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Posts Tagged ‘Pippa Chorley’

Beth Anderson

The last “wisdom” post for 2021 has been posted. But I’m excited to share that most of the team will be returning to share more wisdom in 2022. If you’ve been following us from the beginning, you know that we have already shared a wealth of wisdom and a treasure trove of tips. If you have read (or you do read) all the posts, you will see that combined, they amount to a full course in picture writing, and then some. I want to offer my gratitude to all the generous authors who contributed to this collection of wisdom posts. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU! And I want to thank you, our blog readers, for taking time to follow us and sometimes give us lovely comments that let us know our work is all worthwhile. It means a lot.

In return for our wise authors’ generosity, I hope you will consider supporting them and me by spreading the word about our books and services, buying the books (great Christmas gifts), and sharing our posts. And then, the ultimate gift to an author is always reviews. Please, if you’ve read our books, post reviews. Following is a list of our team members linked to our websites so you can learn more about our books and services. Following the list you will find just a sampling of our many books. I believe most of us have many more that aren’t shared in this post.

In the spirit of giving and to honor the message of THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS, I’ve decided to offer a holiday gift to one lucky winner of my giveaway drawing. Following our three collages of our books, you will find the information about the giveaway. And then, finally, you will find links to all of our posts at the end of this post.

Beth Anderson
Marcie Flinchum Atkins
Kirsti Call
Pippa Chorley
Alayne Kay Christian
Laura Gehl
Vivian Kirkfield
Ellen Leventhal
Michelle Nott
Rosie Pova
Dawn Babb Prochovnic
Rob Sanders
Melissa Stoller

Untitled design (3)

Untitled design (4)

Than

GIVEAWAY!

Enter for a chance to win your choice of

Complimentary enrollment in Art of Arc

Complimentary access to my webinars

A thirty-minute first impressions critique Zoom call with Alayne

A copy of any one of Alayne’s books (In U.S. only. I can offer a PDF otherwise.)

THE WEED THAT WOKE CHRISTMAS: THE MOSTLY TRUE TALE OF THE TOLDEDO CHRISTMAS WEED

An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim Made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin

Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa

Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Cowboy Trouble

Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make It Rain

HOW TO ENTER

  • Follow my blog.
  • Share any one of our wisdom posts on social media.
  • Comment on this post telling us that you have followed and shared and that you want to be included in the drawing.
  • The deadline to enter is December 17th, and the winner will be announced on December 18. Unfortunately, any book giveaway won’t arrive before Christmas.

In case you missed the news . . .

Analyze with Alayne 3 11 wk course

FOLLOWING ARE THE LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

WRITING SATISFYING AND EFFECTIVE ENDINGS (part 1, part 2, part 3, bonus post 1, bonus post two)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 2 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 3 of 3) 

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1part 2part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONEPART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

For our final “Wisdom” topic of the year, I asked the Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team for their thoughts on writing effective and satisfying picture book endings. And with all the wisdom combined, we ended up with another great free course in picture book writing (although much of our wisdom can be applied to longer works). Our thoughts and tips on this topic have been presented in three parts. Plus, I will be offering a bonus post, so wait there’s more! If you missed parts one and two click here for part one and here for part two.  You can find a list of links to all of our 2021 Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom posts at the end of this post.

Today’s wisdom comes from Dawn Prochovnic, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Michelle Nott, and Pippa Chorley.

Words of Wisdom

MIRROR THE BEGINNING WITH THE ENDING, BUT WITH CHANGE

by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

Many times endings harken back to the beginnings–often with a change. This can be true even in nonfiction.

Runaway: The Daring Escape of Ona Judge by Ray Shepard, illustrated by Keith Mallett

In this book, the narrator is talking directly to Ona Judge, “Why you run away Ona Judge?” Shepard begins Ona Judge’s journey with a question. In the end, the narrator gives her a charge: “Then run, Ona Judge, run”. The character has changed.

The Floating Field: How a Group of Thai Boys Built Their Own Soccer Field by Scott Riley, illustrated by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien

In the beginning, we are introduced to a group of boys and their village on stilts on the water in the southern part of Thailand. In the end, the final image is of the boys retuning home after playing football (soccer). We return to the image of the village on stilts. The boys lives are different, but they still return home.

Wait, Rest, Pause: Dormancy in Nature by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

In my book, I begin by talking to the reader asking them to imagine what it might be like to go dormant. The ending ends the dormancy and begins to stir.

As a writer, can you find a way to mirror the ending with the beginning, but with a change?

QUESTIONS TO PONDER ABOUT YOUR STORY’S ENDING

by Pippa Chorley

Endings are part of your main character’s emotional journey and integral to the arc of any good story. Readers want to feel satisfied at when they close the last page. They want to feel that the ending is justified. They want all the loose ends tied up neatly with a bow on top!

It can really help to know your ending ahead of writing your book so that you make your arc as strong as possible and ensure everything that happens on the journey of the main character leads directly towards the ending.

If you are struggling with your story, ask yourself a few important questions:

Does your main character have emotional closure at the end? Is your main character better off at the end of the story than they were at the start, have they learnt something along the way?

In my picture book Stuffed!, a story about the nighttime adventures and arguments of Sam’s stuffed toys, I needed to make sure that I had emotional closure for both Sam and her toys at the end of the story. It begins with the toys arguing in the night and Sam waking up to find them strewn about her bedroom floor looking lost and alone the next morning. It was important when writing the ending that I addressed both Sam’s desires to help her toys and settled the toys arguments as well. I needed all the characters pulled together at the end of the story to make it feel satisfying and tie up all loose ends. Without that my main characters and my readers would not have had the emotional closure needed for a satisfying book.

Does your ending use a repeated phrase or end with similar lines to the very beginning? Does the tone of your ending match the beginning of the story?

I was very careful when writing my new picture book Out of the Box, that the story should come full circle. It begins with great excitement at the arrival of Granny. Sam’s birthday is only three sleeps away and she is hoping for all sorts of grand, expensive presents from her Granny. When things don’t turn out quite as she expected the story takes us on an emotional and imaginative journey with Sam and eventually back to Granny again at the end. Over the course of the story Sam learns and grows but it was important to me to bring her back full circle at the end, to her Granny, equally full of excitement. If I hadn’t done that then Granny would have been obsolete, and there is so much to love about Granny the story would have suffered for it. The tone of excitement at the start matches with the tone of excitement at the end as Sam has learnt an important lesson in the story – that our imaginations can give us just as much of an adventure than a toy.

Can you add a twist at the end to make it more of a surprise?

When I wrote Counting Sheep, a picture book about a little sheep who couldn’t jump over the fence, I came up with lots of possible ideas for the ending. At storytelling sessions, when I ask children how they think the problem should be resolved they nearly always say that the other sheep could help lift him over. It’s a lovely idea and one that crossed my mind too when writing the book, but it’s also very predictable. In the end I decided to write an ending that no one else ever thinks of. It is always a surprise and always a wow, why didn’t I think of that moment, for children as a result. I am ever grateful when I read this story to children to have written a surprise ending.

Hope these examples and questions help you make your endings super satisfying! Happy writing and editing everyone J

MAKE YOUR READER WANT TO RELIVE THE STORY: NOW THAT’S AN ENDING!

by Michelle Nott

A good ending will make us want to relive a story, to close a book only to open it back up, even when we know how it will end.

As we know with picture books and reading to young children, that’s just what we want to happen, to read the story over and over again. So that ending must be good! But strong endings need to conclude an already strong story with strong characters that a child wants to experience over and over again even, and especially, when they already know the ending.

As a freelance editor, I have read lots of manuscripts. Some stories seem to be going fine and then the ending just comes and goes. No hurrah, no tears, no laugh. When that happens, I advise the writer to review what events are leading to the ending. Often, not enough has happened to logically and smoothly arrive at the ending they want. It may be a lovely or funny or inspiring last sentence, but there is a missing link between the middle and end which compromises the final emotion.

For example, in my early reader Dragon Amy’s Flames, she wants to win a prize by hitting the bullseye at the fair. But she has a habit of burning up that and other toys whenever she feels frustrated. And so, she has to learn to control her temper. The reader sees she is trying hard and making progress calming down and staying focused in different scenarios. By this point, the reader knows she could probably do it. And so, I could have ended the story with her finally hitting the bullseye. The story had logically led to that conclusion. But instead, the next day she asks her brother if she can practice with him. He agrees but only if she controls her flames. That could have also been a logical place to end, on an image of her succeeding. But it would not have been as satisfying as how it did truly end.

I added one more moment of suspense and doubt: “Sizzle, a spark flew too high. Fizzle, a flame fell too low. And then … Amy’s scales quivered. Her skin shriveled. Her nostrils flared…ROAR [and this is when something previously would have been engulfed in flames]… and ZING!”

The last illustration shows she has hit the bullseye perfectly. Her family (and the reader) cheers.

If your ending looks and sounds like it has all the elements of a strong and satisfying ending but it’s not getting the emotion for which you’re striving, look at the lines between your middle and end. Is there a space waiting to be filled? It may just need a sentence or two. It may need an illustration note to create just enough of a pause. Maybe you could take a refrain and twist it just one more time.

As they say, “Mind the Gap!” and your story will smoothly get to where it needs to go.

WRAP THINGS UP BUT KEEP THEM WONDERING

by Dawn Prochovnic

When I reflect on story endings that are especially satisfying to me, the one constant is that I find myself thinking about the story long after it has ended. For example, when a television show has me hooked, I’m sure to be thinking about and/or talking about “last night’s episode” when I wake up the next morning. Likewise, the movies and novels that I count amongst my favorites are the ones I’m still reflecting on long after I’ve finished them.

Not surprisingly, one of my favorite ways to end a picture book is with an ending that wraps things up in a satisfying way, but that also invites the reader to ponder what happens next.

One of my first books, The Nest Where I Like to Rest, offers an example. It is a cumulative story about a mama hen who wants to rest while she waits for her nest of eggs to hatch. The story begins:

This is the nest where I like to rest.

These are the eggs I carefully laid to hatch in the nest where I like to rest.

But how can I rest with a rat near my nest?

Throughout the story, mama hen’s nest is disrupted again and again by various characters. Finally, at the end, mama hen successfully hatches her eggs. “Hooray!” you might say! But not so fast. The last line in the story reads:

But how can I rest with these chicks in my nest?

This “second ending” invites readers to wonder, “What happens next?” What will those chicks be up to? Will mama hen EVER get any rest? (parents everywhere know the answer to that!).

The ending of my most recent book, Lucy’s Blooms, provides a similar invitation for readers to consider what happens next. In the story, Lucy nurtures a garden of blooms she finds in the meadow behind Gram’s house, with a goal of entering the town’s gardening contest. Throughout the story, Lucy’s blooms grow and change, but Lucy’s love for them remains strong—even when Lucy doesn’t get what she hopes for. In the end, Lucy and her blooms return to Gram’s open and loving arms. The lines on the next-to-last spread read:

“C’mon,” Lucy said with a smile.

“I’ll race you back to Gram’s.”

She took hold of her wagon and ran.

And the last spread reads (with a fabulous illustration to match):

“A fantastic flurry of silky seeds swirled and twirled behind her.”

This “ second ending” invites readers to wonder, “What will happen to all of those silky seeds? How will Gram and Lucy spend their afternoon? Their next week? Their next summer?”

One of the things I love most about books with this type of ending is the opportunity to ask young readers these types of questions when the book is shared. Their ideas for how a story might continue beyond the last page never cease to amaze me!

WAIT THERE’S MORE!

FOLLOW MY BLOG OR KEEP A CLOSE EYE OUT FOR MY BONUS POST ON ENDINGS.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 2 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 3 of 3) 

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1part 2part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONEPART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

For our final “Wisdom” topic of the year, I asked the Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team for their thoughts on writing effective and satisfying picture book endings. And with all the wisdom combined, we ended up with another great free course in picture book writing (although much of our wisdom can be applied to longer works). Our thoughts and tips on this topic will be presented in three parts, so keep an eye out for more. If you missed part one, click here.  You can find a list of links to all of our 2021 Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom posts at the end of this post.

Today’s wisdom comes from Laura Gehl, Ellen Leventhal, Vivian Kirkfield, and Rob Sanders.

Words of Wisdom

ENDING WITH A BONUS

by Laura Gehl

One of my favorite types of ending is when the main conflict is resolved before the final page, allowing the last spread or two to add a twist of humor or an extra layer to the story.

For example, in I Got a Chicken For My Birthday, by me and Sarah Horne, Ana is initially upset about getting a chicken as a gift from her grandmother, instead of the amusement park tickets that she had requested. This conflict is resolved when the chicken builds Ana a backyard amusement park and Ana realizes Abuela Lola knew exactly what she was doing. But the wonderful spread with Ana riding in eggshell-shaped roller coaster cars with Abuela Lola is not the end of the book! Afterward, Ana says, “Next year, I’m asking Abuela Lola for a trip to the moon!” and we see the chicken beginning to design a rocket ship.

In My Pillow Keeps Moving, by me and Christopher Weyant, a lonely man keeps accidentally purchasing a dog—first as a pillow, then as a footrest, and finally as a coat. The main conflict is resolved when the man decides to adopt the dog. But then the story continues with the dog winking at her feline friend, the man accidentally purchasing the cat as a hat, and all three becoming a happy family on the final page.

In Judge Juliette, by me and Mari Lobo, Judge Juliette has to rule on whether her family should get a dog (like her mom wants) or a cat (as her dad hopes). The main conflict is resolved when Juliette discovers she must recuse herself, since judges aren’t allowed to rule in cases involving family members. But the book ends on a funny twist when Juliette hands her courtroom and gavel over to a friend and takes on the role of lawyer instead. Juliette says she would like to make a case for getting a dog AND a cat…AND (on the final page!)…a boa constrictor.

These endings with a little extra twist are favorites for me as a reader (This Is Not My Hat by John Klassen is a great example) and as a writer. I love how this type of ending gives the reader the satisfaction of “Hooray, the conflict is resolved!” and then a bonus laugh, or an extra “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that!”

WHAT KIND OF ENDING WILL SET YOUR BOOK APART FROM THE REST?

by Ellen Leventhal

There are many different types of endings, all satisfying in their own way. I love endings with a twist, a surprise, a laugh, and even with an “aww.” Of course, your conclusion needs to stay in line with the rest of the book. You wouldn’t want a serious, quiet book to end with a big guffaw. A smile, yes, but probably not a huge laugh. Humorous books can definitely have an “aww” ending, but there needs to be a lead-up to it. It’s important to keep the character of your book throughout. When a funny book ends on an “aww” note, a fun thing to do is to have a humorous page turn that would tie it all together. It’s certainly not necessary, but it’s sometimes fun. I’m currently working on two humorous books that end with a sweet solution to the problem. However, the last page turns are both wordless spreads that tell the reader that something funny is about to happen.

I knew exactly what ending I wanted in A Flood of Kindness. It ends with an “aww” moment, but it wasn’t surprising. Readers could guess it may happen, but still, when it did, it was satisfying. (At least reviews say it is, and who am I to argue?) As an aside, illustrator Blythe Russo evoked such emotion that the reader roots for this main character from the minute they see her.

Lola Can’t Leap (by Noelle Shawa and me) has a surprise ending in the fact that the main character does NOT reach her goal, but she discovers something else. And then, Noelle made it even more surprising on the last page turn with her art.

I love circular stories where the end takes the reader back to the beginning of the story. There are so many wonderful circular stories. I recently re-read Maria Gianferrari and Bagram Ibatoulline’s Coyote Moon, which starts with Moonrise, takes us through the night, and ends with the coyote family waiting for the moon to wake them again.

Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets (written by Ellen Rothberg and me, illustrated by Joel Cook) is circular in the sense that when reading aloud, children cheer “Don’t eat the bluebonnets!” throughout the book. The last line invites them to echo it one last time.

Play around and see what will set YOUR book apart. And mostly, enjoy the process. Happy Writing!

ENDINGS THAT WRAP THINGS UP IN A NICE PACKAGE OF WORDS

by Vivian Kirkfield

Early on in my writing life, I attended a conference and heard Candace Fleming speak about picture book endings – and what she said made a huge impression on me. She told us that when a reader gets to the end of the book, they should be saying one of three things: HAHAHAHA, AHA! or AWWW.

Why, you ask? Because the emotional connection between the reader and the story is so very important. And, if the reader laughs at the end because the story was funny, or is surprised because there was a twist, or if the reader’s heart is touched, the author has succeeded.

For me, when I read the last lines of a story, I love to get a chill down my spine or a warm fuzzy feeling. For me, a ‘satisfying ending’ is an ending that tugs at my heart…it’s an ending that fulfills the promise of the opening lines of the story. Here are a couple of examples:

SWEET DREAMS, SARAH:

Opening Lines: Before the Civil War, Sarah obeyed her owner.

                          Hurry up!

                          Eyes down!

                          Don’t speak!

                          Slaves were property–like a cow, or plow, or the cotton that grew in the master’s fields.

Satisfying Ending: Sarah took a slow deep breath.

                              She slid out the papers.

                               She read out loud!

                               S.E. Goode

                                Cabinet Bed

                                No. 322,177. Patented July 14, 1885

                               Staring at her name in print, Sarah proudly traced each letter. Her idea, her invention, her name in history.

                               She had built more than a piece of furniture.

                               She had built a life far away from slavery, a life where her sweet dreams could come true.

MOON MAN: Robert Goddard and the Liquid Fuel-Propelled Rocket  (One of the stories in FROM HERE TO THERE)

Opening Lines: Sometimes Robert Goddard’s curiosity was so intense, it made things explode.

Satisfying Ending: Robert Goddard ushered in the era of space flight with the world’s first liquid fuel-propelled rocket. Today’s space program is built on the discoveries he made, and for some of us, that trip to Mars young Robert dreamed about up in the cherry tree may one day become a reality.

ALL ABOARD: George Stephenson and the Steam Locomotive (One of the stories in FROM HERE TO THERE)

Opening Lines: Click! Clunk! Hiss!                   

Deep underground, in a maze of pitch-black tunnels, young George Stephenson hefted chunks of coal.

Satisfying Ending: The railway revolution had begun, and George Stephenson had led the charge, changing the landscape not only of England, but of the entire world.

One of the best ways to learn how to write satisfying endings is to read LOTS of them. Pick out your favorite picture books and use them as mentor texts. Examine the endings and observe how you feel when you read them. And then, go bravely into the morning or the night or whenever you do your best writing and play with those words until YOUR satisfying ending emerges!

MOVING FROM TROPES TO TREMENDOUS ENDINGS

by Rob Sanders

Sometimes to understand what something is, it’s helpful to know what it isn’t. Endings we grew up hearing or that were frequently used tropes, are a good place to look for what not to do.

That’s all folks. Bug’s Bunny may have been able to get away with his famous line to end Saturday morning cartoons, but as writers it’s not that easy. A story that just ends—without an ending—one that just stops without providing resolution or emotional climax, does not actually have an ending. Story doesn’t just end. It builds to and ending.

The End. As I always told student writers, “If you have to write THE END, then you haven’t written an ending.” The ending (even in nonfiction) is the conclusion of the plot. After the exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, and falling action, the ending brings the reader home and helps to create a feeling of completeness or wholeness for the piece.

They lived happily ever after. Oh, that the life really always ended with happily ever after. While most picture books do end happily or hopefully, the ending is really the place the author can create a variety of emotional impacts. In his pyramid plot structure, Freytag called this the denouement. Some define denouement as the emotional climax of the story. This emotional impact may affect the reader in a variety of ways. It may bring a smile, a tear, a cheer, a spine-tingling chill, an ah-h-h-h, and more.

And that’s the way it was. Walter Cronkite ended his CBS evening news broadcasts every night by saying, “And that’s the way it was.” Writers sometimes are tempted to conclude a story by recapping everything that has gone before. In this situation, the writer tries to ensure that the reader doesn’t miss out on anything important that’s come before. While the intention is good and while the approach might work on occasion, it also discredits readers and their ability to think, remember, and participate in the story.

The moral of the story. I grew up with books that made sure I understood the lesson or moral once I’d finished reading. Today, “The moral of the story,” should be saved for folktales. Yes, many current picture books do have a lesson or theme, but a skillfully written manuscript reveals that lesson or theme and a wise writer trusts the reader to make inferences to uncover the lesson or theme. (By the way, it’s ok if readers arrive different at different conclusions. It’s the magic of storytelling—each reader or listener can their own ideas about the story).

So, how do you end a picture book manuscript? Remember these tips:

  1. Don’t rely on tropes.
  2. Build to an ending.
  3. Make sure the ending completes the plot.
  4. Create an emotional impact.
  5. Trust your readers.

Allow readers to make their own inferences and to draw their own conclusions.

MORE WISDOM ON THE WAY!

Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing endings” wisdom coming from Dawn Prochovnic, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Michelle Nott, and Pippa Chorley.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 2 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 3 of 3) 

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1part 2part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONEPART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 2 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 3 of 3) 

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1part 2part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONEPART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

For our final “Wisdom” topic of the year, I asked the Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team for their thoughts on writing effective and satisfying picture book endings. And with all the wisdom combined, we ended up with another great free course in picture book writing (although much of our wisdom can be applied to longer works). Our thoughts and tips on this topic will be presented in three parts, so keep an eye out for more. Before, I move on to our wisdom, we have some good news and announcements to celebrate. You can find a list of links to all of our 2021 Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom posts at the end of this post.

Happy Book Birthday

Screenshot 2021-08-20 at 6.48.40 PM

Pippa Chorley’s latest picture book OUT OF THE BOX (illustrated by Danny Deeptown and published by Marshall Cavendish) will be coming into the world in mid-November. You can find some more info on KIDLIT411 here. CONGRATULATIONS!

OddBeasts_CV-1

Laura Gehl’s board book ODD BEASTS: Meet Nature’s Weirdest Animals (illustrated by Gareth Lucas, published by Abrams) was born on November 2. HAPPY BELATED BOOK BIRTHDAY!

Congratulations!

Who is a scientist

Laura Gehl’s book WHO IS A SCIENTIST? received a blue star review from Kirkus!

“Convincing evidence that readers, too, might become scientists.” – Kirkus Reviews

You can read the whole review here.

stitch by stitch

Rob Sanders’ recently released picture book STITCH BY STITCH: CLEVE JONES AND THE AIDS MEMORIAL QUILT received a blue star review from Kirkus and a starred review from Publishers Weekly! This baby is off to a good start! CONGRATULATIONS!

“Storytelling and history, beautifully stitched together.” Kirkus Reviews

Read the whole Kirkus review here.

Read the whole PW review here.

Words of Wisdom

To kick off our series on writing effective and satisfying endings, I will share an excerpt from Art of Arc that I think is an important tip.

“From the beginning and all the way through the story, the destination is the ending. Therefore, everything you write should relate to the ending. Every word, sentence, and scene should relate to the ending. And the ending should relate to the beginning.”

COMMON MISTAKES WITH ENDINGS

by Alayne Kay Christian

One thing that I often see in picture books that I edit or critique is the last lines feature a character that is not the main character. In my opinion, the main character should always be the one under the spotlight at the end of his/her story.

Another mistake that I often see is bringing a new character into the story toward the ending for no other reason than to facilitate resolving the story.

Allowing the main character to be a victim of circumstances instead of the master of his destiny or allowing the main character to be the recipient of a sheer-luck induced or happenstance resolution that comes way too easily are common issues in stories I critique.

Similar to the above, having someone else solve the main character’s problem usually diminishes and destroys your main character’s role as the hero of his story. There are stories, where the main character seeks out or asks for help. However, I prefer stories where main characters make their own choices and decisions and then take action based on those decisions. I’ve seen older or wiser character’s help guide the main character toward the direction of the final action and discovery. I’m sorry, I can’t think of any books off hand. But if you study picture books, you will find the older or wiser rescuer or guide seldom shows up, and if one does, the main character remains the star/hero of the story in the end.

Ahh, I just thought of two books that have someone help solve the problem. They are both older books, but good examples of allowing an older/wiser person to help while still keeping the main character the star.

In MADDI’S FRIGE by Lois Brandt, the mom eventually steps in to help. However, only because the main character decided to tell her mom about her problem. But in the end, the main character and her friend Maddi are the stars in the spotlight. Change in the story is a result from choices and decisions that the main character makes.

In THE LADY IN THE BOX by Ann McGovern, it can almost feel like the mom hijacks the story once the kids decide to tell the mom about their problem. However, the reason this works is the story always remains told from the main character’s point of view. And again, she is the star in the spotlight at the end of the story. Change in the story is a result from choices and decisions that the main character makes.

In both of the above examples, the story topic included a problem that was too big for a picture-book age child to handle by herself. For either character to successfully handle these tough situations would have been unrealistic.

Now, I’m going to move away from common mistakes and move on to different types of picture book endings. Many of our wise authors talk about the same topic, I’m just saying it in a different way because I think it’s valuable information.

SOME TYPES OF PICTURE BOOK ENDINGS

As some of our wise authors have stated there are at least two kinds of endings. The “Aww” ending, which is usually an emotionally touching ending, and the “Aha!” ending, which usually leads the reader to a surprise or some sort of unexpected realization. Then there is the “Wow!” ending which is when the ending is so unexpected that it changes the way you view the whole story. There is sometimes a fine line between a wow ending and an aha ending. The other ending, which is also a surprise, is the funny (Ha-ha) ending where the payoff is so huge or funny that the reader can’t stop thinking about it and wants to read it over and over. All the endings are kind of closely related because they all have elements of surprise mixed with satisfaction. And they all touch the reader on an emotional level. So, that tells me that emotion, surprise, and satisfaction are key factors in creating a strong and effective ending.

The “aha” ending feels like a surprise but it also feels inevitable—but not predictable. It’s kind of like, “I can’t believe I didn’t see that coming.” Or maybe even a “Wait. What?” When it comes to aha and wow endings, there is little better than giving our readers a moment where they suddenly see or understand the story in a new or clearer way. If our story ending causes the reader to pause and reevaluate the story, we’ve done a good job.

With the “aww” ending, the reader is satisfied and touched emotionally because after a “try and fail” arc struggle, the main character’s emotional needs are finally met. This doesn’t always come from the character getting what he wants. Sometimes, it’s from getting what he needs. With the aww ending, the reader usually has a sense of empathy with the character, and this empathy generally started earlier in the story via the emotional roller coaster ride, but then that final moment of empathy is where the reader gains a sense of satisfaction. “Oh good. All is well.” This kind of story ending leaves the reader feeling comforted with a strong sense of closure, which stems from the discomfort the character experiences earlier in the story (the emotional roller coaster ride).

As you’ll see many of our wise author’s mention offering a surprise twist at the end of a story. This will give the reader one last boost before closing the story. And the surprise twist is a great tool for setting up aww, aha, wow, or ha-ha endings.

Joyce Wan says, “When a book takes you where you didn’t expect to go, that makes the trip all the more exciting and fun. When done well, an unpredictable twist can turn a good book into a classic and is often what makes repeated re-readings a pleasure. In subsequent readings, the reader enjoys being in the know and re-reading a book when you know what’s coming can be enjoyable in its own right too.”

CIRCLE BACK PICTURE BOOK ENDINGS

by Melissa Stoller

I love writing picture book endings that circle back to the beginning of the story. The endings I craft often refer back to the opening lines, and then add something more to show that the main character has grown and changed throughout the pages of the book.

For example, in SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH (illustrated by Sandie Sonke)

Opening lines: One day, Scarlet found a magic paintbrush and everything changed.

Ending lines: With her own magic, she painted what she saw in her heart . . . Scarlet’s masterpiece.

Readers follow Scarlet as she learns to let go of perfection and find her own magical creativity.

In PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM (illustrated by Kate Talbot) –

Opening lines: On the first day of school, the wind rattled and leaves swirled. Molly’s knees knocked as she buttered her toast. Would the other kids like her?

Ending lines: That season, the girls planted trees of friendship. And built bridges of hope. Together. In Peace Park and beyond. Peace, Salaam, Shalom.

Readers follow three girls of different faith traditions through the seasons of a school year, as they discover friendship and celebrate their differences.

And in READY, SET, GORILLA! (illustrated by Sandy Steen Bartholomew) –

Opening lines: Gorilla liked racing his school pals. But most of all, he loved to win . . . at any cost.

Ending lines: They all lined up. They crouched down. Together, they shouted Ready, Set, GO! Off they raced . . . and everyone was a winner.

Readers follow Gorilla as he learns that having friends and playing fairly makes him a winner.

As you create your own picture books, experiment with different types of endings and see what resonates with you. Happy writing!

A SATISFYING STORY ENDING IS UNEXPECTED YET INEVITABLE

by Kirsti Call

Jane Yolen taught me that a satisfying ending is unexpected yet inevitable.  Here are three endings from books I’ve written–always with Jane’s advice in mind.

  1. MOOTILDA’S BAD MOOD‘s ending is surprising, yet makes sense. Mootilda’s bad mood has es-cowlated all day, until she chooses to think about her friends instead of herself.  The final spread shows her with the sign:  “Cow-nseling, expert in the field.”  Mootilda sits with her pen, notebook,a box of tissues, and Crow on a couch across from her.  He begins his session with, “I’m in a bad mood.”  This ending also mirrors the beginning of Mootilda’s journey when she says, “I’m in a bad mooood!”
  2. COW SAYS MEOW has a circular ending where the end hearkens back to the beginning, and encourages the reader to read the book again.

OPENING line: “Cow says… Meow.”

CLOSING line: “Cow says…Pssst. Can I meow again?”

3. COLD TURKEY ends with the opposite of the beginning. You guessed it, he starts out cold, and the last line is: “TOASTY TURKEY!”

Circular, surprise and opposite endings are only a few of the numberless ways we can create satisfying endings.  So, don’t be afraid to try out multiple endings for your story–read, re-read, write, re-write and find the solution that gives you that satisfied feeling of closure. You’ll find it’s almost always something unexpected….yet inevitable.

GIVE THE READER SOMETHING TO TAKE AWAY

by Beth Anderson

Endings and beginnings are equally difficult. And they’re intricately dependent upon each other. Endings need to circle back to the beginning in some way—as an “answer” to the story question posed, or the “bridge” that takes the story into the future. As a person who writes historical stories, the decision of where to start and stop is crucial. Just as identifying that inciting incident is essential, knowing when your emotional arc is complete is, too.

  • Endings can’t be too abrupt. Or drone on and on.
  • Endings must be clear, but not sappy or didactic.
  • They should elicit an emotional reaction, linger, resonate.
  • The take-away must be just that—something a child can carry in their mind or heart or funny-bone.

When I work on revising an ending, I copy and paste the section into another document and redo, redo, redo. Small tweaks, rephrasing, rearranging. Over and over and over until I work through to that just right piece that will bring satisfaction and go a step further to carry something forward. I like to think of the process of writing as mining—digging deep into story and also into self to find that special take or “heart” to shape, polish, and thread through. Your ending is the resulting “gem.”

I like endings that provide an invitation for a child to rethink themselves.

In An Inconvenient Alphabet, I used the “conventional you,” addressing the reader, in both beginning and end. The last page says: “Next time you sound out a word, think of Ben and Noah. Thay wud bee pleez’d beecuz that iz egzaktlee wut thay wonted!” It’s sort of “congratulations, you’re a great thinker, too”—a chance to rethink self.

Another way I think of endings is laying a thought or idea in the lap of the reader.

The end of Lizzie Demands a Seat! plants the seed for carrying social justice action forward.

Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses ties back to the the beginning question, “What good was an extraordinary nose?” and Kelly’s desire for a “power” that would make him special. At the end he discovers that his special power is inside, then… “James Kelly gazed at the waiting passengers. He would bet each person had something special inside. He could almost smell it.” (the last sentence is also in the opening) This is an invitation for a child to think about what makes him or her special, but also a “lay it in their lap” ending.

The end ties up the story with a bow, a gift for the reader to carry forward.

At the end of Tad Lincoln’s Restless Wriggle, people around Tad finally see the goodness in the “problem” child when his relentless, pandemonium-producing wriggle benefits others. This ending is an affirmation of the capableness and goodness of children. A gift.

Endings are hard. But…a good ending makes a story sing!

MORE WISDOM ON THE WAY!

Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing endings” wisdom coming from Dawn Prochovnic, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Pippa Chorley, Laura Gehl, Vivian Kirkfield, Ellen Leventhal, and Rob Sanders.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 2 of 3)

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 3 of 3) 

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1part 2part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONEPART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

Last week, Rob Sanders, Michelle Nott, Kirsti Call, Vivian Kirkfield, and Pippa Chorley shared their valuable words of wisdom for writing captivating middles. If you missed it, you can read KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 2 of 3) here. And you can read Ellen Leventhal’s and my mini-course in Part 1 of 3 here.

Today, Beth Anderson, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, and Melissa Stoller share their Writing Captivation Middles toolboxes, roadmaps, wisdom, and tips. You won’t want to miss it!

Before we move on, I have some good news to share.

Happy Book Birthday

My friends Kirsti Call and Corey Rosen Schwartz‘s latest picture book COLD TURKEY (illustrated by Chad Otis) will come into the world on November 1. However, it is available for pre-orders now. CONGRATULATIONS!

cold turkey cover

Words of Wisdom

MARVELOUS MIDDLES

by Melissa Stoller

When writing picture books, it is important to craft snappy openings that grab the reader’s attention. It is also crucial to draft satisfying endings, so the reader wants to read the story over and over. But the middle of a picture book . . . that is notoriously difficult to get just right. Here are a few tips about turning the middle of the story from muddy to marvelous!

In SADIE’S SHABBAT STORIES (illustrated by Lisa Goldberg, Clear Fork Publishing, 2020), Sadie listens to Nana tell stories about their ancestors as they prepare for a Shabbat dinner. I knew that Sadie’s biggest wish at the opening was tell stories just like Nana. I also knew that, at the end, Sadie would find her unique voice and tell her special stories. So in the middle, I drafted three vignette stories for Nana to tell (based on my family history). I knew I had to keep these “stories within a story” concise and full of emotion that children could relate to. Because Sadie believes that Nana is the best storyteller, these vignettes had to rise to meet the readers’ expectations. So in drafting within this particular structure, I paid close attention to this important middle of the manuscript. I tried to include lots of emotional resonance and heart! And of course, Lisa Goldberg’s stunning illustrations and her vision truly added another layer to the whole book, and especially to the vignettes in the middle.

Here are two examples:

Middles Melissa 1

Middles Melissa 2

Good luck drafting your own marvelous middles for your picture books!

WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES TOOLBOX AND ESSENTIAL STEPS

by Beth Anderson

Muddy, mediocre middles quickly quash readers’ enthusiasm for the story. To create a captivating middle you’ll need a full toolbox of writer skills. Here are the essentials as I see them—and the reminders I give myself as I revise.
• Plot the arc with a clear inciting incident and escalating tension.
• Build scenes.
• Keep your main character active.
• Pay attention to motivation and stakes—keep the emotional arc driving the story.
• Create effective transitions.
• Enhance turning points.
• Craft page turns.
• Use pacing techniques to keep the story moving.
• Weave in necessary context and make it relevant to the action—no info dumps.
• Immerse readers in the experience of the main character. This involves “Show don’t tell” and other considerations.
• Tie it all tightly with the essential, uniquely-through-you, “heart” thread.
For me, beginning, middle, and end evolve simultaneously in the writing process because you really can’t craft one well without the others. But once I’m able to eke out a middle, I have lots to work with, and I’m on my way!

EXCAVATING THE HEART OF A COMPELLING MIDDLE

by Dawn Prochovnic

Middles are what seem to come most easily to me—or more accurately, it’s the story ideas for which I have strong middles that I actually sit down and write and stick with to the end.

I have a LONG list of story ideas, and I update this list regularly as new ideas pop into my head. Many of these ideas remain just that—ideas. They seem SO GOOD on the surface, but I have difficulty figuring out how to make something of them. Other ideas really grab hold of me and insist on being written. For me, that urgency and insistence comes from the middle of the story. It’s the middle of the story that begs to be let out of my head. It’s the middle of the story that spills out of me. It’s the middle of the story that compels me to find a strong opening and satisfying ending, and it’s the middle of the story that I sometimes have to completely reimagine in order for the story to reach its full potential.

My forthcoming book, MAMA’S HOME (Familius, 2024), provides a great example of this process. The working title for the original draft of this story was CHILDHOOD BLISS. It was a slice-of-life story about a joyful, play-filled, childhood. I wrote it on scraps of paper and in notes on my phone while my youngest child (now a sophomore in college) blissfully engaged in the imaginative play area in our local children’s museum. I loved the idea of a story about everyday, child-centered activities that bring joy into a child’s life, and that collectively make for a bliss-filled childhood.

Over time, it became clear that the story would need a stronger hook in order to become a book. I loved the story enough to keep working on it, which led to different stories with essentially the same “middle.” For example, for a time, the story was entitled GRANDMA’S HOUSE IS HAPPINESS, and associated revisions incorporated the elements of connection with an active and engaged grandparent. Eventually, the focus shifted to the excitement and delight in sharing everyday, joyful activities with a parent who returns home after being away for an extended period of time. With that angle, the current title emerged, and I revised the story to incorporate the preparations for and anticipation of Mama’s return.

When I submitted this version to Familius, their team wondered if I might be open to a more specific reason for Mama being away— the arrival of a new sibling. This brought additional revisions that incorporated the anticipation and preparations for a new sibling along with Mama’s return and featured activities that could be engaged in with a new sibling in tow. For this revision, I also looked for opportunities to emphasize and lean into the enduring and evolving nature of the relationship between Mama and an older child.

Throughout the revision process, the essence of the story, childhood bliss, remained intact as the story evolved into the version that will be made into a book. The story idea that took hold of me from the start and insisted on being written was the middle. It’s the part of the story that I connected with so deeply right from the start, and that kept me motivated to keep working on it until it was just right for its eventual publishing home.

ROSIE’S ROADMAP TO A CAPTIVATING ENDING

by Rosie Pova

The meat of the story is in the middle, so make sure it’s full of action, go ahead and throw in a little mid-way twist, too, and let us learn something new or something more in-depth about your character. Grab the reader’s attention by fleshing out an irresistible personality for your character, bring us along on the emotional journey with every scene, and plant little questions we’d want to find out the answers to.

Middles can be challenging, but they are also an opportunity to go all in and turn a reader into a fan.

Now, go move and shake your middles!

MORE WISDOM ON THE WAY!

Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing middles” wisdom coming from Beth Anderson, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, and Melissa Stoller.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1, part 2, part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

Last week Ellen Leventhal and I focused on building a story via cause and effect and how a weak cause and effect thread can lead to an episodic story. If you missed this mini-course, you can find it here. If you read the post, but missed the links to the additional resources links see below.

Read my blog post about EPISODIC STORIES here.

Read my post about CAUSE AND EFFECT here.

Today, Rob Sanders, Michelle Nott, Kirsti Call, Vivian Kirkfield, and Pippa Chorley share their valuable words of wisdom for writing captivating middles.

Before we move into sharing our wisdom, I have some good news to share.

Happy Book Birthday

Kid-Lit Wisdom team member, Melissa Stoller and her co-authors Callie Metler and Shirin Rahman picture book PLANTING FRIENDSHIP: PEACE, SALAAM, SHALOM (Illustrated by Kate Talbot) will be born on October 19, but it is available for pre-order now. Congratulations, my friends!

PLANTING FRIENDSHIP

I just discovered that my friend, 2021 Word Birds group member, and fantastic author/illustrator Laurie Smollett Kutscera’s new baby MAYA’S TREASURE was born yesterday!!!! CONGRATS Laurie. This is a lovely book. My heart has been connected to it for a long time.

Maya's Treasure

Words of Wisdom

THREE HAIKUS ON MIDDLES

by Rob Sanders

When writing middles
Always think rising action—
Attempts and failures

Keep raising the stakes
And readers will then relate
To your character

Step by step by step
Middles tie us to the start
And lead to the end

WHAT IF?

by Michelle Nott

There are so many names for the place where our manuscripts get stuck — right after our brilliant beginnings and right before our extraordinary endings… it’s the muddy middle, the murky middle, the mushy middle. But why not the Magnificent Middle? Because it can be so hard to get out of the muck! But what if there were a way…

That’s it… ask yourself, “What if…?”

Not sure what your character will say next? What if he says this or that or shouts or cries or stays silent? (Make a list of the possibilities). Then, what would happen?

Not sure where your characters will go next? What if they go here or there or to the moon or to the cinema or into the garden or nowhere at all? (Make a list). Then, what would happen?

Not sure what your characters will do next? What if they do this or that or ride their bikes or eat a poisonous snake or surf in the Board Master competition or do nothing at all? (Make a list). Then, what would happen?

Check your lists. What combinations of dialogue, scene, and action will lead your story to that extraordinary ending you have in store for your readers? But what if none of those possibilities work? That’s ok! Because you can tweak your ending accordingly.

In my experience, when I am forcing my story and characters to go specifically to only one possible ending, the messy mucky middle becomes quicksand that leads to no one going anywhere. So what if you let your inner critic take a nap, put your plot outline under some books, and go on an imaginary, non-committal, “just ’cause” adventure with your characters? You can stop at any point. You can open a new document and start again as many times as you want. The narrative will eventually pull you by your own bootstraps into your story and take you where it needs to go… and it will be magnificent!

KEEP THE MAIN CHARACTER ACTIVELY MOVING FORWARD (with a nonfiction focus example)

by Vivian Kirkfield

Just like in a family with three children, the middles of your manuscript sometimes don’t get the same attention as the youngest (opening lines) and the oldest (satisfying ending). But the middle of your manuscript is where the action is, where your main characters are pursuing their goals, overcoming obstacles and inviting the reader to connect with them.

That’s why I love writing nonfiction picture book biographies…the middle pretty much writes itself. 😊 Well, perhaps not quite. 😊 But the plot and pacing are provided by the true events of the person you are writing about. It’s all a matter of choosing which information to include and which to omit. I think the key is to keep the main characters front and center…keep the main characters active…and keep the main characters moving forward towards realizing their goals.

Here’s an example from MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD: The Inspiring Friendship of Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe:

1. Beginning: Two girls, different on the outside, but inside they have hopes and dreams and plans of what might be. Ella wants to share her voice with the world and Marilyn wants to become a great actress.
2. Middle: Ella sings at the Apollo Theatre and signs a contract with a band. Marilyn captures the attention of photographers and signs with a motion picture studio. Ella encounters discrimination as she works in the entertainment industry but continues to perform wherever she can. Marilyn battles salary inequality and lack of control of her career but she studies Ella’s singing. Marilyn buys a ticket to Ella’s show to thank her for her help. Ella confides in Marilyn. Ella and Marilyn hatch a plan. Marilyn calls the club owner. Ella practices her songs. Marilyn attends the performance. Ella wows the audience.
3. End: Ella never misses one of Marilyn’s movies. Marilyn listens to all of Ella’s songs. Two stars, different on the outside, but on the inside, both understood that even stars need a little help to shine.

Just remember – keep your main character actively moving forward towards realizing her goal and your middle will keep your readers engaged!

ella-and-marilyn

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE STRUCTURE

by Kirsti Call

Compelling middles come from stellar structure. Including a repeating refrain, or the rule of three helps readers engage, anticipate the structure, and want to turn the page.

A DELICIOUS SANDWICH FILLING: GIVE YOUR MIDDLE FLAVOR

by Pippa Chorley

Think of the middle of a story as a delicious sandwich filling. Full of flavor. It is where your story truly develops for your main character. It is where they face their main obstacles and we see their characters being tested and reacting and learning along the way. It can often be neglected in your first round of edits, even your second and third but without a strong middle, it is easy for your readers to lose interest. So, here are my top tips for making the middle flavorsome:

1. Vary the setting for the middle section. Whether your story has emotional or physical obstacles, try to make the middle scenes exciting and different for the illustrator.
2. Include a variety of obstacles or plot complications that your main character must overcome before they can reach their ultimate goal. Try to build these as you go, creating more and more climax along the way.
3. Don’t be too wordy. Keep the middle active and moving forwards. I often use a plot clock for this. I find this very helpful in checking I maintain the pace of the story.
4. Raise uncertainty through emotional depth. As your main character reaches their low point, make the reader uncertain about the outcome too. This will heighten tension and make them care about their main character more.
5. Take a break. When you feel your middle isn’t working, put the story aside for a few days. Take a walk, a bath or a nap and let the story play out in your head over and over. When you are most relaxed, that is when solutions come and your problem solving can begin.

No more tasteless middles!

MORE WISDOM ON THE WAY!

Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing middles” wisdom coming from Beth Anderson, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, and Melissa Stoller.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM PRESENTS WRITING CAPTIVATING MIDDLES (Part 1 of 3)

HOW WRITE OUTSTANDING FIRST LINES AND BEGINNINGS (part1, part 2, part 3)

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

Read Full Post »

kid-lit writing wisdom

The Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team is gradually working our way into topics such as submission and marketing. But we believe it’s important to talk about the craft of writing along with the writer’s life first, which will also include the topic of critiques and critique groups. When we last left off with the Wisdom series, we talked all about writing outstanding first lines and beginnings (part1, part 2, part 3). Now it’s time to tackle middles. I struggled with words to describe a good middle and my favorite words were “captivating” “compelling” and “engaging.” They all have similar meanings. If your middle doesn’t compel readers to keep turning pages, it probably needs some tweaking or a rewrite. The same goes for engage or captivate. What will make your readers want to keep reading? With my many years as a professional critique writer and the former acquisitions editor for Blue Whale Press, I can tell you that you can have the best beginning and ending, but if the middle doesn’t keep the story train on the track, the story will never survive.

This month, I’m excited to share our wise authors’ many fabulous tips and examples for writing strong middles. These tips can also be used for revising your stories’ middles, so you get double the treasure with these posts. Today’s post will focus on building a story via cause and effect and how a weak cause and effect thread can lead to an episodic story. Ellen Leventhal and I were on the same wavelength, so we both wrote about cause and effect. Probably no surprise, but my portion is quite long, so I’ll start with Ellen’s wonderful thoughts and examples and then finish with my mini-lesson for writing middles. Before we move into sharing our wisdom, I have some good news to share.

Happy Book Birthday

Beth Anderson’s fantastic book TAD LINCOLN’S RESTLESS WRIGGLE: Pandemonium and Patience in the President House (illustrated by S.D. Shindler) is coming into the world on October 5!

Congratulations, Beth.

TAD LINCOLNS RESTLESS WRIGGLE FC

My friend and fellow Word Birds 2021 member Nancy Churnin has two new babies being born!

DEAR MR. DICKENS (illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe) with a birth date of October 1 and A QUEEN TO THE RESCUE: The Story of Henrietta Szold, Founder of Hadassah (illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg) with a birth date of October 5.

Congratulations, Nancy!

mr. Dickensimage0 (16)

Congratulations!

My longtime critique partner and friend Hannah Holt’s fun, funny, and educational picture book A HISTORY OF UNDERWEAR: With Professor Chicken (illustrated by Korwin Briggs) is now available for preorder.

Congratulations, Hannah!

Final Cover Underwear_Medium

Now for some words of writing wisdom. . . .

Words of WisdomTHE MIDDLE SHOWS US HOW THE MAIN CHARACTER GOT TO THE END

by Ellen Leventhal

Somewhere between the excitement of those glorious first lines and the relief of coming up with a satisfying ending, something has to happen. With picture books, we don’t have much time or space to bridge those two, but the middle IS the story. It’s the journey, and that’s true whether you are utilizing a traditional arc or something a little different. We still need to see the character move forward toward that end. When I teach writing to kids, I talk a lot about cause and effect. For example, in my book, A FLOOD OF KINDNESS, I first jotted down the following. Because there was a flood (cause) Charlotte lost her possessions, and her home was ruined.(effect) Because her home was ruined, (cause) she had to go to a shelter (effect). I did that for each scene until the cause and effect got us to the ending. It would be so much easier to say something like, “Charlotte’s house flooded, but she learned that doing kindness for others would help her heal, so she gave a boy her teddy bear.” Easy, but not a story. The middle is where we learn all about Charlotte, her emotions, obstacles, and growth. It tells us HOW she got to the end.

I don’t always approach middles that way, but when I do, I come up with different cause and effect scenarios. I think about all the different ways my character could reach the ending. How do I want my character to achieve the goal? Or not achieve her original goal? Once I choose a path, I begin to write. I work on flow and transition, always asking myself questions such as, does this work with the beginning? Does it lead to the outcome? Do I want to change the outcome? Is it child-friendly?

This is just one trick in the toolbox of writing middles, and to be honest, it doesn’t always seamlessly lead to a satisfying ending. But that’s ok because, as we all know, writing is revising.

The middle has the power to bring our character to life and truly bring us on the journey with her. It’s where we see her emotions and obstacles. It’s where the reader hopefully connects with the character. Writing the middle is not easy, but when that messy middle flawlessly brings us to our satisfying ending, it’s magic.

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SOLID MIDDLES VS FRACTURED MIDDLES

by Alayne Kay Christian

I went through the Art of Arc course to see if I could choose just a couple top tips, but there is so much that goes into writing compelling middles that it was difficult to choose. However, the fact that I dedicate two full lessons to the topics of cause and effect and episodic stories convinced me to share some already existing blog posts on these very important topics. You will find the links below. These two posts don’t only have a wealth of information, they offer worksheets and ways to test if your story is episodic. These are old posts, so any deals or giveaways are no longer valid.

EPISODIC STORIES AND CAUSE AND EFFECT

FRACTURED MIDDLES

What would a Dachshund look like without a middle? A school bus? The Eiffel Tower? Imagine just about anything without a middle, and what do you get? What if the Dachshund, school bus, or the Eiffel Tower look like if they had a weak middle? What if the middles of the Dachshund, school bus, or Eiffel Tower were disconnected from the beginning and ending of your story? In the following video, I have a little fun demonstrating solid middles vs fractured middles using crude and wacky drawings.

Read my blog post about EPISODIC STORIES here.

CAUSE AND EFFECT RUFFLE

In the following video I do a clumsy ruffle demonstration explaining how a solid cause and effect thread vs a broken one can impact your story’s middle.

Read my post about CAUSE AND EFFECT here.

EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER RIDE (a little something extra)

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I love picture books that offer an emotional roller coaster ride. Since, I already have an example that I did for a few recent manuscript critiques using the book THOSE SHOES by Maribeth Boelts and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones, I share the PDF via the following link Middles Those Shoes. This example highlights the many wonderful ups and downs this story ride offers. In addition, it points out the links in the cause and effect chain. This analysis is a good example of one way to use published books as mentor texts.

The ups and downs of the roller coaster ride are usually created by tension that results from obstacles/conflict/struggles. As I was going through Art of Arc’s lessons about writing middles, the following blurb jumped out at me. I thought it worth sharing as I end my portion of this post and start preparing my next blog post with more great words of wisdom from our blog team.

Straightforward and struggle-free stories, with no apparent consequences or sense of what might happen if the main character doesn’t succeed, will generally lose a reader’s attention. But when obstacles (conflict) create struggles and force the main character to make choices and decisions, the story is taken in new and exciting directions. This engages the reader.”

I can’t wait to share more good news and the treasure trove of wisdom about middles from our other wise authors. Follow my blog or keep a close eye out because we have more “writing middles” wisdom coming from Beth Anderson, Kirsti Call, Pippa Chorley, Vivian Kirkfield, Michelle Nott, Rosie Pova, Dawn Prochovnic, Rob Sanders, and Melissa Stoller.

FOLLOWING ARE SOME LINKS TO OTHER KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM POSTS

WHY KID-LIT WRITERS SHOULD READ MENTOR TEXTS AND HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF READING THEM PART ONE and PART TWO

THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED IN MY PUBLICATION JOURNEY PART ONE and PART TWO

LONG AND WINDING ROAD: PUBLICATION DOESN’T (USUALLY) HAPPEN OVERNIGHT PART ONE, PART TWO, and PART THREE

INTRODUCING THE KID-LIT WRITING WISDOM TEAM

REMINDER SEASON OF KINDNESS

Before I move on to the video, I want to remind everyone that your opportunity to win fabulous prizes for you, your children, or your classroom will end on October 1. The Season of Kindness guidelines can be found here. I hope you’ve been working on creating kindness, and I will be pleasantly surprised in the coming days when you share your acts of kindness in comments.

CHECK OUT THESE FABULOUS PRIZES

PRIZES, PRIZES, PRIZES!!!!

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

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christmas in July

 

WE ARE

 

EXTENDING THE CONTEST DEADLINE

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

 

The new deadline is October 1, 2021!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

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

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

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

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

OPTION #4 HELP A CHARITY

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

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

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

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

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

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

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

Queen Interior spread

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

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

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

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

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

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

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

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

OPTION #7 COME UP WITH YOUR OWN IDEA

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

HOW TO ENTER THE CONTEST

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

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

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

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

queen

THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE BY NANCY CHURNIN

ABOUT OUR CHRISTMAS-IN-JULY AUTHOR-SANTAS

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

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

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

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

mr. Dickensimage0 (16)

 

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

WALKOUTCover-pdfTina.outside.head2020

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

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

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

PRIZES, PRIZES, PRIZES!!!!

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

HAVE FUN!!!!

 

 

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kid-lit writing wisdom

The Kid-Lit Writing Wisdom team is gradually working our way into topics such as submission and marketing. But we feel it’s important to talk about the craft of writing along with the writer’s life first, which will also include the topic of critiques and critique groups. So, it seems the best place to start is the beginning. When I was acquisitions editor for Blue Whale Press, if the first lines of a manuscript didn’t capture me, the story usually didn’t engage me. I always say, if the first lines don’t hook the agent or editor you’ve submitted to, what will make them think they will capture readers?

This month, I asked our wise authors to share thoughts on the importance of powerful first lines along with some tips for writing an outstanding beginning or outstanding first lines. I’m excited to share our many fabulous tips and examples. These tips can also be used for revising your stories’ beginnings, so you get double the treasure with these posts. This is such an important topic that we will have three parts for this topic. You’ll notice that some of our wise authors talk about the ending of the story as much as the beginning. There is good reason for this. In my picture book writing course Art of Arc, I interrupt the lessons on writing beginnings to talk about endings. Following are a few excerpts from Art of Arc to explain why it’s smart to think about endings when writing your beginning. You’ll also find more on the subject of endings in some of the wise-authors’ answers in this post and the two to come.

Excerpts from Art of Arc

“You might think that endings would be the final lesson presented in a course on writing and analyzing picture books, but another common problem that I have found in writing critiques is there is often a disconnect between the beginning of the story and the end. The ending has so much to do with the beginning and the rest of the story that it is important to start thinking about it at the beginning.”

“. . . From the beginning and all the way through the story, the destination is the ending. Therefore, every word, sentence, and scene should relate to the ending. And the ending should relate to the beginning.”

WE HAVE A BONUS!

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

Happy Book Birthday

Listen_coverMost of the people in this group are from my groups for 2021 picture book releases: 2021 Word Birds and Twenty One-derful Picture Books. Before I move on, I’d like to congratulate one of our Twenty One-derful group members Gabi Snyder. Her picture book LISTEN, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin, will be coming into the world on July 13. Happy Early Birthday baby LISTEN!

Peach and Cream Photo Spring Quote Twitter Post

Also, friends have made me aware that I failed to let the world know about my latest Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy Book: COWBOY TROUBLE. So, I thought this would be a good time to let everyone know it is there and would make an excellent summer reading book. You and your children can read the first three chapters on You Tube (see below). The “cowboy trouble” begins in chapter three. I also share the book trailer for anyone who is interested.

Words of Wisdom

Since, as usual, my answer is the most wordy, I will lead with it.

THE FIRST LINES OF A BOOK ARE THE DOOR TO YOUR STORY. THE WORDS INVITE THE READER TO STEP OVER THE THRESHOLD AND ENTER THE STORY WORLD.

by Alayne Kay Christian

I decided to take the easy way out and pull some excerpts from my picture book writing course Art of Arc. Unfortunately, it ended up being a hard way to go because I struggled to choose just a few words to share from the course. I thought it might be fun to introduce some of the reasons a strong beginning is so important. So here goes. . . .

Have you ever seen carnival barkers in old movies? “Step right up!” they shout to people passing by. They describe attractions. They emphasize variety; advertise novelty, oddity, beauty, challenge, and fun. Their barks are intended to create curiosity, generate excitement, and entice listeners to buy tickets to entertainment. Sometimes, they conduct short shows for free, where they introduce performers and describe acts. Their promises of entertainment are all intended to entice and incite the passersby to come on in!

In the old days, or in old movies, a newspaper boy shouted things like, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Bonnie and Clyde shot dead!” The purpose of this? All to create excitement and curiosity that would entice people to buy an extra edition of the newspaper.

Without the red carpet and fanfare on Oscar night, would the event be nearly as exciting, inviting, or enticing?

In the movie, The Wizard of Oz, would the beginning have been nearly as engaging without the yellow brick road, the fantastic send-off song, and Dorothy’s cheerful dance down the road? Not to mention, the switch from black and white images to color. What if Dorothy had just said, “Okay—I’ll go find the wizard.” and then shuffled along aimlessly in silence through a black and white setting, sans the road? Would we have been as eager to follow her into the story?

The barkers, the newsboys, the red carpet, and the yellow brick road all pave the way for an event, an experience, a journey, an adventure, or whatever it might be, to unfold. The first lines in our books pave the way for our idea/story/plot and our protagonist’s and readers’ journey to unfold. The whole objective of first lines is to capture readers’ attention and make them want more. We want to entice and incite them to come on in, buy into the experience, and commit to taking the journey with our protagonist. This is often referred to as the hook.

A good hook creates questions and curiosity. It makes a promise that says, “This is what the story is about.” It also sets expectations and maybe even evokes emotions. Wow! That’s a lot to accomplish in a picture book page or two. This is true, but writers do it all the time, proving that it can be done. . . .

. . . In picture books, we often incite the reader’s interest with words such as the following, “but,” “until,” “one day,” and we use the three little dots . . . called the ellipsis. Interestingly enough, these words and punctuation that incite the reader to turn the page usually lead to the inciting incident—the event that energizes the story’s progression. This event moves your protagonist into the action of the story. It also pulls him out of his ordinary world into a new world where change can occur—the door to our story.

Why are these words (“but,” “one day,” “until” and so on) or the ellipsis used so frequently? They work to keep the reader reading. How? They create a pause or a moment of silence that gives the reader an opportunity to think, imagine, guess, ask questions, and experience emotions. It makes them stop and pay closer attention. Using these techniques hint at what’s to come, which in turn creates curiosity. Sometimes they are the arrow that points to the heart of the story. Using these techniques are great ways to hook a reader. They all suggest there is something coming, and they create anticipation. It could lead to an answer, reveal a secret, hint at danger, present the unexpected, and so on. All of the above hook the reader. When the reader is hooked, she is pulled into the story far enough that she wants to read more.

I’d love to share more, but we have many great words of wisdom waiting for you, so let’s move on.

HOW DO WE KEEP OUR READERS INTRIGUED AND WANTING MORE?

by Kirsti Call

Richard Peck said: “You’re only as good as your opening line.” How do we keep our readers intrigued and wanting more?

Ask a question. Asking a question gets readers thinking. Not a Box immediately asks: “Why are you sitting in a box?” We want to turn the page to find out the answer. The Day the Babies Crawled Away questions: “Remember the day the babies crawled away?” This piques our interest. We want to know what happened on that fateful day. Did the babies survive? Where did they go?

Take People by Surprise. Mustache Baby declares: “When Baby Billy was born, his family noticed something odd: He had a mustache.” A baby with a mustache? We have to read on. Leonardo the Terrible Monster tells us: “Leonardo was a terrible monster…he couldn’t scare anyone.” A monster who isn’t scary? I can’t wait to turn the page.

Use word play. Being Frank starts with: “Frank was always frank” and Bridget’s Beret is similar: “Bridget was drawn to drawing.” There’s nothing better than the clever use of words to get people wanting more.

Using questions, surprise, wonder, opinion and word play makes the first sentences of our stories irresistible.

FIRST LINES THAT ECHO THROUGHOUT THE STORY—AN EFFECTIVE TECHNIQUE

by Laura Gehl

One of my favorite techniques when I am writing is to use a first line that will be echoed throughout the book.

For example, the first line of Juniper Kai: Super Spy reads, “Juniper Kai was born to be a spy.” This line comes back in the middle, when Juniper is feeling left out: “It didn’t matter if she had nobody to play with. Because Juniper Kai was born to be a spy. And spies work alone.” Then the line comes back a third time at the end: “Juniper Kai was born to be a spy. And spies work alone. Sometimes. But sometimes a spy needs a good co-agent. And Juniper Kai knew she was born to be…a spy-tacular big sister.”

Another example is in I Got a Chicken For My Birthday. Like the title, the first line reads, “I got a chicken for my birthday.” This line is repeated throughout the book: ”I got a chicken for my birthday. And the chicken has a list.” “I got a chicken for my birthday. And now the chicken stole my dog.” The line then comes back at the end. “I got a chicken for my birthday. And it was the Best. Present. Ever.”

The reason I like this technique so much is that you can see your character growing and changing by the way that repeated line is used at the end compared with at the beginning. In Juniper Kai: Super Spy, Juniper goes from being a lonely only child to wondering what secret her parents are hiding, to being an eager big sister. In I Got a Chicken For My Birthday, Ana goes from feeling perplexed (and a bit annoyed) by the strange birthday gift from her grandmother, to even more perplexed (and more annoyed) as the chicken begins recruiting her pets to build something huge in the backyard, to feeling absolutely thrilled (and realizing that her grandmother knew exactly what she was doing all along).

I also love this technique when I see it in other people’s writing! Any book that starts and ends with a similar line tends to leave me smiling and satisfied!

FIRST LINES PROVIDE A PEEK INTO THE WORLD OF THE STORY

by Melissa Stoller

First lines in a picture book set the tone and the mood for the story. Like an invitation that might provide an initial glimpse into the theme of a party, a first line can provide a peek into the world of a story. When I draft the first few lines, I try to give the reader an idea of what will come next, what the character might want, and a little bit about the setting, if possible. Of course, I write, rewrite, revise, and tweak as the story evolves. The first line that I start with is usually not the first line that is printed. Also, when I finish writing the story, I go back to ensure that the ending works with the beginning. I love to have first and last lines that complement each other, that show growth of the main character, and that leave the reader with that special something that makes them want to read the story over and over.

Here are examples of first and last lines from two of my picture books:

SCARLET’S MAGIC PAINTBRUSH

First line: One day, Scarlet found a magic paintbrush and everything changed.

Last line: With her own magic, she painted what she saw in her heart, Scarlet’s masterpiece.

Throughout the story, Scarlet realizes that she wants to rely on her own magical creativity instead of the magic of the paintbrush.

READY, SET, GORILLA!

First lines: Gorilla liked racing his school pals. But most of all, he loved to win . . . at any cost.

Last lines: The friends all lined up. They crouched down. Together, they shouted . . . Ready, Set, GO! Off they raced . . . and everyone was a winner.

Over the course of the story, Gorilla realizes that playing fair, good sportsmanship, and being a good friend make him a winner.

Happy writing and editing as you draft the best first lines for your stories!

FIRST LINES IN EARLY DRAFTS ARE OFTEN A TYPE OF WARM UP WRITING UNTIL YOU FIND THE PERFECT WORDS

by Dawn Babb Prochovnic

The beginning of a story is still very much a draft until I write and then polish the ending. Eventually, I return to the beginning and rework it until I’m satisfied that it aligns with (and is worthy of) the ending I have carefully crafted. Sometimes I discover that the “beginning” is actually several sentences into the story I have written, which means I have to cut some (often many) of my beloved words. To make this process easier on myself, I usually create a document called “darlings I had to cut” that I can copy and paste these tender words into, so I can bare to part with them in the working draft of my story. I rarely, if ever, go back and retrieve these “darlings,” but saving them “just in case,” allows me the creative freedom to vigorously revise, so the story can start right where it needs to, and without all of the unnecessary “throat clearing” that often shows up at the beginning of my earlier drafts.

I will also mention that Richard Peck offered his wisdom on this topic (as it relates to writing novels, but widely applicable), in this 2006 article for The Horn Book: In the Beginning: What Makes a Good Beginning? 

MORE TO COME!

There will be two more posts (July 10 and July 17) on this topic with lots of great information coming from the following wise authors: Vivian Kirkfield, Beth Anderson, Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Pippa Chorley, Ellen Leventhal, Michelle Nott, Rosie Pova, and Rob Sanders. 

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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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