by Annie Cronin Romano
The holiday season is here, and so is 24 Carrot Writing’s holiday gift idea list for 2017! If you’re looking for some unique gifts for the writers and book lovers in your life (or “carrots” for meeting your writing goals!), here are this year’s suggestions.
Know a writer or book lover who is expecting a new bundle of joy? Here’s a storybook baby blanket and baby hat that will carry their love of all things literary into the nursery. Available at www.storiarts.com, they both come in several storybook prints, including Alice in Wonderland and The Velveteen Rabbit. They're the perfect items to wrap up baby in the wonders of the literary world!
Usgearlaunch.com has a unique array of book-themed tote bags from classic to contemporary to just plain whimsical. You’re sure to find one perfect for any library haul.
Know a writer who loves shoes? At groovebags.com, you'll find bookish footwear to put your best literary foot forward. Be it sneakers or slides, they have something to fit your style.
Here's one for the ultra-unique column. For the writer who has practically everything, give the gift of interior design! Visit usgearlaunch.com to find stairway stickers to give your staircase a true
library feel. Just make sure the recipient doesn't
live in a ranch!
Do you like to unwind with a drink after an evening of writing? At uncommongoods.com, you’ll find glasses inscribed with some literary classics, including Hamlet, Sherlock Holmes, and Les Miserables.
If you know a Harry Potter fan (and who doesn’t?), here’s a fun timepiece available at pbteen.com to make sure he or she is not late for the next quidditch match! Or, if your
wallet is a bit fatter, they also have a Hedwig lamp to shed some light on bedtime reading.
We’ve all heard about the importance of reading those iconic pieces of literature. Know someone who needs a visual reminder? This clever scratch-off poster lists 100 iconic books rom classic to contemporary that someone (I don’t know who, exactly) decided everyone should read. After you finish each book, scratch the title space to reveal related artwork. Find it at uncommongoods.com.
Do you know any writers who don’t have a desk or can’t find the surface of their dining room table because their child’s science project had taken up residence? Problem solved! This lapdesk available at www.bedbathandbeyond.com lets them take their writing space anywhere. It even has a slot to stand up your tablet if that’s your technology of choice. Prefer to choose the fabric and size yourself? Visit the Lap Desk Lady on www.etsy.com to see a variety of sizes and styles.
My final suggestion…drum roll please? Books. (Duh, right?) Books about writing—the craft
itself and the industry of publishing—are welcome additions to any writer’s bookshelf.
A few suggestions include On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, collected and edited by Leonard S. Marcus, and The Chicago Manual of Style, which is on its 17th edition. From craft to industry to mechanics, these books are just a sampling of the staples every writer’s collection should have.
Even better? Buy them from an indie bookstore and support your local small business!
As always, be sure to give yourself a gift too:
the priceless gift of time to work on your writing in 2018.
All of us at 24 Carrot Writing wish you a happy, healthy,
and goal-accomplishing holiday season!
By Annie Cronin Romano
Oh, the lazy, hazy days of school vacation! On this first day of summer, what could be more fitting than gathering up some picture books with Fourth of July and summertime themes? (Besides slathering on the sunblock and hitting the beach, of course!) This list features picture books of varied reading levels for your child's summer reading enjoyment. Pick one or all of them and dive into stories of Independence Day or summertime rituals with your young readers! No matter what books you choose, keep the stories flowing all summer long!
4th of July themed stories:
THE STORY OF AMERICA'S BIRTHDAY, by Patricia A. Pingry, Illustrated by Meredith Johnson
FOURTH OF JULY MICE! by Bethany Roberts, Illustrated by Doug Cushman
RED, WHITE, AND BOOM! by Lee Wardlaw, Illustrated by Huy Voun Lee
APPLE PIE 4th OF JULY by Janet S. Wong, Illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine
IMOGENE'S LAST STAND by Candace Fleming, Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter
INDEPENDENCE CAKE by Deborah Hopkinson, Illustrated by Giselle Potter
THOSE REBELS, JOHN & TOM by Barbara Kerley, Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
THE JOURNEY OF THE ONE AND ONLY DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE by Judith St. George, Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
Summertime themed stories:
SUMMER DAYS AND NIGHTS by Wong Herbert Yee
THE WATERMELON SEED by Greg Pizzoli
MOUSE'S FIRST SUMMER by Lauren Thompson, Illustrated by Buket Erdogan
DUCK AND GOOSE GO TO THE BEACH by Tad Hills
HOW MANY STARS IN THE SKY by Lenny Holt, Illustrated by James E. Ransome
ICE CREAM SUMMER by Peter Sis
THINK COOL THOUGHTS by Elizabeth Perry, Illustrated by Linda Bronson
MONSOON AFTERNOON by Kashmira Sheth, Illustrated by Yoshiko Jaeggi
NIGHT OF THE MOONJELLIES by Mark Shasha
Have some favorite summer-themed children's books? Please share them with us in the comments section!
~ By Amanda Smith
February 24 was World Read Aloud Day. As part of my second grader’s class activities, parents and other guests were invited to read to the students. Even though I had only 15 minutes, I arrived with arms full of my favorite picture books to share with these excited little ones. What a glorious start to my day!
I had a diverse selection of books, but it soon became clear which ones got the kids’ attention. This caused me to ponder: What makes a great read-aloud book?
Josh Funk, author of LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST, and PIRASAURS! once said that a picture book is actually a performance piece. If you think about it, most picture books are read aloud by adults to children. And following this logic, picture books should thus have clear stage directions. As writers, how do we cue our readers?
We have all read books where the voice of a character is so clear, you know exactly how it is supposed to sound. How can one read SKIPPYJON JONES ( Judy Schachner) without one’s muy muy mejor Spanish accent? Or not use one’s Mr. Miyagi voice for Master Zutzu in WINK, THE NINJA WHO WANTED TO BE NOTICED ( J.C. Phillips) ? “The Loudest cricket is the first to be caught.” The cadence and rhythm of the language itself directs the reading.
Sometimes, as in UNICORN THINKS HE’S PRETTY GREAT (Bob Shea), the typography gives clues as to where the accent should be. Printing Unicorn’s words in rainbow colors with little sparklies around them, brings out the sweetest of voices from the reader and helps distinguish between Unicorn and Goat’s voices in places where dialogue isn’t tagged. In WOLFIE THE BUNNY (Amy Dyckman), Dot’s desperate “He’s going to eat us all up!” is emphasized by using bigger capitalized words. Even a non-reader will look at that text and know Dot is yelling.
Punctuation is another tool a writer can use to direct the reading. Tara Lazar’s THE MONSTORE starts like this: “At the back of Frankensweet’s Candy Shoppe, under the last box of sour gum balls, there is a trap door.
Knock five times, hand over a bag of squirmy worms, and you can crawl inside…
All those commas, those stacked phrases, the ellipse, and the use of the power of three (times two) masterfully build so much tension on the very first page, that by the page turn, your kid will be in your lap. And you will be reading in your very best horror-movie trailer voice.
Other times the stage directions come in the form of negative space. Negative space in language is created by pauses and silence. In RAGWEED’S FARM DOG HANDBOOK (Anne Vittur Kennedy), the humor of the delivery lies in the variation of long and short sentences. The short sentences (“Pigs lie in the mud all day and get bigger and BIGGER. That’s their job. That’s not your job. Don’t lie in the mud. Mud is lovely.”) allow for a deadpan delivery. As we know, comedy is all about timing and Kennedy brilliantly helps her readers deliver that timing with her sentence structure.
Whether it is voice, cadence and rhythm, typography, rhyme, negative space, or punctuation, these tools help readers read our books the way we intended. This is why it is so important to read our works in progress aloud. And to read books in print aloud. And to read aloud to children, bringing printed language to life.
I will be more aware of these tools as I work on my own manuscripts and hopefully, one day, they will become great read-alouds. In the meantime, is there a job where I can just read aloud to kids?
by Annie Cronin Romano
Josh Funk resides in New England and is a writer of children’s picture books. His debut picture book, LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling) came out in September 2015. Josh has kindly agreed to talk with 24 Carrot Writing about his books and writing process.
Congratulations on the publication of your debut picture book, LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling 2015)! Can you tell us a bit about your journey to the printed page? How long was your process from idea to print?
Thank you! And thanks for inviting me to 24 Carrot Writing!
I wrote my first picture book manuscript in the summer of 2011 (not Lady Pancake, a different story that will never see the light of day). My wife found a class in the adult education catalog taught at our local high school by author Jane Sutton and signed me up. I quickly realized that I had a lot to learn, but I was excited and the members of the class became my first critique group. Through the class I was introduced to SCBWI and I attended the 2012 New England SCBWI Conference. As soon as I walked into the conference center in Springfield, MA, I knew that this was the place for me.
By 2013, I felt that my writing was in a pretty solid place. I even had the courage to read an early version of Lady Pancake at the NESCBWI Spring Conference Open Mic. But I was getting virtually no response from queries to agents. So that summer, I decided to send my manuscripts directly to publishers.
And I got a few hits. Scholastic was interested in PIRASAURS!, DEAR DRAGON garnered interest from a couple of small publishers, and in early November of 2013 I got an email from Sterling Children’s stating that they’d like to publish LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST. By mid-January, 2014, I had signed with an agent, PIRASAURS! was acquired by Scholastic, and my agent sold DEAR DRAGON to Viking/Penguin. It was quite an exciting two months!
Did you always want to be a writer? What led you to focus on picture books?
No. I used to write poetry when I was very little (like 6 or 8). Apparently my play-by-play poems about Larry Bird and Roger Clemens were a hit in my family. In college I played guitar and wrote songs – however, the lyrics were more fun and quirky than ‘poetic.’
When I began reading picture books to my children, I found some really awesome ones that I loved. I often credit the following four books as my inspiration to be a writer:
Aspiring writers often are unsure whether to submit to agents or editors. What advice do you have for writers wrestling with this submission decision?
My advice is this:
b. They have access to all publishing houses. A good agent will know what editors are looking for which types of stories and try to match your manuscript with the right home. No more unsolicited submissions. No more slush piles.
c. An experienced editorial eye. A good agent will be able to help round your manuscripts into the right shape before sending off to editors.
I recommend querying agents for at least six months to a year before you...
3. Send directly to publishers. If you don’t have success finding an agent (like me), use SCBWI’s The Book, The Children’s Writers’ & Illustrator’s Market, and Google to see who is accepting unsolicited submissions and go from there.
Many children’s writers are discouraged from writing in rhyme. You have had success with rhyme in Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast. Were you ever encouraged to write a non-rhyming version? Why do you prefer to write in rhyme?
I was never encouraged to write a non-rhyming version. For a while, I thought that my stories were only any good because of the rhyme. But I have branched out a bit and I have started writing in prose lately.
I do think that rhyme, when written well, adds a certain element of charm to a picture book. But it’s very hard to rhyme well – which is why many people are discouraged from writing in rhyme. Frankly, I could talk about this all day, but if you want more of my thoughts on rhyme, check out this page in the ‘References for Writers’ section of my website.
You are a participant in PiBoIdMo and a contributor to the PiBoIdMo daily posts. Have you turned any of your PiBoIdMo ideas into full manuscripts?
I just looked back through all my lists and the answer is actually, no. For some reason, November is not my best month for coming up with ideas.
At 24 Carrot Writing, we discuss setting writing goals. Do you set writing goals for yourself?
Hmm, I don’t think I do. (Note: these last two questions are certainly making me question myself. Ha!)
I think for me, and this goes back to the PiBoIdMo question, too, that I write when I’m inspired. When I have an idea that I love, I’ll spend a ton of time working on it. November hasn’t traditionally been that month for me, I guess. But when I do think of something good, I’m all in until it’s finished.
There are times when I feel like I haven’t written a new picture book manuscript in a few months. Then a few weeks later I’ll have first drafts of a couple new ideas, and maybe even something worth sharing with critique partners or my agent.
The children’s writing community is wonderfully supportive and offers many resources to aspiring and published writers. You are actively involved with The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA as well as NESCBWI. How important has your involvement in the writing community been to your writing success?
The kidlit community is awesome. Not only have I been able to learn a lot from the Loft and SCBWI in regards to both the craft and the business of writing, I’ve made incredible connections with people that have helped me on personal and professional levels.
At SCBWI conferences, I’ve met critique partners as well as authors who’ve given me valuable and timely advice about querying and submitting. I met my agent through a referral of one of her existing clients, a friend I met at NESCBWI. I also met Heather Kelly, founder and empress of The Writers’ Loft.
I joined the Loft about two months after it opened in the spring of 2013 and helped start its first critique group. Now I’m on the executive board, helping to plan events, run the website and newsletter and more. I’m also co-coordinating the 2016 and 2017 New England SCBWI spring conferences (alongside Heather Kelly in 2016). So, yeah, I’d say NESCBWI, The Writers’ Loft, and the kidlit community have been pretty critical to any success I may be having.
Kids can be our toughest critics. Can you give one or two examples of your favorite kid feedback on your debut book?
In the small amount of fan mail I’ve received, I have to say that there are a lot of kids who would like to know if Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast ever get married. I’m going to be honest in saying that I haven’t really thought that far ahead in their lives yet. But one student made the wise suggestion that if they were to get married and have children, it would probably be a crepe (as it is a French pancake).
Crepe! That is one clever student. I love it!
Any final words of wisdom for aspiring children’s book authors?
My best piece of advice is to keep writing. My first book is never going to see the light of day. So don’t get hung up on the first one. Write a second. Then a third. Assuming you’re taking workshops and getting feedback from critique partners, each story you write will be better than the last. So keep on writing.
Thanks, Josh! Please share with us any events where readers (and writers!) can meet you in the upcoming weeks!
Thank YOU again for inviting me!
On December 5th at 10am, I’ll be at Wellesley Books for a Pancakes & PJ’s event.
And all the rest of my upcoming events for December can be found on my schedule of appearances page here.
Josh Funk is the author of LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling), as well as the forthcoming picture books DEAR DRAGON (Viking/Penguin 2016), PIRASAURS! (Scholastic 2017), THIS ISN’T JACK AND THE BEANSTALK (Two Lions, 2017), and more.
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 a board member of The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA and the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences. Find Josh Funk at joshfunkbooks.com and on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks.
by Kelly Carey
Many writers began writing when their own children were young and the thrill of snuggling in to share a good book awoke a desire to write a good book. What a wonderful way for your writing self to awaken. But what happens when your kids grow up? How will you still understand your child reader when you have no children in your house?
I stay connected to my target audience by volunteering in the local elementary school. I began by shelving books in the library. It was a natural fit since, like most writers, I love books. During my time checking out books for students, I noticed trends. Who is this Captain Underpants? Why are they fascinated by Ripley’s Believe It or Not books? Look, they still love Corduroy just like I did. No sooner had the Star Wars book gone back on the shelves than someone was checking it out again. They wanted books about fairies and football and yes, even a dog that farts. These books became my study guides. I poured over them like text books.
I watched as the kids reacted to read-aloud stories the librarian shared. Froggy created hysterical laughter. Kids would freeze and stare open mouthed wondering how Wemberly would survive his first day. I watched as they fidgeted through readings from books that failed to really grab them. I studied those books too. My time in the library was fantastic research.
I took it one step further and began substitute teaching in the school. Our school district requires a college education but you do not need any specific teaching degree in order to be a substitute. Getting in the classroom and interacting with the kids helped me to remember how they talk to each other, how they phrase questions and what situations spark what reactions. Every day in the classroom the kids showed me what matters to them, what makes them laugh and what makes them cry.
It’s not enough to connect readers with your writing. To make your writing truly resonate with your audience, you need to make sure that you are connected with your audience. I highly recommend looking for ways to actually interact with your target reader. For me, working in the school library, and substitute teaching have allowed me to keep my dialogue true and my subjects relevant.
Get connected with your audience – your writing will thank you.
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