Friday, March 30, 2012

Where's Walrus?

Week of March 25, 2012—New Books on My Shelf
Friday, March 30, 2012—Where’s Walrus?

Folks often ask to see my picture book addiction . . . I mean, collection. So here’s a shot. I’m glad to see that the collection looks smaller on my new shelves than I thought. And see all that empty space? Room for more books, for sure! Behind the W divider is our book du jour: Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage (Scholastic Press, © 2011).

I first read about this book in Leonard Marcus’ column in The Horn Book. I grabbed up at copy the next time I was at my local book store. This is a special book indeed. Walrus escapes from the zoo and hides from the zoo keeper in almost-plain sight. Walrus blends in perfectly (with the help of several hats) with a group of men in business suits at a cafĂ©, water hose-holding firemen, and can-can girls. When he finally joins a high-diving competition (and wins first place), the zoo keeper discovers the perfect way to keep Walrus happy in his home at the zoo.

Here’s what’s most intriguing about this book . . . there are no words. The story is told completely through color-block illustrations. Now you may wonder why a blog devoted to helping picture book writers improve their craft would feature a wordless picture book. The reason: the book tells a wonderful story. The story is well-paced, and you want to turn the page to see what’s next. There is rising tension. There is humor. There is suspense. There is a climax, a resolution, and a denouement.

I can learn a lot from a book like Where’s Walrus? I can learn (or be reminded of) the role of illustrations in picture books. I can learn that more words does not necessarily equal a clearer story. I can learn that I need to think visually when writing. I can learn that it’s a great-big publishing world out there and companies are publishing a variety of books. I can learn that there is still room for innovation in publishing—as this book so well demonstrates.

Where's Walrus? Buy it. Read it. Learn from it.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School

Week of March 25, 2012—New Books on My Shelf
Thursday, March, 29, 2012—The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School

I met Laura Murray at the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles last year and then again at the SCBWI conference in Miami. In Miami she was on the First Books Panel which is a tradition at our Florida SCBWI winter meeting. During the Frist Books Panel authors who have published their first book in the previous year tell about their journey to publication. The presentations are always encouraging and put everyone in a celebratory mood.

Laura’s book The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School was released by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., last year. The book was illustrated by Mike Lowery.

Laura was a kindergarten teacher for years. If you’ve been around schools much, you may know about the Gingerbread Man Hunt that many teachers use during the first week of school. One of the main purposes of the hunt is to help kindergarteners get acquainted with the school campus. The kindergarteners are “smart cookies” who are trying to find the missing Gingerbread Man. At each point in their search, the students are just one step behind him. As they search for the Gingerbread Man, the children find the media center, the nurse’s office, the front office, the cafeteria, and so on. When the students finally return to their classroom, they find the Gingerbread Man waiting for them (and often they enjoy gingerbread cookies).

Laura used this activity with her students and often wondered what adventures the Gingerbread Man had while he was out and about. But she never could find a book about the adventure to use with her class. Thus, the idea for this book.

In The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School the freshly-baked Gingerbread Man is left behind when his classmates go to recess. Because he’s “one smart cookie,” the Gingerbread Man embarks on a search for his class. With the help of the P.E. coach, the nurse, the art teacher, and the principal, he finally finds his way back to class and realizes they’ve been searching for him, too.

The book is written in a fun rhyming pattern. This is rhyme that is unique and well done, that’s what makes the rhyme successful. The quick pacing keeps the story moving and the reader engaged. The Gingerbread Man goes from calamity to calamity. Meanwhile the class is searching for him and has put up missing posters. Finally, the principal, himself, helps the Gingerbread Man find his way back to his grateful class.

Mark Lowery uses a graphic novel or cartoon panel approach in his illustrations which helps to organize the action. The illustrations are lighthearted and unique.

What I love most about Laura’s book is that she found a need for a story that no one else had done. She saw a need and she filled that need with gusto. Of course, if her writing hadn’t been stellar the book never would have been published. So Laura not only saw a need and met it with gusto, she always met it with finesse.

The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School. Buy it. Read it. Learn from it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I Can Be Anything!

Week of March 25, 2012—New Books on My Shelf
Wednesday, March 28, 2012—I Can Be Anything!

If you see Jerry Spinelli’s name on the cover of a book, you’d be wise to stop and thumb through the book.  Spinelli won the Newberry Award for Maniac Magee and his novel, Wringer, was a Newberry Honor Book. I use his memoir, Knots in My Yo-Yo String, as a resource when I teach memoir to student writers. Spinelli speaks frequently to teachers, librarians, and students.

So when I saw Spinelli’s name on the front of I Can Be Anything! in the picture book section of our school’s Scholastic Book Fair, I had to pick it up. Written by Spinelli and illustrated by Jimmy Liao, the book was released by Little Brown and Company in 2010. I was delighted when I flipped through the pages. And I couldn’t help myself, I bought the book on the spot.

The art is charming. The illustrations are filled with activity (and sometimes over-sized objects), and the typography makes the text playful. This book is not a master’s class in plot. It is a master’s class in word choice.

Spinelli begins the text with . . .

            When I grow up,
            what shall I be?
Of all the many, many jobs,
which one will be the best for me?

You got it, a rhyming picture book. But the stanzas end with the intro and Spinelli presents rhyming pairs of jobs that the child might choose. But wait—these aren’t your “normal” jobs. No firemen, bakers, teachers, or police officers here. Those jobs are way too small for the world of this book. Instead, Spinelli offers jobs such as:
Pumpkin grower
            Dandelion blower
            Mixing-bowl licker
            Tin-can kicker
            Deep-hole digger
            Lemonade swigger

Twenty-four jobs, twelve pairs in all, and then a beautiful closing . . .

            So many jobs!
            They’re all such fun—I’m going to choose .
. .

Well, you’ve have to buy the book to see how it ends. But I can promise you the ending will surprise you in more ways than one.

Simple is never simple is it? This appears to be a simple text. It’s short. But simple? No. It’s well thought out and crafted. The rhyme seems simple. But with all the jobs that could have been chosen, those included in this book didn’t happen without thought and planning. And the message which seems so simple—I can be anything—is actually a deep, compelling realization.

I Can Be Anything! Buy it. Read it. Learn from it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Christian, the Hugging Lion

Week of March 25, 2012—New Books on My Shelf
Tuesday, March 27, 2012—Christian, the Hugging Lion

Maybe you’ve seen the Youtube video about two Englishmen who purchased a lion cub from Harrods Department Store in 1969. If not, you need to view the video before reading further. There are many versions of the video, but one of the earliest (complete with Whitney Houston soundtrack) can be found at:

Christian, the Hugging Lion is the retelling of the true events of that lion adopted back in 1969. The book was written by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell who are the co-authors of another gorgeous, non-fiction book, And Tango Makes Three. (Note: Henry Cole, whom I mentioned in yesterday’s post, was the illustrator of Tango.) Christian, the Hugging Lion was illustrated by Amy June Bates and the book was published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (© 2010).

When Ace and John bought the lion cub at Harrods, they knew they had created a special family. They soon renamed the cub, Christian. Christian was a playful cub and he was involved in every aspect of Ace and John’s life together. Christian grew and grew and grew. As a matter of fact, he grew so much that Ace and John knew Christian needed to be set free. The three set off on a trip to Africa where Christian would eventually be turned lose, learn to survive, and build his own pride. When Ace and John returned a year later, questions lingered, “Would Christian remember them? Would they even see him? If they did, how would he react?” If you watched the video, you already know how the story ends.

I don’t consider myself a non-fiction writer, but the way Richardson and Parnell write this story, I am inspired to think perhaps I could tackle non-fiction sometime. This is not a dry book of facts and dates, it’s a lovely, sweet story. The writing has a warm, friendly, comfortable tone. The book is paced in a way that keeps the story moving smoothly forward and the reader does not become bogged down with details. Time is compressed (especially the year in London when Christian grows to a nearly-full-sized lion and his year of freedom in Africa before Ace and John return for a visit).

There is a skillful connection drawn between the life the men and lion lived together and their lives apart. We see Christian assimilating to his new home, and we see Ace and John carrying on with life, but noticeably missing Christian. This will surely stir the hearts of most readers and listeners.

Amy June Bates’ watercolor illustrations are soft and set the perfect tone. The two double-page spreads showing the reunion of Christian, Ace, and John tells more than words ever could.

Christian, the Hugging Lion. Buy it. Read it. Learn from it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Three Hens and a Peacock

Week of March 25, 2012—New Books on My Shelf
Monday, March 26, 2012—Three Hens and a Peacock

One of the books I plucked from the book store at SCBWI, Miami, was Three Hens and a Peacock (Peachtree, © 2011). Three things first attracted me to this book: the cover illustration and the names Lester L. Laminack and Henry Cole.  If you don’t know these guys, Google them. Lester is an author and educator, a friend to teachers and children, and a true Southern gentlemen with a folksy writing style. Henry is a Floridian, equally a gentleman, and arguably one of the greats in the world of American illustrators.
The story is about a peacock who shows up expectedly on the Tuckers farm when his crate falls off a passing truck. The new visitor soon attracts visitors to the farm, making the farm’s three hens very unhappy. The hens are upset that they do all the work and the peacock gets all the attention. The wise old hound dog suggests: “Why don’t you just swap jobs?” Soon the peacock and hens have traded responsibilities. The three hens gussy up themselves and begin to prance up and down the road to attract customers. The peacock squeezes into the hen house and tries with all his might to lay an egg. That’s when things really get funny!

The story line is something we all can relate to and the comical results of strutting a mile in someone’s shoes leads to hilarious results. The book contains excellent pacing that keeps moving the reader forward in the story. The use of transitions (eventually, of course, day after day, etc.) also contribute to the smooth flow of the story. Rich verb choices make the book a fun read, as does the well-placed dialogue that reveals the character’s personalities without an over reliance on colloquialisms, dropped –g’s, or other tricks people think makes for countrified dialogue.

When the peacock admits he’s no good at laying eggs and the hens confess that they aren’t all that great at strutting, they all can go back to the things they actually do well. Just when we think things are getting back to normal on the Tuckers’ farm, Henry Cole surprises us by showing another crate falling from a passing truck, leaving the reader to think another calamity is about to hit the farm.

Cole’s illustrations from unexpected perspectives add to the story. Animal characters are Cole’s forte, and in this book each animal is shown in his or her glory (and hilarity).

Three Hens and a Peacock. Buy it. Read it. Learn from it.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Coming This Week!

Week of March 25, 2012—New Books on My Shelf
Quote of the week:
When I think of all the books still left for me to read, I am certain of further happiness.
—Jules Renard

I’m a picture book-aholic, and there’s no twelve-step program for me. But that’s fine by me. This is one addiction that’s worth having. My book shelves are filled with picture books—but there’s always room for more.

I’ve purchased several new books this year at conferences, book fairs, my favorite book stores, and online. I’m going to feature one of these books each day this week. More importantly, I’m going to analyze what attracted me to each book. If I can learn what makes a picture book appealing to me, then perhaps I can apply what I learn to the manuscripts I write. Hopefully, you can do to the same.

Monday—Three Hens and a Peacock
Tuesday—Christian, the Hugging Lion
Wednesday—I Can Be Anything
Thursday—The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School
Friday—Where’s Walrus?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Be Good to Your Muse

Friday, March 23, 2012—Be Good to Your Muse

Your muse is the source of inspiration for your writing. Your muse is your heart. Your spirit. Your source of ideas.

Your writing muse is a sensitive creature who has to be protected and nurtured (and sometimes put in time out, or be sent to its room). Others may sometimes praise your muse or criticize your muse, but you are ultimately the only one responsible for its care and well-being. When you’re in one of those in-between times, your muse needs even more special care, so . . .

View a painting, invest in books,
visit art-filled museum nooks.
Splash at the beach, search in the sand,
sail out to sea away from land.
Hang out with friends, or hide away.
High-tail-it somewhere every day.
Talk with a friend, tie up loose ends.
Then take the time to make amends.
Laugh with gusto at the absurd.
Retell every joke you’ve ever heard.
Watch babies giggle, laugh, and sleep.
Wait for crawlers to begin to creep.
Smile at strangers. Satisfy favors.
Savor all new ice cream flavors.
Trudge through the woods. Take a long walk.
Time with yourself, listen and talk.
 Be quiet, calm, centered, still.
Before long your bucket will refill.
—Rob Sanders

Be good to your muse during the in-between times (and every other day). Then your muse will be good to you.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Let It Go

Thursday, March 22, 2012—Let It Go

I sat in a meeting yesterday where people were confused and upset, asking questions, getting heated. A couple of friends and I passed notes back and forth and rolled our eyes more than once. (Yes, I roll my eyes. Sorry if that disappoints you! LOL!) All the while my friend, Helen, sat on my right. She never said a word. She kept a slight smile of her face. She kept her eyes on the speaker.

After the meeting, I said, “You went to your happy place again, didn’t you?” Helen smiled and replied, “Yes.” Helen doesn’t get caught up in the drama. She can let things go.

We could all learn a lesson from Helen. Why not just smile and let it go? We worry too much, get caught up in the emotions too much, gripe too much, and roll our eyes too much. Sometimes we need to just let it go.

Certainly when we are in a state of living in the in-between, it’s easy to focus on our “in-between-ness” and nothing else. It can become all-consuming. 

You may remember from college psychology Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ “Five Stages of Grief.” According to Kubler-Ross everyone experiencing grief goes through the stages in this order: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.  Each person experiences these stages differently, and each stage can last different lengths of time for different people. As I recall, you can revert back to a stage through which you’ve already passed, and you can also get stuck in a stage.

Living in the in-between can be a grieving period, too. My agent recently turned down a piece I’d worked hard on. I couldn’t imagine what I would work on next. The in-between time started and so did the grieving period. First, I was shocked and dismayed. There must be a mistake. Did I read that email correctly? (Denial.) Then I was furious. I emailed and sent a text to my mentor. “How could this happen? What was he thinking? I’m pissed.” (Anger.) Then I thought . . . “Maybe if I change this, nip it here, and tuck this in over there . . . maybe that will make the manuscript something he likes.” (Bargaining.) And then I decided I should never write again. After all, I’m wasting paper and ink—my writing is even hurting the environment. Why bother? (Depression.) Then I woke up Sunday and reread the email from my agent. I finally could see all the kind, positive things he said about my writing. Before noon I had a new story idea and started drafting it in my head. I wrote to my mentor and said, “All is well,” and I typed my draft at home that night. (Acceptance.) In other words, I got over it. Normally, I don’t get over things that quickly. But this time—thank goodness—I did.

It’s ok to experience every stage of grief. It’s ok to feel every feeling when you’re living in the in-between. But eventually, we all have to move on. We have to get over it. We have to let it go.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Power of Distraction

Tuesday, March 20, 2012—The Power of Distraction

When I told my critique friend, Dionna, that I was in an in-between time in my writing, she was surprised. “But you always have new ideas and you’re always writing,” she said. That’s mostly true. But writing something that I connect with, and somethingI think my agent will connect with, and something I think he can attract an editor to connect with can be daunting sometimes. I can write a lot. But it doesn’t mean I am writing what I should be writing, want to be writing, or need to be writing.

For some time now I’ve had a picture book character in my mind. I’ve written a detailed character description of her, changed her name two or three times, and written paragraphs and scenes about her . . . but I haven’t been able to write a story with her as the main character. It’s because I’m in-between. I’m in between projects I’ve written and loved and the time when I find out if someone else loves them, too. And I’ve been stuck. Have you ever been there?

This past week was spring break and I wrote lots and lots and lots. But that character still was out there and I had nothing to write with her as the star. On the last day of spring break my sister and I drove to Sanibel Island to meet our cousin, Jacqua, and her husband, Kevin, who were just beginning their spring break vacation. As soon I’m around my Missouri relatives, I start feeling more countrified. I talk with more of a drawl. I tell lots of stories like our family members always have.

Jacqua insisted we visit two restaurants for dinner. At the Mucky Duck I ate barbequed shrimp wrapped with bacon, garden vegetables, and red potatoes roasted in butter. Down the street was a restaurant named Bubbles. Jacqua led us there for after-dinner appetizers and dessert. She ordered Bubble Bread (a bubbling, cheesy, dough mixture) and Sticky Buns. We sat at a picnic table eating our appetizers as the sun set over the gulf. Then we ordered cake. Fortunately, Jacqua anticipated we would be full by this point, so she had brought a cooler along so the icing on our cake slices wouldn’t melt.

Then we were off to the Herb Strauss Theater to see Das Barbecu, a musical-comedy set in Texas with a Wagneresque story line and five actors who played thirty roles. It was a hoot. I got home around 1:00 a.m. and couldn’t stand it any longer . . . I had to eat my slice of Red Velvet Cake from Bubbles.

So what’s the point? Well, the point is that on Sunday I outlined the story for that character who had been haunting me for so long. And I drafted the story later that day. All the distractions of Saturday (and immersion in some Midwestern, beach-y, and Texas-style culture) had gotten me over that bit of in-between-ness . . . at least for the time being.

Find a distraction, whatever it might be. Try dinner out, watching people at the mall, gazing at airplanes as they land, or visiting with old friends. Do something. Take yourself out of the routine of in-between-ness. I can’t guarantee that you’ll find yourself suddenly on the other side of your situation, but you will have rejuvenated your psyche, aligned your chakras, given yourself some breathing room, and otherwise made life a little bit better for yourself.

Go on, now. Go distract yourself.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Quotes to Inspire and Motivate When You're In Between

Monday, March 19, 2012—Quotes to Inspire and Motivate When You're In Between

A few weeks ago, I visited with my old friend, Bobbie Maloney, who was in Florida with her husband, Mike, for a little vacation from the winter in Missouri. When I was working in my first church staff position (long story) during seminary (even longer story), Bobbie was one of the volunteers who worked in the children's religious education programs I managed, staffed, and conducted. That was over thirty years ago, but Bobbie and I remain in contact. Bobbie always wants to be reassured of my spiritual condition, and I always want to make sure I can bring some of the old heathen out in her. We enjoy our visits.

Bobbie and I talk about things from thirty years ago, our lives today, our hopes and dreams, and more. Something I said during this visit caused Bobbie to reply, “I think you’re living in the in-between right now.” She went on to say she had been reading about those times in life that are in-between and how challenging those times can be. I’ve thought a lot about living in the in-between since then. Most of us are in between something.

In my critique groups I have two friends going through divorce—that’s certainly an in-between time in life. Another critique group member’s fiancĂ© passed away recently. Others are in between jobs. One is dealing with her own medical issues and those of her son. We can be in between relationships, in between times of happiness, in between jobs, in between career paths, in between doing what we have to do and doing what we'd love to do, in between periods of health, and more.

As writers, we have lots of in-between times, too. We can be in between a completed project and the beginning of a new one, in between ideas, in between periods of inspiration, in between the time we send off a manuscript and the time we hear back, in between the time a manuscript is sold and the time a book is released, in between sales of books, in between agents, in between critique groups, and more.

This week, I’m exploring ways to live in the in-between times and how to move on to the next stage (whatever that might be). So today, I want to share some inspirational quotes. I hope they have as much meaning for you as they do for me.

Living involves tearing up one rough draft after another.

When you’re stuck in a spiral, to change all aspects of the spin you need only to change one thing.
—Christina Baldwin

The important thing is this: to be willing at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.
Charles Du Bos

As important as “hanging on” is knowing when to let go.
—Sherri Dewitt

Dissatisfaction is the basis of progress.
When we become satisfied, we become obsolete.
—J. Willard Marriott, Jr.

It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting; for in movement and change there is life.
—Alan Cohen

How will you know if your mission on earth is finished? If you’re alive, it isn’t.
—Richard Bach

My writing friend, no matter what you are in between today, be encouraged. And keep writing!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Manuscript Critique Service

Picture Book Critiques
By Rob Sanders
I’ve been staying busy with my critique service, but now have a few openings. If you have a picture book manuscript in need of an in-depth critique, please check out my services. Reasonable, realistic, and reliable!
n I begin with an overall list of the things I love about your story and your writing, possible concerns, and possible fixes.
n Then I provide a line-by-line critique, which may include suggested cuts, additions, and comments.
n I will also look at the BIG PICTURE of your plot and story development.
n I am a published picture book author and have been published in other genres as well—educational resources, inspirational books, and magazine articles to name a few.
n I critique nearly a hundred picture book manuscripts a year.
n I have taught creative writing to children for years.  I know how to teach and coach as well as critique.  And I know what kids love and what they don’t.
n I have worked as an editor, editorial group manager, and a coordinator of children’s product development for a major not-for-profit publisher.
For availability, email me at

Friday, March 16, 2012

4 . . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1

Week of March 11, 2012—20 Tips for Great Picture Book Manuscripts
Friday, March 16, 2012—4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1

Yes, revision and editing are two different things. Revision deals with the meat of your writing. Revision is tough work—sometimes it takes a scalpel, sometimes a butcher knife, sometimes a chain saw, and sometimes a sledge hammer. During revision you look for continuity, flow, sense, plot, and so on. I teach my students a revision strategy that I often use with my picture book manuscripts. (It’s less effective with longer works.) I call it “cut-and-tape revision.” Student writers (and many adult writers) hate to start over, so this method allows them to use what they have and add to it. Here’s the process in a nutshell. Read through your writing, when you see where something needs to be added, stop. Cut that part off of your writing, tape it down to a new sheet of paper, and add in the new section of text. Then you simply re-tape the rest of your writing back into place. You can also juggle sections in your writing this way . . . cut, move things around, and then tape things back together. Warning: You will end up with a l-o-n-g sheet of paper, but that can easily be used to type your changes into your manuscript. Find the revision method that works for you and go for it. Learn more about revision at:

When you’ve written, edited, and revised your picture book manuscript, you begin to feel as if you’re finished. But you’re not. Next, you need to make a dummy of the book. Illustrators use the dummy to show their “draft” of art as well as text. Authors who aren’t illustrators make a dummy of their book to see where page turns will come, to see if they have too much or too text, to see if the beginning is to long and the middle too short, etc. Authors who aren’t illustrators make the dummy for themselves—not for an editor or illustrator. The dummy is our way of seeing if we’ve got the text “right” before going any further. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve revised a story once I’d dummied up the book. Diane Muldrow, editor at Golden Books/Random House, says to choose a favorite book and to use that as the model for your dummy. Staple paper together to form the needed pages, number them, see where the text begins in the book you chose as your model, and begin to cut and tape your manuscript into the pages. This is trial and error—you’ll change things many times. No worries. Remember, the dummy is for YOU! Read a bit more about making a picture book dummy at:

I cannot tell you how important this step is. Others must read your writing. You must hear others read your writing aloud. Then, and only then, can you actually know what works and what doesn’t work with a manuscript. The community of picture book writers is a friendly and helpful one. Find a critique group (or form one of your own), participate regularly, and learn to give and receive critiques. What most of us find is that we’re able to locate problems in the manuscripts of others long before we’re able to recognize those same problems in our own writing. You also join a critique group for camaraderie and support. I love my critique groups and I wouldn’t write without them. The links below will help you learn more about critiquing and critique groups:

Yes, we spent all last week talking about pitching your book. The pitch is the synopsis or summary that you will include with your cover letter when you mail/email your manuscript to editors and agents. Don’t wait to write your pitch at the last minute. Put time and effort into it so it shines. Theoretically, an editor or agent could stop reading once they see your pitch. So make the pitch enticing, accurate, and appealing. Below are links to last week’s posts about pitches.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

8 . . . 7 . . . 6 . . . 5 . . .

Week of March 11, 2012—20 Tips for Great Picture Book Manuscripts
Thursday, March 15, 2012—8 . . . 7 . . . 6 . . . 5 . . .

Here’s yet another thing I love to teach to students—literary devices. Some literary devices used frequently by picture book authors include: alliteration, assonance, consonance, idioms, irony, juxtaposition, metaphors, onomatopoeia, personification, puns, rhyme, rhythm, similes, and more. Some literary devices are used throughout a piece (for instance a rhyme scheme or a certain rhythm). Others, however, are used only for effect in a particular portion of the manuscript. (For instance, a metaphor to establish the setting, or a onomatopoeia to interrupt the action with an unexpected sound.) I tell my students that literary devices are usually sprinkled throughout a manuscript. If you’re going to use more than a sprinkle, you should have a plan in mind to ensure that the literary devices complement the story and don’t compete with it. To learn more about literary devices, visit:

It should go without saying that if you’re only working with 500 words, each word is extremely important and must be chosen carefully. There can be no wasted words in a picture book. Our earlier tip about vivid verbs and specific nouns was one reminder about word choice. But there’s more to think about—the names of characters, words that set that correct tone or feeling, words that add humor, words that are clear and precise, and so on. A picture book writer has to evaluate his/her manuscript word by word. We look for ways to be concise and communicate the same information in fewer words. We look for opportunities to let our words paint pictures. And we delete words in order for the illustrator to have room to tell his/her half of the story.

I love a surprise. I love an ah-h-h-h-h moment. I love reading a last line and immediately hearing, “Read it again!” Each of those feelings can be accomplished through a wonderful ending. On the other hand, nothing is more disappointing than a disappointing ending. You’ve read books that just seem to stop, or don’t give you the emotional pay-off you were hoping for, or don’t resolve all the issues raised in the book. When fourth graders get tired of writing, they will do one of two things. Sometimes they just write THE END. It’s like saying, “So there. Take that. I’m stopping and you can’t do anything about it.” Or, they will write, “To be continued . . .” They know it’s a lie, and so do their readers. The author never plans to continue that story, he/she just stopped and left you hanging. For heaven’s sake avoid those fourth grade tricks. If you do, I promise to keep teaching fourth graders to avoid those tricks, too! Read more about endings at:

I worked as an editor and editorial manager for years. So I love to edit. As a writing teacher, I’ve had to retrain myself because the job of editor and writing teacher are much different. Editors improve writing. Writing teachers improve writers. Marking up someone else’s paper never teaches that person to edit his/her own work. Each writer has to learn those skills for himself or herself. Editing deals with grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word choice. Revision (which we’ll talk about tomorrow) is where the “meat” of the writing is improved or altered, but editing really deals with improving the conventions of the writing. I’ve written more about the difference between editing and revising at:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

12 . . . 11 . . . 10 . . . 9 . . .

Week of March 11, 2012—20 Tips for Great Picture Book Manuscripts
Wednesday, March 14, 2012—12 . . . 11 . . . 10 . . . 9 . . .

Okay, this is my second most favorite thing to teach—transitions. Transitions are those magical words and phrases that move a story from time to time, place to place, event to event. Transitions seamlessly move the reader through time and space. You can easily locate lists of transition words and phrases with an simple Google search. Begin building your list today. Be sure to add one of my favorite transitions to your list . . . ellipses. What would our writing life be without dot, dot, dot (as my students call it)?

Character driven and action packed—that’s what I hear editors say they look for the most. The deadly word “quiet” often describes picture books that are void of action. Now action doesn’t have to mean exploding chickens or dancing dinosaurs (though it certainly could). Action means something is happening. The two easiest ways to ensure action is happening is through the rising and falling action of your plot and through the verbs you choose.

I know I keep saying it, but this is another topic I love to teach. Sentence variety. Short. Long. Complex. Statements. Exclamations. Questions. Dialogue. Purposeful sentence fragments. All combine to add variety to your writing. Sentences all structured the same give your writing a plodding feel. Sentence variety moves the text along and keeps the reader engaged. However, sentence variety is never used for variety’s sake alone. You vary sentences in an attempt to find the perfect way to communicate each part of your story. Read more about sentence variety at:

There is no higher compliment than to be told, “I knew that was your writing the minute I heard the first sentence” or “I’d recognize your voice anywhere.” Voice is the element of your writing the shows who you are—it’s you coming through. Perhaps it’s your unique turn of phrase, your humor, or your word choice. Maybe it's the way you combine words, weave together a story, or surprise your readers. This is no way means, however, that your writing is predictable or routine. Quite the contrary. But voice does mean your personality and individuality sing out, shine through, and shout for attention. Read a bit more about voice at: