New for 2017: Takeaway Tuesdays! (And a Surprise Giveaway!)
By Chana Stiefel
Not long ago, my son pulled a book off the shelf at our local library and said, “You gotta read this, Mom.” The book, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig, is a cherished classic that won a Caldecott Award in 1970. My son’s teacher had read the book in class. It's about a donkey who turns himself into a rock by wishing on a magic pebble. The story left my son—and countless others—with a sense of wonder.
Interestingly, at the back of the book, I found something truly wonder-ful. It was William Steig’s Caldecott acceptance speech, in which he says:
“Art, including juvenile literature, has the power to make any spot on earth the living center of the universe; . . . it helps us to know life in a way that still keeps before us the mystery of things. It enhances the sense of wonder. And wonder is respect for life. Art also stimulates the adventurousness and the playfulness that keep us moving in a lively way that lead to useful discovery.”
Inspiring words from the man who also wrote Shrek!, on which the blockbuster movies are based, as well as Abel's Island and Doctor De Soto, which both won Newbery Honors, as well as dozens of other children's books. (My favorite is still Pete's a Pizza.) And did you know Steig started writing children's books when he was 61?
His words reminded me that maintaining and sharing a sense of wonder are the reasons we write for children. The Takeaway: As we begin a new year of writing, let’s try to keep that magical spirit of wonder before us and see where it leads!
Wishing everyone a wonder-filled 2017!
SURPRISE! Happy 1st Birthday to Us!
To celebrate our 1st Birthday, enter to win one of two picture book critiques, one each by Donna Cangelosi and Chana Stiefel (500 words max.)! To enter, click on the Rafflecopter below. Good luck and thanks for reading Kidlittakeaways.com.
By Donna Cangelosi
'Tis the season of endings and new beginnings. As picture book writers, we know that there is nothing as elating as writing the opening sentence for a picture book. Except, of course, wrapping the book up with the perfect last line. Whenever I start a new story, I re-read my favorite picture books to get ideas for starting up and ending. Here's a few of my all time favorite opening and closing lines. If you haven't read them, treat yourself!
Written & Illustrated by Dan Santat
Book jacket description:
This magical story begins on an island far away where an imaginary friend is born. He patiently waits his turn to be chosen by a real child, but when he is overlooked time and again, he sets off on an increadible journey to the bustling city, where he finally meets his perfect match and- at long last- is given his special name: Beekle.
Beginning: "He was born on an island far away where imaginary friends were created. Here, they lived and played, eagerly waiting to be imagined by a real child."
Ending: "And together they did the unimaginable."
The opening line establishes the setting, hints at the problem, and raises tension. Will Beekle be chosen? With the help of Santat's beautiful illustrations, the reader falls in love with Beekle. The lyrical language further promises a magial story.
The ending provides a happily ever after feeling, uses lexicon to wrap up the story, and extends the theme to leave the reader wondering what Beekle and his friend will do.
Written & Illustrated by David Ezra Stein
Book jacket description:
The young bear has neer seen leaves fall off a tree before. Should he try to put them back? Or take a nap in them? He is getting sleepy...
Beginning: "It was his first year. Everything was going well until the first leaf fell."
Ending: "He felt the sun and saw the little buds on the bare arms of the trees and the tiny leaves that had begun to unfold. "Welcome!" he cried. And, he thought, the leaves welcomed him."
The beginning sets the mood. A happy bear explores a new world. Then a leaf falls and the mood changes. The reader is eager to read what will happen.
The ending re-establishes the happy go lucky spirit of the bear and brings the story full circle. The bear has grown and now understands the cycle of nature.
BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade
Written & Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Book jacket description:
Every Thanksgiving morning for more than eighty years, mammoth-size balloons have risen to the skies to wobble and sway, sally and shimmy, up and down the canyons of New York City.
Just how did this beloved tradition come to Broadway? Who first invented those wondrous "upside-down marionettes?
Meet Tony Sarg: the boy who loved to figure out how things moved- the boy who became the puppeteer of Macy's parade!
Beginning: "From the time he was a little boy, Tony Sarg loved to figure out how to make things move. He once saide he became a marionette man when he was only six years old."
Ending: "Tony Sarg- The puppeteer who loved to figure out how to make things move- had set the stage, with a little rigging, for a puppet to be anything anyone could imagine it to be."
The beginning introduces Tony Sarg and informs the reader that the story is about his fascination with making things move.
The ending uses repitition to show haw Sarg's fascination helped others to explore the art of puppetry.
JIMI SOUNDS LIKE A RAINBOW A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix
Written by Gary Golio
Illustrated by Javaka Steptoe
Book jacket description:
Jimi Hendrix was many things: a superstar, a rebel, a hero, an innovator. But first, he wa a boy named Jimmy who loved to draw and paint and listen to records. A boy who played air guitar with a broomstick and longed for a real guitar of his own. A boy who asked himself a question: Could someone paint pictures with sound?
Beginning: "Electricity ripped through the air. A flash lit up the room. Thunder rocked the house. Jimi's hand jumped and a rainbow of colored pencils went tumbling to the floor."
Ending: "His playing became bold as lightning. Wild as waves. Free as the wind through the trees. Dressed in the colors of the rainbow, he played for audiences far and wide, joining sounds with tender feelings and painting the world with his songs."
The beginning introduces Jimi Hendrix, shows that he's an artist, and lets the reader know that the story is about sensory experiences.
The ending extends the initial theme and shows how Jimi's music was influenced by sensory experiences and how his music touched the world.
The Takeaway: When writing picture books, ask youself: Does the opening introduce the character and setting, build tension and convey a promise to the reader? Does the ending bring the story full circle, extend the them, or launch the reader to explore further?
Wishing everyone satisfying endings & new beginnings in 2017!
By Donna Cangelosi and Chana Stiefel
Thanksgiving is a great time to take stock of the things we are grateful for. Here are some of the things we, as picture book writers, are most thankful for.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE!
By Chana Stiefel
November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. To help spread awareness, the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation commissioned me to write a book called WHY CAN’T GRANDMA REMEMBER MY NAME? For this post, I interviewed my co-author, Kent L. Karosen, President and CEO of the Fisher Center to explain how this meaningful project came about. Check out pics from our November 2nd book signing at Bloomingdale's in NYC below.
PLUS Enter our giveaway for a chance to win a free signed copy of the book, or go to Alzinfo.org to order your own copy today. (Guess which presidential candidate has one! See below!) All proceeds benefit the Foundation in the quest to find a cure.
CS: What is the mission of the Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation?
KK: The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation funds critical breakthrough research into the cause and cure of Alzheimer’s disease, an epidemic that is expected to affect 16 million people by 2050 if we don’t find a cure. With the Alzheimer’s epidemic at an all time high, it’s never been as important to increase the amount of research being conducted in an effort to find a cure.
CS: How did this book idea come about?
KK: I had an idea about using artwork created by children juxtaposed with art created by Alzheimer’s patients as a way to explain Alzheimer’s disease to a broader audience. I also wanted to demonstrate the power of art therapy for all ages and a way for parents and family to share with a younger audience what is happening to Grandma or other loved ones. It’s also important to make raising awareness of the disease a priority and to educate the public about it.
CS: What was the process in choosing an author (and how did you find me)?
KK: I wanted to write the book and work with a children’s book author who understands what children will comprehend in terms of the intricacies of the disease. The Fisher Center found you [Chana Stiefel] through your online website*. We are thrilled to have worked with you on this educational book.
CS: It was an honor and a pleasure to work with you and your team. Describe the artwork in the book and how you got in touch with both the Alzheimer's art program and children's art program.
I have personal connections to Little Kinder Artists as well as Opening Minds through Art, an intergenerational art program for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Through these relationships, we partnered with them to obtain the beautiful art contained in the book (above).
What are your goals for the book?
Through Why Can’t Grandma Remember My Name?, my hope is that a younger audience will have a better understanding of the disease that affects their loved ones.
Which book publisher did you use and why?
We chose to use BookBaby.com, an online self publisher. As a Foundation that directs 85% of its donations to program expenses (such as research) to find a cure for the disease, we chose a cost-efficient method for publishing our book. Through this approach, we have been successful in promoting Why Can’t Grandma Remember My Name?, which hopefully will help us sell our book and inform people about the disease. All royalties from the book go directly to the Foundation in the quest to find a cure.
Visit ALZinfo.org to purchase a book, donate for the cure, and to find resources including current research studies, treatments, and disease management approaches.
Enter to win a signed copy of WHY CAN’T GRANDMA REMEMBER MY NAME? (U.S. only) below the slideshow.
*Note to authors: Here’s a great link about building an author website. http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/step-step-guide-build-author-website
By Chana Stiefel
KidLitTakeaways welcomes author Diana Murray, who has THREE new picture books out this year! Diana is generously offering a signed copy of her book GRIMELDA THE VERY MESSY WITCH, illustrated by Heather Ross (Harper Collins, 2016) to one lucky reader. See details below!
KLT: Congrats! GRIMELDA THE VERY MESSY WITCH is out in time for Halloween! How did you conjure this “charming” book?
DM: Thank you! I got the idea during the very first PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) on Tara Lazar’s blog. It was 2009, I think. Before that event, I typically started writing as soon as an idea popped in my head. But this time, I spent more time at the idea phase. When I came up with the idea of a messy witch, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. By controlling the urge to write immediately, the inspiration actually grew more concentrated.
KLT: Rot sauce! A puff of ogre’s breath! Scream cheese (my favorite)! What was your inspiration for this hilarious witch’s brew?
DM: Well, firstly, I love puns. Perhaps to a fault. :) Also, I have an affinity for witch culture. When I first had the idea of writing a mess-related story, I wondered who the main character should be, and I thought of several directions I could go in. But the idea of a witch resonated the best with me and gave me the opportunity to write about more interesting things lost in the clutter. I felt making her a witch pushed the idea to the extreme--with all those books, and little bottles of this and that, not to mention the critters.
KLT: Are you neater, as messy, or messier than your adorable little witch, Grimelda? Have you ever lost anything in your hair?
DM: I certainly hope I’m not messier! But I’m sorry to say, I’m nearly as messy. I try not to be, but it’s difficult to clean when I’d much rather be doing something creative. I do try my best. And in the end, of course I prefer a clean, organized house. That’s what I was trying to show with the story. I think it should be clear to the reader that Grimelda would be better off with a clean home and that she’s being very silly and stubborn by resisting. And she clearly pays for it in the end, too. But you see, the witch world is kind of like opposite land. I was hoping kids would get a kick out of that.
And yes, several times, I’ve lost my glasses only to discover they were already on top of my head. What drives me the most crazy is when I can only find one shoe. Ack! And then I have to walk around the house frantically looking for the other one. That happens to my kids, too. I thought it would be funny to imagine, what if you just left the house like that and went about your business in one shoe?
KLT: Did you and your illustrator Heather Ross stir up any ideas together? Did Grimelda appear as you imagined her?
DM: No, we worked independently. Grimelda didn’t look anything like I had pictured. I had always pictured her as an adult and not nearly as adorable. I was blown away by Heather’s illustrations and thought they were absolutely perfect. Better than anything I could’ve imagined. And she added some wonderful touches. Seeing the illustrations is my favorite part of being a writer. Such a fun surprise.
KLT: GRIMELDA is one of your three new books out this year—all in verse! The others are CITY SHAPES & NED THE KNITTING PIRATE. (Who says publishers don’t buy rhyming picture books? KERFLUMP to that!) What are three takeaways for writers who want to stick to rhyme?
DM: 1. Practice, practice, practice.
2. Exchange work with other rhymers and DON’T BE SENSITIVE ABOUT CRITICSM!
3. Take the time to learn about the basics of writing in meter. Test your scanning abilities. If you read something in rhyme, you can ask yourself what the meter and rhyme scheme is. Is it anapestic or iambic? Trimeter or tetrameter? AABB or ABCB? Start noticing.
KLT: How are you managing the marketing of your books? What are your best tips for organizing author visits, signings, and other publicity?
DM: I’m afraid I’m not very good in that area. But I definitely recommend applying for book festivals. They typically get a great turnout.
KLT: Before you fly away, what’s coming next?
DM: I’m happy to say the sequel of Grimelda is going to be released next summer. It’s called GRIMELDA AND THE SPOOKTACULAR PET SHOW (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins). I’ve already seen Heather’s illustrations and they are simply awesome. And this January will be the launch of GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE, illustrated by the amazing Bats Langley (Sky Pony Press). Can’t wait for the world to see his talent. It’s his first picture book. Another title coming next summer is DORIS THE BOOKASAURUS (Imprint/Macmillan) illustrated by the wonderful Yuyi Chen. I am SO in love with the cover! There are some other things on the way, too. You can see more on my website: http://www.dianamurray.com.
So much to look forward to! Thanks so much!
Diana is offering a GIVEAWAY: One signed copy of GRIMELDA THE VERY MESSY WITCH! (U.S. residents only.) See details below!
Diana Murray writes poetry and books for children. Her award-winning poems have appeared in magazines including Spider, Ladybug, Highlights, High Five, and Hello. Diana grew up in New York City and recently moved to a nearby suburb, where she lives with her husband, two very messy children, and a goldfish named Pickle. She is represented by Brianne Johnson at Writers House literary agency.
By Donna Cangelosi
Actress and kidlit author Jamie Lee Curtis recently made an appearance at Bookends in Ridgewood, NJ, promoting her new picture book, THIS IS ME: A STORY OF WHO WE ARE & WHERE WE CAME FROM. The audience was a diverse, inter-generational crowd; young moms with babies in tow, preschoolers, school-age children, teens, movie buffs, and in the third row, two aspiring picture book writers- my critique pal, Nancy Anton, and yours truly.
Full of energy, Jamie arrived early and shared backstories about movies, took selfies with everyone in the audience, and signed books. She described THIS IS ME as a story about identity.
THIS IS ME, written from a teacher's point of view, opens with the line, "My great-grandmother came from a far, distant place. She came on a boat with just this small case." The story addresses ancestry and family values and invites young readers to explore items that represent who they are. Jamie commented about the book's universal theme. "It doesn't matter what color or religion we are or what we believe, we all came from somewhere."
A master at capturing universal themes, Jamie Lee Curtis has written ten additional picture books that tackle the struggles and wonders of growing up. Illustrated by Laura Cornell, each of these books is filled with heart, humor, magnificent images and relatable characters. And they have fun titles too!
MY BRAVE YEAR OF FIRSTS: TRIALS, SIGHS & HIGH FIVES, 2012 (new experiences)
MY MOMMY HUNG THE MOON: A LOVE STORY, 2010 (mother-child bond)
BIG WORDS FOR LITTLE PEOPLE, 2008 (communication & empowerment)
IS THERE REALLY A HUMAN RACE? 2006 (self-awareness)
IT'S HARD TO BE FIVE: LEARNING HOW TO WORK MY CONTROL PANEL, 2004 (self-control)
I'M GONNA LIKE ME: LETTING OFF A LITTLE SELF-ESTEEM, 2002 (self-esteem)
WHERE DO BALLOONS GO? AN UPLIFTING MYSTERY, 2000 (imagination & loss)
TODAY I FEEL SILLY, AND OTHER MOODS THAT MAKE MY DAY, 1998 (moods & feelings)
TELL ME AGAIN ABOUT THE NIGHT I WAS BORN, 1996 (adoption)
WHEN I WAS LITTLE: A FOUR-YEAR-OLD'S MEMOIR OF HER YOUTH, 1993 (growing up)
The Takeaway: Writing about a universal theme makes our books more relatable. Share your experiences about writing picture books that capture universal themes in the comments below.
By Chana Stiefel
Popular children's book author Josh Funk (of LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST fame) has not one but TWO new picture books out in a single week! PIRASAURS hit the shelves on August 30 and DEAR DRAGON swoops into stores today, September 6. To celebrate these book birthdays, Josh has shared some Funky advice for aspiring kidlit authors. PLUS he's generously offering a TWO book giveaway—one of his two new titles to TWO lucky KidLitTakeaways winners. Details below!
KLT: Welcome to Kidlitakeaways, Josh! Fill in the blank: Having two picture books come out in the same week is like ________________.
JF: ...eating your two favorite desserts. Or maybe like having fraternal twins? I don't know, I don't have twins.
KLT: Are you marketing the two books together or does each one get its own unique campaign?
JF: More separately than together at this point. Each book is published by a different publisher, and each is illustrated by a different illustrator (Michael Slack's PIRASAURS are better than I could have imagined and Rodolfo Montalvo's DEAR DRAGON art is so gorgeous). Each of the publishers is approaching publicity from its own angle. Each book has its own trailer. In blog interviews (like this) and at in-person events, I certainly promote both books. But I believe that each book deserves its own publicity efforts.
KLT: PIRASAURS is your second picture book to hit bookstores after your wildly successful LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST. Do you feel any different with this release, like a more experienced dad? What’s changed?
JF: I'm still pretty excited! Maybe it would have been a let down - but I gotta say, having two books come out at the same time might even beat the excitement of the debut (I'm not sure - we'll have to see how this plays out). One thing that's different is that because of Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, I now have connections with bookstores, educators, and bloggers. It's been easier to connect with readers, and in some cases, people are reaching out to me. And also, I know how fun it is to release a book to the world. I'm just that much more excited to do it again!
KLT: One of your new books, DEAR DRAGON, is about the relationship between two pen pals (a boy and a dragon). How did that story come about?
JF: I gotta thank my kids for this one (again). We were on our way home from a theatrical production of Charlotte's Web, and my wife and I were discussing her 8th grade social studies class's pen pals (Mama Funk is the teacher). At the time, my son was going through a serious dragon phase (two of our favorite read alouds were TAKE CARE, GOOD KNIGHT by Shelley Moore Thomas and WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN by Jodi Moore). He piped up from the back seat (say in falsetto toddler voice) "I want to be pen pals with a DRAGON!" And that's how it happened.
KLT: Congrats on the upcoming LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST, PART TWO. What’s it like to write a sequel? Did you already have the second story in mind when you submitted the first book?
JF: I certainly did not have the sequel in mind when writing the first one. But I wrote LP&SFT: THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH about six months before the first one came out. I had seen Brendan Kearney's illustrations of the original and it opened up a ton of possibilities. Now that the world of LP&SFT actually existed, I was able to stretch it further - explore more of the fridge and really have fun with it.
While I didn't know if Sterling would want to publish it - they didn't ask for it, I just wrote it on my own without even telling my agent first - just knowing that they liked the first one enough to publish it allowed me to take more risks in the sequel. I knew that at a minimum, they understood what I was trying to do. And I honestly think the sequel might be better because of that.
KLT: What were TWO of your favorite children’s books as a child (and why)?
JF: Just two? Well, I'm gonna go with Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. Why? I'm not entirely sure. I know it certainly caused a great amount of claustrophobia in me (being turned into a stone, being inches from the pebble but not able to reach it). But really, it's got a caring family, magic, and a happy ending. Plus, my parents must have read it to me a lot.
Number two would be Matilda. I was the perfect age for this book when it was released. It had the perfect amount of magical realism and the underdog heroine. Plus, I love seeing villains get their comeuppance through successful pranks!
KLT: What are TWO takeaways for aspiring authors?
JF: Well, I've written a 12-Step Guide to Writing Picture Books on my website (joshfunkbooks.com), that shares most of what I've learned since I started writing.
The first thing I'd say is: Keep Writing. Every book I write is better than the last. And that makes sense as the more I read, the more I write, and the more I learn, I'm improving. Just like anything, writing takes practice.
The second thing, which relates to the first is: Keep Learning. Go to conferences, workshops, and retreats. Network with other writers and industry professionals. Learn about writing in areas outside of your genre - because a good story is a good story, whether in picture book, novel, or other form. They all need good characters, plots, emotion, conflict, and so on. Everything you learn will make you a better all around writer - so never stop learning.
Thank you, Josh, for your terrific interview! Find out how to enter the TWO book giveaway (one book for TWO lucky winners) below. The more ways you enter (by commenting on this blog, joining our email list, following us on Twitter @kidlittakeaways & tweeting...), the higher your chances of winning! Good luck!
About Josh Funk: Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as picture books - such as the Award-Winning LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling), PIRASAURS! (Scholastic), DEAR DRAGON (Viking/Penguin), LP&SFT: THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH (Sterling, 2017), IT'S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK (Two Lions, 2017), and more.
Josh is a board member of The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA, and the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences.
Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes picture book manuscripts.
Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.
Find out more about josh at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on twitter at @joshfunkbooks.
By Donna Cangelosi
We've all been there- cleaning a closet, play room or dreaded basement. We look at the bins and bags, shut the door, and run away! "Next week," we tell ourselves. "Or next month," or better yet, "next year!" For me, "next year" comes every summer. My most recent project... my office closet. A storehouse of every toy and art material a child therapist or child could dream of. Some with a great deal of purpose. Some with none. But I love all of them. Where do I begin?
With the mantra "Keep, Donate, Throw Away," I proceed with determination and make three piles. Several hours later, voila! A beautiful, organized closet. Admiring my accomplishment, it occurred to me that this mantra can work when revising picture books.
KEEP-The words and lines of our stories that engage the reader, develop characters, add heart and humor, move the story forward, enrich the arc, and make the picture book one that children will read over and over.
DONATE- The clever, beautiful words and phrases that we just can't throw away. Put them in their own special file or notebook and use them for another story.
THROW OUT- Extra words, adverbs, and descriptive lines that take away from the illustrator. Cut anything that makes the story drag on. Remember, kids love action and excitement.
THE TAKEAWAY- When revising manuscripts, remember the mantra, "Keep, Donate, Throw Away." And don't forget to leave a bag of opportunities for the illustrator. Please share your ideas for revising picture books.
By Chana Stiefel
Recently, I had the good fortune of winning a manuscript critique with children’s author Miranda Paul through the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge. In addition to the critique (which was enormously helpful), we had a wonderful conversation about the importance of writing the books that are “true to you”—the books that come from your own life experience, your unique interests, and your heart.
Miranda has two new books out this year (check out TRAINBOTS & 10 LITTLE NINJAS, which arrives in stores August 9th). What are the keys to Miranda’s publishing success (besides being an all-around kind and generous person)? For starters, she stretches her creativity by writing in a variety of genres—both fiction and non-fiction. “Most of my books are a crossover between trade and school library,” Miranda says. “They are both educational and commercial. You can read my books at school or at bedtime.”
In addition, she describes her stories as “more than just books.” How so? After all, they look, feel, and smell like books (especially when you buy them fresh from the store). I decided to dig deeper into some of Miranda’s books to find out what sends them soaring beyond the book zone.
ONE PLASTIC BAG
Miranda’s debut picture book is the true story of Isatou Ceesay, a young woman from Njau, Gambia, who came up with a brilliant solution for cleaning up piles of plastic bags that were causing pollution, attracting harmful mosquitoes in pooling water, and choking livestock. ONE PLASTIC BAG is a gripping story. But what makes it “more than a book”?
WHOSE HANDS ARE THESE? A Community Helper
As the subtitle suggests, this book is more than an interactive read-aloud. It’s a guessing game! With lively rhyme, each alternating spread displays pairs of hands doing a specific task (sketching, healing, keeping score…). Readers are asked, “Whose hands are these?” The book works on many levels. Yes, it ties into lessons on careers, community helpers, and STEAM, but it also raises the stakes by adding suspense and fun! I can imagine kids reading the book at home or at school and having a blast creating their own unique books based on WHOSE HANDS ARE THESE?
WATER IS WATER
With gorgeous illustrations by Jason Chin and Miranda’s lyrical rhyme, WATER IS WATER teaches kids about the water cycle throughout the four seasons. Kid-friendly details like hot cocoa, snowballs, and sloshing in mud puddles are interwoven into this heart-warming book that softly drizzles the science about cycles in nature. Beyond being a book, it’s also a song by Emily Arrow! Listen here: https://youtu.be/vzJwNGo-7HY
By Chana Stiefel
We’re so excited to welcome Sylvia Liu to KidLitTakeaways! Sylvia and I connected through her website KidLit411.com—a great hub for kidlit resources—which she co-runs with her critique partner Elaine Kiely Kearns. KidLit411 had an awesome birthday bash last year, which included several amazing giveaways for authors & illustrators. I hit the jackpot, winning a year’s supply of debut picture books, including…A MORNING WITH GRANDPA, Sylvia’s beautiful debut picture book! Sylvia not only agreed to an interview, but she is also offering a signed copy of her book to one lucky winner (details below). Enjoy!
KLT: How did the story of A MORNING WITH GRANDPA come to you? Is it based on personal experience?
SL: Yes, sort of. My father was teaching my daughters breathing techniques for qi gong, a Chinese mind-body practice, and that inspired me to write a story about a grandfather teaching his granddaughter tai chi.
KLT: Mei Mei and Gong Gong—are these names in your family?
SL: Gong Gong is what my girls call my dad. It’s Chinese for grandfather. Mei Mei means younger daughter in Chinese, and I grew up as a Mei Mei. We don’t call my younger daughter Mei Mei, though.
KLT: When did you write your first draft? How similar is it to the final book?
SL: I wrote it during the summer of 2013. I went through many revisions with my critique group, and then I signed up for a paid critique that came with a Writer’s Digest course. The original story had Gong Gong teaching Mei Mei both tai chi and qi gong, and she was teaching him how to make lemonade. With the help of my critique group and a professional critique, I pared down the plot and introduced yoga into the story. The fun and caring relationship between the two characters remained the same.
KLT: How does the writing process work in your critique group?
SL: I have an amazing online critique group of six other picture book authors. We live on three continents and formed three years ago. We have a secret Facebook group where we interact and share our stories. Each of us takes turns sharing one story a week. One of us posts a story on a Sunday and the rest of us have the rest of the week to provide comments. Our turn comes around every seven weeks, and if we don’t have a story to post, we can use our turn to discuss any writing or career-related issue (for example, which stories should we submit to an agent, what do people think of this idea, etc.).
KLT: I love that the back matter of A MORNING WITH GRANDPA includes instructions for yoga and tai chi movements and postures. This seems unique for a fiction picture book. How did the back matter come about?
SL: I have been writing back matter for several of my fiction stories because most of my stories are inspired by some real life component. Because tai chi is not as well known as other forms of exercise and meditation, it felt natural to explain it. I did the same with yoga.
KLT: Describe the submission process for A MORNING WITH GRANDPA.
SL: I submitted the story in late October 2013 as a submission for Lee & Low’s annual New Voices Award, a contest to identify new authors of color. I won the grand prize that year, which included a publishing contract for A MORNING WITH GRANDPA. I signed the contract in early 2014 and the book came out in May 2016.
KLT: Congratulations! You are also an accomplished illustrator. Was illustrating A MORNING WITH GRANDPA an option? Are you planning to illustrate your own books?
SL: The New Voices award is geared towards finding and promoting new authors, so Lee & Low planned to hire a different illustrator from the beginning. I would love to illustrate my own books eventually.
KLT: Lee & Low is a publisher known for its multicultural books. Why is it important to share diverse books with a young audience?
SL: We need diverse books for young people (and everyone) so that we can learn from, understand, and experience the full and amazing multiplicity of stories out there, which show both our common humanity as well the fascinating distinct forms it takes. Reading diverse stories opens people's minds and hearts to the "other" so we realize that we are all essentially the same. Reading diverse stories helps us appreciate that we also have very distinct histories and cultural influences that make each person unique and interesting. Reading diverse stories helps us realize there is not one monolithic story about how we got here, what our country is about, and why we are here.
KLT: So true! What are you working on next?
SL: I’m developing several new stories, both the words and illustrations and revising other stories.
KLT: What’s your takeaway for other aspiring authors?
SL: Keep creating and don't compare yourself to others. Work on your own timetable and don't stop!
Thank you Sylvia! Sylvia is generously offering a free signed copy of A MORNING WITH GRANDPA. (Must be a U.S. resident.) Check out the Rafflecopter below Sylvia's bio to enter!
Sylvia Liu is a picture book author and children's illustrator. Her debut picture book, A MORNING WITH GRANDPA, illustrated by Christina Forshay (Lee & Low Books) came out in May 2016. Her portfolio can be found at enjoyingplanetearth.com and she co-runs the successful kid lit resource website, www.kidlit411.com. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with her husband, two girls, cat, and guinea pig. She is inspired by cephalopods, aliens, kraken, grandpas, robots, and more.
Donna Cangelosi and Chana Stiefel are picture book critique partners & friends who are passionate about kids' books & are eager to share tidbits from their writing journey with other aspiring writers.