Thursday, November 29, 2012

Some thoughts on writing fiction...and J.K. Rowling


Writing fiction is no easy endeavor.  I mean, think about all that goes into it.  You have to figure out what you want to say, who your characters are, where your story takes place, when it takes place, what happens and what the plot includes, what the conflict is and how it’s solved (and that’s just general fiction).  And then, once you have that idea, you have to make each of these aspects real, believable, and of course interesting, or else no one would want to read your work.  Then you have to worry about word count or page count, tenses and grammar (of course those have to be accurate), consistency in the world you create (time, place, character) and so on.  And after all that is done, now you must edit and cut and revise (over and over and over again!).  And even after all that, there’s no guarantee that your “masterpiece” will even reach the bookshelves through publication.

But that’s okay, because, despite the struggle and time, those who enjoy writing, keep coming back to it.  Like myself.  We continue to challenge ourselves to see what we can create, and how we can make our work and ourselves even better.  We consistently allow ourselves to be moved by inspiration, and work to capture it onto our pages.  I am becoming a firmer believer about the importance of the process, the motion of what it takes to get there.  Like the words of India Arie’s song A Beautiful Day “Life is a journey, not a destination/ There are no mistakes, just chances we’ve taken”.  Of course, I’ll be excited to see what my finished product will be, but the unpredictability of the “getting there” is just as exciting.  A little daunting, and sometimes a little disheartening, but exciting nonetheless.

So, after thinking about all that it takes to be a writer, I sit in awe of those who have done it and who have done it so well.  Enter: J.K. Rowling.
I thought I’d write a little about J.K. Rowling because her work is awe-inspiring.  I have read the Harry Potter series and I have watched the movies over and over again.  And each time, I continue to be in awe of her work:  her characters and their quirks and imperfections; her settings and their “real-life feel”; her plot lines within each book as well as spread across seven books total; her creation of a new language (muggles, mudbloods, and so on) and of a new culture all together.  It’s no wonder why her World of Harry Potter has become such a world-wide phenomenon.  Her words have certainly had an effect on me that is difficult to explain; all I can do is sit back and continue to be enthralled in the world she created.

So Ms. Rowling, thank you for being such a talented writer.  Thank you for creating something that I have fallen in love with, something that me and my sisters have created so much history and so many memories with, something that I hope to share with my own kids one day when I have them, and something that inspires me to keep at my craft and become a better writer.  Thank you!

 
Now to figure out how to do it myself!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Warmth


The quickly approaching holidays always puts me into a nostalgic mood.  I reminisce about happy childhood times that I have shared with family and friends.  I think about the winter drives down Christmas tree lane where the streets were lined with impeccably decorated houses—lights twinkling brightly.  Or the short lived tradition of eating at IHOP (complete with hot cocoa stirred with a candy cane) before going to the tree farm to select the perfect tree—and all the eight-legged stowaway “friends” that also found their way into our home.   I think about family members coming from all parts of California to celebrate Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house.  Or going from one family member’s house to the next, and somehow finding a space in our stomachs to pack away a few more bites of holiday treats.  I think about New Year’s Eve sparkling apple cider, and seafood gumbo on New Year’s Day.  I think about the smiles we shared, the games we played, and the memories we built together.

 And as I reminisce about times that fill my heart, I endeavor to capture this warmth in the stories that I write.  How wonderful it would be that each time someone reads a story I write, they are filled with happiness, even though their experiences may have been different than mine.  Isn’t that a great goal to strive for?  Writing that captures and warms the hearts of all who read it? 

I think that if I am able to perfect infusing these happy feelings into my writing, that I will be forever preserving a childhood that I knew, and that was so wonderful to me.

But of course, I think that taking the time to reflect on my own happy memories is a great first step toward this goal.  Plus, it’s often an inspiration for new stories to come.

 
Happy November, everyone!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

My Perfect Recipe

Add one big blue, cloudless sky
A couple green, green, grassy hills
Half a warm and gentle breeze
A few soft bluebird and swallow songs
One extra long glistening lake
A sprinkle of fresh river air
 
Turn on the sun to medium heat.
 
Add one tensed up and stressed out me
And one cozy, yellow blanket too
A touch of quiet
A dab of peace
 
Turn when golden brown.
 
 
 
 
 
The breath-taking inspiration of nature!
 
 
 
 
 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Taking Notes from Experts


Hello, hello, HELLO!

It has been much too long.  I have been busy, busy, busy (planning a wedding, getting married, honeymooning, and starting a new job teaching at a community college, and of course writing too).  Boy, the last few months have been packed!  But, now that things are beginning to cool down, I am rejoining the blogosphere—and with writers news too!

Today, I had the pleasure of attending a book launch for Jeri Chase Ferris’s Noah Webster and his Words.  This was an intimate event where many people came together to celebrate the release of her new book.  And what a book it is!  It follows the life of Noah Webster, the writer of the dictionary.  Not only was it an intriguing book, but so informational!  AND, Jeri has been given several awards including star reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, Horn Book, and has been deemed the “pick of the week” in California Kids and has been selected by the Junior Library Guild for Fall 2012.  Wow!


Obviously, she is an expert, so I took note of the wonderful atmosphere Jeri set for the occasion.  She had cookies and coffee for her guests, a guestbook, a display of other books she’s written (10+), letters and artifacts from the publishing process for Noah, and lots of books to sell.  She sold and signed several copies of her book, and everyone seemed so happy to be there.

 

I just want to say “job well done, Jeri!” and congratulations on the new book, all the great reviews and awards, and on a successful book launch!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

2012 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market


Today’s short blog is about the 2012 Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, a fabulous resource for the aspiring author.  This book is a 400 page source that includes insightful articles, sample letters, and lists of valuable information regarding publishers, agents, conferences, and contests.

So why do I mention it today?  Because I finally had a chance to closely scour the pages in search for publishing houses and literacy agencies that I am planning to query.  I wanted to do this for quite some time, but I finally I have had the chance to, and I look forward to typing up my own list to begin sending out again (YAY!  One check off of my to-do list).    

Of course writing always includes research to make sure what you are writing is realistic, but it also requires putting in plenty of time to research houses and agencies that are looking for what you write. 
 

Always and again, onward and onward!

Monday, March 26, 2012

To Copyright Or Not To Copyright?

Last week, I sat in on a short workshop geared for high school students that discussed what it takes to become an author.  I am always interested to see what other authors talk about, especially when their message is targeted at children.  The facilitator of the workshop informed the students of many basic steps one must take to become an author.  As I listened to his presentation, the thing that jumped out at me most was his emphasis on copyrighting.  He told the students that it is imperative to copyright their work before they send it out because it is possible for a publisher to like their work, take their work, and publish it through someone else.  Further, he used an example of Sophia Stewart, an author who claimed that she wrote the Matrix and that it had been stolen from her.

After doing a little research myself, I only found conflicting information about whether Stewart’s claim is true or not, and whether she did, in fact, win a lawsuit concerning her claim.

With all that said, I remember hearing somewhere, some time ago, that writers don’t need to copyright because since their idea is theirs, it belongs to them.  But after hearing this facilitator’s message, it has made me question, is it necessary to copyright your work before you send it out to editors, agents, and publishers?

 What do you think: To copyright or not to copyright?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Full Heart

As an unpublished picture book author, I am blessed to have a job that allows me to go into classrooms and read to children.  And so, in the spirit of “Read Across California” month, I stepped into two classrooms to share my love of reading.  I read “Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I don’t)” by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Michael Emberley, and of course one of my all time favorites, “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” by Lane Smith and Jon Scieszka.  The children enjoyed it!

Oh, did I mention I read two of my own manuscript too?

Yes!  I read some of my own work as well.  And students made comments like “I really liked that!” and “I hope you get published”, not to mention “You’re gonna be famous!” 

My heart is full.

I finally stepped out of my comfort zone.  I guess I was a little intimidated by the idea of sharing my work with children, before it was published, because it kind of felt like sharing an unfinished project.  But instead of thinking of it that way, I have decided to use it as a learning experience for myself and the children I read to.  
I started off by asking the students if they liked writing.  Many of them would raise their hands and say that they did.  I told them that I did too when I was their age, and now that I am older, I still do—so much so that I want to write children’s books, and am in the process of doing so.  Then, I told them that it’s important to listen to their teachers when it comes to editing papers, because that’s a skill they will use their whole lives, especially if they want to write books one day.  Next, I showed them what a manuscript looks like, and I held it up next to a published book and ask them to compare (what is different between a manuscript and a published book, besides the obvious that one is published and one isn’t).  After that, I told them that since my manuscript didn’t have any pictures yet, that they get to close their eyes and make their own pictures in their minds. 

And guess what...they sat and listened contently to the whole story—and really seemed to enjoy it!  Man did that feel like a success!

I also told them that as long as they work hard on their education, they could be anything they want to be, even an author!  Last, I showed them a Highlights for Kids Magazine and told them how one day my poems would be in the magazine since I had sold two poems to Highlights.

One of the teachers said he really enjoyed my talk, and that it’s great for students to hear my message.  So, I now plan to use opportunities to read to children as a way to share my love for reading, to teach, and to confirm that they really can do anything they want to do! 

Nothing like kids to perk up your spirits and reaffirm why you do what you do!  I can’t wait to share this message in the future while holding one of my own published picture books!

So, if rejections are like 's on my path to publishing...



 
 THEN



 
reading to kids would be like finding areminding me of my destination.


On I go!  Forward!  Forward!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Blogging in March

Oh me! Oh my! It’s been too long!

You know how sometimes, life feels like it’s moving so fast—full speed like a carousel spinning and spinning and spinning and you hope that the horse that you are riding doesn’t come un-poled and send you flying off into oblivion.

Yea, it’s kind of been like that lately.  But, it feels so good to be back on my blog.

Although I have not heard any new publishing news over the last month and a half (man, has it really been that long?), a couple cool things have occurred pertaining to my publishing path.
1.      An exciting picture book idea popped into my mind.  That’s always a good thing!  I am working to finalize it so I can send it out as soon as possible.  I am feeling very good about it.
2.      Rosi (one of my wonderful picture book critique group family members) and I are working quite hard on our poetry book.  We have a collected a nice amount of poems, and we are moving closer and closer to completion and submission.  Yay!
3.      I received an incredibly informative interview from fabulous children’s author Sue Fliess, and not to mention copies of her fun books “Shoes For Me!” and “A Dress For Me!”.  You’ll find her interview on my “Points from the Published” tab.
4.      I celebrated Read Across America Day as well as the birthday of one of my idols, Dr. Seuss, with books and children—I’ll post a separate post about that.

So, as days go by, I keep to my path, with my heart full of hope, and my eyes to the sky. 

Keeping it moving!


Past Points from the Published-- Marsha Diane Arnold

From January 26th, 2012
Marsha Diane Arnold
I am so happy that I had a chance to communicate with the talented Marsha Diane Arnold.  She and I came in contact through the NorCal SCBWI e-mail group, and I am already learning so much from her!  Here are her answers to my "Points from the Published" interview questions.  Enjoy!

       
1.  What was your path to publishing a book? 
As I tell students at school presentations, “I always loved to read, but I never thought of being a writer until I was grown with two children of my own.”

Indeed, it was my children who inspired me to write.  I started with a weekly newspaper column, “homegrown treasures.”  I wrote it for ten years.  Being on deadlines (I like to call them lifelines) and having to come up with something new and creative every week was very good writing practice. The column was well received, had a limited syndication, and won three Local Columnist awards from the California Newspaper Association.  It’s very encouraging when people like your work!

During this time, I started to write both fiction and non-fiction stories for kids’ magazines.  But my heart’s desire was to write a picture book.  After I wrote the manuscript for my first book, Heart of a Tiger, I started submitting it to NYC publishers.  It was rejected 13 times before I found the editor who loved it as much as I did.  Yes, for most of us, becoming a writer takes patience and perseverance.  But it’s worth it.  Heart of a Tiger has touched the hearts of many children and adults and has won more awards than any of my other books.  One was the Ridgway award for “Best First Book by a New Author.”  I was on my way.


2.  How long have you been in this business?  When did you start?  When did you get your first book published?

Thank you to Marsha Diane Arnold for taking the time to answer my “Points from the Published” questions.
Heart of a Tiger was published in 1995; I started writing my column, “homegrown treasures” in 1985.
  
3.  What inspires you or motivates you to carry on?
It was my children who inspired the “homegrown treasures” column.  Truly, I’m inspired and enthralled by so many things.  The difficult part is to choose and to focus on one idea at time.

I’ve been lucky.  My books are well-loved by children and parents alike.  When they ask me about my next book, I always feel I need to go home, sit down at my computer, and write another book for them.


4.  Do you have another job or is writing your only job?

Let’s see…I’m a gardener, a yoga enthusiast, a line-dancer, a photographer, a hiker, and a bird watcher.  Sadly, none of those pay me for my efforts!

I am a writer, and as with many writers, I do author visits throughout the year.  At first I was terrified to stand before a crowd of 200 or more, but now I enjoy it.  I’ve traveled all over the world visiting schools and giving presentations and writing “funshops”.  You can see where I’ve been on my website here: http://bit.ly/w4XJQt.  I also speak at conventions, young author’s festivals, and enjoy being on the faculty for writing conferences.

  
5.  Do you have an agent?  If yes, what steps did you take to obtain one?

Yes, my agent is the amazing Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary. 

I sold all 11 of my published books by myself, but in today’s publishing arena, I believe having an agent is important.  I was lucky that when I approached Karen last year, she loved my manuscripts and agreed to work with me. 

I learned about agents through SCBWI, the Internet, and books at my library.  After reading about different literary agencies and agents, I decided which to approach.  It’s important to have the right agent for your personality and style.  My agent, Karen Grencik, is discerning, supportive, and a wonderful cheerleader.  I think we are a good match!

6.  What advice would you give to a new writer?
 
Know that becoming a published author can take time.  In today’s world, there are many roads to becoming published, but the road I know is that of traditional publishing.  My publishers are Dial Books for Young Readers (Penguin), Random House, and Abrams, all fabulous publishing houses.  The editors I worked with are fabulous as well.  But, it took me a long time to become one of their authors.

When I decided to write picture books, the first thing I did was go to the library.  Of course!  I read all the books I could find on how to write a picture book as well as books on the business of writing.  Then I joined SCBWI; they provide so many of the answers. SCBWI will connect you with other writers.  They are constantly organizing conferences, where you can meet editors and agents and learn the basics as well as the details. I started a writers’ group.  Writers’ groups are great for sharing your stories with others, getting critiques, and supporting one another on the journey.

With the launch of my revamped website, I’ve decided to start offering manuscript consultations.  So once your idea has been developed into a picture book story and has been written and rewritten and rewritten, I’m available for input.  You can read more about my consultations at: http://bit.ly/xYkDxx.

Most important, write about what you are passionate about, be professional, and enjoy the journey!  Now stop reading about me and go be the Creative You!


Here are some of Marsha Diane Arnold's wonderful books:



You can learn more about Marsha Diane Arnold at:

Past Point's from the Published--Mira Reisberg

October 8th, 2011

Mira Reisberg
Today, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Dr. Mira Reisberg while participating in one of her full day workshops.  Dr. Reisberg has illustrated several books including Uncle Nacho’s Hat, Where Fireflies Dance, and Baby Rattlesnake, to name a few.  Below are her answers to my “Points from the Published” interview.

1.      What was your path to publishing a book?

 “Like many things, I fell into it.  It’s an unusual story.  A publisher saw an exhibition of my artwork.  She’d been looking for illustrators for a book about change, and had a hard time finding one.  My art was intense and colorful, and told stories.  The publisher, named Harriet Rohmer, was the founder and publisher for Children’s Book Press.  She asked me if I wanted to do a book and I said yes so I illustrated my first book Uncle Nacho’s Hat.  The book has been reprinted in many languages, was a Reading Rainbow book, got a Unicef Award Citation, and was one of the first bilingual and multicultural children picture books.”
2.      How long have you been in this business?  When did you start?  When did you get your first book published?

“I have been in the business since early 1988.  Uncle Nacho’s Hat was published in 1989.”


3.      What inspires you and what motivates you to carry on?

“It isn’t the money!  I was raised with the prime directive to help make a better world, and I do that with my art, teaching, and children’s picture books.”



4.      Do you have another job or is writing your only job?

“I am a writer and illustrator.  I also do picture book consulting through Skype with people from all over the world.  I teach classes, like this one, and online classes like Hero Art Journey that teaches people how to draw and paint.  They learn about multiculturalism, world mythology, personal growth, and children’s books in fun ways.  I’ll be teaching my first online class on illustrating children’s picture books sometime next year.”

5.      Do you have an agent?  If yes, what steps did you take to obtain one?

“No.  A part of me would like one, but I’d have to find the right person.  I’ve heard horror stories, but it’s getting harder and harder to submit without an agent.”


6.      What advice would you give to a new writer?

“Read as many picture books as you can; buy Dr. Mira’s Children’s Picture Book Writing, Illustrating, and Publishing Workbook; joins the SCBWI; read books on the craft; take courses; refer people to www.herosartjourney.com and miraresiberg.com.  Also, you need to be persistent, have a good product, have patience, and make a beautiful journal called ‘Reflections and Comments’ and put a big heart on it.”
 
Thank you to Dr. Reisberg for taking the time to answer my “Points from the Published” questions, and giving me permission to post your answers! 


Here are some of Dr. Mira Reisberg's books!


 You can learn more about Dr. Reisberg and the vast knowledge she offers by visiting her websites:
www.herosartjourney.com

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Blue Ribbon Metaphor

What is metaphor?

According to The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a metaphor is “a figure of speech in which a word for one idea or thing is used in place of another to suggest a likeness between them” (p. 464, 1997).  In writing classes, and even English classes, students learn about metaphors.  However, it often seems hard to effectively use a metaphor without sounding clich├ęd.  For example, how often have you heard “his voice was music to my ears” or “her heart was a drum” or “she’s a hungry pig”, and so on.  All hackneyed and overused examples. 

But what’s the key to a good metaphor?

I wanted to use this blog as a way to highlight an example of metaphor that I truly love.  It is from a song called “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes.  Here is a prime example of metaphor used effectively and in a fresh and new way.  The choice of metaphors in these lyrics truly captures the feelings or images that the writer is trying to convey.  These artists do a great job grounding the feeling into something understandable and relatable.  AND, it has a great beat too!

Take a second to look up the lyrics and visualize the metaphors as you read.  Type in "Stereo Heart lyrics by Gym Class Heroes" in a search engine, and that should take you to the lyrics.

Well, what do you think?  The writers could have easily said “my heart is a drum”, but instead, they use a metaphor that is creative and relatable to any musician or music lover: a stereo.  Even though rap music is not children’s literature (obviously) I think that any writer can learn from these lyrics and their wonderful use of metaphors.  Remembering to be creative, whimsical, and fresh without losing the grounded feel of a metaphor is, in my opinion, the best way to use metaphors well.
   
    What’s your favorite song that effectively uses metaphor?



If you want to hear the song, check it out on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3E9Wjbq44E

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Great Starts to a New Year

Two bits of happy, happy news.

News #1:

I had the chance to interview the fabulous Marsha Diane Arnold, author of Heart of a Tiger, Roar of a Snore, and many more!  Her interview is informational and quite entertaining, and you can find it on my "Points from the Published" tab above.  She is the second interview I have done, and I am excited to include her on my blog.

Thanks again Marsha Diane Arnold for the interview!


Now for News #2

So...remember how I sent out a bunch of manuscripts out in November?  Well, I got my first response back yesterday!  It was from U.S. Kids Magazine an Award Winning Magazine that publishes Turtle (for ages 3-5), Humpty Dumpty (for ages 5-7), and Jack and Jill (for ages 6-7)

Of course seeing that yellow manila folder always gets my heart going.  Anyway, the letter said that "after careful consideration" they decided to hold on to one of my poems for possible publication.  Of course, that's not a promise to publish, but it isn't a no either.  Thus, this is certainly a success.  They liked it well enough to hold on to it--YAAY!  Hopefully they'll be contacting me soon with a definite "YES WE'LL PUBLISH IT!" 

I guess my mailbox isn't so awful all of the time.

I have to say, though, for the first publisher response of the year, this is a GREAT START!  Hopefully the responses that follow will hold more yeses for me.

You can check out the U.S. Kids website at http://www.uskidsmags.com/.  Who knows, maybe soon enough you'll see a poem by "JaNay Brown" on their website (here's hoping)!


Moving and Shaking in 2012! 

Keep on swimming!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Revisiting "Old Masters"


My little sister called me earlier this week and asked me which Brothers Grimm stories were my favorite.  She is currently taking a mythology class in college.  Now, I consider myself to be somewhat well-read in children’s literature, at least when it comes to picture books and stories for young listeners.  But when my sister asked me that, I drew a complete blank. 


“Brothers Grimm,” I thought. “Brothers Grimm.  Which ones were those? Did they write Cinderella and Snow White?  No, I think that was Hans Christian Andersen.  Hmmm, which stories belonged to the Brothers Grimm?”
Still, complete blank.  The only thing I could think of was a movie by the same name, starring Matt Damon and Heath Ledger; a movie that I haven’t even seen. 


In other words: Fail. 
Luckily, when I first began this children’s book journey a few years back, my dad gave me three treasuries of children’s literature including 1) Anthology of Children’s Literature, 2) A Treasury of Hans Christian Andersen, 3) The Norton Anthology of Children's Literature, and last but not least 4) Grimm’s Complete Fairytales. I had asked him for these books in order to read up on classic stories for children that have prevailed.   What better way to truly become immersed in children’s literature than to read the “Old Masters.”  Just by skimming through the table of contents, I was able to see The Grimm brothers wrote stories including “Cinderella” (not Hans Christian Anderson),“Rapunzel” and “Sleeping Beauty” just to name a few. 

Obviously, I’m not as well-read as I thought.  Thus, I’ve given myself a new task: read up on the folktales, fables, and fairytales of the past as a way to study storytelling.  That way, the next time I’m asked about the past greats, I’ll have a much more informed answer.


Thank you, little sis, for the reminder.  Back to the books!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Little More on Series

Interestingly enough, shortly after I wrote about my questions about series (check out my December 9th blog titled Seriously?  A Series), Children’s Writer, which is a monthly newsletter sent to inform writers about what is going on in the children’s publishing market published an article that covered the very topic I was discussing.  It’s titled The More the Merrier: Fiction, Nonficiton, & Magazine Series by Katherine Swarts (Children’s Writer, January, 2012). 
From the article, I learned a few things about series that I thought I would mention.  Swarts confirms the avid marketability of a good series, but she also says that new “unproven authors” should be reluctant to introduce a story to an editor as a series.  Instead, she believes that the new author should just write a really good story (with an interesting character/s) and let the work, do the “series work” for itself.  In other words, if the story is good enough, and sells well, then it may be the editor who is asking the author to continue the story into a series.  Furthermore, based on some advice from editors discussed in the article, it doesn’t seem as if editors are eager to sign up for a series without the success of a first book.  BUT, as an author gains a bigger reputation, the idea of pitching a series to an editor early may become more likely to pay off once the author has established a track record of being a good (successful and sellable) writer.  

I certainly thought this was informative, and I will definitely keep my ears and eyes open about more information regarding series. 

What do you think about series?  Pitch them early on, or wait them out?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Book Store Study Sessions

I have read in several "writing for children" books that one of the best things you can do in order to improve your craft is by reading. 

Of course!  That’s not brain surgery! 

So, one of the things I enjoy doing is heading over to my local bookstore, usually B & N, and surrounding myself with books, books, and more books.  When I go to the bookstore, I walk around and grab picture books that I want to read, stack them in my arms (usually 6-15 books per visit), then find a comfy spot and begin my research. 

During my bookstore reading sessions, there are four things that I look for when I am deciding which picture books to pull out and scour.



4 Things I Look For When Selecting Picture Books To Study
  1. Caldecott Medal or Honor Winners
  2. Titles or covers that catch my eye
  3. Favorite authors or illustrators
  4. Current popular books

Caldecott Winners  

The Caldecott Medal and Honor Medal are annual awards given by the Association for Library Services to children’s books with excellent artwork.  These medals are extremely prestigious and are awarded to books with high artistic quality.  If you have ever seen the golden (for winner) or silver (for honor) medal stickers on a picture book, that book has been deemed a Caldecott Winner or Honor book.  When at the bookstore, I like to pick these out because of their award-winning status.  In my opinion, in order to have gained a Caldecott, the artwork must have been creative and noteworthy; furthermore, the words from the author must have truly inspired the beautiful artwork in the illustration, who was able to materialize it into a mesmerizing children’s book (for examples of beautiful artwork, check out David Weisner’s work, or The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson, illustrated by Beth Krommes).  I select these books and study the words and pictures to get a good idea of what award-winning work looks like.  Then, I think about how my own work compares. 

If you’d like more information about Caldecott Medals, or an entire list of Winners and Honorees dating back all the way to 1938, check out the website:

 http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/caldecottmedal/caldecottmedal.

Eye-Catching Titles and Covers
I like to run my eyes over the shelves to see if anything seems interesting.  Pictures and titles that intrigue me usually make it into my stack of books to read.  This gives me a chance to go off of my own instinct, and read things that sound interesting to me.  Within this group may be books that I realize, upon reading, that I don’t like at all, or books that become one of my new favorites (read my posting on Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein on my “Books I love” page for an example of this.  It’s also a Caldecott Honor Book.)  However, even if I don’t like a book that I select, I read it and analyze why it didn’t work for me.  I like using “unlikeable books” as learning tools for improving my own storytelling and writing skills.

Favorite Authors and Illustrators
In addition to Caldecotts and eye-catching books, I also like to grab a few newly released books from favorite authors and illustrators of mine.  I like to look at their books in order to scrutinize the range of their stories and characters.  I especially like looking at different books within series that my favorite authors create.  I pay close attention to how even though my favorite authors write about different characters or plotlines, their voices still shine through consistently.  I hope that I’ll be able to master that skill too.  A great example of one of my favorites is the great Mo Willems.  I am a huge fan of Knuffle Bunny One, Too, and Free, I adore Pigeon and all of his adventures, I enjoy Elephant & Piggie, and just recently I met Amanda and Alligator and am a fan of them now two.  Mo Willems has a great website if you are interested: http://www.mowillems.com/

Popular Books
Last but not least, I like to look at popular books because of course, every author thinks about how to find characters and stories that are marketable and interesting to young readers and their families.  Usually, bookstores have many of their “bestsellers” in one easily accessible section.  Right now, you’d probably see Splat the Cat, Llama Llama, Bad Kitty, No David, Jane Yolen and Mark Teague’s “How Do Dinosaurs...”,  and the loveable Charlie & Lola, to list a few.   I think it’s good to see what children are interested in today as a gage for where my own work may fit in.


Now, in addition to all of this, bookstore reading sessions are all around fun.  These bookstore visits give me a chance to be away from the hubbub of my regular day, and allows me the chance to read engaging and fun books.  AND, I get a chance to see children and their families reading books, talking about  books, as well as playing with the usual train toy set that I always see at B & N.  Additionally, I get the chance to hear the entertaining conversations that children have with each other.  These visits often end up causing instant inspiration.  Luckily, I bring my trusty notebook along each time I do bookstore reading sessions just in case a poem or story pop into my head.

So, if you are having a hard time thinking of what to write, try visiting your local bookstore.  It works for me.