Friday, March 16, 2018

Reading For Research Month, Day 12

Oh, look. I've been keeping up with Reading for Research Month for several days in a row now. Look at me!

Today agent Jenna Pocius wrote about picture books offering readers an opportunity to see things through a different perspective. "...the realization that the world looks different through everyone's eyes."

The two books I read that supported her statement did do a good job of illustrating her point.


Today's Picture Books

Double Take! A New Look at Opposites by Susan Hood with illustrations by Jay Fleck does, indeed, do something different with a traditional opposite book. It starts with the usual In/Out, Asleep/Awake business but moves on to point out that you can only really understand big, if you also know about small. And when does near become far? The different perspective we're talking about here is the relationship between concepts, not just simply noting that they're opposite to one another.

They All Saw A Cat by Brendan Wenzel does something very neat with the idea of different perspective. One cat is seen by multiple sets of eyes. This book definitely gives readers an opportunity to see things through a different perspective.

Can I somehow give readers an opportunity to see things through a different perspective in my picture book manuscript? Well, not in an overt way the way these two books do. But like any writer, I think I've done something different with my characters, giving readers a different way to look at someone.

ReFoReMo Books Read To Date: 29 The total is going up very slowly because I can find so few of the ReFoReMo books.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Reading For Research Month, Day 11

Today at Reading For Research Month we have another post on theme, this one by Janie Reinart. Earlier Baptiste Paul called theme "the big ideas" in a story. Reinart writes about universal themes.

I was able to get only one of today's books.

Today's Picture Books

My Beautiful Birds by Susanne Del Rizzo is a very good story set within the world of Syrian refugees. Thematically, I think it's about endurance and the passage of time making it possible to move on. Ah, yuh. That's pretty universal.

Can I use a universal theme in my picture book manuscript? Why, it's interesting I should ask myself that this evening. I was just thinking this morning that I've been working with the same theme for more than ten years now..."Can we control our lives?" Hey, how universal is that? Seriously universal, that's what it is. And, yes, it's the theme of my picture book.

Unfortunately, while I was engulfed in thinking about my work themes, I was driving on a highway and missed my exit. Didn't even notice until I realized I was almost home.

ReFoReMo Books Read To Date: 27

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Reading For Research Month, Day 10

Andrea J. Loney discusses picture book biographies on Day 10 of Reading For Research Month. She says that a great biography doesn't just tell a great story, it creates an immersive experience for readers. She asks participants to look for "poetry, visual metaphors, and dramatic tension." 

Once again, I wasn't able to find all the books suggested.

Today's Picture Books

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Amazing Bear by Lindsay Mattick with illustrations by Sophie Blackall No poetry here. The dramatic tension here is caused by the war setting, I think. I'm kind of lost with the visual metaphor part. I am a word person.

Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci by Joseph D'Agnese with illustrations by John O'Brien. Once again, no poetry. The dramatic tension is created because of the newness of what Fibonnaci is doing. The visual metaphor...there are spirals hidden in many of the pictures here. Fibonacci numbers have some scientific (or perhaps mystical) connection to nature and appear in spirals. I've read this before. I still don't get it. Evidently, you have to make a grid of squares and plot these numbers on it and Eureka! you have a spiral. But who came up with the grid idea? Oh, yeah. Fibonacci.

I'm bad with numbers. Bad with visuals. This is not a good ReFoReMo day for me.

Can I use any of the picture book bio suggestions in my picture book manuscript? Well, it's not a bio, but dramatic tension is always good.

ReFoReMo Books Read To Date: 26

From Personal Experience To Fiction With "The Big Sick"

Emily V. Gordon, one of the screenwriters for the movie The Big Sick, which I haven't seen, wrote an excellent article on bringing her and her husband's personal experience into her writing. It's not unusual to see fiction writers being advised to study books on film writing, and I think her essay is a fine piece for fiction writers also. Personal essay writers might want to take a look at it, too.

Two points:

  • How do you make a personal experience universal? 
  • A personal experience expresses something in real life that it may not express on the page.

KidlitCon Coming To Providence In 2019

Kidlitcon, a conference of children's lit bloggers, is planning its 2019 event, and it's going to be in Providence, R.I. Some bloggers I've "known" for years have already signed on. I have commitment issues, but I'm hoping to get there as an attendee. Have already discussed it in-house.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Reading For Research Month, Day 9

I'm about to catch up on my ReFoReMo project...I'm about to catch up...I'm about to catch up...for a few hours.

So today author Ariel Bernstein writes about using dialogue to create voice in picture books. Dialogue probably is the way to go, because picture books are so short. There's not a lot of space and time for introspection.

This is another one of those days when I was only able to read one of the suggested books.

Today's Picture Book

I loved Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman with illustrations by Zachariah OHora when I read it a few years ago, and time has changed nothing. It's still a very funny and clever book. And Bernstein's right. Voice is part of it. Dot's voice when she speaks. This is a third-person book. No first-person depressed or snarky ruminating like you find in YA. What Dot says is what makes Dot Dot.

Can I pay more attention to the dialogue in my picture book manuscript in order to create voice? Yes, indeed, I can.

ReFoReMo Books Read To Date: 25

Reading For Research Month, Day 8

Yes, I am a day off again with my Reading For Research Month material. We're in the midst of another snowstorm here in the northeast, and I spent half of yesterday cooking what was in my fridge in case the power goes out again today. Then there was writers' group last night, which is when I usually blog. Please, April, please come soon so I'll be done with this project. Waily, waily.

So yesterday's post by Matthew Winner was on strong beginnings and endings. Personally, I love parallel construction, and I like endings that mirror beginnings in some way or loop back to them somehow. That, to me, is a strong ending. Or, if we're talking about a story where the character experiences a change (and I know some people would say that that should happen in all stories), I like to see that expressed in some strong yet still subtle way at the end.

I read four of yesterday's ten books.

Day 8 Picture Books

Of the four books I read, A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman with illustrations by Isabel Greenberg is the one that I think illustrates a strong beginning and ending the best. "Let me tell you a secret" is the first sentence, the only one on the first page. That's a strong beginning. I don't actually want to give away the strong ending. This is also a good example of second-person point-of-view. (See Day 7.)  I am not a number person, so I'm not the best reader for this book. Nonetheless, I very much admire the concept here.

Charlotte The Scientist Is Squished by Camille Andros with illustrations by Brianne Farley is a neat introduction to the scientific method. (I tend to like anthropomorphic rabbits.) The author is walking a tightrope, trying to do a how-to on experiments within a story. So, yes, I guess the ending does hit strong, given that it manages to stick to the story.

Well, now, on second reading I've decided that Shelter by Celine Claire with illustrations by Qin Leng does have a strong beginning and ending. This is what I would call an improving text, something I don't usually care for. But this French import is lovely.

I read Dazzle Ships: World War I and the Art of Confusion by Chris Barton with illustrations by Victor Ngai a few weeks ago. I no longer have it, so I can't address the strong beginning and ending issue. The book is a neat example of finding a semi-forgotten historical event and featuring it in a piece of nonfiction, however. We mentioned Dazzle Ships last night at my writers' group.

Can I use a strong beginning and ending with my picture book manuscript? I certainly hope so.

ReFoReMo Books I've Read To Date: 24

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Reading For Research Month, Day 7

Day 7 of Reading for Research Month is by Sterling editor Christina Pulles and deals with second- person point-of-view. The benefit of second-person point-of-view is that it draws readers into the story. "You're a part of the action." Because you are the you of the story. Additionally, authors can write a variety of stories with it.

I believe this is the first day for which I was able to read all the suggested picture books.

Day 7 Picture Books

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson was used to illustrate how-to books on Day 5, but Pulles describes it as a cause-and-effect book. If you do X, Y will happen. Which is different from how to do something.
Your Alien by Tammi Sauer with illustrations by Goro Fujita  and When a Dragon Moves In by Jodi Moore with illustrations by Howard McWilliam are both stories. The you in the narrative makes readers a character in these stories. 

Pulles calls How to Read a Story by Kate Messner with illustrations by Mark Siegel a how-to book, and, like If You Plant a Seed, it was part of the how-to books post on Day 5. The second-person point-of-view would be good to discuss in relation to how-to books.

Love by Matt de la Pena with illustrations by Loren Long is, indeed,
a message book, as Pulles says. The second-person point-of-view allows the author to bring the message directly to readers. 

Can I use the second-person point-of-view in my picture book manuscript? I don't know. Perhaps it would be a good idea to do a draft in second person as an exercise. Or maybe a second-person narrator is something I should save for another book.

ReFoReMo Books I've Read To Date: 20

I am caught up with this project for a few hours, maybe a day.

Another nor'easter expected here tomorrow or the next day!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Reading For Research Month, Day 6

On Day 6 of Reading for Research Month, author Keila Dawson discussed tough subjects in picture books. She says such books introduce kids to "characters who have figured out how to cope with difficult circumstances or problems." Actually Dawson's brief paragraph on the subject was quite good. She did quick discussions of each of the books she uses, listing the topics involved and giving what sounds like a moral for the story.

Unfortunately, I was only able to get my hands on one of the six books she recommends.

Day 6 Picture Book

The Water Princess by Susan Verde with illustrations by Peter H. Reynolds is a lovely book that could easily have spiraled into an instructive problem story, but it most definitely does not. I think a big part of what makes this book so workable is the main character, who fantasizes about being an African princess. Also, she recognizes the struggle she and the women she knows deal with, making a lengthy round-trip each day to get water, but she doesn't lecture the readers about it. The author trusts us to recognize that this is a tough subject.

This book illustrates several points Dawson makes:
  • It's inspired by a real person and a real situation
  • The situation is going to be unfamiliar to most American child readers, but they can empathize with the main character, in large part because she is introduced as someone with an active fantasy life, much as many readers have.
  • This has the potential to spark conversations, particularly because of the back matter. See Day 3.
What does the subject of tough subjects have to do with my picture book manuscript? Nah, really nothing.

ReFoReMo Books Read To Date: 17

Friday, March 09, 2018

What did you do this week. Gail? March 9 Edition

Not a lot. These last two weeks have been cut into with appointments, shopping for necessities, and coping with winter weather. Oh, and also I broke my mother’s new hearing aid and had to make a couple of runs into a medical office with that. (I’ve got another trip to come on that.)

Nevertheless, over the last two weeks I managed to do some more work for:

Goal 1. Submissions. I have a plan to submit at the beginning of each month, and I managed to do that the end of last week. One submission resulted in some interest. Then yesterday, between power outages, I was able to take part in pitmad.

Goal 3. Generate New Work With Good Women. This has been my big focus with whatever time I could find. I haven't made the kind of progress I'd hoped to these last two weeks, meaning underpainting/blueprinting/outlining new chapters. In order to go on, I had to go back and deal with a secondary character. I did a lot of research and information on her religious background and I'm much happier with her. I also have a better feel for how the next chapter should go. Even how this character should dress.

Goal 3. Generate New Work With Picture Book Study. In addition to actually taking part in Reading For Research Month, I've had to do library searches for the picture books and then get them. I've been to the library four times in the last two weeks. Three different libraries. I'm a couple of days behind with this and hoping to find some time this weekend to catch up.

Goal 4. Community Building/General Marketing/Branding. Got some blog posts done, including the Connecticut Children's Literature Calendar, but have done a weak job of promoting them. Something else I can catch up on some weekend.

UPDATE: If you're on Facebook, you can check out my Northeaster 2018 Album to see how we managed our big 24-hours without power. Hint...I could still read.

The Das Saga

I'm taking a little break from picture books to write about You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins.  This book features a unique subject, and by that I don’t mean the lives of the Indian family
followed for three generations, but immigration and assimilation. This is a Bengali family, but to some extent they’re experiencing what families from  many cultures have experienced coming to America, with the stresses of living with both the old and the new.

My big interest when considering assimilation into American life is that immigrants lose so much in order to do so, since that was certainly the experience of the Gauthier family. But the second and third generation members of the Das family are still Bengali, as well as American.

Perkins dips into each generation of this family, covering mother, daughters, and granddaughters. My complaint about the book is that I wanted more about these five women. I could have gotten into a Forsyth Saga type read spread over several books.

A thought just occurred to me...In children’s literature we get very thin fantasy stories spread out over three or more books all the time. Why not a family/historical tale?

FTC Transparency Information: I am acquainted with Mitali Perkins, having met her a few times. I know her just well enough to get all "Oh, wow, I know a writer whose book made the long list for the National Book Award" when You Bring the Distant Near did just that.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Reading For Research Month, Day 5

I'm a day behind with the Reading For Research Month project again, this time because I was caught in a nor'easter last night. We had no power here from 7:30 PM yesterday until around 2:45 PM today. Then it went out again from 4:30 until nearly 7:00. So that's something like 21 hours, when you do the math, with no power and no wifi. No cable. Didn't suffer too badly, as you can see, but I couldn't blog. Woe is me.

But now I can tell you that Day 5 by Patricia Toht was all about how to write "how to" books. There was some interesting material in her post about "how to" books not being character-driven. I wish she'd gone a little more deeply into a couple of her points about progression and arcs.

Like Day 4's post, the book suggestions for Day 5 were not discussed, so readers need to work out for themselves how they illustrate the posters' thesis. Leaving Gail on her own is never a good idea.

I read three of the five books for today.

Today's Picture Books 

What To Do With A Box is another example of wonderful interaction of text (another book by Jane Yolen)  and illustration (Chris Sheban).  To me Yolen's book reads like more of an ode to creativity and, of course, the box, then it does a how-to book. I wonder if this isn't the poetry or picture book equivalent of a shell essay. A shell essay is an essay that's written in a non-essay format. It's called a shell essay because the essay takes on another kind of writing's format the way a hermit crab takes on some other creature's shell. (Actually, I see these are also called hermit crab essays. I don't know where I saw the term shell essay.) I think What To Do With A Box takes on a 'how to" structure, but isn't actually a how-to book itself. But, remember, I'm having to figure this out on my own.

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson doesn't actually explain how to do something. It's about the consequences of action and seems much more an extended metaphor than a how-to book. But, again,
that's me working this out for myself. Nelson wrote and illustrated the wonderful We Are The Ship and If You Plant a Seed is a beautiful book both in story and illustration. It proves that Gail can like an improving book. This story has an almost spiritual edge to it and get a load of that bunny! I'm thinking somebody I know is getting this for Easter.

Now How to Read a Story by Kate Messner with illustrations by Mark Siegel, that's a how-to book. There are actual step-by-step instructions, in the text and integrated into the illustrations. Some of them, such as "find a cozy reading spot," are fun and maybe not that technically necessary for reading a book. Others, such as "If there are words you don't know, try sounding them out or looking at the pictures to see what makes sense," sound as if they could have come right from a reading teacher's mouth.

Can I turn my picture book manuscript into a how-to book? Believe it or not, maybe.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Reading For Research Month, Day 4

Okay, I've got an hour or so this evening to catch up with this project.

Today for Reading for Research Month author Baptiste Paul presented material on theme. He described theme as "the big a story," which I found very dissatisfying when I read it this afternoon. But now, after a couple of hours...okay. I get that. All I have for a definition is something like "a world view the author is concerned with" or "a life issue the author wants to explore." Hey, that's a big idea.

Paul makes a point I hadn't thought about. Theme is conveyed through illustrations in picture books as well as text.

Today I read three of the five books suggested. Paul didn't discuss them. Readers are supposed to "objectively read them" ourselves. Yikes.

Today's Picture Books

I have to admit, thematically speaking, Rain by Sam Usher shot over my head. A boy is stuck in the house with his grandfather while it's raining. He wants to go out, but Gramps, who is busy reading a lengthy letter that is sealed with hearts and then responding to it, will have nothing to do with that. Until, of course, he's ready to send out some mail. Then they have an adventure on their way to the mailbox that involves clowns and boats. It's a beautiful book, but I don't get the big idea.

King Jack and the Dragon by Peter Bently & Helen Oxenbury is a traditional story of kids up to their necks in fantasy play. King Jack is fine with fighting dragons in the daylight with his brave knights, but after the other kids head home and Jack's left on his own in the dark, Mom and Dad start looking really good. Now, the big idea/life issue the author and illustrator are dealing with here involves children using fantasy play to deal with frightening things, safe in the knowledge that Mom and Dad are there for him to turn to. (Unless it's something else.) Lovely text in verse, and I'm becoming fond of illustrator Oxenbury.

Of these three books, I thought Daniel Miyares' Float had the strongest theme. A young boy goes out into the rain with his homemade paper boat and has a good time until the boat gets away with him and is ruined. Like Jack in King Jack and the Dragon, this kid turns to Dad, who dries him off and gives him some hot chocolate. Then the kid finds some more paper, makes a plane, and heads out into the sunshine to fly it. The big idea/life issue? We try and fail, and try again. Get knocked down, get back up. Resilience, baby. I like that theme, so I hope I'm right about it applying to Float. And what is particularly interesting about this particular theme in  this particular book? Float has no text. The theme is, indeed, conveyed totally through illustrations.

Many times authors will say that they weren't aware of the themes in their books until after they finished writing them. I've been trying not to do that. I try to to definitely know my theme, and it has to be supported by action, dialogue, etc.

So do I know the theme for my picture book manuscript? Indeed, I do. "Can we control our lives?" Both the child main character and his grandfather support it. Yeah, that's a classic children's book theme. 

Time Management Tuesday: A Pop TM Quiz

It's 1:30 PM Monday. You've been to a run-of-the-mill doctor's appointment and the drug store. You've started dinner, because late afternoon is always a time bomb. You've put in a load of wash. You've made some calls. You ate lunch in front of the computer.

What do you do now?

  1. The day is more than half gone. What the Hell? You might as well continue to read about last night's Oscars and go to some more of those sites with pictures of celebrities whose outfits failed them.
  2. You have only a couple of hours left to the day. If you spend them doing home-related tasks (cleaning that bathroom you haven't touched since Christmas, vacuuming), you'll be in a better position to go back to work tomorrow. You can always do a whole lot tomorrow.
  3. You have only a couple of hours left to the day. You should spend them on short-term tasks that don't require deep concentration, like researching submissions and planning where you'll submit. Submitting work is Goal 1 for this year.
  4. You have at least two units of time left.  Finishing a draft of Good Women is an objective for Goal 3 for this year. You are trying to underpaint as many chapters as possible before May 1, so that you can do a NaNoWriMo-type project with your May Days group. Only two months left until May. You did not get far with this last week.
Work quickly and carefully. You may share your answers with others.

Reading For Research Month, Day 3

Thank goodness the ReFoReMo people take weekends off. Even with two spare days, I'm having trouble keeping up. This is yesterday's ReFoReMo material.

So yesterday we had Heidi E. Y. Stemple writing about back matter. (She explains what it is for you who aren't familiar with the term, but, in short, it's extra material, often explanatory, at the back of a book.) What is particularly interesting about today's information is that Stemple points out that back matter can be used with fiction picture books as well as nonfiction. Certainly I've seen back matter, and even written it, in middle grade novels and above. I've just never considered it in terms of, say, picture book poetry.

One of the benefits of back matter in these cases, in my humble opinion, is that it makes poetry and literary types of work more accessible to those child readers who just want the facts, ma'am. It gives the books something for everybody.

Monday's Picture Books

I read six out of twelve.  All these books include back matter.

I Took the Moon for a Walk by Carolyn Curtis and Alison Jay is a great combination of poetry, story, and art. And the back matter has the same elegant edge as the main text.

Best in Snow by April Pulley Sayre has just a few lovely words per 
spectacular snow photograph. The back matter provides factual information for some of those lovely words. 

Thunder Underground by Jane Yolen with illustrations by Josee Masse is like an earth
science book of poetry. In fact, that may be exactly what it is. Back matter is a little more technical.

More-igami by Dori Kleber with illustrations by G. Brian Karas is a full on, traditional story about a child learning origami. The back matter here is a little different. It's two pages of origami instruction.

Listen to Our World by Bill Martin Jr. & Michael Sampson with illustrations by Melissa Sweet starts out with a human mother asking her child, "Can you hear the sounds of our world?" Then what follows is a series of two-page spreads of animal worlds and those worlds' sounds. The back matter is a description of the animals in those worlds.

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Amazing Bear by Lindsay Mattick with illustrations by Sophie Blackall is categorized at fiction at the library where I found it. But it does say "true story," folks, right there in the title. It could be confusing for some people because it's set up as a mother telling her child a true story about a bear, so that frame may bring the fiction aspect in. Why, yes, I am nitpicking. Oh. Oh, the back matter. It's a photo album of WWI-era photographs of the man and bear who the book, particularly the first part, is about.

Can I add back matter in my picture book manuscript? Perhaps some kind of parody of back matter?

Friday, March 02, 2018

Reading For Research Month, Day 2

Today's ReFoReMo post by Kirsti Call is about fresh concepts, particularly those that are created by combining the expected with the unexpected. Once again, I was able to find only two of the books selected to support the post.

Today's Picture Books

The unique concept in After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat is that it deals with Humpty Dumpty's recovering from his fall from the wall instead of the fall itself. It combines the expected--the Humpty Dumpty story--with, I guess you could say, recovery literature. It also has a surprise at the end. A beautiful looking book with a sincere story.

To be honest, Escargot by Dashka Slater with illustrations by Sydney Hanson is more my speed. Though I'm having a hard time thinking of a way to describe it, particularly in terms of a fresh concept. I mean, it is a fresh concept--a French snail in love with himself and determined that readers will love him, too. Is it created by combining the expected with the unexpected? Well, the French accent was unexpected. The attitude/voice was unexpected. The story was unexpected. I don't know what was expected here.

So I am thinking that maybe I can pump up my picture book's narrator with voice, though not a French accent.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Reading For Research Month: Day 1

Okay, people, today is Day 1 of Reading for Research Month, just like I said in the heading. It's an organized project for picture book writers so they can read and research mentor texts. And, no, I'm not actually a picture book writer, though I have a pb manuscript on my hard drive. Don't we all?

So Day 1's post  by Carrie Charley Brown deals with using repetition in picture book manuscripts. Hmm. Did I think of trying that? This is a definite possibility.

Today's Picture Books

I was only able to get two of the books recommended for today.

The Giant Jumperee by Julia Donaldson & Helen Oxenbury. This a slight story for which the repetition is hugely important. There would be no story without it. That is not a complaint. I can imagine child readers, particularly those who are hearing Jumperee, loving this thing.

One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul with illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon is nonfiction using repetition. A great choice for an example. In this case, the repetition breaks up what could be a very traditional account of an event. It gives Plastic Bag a creative nonfiction vibe.

So Day 1...A good start.