Thursday, August 23, 2012


NEWS!!! If you have a completed manuscript of 80,000 words or less, Dear Editor is holding a giveaway. All you have to do is follow the directions. Fiction, nonfiction, YA, adult, PB, you name it... (I really hope I win, but I'll share the chance with all of you anyway...) Now's your chance. The deadline is Tuesday August 28th.

Keep on keepin' on...

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lucky Clover Picture Book Contest: SPRING Winner Announced!

It's high time I finally announce the winner of the SPRING Lucky Clover Picture Book Contest. This quarter, I received more entries than I ever have before, so the decision was neck and neck. To see the list of winners from previous contests, simply visit my CONTEST tab. With no further ado, I bring to you the winner of the SPRING contest...

Romelle Broas

...for her lovely manuscript, Artsy-Fartsy Spider. It's a story about a spider who creates art with her spiderwebs and must find a way to deal with the jeers of her friends.

Congratulations, Romelle!!! You can expect your critique within 2 weeks.

The SUMMER Lucky Clover Picture Book Contest is NOW OPEN! For all the rules and details, follow these instructions. Hurry, the entry window closes September 30th.

Keep on keepin' on...

Friday, August 17, 2012

HIGH FIVE #19: Kindergarten Teacher Publishes Picture Book

Welcome to HIGH FIVE, the feature that spotlights debut picture book authors with a five-question interview. Today we have joining us, author/teacher Andy Allen. He self-published his first book, Stormin' Norman: The Soggy Doggy, and it was released in November 2011. As a Kindergarten teacher, Andy Allen knows just what kids like. Soggy doggies happen to be one of those things. Please join me in congratulating Andy on his recent success by giving him a big HIGH FIVE!

Stormin' Norman: The Soggy Doggy
by Andy Allen

So, here’s a big HIGH FIVE congratulations to you for your debut picture book.

Title: Stormin’ Norman: The Soggy Doggy
Author: Andy Allen
Illustrator: Brian Barber
Publisher: Beaver’s Pond Press
Release Date: November 2011

Summary: A story of friendship and the bond between a boy and his dog. The rhyme and illustrations in the book will entertain a wide audience, from young readers to teachers and parents. During the Iowa flood of 2008, many homes were destroyed and lives were changed forever. Stormin’ Norman: The Soggy Doggy provides a positive light on a difficult time for many people.

Question ONE: What are three of your favorite picture books? Just three mind you. Being a kindergarten teacher, I know this is going to be a tough one for you.

This is a difficult question. I read lots and lots of stories to my students. I try to have fun with the stories by using different voices and expressions to keep the students interested and entertained. I do have a few stories that I will read often throughout the year.

The first is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. This book provides a wonderful example of friendship and self-sacrifice. It teaches us what love for a friend is all about and helps students understand better how we should treat our friends. The book can also lead to a discussion about the partnership that humans have with trees and we need to treat the trees kindly because they give us so much, from food to furniture to paper. It is also a good example of the life cycle of a person. I don’t think you can find a better story than The Giving Tree.

Another story I really enjoy reading is The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. This is another classic pick. The pictures in the book are so vivid and the kids enjoy watching the caterpillar getting bigger throughout the story. It helps young learners with their colors and numbers as well as a discussion about the life cycle and how we are like caterpillars. The caterpillar grows into a butterfly. We want our young learners to grow to be responsible young adults. This is a book that can bring a lot of discussion and learning into the classroom.

The last book is a book I just read but it has become one of my favorites. It is called I’m Not Tired Yet by Marianne Richmond. This is a story about a little boy who will not go to bed so his mom has to coax him into falling asleep by giving gorilla hugs and lobster pinches and such. The rhyming in this book is spot on and she really captures the silly spirit of the little boy. He kind of reminds me of myself when I was little. This is a well written, enjoyable book that is perfect for the classroom or home.

Gorilla hugs and lobster pinches? How fun!

Question TWO: Despite not having any children of your own, how do you feel that you were drawn to write for them?

My wife and I do not have kids, but we have two dogs and two cats, we feel we have enough excitement in our life at the moment. Even though I do not have kids, I have been in the field of early childhood education for about 10 years. I feel I have a good understanding of the cognitive process of a child and I can relate to kids well. My wife would tell you it is because I have the maturity of a 5-yr-old. When I am working on a story, I try to look at it through the eyes of a 5-yr-old and ask myself, why would I like this book? I feel that with the technology we have and the age of video games, books are becoming a smaller part in the life of a child so when writing and creating a story, it is important to make sure the child can identify and relate with the characters and themes within the story. I want to create stories that I would want to read to my students in my classroom.

I have heard that women mature faster than men. I bet your Kindergarteners adore you!

Question THREE: How might teachers use your book in the classroom? Did you write your book with teachers in mind? Do you have any lesson plans?

Over the month of June, I presented my book to 4 reading conferences in the state of Iowa. I talked with teachers about my book and how to use the book in the classroom. I have a curriculum written that covers, geography, science, and reading and writing skills. The curriculum also includes a game to help with fine and gross motor development as well as a list of a few other great dog books. Teachers can also use the book to discuss topics such as friendship, courage, pet responsibility and water safety.  I wrote the book with teachers in mind, as a teacher if there is a book out there that I can apply to academic standards I will be more likely to use that book in the classroom. The students can enjoy a story and we can learn a few things as well, everybody wins!

Sounds awesome! A whole unit you wrote around your book? If I were teaching Kindergarten, I’d definitely be on board with your book. I can’t believe it covers all that. Amazing! 

Soggy Doggy Sample

Question FOUR: What was your road to publication like? Can you talk a bit about revisions, submitting to publishers, and your experience with illustrators?

When I finished the story, I thought I had gold and I was going to be the next Dr. Suess, so I did some research and sent my story out to publishing houses that took material without having an agent and I got rejected. Then I got rejected. And finally, I got rejected.

There was one small publishing house that expressed some interest but they said it would be at least a year and a half to get the book out and I didn’t have any say with the illustrations. I was not a fan of that so I started looking at the self-publishing route. This story is very dear to me and I wanted to have input on the overall creation of the book. Self-publishing allowed me to keep some creative control and create a book that is of very high quality. I am very pleased with the book and my self-publishing experience. However, for my other stories, I would like to go through a traditional publisher.

The illustrator and I were able to meet and discuss the overall look of the story. I gave him a few pictures of Norm and told him I don’t want to stifle his creativity but it would be cool if he could make Norm look like Norm and he did a great job. We worked very well together. When he finished a page, he sent it to me and we talked about it. I generally had very few notes because he did such an amazing job. His pictures really tie the story together; he did a great job with the facial expressions of Norm and Andy throughout the story. And if I remember correctly, it was Brian that came up with the title. We were brainstorming for a title and he came up with that one. It was perfect.

I agree. Stormin’ Norman: The Soggy Doggy IS a great title! I’m so glad you had such a positive experience.

Andy and NormQuestion FIVE: What are your top three writing tips you can offer to writers (and teachers) seeking publication?

First, let’s remember that I am not a professional writer; I am a teacher who has begun to write books with the best interest of the child in mind. My next book talks about kids experiencing bullying on the playground, when Norm goes to the dog park and meets a bully.

So my first tip would be to write with the child in mind. Ask yourself, if I were five years old, would I like this book or can I relate to the book?

My second tip is to keep a notebook by your bed. I will get a great idea for a line in a story during the night and if I don’t write it down right then, I will forget it in the morning. So it is a good idea to keep something by your bed because you never know when your muse will bite.

And finally, this might sound cliché, but have fun. Children want to be entertained with literature, so have fun with the whole writing process. From your first draft to final version, the whole process should be enjoyable. There might be some stress, but as long as you enjoy writing, keep doing it. Don’t do it to become famous or wealthy. Do it because you feel like you have something to say and you enjoy telling stories. We need more great stories to entertain kids and compete with the video games. Books and reading help the cognitive development in young learners so it is so important that we keep the reading interesting for kids. I have met authors that do not encourage people to write stories because they do not want the competition. I feel just the opposite; we can never have too many good stories for kids.

Thank you so much, Andy, for being with us today. Congratulations again on your debut picture book! Hope your Kindergarten class starts out great and goes strong all year long. Good luck on your second book!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


I just spent the last few days at the free online writer's conference known as WriteOnCon. AWESOME! It was my 3rd year participating. I always find the conference very inspiring. This year, aside from ALL the great information, the two best things I took away was me writing two query letters (and getting great feedback to make them stronger), and I stumbled upon (by going to agency websites) a few agents I feel might make a great match for me and my work. If you've never heard of WriteOnCon (WOC), go NOW! Here's all the awesomeness...

See ya later, and keep on keepin' on...

Monday, August 13, 2012

Story Element #8: Patterns

Dropbox - Secure backup, sync and sharing made easy.Hello, world! I'm still here. I've been MIA for about 5 weeks. I've actually been WRITING. Dropbox is my new favorite thing, a free online service to help you back up and synchronize your files! It's awesome! It allows me to get more writing done without bothering with flash drives or e-mailing files to myself. I'd heard of it about a year ago; I don't know why it took me so long to actually give it a try. I LOVE it!!! Just be sure that when you hit SAVE, you wait for the file to finish syncing before you close the file.

Now that I'm finished working on my latest ms for a while, it's time to "catch up" on my blog. 
Oh, blog, I love you so.
Why oh why did I let you go?
My blog, my friend, I missed you so.
It's time to write some more and grow.
I know, it's terrible rhyme and meter, and WORD PLAY was the last element I featured, but I couldn't resist.

So, let's jump right in to Story Element #8, Patterns! Patterns in picture books often includes word play. Today's model certainly does. Other patterns in picture books include repetition, rules of 3, cycles, etc. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle has the pattern of going through the days of the week. Some books have the pattern of going through the day from morning to night, like Eric Carle's The Grouchy Ladybug. Repetition could mean a repeating refrain, like in Robert Munsch's Love You Forever: "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, As long as I'm living, My baby you'll be." Today's model is Big Chickens by Leslie Helakoski. We'll focus on repetition and rules of 3 (and rhyme).

Title: Big Chickens
Author: Leslie Helaskoski
Illustrator: Henry Cole
Publisher: Dutton
Year: 2006
Word Count: 697

Summary: While trying to escape from a wolf, four frightened chickens keep getting themselves into the very predicaments they are trying to avoid.

The repetition starts right from the very first page.
The chickens pwocked, flocked, and rocked. They knocked into themselves and each other until one by one they tumbled out of the coop.
This page sets up the beginning of the repeated actions that happen throughout. It also has a lovely set of three rhyming words. Subsequent pages continue with one chicken saying, "I'm afraid to..." and the others follow with "Ohh...Me too, me three, and me four..." So the four ________, ___________, _______, _________ chickens walked on... In this case the adjectives are: cautious, careful, cowardly, chicken. Notice how lovely the alliteration is. 

Another page:
The chickens tutted, putted, and flutted. They butted into themselves and each other, until one by one...
And what do those four big chickens do?
Feet flew out from under, and bottoms flipped over. Bodies plucked up, and mud sucked down. Legs sank in. Necks stretched out. Until...
Notice the wonderful use of assonance, the repetition of vowel sounds: "plucked, up, mud, sucked" and "legs, necks, stretched." The story goes from one predicament to the next. The pattern remains true. They have lively actions with rhyming verbs, then get scared, say "ohh my, me too," then continue on. It repeats 6 times. The language within the repetition is so much fun. I could read this book over and over and over. Oh, look another repetition in threes! An awesome example of threes from the book is...
The chickens picked, pecked, and pocked. They ruffled, puffled, and shuffled. They shrieked, squeaked, and freaked, until...
Well, you'll just have to read the book to find out! The repetition is three verbs three times, and each set rhymes. The best part is that this book is part of a three-book series. Need help with writing pattern in picture books? Get your hands on Leslie Helakoski's Big Chickens, Big Chickens Fly the Coop (2008), and Big Chickens Go to Town (2010). 

Do YOU have a favorite book that uses repetition? If so, please share below...


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