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Archive for the ‘Children’s Author’ Category

On Sunday, I shared my personal story and the inspiration for BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA. Yesterday, I shared the homemade book that I made for my granddaughter’s third birthday. This was the very first version of BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA. I also shared a little bit about the path to publication and an update on my granddaughter. 

In today’s video, I read the published version of BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA. I hope you enjoy it. My next video will demonstrate ways teachers, parents, and adults reading to children can help the kids remain engaged by interactive sounds and motions. 

Don’t forget to leave a comment to win a copy of BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA. Also, if you want a copy in time for a Grandparents’ Day gift, there is still time to buy it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Book Depository (with free shipping around the world) and more.

I offer some projects and activities for kids to do to feel close to their loved ones on one of my old websites here.

For teachers:

I’ve found when doing school visits around Grandparents’ Day that prior to reading the book, kids like to share about their grandparents. It’s a good way to bring understanding to the kids that some kids have the same situation as them and others have very different from their situation. Some kids have grandparents in other parts of the country, some have grandparents in other countries, some have parents somewhat nearby, some have grandparents just down the street or next door, some have grandparents who live with them, and some have grandparents who are in nursing homes, hospitals, or have died. To save time, you can have more of a survey type thing where kids raise their hands if the question you ask matches their situation with their grandparent.

 

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Yesterday, I shared my personal story and the inspiration for BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA. Because I wrote that story a long time ago, I ended it with me imagining Jenni tucking Elle in and giving her a special butterfly kiss from Grandma and Grandpa. Today, Elle is way past the “tucking in” stage. She is now driving . . . sort of : – ) . She made varsity in tennis. She competes in Arabian horse shows. She recently started her first paying job. She has been invited to the National Honor Society. And so much more. And of course she towers over Grandma in height.

Elle in arena

 

Elle calloge

 

DSC_0316

In today’s video, I read the original handmade book and talk a little bit about its path to publication as BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA. In the video, I mention a blog post about what it took to become a publisher and start up Blue Whale Press. I’m so glad and proud that before I retired from publishing, Blue Whale Press was able to accomplish Steve’s goal of bringing many more books to market and hopefully help launch many authors’ and illustrators’ careers. To read the blog post about starting a publishing company click here.

Don’t forget to leave a comment to win a copy of BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA. Also, if you want a copy in time for a Grandparents’ Day gift, there is still time to buy it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Book Depository (with free shipping around the world) and more.

The next video will be a reading of the published version of BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA.

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kid-lit writing wisdom

For this round of Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom Q & A, I asked the team why it’s important for writers to read children’s books and how one might get the most out of reading them.

I thought it would be good to start this post with the definition of mentor texts. The Iowa Reading Research Center defines mentor texts as “. . . written pieces that serve as an example of good writing for student writers. The texts are read for the purpose of studying the author’s craft, or the way the author uses words and structures the writing. The goal is to provide students a model they could emulate in crafting their own piece.”

Because I once again have the wordiest answer, I will start with my answer to the question. However, before I get started, I’d like to wish a couple of Laura Gehl’s newly released board books, SOCCER BABY and BASEBALL BABY, a belated HAPPY BIRTHDAY! And I’m excited to share that my book THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS has won another literary award! Congratulations to illustrator Polina Gortman and me, of course : – )

Happy Book BirthdayBaseball soccer baby

Congratulations!

AWARD WINNER FOR HOLIDAY BOOKS TWITTER

Words of Wisdom

IN THE END, YOU’LL END UP BEING A DIFFERENT WRITER THAN YOU WERE BEFORE YOU STARTED DIGGING DEEPER

by Alayne Kay Christian

When I first started studying the art of children’s writing, veteran authors advised repeatedly, “read, read, read.” And so I read. I would bring home 50 picture books from the library (usually biweekly) loaded in my bag with wheels. What I didn’t understand, until I had read hundreds of picture books, was reading them wasn’t enough. What I really needed to do was analyze them. But how could I analyze them, if I didn’t know what I was looking for? So, my next step was to take writing courses specific to picture book writing. In those courses, I got a sense of story arc (narrative arcs and character arcs). When I started doing professional critiques, the “sense” of arc that I had learned from courses gave me enough instinct to know when something was off with the plot of the picture book I was critiquing. But I didn’t always know how to explain the problems to the author of the manuscript. So, I worked to find the answers and explain the issues. I continued to work to understand arc and plot deeper. I read craft books, I did searches on the Internet when something wasn’t clear to me, I took more courses, and I continued reading picture books. That’s when I discovered that the only way I was really going to learn what I wanted to know was to dissect the stories I read. And that’s exactly what I did. In the process of trying to help others, I helped myself as an author. I came to understand fully what makes a powerful beginning, what makes an engaging or compelling middle, and what makes a satisfying ending. I learned the importance of knowing your character’s motivation, want, and need. I discovered the power of solid cause and effect and growing tension. I love seeing how authors leave room for illustrators and how they both tell part of the story. I discovered the importance of pacing and so much more. Once, I understood how to build stories, and I had helped a hundred or so writers understand the same via my critiques, I wrote my picture book writing course, Art of Arc: How to Write and Analyze Picture Books and Manuscripts. Does the fact that I’m a retired acquisitions editor and I offer professional critiques, a bit of mentoring, and a writing course mean that I no longer need mentor texts? Absolutely not. There is still much more to picture book writing besides the plot. Today, I analyze picture books for word choice, voice, and execution of the idea or theme (usually looking for why it stands out). I pay attention to unique characters and character building. I study the huge variety of storytelling structures. I read humor and dream of one day writing something funny. I read heart-tuggers that connect me emotionally to the character and story (That’s the kind of story I tend to write.) I look for “why” I enjoy a book or “why” I sometimes wonder how a book ever ended up published (meaning I didn’t enjoy it). I’m always looking for something, and I’m always learning. I love studying books for language—especially lyrical stories—love them! I could go on forever about the treasures found when you start looking deeply into a story instead of just reading it. But I won’t.

Analyzing or dissecting mentor texts will stretch you as a writer. You’ll be more willing to take risks and try new things. You’ll start wondering things like, what if I used that format instead? What if I tried that cool or clever strategy? The puzzle pieces of what makes a sellable picture book will start slipping into place. And in the end, you will be a different writer than you were before you started digging deeper.

We have lots of great wisdom on this topic, and it’s time to make way for those answers. I do want to say that many moons ago, I discovered that our wise author Marcie Flinchum Atkins knows her way around a mentor text, and you can find some of her posts here and here. At the end of this post, Marcie offers some excellent tips and tools for using mentor texts. Also, our wise author Kirsti Call is the co-founder and of Reading for Research Month (a.k.a. REFOREMO) along with Carrie Charley Brown. They not only offer this very focused annual challenge. They also offer posts year round that walk us through a variety of books with hints regarding what they might teach us as writers. In addition, look around their site for lots of resources. Finally, if you join their Facebook page, they have lots of files that list great mentor text books by categories.

Some of our authors, Vivian Kirkfield for example, participate in Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Fridays. Participating in this activity will expose you to lots of different books, plus Susanna offers a list of books by themes (scroll down on linked page). Following are some other links that will lead you to mentor text info from Marcie and Reforemo.

http://www.reforemo.com/2019/09/mentor-text-talk-with-author-marcie.html

https://www.marcieatkins.com/tag/reforemo/

https://groggorg.blogspot.com/2015/03/show-me-way-mentor-texts-as-lights-into.html

10 REASONS TO READ CHILDREN’S BOOKS

(ESPECIALLY PICTURE BOOKS)

(AND DEFINITELY PICTURE BOOK BIOGRAPHIES)

by Rob Sanders

1. To learn something new.
2. To soak in the story.
3. To examine the structure.
4. To observe the page turns.
5. To analyze what makes the story work.
6. To dissect the craft.
7. To enjoy the illustrations.
8. To investigate the word choices.
9. To evaluate the back matter.
10. Because you can’t not read them!

GET INSPIRED TO SIT DOWN AND WRITE!

by Laura Gehl

I read children’s books to marvel at thoughtful page turns, to laugh at witty spreads, to appreciate the interplay between text and art, to let various rhythms and cadences wash over me, to get refrains stuck in my head, to admire different text structures, to soak in new information, to feel characters tug at my heartstrings, to think, “I wish I had written that,” and…most of all…to get inspired to sit down and write!

READING PICTURE BOOKS ALOUD HELPS ME DELIGHT IN STORYTELLING AND LUSCIOUS SOUNDS

Kirsti Call

I read picture books to learn about what works and what doesn’t, to appreciate the poetry of sparse text, to feel and to heal. Reading picture books aloud with children helps me delight in storytelling and luscious sounds. And of course reading picture books inspires me to create my own stories, putting words together in ways that (hopefully) evoke laughter, love and connection.

WHY I LOVE READING CHILDREN’S BOOKS

By Melissa Stoller

As a children’s book writer, it’s vital for me to read children’s books. I write chapter books and picture books, so those are the book genres that I mainly read. I like to read children’s books for several reasons. First, it’s important to keep up to date with all the new books. I love reading newly published picture books so I can stay current about topics and what is selling at the moment. Second, I can apply the knowledge I gain from reading children’s books to my writing process. I use books as “mentor texts,” meaning they teach me about writing in some way. For example, if I’m writing a non-fiction book about sea life, I will read every current similar book I can find to see how other authors handled the subject. Or, if I’m trying to add more “heart” into my fiction picture book manuscript, I will read books that I know pull at the heartstrings. I also notice how the author chose specific words and language patterns, handled pacing, left room for the illustrator, and other craft points. Third, I use current children’s books as “comparative titles” that can help me pitch my manuscripts and place them in the marketplace, comparing my manuscript to a recently-published title, and also showing how my manuscript is different. Finally, the most important reason that I read picture books and chapter books is that I LOVE them! I enjoy reading children’s books almost as much as I like writing them! A perfect afternoon would be spent curling up with a cup of mint tea, a gluten-free muffin, and a stack of wonderful children’s books!

READING KID LIT MAKES ME FEEL LIKE A CHILD AGAIN, WHICH IS HOW WE NEED TO FEEL TO WRITE BOOKS ABOUT AND FOR CHILDREN

Pippa Chorley

Every Wednesday morning, we start our critique session with a table piled high with books; childhood favourites, classic picture books, brand new purchases, library searches and recommendations. It’s one of my favourite parts of the week. I always feel like a kid in a sweet shop!

It gets our conversation bubbling immediately, what we like, what we don’t like, what we find clever, beautiful, funny, endearing, or even why we don’t like something or think it could have ended differently. It opens up conversations about craft and style, and it also gets our own creative juices flowing. It helps us generate new ideas or writing styles and helps us critique our wobbly new manuscripts at a much higher level and gives us courage to try new things. Sometimes it even sparks a whole new idea for a manuscript too!

I think the reason why we read children’s picture books as authors is endless and unquestionably important. But, for me personally, why I love it so much, is because it brings me and my fellow critique partners together weekly through a shared love of children’s writing. And most importantly, it makes me feel like a child again. Which is just what we need to feel when we are writing books about them and especially for them!

IF WE’RE GOING TO WRITE BOOKS, WE NEED TO LEARN FROM THE BEST

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

If we are going to create stories, we must also admire stories. If we are going to write books, we must learn from the best. One of the most accessible ways to learn about what the greatest writers are doing is to utilize your library card. I make a habit of keeping my holds and checkouts at the library maxed out. At least once a week, I take a big stack of picture books and read and analyze them.

One of my favorite ways to determine which ones I want to study in depth is to read through the stack of books. I make three stacks:

1) Not for me.

2) These are great, but not my style.

3) THIS is the kind of writing I want to do.

Pile #3 is the one that I take more extensive notes on. It’s the type of books I type up to see how it looks on the page, examine the structure, and bask in the language.

For more posts about reading mentor texts, you can check out the many mentor texts posts on my blog.

For a more extensive post on how I organize and keep track of my reading, you can check out this bullet journaling post.

One other tip: If I’m feeling stuck or mired in muck about my own writing, often reading stellar books can bring me back. It usually takes me only about 20 minutes of immersive reading to realize I really DO want this writing life, and I really want to create stories.

Next week, we will get more great tips and stories from Beth Anderson, Vivian Kirkfield, Ellen Leventhal, Dawn Babb Prochovnic, Michelle Nott, and Rosie Pova.

TO READ PART 1 OF “LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO PUBLICATION” click here.

TO READ PART 2 OF “LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO PUBLICATION” click here.

TO READ PART 3 OF “LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO PUBLICATION” click here.

TO READ THE TEAM MEMBERS’ ANSWERS TO “MY MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED” click here for Part One and here for Part Two.

TO READ MORE ABOUT THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM AND THEIR BOOKS click here.

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kid-lit writing wisdom

Copy of What was one of the most important lesson learned on your road to publication_

This “Wisdom” round’s question isn’t exactly a question. I asked the team to tell us about their travels down the long and winding road to publication. You can learn more about why I chose to cover this topic in Publication Doesn’t Happen Overnight Part 1 of 3 here. And you can read part 2 of 3 here. You can read more about the “Wisdom” team members and their books here.

Congratulations!

Cover When Water Make Mud 9781950169443

Before I move on, I’d like to do a little horn tooting and also offer a BIG CONGRATULATIONS to Janie Reinart and Morgan Taylor. Their book WHEN WATER MAKES MUD: A STORY REFUGEE CHILDREN has been rated the #1 new release in Children’s Africa Books on Amazon. So, where does the horn tooting come in? This is one of the last books that I edited, did art direction, designed, and published during my work with Blue Whale Press. Not a bad way to finish!

Now for some . . .

Words of Wisdom

“MY WRITING GREW STRONGER DURING THOSE TEN YEARS, AND MY KNOWLEDGE OF THE INDUSTRY INCREASED EXPONENTIALLY.”

by Laura Gehl

I wrote my first picture book, One Big Pair of Underwear, when my oldest son (now almost 17!) was a baby. The book was published almost exactly a decade later. In between, I wrote a lot of other books, some of which went on to be published. Most did not. My writing grew stronger during those ten years, and my knowledge of the industry increased exponentially. Like most people, I made some embarrassing mistakes before I knew what I was doing!

Now that I have published close to thirty books and have a fabulous agent (I did not have an agent when I sold my first book), I still get rejections. And I still have manuscripts that never end up selling—even books that my agent and my critique partners love. I can’t honestly say that rejections feel much different now either. While I KNOW that each rejection is just about a certain book not being the right fit for a certain editor at a certain time, that doesn’t mean each rejection doesn’t hurt. I once received a rejection for a manuscript that had already been acquired by a different publisher, and it STILL stung. The waiting hasn’t disappeared either. But my critique partners, my agent, and the wonderful teachers/parents/kids who take the time to tell me how much they love my books all help weather the inevitable rejections and the just-as-inevitable waiting that are part of this business!

KEEP DOING THE WORK

by Dawn Babb Prochovnic

My journey certainly has been and remains, long and winding. I attended my first writing conference in the summer of 2004. I knew nothing about the publishing industry, and I came to learn. The guest editor was Arthur A. Levine, of Harry Potter fame. He was kind and generous with his time, feedback, and encouragement. After the conference, I formed a critique group and joined SCBWI. With the support of these groups, I worked diligently on one of the stories I’d workshopped at the conference, and when I felt it was ready, I submitted my first manuscript to Arthur A. Levine Books, (his imprint at Scholastic, at the time.)

Arthur was again kind and encouraging, and I will always treasure the personal letter he sent back to me, gently declining my story. Over the next several years, I continued to do the work of a writer, inventing new stories, revising, and asking for critiques over and over again. As I developed an inventory of submission-ready manuscripts, I studied publishing houses and began the task of submitting. I accumulated several large file boxes filled with manuscripts in various stages of revision and correspondence from editors across the country (this was before submitting electronically was a thing.) Over time, the editorial correspondence I received shifted from form letters to personalized notes with suggestions for revision and/or ideas for other publishers that might be a better fit for my work.

One dark and stormy night in October 2007, I took my kids to a book event in our area to meet Bart King, the author of my daughter’s then-favorite book. At the event, I visited with another exhibiting author, David Michael Slater, whose books with an educational hook struck me as being similar in nature to my stories that incorporated American Sign Language. I told him about my work, and he agreed that it sounded like a strong fit for his publisher, ABDO, and he was kind enough to put me in touch with his editor. ABDO was indeed a good fit for my ready work at the time, and I published 16 books with that editor, from 2009-2012. It was a great experience.

Then I had a dry spell. A long dry spell that didn’t break until 2015 when two author friends in my local area, Elizabeth Rusch and Amber J Keyser, thought of me for an anthology they were working on called Oregon Reads Aloud. Liz reached out to invite me to participate, and I shared a freshly revised version of a story that had received several encouraging “personalized rejections” (so I knew that it was “ready,” it just needed to find the right home.) The story was accepted for the anthology, my dry spell had lifted, and my confidence was restored.

Through the process of participating in a wide variety of marketing events for Oregon Reads Aloud, I met the publishing director and marketing manager for West Margin Press (then Graphic Arts Books.) I’ve since published three picture books with the marvelous team at West Margin Press, including my book that just released in April, Lucy’s Blooms. It is my sincere hope I’ll get to work with them on another book in the future, but alas, they’ve passed on my last three submissions. Not to worry. Those stories will find a home, they just need to find the right home.

With 20 picture books and nearly as many years of experience, there are parts of me that still feel a bit like a newbie in this business. Maybe that’s because I’ve not yet been able to secure an agent (I will keep trying.) Maybe it’s because the publishing industry is hard to break into (over and over again.) Maybe it’s because each book takes a different route to publication, so the path is in fact a bit new each time.

With that said, here are my tips and takeaways: Keep doing the work. Read. Write. Revise. Seek feedback. Revise again. Build a body of ready work. Attend book events. Support others in their work. Make friends. Seek out and accept opportunities that align with your interests. Strive to better understand the market. Submit your work, as it becomes ready. Repeat.

TRENDS COME AND GO

by Michelle Nott

I was first inspired to write children’ stories while living in Belgium. My little girls’ bookshelf was mainly stocked with stories written in French. They were brilliant books, but we had decided to raise our children bilingually. And so I dusted off my Creative Writing degree and got writing … and thinking about turning these bedtime stories into actual books. Luckily, I found SCBWI Belgium (now SCBWI Benelux) to guide me. A couple months into my first critique group, a friend said she thought her editor would like one of my manuscripts. I queried her and after a round of revisions, she offered to publish my first early reader book. But it would take four years to have it in my hands. Once that book came out, she acquired my second early reader that took another four years to see the light of day. In the meantime, I queried agents with picture book and middle grade manuscripts. One of my first picture book stories received many kind rejections, mainly “it’s lovely, but too quiet.” At the time, most agents and editors were asking for action-packed plot-driven stories. Mine was not. But it’s important to remember that trends come and go, and to write the story you are to write. Finally, I sent a middle grade manuscript to an agent who replied that she liked my writing, but asked if I also wrote picture books. I sent her that quiet manuscript,… and she loved it! And then an editor and an illustrator at Enchanted Lion Books loved it. And now I’m thrilled that this book, Teddy Let’s Go!, written when my oldest daughter was in Kindergarten, will be published in time for me to hand it to her on her way to university!

PERSISTENCE CAN CERTAINLY GET YOU TO WHERE YOU WANT TO BE

by Rosie Pova

My journey to publication was definitely long and full of heartbreaks along the way. Given the fact that English is not my native language, and I had no clue how publishing worked, no wonder it took me 13 years to get my first yes from a traditional publisher. I had so much to learn, so much to catch up on as an immigrant, and so much to experience before I found my footing.

But when that yes came, two more came with it as well, so I received three publishing contracts all at once! That was certainly an exciting victory!

Up to that point, I had been submitting to both agents and publishers. But even though I did get an agent before, the book she signed me with didn’t sell.

Fast-forward to today, I have five traditionally published books (four out, one upcoming), and my newly released one, Sunday Rain, was recently featured in The New York Times which is an absolute dream come true!

Overnight success in publishing is rare. But persistence can certainly get you to where you want to be.

And yes, I still get rejections. All the time. And that’s perfectly normal. In fact, those rejections are necessary, because that’s how our work finds the exact right home it’s meant for.

“I HAVE TO LOVE WHAT I’M WORKING ON, I HAVE TO ENJOY MY WRITING RITUALS, AND I HAVE TO RELY ON FRIENDS WHO ARE ON THE SAME JOURNEY.”

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

It took me many years of writing very diligently to have my first book published. I first published work-for-hire nonfiction for the educational market. My first trade picture book WAIT, REST, PAUSE: DORMANCY IN NATURE was picked up in a call for submissions from Millbrook Press. I already had something to submit that had been getting good feedback, but ultimately kept getting rejected.

I write everyday (I score high on “discipline” in Clifton Strength’s Finders) because it helps me stay connected to my work. If I don’t write, I often feel like things are “off.” I have several projects in circulation—often in different genres and for different age groups. When one project isn’t going quite right, I can work on another project. I always have something percolating or waiting to be worked on. To stay positive, I keep a spot in my bullet journal for celebrations. They often don’t include “book deal.” But they do include things like: finished middle grade novel revision, finished fast draft of chapter book, received positive feedback from editor, participated in panel at XX conference. These celebrations remind me that the journey is important too. When it feels like a long wait for a book deal, these small victories remind me that I’m making progress.

I definitely get rejections—a lot of them. I try to frame rejections in different ways. Sometimes I get rejected because the publisher has already bought something similar. Other times I get rejected because the publisher just didn’t connect with it. If I get feedback from various places that sounds similar or points to the same thing, then I know it’s time to pull back and take another look. In those cases, rejections can make me a better writer. But they definitely don’t make the writing life easy. That’s why, for me, I have to enjoy the journey I’m on. I have to love what I’m working on, I have to enjoy my writing rituals, and I have to rely on friends who are on the same journey.

TO READ PART 1 OF “LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO PUBLICATION” click here and TO READ PART 2 click here. TO READ THE TEAM MEMBERS’ ANSWERS TO “MY MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED” click here for Part One and here for Part Two. TO READ MORE ABOUT THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM AND THEIR BOOKS click here.

A LITTLE BONUS FEATURE–THE BOOK TRAILER FOR WHEN WATER MAKES MUD

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KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION (USUALLY) DOESN’T HAPPEN OVERNIGHT (Part 1 of 3)

kid-lit writing wisdom

Copy of What was one of the most important lesson learned on your road to publication_

This “Wisdom” round’s question isn’t exactly a question. I asked the team to tell us about their travels down the long and winding road to publication. One of the reasons I wanted us to cover this topic is because every once in a while, you’ll see blog posts from an author who tells you the very first manuscript they sent out was acquired overnight—as though it’s the easiest thing one can do. That is not the norm nor is it reality. I also wanted emerging writers as well as those who have been at it for a long, long time to see similarities and differences in each writer’s experience. My wish for you and all our readers this round is that you might be inspired or pick up just one bit of wisdom that will help you in your journey. But also, that you adjust your expectations, so that if you find yourself on a long and winding road, you’re not disappointed or discouraged. And if you are one of the lucky ones who gets a contract overnight, you will be surprised and appreciate the moment even more than you might have.

Because it has been a long road for the “Wisdom” authors, we all had a lot to say. So, this topic will be shared in three parts over the next three weeks.

I’ve seen some similarities in answers, but everyone’s path has been a little different. I’m going to start with my own answer because it brings up a topic that didn’t pop up in any of the other answers.

Before we get started, I’d like to share some good news and congratulate Rob Sanders has a book birthday coming on May 4 with  TWO GROOMS ON A CAKE: THE STORY OF AMERICA’S FIRST GAY WEDDING. HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I’d like to also congratulate the illustrators of my picture books for winning the Story Monsters Approved Award. Polina Gortman illustrated THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: The Mostly True Tale of the Toledo Christmas Weed. And Milanka Reardon illustrated AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin.

Congratulations!

Two Grooms on a Cake

AWARD WINNER FOR MAKING A DIFFERENCE!Winner for (1)

Words of Wisdom

WHEN YOU SAY “YES” TO ONE THING, YOU ARE SAYING “NO” TO ANOTHER

by Alayne Kay Christian

I’m guessing, as with most team members, it would take an entire book to share my long journey. I’ll do my best to keep this short. My first picture book BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA was released way back in 2009. It won some awards and got great reviews, so I thought for sure, this kid-lit writing thing was going to be a breeze. I was wrong. I spent the next several years taking children’s book writing courses, attending SCBWI conferences and workshops, and getting involved in the online writing community. In 2013, I was on top of the world when I signed with an agent (my choice out of three agent offers—wasn’t I something?). I knew for sure that I was going to conquer the kid lit world now! Well, once again, I was wrong. In 2015, I parted ways with the agent. That set my confidence back for a couple of years. I did very little submitting, but I did continued to write, study children’s book writing, and work to grow my online presence. I also started a professional critique service and wrote an independent-study picture book writing course, Art of Arc. I also started working as a critique ninja for Julie Hedlund’s 12 X 12, which I did for three years. In 2016 I signed with a small publisher and in 2017, my chapter book series Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy was launched. I continued to study children’s book writing and submit. Also in 2017, I helped my husband relaunch Blue Whale Press where I was the acquisitions editor and creative director. In addition to that, I spent the year going back and forth with an agent who I thought was going to sign me for sure. Once again, I was wrong. We even had what I thought was “the call.” But it turned out to be a “let you down easy” call. She loved one of my stories, but didn’t fully connect with the others I offered. That set me back for a while. But I had so much going on with Blue Whale Press and my other writing related work that I didn’t have time to fall into negative thinking. In 2019, I started offering affordable children’s writing webinars. But even with all of the above, I also continued to study, write, and submit. 2020 was an exciting year for me when finally; my next two picture books were published. I am so proud of AN OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN and THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS and my latest Sienna book COWBOY TROUBLE. I’m so excited that THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS recently won the Story Monsters Approved award for books that make a difference. And THE OLD MAN AND HIS PENGUIN won an award in the nonfiction picture book category.

It took thirteen years of hard work, but more than anything, perseverance, to get (soon to be) four published picture books and two chapter books into the world. I tried to include what I consider to be major parts of my journey to demonstrate that it’s not necessarily just about writing and submitting. It’s about learning, growing, and finding ways to apply your knowledge and creative energy when it sometimes feels as though all has failed. And like in the stories that we write, finding our way through our darkest moments will lead us to a satisfying ending.

I don’t regret my path for a minute because I love all the gifts I have given writers and illustrators over the years with my critiques, courses, work with Blue Whale Press and so on. I’ve found that for me, relaxing into where life takes me usually leads me to where I need to be. But a word of warning . . . when you say “yes” to one thing, you are saying “no” to another. In my case, I said a lot of “no” to writing and submitting by saying “yes” to helping others. Where might I have been had I been more focused? That is not a question of regret. It is a question that I pose to you as writers. Following is a little worksheet to help you see your “yes” and “no” choices more clearly. I hope some of you find it helpful. The worksheet was initially part of a much longer post I wrote on the topic. Click here to read it

say yes say no

SHEER LUCK? SOMETIMES. SHEER GRIT? MOST OF THE TIME.

by Kirsti Call

It happened backwards for me. I wrote my first couple of stories, joined a critique group, submitted THE RAINDROP WHO COULDN’T FALL about three months into my writing journey. Character Publishing gave me an offer almost immediately, and my first book came out in 2013. Then for 6 years I wrote and revised and submitted and submitted and submitted again. I FINALLY got my first agent who subsequently sold 4 books for me. Sheer luck led to my first book. Sheer grit led to others.

ALL THE TIME I PUT INTO LIVING LIFE, AND WRITING STORIES, LED ME TO STRENGTHEN MY CRAFT AND FIND MY WRITING VOICE

by Melissa Stoller

My journey to publication was indeed a “long and winding road.” I had started writing when my oldest daughter was a baby and I loved reading picture books to her and making up bedtime stories. Before that, I practiced as an attorney, taught legal research and writing to law students, and worked as a career counselor at a law school. When I received many rejections to my initial book queries, I turned my attention to writing parenting articles and doing freelance editing. But eventually, I returned to my dream of writing for children (and by that point, I had three children and lots more time doing field research into the KidLit world). In fact, I had joined the SCBWI in 1997 (!) and my first book, THE ENCHANTED SNOW GLOBE: RETURN TO CONEY ISLAND, was published in 2017! I am forever grateful to Callie Metler and Clear Fork Publishing for helping me turn my writing dreams into reality. My advice to aspiring writers is to keep pursuing your goals. Your writing journey may detour down some curving roads, like mine did, and your path to publication may not be straight. But all the time I put into living life, and writing stories, led me to strengthen my craft and find my writing voice. So, buckle up, get on whatever type of road best fits your career, and say ready, set, GO!

KEEP YOUR CHIN UP AND YOUR FINGERS ON THE KEYBOARD!

by Rob Sanders

My journey to publishing started back in college. I paid my way through college and graduate school by writing religious educational materials. A few years later, I wound up working for the company for which I’d been writing, eventually becoming an editor and product designer there. But none of those materials were things kids would ever find in their public or school libraries or local bookstores. It wasn’t until I was 50 that I decided to pursue my dream of writing picture books. Two years later I made my first sale through a paid critique at SCBWI LA. A year later, I landed an agent. Selling my second book proved to be as difficult as selling the first and that pattern continues. Each of my manuscripts has to stand on its own merits and find its own home. I often remind myself of the advice my agent gave me when we first started working together: Keep your chin up and your fingers on the keyboard!

FIVE INGREDIENTS THAT ARE NECESSARY FOR SUCCESS IN ANY PROJECT

Vivian Kirkfield

Whenever I do presentations about the path to publication, I talk about how becoming a picture book author was a lot like making a pizza. Whether I’m speaking with six-year-old school kids or sixty-year-old aspiring authors, I share the 5 P’s…5 ingredients that are necessary for success in any project: PASSION, PREPARATION, PRACTICE, PATIENCE, and PERSISTENCE. It’s a process and it takes time. I started my writing journey at the end of 2011 – we signed my first book deal at the end of 2015 – and that book launched in 2019. I had sent out a few submissions to editors on my own, but I knew I wanted an agent because I knew I didn’t want to focus on where to send my manuscripts…I wanted to focus on writing them. However, the path is different for each one of us – and what is right for one person might not be right for another. What is needed, however, whether you have an agent or not, is positivity. Oh…there’s another P…I guess you can tell I’m a picture book writer with all of that alliteration.😅 I remain positive because I know that the rejections…and YES, I do get lots of rejections…are not personal. I try to remember that this is a business…and the publisher/editor must make a profit from the books they produce. Otherwise, they have to close their doors. And if they don’t choose my manuscript, it’s because they don’t think they will make money. I also try to keep in mind that sometimes, publishers are wrong. So, when I get a rejection, I remind myself that I am in good company with J.K Rowling and Louisa May Alcott and Stephen King and many others: https://wildmindcreative.com/bookmarketing/6-famous-authors-who-once-faced-rejection.

COMING IN THE NEXT TWO WEEKS PART 2 AND PART 3

Next week, Ellen Leventhal and Pippa Chorley talk about their journeys, which both include dealing with imposter syndrome. And Beth Anderson shares her thoughts on what it takes to be successful as an author. Finally on May 8th, we’ll wrap up our thoughts on the path to publication with Laura Gehl who talks about how time only serves to make you a better author. Dawn Babb Prochovnic looks at the importance of continuing the work in spite of obstacles. Michelle Nott talks about trends and also demonstrates that it pays to never give up on old stories. Rosie Pova talks about how persistence pays off. Marcie Flinchum Atkins talks about enjoying the rituals of writing and having friends who “get” the writer’s experience.

TO READ THE TEAM MEMBERS’ ANSWERS TO “MY MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED” click here for Part One and here for Part Two.

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Welcome to Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom where a team of multi-published kid-lit authors with over 170 years of combined experience as writers share their wisdom. You can read all about our team here. Before we get started, I’d like to share some good news and congratulate some of our team members.

Rosie Pova’s lovely book SUNDAY RAIN had a birthday on March 2. Welcome to the world, little one!

Vivian Kirkfield’s new book FROM HERE TO THERE: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves is really going places! (See what I did there?) Great collection of stories all in one book!

Kirsti Call’s picture book, COW SAYS MEOW just had an udderly sweet birthday on March 16! Welcome to the world little book!

Laura Gehl‘s rhyming board book BASEBALL BABY will come into the world on March 30. Happy early birthday!

I decided to launch our “wisdom” series with a general question. I half thought that there would be a lot of similar answers. Although, some answers might relate to another in small ways, the answers prove that although what most of us strive for is the same, everyone’s experience is different. I think most of us on the team agree that we are all still learning, but with so many years behind us, we do have a lot to share. The question for this post is . . .

Answers Most Important Lesson Learned

 

I am rudely offering my answer first because it is the longest answer.

 

COMPARISON, CRITICISM, AND JUDGMENT

A WRITER’S WORST ENEMIES
by Alayne Kay Christian

Through my own experience and through observing other writers’ struggle, one important lesson I’ve learned is comparison, criticism, and judgment are a writer’s worst enemies. When it comes to looking outside ourselves to find our worth via comparison and judgment, my experience and observations have been that it usually leads to self-criticism and pain. In the kid-lit writing world, it can be a long hard road to what one might consider success. Most of us see success as getting positive feedback on a manuscript, signing with an agent, getting a book contract, holding that published book in our hand, getting great reviews, having a million-copy seller, and on and on. Unfortunately, success is a moving target. Like a drug addict, we are always looking for the next success fix. But as soon as the pleasure of meeting a goal fades away, sometimes even while we are still enjoying it, we are looking for more of the same or maybe even something different.

In the online writing community, it’s almost a daily occurrence that someone’s good news (usually several people’s good news) is shared. Sometimes, it seems like an hourly event! Isn’t that great? It’s also great the writing community is always there to help celebrate our successes. But I know for sure that when you are surrounded by others’ perceived successes, and you can’t seem to see any successes on your end, comparing, criticizing, and judging is a surefire way to stop or hinder your chances of success. When we compare ourselves, our efforts, and our situations to others, we become our own victims because the next step is self-judgment and usually self-criticism. I suppose for some, the outcome might be inspiration, encouragement, and the strength to keep on keeping on. But for others, comparing, followed by self-judgment and criticism, lead to emotional confusion, discouragement, and sometimes a sense of defeat. Most climb out of it, pick themselves up, and get back on the rough road they have put themselves on in their writing journey. I admire and praise those who have found the peaceful route to their perceived success. But more than anything, I wish peace for those who struggle.

Of course, we all have our own path to follow. And we all have the road that will take us to where we are meant to be. I’d just like my ramblings to leave you with the thought that we have the power to make this writing journey a peaceful and pleasurable ride or to make it a treacherous and tumultuous one. For me, remaining aware of the compare, criticize, judge trap (whether it be directed at self, others, or both) is one of the best things I ever learned to do for myself. But the biggest lesson is to recognize it for what it is—the enemy. See that big flashing red light of discomfort and distraction and STOP looking outside yourself. Then, find a way to bring your focus back to you in the moment where you can find peace and joy in your writing journey. One lovely step at a time.

If doing what you love feels more like a struggle than a peaceful or joyful experience, take a good look within. You will likely find that you are comparing, criticizing, or judging (or maybe all three.) It’s impossible to be in the moment under those circumstances.

Coincidentally, while I was working on the above answer, the following Jane Friedman blog post popped up in my email. I feel like it is too related not to share. Although, I’m not talking about jealousy in my answer, falling into the compare, criticize, judge trap can lead you there. Click here to read The Green-Eyed Monster: Jealousy in the Time of Quarantine by Nancy Stohlman.

It’s funny how once you bring something into your consciousness, it seems to pop up everywhere. As I was preparing this blog post, I received newsletter from Jess Keating. Jess has a different take on jealousy. And she offers her creative guide to jealousy here. It’s definitely worth reading! Thanks, Jess.

 

To learn more about Alayne and her books visit alaynekaychristianauthor.com

 

SUCCESS LIVES IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF FAILURE
by Kirsti Call

My most important lesson learned on my publication journey:

Each rejection, each defeat, each failure only teaches resilience and leads to success in this business. Without years of persistence through the failures, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Success lives in the neighborhood of failure.

My book, COW SAYS MEOW came out on March 16! Here’s the 2 minute song my 15 year old daughter wrote for it: https://youtu.be/X14k86vW6FY (And I just got a very unexpected starred review from SLJ!)

Happy Creating!

To learn more about Kirsti and her books visit www.kirsticall.com

 

WRITING AUTHENTICALLY IS A MUST
by Rob Sanders

My most hard-learned lessons seem to be those that are the most obvious. I wrote and published for a few years before I finally owned the lesson that I need to write the stories only I can write and to write with authenticity. I still have to evaluate what I’m working on to see if I’m doing that. Life (and my writing career) is too short to spend time writing things that don’t truly represent who I am.

To learn more about Rob and his books visit www.robsanderswrites.com

 

WRITING IS ONLY THE BEGINNING
by Pippa Chorley

I think the thing I learned from the entire process is that writing is only the start. Once the book is handed over to the illustrator your work does not stop, its then time to begin marketing your book, engaging with other authors, preparing blog tours and launch events for when the book is out on the shelves, as well as school author visits, craft and storytelling sessions. For many authors that is particularly tough as we tend to enjoy the process of writing rather than speaking and shouting loudly about ourselves and our work. I do think in hindsight though that the earlier you begin this process the less pressured and easier it is, and the more you engage with other writers the less scary it feels and more enjoyable. Writers are wonderful people and love to help other writers and once you start talking to them, even via twitter and Facebook, it is easy to become part of this lovely community and gain the confidence you need to put yourself out there. So my tip would be to engage early on in small and meaningful ways and build it up slowly so that it never feels too onerous or overwhelming.

To learn more about Pippa and her books visit pippachorleystories.com

 

EVERYONE’S WRITING PROCESS IS DIFFERENT
by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

I wish I had known much earlier on that everyone’s writing process is different–that it’s okay to lean into what works for me. I’m fascinated by other people’s ways of brainstorming, organizing, and revising, and I learn a lot from the way other writers do things. What I have learned is that I need to think about what works best for my brain. Often, I hear a cool tip from another writer, and now my first step is to spend some time journaling about what that might look like in my own process with my current projects. If I think it might help, I try it out. If I think it needs tweaking, I change it to make it work for me. This means that I’m learning to trust myself more. I do a lot of reflection–weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly. At every point along the way, I’m asking myself: “What did you learn about yourself as a writer or about your process?” Knowing that I can lean into my own quirks and develop my own unique processes has helped me abandon what is no longer working and feel more confident in my writing. It has helped me embrace the mantra: “Joy in the process.”

To learn more about Marcie and her books visit www.marcieatkins.com

The team will continue to answer the question in part two of THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY with some great bits of wisdom from Beth Anderson, Laura Gehl, Vivian Kirkfield, Ellen Leventhal, Michelle Nott, Dawn ProchovnicRosie Pova, and Melissa Stoller.

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Today, author Ellen Leventhal helps me launch my new blog series Arc Angel, and she is offering a softcover copy of her sweet book, Lola Can’t Leap, to one lucky winner. All you have to do is leave a comment for this post, and your name will go in the drawing for December 13.

In the Arc Angel series, I will work with published authors as we use our books and have Q and A sessions to help demonstrate good narrative and character arcs when writing picture books.

The idea for this blog series began brewing in my mind about a year ago when one of my critique buddies called me her arc angel. I got a kick out of the play on words and appreciated the compliment. That same day, I wrote the following after the song Earth Angel. You can listen to the song Earth Angel below.

Arc Angel

by Alayne Kay Christian

Arc angel, arc angel,

will you define?

My darling plot

must impress and shine.

I need a tool—

a tool or two from you.

Arc angel, arc angel,

I want to explore,

sharpen my writing forevermore.

I need a tool,

a tool or two from you.

I dreamed of you, and I knew,

I could improve my plot’s liveliness!

I hoped and I prayed that someday,

I’d have the vision of arc happiness.

Arc angel, arc angel,

will you define?

My darling plot

must impress and shine.

I need a tool—

a tool or two from you.

 

And Heeeeere’s Ellen!

new headshot 3

Today’s Arc Angel is the talented author and my fabulous friend and critique buddy, Ellen Leventhal. Thank you for joining us today, Ellen. As you know, the main plot points of the story arc usually include the exposition, ordinary world, inciting incident, rising action, climax, and falling action that slips into resolution. Your books Lola Can’t Leap and Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets along with your forthcoming book A Flood of Kindness all have well-written story/character arcs.

Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets strays a little from a typical picture book arc formula. But it’s a great example of how arcs can look a bit different but still contain all the elements of a good arc.

Before we move into showing the basic plot points of your stories, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions.

EL: Happy to answer whatever I can!  But first, I want to thank you for having me. By the way, that Arc Angel song is quite impressive! The only thing better would be for YOU to sing it to everyone!

AKC: Okay. You asked for it . . .

Q: From your experience as a published author, why would you say that understanding arc is important for any writer to master? Could you also address the value of emerging writers learning it and using it?

A: In my mind, ARC is STORY. Without an arc, you just have a group of ideas or actions. Now that’s a fine starting place, but it doesn’t lead to a satisfying ending. As writers, we have to think about how the actions are related and move the characters (and readers) through the story. Stories take us on journeys with a beginning, middle, and end. Thinking about plot points and arc gives both emerging and experienced writers a structure. For me, keeping the arc in mind while I write and revise helps me stay on track. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I think it’s important.

Q. What suggestions do you have for strengthening an arc?

A: I guess it would be cheating to say that my first suggestion is to have a talented friend like Alayne Kay Christian who can tell you when you are totally off.

AKC: I’m blushing. You’re too kind.   

But barring that, I do a few things.

  1. After the first few super sloppy drafts, I begin to analyze what I have.
  2. I pop the plot points into a very simple story map to see if I have the elements of a story. If I’m lucky, the elements are there. But if I can’t find the rising action, climax, and resolution, I go back to the drawing board. (actually, the computer screen or yellow pad)
  3. I’ve recently begun to look at arc separately when I revise. That’s difficult for me because a lot of other elements of good writing come easier to me. Give me a sentence to revise; I’ve got it!  Give me an arc to revise; that’s work. But VERY needed and satisfying work.

Q: Do you write organically (pantser) or do you use an outline (planner)?

A: I am definitely a pantster with dreams of becoming more of a planner. For picture books,  I always know my main character and problem before I start, and on a good day, I  know the major plot points and some action. But being mostly a pantster, I don’t always know exactly what goes between those points or how I’m going to get to the end. On not so good days, I just have a character, theme, and some idea of where I want to go when I first sit down to write. But I get there! It’s just a bit circuitous.

I do try to have more of an outline for longer stories. But none of those stories are published, so there’s that. 😊

Q: Whatever your method, what is the value in that approach?

A: For me, I need the freedom to allow new thoughts into my head as I write that first messy draft. I am a list person in my non-writing life (although my list usually says, “Finish that draft!”) The few times I outlined every beat, my “do the list” personality popped up, and I had a difficult time deviating from the outline and letting my mind flow. 

Q: Do you believe there is any value in the opposite approach? Do you sometimes wish that you worked that way, or have you ever considered trying it?

A: Absolutely there is a lot of value in being more of a planner! The most obvious value to me is that it will probably cut down on revision time. I think that it is easier to keep arc and story in mind when the plot points are in front of you. I am actually outlining a picture book now with the hopes that it will aid in keeping word count low.

Q: If you’re a pantser, are you aware of the arc while you are writing? Or during editing, once the basic idea gets down on paper?

A: As a pantster, I do think about the arc as I write first drafts, but it’s not uppermost in my mind. For me, the real work of making sure there is a GOOD arc comes during those early revisions. I usually know the end, so I have to figure out how to get there while keeping the theme, voice, and emotion of the story.

Q: I’m not sure this next question is possible to answer. Why do you think the arcs for Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets and Lola Can’t Leap took different arc journeys?

A: The first reason for this is because I wrote Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets with my talented friend, Ellen Rothberg. In fact, the major question of the story was her idea. What would happen if a cow ate some bluebonnets? This book was born of conversation and lots of laughs. We were somewhat clueless about writing picture books when we first started, but being educators who read a lot, we did understand basic story structure. When I started Lola Can’t Leap, I knew it was for younger children, and I wanted a specific, easy to follow structure.

Q: Your forthcoming book A Flood of Kindness (great title, by the way) has an excellent arc, too. You do a really good job of building tension. Would you please tell us a little bit about A Flood of Kindness? What is it about? And why do you think the arc is important to this story? What was your approach to building the arc?

A: Glad you like  the title! Thank you! I went through many different ones, and I was surprised when the publisher kept that one. But I do like it.

The story follows Charlotte, a young girl who watches floodwaters rise in her home and is forced to evacuate to a shelter with her parents. As Charlotte adjusts to the shelter–a strange, crowded place that is not home–she grapples with feelings of anger and sadness. But as the days go by, Charlotte starts to realize how grateful she is for the things that she does have–her parents, a cot to sleep on, food to eat–and begins looking for ways to help others in the shelter. The book addresses grief and loss and demonstrates how kindness can bring hope.

The arc is very important in this story because aside from outside circumstances, there is a strong emotional arc. I think in order for children to be drawn to the story, they must feel, not just see, Charlotte’s transformation. My approach to building the arc in this story started with the character’s emotional arc, and  then I plugged in circumstances to support it.

AKC: I think emotional core is key to any story–even humorous ones. The reason I say even humorous stories is because any emotional connection that the reader has to the character and story is a connection that makes the reader want to keep reading. And caring about the character and what might happen to him/her makes the reader turn pages. Charlotte’s emotional journey definitely makes the reader care.

Q: I did a quick breakdown of the arc elements in Bluebonnets and Lola. Would you mind doing one for A Flood of Kindness? I’m not asking for a diagram, but if you can fill in the areas below. It’s fine to use generalities, and please don’t give your ending away. Feel free to adjust as needed for your book.

  1. Ordinary World: This book opens with the inciting incident.
  2. Inciting Incident: Water seeps into Charlotte’s room.
  3. Rising Action: She goes to the shelter.
  4. Dark Moment: She goes back home and sees that the house is destroyed.
  5. Inner Climax:  She sees people performing acts of kindness and sees a little boy with no toys.
  6. Outer Climax: She gives the little boy her beloved Teddy Bear.
  7. Resolution: She smiles for the first time since the flood.

Plot points for Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets by Ellen Leventhal and Ellen Rothberg, illustrations by Joel Cook, Clear Fork Publishing 2017

I find this arc interesting because it’s almost like it has two of everything—two inciting incidents, climaxes, and so on. And that works to build even more tension than the typical formula. I like a story that has lots of ups and downs.

To blog readers: In my analysis, I intentionally give basic plot points to protect Ellen’s work. It will be important to analyze the book to find how each plot point is fully executed. I’m sorry about the ending, but it is common practice to never give the ending away.

First Part

  1. Ordinary World: Sue Ellen is a cow that dances to her own beat.
  2. Inciting Incident: Max puts up a sign, “Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets.” Sue Ellen loves bluebonnets and announces that Max is not her boss, and she will eat the bluebonnets if she wants.
  3. Rising Action: Bluebonnets are popping up everywhere, tempting Sue Ellen. And no matter how many animals warn her the dangers of eating the bluebonnets . . .
  4. Inner Climax: Sue Ellen makes a decision.
  5. Outer Climax: She eats all the bluebonnets!
  6. Dark Moment: Her friends are all mad at her and her belief system is challenged when the bluebonnets don’t come back.

Second Part

  • New Ordinary World: There are no more bluebonnets in Sue Ellen’s pasture.
  • Inciting Incident: Sue Ellen decides to find a way to bring the bluebonnets back.
  • Rising Action: Sue Ellen tries several creative ways to bring the bluebonnets back, but she fails with each attempt.
  • Dark Moment: Sue Ellen may not find a way to bring the bluebonnets back. Then what?
  • Inner Climax: Sue Ellen realizes how important the bluebonnets were to her, and she’s back to thinking.
  • Outer Climax: When the other animals offer to help, Sue Ellen gets an idea, dashes off, and puts her plan into action.
  • Resolution: I can’t tell you how Sue Ellen solved her problem or how the story ends, but I will share that the ending is satisfying and that Sue Ellen gains a new appreciation for bluebonnets, friends, and rules.

Don't eact the bluebonnets diagram arc

 

 

Plot points for Lola Can’t Leap by Ellen Leventhal, illustrated by Noelle Shawa

Clear Fork Publishing 2018

This story follows more of the classic arc formula.

  1. Ordinary World: Lola comes from a long line of leapers, and she longs to leap, but she has to wait until she’s just the right age.
  2. Inciting Incident: Lola’s birthday—she has finally reach leaping age.
  3. Rising Action: Lola tries in the most fun and entertaining ways to leap the fence, and fails each time.
  4. Dark Moment: Poor Lola. She works so hard, trying in every way imaginable to get over the fence so she can help the babies sleep. But no matter how hard she tries, nothing works. She’ll never help the babies sleep if she can’t leap. Lola gives up. With her head hanging, she heads home.
  5. Inner Climax: When Lola hears a baby’s cry, she decides to try something different.
  6. Outer Climax: Lola puts her plan into action.
  7. Resolution: Satisfying ending with a twist. And the art provides another surprise.

LOLA CAN'T LEAP DIAGRAM ARC

To see some plot points for other books visit Kid Lit Takeaways here

Thanks again, Ellen for taking time to spread your angel wings and share your arc thoughts. I really related to your feelings about being a pantser and writing first drafts organically. I think the more we work with arc, it is naturally in the back of our mind and part of the process, but not the focus on those first drafts. We have to let our characters lead the way. I also hear what you are saying about perhaps having less revision work if we bring the arc into the story earlier in the process. I’m sure that’s why on my first rough draft of a story with my critique group this month, I got a comment back that there are three different themes that I could make my focus. However, I’m not sure I can write from the heart if I were a planner. It’s all definitely a balancing act.

About Ellen

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 www.Ellenleventhal.com

 

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WHAT IN THE WORLD IS AN ICHTHYOLOGIST? Mahalo and a final aloha to an amazing man.

I originally posted this story August 17, 2019. I am republishing it today in honor of Dr. John E. Randall, a distinguished ichthyologist and coral specialist who discovered and named more species of fish than anyone. He died April 26 in his home in Kaneohe, Hawaii. He was 95.

Since the original post, the picture book titled after Dr. Randall, Randall and Randall, has been released and was named as one of the best 100 indie books in 2019 by Kirkus Reviews. Author, Nadine Poper and the Blue Whale Press team will be forever grateful for Dr. Randall and his contributions to this educational and funny book. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends. May he rest in peace. 

With a final aloha to Dr. Randall, we offer the original post below.

Before I answer the ‘ichthyologist’ question, I want to explain why I’m presenting the question in the first place. Blue Whale Press’s latest picture book, Randall and Randall, is now available for pre-order, and this book just happens to have a foreword written by the renowned ichthyologist Dr. John E. Randall. Please read the post to the end because while I was writing it, I got some fantastic, must see, news. I want to share the surprise with you.

Cover corrected 978-0-9814938-7-9

An ichthyologists is . . .

. . . a branch of zoology that deals with the study of fish and other marine life. Ichthyologists (ik-thee-AH-lo-gists) are also called marine biologists or fish scientists. They discover and study new and existing species of fish, their environment, and their behavior.

Ichthyologists dedicate their time to studying different kinds of fish species, though many will focus on one family of fish in particular. They generally focus on the biological history, behavior, growth patterns, and ecological importance of these fish. Most ichthyologists will go into the field to collect various samples or observe fish behavior and then return to a lab or office to analyze their collected data. If funded by a university, many of these scientists may be required to teach in addition to their other duties. Some of these scientists may also dedicate their time to educating others about the field and advocating for the importance of fish to ecosystems.

About Dr. Randall Dr R head shot

Dr. John “Jack” Randall, ichthyologist emeritus at Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, has over 900 publications and has described more valid marine species than anyone, living or dead—at least 800 of them.

Dr. R book 1

Why did Dr. Randall write the foreword for Randall and Randall?

First, the author, Nadine Poper, named the characters and the book in Dr. Randall’s honor. But the answer goes deeper than that.

Why are goby fish named Amblyeleotris randalli and the pistol shrimp named Alpheus randalli? Either there is a strange coincidence between Dr. Randall, the Randalls in the book, and the scientific name randalli or there is a strong connection and explanation.

The explanation starts with Dr. John E. Randall.

“A dive pioneer and a dedicated taxonomist for over 70 years, it’s doubtful there is anyone who knows more about fish than Hawaii’s Jack Randall.”

–Christie Wilcox, Hakai Magazine

Some fun facts about Dr. Randall

• He is sometimes referred to as “Dr. Fish”
• His O‘ahu home is methodically littered with hundreds of pickled fish specimens sequestered in alcohol. Click here to read why he collects these specimens.
• For Dr. Randall, collecting the fish has been exciting and adventurous. He has dived on some of the most beautiful reefs in the world, but the actual process of identifying species takes passion and patience. Dr. R book 2
• Dr. Randall was one of the first to study fish in their ocean habitat. He first dove in the mid-1940s, before the acronym SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) was even coined.
• He became one of the first scientists to use scuba gear, allowing him to access fish that no one else had ever seen.
• Dr. Randall even pioneered wet suits—sort of. He tried using long underwear to stay warm at first, but they didn’t retain heat. Then he got the brilliant idea to dip his long johns in liquid latex, creating a primitive wet suit years before the first neoprene was used.

 

All the above facts came from an article by Christie Wilcox at Hakai Magazine (May 15, 2016)

Two more wonderful facts about Dr. Randall

1) Dr. Randall celebrated his 90th birthday by SCUBA diving off Waikiki.

2) At the age of 91, he received the 2016 Darwin Medal from The International Society for Reef Studies. The award was presented at the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium on June 20. Jack gave an entertaining presentation on his work with coral reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands to an enthralled audience of hundreds of conference attendees.

Dr. Randall has likely won many other awards, and here is one more example: At 94 years of age, he won the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA) Pioneer Award for Science.

Dr. Randall’s scientific and academic achievements are too extensive to list in one blog post, instead I will share the following video. Although it doesn’t cover all his accomplishments, it is so much better than a list! It’s only six minutes long and definitely worth viewing.

This man is amazing, and I urge you to read more about him and to visit the links I have shared.

Finding Dr. Randall: Nadine Poper’s research for the book

Dr. R book 3During Nadine Poper’s research for this book, she was eventually led to Dr. Randall, and they became friends. Dr. Randall told Nadine anything she wanted to know about these creatures and their symbiotic relationship. He even provided her with photos that he took personally under the sea. And Dr. Randall graciously obliged when Nadine asked him if he would write a foreword.

When Nadine asked Dr. Randall how the fish and shrimp species came to bear his name, he responded with the following: “If you see the two-part scientific name Alpheus randalli, Alpheus is the generic name for a group of very similar shrimps, and randalli is the species name which was given by the person who prepared the scientific description of the genus to honor me. . . .”

I’m going to assume the same goes for the goby (Amblyeleotris randalli). And it makes sense, given the interesting relationship between the shrimp and goby (Randall and Randall).

Ambyleleotris yanoi Bali

Live goby fish and pistol shrimp, compliments of Dr. Randall

Goby 2

A real-life view under the sea. Goby fish guarding the burrow and protecting a pistol shrimp while it digs their home. Compliments of Dr. John E. Randall

As I was writing this post, the Kirkus review for Randall and Randall arrived . . .

and I cannot resist hijacking this Dr. Randall post to share an excerpt from it (in green below). Well, I’m not fully hijacking it because they do mention ichthyologist Dr. John Randall. But the really exciting thing about this review is it is starred review! According to Kirkus, only 10 percent of the 10,000 reviews they do a year earn a blue star. And according to Washington Post, only 2 percent of independently published books earn a blue star. This also means that Randall and Randall will automatically be entered into the Kirkus awards!

 

Young readers get a slice of science in this undersea tale about symbiosis.

Randall the pistol shrimp accidentally gets a new roommate when he snaps at a fish he believes is a threat. But the goby fish, also named Randall, offers to let the shrimp know when genuine predators are around. Unfortunately, the goby misidentifies plankton, a sand dollar, and a sea cucumber as dangerous foes, all the while singing songs that drive the shrimp to distraction. Likewise, the noises the shrimp’s snapping claws make irritate the goby. After a huge fight, the goby leaves, only to run into a real killer . . . Based on a real-life symbiotic relationship, this silly tale makes the science approachable through the goby’s giggle-worthy antics. Notes from ichthyologist Dr. John Randall describe the phenomenon for adults, and Gortman’s (Fishing for Turkey, 2016) closing illustrations supply diagrams of the charismatic creatures. The picture book’s cartoonish interior images deftly mix human and animal characteristics, showing the shrimp’s long antennae as mustaches. Poper’s (Frank Stinks, 2017, etc.) simple English text seamlessly introduces a few straightforward Spanish-language phrases (“mi casa”) due to the coastal Mexico setting. The ingenious aquatic tale also encourages readers to realize they can find friendship even if they don’t see eye to eye with their cohorts.

A clever introduction to a scientific concept with an accessible moral.

Written by Nadine Poper
Illustrated by Polina Gortman.
Dr. Randall’s foreword does a fantastic job of explaining all about the goby and pistol shrimp and their special relationship.
Published by Blue Whale Press

Book trailer for Randall and Randall

More about the picture book Randall and Randall

Randall, the pistol shrimp, is a master at excavation. Randall, the goby fish, is his skittish, yet happy-go-lucky watchman. The problem is that both have quirks that drive each other bananas until one day their relationship is driven to the breaking point. This very funny informational-fiction story about one of the sea’s naturally-existent odd couples illustrates how certain species depend upon their symbiotic relationship for survival. It also shows children how two very different beings can embrace each other’s peculiarities and become best of friends.

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I’d like to introduce author/illustrator Milanka Reardon. She is the illustrator for Who Will? Will You?—written by Sarah Hoppe and published by Blue Whale Press. In this interview, Milanka shares excellent tips for remaining consistent from page to page, illustrating facial expressions and body language, dealing with creative direction, and more!

 

How did you get your start as a children’s book illustrator?

I have always loved to draw from the time that I was a little girl living in Titograd, Yugoslavia with my mother. I was fascinated by the pictures in the old fairy tale books from that country. I still have most of them. That is the one thing that I carried with me when I emigrated from Yugoslavia when I was six years old. I left any toys I had behind. My aunt sent us a roll of toilet paper when we lived in the old country, and I used to draw pictures on it. It made a great continuous storyboard and I filled each square with pictures!

When I decided to go back to school for art, I thought that Natural Science Illustration would be a great fit for me since my undergraduate degree is in biology, (art school wasn’t considered a practical thing for an immigrant girl). And while I loved drawing and painting plants and animals, I wanted to tell a story with them. I always loved the funny individual expressions of the animals and saw them as characters, and I wondered about their story. So that naturally led me to the Children’s Book Illustration program at Rhode Island School of Design. Once I started that program, I found that I had so many stories that I wanted to tell with pictures, and that was just the beginning.

You are also a writer. Which came first? Writing or art?

The art, definitely! I still find it hard to think of myself as a writer.

Side note from Alayne: I’ve had the pleasure of seeing one of your author/illustrator pieces (Blog reader: see image above for Nana’s Wall) and it is so wonderful that I can’t forget about it!

Thank you so much, Alayne. That story parallels my life so much that it came naturally. But of course, the pictures came first. Then it took several years of revising the story to make it into a real picture book. I’m hoping that it will be published someday.

Kirkus Reviews had the following to say about your Who Will? Will You? illustrations:

“A beautifully illustrated tale that’s sure to appeal to animal lovers and budding environmentalists. . . . Reardon’s realistic pastel-and-ink illustrations, populated with humans with a variety of skin tones, do an excellent job of hiding the identity of the pup and showing the adults’ shocked expressions.”

I agree with Kirkus. The drawings you have done for my next book, Old Man and His Penguin, are equally as impressive.

Do you have any artistic influences? If not, what does influence your style?

I have so many influences! I love to travel and get the feel for a place, and I think that influences my illustrations. Maybe that’s why they have an old-world feel. With Who Will? Will You? I really tried to show a diverse world of characters for the book. That is why the Kirkus review made me so happy. I was really trying to show a population of humans that was diverse without singling out one group of people. I wanted Lottie to ask different people who will take care of her pup, and I tried to imagine who she would meet in the real world. The animals were just the extra fun bonus to illustrate!

Do you have a preferred medium?

I painted mostly with oils when I started painting portraits. Then I found that I could achieve some fantastic results with colored pencils. I love to explore different mediums. Now I am happiest working with watercolors and pencils. I love the looseness of the water and paint and watching it flow on paper, and then I like to have some areas more controlled with colored pencil or pastel pencil. I try to achieve a nice variety of textures. But most of all I am drawn to whatever works for creating that unique character that best fits the story. I have also been able to add finishing touches digitally with Photoshop or Procreate.

What medium and process did you use for the Who Will? Will You? illustrations?

For Who Will? Will You? I used mostly watercolors and pencils, both pastel pencils and colored pencils. After scanning the paintings, I was able to make adjustments using Procreate and Photoshop as well.

Blue Whale Press is involved in the illustration process throughout book development. What was it like following a publisher’s process versus working independently?

Working with Blue Whale Press has been a wonderful experience. I had creative freedom with the illustrations, and the editor and publisher were very supportive while providing professional feedback throughout the process. Also the author, Sarah Hoppe, did a fantastic job writing a fun story and making each word count.

The last book I illustrated was self-published. Illustrating for someone who is self-publishing their book is very different. The author of the story had definite ideas of what he wanted on each page, and there was a lot more input on each individual illustration from the author throughout. It’s kind of nice with a small press because you have the best situation in that the publisher trusts you to create the characters and to come up with the book dummy but is available and provides professional feedback where needed. The overall process was very positive and supportive with great communication between the editor, publisher and myself. Thank you, Alayne, for that!

It has all been my pleasure, Milanka.

You have been very gracious and such a pleasure to work with in all ways, but also in the area of creative direction. Do you have any tips for illustrators regarding how to keep from taking direction personally?

Wow, that’s a tough one. I think that anyone that has gone to art school realizes that critiques can be tough. But you try to use them to improve your own artwork. In the case of illustrating a picture book, you have to always be open to suggestions and ideas that may improve the story. So, it’s more about working together with the editor to make a better book. Making a good picture book is a collaborative effort. The author, the illustrator, editor and publisher all have ideas to make it work and hopefully it all comes together in the best way possible in the end. That is why I have always been open to edits. I know personally that I spend so much time staring at that illustration that I may miss something important, so the creative direction is appreciated.

My advice to any illustrator would be to look at the final image and to do what is best for the book. If more than one person critiques the same area of the illustration, then it’s probably not reading correctly. The creative direction from the editor and publisher is meant to improve the story, it is not a personal commentary on you.

I love the little extras you put on every page of Who Will? Will You? One little thing I noticed that made me smile is one of the sea lions is cross-eyed 😉 But you just created such a nice world for Lottie.

How do you get over the natural instinct to show only what is in the text and instead put some of yourself into the story by doing a little something extra or special on each page?

The job of the illustrator is to add to the story and to tell the story with pictures. So naturally you want to add a little something extra to the story. The illustrations should complement the text and the text should also complement the illustrations. They work together. There is no need to be redundant and only show what is told in words. It’s a lot more fun to add the little extras. Children are smart and they will notice. It’s the difference that makes a book one that a child will want to read over and over again to discover even more within the book and the illustrations each time they read it.

Does it take courage to express yourself and help tell the story?

Yes and no. Personally it does show some of your sense of humor, adventure or even if you’ve done your research correctly. But, I feel that you should show some of yourself in your illustrations because that’s the point of both telling with words and pictures. It’s all about making the story fun for children.

Do you have any tips for illustrators for going beyond the text with your expression?

Research! Research the location. In Who Will? Will You? I had to think of where could you find all of those types of animal rescue places in one area, and even a bat cave! And how do you make each one different and unique. Then you can put who would be in those places. So that research was fun – going to the beach and even a cave and sketching and photographing. You notice, especially when you sketch people and animals the different body positions and facial expressions that people have. Animals too! It’s fun to observe and sketch.

Character study, younger Lottie and Rufus

Lottie and Rufus are so adorable. Where did you find your inspiration for them—well, for all the characters, really?

Character design, older Lottie and Rufus

I can remember when I was thinking about Lottie. I was in a Paneras and I saw this beautiful little girl come in with her mother and she had this messy hair. When I came home I couldn’t forget her funny expressions and the messy hair. So I drew who I thought Lottie would be. And I remember my initial sketches were of a much younger Lottie! I remember you telling me that my little preschool Lottie would not be walking the streets alone looking for a home for a pup, so please change her to an older child. You were so nice with your directions and I thought, okay, that’s not really a problem. I can draw an older Lottie. And then what kind of dog would my older Lottie have. It was early enough in the process that it wasn’t a problem to change because I was only showing you initial sketches, and I hadn’t started the storyboard yet. I did a lot of sketching before the right Lottie and her dog appeared on the pages.

Notice the fun eyes on the sea lion. But notice the sad eyes on Lottie. This is actually an earlier image. In the book, she has tears 😦

In the Who Will? Will You? art, you do an excellent job of showing mood and emotion via facial expression and body language.

How did you learn to do that? And do you have any tips for illustrators on developing that skill?

That takes time and a lot of sketching from life. Really noticing that people hardly ever stand like those stick figures looking straight ahead that we all love to draw. Most people are always leaning or moving around. Body language tells a lot. I went to the SCBWI LA conference and took an Illustrator Intensive on character design that the art director Laurent Lin was in. He used to work for Sesame Street, so he brought in puppeteers that showed us some amazing things about body language. The stories that they told with just those puppets brought me to tears and made me laugh. That was with just body language – the puppets eyes and mouth weren’t moving, just their bodies. It was an awesome lesson, one that I am still working on. It also comes back to sketching from life and observing body language and putting in the tiny details after.

I believe one of the most difficult things for an illustrator is to remain consistent from page to page—especially with characters. What is your trick for remaining consistent?

I try to keep the body proportions the same. It’s not always easy to do, especially when you want to draw freely which I think is more important in order to get expressive illustrations. But you can always scan things into Photoshop or Procreate and check your proportions and use that as a guideline when you are going into the final drawing phase. Or you can use good old-fashioned tracing paper. Let your initial sketches be free and fun. In the final illustrations try to get those proportions right. That will make the painting stage go so much more smoothly. You will have figured it all out in the drawing stages.

You recently signed with an agent as an author/illustrator! I was so excited to get that news. Congratulations, again!

Thank you so much, Alayne! I signed with Barbara Krasner with Olswanger Literary. I am really hoping to get my picture book dummy out into the world!

Blog reader: See toilet paper art image at the beginning of this interview. That image is from the dummy for Nana’s Wall. A beautiful story.

What was it like to see your granddaughter look at the book for the first time?

Aw, look how sad she is for Lottie. So sweet.

So happy. I love it!

Yay! And happy again.

Oh my goodness, that was amazing! It truly was a test. She’s not quite two years old yet but she loves the book. She was so funny when she looks at the pictures, she absolutely loves the way each of the adults say “no” to Lottie. She actually mimics the hand movements that they use (thank goodness I got the body language on those characters!) No is a favorite word of hers! She also was sad when she first saw Lottie crying and kisses that picture. And she loves to sing one of her favorite songs in the end. (From Alayne: Sorry, we can’t share the song without giving away the ending of the book.)

She is so adorable. It is a thrill to see this. Thank you for sharing these precious moments!

It is an absolute pleasure to work with you, Milanka. I’m thrilled that you are illustrating one of my picture books next! Your work has brought us so many smiles and heartfelt moments over the last year. And the visual story you have told is amazing! Thank you for helping us make a wonderful book that we are so proud of.

It has been and continues to be a pleasure working for you and with you, Alayne! Thank you so much for the kind words and for this opportunity!

BONUS!

When, at another time, I asked Milanka questions that I had for myself personally, as an illustrator wannabe, she graciously shared excellent advice—excerpts below.

About Style

I think that’s wonderful that you are taking an online art class. And cute is a wonderful style to have. We can’t all be the same, that would be boring. . . . A realistic style can be a curse. It just takes a lot of time and no matter how hard you try, there is always someone that can do it better. That’s what an illustration teacher at RISD told me. Besides, if you have a realistic style, it’s so easy to notice little mistakes. So go with your style and just practice every day.

Best Advice

Honestly, the best advice that I can give you is to sketch people every day. They don’t have to be perfect sketches, just sketch. And one thing you’ll notice is all of the wonderful gestures. People don’t just stand still, they lean, they bend they do all sorts of poses even when just standing there. Sketching will help no matter what style of illustration you choose, or sometimes I feel it’s the style that chooses you. But either way, you need to know a bit about anatomy and that’s great to be learning from online classes and reference books too.

I love “the style that chooses you”!

More about Inspiration for Lottie and other Who Will? Will You? Characters

Lottie was made up in my mind and so were her various adult people. Remember when I sent you the turnaround of Lottie. I did all the things that I needed to to map out her features and size, etc. But she looked a little stiff at first. So I never used those exact images. By observing real people, she became softer and moved better along the page. Actually even though Lottie was made up, I noticed a little girl in Paneras that was so cute but had that messy hair, and I loved the way she sat on her leg and leaned from side to side, so expressive. So, I had her in mind when creating Lottie and I knew I wanted a diverse set of characters. Children in a playground are also fun to watch and to draw. So just observing people helps. They are not all the same size or shape either.

Character study, Lottie’s dog Rufus.

Final painting of Rufus and friends

Sketching is Fun

Sketching is a lot of fun. You don’t need to spend a lot of time on it. Nobody has to look at it. Afterwards, you can choose a sketch to really focus on and draw out. It’s such a good feeling when your drawing starts to come to life.

 

Inspiration for Alayne’s Next Picture Book

Old Man and His Penguin

The kids in the penguin story came from my sketchbook from when I traveled to Cuba on a cruise. I had my sketchbook with me and children were on recess when we were in the old town in the plaza. I did some quick sketches—it was fun, and like most things in life, you never know when they might come in handy. The old man is made up, but I did ask my husband to do a couple of poses and to walk so I could take a picture to draw from. He would never stand still long enough for me to sketch even a quick two-minute sketch!

Sneak peek, dummy sketch Old Man and His Penguin

Simple Lines

You don’t have to be super realistic. Some people are so expressive with simple lines. I wish that I could be. I’m still working on that. Just go out there and sketch different people and gestures and have fun with it.

About Milanka

Milanka Reardon learned to illustrate at a very young age. When she emigrated to the U.S. from the former Republic of Yugoslavia at the age of six, no one in her school spoke her language, so her teachers sketched images of the English words for her. But instead of copying the words, Milanka took it upon herself to improve their work and draw more interesting pictures. Later, Milanka went on to earn a children’s book illustration certificate from the Rhode Island School of Design and was awarded the 2016 R. Michelson Galleries Emerging Artist Award. She is the central New England illustrator coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). You can read more about Milanka and see some of her artwork by going to MilankaReardon.com.

To read interview with Who Will? Will You? author Sarah Hoppe click here.

All content copyright © 2019 Blue Whale Press and Milanka Reardon

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WHAT IN THE WORLD IS AN ICHTHYOLOGIST? Mahalo and a final aloha to an amazing man.

I originally posted this story August 17, 2019. I am republishing it today in honor of Dr. John E. Randall, a distinguished ichthyologist and coral specialist who discovered and named more species of fish than anyone. He died April 26 in his home in Kaneohe, Hawaii. He was 95.

Since the original post, the picture book titled after Dr. Randall, Randall and Randall, has been released and was named as one of the best 100 indie books in 2019 by Kirkus Reviews. Author, Nadine Poper and the Blue Whale Press team will be forever grateful for Dr. Randall and his contributions to this educational and funny book. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends. May he rest in peace. 

With a final aloha to Dr. Randall, we offer the original post below.

Before I answer the ‘ichthyologist’ question, I want to explain why I’m presenting the question in the first place. Blue Whale Press’s latest picture book, Randall and Randall, is now available for pre-order, and this book just happens to have a foreword written by the renowned ichthyologist Dr. John E. Randall. Please read the post to the end because while I was writing it, I got some fantastic, must see, news. I want to share the surprise with you.

Cover corrected 978-0-9814938-7-9

An ichthyologists is . . .

. . . a branch of zoology that deals with the study of fish and other marine life. Ichthyologists (ik-thee-AH-lo-gists) are also called marine biologists or fish scientists. They discover and study new and existing species of fish, their environment, and their behavior.

Ichthyologists dedicate their time to studying different kinds of fish species, though many will focus on one family of fish in particular. They generally focus on the biological history, behavior, growth patterns, and ecological importance of these fish. Most ichthyologists will go into the field to collect various samples or observe fish behavior and then return to a lab or office to analyze their collected data. If funded by a university, many of these scientists may be required to teach in addition to their other duties. Some of these scientists may also dedicate their time to educating others about the field and advocating for the importance of fish to ecosystems.

About Dr. Randall Dr R head shot

Dr. John “Jack” Randall, ichthyologist emeritus at Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, has over 900 publications and has described more valid marine species than anyone, living or dead—at least 800 of them.

Dr. R book 1

Why did Dr. Randall write the foreword for Randall and Randall?

First, the author, Nadine Poper, named the characters and the book in Dr. Randall’s honor. But the answer goes deeper than that.

Why are goby fish named Amblyeleotris randalli and the pistol shrimp named Alpheus randalli? Either there is a strange coincidence between Dr. Randall, the Randalls in the book, and the scientific name randalli or there is a strong connection and explanation.

The explanation starts with Dr. John E. Randall.

“A dive pioneer and a dedicated taxonomist for over 70 years, it’s doubtful there is anyone who knows more about fish than Hawaii’s Jack Randall.”

–Christie Wilcox, Hakai Magazine

Some fun facts about Dr. Randall

• He is sometimes referred to as “Dr. Fish”
• His O‘ahu home is methodically littered with hundreds of pickled fish specimens sequestered in alcohol. Click here to read why he collects these specimens.
• For Dr. Randall, collecting the fish has been exciting and adventurous. He has dived on some of the most beautiful reefs in the world, but the actual process of identifying species takes passion and patience. Dr. R book 2
• Dr. Randall was one of the first to study fish in their ocean habitat. He first dove in the mid-1940s, before the acronym SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) was even coined.
• He became one of the first scientists to use scuba gear, allowing him to access fish that no one else had ever seen.
• Dr. Randall even pioneered wet suits—sort of. He tried using long underwear to stay warm at first, but they didn’t retain heat. Then he got the brilliant idea to dip his long johns in liquid latex, creating a primitive wet suit years before the first neoprene was used.

 

All the above facts came from an article by Christie Wilcox at Hakai Magazine (May 15, 2016)

Two more wonderful facts about Dr. Randall

1) Dr. Randall celebrated his 90th birthday by SCUBA diving off Waikiki.

2) At the age of 91, he received the 2016 Darwin Medal from The International Society for Reef Studies. The award was presented at the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium on June 20. Jack gave an entertaining presentation on his work with coral reefs in the U.S. Virgin Islands to an enthralled audience of hundreds of conference attendees.

Dr. Randall has likely won many other awards, and here is one more example: At 94 years of age, he won the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA) Pioneer Award for Science.

Dr. Randall’s scientific and academic achievements are too extensive to list in one blog post, instead I will share the following video. Although it doesn’t cover all his accomplishments, it is so much better than a list! It’s only six minutes long and definitely worth viewing.

This man is amazing, and I urge you to read more about him and to visit the links I have shared.

Finding Dr. Randall: Nadine Poper’s research for the book

Dr. R book 3During Nadine Poper’s research for this book, she was eventually led to Dr. Randall, and they became friends. Dr. Randall told Nadine anything she wanted to know about these creatures and their symbiotic relationship. He even provided her with photos that he took personally under the sea. And Dr. Randall graciously obliged when Nadine asked him if he would write a foreword.

When Nadine asked Dr. Randall how the fish and shrimp species came to bear his name, he responded with the following: “If you see the two-part scientific name Alpheus randalli, Alpheus is the generic name for a group of very similar shrimps, and randalli is the species name which was given by the person who prepared the scientific description of the genus to honor me. . . .”

I’m going to assume the same goes for the goby (Amblyeleotris randalli). And it makes sense, given the interesting relationship between the shrimp and goby (Randall and Randall).

Ambyleleotris yanoi Bali

Live goby fish and pistol shrimp, compliments of Dr. Randall

Goby 2

A real-life view under the sea. Goby fish guarding the burrow and protecting a pistol shrimp while it digs their home. Compliments of Dr. John E. Randall

As I was writing this post, the Kirkus review for Randall and Randall arrived . . .

and I cannot resist hijacking this Dr. Randall post to share an excerpt from it (in green below). Well, I’m not fully hijacking it because they do mention ichthyologist Dr. John Randall. But the really exciting thing about this review is it is starred review! According to Kirkus, only 10 percent of the 10,000 reviews they do a year earn a blue star. And according to Washington Post, only 2 percent of independently published books earn a blue star. This also means that Randall and Randall will automatically be entered into the Kirkus awards!

 

Young readers get a slice of science in this undersea tale about symbiosis.

Randall the pistol shrimp accidentally gets a new roommate when he snaps at a fish he believes is a threat. But the goby fish, also named Randall, offers to let the shrimp know when genuine predators are around. Unfortunately, the goby misidentifies plankton, a sand dollar, and a sea cucumber as dangerous foes, all the while singing songs that drive the shrimp to distraction. Likewise, the noises the shrimp’s snapping claws make irritate the goby. After a huge fight, the goby leaves, only to run into a real killer . . . Based on a real-life symbiotic relationship, this silly tale makes the science approachable through the goby’s giggle-worthy antics. Notes from ichthyologist Dr. John Randall describe the phenomenon for adults, and Gortman’s (Fishing for Turkey, 2016) closing illustrations supply diagrams of the charismatic creatures. The picture book’s cartoonish interior images deftly mix human and animal characteristics, showing the shrimp’s long antennae as mustaches. Poper’s (Frank Stinks, 2017, etc.) simple English text seamlessly introduces a few straightforward Spanish-language phrases (“mi casa”) due to the coastal Mexico setting. The ingenious aquatic tale also encourages readers to realize they can find friendship even if they don’t see eye to eye with their cohorts.

A clever introduction to a scientific concept with an accessible moral.

Written by Nadine Poper
Illustrated by Polina Gortman.
Dr. Randall’s foreword does a fantastic job of explaining all about the goby and pistol shrimp and their special relationship.
Published by Blue Whale Press

Book trailer for Randall and Randall

More about the picture book Randall and Randall

Randall, the pistol shrimp, is a master at excavation. Randall, the goby fish, is his skittish, yet happy-go-lucky watchman. The problem is that both have quirks that drive each other bananas until one day their relationship is driven to the breaking point. This very funny informational-fiction story about one of the sea’s naturally-existent odd couples illustrates how certain species depend upon their symbiotic relationship for survival. It also shows children how two very different beings can embrace each other’s peculiarities and become best of friends.

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