Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Teaching With Picture Books

It's 11:30 at night. I am thankful that I hear my bed calling my name even though I am tired, but at least I have a bed. That means I am making time to write this blog post.

I am thankful for libraries. My babysitter took my daughter to the public library today and my daughter checked out a book for her 6-year-old brother too. It is Comets and Meteors by Lynda Sorensen, published in 1993, as part of the Solar System series. Did you know that the tail of the Halley's Comet is nearly 94 million miles long?

So today is Wednesday and I'm supposed to write about picture books. The most exciting news to me today was that Keith Schoch over at Teach with Picture Books has finally posted another blog post! It has been nearly seven months. And he has three great posts about picture books. You should really go check it out.

  1. Heidi Kellenberger, editor at Teacher Created Materials Publishing will be looking at ideas and writing samples in January 2011. Keith shares an e-mail he received from her inviting us to submit to her.
  2. How Can Educators Without Basic Literary Skills Succeed? By using picture books, of course!
  3. Picture Books, Trade Books, Wisdom Books, Theme Books, Mentor Texts, Craft Models, Micro-Texts, Touchstone Texts, Content Area Reference Books... 
So, no four-leaf clover book recommendation for today. Hope you don't mind. Enjoy the picture book info. Remember to come back on New Year's Day for January's interview with a debut picture book author!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Good News for the New Year!

The good news of Christmas is that Christ was born. The good news of his gospel is that Christ lives. We had a lovely white Christmas with six inches of snow! The next day, we went sledding in the side yard. I stayed outside long after the little ones went chattering to the front door. It was a dry powdery snow, perfect for sledding, but not for snowmen.

And the good news for today (not that these are in any way in the same level of categories) is that I actually got to spend two hours writing! Well, revising. But to me, it's all one in the same. Writing, revising... what's the difference? I know that there truly is a difference, but for me they are so closely related that I choose to put them in the same definition. It's just easier that way. AND I organized some too! I now have a folder on my laptop called IDEAS. Now I don't have to search in five different places to find my lists of ideas. I'm almost to 100, now.

I had found a short newspaper article back on Friday, December 3. Part of the message is that we are all God's children and He loves us more than our own parents love us. He loves us more than we love our little ones that he has given us to look after for Him. And since I don't feel like summarizing, I'll quote the rest (as found in the Religion section of The McDowell News):
"Although it takes enormous courage to put our complete trust in God, we must believe that He wants only what is good for us. What is required of us is to see God's work in everything we do, and develop perfect trust to accept the trials of his life, and to know that with whatever difficulties we are faced, God will not abandon us. The first step in increasing our trust in God is to thank Him daily for His many blessings and to always go to Him with our anxieties."
The scripture referenced was Proverbs 3:5-6.

So I'm going to start each post from now through January, stating how I'm thankful for my many blessing and how that can help me in my writing career.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Two Days Only

Click picture to close
This is a lovely 5" bookmark.
I know all of ya'll love to read! Wanna win a fabulous bookmark? Open to U.S. and Canadian residents.
  1. Just follow my little blog here with the Google Friends Connect to the left and visit as often as you like. 
  2. Leave a comment below about a few of your favorite holiday reads. (I like A Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg and The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg.)
  3. Visit other blogs, too. (That's actually not a rule, but nice to do.) 

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

    Saturday, December 18, 2010

    Picture Books for Christmas

    I know most of us give picture books away for Christmas; I do too. But I also do something else that is a lot of fun. I have 24 picture books about Christmas and winter that I wrap up with the old wrapping paper each year. We have a mini 2-foot tree that we use as an advent tree because I have something I wrote up called "The 24 Symbols of Christmas." Each day, the children get to choose an ornament (with its corresponding symbol) to decorate the tree. Then the other child gets to open a present, one of the picture books I had previously wrapped up the year before. It's a lot of fun and they don't bug me about getting gifts because they know they get to open one each night. Some of the books we've read so far are:

    1. The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck
    2. What the Little Fir Tree Wore to the Christmas Party by Satomi Ichikawa
    3. Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann
    4. The Care and Feeding of a Grinch by Max the Dog, as told to Bonnie Worth
    5. The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore
    6. B is for Bethlehem, A Christmas Alphabet by Isabel Wilner
    7. The Puppy Who Wanted a Boy by Jane Thayer
    8. The Littlest Christmas Tree, a tale of growing and becoming, by Janie Jasin
    9. Merry Christmas Mr. Snowman (OLD...Wonder Books, 59 cents)
    10. The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado
    11. The Snow Bear by Miriam Moss
    12. Thomas' Christmas Delivery illustrated by Tommy Stubbs
    13. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg (I had never heard or read this book until after the movie came out.)
    14. This Is the Season Beloved of the Year, artwork by Simon Dewey
    15. A Christmas Treasury, The Children's Classic Edition, illustrated by Christian Birmingham
    I'm actually short a few books, as we only have four or five more to open (and don't quite have the full 24 yet), but I'm always on the lookout for more good ones!

    What are some of your favorites?

    Sunday, December 12, 2010

    When is Your Picture Book Manuscript Ready?

    Shrunken Picture Books, Photo by Rita Crayon Huang
    Shrunken Picture Books,
    Photo by Rita Crayon Huang
    We all struggle with the answer to this question, whether it's a picture book, or not. In fact, Quinn of seeing, dreaming...writing, started a great little debate on the topic, titled Writers Revise. He mentions how we all revise differently, as we all write differently. Some of us only revise three times, while others of us revise thirty-three times. It depends on how you define revision, too. Some may see changing four or five words in a PB ms as a revision at its final stages. Others may see it as simply a polish up. No matter how you look at it, PB writers know that every word counts. Maybe that's why some of us revise more often than several YA writers. Or maybe it's all in the personal style. Yet, it really doesn't matter.

    As I was pondering this topic, I did a Google search for "revision for picture book manuscripts." I discovered a great site: Fict!on Notes, Believe in Your Story. This picture is from the article "How I Shrunk My Picture Book Manuscript - And Why I'll Do It Again" by Lee Wind. It seems like a similar technique that Ann Whitford Paul describes in her Writing Picture Books. Even this clever info I stumbled upon was just not the answer I'm looking for.

    So what is the question? When I think a ms is ready, and I send it to my critique group, and they STILL say, "It's close," should I just go with my gut and send it out anyway? I would LOVE for someone to say, "It's ready! Send that baby out!" The bad thing is, the suggestions they give me for revision actually make sense. And the ones that I agree with, I DO go ahead and make those changes. I don't make any changes just because someone suggests it; I'll only make a change if I actually agree with their suggestions. Honestly, I don't know when a ms is ready to send out. If I could just get ONE person to tell me to go for it, then I would feel confident in my feeling of it being ready. I have a PB ms that has gone through nearly 20 tweaks. What then?


    It's not so much that I'm afraid to send it out; I'm not. But PB mss are uniquely special. They have to be more "perfect" than any other genre. They're short. They have to speak. Every time I think it's perfect, I'll get ideas from others to make it better. And it truly does get better, like exciting-better! But it keeps happening! At what point do I finally say, "Enough is enough. It's as good as I can make it. Who cares what anyone else says about it! I'm sending it out!"


    So, if you're loving your ms, but not so much that it's hard to make ANY changes, and you feel like you're staying true to the story you are trying to tell, and everyone's suggestions are minor, then perhaps it is time. Like Quinn pointed out, even the editor will have you revising again and again. But is it really that easy? How do YOU know when your ms is ready despite others still staying "it's close"?

    Friday, December 10, 2010

    I Will Survive

    Click picture to close
    Giveaway coming soon!!!
    Oh, yes, I will survive. I'm not even putting lights on my porch this year. Why, oh, why did the living room have to get an overhaul right NOW?!!!

    Anyway, what can I share about writing and life today? I'm reading the Rocky Mountain Series of books by Lori Wick right now. Loving it, as always. However, I read the second book in the series before the first. Have any of you ever done that? It's a four-book series. As a writer, it is interesting to see how much planning went into these novels. I'm constantly thinking about the second book as I read the first. Could be a great writer-study exercise for YA series writers.

    This week's Read-4-Luck reading recommendation was cut down to one book, instead of the usual four. I think it makes a quicker read and definitely a quicker write, but for the first time in months, I received ZERO comments on a post. Boo-hoo. But it is the holidays...

    I'm going to my husband's Christmas party for work this weekend. Looking forward to a bit of fun. He's only going because I want to. Have a great weekend!!! Anyone else having holiday parties this weekend? (I'm actually attending TWO!)

    P.S. Not that it matters to anyone but me, but today is my older brother's birthday. He would have been 39. He died in May 2000. He was defiant, stubborn, adventurous, and had a true passion for life. Today is always difficult for my mom.

    Wednesday, December 8, 2010

    Read for Luck: Thunder Rose

    This week's READ-4-LUCK pick is Thunder Rose by Jerdine Nolen and illustrated by Kadir Nelson.
    Unusual from the day she is born, Thunder Rose performs all sorts of amazing feats, including building metal structures, taming a stampeding herd of steers, capturing a gang of rustlers, and turning aside a tornado.
    Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
    Year: 2003
    Word Count: 1,991
    Book Level: 5.4
    Topic: Thunder, Creativity, Perseverance
    Theme: Tall tale, Western

    RATINGS
    CHILDREN:  A bit long for younger children (even for my 6-yr-old). He did, however, manage to listen all the way through. Older children would probably enjoy reading it alone.

    PARENTS:  The language is awesome. I love all the word play, though it's not the onomatopoeia kind often found in the 2-4 age range picture books. The illustrations are fabulous, which is probably why my son managed to listen to the nearly 2,000-word book (though the story truly is very fun and he is fascinated with  both the strength of men and the severity of weather.)

    TEACHERS:  You can definitely teach this to 3rd-5th grade students. It has its place in Reading, Writing, and Social Studies. I can see this in a unit on genres, especially tall tales and such. It could even work for 1st and 2nd graders.

    WRITERS:  Study this one! It's a treasure trove. If you don't fall in love with the story of Thunder Rose, or the language of Jerdine Nolen's words, then maybe you'll be inspired to come up with your own tall tale to tell.

    ***What's your favorite tall tale?*** 

    Saturday, December 4, 2010

    High Five to Heather Ayris Burnell

    right_hand_print_benji_p_01Here's a big HIGH FIVE to Heather Ayris Burnell and her debut picture book, Bedtime Monster (Raven Tree Press, September 2010). She sold it on her own, without an agent.

    Paul is just a nice, ordinary kid. Until bedtime that is, when Paul becomes positively monstrous! He whines. He grumbles. He howls. Paul even sprouts long ears, sharp claws, and a great big tail. Paul is a bedtime monster!

    Question ONE: What are three of your favorite picture books (because we all know you really have way more than three)?

    It's true, I LOVE picture books. I read towering stacks of them every week. Just three huh...
    ·         WHEN PIGASSO MET MOOTISSE by Nina Laden – I go back to this one time and again. It's a fabulous story about two great artists and what things might have been like between them—if they were a pig and a cow.
    ·         BILLY'S BUCKET written by Kes Gray, Illustrated by Garry Parsons - Love this one, it's full of imagination and fun.
    ·         BUBBA THE COWBOY PRINCE: A FRACTURED TEXAS TALE by Helen Ketteman, illustrated by James Warhola. The voice in this book is spot on!

    Question TWO: How did you come up with the idea for your debut book? Do you have anything in the works that is NOT a picture book? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it? If not, can you tell us about one of your other picture books?

    I came up with the idea for BEDTIME MONSTER after an evening of trying to get my kids into bed when they really didn't want to go. I wrote the story because I thought it would be great fun to see the physical manifestation of a tantrum. I love the idea of a kid turning into an actual monster—as long as it's not my kid.

    Picture books are my favorite thing to write, but I do enjoy writing other things too. Right now I'm working on finishing up my middle grade novel about a boy who has to save his best friend from giant frogs.

    Question THREE: Will you share your top three tips for writers about writing, publishing, or whatever you have learned along the way that stands out as being very important, but no one ever tells you about?

    ·         Remember the story of how you came up with your story. It's something people are going to want to know when your book comes out.
    ·         You will have to write lots of supplemental material to go with your book such as bios, press releases, activities, etc.
    ·         People are going to think you are great at your presentations, no matter how nervous you feel. They look up to you as an author and want to hear what you have to say. Putting time into planning your presentations will make you feel prepared.

    Question FOUR: Can teachers use your book in the classroom? Do you have any additional resources available for teachers? What advice can you give teachers to help children love reading and writing? Are you available for school visits? If so, what are your lessons like?

    Teachers can definitely use BEDTIME MONSTER in the classroom. It's a quick storytime read. It could also be used to open a discussion about feelings. There are downloadable activities at the Raven Tree Press website that can be used to supplement a lesson. They include discussion questions, a game of “hang monster,” a happy/sad mask craft that includes an optional singing activity, a monster snack, and a coloring sheet.

    There is also an English/Spanish version, BEDTIME MONSTER/¡A DORMIR PEQUEÑO MONSTRUO! That could be a used in ESL classes or to teach English speaking students some Spanish words. There is a keyword vocabulary page at the back of the book to jumpstart learning in either language.

    I think teachers can help their students love reading and writing by sharing fun books with them and showing them that writers are everyday people who don't just write something perfectly the first time.  There are lots of ways for teachers and students to connect with authors these days. It can be a great supplement to the learning experience.

    I do school and library visits. I've done writing projects with kids from 1st to 4th grade. I tell them about revision and how my stories don't usually come out the way I want them to the first time I put them down on paper. I also talk about the long process it took to get BEDTIME MONSTER published. It shows the kids that patience can pay off. I've come up with some fun crafts for my BEDTIME MONSTER visits too.

    Question: FIVE: What advice can you give to parents about life, parenting, or creating literate children? Do you read picture books to your own children?

    I read picture books to my kids every day. They have grown up going to the library, checking out big stacks of books and participating in library programs. You can teach children to both love and respect books if you start bringing them to the library from an early age. Obviously, I've gone through some bedtime struggles but when I hear my kids whispering, “I love you” to each other after I turn out the light I know they're doing just fine.

    ***Thanks, so much Heather! Hope to see a second book from you soon!***

    Wednesday, December 1, 2010

    PiBoIdMo Winners

    I'm one of the 160+ PiBoIdMo Winners. See my badge? Picture Book Idea Month 2010 was awesome. It will be an annual treat for me. This was my first year participating. So here's my pledge:

    I do solemnly swear that I have faithfully executed the PiBoIdMo 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge, and will, to the best of my ability, parlay my ideas into picture book manuscripts.

    Of the 30 ideas (yes I only got 30, and just barely too) ...
    • 19 are fiction
    • 11 are nonfiction
    • 4 are absolutely terrible, and 4 are maybe okay
    • Of the 19 fiction, I'm excited about 11.
    • Of the 11 nonfiction, I'm excited about 8.
    Now I just need to choose my top five, just in case I win one of the three grand prizes: feedback on my best five by a literary agent! Hmmm...decisions, decisions. I'll probably choose all fiction.

    For those of you that may have missed out this year, or would like to have a quick summary, here's the 30 idea generators for 2010:
    1. Get out and live. Imagine! See life through the eyes of a child.
    2. Break a few rules.
    3. Think "little." Find your inner childhood memories. 
    4. What "bugs" you?
    5. Road trip game, "No, it wasn't."
    6. Use puns.
    7. Write poetry to flex your wordplay muscles.
    8. Draw your characters, doodle, or write up a character sketch.
    9. Revisit childhood misunderstandings and disappointments.
    10. Play with the bad ideas, too (and think of a fractured fairy tale).
    11. Listen to children.
    12. Be weird and wacky.
    13. Listen to your ideas. Push them if they need it.
    14. Get kids to turn the page.
    15. Use pictures as story starters.
    16. Be open to ideas from toys and everyday objects.
    17. Use music. Write a story to go along with existing pictures.
    18. Think in puzzles.
    19. Read a picture book.
    20. Use collage to find setting, characters, and emotions.
    21. Listen to yourself.
    22. Describe an object in ten different ways.
    23. Give the familiar a severe twist.
    24. Pick an idea and finish the first draft.
    25. Use a storyboard to help flesh out an idea.
    26. Be a kid again. Remember your childhood and all its simple pleasures.
    27. Read writer quotes to stay inspired.
    28. Be funny, even it seems too silly.
    29. Rewrite a picture book you don't like. Work on character.
    30. Write the hook first. Try to brainstorm a new idea in under two minutes.
    A big thanks goes out to Tara Lazar and all the contributors for this wonderful online event!

    On a side note, my last round of library books has proven disappointing to my son. The last three or four I've read to him, he said, "Remind me to never read that one again. Mom, don't pick that one again. It's so dumb." Well, at least we have the same taste in books, even though I DID choose them. Oh, well. Maybe the rest will be good.