Three Picture Book Favorites

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These three books are our current household favorites. Carter asks for these books every night, knows the characters by name and can quote several pages of text. It’s another reminder to me that stories and books shape lives.

One Word from Sophia
Written by Jim Averbeck • Illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail

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Sophia’s One True Desire is to get a pet giraffe for her birthday, but she must convince her family that this is a good idea. She prepares presentations, proposals and pie charts but discovers that her arguments are too verbose. She must figure out a way to persuade her family that a giraffe is a good idea before her birthday arrives!

Reasons I love it:

  1. Sophia is persistent and precocious. She makes some bomb presentations that include arguments like, “A giraffe could take me to ballet class and deliver me right to the second floor” and “Giraffes are a good source of manure, which can be sold at a profit to garden centers and activists. In short, people will pay me for poop.” I think Carter is in love with Sophia.IMG_5577
  2. Sophia is part of an interracial family that challenges stereotypes. Her mother is a judge, her father is a businessman and Uncle Conrad is a politician. Sophia, a young girl of color, is both sophisticatedly clever and charmingly sweet. I love that this book presents a different narrative on race and gender without making it the explicit focus of the story.
  3. Vocabulary vocabulary vocabulary! Jim Averbeck uses words and syntax that might be considered too advanced for young children, but cleverly creates context for them to puzzle out meanings on their own. The English teacher in me loves this!
  4. There is a simple message that everyone – children, parents, teachers – will love. Read it to find out more!

Stick and Stone
Written by Beth Ferry • Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

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Stick and Stone are lonely. When Stick rescues Stone from a bully, they become good friends and adventure together happily. One day, Stick is blown away in a storm and it is up to Stone to save him!

Reasons I love it:

  1. This entire story is told in less than 150 words. That’s right, Beth Ferry tells a story with a beginning, middle, climax, resolution, and several universal themes in less than 150 words. Oh, and it rhymes. It also includes humorous word play and sound effects that add a deeper layer of meaning and makes the story fun to read aloud. In, you got it, less than 150 words. Mind blown.
  2. The illustrations are so dang cute. They add layers of dimension and bring the characters into all their charming, loveable life. I was first drawn to this book because of the adorable pictures. Look:IMG_5575
  3. The underlying theme of friendship is told with sweetness and ingenuity. It is neither preachy nor sickly gag-worthy. It makes you laugh and awww in perfect balance. I know I love a book when I don’t mind reading it ten thousand times a day with Carter!

 

This is Not My Hat
Written and Illustrated by Jon Klassen

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Little fish steals hat from big fish. Little fish is confident that he will get away before the big fish figures things out. But, big fish wakes up and wants his hat back!

Reasons I Love it:

  1. This book is hilarious and unlike any other picture book I’ve read. The little fish breaks the fourth wall, telling readers about his adventures. This sets the stage for dramatic irony and deadpan humor that hooks adults and kids alike.
  2. Visual humor in beautiful illustrations. The story is told in the pictures. This book won the Caldecott Medal in 2013. Take a look:IMG_5574
  3. Mysterious ending. We learn that stealing is wrong, but what happens to the small fish? This is up for debate. Could potentially be upsetting to younger children depending on how one decides to spin it!
  4. Did I mention I think this book is brilliant and darkly hilarious?

Happy reading!

Starting My Publishing Journey

Remember oh, early December, when I wrote this post on diversity in children’s books? I made a commitment to publish books for children of color and committed to publishing something myself if I didn’t have something in the works by June.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

BWAAAAA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!

I take it back. Clearly, I had no idea what I was talking about when I made that commitment. Since then, I have taken a few little steps into the world of children’s publishing. I started out by researching publishers online, visiting many publishing websites, blogs and boards. I attempted to draft unsolicited query letters to publishers only to realize that perhaps I should be looking for an agent first. This led me into a brief phase during which I thought I would try my hand at illustrating my own stories. That was short-lived. I talked with a publisher who gave me good advice. Namely, learn more about the craft. Work on your writing.

So, I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and attended a conference last weekend at Asilomar. I chatted with beginning writers – like me! – published writers, agents and editors. I was inspired! I was uplifted! I was filled with passion and fire!

And, I am overwhelmed but undaunted by the long road ahead. Key lessons I’ve learned on my journey so far:

Children’s Writing is an Art Form
Writing children’s books is an art. To the untrained eye, a picture book seems like a collection of simple words and a simpler story line. Anyone could do that, I am ashamed to admit I mistakenly believed. Underscore ashamed and the past tense form of believe. I’ve been schooled. There is a world of intentionally executed pacing and page turns, theme, voice, perspective, word choice, rhythm, flow, sound and character development that lives in every book. I never imagined that some picture book writers take years revising their stories to perfection.

It reminds me of teaching. Teaching is an art form. It is possible to recognize a masterful teacher; but, to the untrained eye, it is not always possible to see the thousands of choices s/he is making throughout a class period. Lesson planning and pedagogy aside, there are the relationships built, intentional pacing of the space, specific word choice and signals, teacher stink-eye, phrasing of questions and follow-up and a million other details that make teachers artists.

Great picture books are complex, layered stories told in less than 1000 words. Humanity’s lessons written in 32-40 page stories that a five year old can understand. A writer has to say much with little; it is no easy feat. Children’s book writers take tremendous pride in their art and I am humbled. I want to learn. I want to become a master artist. And it won’t happen overnight.

A sketch from my brief stint as an aspiring author/illustrator.

Empathy and Impact
Stories change lives. They change they way we look at others and the world. One of my favorite memories from teaching English is the day my students read their personal narratives to the class. They shared and learned personal stories with tremendous vulnerability and began to see each other – and themselves – differently as a result.

At the Asilomar conference, author Deborah Underwood shared an example of an everyday story that makes an impact on our perceptions. She contrasted the striking difference of emotions we might feel between two versions of the same experience: being stuck for miles behind a driver going 15 mph on a windy road vs. being stuck for miles behind a driver going 15 mph on a windy road knowing the driver is rushing his sick cat to the vet but is driving slowly because the cat gets carsick with increased speed. Our frustration is curbed and we feel greater compassion and patience when we know the driver’s story.

Stories build empathy and challenge assumptions. As such, they have the ability to create lasting change. Stories shared with the rising generation can shape their ideas of truth and possibility. They can create connections and break down barriers. Stories are tools for equity. Understanding this fuels my desire to write and publish. Writing is not a side-gig hobby I’m dabbling in because of a quaint, momentary inspiration I had after giving birth to Carter. Stories can change lives, can change public opinion, can change the world. So, I will write stories until I learn to write stories.

Perseverance
In an industry where a Newbery Award winning author has ten years of rejection letters from pages upon pages of editors and agents (I’ve seen the pictures and it ain’t pretty!) I’m beginning to understand the sheer grit and determination it will take to reach my goals. It ain’t gonna be pretty but I’m not going to give up. That is all.

(Someone remind me that I wrote this when I’m ready to throw in the towel after 32392834792835601 rejection letters, please.)

Another sketch. Sticking to writing. Maybe I’ll put these on a t-shirt for myself.

Revisiting My Goals
So, it has become painfully clear that this whole, if I don’t-find-someone-who-will-publish-my stories-by-June business is laughably, woefully uninformed. I’ve also realized that I don’t want to self publish. So, my ultimate goal is still to be published. Several times over. But, methinks I need to give myself a lllllllllllllooooooooooooootttttttttttttttt more time. Preferably before I turn grey?

My revised goals for this year:

  • Continue to improve my writing. Form a critique group that meets regularly, take classes, read books. Write a lot, revise a lot. Write some more.
  • Finish at least four stories by the end of summer
  • Submit queries to at least 20 agents by December
  • Don’t lose hope when the rejections come in! Keep submitting and writing.

Closing words that inspired me from the conference:

Crazy and stupid are not the same thing. – LeUyen Pham

There is a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line. – Oscar Levant