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Archive for July, 2021

christmas in July

 

WE ARE

 

EXTENDING THE CONTEST DEADLINE

I’ve decided to expand Holiday and Christmas in July into A SEASON OF KINDNESS AND FUN. After I posted the contest and spread the news, I realized I couldn’t have chosen a worse time. People are busy taking final vacations and getting ready to go back to school. Soon, people will be adjusting to going back to school. Plus, since we really want to give teachers a chance to participate, I believe it is imperative to extend the deadline date.

 

The new deadline is October 1, 2021!

 

Goodness and love washed over the city. Summer ReadingThings have been quiet for Weed lately, so let’s bring the heart of Christmas back . . . summer style. And remember . . . Christmas isn’t the only time of year to give or be kind. How much Christmas or holiday spirit can you and your family and friends stir up?

HOLIDAYS IN JULY if you don’t celebrate Christmas, please don’t let that keep you or your children from stirring holiday spirit in July. As you read, replace the word “Christmas” (and anything associated with Christmas) with your most important or beloved holiday (and the things you associate with that holiday) and build the activities and photos around that. Just be creative and have fun.

We have seven different ways you can win the contest (You choose 1 activity from 7 options–of course, you are welcome to do as many activities as you want.) We have lots of fabulous prizes (or should I say Christmas-in-July gifts). Ellen Leventhal, Melissa Stoller, Nancy Churnin, Tina Shepardson, Pippa Chorley, Vivian Kirkfield and yours truly are offering chances to win signed books, Zoom calls, class visits, critiques, and even a picture book writing course. See the prize details at the end of this post.

WAYS TO WIN (BE CREATIVE—BONUS POINTS FOR CREATIVITY)

All of these activities could include children for some unique summertime family experiences.

Teachers, join in the fun to win prizes for your classroom. Save the activities to do with your students. 

Note: I know it’s possible that Covid restrictions might be an issue for some of the ideas. They are just ideas to get you thinking. Plus maybe you can use the ideas in the future when things are more “open.”

OPTION #1: MAKE AN ACTS-OF-KINDNESS ADVENT CALENDAR

WK_FloodOfKindness_Cover_2 (002) Officialqueentree

Because THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS and Nancy Churnin’s THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS and Ellen Leventhal’s A FLOOD OF KINDNESS are all about kindness, unity, community, and hope, I believe the following is a perfect Christmas-in-July activity.

Make an Acts-of-Kindness Advent Calendar. If you have children, this would be a perfect thing to work on together. Choose a set number of good deeds to accomplish by August 25, and write each one down and place it in a numbered envelope. Then, choose one activity to do each day. Help an elderly, sickly, or disabled neighbor. Read a book to someone who needs cheering up. Make cards and mail them to someone who needs cheering up. Pull weeds from the yard of someone who is not able to do it themselves. Bring a Christmas-in-July treat to someone. Create a Christmas-in-July play, and perform at local nursing homes. They can also be simple acts such as giving someone a compliment. Helping someone unload their cart at the grocery story. Tell a joke to make someone smile. Draw a picture to make someone smile or inspire or encourage someone. Help an author or illustrator share the word about their book. Request a book at your library.

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

  • Share a list of your acts of kindness—include photos if possible. If you include THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS or any of our other author’s books in your photo, even better.
  • Post your completed Acts-of-Kindness list and photos on your blog any time between Sunday, July 25 and Friday, October 1.
  • Please include a mention of this contest, plus link.
  • Then pop over here, and add your blog’s post-specific link in the comments section, and I will share it on my blog in September.
  • If you don’t have a blog, share your photos and Acts-of-Kindness list on Facebook or Twitter with a mention of this contest, plus link to this blog post. Then pop over here and add your post-specific link in the comments section.

How to find your post-specific links on Twitter and Facebook

To find your post-specific link for Twitter, tap the share icon (little up arrow under the tweet) then click on “Copy link to Tweet.” Then paste it somewhere to be copied later or to paste into your comment.

To find your post-specific link for Facebook find the time stamp located at the top of your post under your name, click on it, and the link will show at the top of the page, and you can copy it.

OPTION #2 DO SOMETHING CHRISTMAS-LIKE IN A SUMMERTIME WAY

Do something Christmas-like in a summertime way. Decorate a tree with summer items such as weeds, sunglasses, flip-flops, pool toys, drink umbrellas, swim suits, beach toys, and on and on. Make a holiday wreath or bouquet from weeds. The more creative the better. What would your Christmas in July look like? Take photos. 

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

  • Post your photos with captions on your blog any time between Sunday, July 25 and Friday, October 1. Bonus points for including THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS or any of our gift-giving authors’ books in your photo.
  • Please include a mention of this contest, plus link.
  • Then pop over here, and add your blog’s post-specific link in the comments section, and I will share it on my blog in September.
  • If you don’t have a blog, share your photos on Facebook or Twitter with a mention of this contest, plus link. Then pop over here and add your post-specific link in the comments section.

How to find your post-specific links on Twitter and Facebook

To find your post-specific link for Twitter tap the share icon (little up arrow under the tweet) then click on “Copy link to Tweet.” Then paste it somewhere to be copied later or to paste into your comment.

To find your post-specific link for Facebook find the time stamp located at the top of your post under your name, click on it, and the link will show at the top of the page, and you can copy it.

OPTION #3 SUMMERTIME ELF ON THE SHELF OR GARDEN GNOME MISCHIEF

Bring back the Elf on the Shelf. What kind of summer related mischief might your elf get into? Take photos. Or, if you are feeling really creative, replace Elf on the Shelf with a garden gnome or gnomes.

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

  • Post your photos with captions on your blog any time between Sunday, July 25 and Friday, October 1. Bonus points for including THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS or any of our gift-giving authors’ books in your photo.
  • Please include a mention of this contest, plus the link to this post.
  • Then pop over here, and add your blog’s post-specific link in the comments section, and I will share it on my blog in September.
  • If you don’t have a blog, share your photos on Facebook or Twitter with a mention of this contest, plus the link to this post. Then pop over here and add your post-specific link in the comments section.

How to find your post-specific links on Twitter and Facebook

To find your post-specific link for Twitter tap the share icon (little up arrow under the tweet) then click on “Copy link to Tweet.” Then paste it somewhere to be copied later or to paste into your comment.

To find your post-specific link for Facebook find the time stamp located at the top of your post under your name, click on it, and the link will show at the top of the page, and you can copy it.

OPTION #4 HELP A CHARITY

People had plentyThis one is related to option #1, acts of kindness. Help a Charity. People donate to shelters and food banks around the holidays, but as the months pass and summer fun begins, those gifts dwindle. Summer is a perfect time to help.

What might you and your children do to help others? A toy drive? A food drive? A pet food drive? Volunteer at an animal shelter. Sell lemonade and cookies to raise money to donate? Let us know how you helped others this summer. If you can include photos, that’s great, but it is understandable that you might not be able to.

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

  • Share a list of your acts of kindness—include photos and captions if possible. If you include THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS or any of our other authors’ books in your photo, even better.
  • Post your story about helping charities (or a charity) and photos with captions on your blog any time between Sunday, July 25 and Friday, October 1.
  • Please include a mention of this contest, plus the link to this post.
  • Then pop over here, and add your blog’s post-specific link in the comments section, and I will share it on my blog in September.
  • If you don’t have a blog, share your photos on Facebook or Twitter with a mention of this contest, plus the link to this post. Then pop over here and add your post-specific link in the comments section.

How to find your post-specific links on Twitter and Facebook

To find your post-specific link for Twitter tap the share icon (little up arrow under the tweet) then click on “Copy link to Tweet.” Then paste it somewhere to be copied later or to paste into your comment.

To find your post-specific link for Facebook find the time stamp located at the top of your post under your name, click on it, and the link will show at the top of the page, and you can copy it.

OPTION #5 HOST A CHRISTMAS-IN-JULY PARTY (MAYBE TIE IT IN WITH AN ACT OF KINDNESS OR HELPING A CHARITY)

People noticed each otherHost a Christmas in July party, which could include a gift exchange in July party. If you’re feeling creative, come up with a theme for the gifts that fits the season (think luau-inspired gifts or things you could use for a picnic or pool day). Or have a a White Elephant or Dirty Santa gift exchange. Perhaps the gifts could be Christmas items. Maybe you could even have your party guests bring donations for your Act-of-Kindness or Help-a-Charity activity. How can you use Christmas in July to help others?

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

  • Take photos. If you include THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS or any of our other authors’ books in your photo, even better.
  • Post your photos with captions and tell us about your party and gift exchange or creative donations from guests on your blog any time between Sunday, July 25 and Friday, October 1.
  • Please include a mention of this contest, plus the link to this post.
  • Then pop over here, and add your blog’s post-specific link in the comments section, and I will share it on my blog in September.
  • If you don’t have a blog, share your photos and story on Facebook or Twitter with a mention of this contest, plus the link to this post. Then pop over here and add your post-specific link in the comments section.

How to find your post-specific links on Twitter and Facebook

To find your post-specific link for Twitter tap the share icon (little up arrow under the tweet) then click on “Copy link to Tweet.” Then paste it somewhere to be copied later or to paste into your comment.

To find your post-specific link for Facebook find the time stamp located at the top of your post under your name, click on it, and the link will show at the top of the page, and you can copy it.

Queen Interior spread

THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE BY NANCY CHURNIN “The tradition of the Christmas tree continues today, just as the hospital Queen Charlotte championed continues. And so do stories about Charlotte, who wasn’t like other princesses. She didn’t like fancy balls, and sometimes (well, a lot of times) smudged her gowns. But she is remembered and honored as one of the kindest and most beloved queens.”

OPTION #6 CREATIVE PHOTOS WITH OUR BOOKS (TRAVEL PHOTOS EVEN BETTER)

If you own a copy of THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS or any of our Santa-Authors’ books, take a summertime photo of the book or books. It can include your children, parents, self, pets, boats, sand snowman, or sand castle, summer foods, flowers, flip-flops, summer toys, beach toys. Weed loves traveling! If you go on a vacation, take the book with you. The more creative you get the better.

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

  • Post your photos with captions and tell us about your summer or vacation fun on your blog any time between Sunday, July 25 and Friday, October 1.
  • Please include a mention of this contest, plus the link to this post.
  • Then pop over here, and add your blog’s post-specific link in the comments section, and I will share it on my blog in September.
  • If you don’t have a blog, share your photos and story on Facebook or Twitter with a mention of this contest, plus the link to this post. Then pop over here and add your post-specific link in the comments section.

How to find your post-specific links on Twitter and Facebook

To find your post-specific link for Twitter tap the share icon (little up arrow under the tweet) then click on “Copy link to Tweet.” Then paste it somewhere to be copied later or to paste into your comment.

To find your post-specific link for Facebook find the time stamp located at the top of your post under your name, click on it, and the link will show at the top of the page, and you can copy it.

OPTION #7 COME UP WITH YOUR OWN IDEA

Get creative. Come up with something we haven’t thought of to share your Christmas-in-July celebration. Brainstorm with friends or family, and have fun! Don’t forget to document it via photos.

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

  • Post your photos with captions and tell us your Christmas-in-July story on your blog any time between Friday, Sunday, July 25 and Friday, October 1.
  • Please include a mention of this contest, plus the link to this post.
  • Then pop over here, and add your blog’s post-specific link in the comments section, and I will share it on my blog in September.
  • If you don’t have a blog, share your photos and story on Facebook or Twitter with a mention of this contest, plus link. Then pop over here and add your post-specific link in the comments section.

How to find your post-specific links on Twitter and Facebook

To find your post-specific link for Twitter tap the share icon (little up arrow under the tweet) then click on “Copy link to Tweet.” Then paste it somewhere to be copied later or to paste into your comment.

To find your post-specific link for Facebook find the time stamp located at the top of your post under your name, click on it, and the link will show at the top of the page, and you can copy it.

queen

THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE BY NANCY CHURNIN

ABOUT OUR CHRISTMAS-IN-JULY AUTHOR-SANTAS

Pippa Chorley is the award-winning author of three picture books. She grew up in a picturesque village in England and now lives in sunny Singapore with her husband and their three children. As a child, she spent her days dreaming up magical worlds on her family dog walks. Today, Pippa can still be found composing stories on her morning walks with their springer spaniel, Jasper.

Trained as a primary school teacher, Pippa loves to write stories that make children giggle and think outside the box. Her newly released picture book, STUFFED! (illustrated by Danny Deeptown) empowers children to use their imaginations and problem solve with courage and kindness. Watch out for Pippa’s next picture book OUT OF THE BOX, which is due to be released at the end of 2021 and is sure to be ‘out of this world’! To learn more about Pippa and her books visit pippachorleystories.com.

Alayne Kay Christian is an award-winning children’s book author and the creator and teacher of a picture book writing course Art of Arc. She was the co-founder of Blue Whale Press and the acquisitions editor and art director for three years. In addition, she shares her knowledge with writers through free and affordable webinars at Writing for Children Webinars. She has been a picture book and chapter book critique professional since 2014, and she worked as a 12 X 12 critique ninja for three years. Her published works include the Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy chapter book series, and picture books BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA, AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN: HOW DINDIM MADE JOÃO PEREIRA DE SOUZA AN HONORARY PENGUIN, and THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLEDO CHRISTMAS WEED. Her fourth picture book, FAITH BENEATH THE BRIDGE is planned for release in the fall of 2021. Born in the Rockies, raised in Chicago, and now a true-blue Texan, Alayne’s writing shares her creative spirit and the kinship to nature and humanity that reside within her heart. To learn more about Alayne visit alaynekaychristianauthor.com. 

nancyheadshotNancy Churnin is the award-winning author of ten picture books about people who persevered to achieve their dreams and make the world a better place. Among her awards: a Junior Library Guild selection, Kirkus Star, multiple National Council for the Social Studies Notables, multiple Silver Eureka Awards, multiple inclusions on A Mighty Girl list, Sydney Taylor Notable, Towner Award nominee, Sakura Medal finalist, Notable Book for a Global Society, Anne Izard Storytellers Choice Award and the South Asia Book Award. DEAR MR. DICKENS and A QUEEN TO THE RESCUE, THE STORY OF Henrietta Szold, FOUNDER OF HADASSAH will be out in October 2021. A native New Yorker, Nancy lives in North Texas with her family, which includes a dog named Dog and two cantankerous cats. To learn more about Nancy visit nancychurnin.com/

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Ellen Leventhal is an educator and writer in Houston, TX. Ellen is the co-author of Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets, the author of Lola Can’t Leap, and the upcoming A Flood of Kindness, which releases in April 2021 from Worthy Kids/Hachette Book Group. She has been published in magazines, newspapers, as well as in poetry and short story anthologies. Ellen loves school visits (in person or virtual)! When visiting schools, she coordinates with and supports literacy programs as well as diversity and anti-bullying programs. Ellen’s best days are when she can interact directly with the students and spread her love of literacy and kindness. To find out more about Ellen’s books and writing projects, please go to Ellenleventhal.com.

WALKOUTCover-pdfTina.outside.head2020

Tina Shepardson An award-winning teacher for 33 years, Tina shared thousands of books with children. Her picture book, Walkout, released in 2020, with Clear Fork Publishing. A chapter book, Canines Unleashed, is set to release in 2022. Tina is a Children’s Book Academy graduate and an active member of 12×12 and SCBWI. Now a full-time author, find her in Upstate New York with her family, enjoying the latest snowstorm with her akitas, and writing more books. Learn more at tinashepardson.com.

Melissa Stoller is the author of the chapter book series The Enchanted Snow Globe Collection – Return to Coney Island (Clear Fork Publishing); and the picture books Scarlet’s Magic Paintbrush, Ready, Set, GOrilla!, and Sadie’s Shabbat Stories. (Clear Fork). Melissa is a Blogger and Course Assistant for the Children’s Book Academy, a Regional Ambassador for The Chapter Book Challenge, a volunteer with SCBWI/MetroNY, and a founding member of The Book Meshuggenahs. In other chapters of her life, Melissa has worked as a lawyer, legal writing instructor, freelance writer and editor, and early childhood educator. She lives in New York City with her family, and enjoys theatre, museums, and long beach walks. To learn more about Melissa and her books visit MelissaStoller.com.

Writer for children—reader forever…that’s Vivian Kirkfield in five words. Her bucket list contains many more words – but she’s already checked off skydiving, parasailing, and visiting kidlit friends all around the world. When she isn’t looking for ways to fall from the sky or sink under the water, she can be found writing picture books in the picturesque town of Bedford, New Hampshire. A retired kindergarten teacher with a masters in Early Childhood Education, Vivian inspires budding writers during classroom visits and shares insights with aspiring authors at conferences and on her blog where she hosts the #50PreciousWords International Writing Contest and the #50PreciousWordsforKids Challenge. Her nonfiction narratives bring history alive for young readers and her picture books have garnered starred reviews and accolades including the Silver Eureka, Social Studies Notable Trade Book, and Junior Library Guild Selection. Vivian’s books are available at Barnes & Noble and indie bookstores, as well as Bookshop.org and Amazon. If you order from her local indie, Toadstool Bookstore in Nashua, you can get a signed copy. If you order from anywhere else and would like a signed bookplate, please email her at: viviankirkfield@gmail.com. To learn more about Vivian and all of her books visit viviankirkfield.com.

PRIZES, PRIZES, PRIZES!!!!

Winners will be chosen based on creativity, humor, fun, kind acts, bonus book photos, and following the guidelines accurately. The top eight winners’ names will be drawn from a hat randomly, and prizes will be offered in an elimination process. So, the first name drawn from the hat will have the first pick of the 8 prizes. The next person will choose from the remaining seven prizes, and the third will pick from the remaining six prizes, and on and on.

HAVE FUN!!!!

 

 

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kid-lit writing wisdom

This month, I asked our wise authors to share thoughts on the importance of powerful first lines along with some tips for writing an outstanding beginning or outstanding first lines. I’m excited to share our many fabulous tips, examples, and mini-lessons. These tips can also be used for revising your stories’ beginnings, so you get double the treasure with these posts. Some authors have shared first lines of books in Part 1, Part 2, and now Part 3 on this topic. Study them and see if you can find some of the techniques mentioned in the two parts for this topic. Also notice if they inform you and draw you into the story–hook you. And if so, why? For those of you who are working on nonfiction picture books, Vivian Kirkfield’s first line examples and some of mine are from nonfiction picture books. However, they are good examples for works of fiction as well.

This is such an important topic that we will have three parts for this topic. This is part two, and just in case you missed it, you can read part one here and part two here.

WE HAVE A BONUS!

writing for children webinars and courses

I will give away free access to my webinar HOW TO WRITE POWERFUL FIRST PAGES LIKE A PRO to one lucky winner. To enter for a chance to win, please comment on one of the three posts about writing outstanding beginnings and share the link on Twitter or FB. Please tag me when you share the link, so I can make sure I get your name in the drawing. Now for some great words of wisdom.

Words of Wisdom

HOW TO CUT AN ORIGINAL 304-WORD BEGINNING TO 76 WORDS

by Michelle Nott

Often when we sit down to write a new story, our beginnings are like Fred Flintstone’s feet scurrying fast underneath his car before it really gets going. But what the reader needs is not all the revving up, but the final kick that sets your story in motion.

As you begin to write, let your mind spin, write everything down. Then, once your manuscript is complete (not necessarily done, however), go back to the first words, paragraphs, pages, and see where your story really gets going. It may sound painful but go ahead and delete whatever doesn’t really jump-start your story.

What should be left is:

A hook – a detail about the setting, an interesting fact about your character, a catchy phrase, anything that will literally grab your reader’s interest and make them to want to read more.

An inciting incident – the hook will lose its grip on your reader if something doesn’t happen to your character. This moment should motivate your reader to want to see how events play out.

Here is an example from my upcoming picture book, TEDDY LET’S GO!

The absolute very first draft went like this… (and you don’t have to read it all to see it was entirely too long!)

“Many, many winters ago, a little girl was born. Her grandmother sat by her hospital window. She looked at the tiny hairs on the baby’s head and started to thread a needle. She touched the baby’s cheek and cut some shapes out of cotton fabric. She giggled seeing the little baby’s tongue slipping through her tiny lips and snipped a piece of red felt. The baby’s eyes were often shut, so Grandma picked some wide-open eyes from her craft box. She sat for hours threading, stitching, cutting. With every paw sewed, she smiled. With every arm attached, she laughed.

Then, with the strength of stiff fingers, she stuffed me with all the love she had. Up into my ears. Around my belly. Down to my toes. The opening was just under my bum. She patched it with a label.

‘Specially hand-made by Grandma’.

What a relief to be done! We left the hospital. Grandma gave me a final squeeze and packaged me up for Christmas. I peered out of a corner of the wrapping paper. The sun came and went several times. Lots of people came to visit and stood around a big tree with bright lights and colors. I could see Grandma’s mouth wide-open laughing. I could see a baby’s mouth wide-open crying. A bigger girl sat under the stockings. Her mouth was closed. She was combing her doll’s hair. Who will unwrap me? Grandma’s voice came closer, then I felt like I was flying. From my view, the baby was no bigger than I was. A lady whispered to her, “Look at this. It’s your first Christmas present. Let Mommy open it for you.”

That’s how it started…and how the crying ended. I lay down next to the baby. She rubbed her nose against my cheek. We were made for each other.”

A much later draft that caught the attention and interest of my agent and editor went like this… (a much tighter version of 76 words from the original 304!)

“The wavy-haired woman with love in her eyes pulled me close and whispered in my ear. Then she wrapped me up. And I floated.

The smell of pine drifted through my paper. I drifted from one pair of hands to another.

My head spun. My tummy clogged up with cotton. I pushed through the packaging.

“Teddy,” she said, “for you.”

[ILLO: A patch on the bear reads, “Specially hand-made by Grandma.”]

A nose as small as mine rubbed against my cheek. We were made for each other.”

By cutting out all the “revving up,” the story is more interesting, and the reader gets hooked much quicker. But all that preliminary spinning is often necessary for you, as the writer, to understand your characters and to be able to write the best version of their story. So, write as much as you need when you start, all the while knowing that you will go back and tighten in a way that serves your story best.

As for the final version of Teddy Let’s Go, it is slightly improved yet again. And that, you’ll be able to read as soon as it releases in 2022.

HOW TO USE MENTOR TEXTS TO GUIDE YOU WHILE WRITING BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

I usually study beginnings before I write a beginning. This is where I turn to mentor texts. When I’m studying comp titles for a particular book I’m working on, I often keep a spreadsheet of things I want to keep track of. For more of how I keep track of mentor texts on spreadsheets, you can read my post here.

When I look at beginnings, I look at how the author bookended the first and last lines. When they are right next to each other on a spreadsheet, it’s easy to see how they fit together or diverge. I also notice what the author included on that first page. What are the things they wanted the reader to know right away? What did they leave out? Then I look at how they fashioned the beginning lines. What is the construct of those lines?

Then I look at my own work. I might try on first lines in various styles. I try out various starting points for the story. I sometimes even set a timer and write as many first lines as I can. Are there any gems? Are there ways I can combine? I realize it might take me lots of tries to get my first lines just right.

BEGINNINGS ARE A HUGE CHALLENGE, BUT WHEN YOU FINALLY GET THERE, THE STORY IS TRANSFORMED

by Beth Anderson

Thanks for this great topic – beginnings are such a challenge! Here are my thoughts….

Beginnings are difficult, require LOTS of work, and can make or break a story for an editor and readers. They have to be strong—they have a lot of heavy lifting to do. Pressure! I have to push myself to just dive in and know that I’ll be working on that beginning later – after I know the arc, the heart thread I want to resonate, and where I end up. Beginnings and endings are integrally related. Here are my essential elements for beginnings with the kind of stories I tell (narrative NF and historical fiction) and some examples from my books.

> The hook: kid friendly invitation to readers that sets up the story question to be answered at the end, often it sparks an emotional response in the reader. Readers are pulled in by that question and read to find out the answer. In “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses we get the superhero kid hook and, literally, a question. The opening of An Inconvenient Alphabet addresses the reader and offers the promise of something puzzling—a battle with the alphabet.

> The essentials: What do you need to know about the character and setting? (nothing extra!) The main character and their goal/want/need should be up front. The setting can be implied by illustrations with specifics added later—we don’t need to start with dates and places, but we need a sense of time and place. While you want to ground the reader, you don’t want anything that’s not essential to bog it down. Fill in needed back story and context as needed later, interwoven with action. Examples: I open with Tad Lincoln’s wriggle from birth, clearly involuntary; Prudence Wright’s (2/1/22) spark of independence; a bit about Ben Franklin and Noah Webster (but without names) and the American Revolution as rejecting the rule of England to set up the context and conflict.

> “Plant” seeds: What items or ideas will you need to support for later? What idea do you want to resonate at the end? I had to set up “Smelly” Kelly smelling water and recognizing the odor of elephants, and also the heroism “heart” of the story. On the first spread, Prudence Wright is visually connected with the antagonist that comes later. Sometimes the illustration on the title page or an epigraph (quote) with an illustration, as in the case of Tad Lincoln’s story, strengthen the opening by providing essential information and/or a few seeds.

> Action ASAP: What’s your inciting incident? How can you get to the action, the problem, the emotional response immediately? Often when sharing manuscripts, a critique partner will point to the spot where we first see characters in motion and conflict, and say, “This is where your story really starts.” There’s nothing better than beginning with action. That’s what pulls a young reader in, though that’s often a challenge. It’s harder to get the essentials, the seeds, and the hook embedded immediately in the action. But…I think it’s the most powerful. In Lizzie Demands a Seat!, the first spread has Lizzie in motion, heels clicking, in a hurry, purposeful. Also streetcar, horses, NYC, the pieces of setting we need right away. We get the heat, the stress of being late, and BOOM inciting incident. The shocking unfairness of what happened is obvious – kids recognize unfairness. Then after that emotional hit, we get more context to fully understand society of the time—incentive to keep reading.

Beginnings are a HUGE challenge, but when you finally get there, the story is transformed. The test is to see if you can keep crafting it until you’re there. I think it takes a lot of practice, ongoing learning, to learn how to embed all this information in a short, powerful opening. How can you embed key points without devoting a sentence to each of those pieces? How can you interweave the essentials within the action? The best way to learn about beginnings is to analyze those you consider effective. Good luck!

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

This month, I asked our wise authors to share thoughts on the importance of powerful first lines along with some tips for writing an outstanding beginning or outstanding first lines. I’m excited to share our many fabulous tips, examples, and mini-lessons. These tips can also be used for revising your stories’ beginnings, so you get double the treasure with these posts. Some authors have shared first lines of books in both Part 1 and Part 2. Study them and see if you can find some of the techniques mentioned in the two parts for this topic. Also notice if they inform you and draw you into the story–hook you. And if so, why? For those of you who are working on nonfiction picture books, Vivian Kirkfield’s first line examples and some of mine are from nonfiction picture books. However, they are good examples for works of fiction as well.

This is such an important topic that we will have three parts for this topic. This is part two, and you can read part one here.

WE HAVE A BONUS!

writing for children webinars and courses

I will give away free access to my webinar HOW TO WRITE POWERFUL FIRST PAGES LIKE A PRO to one lucky winner. To enter for a chance to win, please comment on one of the three posts about writing outstanding beginnings and share the link on Twitter or FB. Please tag me when you share the link, so I can make sure I get your name in the drawing. Now for some great words of wisdom.

Words of Wisdom

WELCOME READERS BY GIVING A PEEK INTO THE STORY WITH GREAT FIRST PAGES

by Ellen Leventhal

I love the topic of tips for writing outstanding beginnings. For me, this ties into last month’s topic about why it’s important for kid lit writers to read a lot of books in their genre. I read picture books with a different eye each time I pick them up, and recently I have been focused on beginnings and endings because they are both so important.

The first few lines matter for several reasons.

Beginnings of books invite the reader in. It’s the place to welcome your readers, so you want to make it welcoming and give a hint of what’s to come.

As picture book writers, we don’t have “the real estate” to give a lot of background. We have a lot to say in only 32 pages! (actually more like 28 pages). We need to give the readers a peek into the book. Is it humorous? Serious? Light hearted? In a picture book with a traditional arc, we need to introduce the character, what that character wants, and what is standing in the way right off the bat.

But we also can’t just jump in to something that doesn’t make sense to the reader so there needs to be some background in the first few lines. We walk a very thin line!

Remember, all of that information doesn’t all have to be in the first line, but it definitely needs to be close to the beginning. And the lines need to be crafted to make the reader want to read on. I recently re-read Jacqueline Woodson’s EACH KINDNESS. Her fist page just tells us it’s snowy…hmm. However, the description of the snow was just a few words, but they kept me engaged and hinted at something that drew me into the story. (HOW you say things matter) By the second page, we know what the story is about. One more page turn, and we know what the conflict is. BOOM! So was ALL this info in the first two or three lines? No, but pretty close, and it worked! Each page beckoned me to turn the page, and there were not a lot of words on each page.

Even concept books should set up the tone and theme from the very beginning. Parents picking up a book for their little ones, have many options. They want something to grab them. Think about CHICKA CHICKA BOOM BOOM by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert. The first time I read “A told B and B told C I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree,” I was hooked! I knew what it was about, I loved how unique it was, and it stood out from other alphabet books.

So how do writers do all this? It’s hard! I look up to many writer friends who are experts at awesome first lines.

For me, getting those first lines just right (and are they ever just right?) often takes loads of revision. I write my story first, knowing it’s going to go through multiple revisions before I’m even close to being happy with the beginning. I “wordsmith” the beginning as I go along, checking to make sure that the beginning, middle, and end still make sense together. I actually have a list of great first lines I’ve thought of. Of course, a list of first lines doesn’t make a story, but maybe someday they’ll appear in one. You never know!

Here are a few of my first lines that did make it into print.

A FLOOD OF KINDNESS:
The night the river jumped its banks, everything changed.

LOLA CAN’T LEAP:
Lola came from a long line of leapers. She wanted to leap too, but… (second page sets up the conflict)

DON’T EAT THE BLUEBONNETS (Co-written with Ellen Rothberg)
Sue Ellen had a mind of her own. When the other cows mooed, Sue Ellen Whistled. When the other cows strolled, Sue Ellen danced. And when Max put a sign in the South Pasture, Sue Ellen stomped her foot. (First two pages…the words on the sign sets up the conflict)

Happy reading and writing, everyone!

QUOTABLE QUOTES ON BEGINNINGS: ADVICE FROM SOME OF THE GREATS OF WRITING (plus a little extra from me)

By Rob Sanders

To inspire myself when writing and revising, I often look to advice from some of the greats of writing. After all, I’m not the first person who has walked down the road of writing a story. And I’m certainly not the first who has tried to determine the best way to begin a story in hopes of capturing the attention of my audience. That struggle began millions of years ago when our ancestors orally shared tales around roaring fires.

Some seem to think that beginnings (and maybe writing in general) are easy. Lewis Carrol must have known a few folks like that when he said:

“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” -Lewis Carroll

Carroll knew the process of writing was more complex than that, right? We have to remember the complexity of our craft, too. So, let’s back up and begin at the beginning. What is a beginning?

“The beginning is the promise of the end.” -Henry Ward Beecher

The beginning does not exist in isolation. It must be linked to what comes after it—the middle—and the beginning and the middle must lead to a satisfying conclusion. But be warned. You won’t nail the beginning in the beginning.

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” -Anne Lamott

If Anne Lamott says it’s okay for my first efforts to be less-than stellar, that’s good enough for me. But I’m still left wondering what a beginning needs to accomplish. A beginning often (or nearly always) begins with the character, the character’s desire, the character’s problem, or the character’s situation.

“First find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!” -Ray Bradbury

To write about a character we have to know as much as possible about that character. We need to know what motivates the character, what makes them who they are. We need to know the story behind the story.

“Everything must have a beginning . . . and that beginning must be linked to something that went before.” -Mary Shelley

But be cautious—it seems that the biggest problem with beginnings is that they often get lost in back story. While back story is essential to the writer it is usually nonessential to the reader. Find the back story, then edit out as much as possible. Speaking of editing and revision, the beginning will change and grow and develop as the story does.

“By the time I’m nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times.” -Roald Dahl

Often it is only after you’ve finished a story (is a story ever finished?) that the beginning becomes clear.

“I write the beginning last.” -Richard Peck

Here’s the thing—we writers often overthink things. Maybe it’s because we spend a lot of time with in our own heads or because we spend so much time in front of a monitor or because we work again and again and again to find the just-right word. Sometimes, we can think so much that we don’t write. So, the best advice for beginnings might come from a race car driver.

“To finish first, you must first finish.” -Rick Mears

Or we could revise that a bit to say, “To finish, you must first begin.” Better yet, we might let a motivational speaker inspire us and our beginnings.

“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” -Zig Ziglar

You have greatness inside you. You have stories inside you. You have beginnings inside you. Now, go on—begin!

OPENING LINES ARE HOW AN AUTHOR MAKES A STRONG FIRST IMPRESSION ON THE READER

by Vivian Kirkfield

I was always taught that first impressions are really important. You wear a new outfit on the first day of school. You give a firm handshake at a job interview. And in a manuscript, the opening lines are how the author makes a strong first impression on the reader. Opening lines are a doorway into the story – they give the reader a taste of what’s to come and they often set up the promise that will be fulfilled with the satisfying ending. I’m a big fan of concrete examples and so I’ll share a few of my favorite opening lines from some of my own stories – and also the closing lines that mirror them:

The Boys Who Dreamed of Flying: Opening Line: “At a time when most of the world believed human flight was impossible, one boy thought differently.”

Closing Line: “And it all started with Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, two brothers, as different as could be, who worked together to take the first step in that starry direction.”

Black Forest or Bust: Opening Line: “Something had to be done. And Bertha Benz was tired of waiting for her husband to do it.”

Closing Line: “And in July of 2016, exactly 125 years after a determined young woman tiptoed past her sleeping husband to take her children on a visit to their grandmother’s house, Bertha Benz was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan, in recognition of her invaluable contribution to the development and design of the modern automobile.”

Raye Draws Her Own Lines: Opening Line: “When Raye Montague was seven years old, she knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up.”

Closing Line: “The tour director had been right all those long years ago. Raye didn’t need to worry about becoming an engineer…she just went out and did it!”

Making Their Voices Heard: Opening Line: “Ella and Marilyn. On the outside, you couldn’t find two girls who looked more different. But on the inside, they were alike–full of hopes and dreams, and plans of what might be.”

Closing Line: “On the outside, these two stars couldn’t have looked more different. But on the inside, they both understood that sometimes even stars need a little help to shine.”

One of my favorite ways to get opening line inspiration for a new nonfiction picture book bio is to read some of my favorites…classics or current ones. I study how those authors crafted their opening lines. Then I go to my research and look for something that jumps out at me. It’s not a scientific way of doing it…but somehow, it works.

A MINI-LESSON IN WRITING GREAT BEGINNINGS

by Rosie Pova

For me a great beginning should not only accomplish several important things all at once, but also do so smoothly and organically.

1. Introduce the main character so the reader knows immediately who to root for

Whenever I critique manuscripts, I often see stories that open with a secondary character speaking or “entering” the scene first, and that causes confusion. If I, as the reader, get on board and ready to see the world through the eyes of the first character I encounter only to find that that was not the star of the story, that creates disconnect as my focus was misplaced.

2. Give a sense of the character’s personality

This is where the reader forms a first impression about the main character and they must engage the audience with something interesting, unique, fresh, intriguing etc. about themselves.

3. Establish the premise.

This is very important — it’s the “promise” the story makes to the reader and it’s also what we would come back to to measure up against and see whether that promise has been fulfilled by the resolution.

4. Establish the tone.

There should be no confusion about that.

5. Evoke a strong desire to keep reading and find out more.

Say too much, and you might lose the reader. Say too little, and you might confuse the reader. Make it just right!

So, if your beginning hits all the marks above, you’re golden!

A FEW MORE FIRST LINES FROM MY BOOKS

by Alayne Kay Christian

AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin, illustrated by Milanka Reardon

“On an island off the coast of Brazil, a black blob bobbed on the beach. The tarry figure shimmered and squirmed in flowing sea foam. It squeaked. Joao squinted and moved closer.

Slippery.

            Heavy.

                        Soaked with oil.

The penguin squiggled and wiggled. It could not stand.”

These first lines let you know who, what, and where.

Where: The story occurs on an island off the coast of the Brazil.

Who: João and a dying penguin (you learn the penguin’s name on the next page)

What: João discovers a dying penguin.

It also sets the tone or demonstrates the voice. It creates questions that make the reader want to turn the page. What will João do next? What will happen to the poor little penguin? The next pages connect the reader emotionally to both João and the penguin.  

THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRSITMAS: The Mostly True Tale of the Toledo Christmas Weed, illustrated by Polina Gortman

“When Weed was a seed, it tumbled on a breeze and snuggled in a crack, smack-dab in the middle of a busy traffic island.

Spring rains showered, and Weed sprouted.

Summer sun warmed. Weed grew.

Cars zoomed. People zipped and scurried—always in a hurry.

But no one noticed Weed.”

We know this story is about a weed that wants to be noticed. We can tell the story is set in a big city. And we get a sense of the voice/tone. We are left wondering what will happen to weed. We build a slight emotional connection (especially anyone who can relate to longing to be “seen” in a big world too busy and unaware to see). In this book, the illustrations help tell the story and raise more interest when the reader sees that weed isn’t the only one going unnoticed. What about the homeless man and his dog who are seeking kindness?

BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA, illustrated by Joni Stingfield

“Emily loved staying at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. They let her eat sweets, stay up late, and jump on the bed. She could skip her bath, make lots of noise, and run in the house.

Grandma and Grandpa played with her, read her stories, and let her help in the garden.

Emily loved her time with Grandma and Grandpa except for one thing. . . .”

With these first lines the ellipsis is used as discussed in Part 1 on writing outstanding beginnings. This leaves the reader wondering what that “one thing” is, and it compels the reader to turn the page and keep reading–it pulls the reader forward into the story. 

SIENNA, THE COWGIRL FAIRY: COWBOY TROUBLE, illustrated by Blake Marsee

“I was happier than a snake sunning on a woodpile when Aunt Rose asked me to be in her elegant wedding. I was sadder than a rodeo clown on a rainy day when I learned flower girls wear dresses and fancy shoes.”

This is the first paragraph of a chapter book. This book is book 2 in the Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy series. So, there is a prologue written in the form of a letter from Sienna. Therefore, the reader has a sense of who, what, where and tone before they read this first paragraph. This first paragraph, informs the reader that this is a story about a girl who has a problem. Her Aunt Rose wants her to be in her elegant wedding, but that means wearing a dress and fancy shoes!

The last page in the chapter reveals Sienna’s fears. “I’d look mighty silly in a dress. I’d trip over my own feet in them fancy shoes. And I ain’t much good at manners neither.” We learn she is struggling with those fears but also the fear of of hurting Aunt Rose’s feelings and making her sad if she refuses to be a flower girl.

So, by the end of the chapter, the readers have been informed enough to pull them forward into the story.

MORE TO COME!

Next week Beth Anderson, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, and Michelle Nott will share their wisdom, tips, and even some worksheets for writing outstanding first lines. 

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