July 31, 2014

WOW Retreat was really WOW! (plus some good news)

This past July I flew out to Georgia drove 2+ hours (we got a little lost along the way) to attend a picture book writing retreat that was truly WOW on so many levels. Let me count the ways for you.

1) Awesome car buddies on the ride-up.meandmiranda

I have known Pam Courtney on-line through the Perfect Picture Friday series since 2012. She is a riot and so funny. Kathy Halsey is so sweet and full of stories. And finally being able to meet Miranda Paul who I was in a critique group with back in 2012. Awesome. By the way if she ever tells you she is shy and introverted don’t believe her. ;-) The girl can talk and she is a WEALTH of knowledge on everything kidlit.

2) Enota Mountain Retreat

Beautiful, peaceful surroundings once you get use to the bugs. Thanks to Sarah Davis Maynard there were morning exercises everyday. One morning we did the waterfall hike.

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3) Party House Gals

This had to have been one of my favorite highlights of the retreat. Two floors full of dorm sized rooms. Seriously, I felt like I was back in college, which is a great thing. Talking in the hallways at all hours, spontaneous critique exchanges, playing Head’s Up, imbibing wine … just loads of fun! I finally got to meet people I had only known on-line over the past few years. Having Jackie and Karen two of my on-line critique group members there was icing on the cake.

partyhouse

4) Speakers

Our fearless leader, Kristen, had an amazing line-up of speakers. Something for writers at every level. On the craft side, I loved Dianna Aston’s Evocative Language and Jodell Sadler’s sneak peak into her Pacing Picture Books to WOW class. (you too can take this awesome class just click on the link)  I have no idea what a Master class entails but I am guessing  it would be something like this. I also loved the interactive discussions that happened during Ariel Richardson’s talk on diversity in books.

Here are some nuggets of information from the week:

  • Character + Plot – Unnecessary Words + Mishaps x Rule of  Threes = $$
  • Picture Books are about one true thing – making a promise and fulfilling it
  • Study Screenwriting
  • You cannot illustrate the word ‘WAS’
  • When writing pretend there is a little kid on the edge of your desk. The idea here is to keep your audience in mind at all times. (I have Rex from Toy Story sitting on the edge of my desk)
  • Make a pitch sheet. A 1-2 sentence description for each of your stories. If you can’t summarize your story into a pitch, then it might be a sign that you don’t know what your story is really about.
  • Bookstores want the hook to come across in the title & cover. (guess I better re-work my bland titles)

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5) Round Table Critiques

I loved my fellow “Seniors”. After 4 days of being with the same group we knew what every one was bringing to the table. I was the one who kept asking about the picture book “promise”. Cathy was the queen of humor while Charlotte was the queen of candy stories. I do love the Dots story. Nisha was a bundle of energy. And Debbie, well I am still impressed with your revision of Franklin.

round table jodell

 

6) Just getting to know everyone!!

I loved that all the faculty were so open and willing to answer question/chat/share a meal. There was no pressure it was really easy to get to know them. This is something that you just can’t do at a regular conference where you are lucky if you even get two minutes of an agent or editor’s time.

It really felt like we were all just one big family helping each other out.

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7) As you can see the WOW retreat was really WOW on so many levels. If you are interested in WOW Retreat 2015 I would recommend reserving your spot now, as there are only a couple of spots left.

On a more personal note, I had been planning to use my 5 professional critiques at WOW to help me gauge whether I should start subbing to agents. Well that is not going to happen. See the sixth unplanned, last minute critique changed my plans. I am very happy to call the amazing, smart, caring, all-around nice gal Jodell Sadler my AGENT!!

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Since it takes a community to raise a writer I’d like to thank a whole bunch of people:

  • Kristen, Rusty, Jackie, and anyone else behind the scenes for putting this awesome retreat together
  • My WOW6 and Critters with Goals on-line critique groups members and fellow writers Margaret, Emily, Susan, and Alayne who helped me get my stories in shape for WOW.
  • To all the wonderful teachers and writer’s groups I have participated in Susanna’s MPBM, Mira’s PB Course, 12 x 12, and PiBoIdMo.
  • And most importantly to my husband and kids, without their support none of this would be possible.
July 27, 2014

Behind the Scenes with Chronicle Books plus a Video Book Review

Hi Readers,

So sorry I have been away for the past four months. I have missed all of you. I have been focusing on my own picture book writing and it has been going really well. I am definitely finding my groove so I will start blogging again. I cannot wait to tell you about all the fabulous books coming out this Fall 2014. And I am also taking Katie Davis’s Video Boot Camp course so hopefully you will start to see more video reviews from me as well.

Toodles!

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Chronicle Books is an independent publisher based in San Francisco. They produce gorgeous, smart, visually appealing books. This past week children’s editor Melissa Manlove and book designer Ryan Hayes gave a behind the scenes look at children’s publishing. The event was moderated by Irene and Sally from the Marketing department. Below are some of the highlights from the event.

Q: Who partakes in the Acquisition meetings?

A: Editors, Book Designers, Production, Marketing, Publicity … pretty much everyone involved with the book except for Sales.

Q: What makes it a great book for Chronicle? (to Melissa)

A: Magic. (Melissa retold a story of how when they were working on JOSEPHINE, they realized that the text and art were too scrunched up. So Melissa asked her boss if they could have more pages. And the answer was yes. JOSEPHINE is a 3,800 word non-fiction story told in verse. It is 104 pages long!)

josephine collage2

 

Q: How big is the slush pile?

A: They receive 9-10,000 manuscripts a year. The editorial team gets together once a month to go through the slush pile.

Q: Where do the stories come from that get published?

A: Most stories come from existing authors that they have worked with and from agents. However, they do find stories in the slush pile. They also have a small percentage of stories that are work-for-hire.

Q: What is Chronicle’s position on ebooks and story apps?

A: Chronicle is issuing ebooks for all their frontlist titles. With regards to storybook apps they are not seeing the return on investment at this time, so are taking a wait and see approach.

Q: How many books does Chronicle print on a first-run?

A: This is something that is discussed at the acquisition meeting but the final decision is made later on by the publishing director and sales team. Average first-run in children’s books is 10-15,000. Basically enough to last 3-6months. Their philosophy is to print small and print rapidly.

STEAM TRAIN, DREAM TRAIN did have a first run of 100,00. But keep in mind this follows GOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT CONSTRUCTION SITE which has been on the New York Bestseller’s list for 146 weeks!

Q: If a writer-only is submitting a novelty book idea can they submit a prototype or extra material.

A: Submit whatever is necessary to get the vision across. (The novelty book WHAT’S IN YOUR PURSE was created by a writer-only author and she did submit additional pdfs explaining/showing the interactive portions of the book.)

Hope you found these few highlights helpful. If you have any other questions fell free to ask in the comments. If I know the answer I’ll try to answer.

For your viewing pleasure below is my first ever video review of the adorable book WHAT’S IN YOUR PURSE by Chronicle Books. Enjoy!

February 28, 2014

Interview with Salina Yoon and Penguin

Salina.Yoon.photo2

Yesterday I reviewed the heart-warming Penguin series. Today I am so excited to share my interview with Salina Yoon. I met Salina through the Verla Kay Blueboards (now SCBWI boards) where she is an active member. She has a generous, caring spirit which comes shining through in her Penguin books. She is a “prolific” author/illustrator and has published over 200 books!! She has 6 new books coming out in the next two years. She got her start in novelty/board books and has recently branched out into character-drive picture books with great success. 

What aspects of childhood do you like to capture in your art and writing?

I like to capture the innocence of childhood, when anything and everything can be your friend. A child has an innate love for things and a need to connect, even if they are inanimate. Children see the preciousness of things we grown-ups sometimes overlook… and I bring this character to life through Penguin.

Who are your creative influences – in books, art, or any other media?

Eric Carle, Gyo Fujikawa, and Dr. Seuss were my earliest creative influences even though I don’t illustrate like any of them! Each are completely unique: Carle’s is graphic and minimalistic, Fujikawa’s is soft and rendered, and Dr. Seuss is wild and imaginative! It made me realize that a story can be delivered in many ways. I love to play around with art style from one book to the next (unless it’s a series). I could name dozens more books that are completely unique—and collectively, they are my influence, and remind me that each book can have its own character, style, and delivery. But specifically, Hervé Tullet inspired my own Tap to Play, the art of Charley Harper influenced the artwork in Kaleidoscope and Pinwheel. I also LOVE the art of Jon Klassen, Laura Vaccaro Seeger, and Antoinette Portis. Groundbreakers—these talented people!

kal and pin

(Note: Pinwheel is unavailable currently, but is scheduled to be reprinted, and will be available again later this year/2014 due to early sell-out in 2013)

For Penguin’s art, though, it came internally from my childhood self. I wanted to draw Penguin in a way a child would. But at the time, I was illustrating all of my books with a mouse. This made it difficult to draw organically. So I purchased a Wacom tablet to allow myself to draw with a pen tool. Since I wasn’t familiar how to draw with this tool and tablet, my drawings were somewhat child-like. I decided to keep that “style” and it worked for Penguin.

What advice would you give to beginning authors and illustrators?

Make it your goal to CREATE, write, and grow, . . . and not to publish. Keep your eye on the ball… and that ball is to write or illustrate,… and publishing will follow!

Initially you were focused on novelty books and jumped into character-driven picture books with the Penguin series (which I love). Do you have any writing/illustrating goals that you would still like to accomplish?

Thank you (for loving Penguin!) I’ve enjoyed creating each and every one of my novelty books, but when I wrote Penguin, I was ready for a new challenge, and JUMP, I did! Since Penguin’s first book in 2012, I will have 9 character-driven picture books published by 2016 (so far)! There’s so many more I’d like to do, but I also aspire to write and illustrate for the early reader or even possibly the early chapter book market!

What were the seeds of inspiration for Penguin and Pinecone?

My first son was always very curious. As a toddler, he’d examine things very closely– like a fallen leaf on the ground. When he turned 4 or 5, he loved to collect things—like rocks, leaves, shells, and pine cones. He was very particular about the things he collected, and from his collections, there was always one that stood out. He’d take it, place it in a box, and ask for me to make it a blanket. A piece of fleece or napkin was enough. He didn’t ask for goggly eyes to attach to it or change it in any way. The way it was was simply enough. He’d name it… usually the name of the object, plus a “y” at the end. A rock became “Rocky,” a shell became “Shelly,” and so on. This sweet, nurturing spirit inspired Penguin’s character, though I didn’t know it at the time. It stayed with me, and when Penguin was born, I realized later that my son had inspired him!

What future adventures are in-store for Penguin?

Penguin is seeking to experience one of our favorite seasons—FALL—in his next adventure. And this time, he’s not traveling alone! Look for Penguin’s fourth book, Penguin and Pumpkin, in July 2014! This one focuses on the relationship of siblings. If you have a child with a younger sibling, this might be a sweet book to share.

*******************************************
Now some rapid fire questions for Penguin.

Who is your best friend?

I have made many best friends through my adventures! But among them, I have to say that Pinecone, Crab, and Bootsy are my very best of friends! (Learn how this happened in PENGUIN AND PINECONE, PENGUIN ON VACATION, and PENGUIN IN LOVE)

What is your snack of choice?

Fishies from the ocean, and marshmallows.

What is your favorite vacation spot?

The beach—where I met Crab.

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If you weren’t a penguin what animal would you like to be?
It would be fun to be a boy dressed up in a wolf suit so I could cause mischief! That counts as an animal, right? I never cause mischief in real life.

wolf_small

Is Ms. Yoon a penguin-driver or laid back? 
She works very hard, but I get to do whatever I want… like bake.

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Can you share with us your favorite selfie?

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I like this picture because I am holding my own book!

Where can we can we follow you and Ms. Yoon?

You can follow me on my blog: www.penguinandpinecone.com
or my FB page: https://www.facebook.com/penguinandpinecone
and you can follow my Mama, Salina Yoon, on her FB page: https://www.facebook.com/salina.yoon.7
or learn more about her on her website: www.salinayoon.com

Be sure to check-out Salina’s upcoming books.

FOUND (Walker Books for Young Readers), April 1, 2014
Penguin and Pumpkin (Walker Books for Young Readers), July 29, 2014
Tap to Play, (HarperCollins), Oct 7, 2014

Forthcoming in 2015-2016
Two additional Bear picture books, and one more Penguin book (untitled) with Walker Books for Young Readers

SY PB strip 2

I also recommend checking out these other fabulous interviews with Salina.

February 27, 2014

Penguin Series by Salina Yoon

penguinseries

Welcome! It is my pleasure to review a wonderful series about a warm-hearted penguin from the super-talented picture book author/illustrator Salina Yoon. Also check-out my interview with Salina and Penguin!!

The Penguin picture book series involves a cute little penguin that embarks on adventures and experiences new places through the lens of a young child. All of the books have an underlying theme of love and friendship which will be appealing to readers of all ages. The digital illustrations are simple, colorful, child-like and perfect for storytime.

penguin-and-pinecone

In the first book Penguin and a Pinecone, Penguin finds a pinecone and they become best friends. Penguin knits it a scarf, takes it sledding, and then becomes worried when pinecone sneezes. Penguin then sets off on a journey to take Pinecone home to the forest, where it can go big and strong. Penguin gets Pinecone settled in his new home and while he returns his ice home. After waiting and wondering about his friend, Penguin returns to the forest and finds Pinecone has “grown” from Penguin’s love.

Penguin shows the same love and concern for pinecone that young children show for their favorite stuffed animal or doll. He also has the same worries as kids do about being apart from someone who they love. What is truly amazing is the number of emotions (curiosity, concern, worry, happiness) and themes (friendship, love, loyalty) conveyed with such little text, only 212 words.

penguin vacation

In Penguin on Vacation, Penguin decides he is tired of snow . “Snow again?” (I’m sure those of you on the East Coast can relate to that.) Skiing, sledding, and skating vacations just don’t cut it anymore. He sees a cruise ship in the distance and decides to go to the beach! Penguin packs a suitcase and a beach ball and sets off. Despite bigger and bigger waves he persists. Upon reaching the beach Penguin realizes he can’t do the same things here as he did on ice. But with the help of a friendly Crab, Penguin learns how to have fun in the sun. But when Penguin leaves to go home he finds a stowaway, his new friend Crab who says “I need a vacation too!” The two enjoy winter activities before Crab has to leave.

Penguin show curiosity and gumption in this tale of visiting a new place. I love how Penguin thought he could do his winter activities at the beach. The tale resonates a theme that I think kids already know and that adults sometimes forget, “you can have fun anywhere as long as you are with friends.”

penguin beach

penguin loveIn the newest title, Penguin in Love, Penguin is looking for love but he finds a purple mitten. Penguin tries to find the owner who loves knitting as much as he does, but no luck. He then makes a bill cozy for a puffin. The grateful puffin hatches a plan to bring the two knitting penguins together. Penguin and his friend Bootsy go on a journey to unravel the mystery of their missing yarn only to realize what they have been looking for all along was right under their beaks.

I love that the acts of kindness in this book, where Penguin gives the puffin a cozy for his cold beak and in turn puffin sets off to help Penguin find love.

February 13, 2014

Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears

Goldi Rocks and the Three BearsTitle: Goldi Rocks and the Three Bears

Author: Corey Rosen Schwartz and Beth Coulton
Illustrator: Nate Wragg
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’ Sons, 2014
Book Type: Fiction
Ages: 4-8
Themes: Fractured Fairy Tale, Music

Opening Lines:
“Once upon a rock-and roll time,
three bears in a band jammed with ease.
The Papa Bear drummed,
the Mama Bear strummed,
and Baby bear ticked the keys.”

Synopsis (from Amazon website):

Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear know how to rock! But they need a new singer, so they audition everyone—the Three Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, and more. To their dismay, no one seems just right. Could the perfect lead singer be the mysterious girl sleeping on Baby Bear’s keyboard?

Activities:

Have kids make their own musical instruments, guitar, bells and drums, and more. Then have a jam session.
Lesson plan on writing fractured fairy tales for 3rd-5th grades.

Why I Like This Book:

Goldilocks and the Three Bears has to be the most popular story to do a fractured fairy tale. I’m not sure why but this rhyming version by Ms. Schwartz rockets to the top of the charts for sheer originality and fun. The rhythm and pop feel of this rendition will engage today’s kids and their American Idol watching parents. This book is a pure read-aloud joy that is enhanced by the colorful pencil and digital illustrations.

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Picture Book Writers: Check-out this wonderful post by Ms. Schwartz at the Writerly Wisdom blog where she discusses Rhyme and Meter in Goldi rock style!

One lucky winner will receive their choice of a signed copy of this book OR a free picture book critique from Ms. Schwartz. In the comments answer “What favorite pop song do you like to sing or bee-bop too?” Deadline to enter is February 20th 9pm PST.

My favorite song to rock out on these days is “Safe and Sound” by Capital Cities.

This review is part of Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book series. Visit her site to see the other books recommended.

Disclosure: I received a F&G (fold and gather, not bound) copy of this story from the author. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.

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