads, laptops, e-readers, phones-put them in the closet. You could even cover that big screen TV with a white sheet and do shadow figures!
Stock up on substitutes
If you are trying to keep away from ice cream or some other not good for you food, you stock up on food to replace it. So if it’s a screen-free evening plan what you’ll do instead. Will it be board games, crafts, baking, hide-n-seek, a hike to look for birds or pick up trash (hmm-screen-free and doing something for the environment!).
My favorite substitute
AND of course I think books are a wonderful way to fill screen-free time. I read to my children daily, often several times a day when they were young. The picture book age saw us snuggled together on the couch or a bed. Or sometimes at the table while they ate. When we moved on to chapter books and novels, they’d each stretch out on a couch and I read from my comfy chair. And, though not daily, we had a book we read together through middle school. We explored places, topics, feelings, fantasy worlds and had discussions.
A book to get you started
Old MacDonald had a Phone Written by Jeanne Willis Illustrated by Tony Ross Andersen Press, 2021
To the tune of Old Macdonald we learn about a farmer and his smart phone. When he drops it in the lake he orders another one online and buys a hundred by mistake. All the animals take one and suddenly “Nobody would put them down so nothing else got done.” So the farmer takes the phones and locks them in the shed but the animals are mad and still do nothing. Finally his son suggests they use them sensibly. SO there’s a farm meeting and the creatures all agree. Humorous illustrations of animals doing all sorts of people-things with and without phones. A reminder that phones are good, when used correctly!
One more thing…
If you do pass some screen-free time reading, take a picture because it’s Get Caught Reading Month! More about that next week and a book giveaway!
When I started writing for children I naively thought if I write it the readers will come. But in today’s world there are so many things competing for our time and our children’s time that self-promotion is necessary for survival as an author.
Self-promotion makes me uncomfortable. For me it feels like selling. To sell something you are saying my thing deserves your attention and money over someone else’s thing. But what if the other thing is better? I wouldn’t want to steer you wrong😉. That’s why I couldn’t sell Amway eons ago, but instead watched as friends made a fortune! And I wasn’t very good at encouraging my kids to sell stuff for school fundraisers.
When I started writing for children I naively thought if I write it the readers will come. But in today’s world there are so many things competing for our time and our children’s time that self-promotion is necessary for survival as an author. And so authors seek followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites. We are pushing our books and our expertise, hoping to connect with readers, writers, publishers, teachers, bloggers… We both support and compete with each other. I find it much easier to say something wonderful about a fellow author’s book than my own. I’d rather review someone else’s book than ask for someone to review mine.
BUT my books are worth promoting. They do offer something to readers, parents, teachers.
So here it goes! (although I am going to let the reviews speak for me!)
“I have a son 9 years old diagnosed with OCD 6 months ago. We have had a terrible time to get him to even go to therapy much less open up and participate. He has had much embarrassment and shame. I got him this book and at first he would not let me read it to him. Finally after much thought he decided to go for it. After reading this book he totally opened up to me and we talked for over a hour about his OCD. He said for the first time he didn’t feel alone. He read this book 6 times the first day and even slept with it. He couldn’t quit talking about how it is the best book he ever read. We were able to use this little boys struggles and compare them to my sons. It was like the first time that someone actually understood what he was going through. I was hesitant to buy it because it seemed to be for younger kids, but I sure am glad now!!”
“Reading this book for the first time with my son, was like reading his own story. We are fresh on this path of understanding, and for us, it is important he knows he is not alone. This book made me realize just how much he does that is not under his control. He also recognized himself in the story. Very good first step.”
“AND It changed my life. I might have my husband read this to me before bed. If I had this as a kid I probably would have turned out normal.”
“My son has PANDAS, which is an autoimmune response to strep throat. When he acquires strep he present OCD symptoms. Our lives were hell for 3 months until we bought this book. Mr. Worry helped my son overcome his compulsions and obsessions. I HIGHLY recommend this to anyone who has a child with OCD or anxiety issues.”
“This book is a must for anyone who has or knows of a child with Tourette’s Syndrome. My 8 yr old son, who has Tourette’s, brought in the book to his 2nd grade class. His teacher read it aloud and then the class asked my son questions. The book went a long way in helping overcome the social obstacles that a child with Tourette’s will surely face, and clearly explains that some behaviors are truely out of the child’s control and why. I would recommend this book highly for children, parents and teachers alike!“
“We love this book. It has helped my son to relate to a character in a book and realize that he isn’t the only one who has tics. It’s also helped his brothers to stop teasing him and get so aggravated when his tics become annoying.”
“I am a social worker as well as a mother of a child just diagnosed with Tourette’s. This book was wonderful! My son has been trying to understand what is going on with him and this book was very useful. It explains Tourette’s to the child as well as the adult. One thing I loved about the book is it shows the boy in the story having new tics. This allows for readers to understand that tics change as well as showing many types of tics. One example was the boy in the story began to spit, a tic my son has and gets made fun of for. My son’s face lit up and he felt less “weird”. My son and I are going to do a presentation at his summer camp so others understand why he does what he does, I will be including this book.”
“Youngsters will enjoy this tale because Grace’s kid-sized sass does not erode their family’s underlying strengths. Actually, caregiver trainers or parenting instructors can use this title to launch discussion on how active listening and flexible parameters underscore accountability in a kid-friendly way.”
“We enjoyed this book for many reasons! We read it to our grandchildren and they had a lot of questions which was exactly why you read great books. We had great discussions about why children may want to run away, getting mad, and communication being the key to not always getting your way! Also, the art work was spectacular!”
“What a charming book! I absolutely love the chat between the girl and her dad. He listens attentively to her, validates her feelings, and encourages her. Adding the yoga poses throughout the book is a major bonus. Thanks to the authors for incorporating yoga in an accessible and fun way. A gem of a book for young children!”
“I can see a variety of purposes for using The Day I Ran Away in the classroom, beyond just enjoying the book. Helping kids handle angry feelings is a good first logical choice. Everyone has moments when they’d just like to run away from the person or situation that is making them mad. Teaching how to write dialogue is another possible teaching point. The Day I Ran Away is a great example of crafting a backstory, two sides of a physical space, and passage of time.”
“This book was a game changer for my foster son who had night terrors. Going to sleep was daunting and scary every night. We struggled for months before we found this book. After reading this book he was able to make a plan for when he woke up scared. He memorized the words and was able to help himself calm down before bedtime. Holly Niner writes such great books with the emotional health of kids in mind. I am so thankful that we found this book!”
“Super cute book and I love that a fellow speech language pathologist wrote it! Beautiful illustrations with an engaging story! Great for language lessons!”
“Lovely story that teaches how to approach the unknown with a spirit of problem solving & thoughtfulness instead of fear.”
“LOVE this book and so do my grandkids. The story has so many things that kids love in literature. A very cute and smart mole, silly haunting monsters, repetition and a lot of humor. In addition, it has great problem solving and predicting components that teachers will love. Great addition to any teachers or children’s library.”
“This book is a great one to get students thinking about problem solving when things aren’t going well among classmates. How can you keep everyone happy when you are all so different and you all like different things? And if you are a parent who wants a new bedtime read, No More Noisy Nights certainly lends itself to that… put qualms about noises that go bump in the night to bed with the friends in this book.”
Now ONE more thing that makes me uncomfortable!
If you’ve read any of my books I’d be grateful if you found the time to write a review. Reviews do help new readers find their way to my books!
November is a month when we think of family, friends and giving thanks. It is also picture book month. So I thought it was a good opportunity to highlight some authors that are part of my Flashlight Pressfamily. Writers mostly work alone, but we cherish the relationships, even if they are only in cyberspace, we have with other authors.
When I became a Flashlight Press author my wonderful editor, Shari Dash Greenspan, suggested I contact some the other authors to gain insight into marketing etc. They welcomed me into the family with great advice.
When I see their books at a story or library I smile. Check out their books and you’ll smile too! Click on the links to learn more about each book and find free activity pages too!
You write a story that you love, you find an editor that loves it too, but the true test is the readers. Will readers love your story? Will they tell others about it? As the viable paths to publication grow, there are more books vying for the readers attention. So reviews are essential for book sales and book sales increase an author’s chance of future publications. There are usually reviews for a few months leading to a book release and a few months after. So it was a happy moment when I saw Melinda Johnson’s review of The Day I Ran Away 18 months after publication.
At her blog, More to the Story, Melinda, an author with a master’s in English literature, teases out the layers that make a story one to remember. Her reviews would be helpful to parents, but also great for teachers to use as the talk with students about writing.
When I write I story I’m thinking about some layers but Melinda found layers I didn’t even know I’d slipped into my story. Here’s a excerpt:
The Day I Ran AwayfromFlashlight Pressis like a well-choreographed dance. Three characters, two voices, three points of view, two timelines, two picture sequences, and a dog spin around each other with no missed beats. The threads fall together easily, and despite action and humor in Isabella Ongaro’s illustrations, the tone of the book is peaceful. The little girl’s growing drowsiness in the bedtime pictures makes sense. She’s been on a big adventure that never took her beyond the reach of love and safety. You’ll want to readThe Day I Ran Awayover again, even if you aren’t a preschooler, because there’s more to ponder each time you page through the story.
Please visit Melinda’sblogand read some of her thoughtful reviews. And, when you read book you like, write a review! An author will appreciate it!
Last week I talked about using picture books to talk with children about issues or other topics. Sometimes we can introduce a topic that a child hasn’t experienced. I still remember my children’s reaction when we read the book Fly Away Home, by Eve Bunting. It allowed us to talk about people who did not have all the things they had in their lives.
Sometimes we can use a book to explore things we all experience. In The Day I Ran Away, Grace is having a bad day (who hasn’t had one of those!). Her favorite shirt is dirty, her favorite cereal is all gone, she gets sent to her room after a tantrum and, when she colors her white shirt purple, Mom takes her markers away. That’s when Grace decides to run away, but how can you run away if you aren’t allowed to cross the street? We can use this book to talk with children about:
Have you had a bad day? Why?
Share a bad day you’ve had
How can we make a bad day better?
What is your favorite: color, food, item of clothing, book, etc.
What would you do if a favorite thing was missing?
Grace wasn’t allowed to cross the street? Is that a good rule? Why?
What rules do you have in your house?
What happens if you don’t follow the rules?
Why do we have rules?
Was it right for Grace to lose her markers for a week?
Saying you’re sorry
Grace makes a picture for her mom as a peace offering.
What is a peace offering?
Why is it good to say you are sorry?
How do you feel when someone apologizes to you?
What are ways you can tell someone you are sorry?
Grace is doing bedtime yoga. What is yoga?
Have you ever done yoga?
Why does she do it at bedtime?
What other things can you do to calm down at bedtime?
In No More Noisy Nights, Jackson has moved into a new home. After a day of unpacking he’s ready to sleep, but it turns out he’s sharing his home with some creatures that are noisy at night. Jackson has to use his best problem solving skills to quiet the creatures so he can get a good nights sleep. We can use this picture book to talk with children about:
Talk about Jackson. Was he afraid? Why or why not?
Ask questions such as: Have you ever heard scary sounds? What did you do? Are there are things that scare you?
Share fears you had as a child or now.
Talk about the way Jackson solved his problems. What else could he have done?
Talk about solutions for the fears they shared
Moving can be hard, but we bring things with us that help our new house feel like home. What things did Jackson bring? What things would you bring?
Make a list of the good and bad things about moving.
The creatures in Jackson’s house were noisy. How did he treat them?
When my children were small we would do add-a-line stories at a meal, in the car or if we were waiting somewhere. Someone would start a story. (You know, the once-upon-a-time kind of story).
Me: Once upon a time there was a family of owls living in the forest.
Daughter: They played hide and seek with the other birds. And then…
Son: they saw afire breathing dragon. The owls were afraid because …
Daughter: they didn’t like fire, but the dragon’s fire was all used up. So…
Son: The dragon went to the evil witch to see if she could help him. And..
You get the point. My son was always adding the danger and my daughter trying to fix it!
Recently I read Sam & Eva by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, (Simon & Schuster, 2017) and was reminded of this game. In the book Sam is drawing when Eva joins him. He doesn’t want Eva to draw with him and so begins a drawing battle, as they keep changing the story with their drawings. When Eva’s Marmot is a superhero with a rocket, Sam’s velociraptor shoots lightning out of his eyes. Eventually even the text is being amended by Sam or Eva to change the story. A falling piano becomes confetti which becomes exploding confetti. Eva decides she doesn’t want to draw, but then things get out of hand for Sam as the drawings seem to take over, so Eva draws them a way out. And then it begins again!
While Sam & Eva are telling their story with drawings, I think add-a-line stories are a fun activity for home or the classroom. Maybe a big blank sheet of paper on the bulletin board each week with a story start and students can add to it. Collected over the school year they could be illustrated (maybe in art class), copied and students could go home with a book of stories they helped create! (Of course you might need some ground rules!)
Find lots of Debbie’s amazing “doodles” at Inkyelbows . They will inspire the artists in the room!