International Dot Day

Yesterday was Dot Day.the-dot

Dot Day is a celebration of creativity inspired by Peter H. Reynold’s 2003 picture book, THE DOT.

Over the past year, I have included several lists of wonderful books, but I have not yet listed my very favorites – my top 10. When I do print that list, THE DOT will be right near the top.

In the book, an artistically challenged girl discovers that she is truly an artist at heart – all because of a clever teacher.

Her progression is true and steady, and her evolution brings the story full circle. I find it both satisfying and inspirational. Reynold’s simple illustrations, compliment the book perfectly.

I am always working to improve my own illustration skills. Vashti, the main character, is a great example for me. She is constantly looking for ways to improve, ways to make a better dot. I find my own “dots” getting better and better. Each day I try something new, I make new discoveries.

Now if only I could reach Vashti’s level of success in 32 short pages. Here’s to turning another page!

Picture Book ***500***

So far this year I have read 500 picture books.

All of these books were published in the last 5 years. I’ve also read dozens of older picture books, and 20 or so middle grade novels, but my goal this year was to focus on the recent batch of picture books.

I wanted to see what the trends and styles are in the market today.  Although I have many take-aways from reading all of these books I’ll just mention the highlights.

Same or different people as Author and Illustrator:

  • Separate author and illustrator: 58%
  • Author/illustrators: 42%

Word counts:

  • Wordless – 3%
  • Under 100 – 10%
  • Under 500 – 60%
  • Over 800 – 25%
  • Over 1000 – 18%

Main characters:

  • Animals: 29%
  • Humans: 59%
  • Creatures: 6%
  • Inanimate: 5%
  • Male: 68%
  • Female: 32%
  • Asian: 5%
  • Black: 11%
  • Hispanic: 4%
  • White: 76%
  • Not sure: 4%

Fiction

  • Fiction: 83%
  • Non-fiction: 13%
  • Both: 4%

Rhyme

  • Rhyming: 15%
  • Non-rhyme: 84%
  • Both: 1%

For those of you who are interested, my 500th book was THE SNATCHABOOK by Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty. I really enjoyed it. Great rhyme. Fun story, Great art. It reminded me a bit of one of my stories.

If At First …

I have been working on an idea for quite some time now. By “working on” I mean that I thought of an idea for a story months ago but haven’t gotten around to writing it until now.

It was just a phrase I heard someone say. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I just added it to the list of many other ideas that I don’t know what to do with.

Two months ago was National Picture Book Writing Week or NaPiBoWriWee. The goal of NaPiBoWriWee is to write a new first draft of a picture book everyday for a week. By the end of the week you have 7 new first drafts to play with. I did OK. I wrote 5 new first drafts during the week. One of them was using the phrase I wrote of above.

I knew at the time it wasn’t very good, so I never went back to read it. Then this week I felt the need to re-explore the idea. I came up with two versions of how the story should go. Normally I would have brainstormed until I had what I thought was the best idea and then wrote that. This time I wrote both.

Now I have 3 stories based on the same idea. What I discovered is it is so much easier to decide which direction to go when you have something real. Three rough manuscripts instead of just three ideas. Now I can really see what works and what doesn’t. I can read them. See how they flow. Feel them on the tongue.

This method takes a lot longer, but I think in the end makes my decisions much clearer. What to use, what not to use, what to combine – I can see it right in front of me.

Now a little tweaking and it’s off to the critique group.

Getting It Right

There is a question that every writer asks. How do I know when it is ready?

I have asked myself this question a million times . Every time I write a new story,  I go through the whole process – I write, I revise, I revise again, I send to my critique group, I revise, I send to more critique partners, I revise, and revise, and revise.

I get to the point where I think it is ready, then I revise again.

I return to it a month later, and I revise.

Every step along the way I am confident it is in the best shape it can be, then I change my mind and rework, rewrite, revise.

With my latest manuscript things are different. I know this one is ready. I read it through and I am proud of every word.

Why is this time different? I’ve been confident with many of my other stories. I, in fact, love my other stories and am confident they are sellable, but this time something was different.

I’ve been working on this story for a year and a half. It started out as an experiment in sounds. There was no story, just voices and sounds. Then it started coming together. Characters appeared. They needed a plot, I gave them one. I was on my way. I loved what I had so far. In fact, I thought it was ready. (But I didn’t really.) Then I showed it to one more person. Their advice was what was hiding in the back of my head from the beginning.

I decided my darlings needed to die. I completely rewrote the manuscript. I didn’t like it. So I completely rewrote it again – in rhyme! I haven’t written in rhyme in a very long time. This time everything felt right.

The point is, you know. I loved what I had written,

  • but I wasn’t submitting it,
  • but I continued to show it to critique partners,
  • but I continued to tinker with every word,
  • but something nagged at the back of my head.

NO MORE BUTS.

I know now what it feels like when it is ready.

More More More

There are so many amazing picture books out there. Here is another group that I think are just about perfect. I look at books and evaluate them on the writing, the illustrations, the idea, and the overall impact. The titles on this list get everything right.

  • JANE, THE FOX & ME Fanny Britt/Isabelle Arsenault
  • MCTOAD MOWS TINY ISLAND Tom Angleberger/John Hendrix
  • KEL GILLIGAN’S DAREDEVIL STUNT SHOW Michael Buckley/Dan Santat
  • SUN AND MOON Lindsey Yankey
  • LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST Josh Funk/Brendan Kearney
  • YOUR ALIEN Tammi Sauer/Goro Fujita
  • THE NUMBERLYS William Joyce/Christina Ellis
  • MOTHER BRUCE Ryan T. Higgins
  • FRIENDSHAPE Amy Krouse Rosenthal/Tom Lichtenheld
  • A RECIPE FOR BEDTIME Peter Bently/Sarah Massini
  • THE KING AND THE SEA Heinz Janisch/Wolf Erlbruch
  • WHAT TO DO IF AN ELEPHANT STANDS ON YOUR FOOT Michelle Robinson/Peter H. Reynolds
  • I WANT MY HAT BACK Jon Klassen
  • I NEED MY MONSTER Amanda Noll/Howard McWilliam
  • I DARE YOU NOT TO YAWN Helene Boudreau/Serge Bloch
  • KNIT TOGETHER Angela Dominguez
  • THE BOOK ITCH Vaunda Micheaux Nelson/R. Gregory Christie

National Poetryish Month

April is national poetry month, which means in picture book world it’s rhyming picture book month. Angie Karcher has created the site RhyPiBoMo, devoted to authors working hard to create quality picture books written in rhyme. Check it out as there is so much great information. This is year number three for RhyPiBoMo, and my first year as a participant.

RhyPiBoMo has inspired me to take a second look at some of my own rhymed manuscripts. I don’t write in rhyme often, but sometimes it just pops out. When that happens I just let the rhyme do its little dance and go along for the ride.

I have spent several days now revising an old manuscript of mine. It’s good, but has some problem spots.  I’ve discovered two simple facts.

Fact 1: Writing rhyming picture books is easy.

Fact 2: Writing rhyming picture books is HARD!

First the easy part. Rhyme. The end. Rhyme is easy. Either something rhymes or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t rhyme, don’t use it. Near rhymes drive me crazy and using them is a disservice to the kids reading the book. There are a billion words in the English language (I think the official number is a billion and seven, but I didn’t actually look that up), and if you look long enough, the right ones will show themselves.

Now the hard part. Everything else! And there’s a lot. So much that I’m not going to begin to list them all. In fact I’ll keep this to the one little thing I was working on today.

Meter. And not just any meter. Counting beats and syllables and finding where the stresses fall is predictable. There are rules to follow. It may not always be easy to find all the right words to follow these rules, but in the end it makes sense. What I’m talking about today is, what I call, reader meter. It is completely unpredictable, and is almost impossible to control. Almost.

Most people speak in a similar way. We learn which words or syllables to stress in a sentence, but there is variation. This is where meter gets really tricky. My current story is about a little girl. Several of my sentences started with the word she, so there might be a sentence like (This example is not from my story)-

The day her parents went to town,                                                                                                                                         she found her mother’s wedding gown.

I would read it-

The day her parents went to town,                                                                                                                  she FOUND her mother’s wedding gown. – placing the stress on the second word.

Some people might read it-

The day her parents went to town,                                                                                                                  SHE found her mother’s wedding gown. – placing the stress on the first word. Neither is  wrong in normal speech, but if  the reader tries to read it with the stress in a different place than the writer intends,  it sounds wrong.

I found this can be a problem any time a sentence starts with he, she, they or it. If the proper noun is used in its place people will normally put the stress on the proper noun, but the pronoun can go either way.

So I have been working hard to eliminate any of these fuzzy spots. I want the perfect read every time by everyone. I know – Good luck!

Hopefully it’s not luck – it’s hard work paying off.

 

 

A Valentine’s Day Writing Contest

It’s time for another writing contest.

Love is in the air, but this Valentine’s Day so are a few grumpy feelings. At least, that’s how things are over at Susanna Leonard Hill’s first annual Valentiny writing contest.

The rules are simple: 214 words or less, and a grumpy character.

Here is my entry:

***

17 LITTLE KNOWN FACTS ABOUT CUPID’S FIRST (AND SECOND) VALENTINE’S DAY                by David McMullin

  1.   Cupid won his job as Valentine’s Day matchmaker in an archery competition.
  2.   In second place was Milton, Cupid’s best friend.
  3.   The gentle hearted Cupid was uneasy about shooting people.
  4.   When Cupid’s first Valentine’s Day came around, he shot NO arrows, causing NO people to fall in love.
  5.   On Cupid’s second Valentine’s Day, he was told, “Make people fall in love this year or you’ll be fired.”
  6.   Milton heard this and announced, “Cupid only got the job by cheating, anyway.”
  7.   Cupid’s eyes narrowed and his cheeks went red and steam rose from his ears.
  8.   Cupid transformed into an arrow shooting maniac.
  9.   Cupid launched thousands of arrows at Milton, who narrowly escaped each time.
  10. Those stray arrows struck thousands of people.
  11. All of those people fell in love.
  12. It was the most successful Valentine’s Day ever!
  13. Milton confessed, “Cupid didn’t cheat. I only said that to make him grumpy.”
  14. Cupid forgave Milton, but still had a little bit of grump left to get rid of.
  15. Cupid blasted one last arrow into Milton’s rear end.
  16. Milton’s eyes twinkled and fell upon a nearby bush.
  17. Cupid and Milton (and the bush) became best friends once again.

***

There are already quite a few entries, so head on over and start reading! You’re bound to have a really great time.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

And Just a Few More

After reading more than 300 books in the last two months, I have found a long list of winners. Book I absolutely love. Here are a few more that I highly recommend.

  • ONCE UPON AN ALPHABET -Oliver Jeffers
  • PLANET KINDERGARTEN -Sue Ganz-Schmitt/Shane Prigmore
  • THE MATCHBOX DIARY -Paul Fleischman/Bagram Ibatoulline
  • POOL -JiHyeon Lee
  • DRUM DREAM GIRL -Margarita Engle/Rafael Lopez
  • SWAN -Laurel Snyder/Julie Morstad
  • THE ADVENTURES OF BEEKLE -Dan Santat
  • ME WANT PET! -Tammi Sauer/Bob Shea
  • THE RIGHT WORD -Jen Bryant/Melissa Sweet
  • EVERYONE LOVES BACON -Kelly DiPucchio/Erin Wight
  • PIGEON NEEDS A BATH -Mo Willems
  • FRED –Kaila Eunhye Seo
  • MESMERIZED -Mara Rockliff/Iacopo Bruno

All of these books are, to me, a great combination of writing, art and ideas. And even with these last three posts, I am nowhere near done listing the books that I think are really terrific. After I list a few more I will narrow them down to my very tip-top favorites.

More Great Books

I read a whole lot of books to end the year. Most of them were released in the past five years. Here are 13 more of my favorites.

  • TRICKY VIC by Greg Pizzoli
  • MEET THE DULLARDS by Sarah Pennypacker and Daniel Salmieri
  • EACH KINDNESS by Jacqueline Woodson
  • I DON’T LIKE KOALA by Sean Ferrell and Charles Santoso
  • IT’S A BOOK by Lane Smith
  • A SICK DAY FOR AMOS MCGEE by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead
  • LENNY AND LUCY by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead
  • FLOTSAM by David Wiesman
  • MR. TIGER GOES WILD by Peter Brown
  • SUPERTRUCK by Stephen Savage
  • CHLOE AND THE LION by Mac Barnett and Adam Rex
  • KID SHERIFF AND THE TERRIBLE TOADS by Bob Shea and Lane Smith
  • JACKRABBIT MCCABE AND THE ELECTRIC TELEGRAPH by Lucy Margaret Razier and Leo Espinosa

Some of My Favorite New Picture Books

I’ve been reading a lot lately.

During my travels through Asia and Mexico, I had access to very few books. I was able to read picture books on line, and other books on my Kindle, but it’s not the same as having  the actual book in my hands.

So now that I’ve been in Las Vegas for a month, and am in possession of a library card, I have gone to town. I check out so many books, I sometimes feel a bit guilty. I’m sure I’ve doubled the work load of the poor librarians who have to pre shelve the piles of books I check out.

Since Mid-November, I have read 18 MG books, and 251 picture books. Along with a few recordings, I’ve averaged over 6 checked-out items per day for the last month and a half. I am mostly reading books that have been released in the past three years, though I have trouble resisting a classic every now and again.

Today I am simply going to list some of the picture books that have stuck with me. The books that suit my  sensibilities.

In no particular order:

  • WAITING by Kevin Henkes
  • SAM AND DAVE DIG A HOLE by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
  • YOU ARE (NOT) SMALL by Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant
  • FINDING SPRING by Carin Berger
  • MY TEACHER IS A MONSTER by Peter Brown
  • HUG MACHINE by Scott Campbell
  • THE FARMER AND THE CLOWN by Marla Frazee
  • THE IRIDESCENCE OF BIRDS by Patricia MacLachlan and Hadley Hooper
  • FLORA AND THE FLAMINGO by Molly Idle
  • ONE WORD FROM SOPHIE by Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail
  • THE FARMER’S AWAY! BAA! NEIGH! by Anne Vittur Kennedy
  • IF YOU PLANT A SEED by Kadir Nelson

So, here are 12 books I loved. I loved many more, so I’ll post a few more every couple of days. Believe me, there is no shortage or really terrific picture books.