Friday, June 19, 2015

2015 New Jersey SCBWI Conference

     If kidlit writers had unlimited time and money, we could attend every conference. But we don't. So here's a recap of the sessions I attended at last weekend's NJ SCBWI annual conference that might help you decide if this is something you want to save up for. [Spoiler alert: start saving!]
     Everyone was treated to Denise Fleming's opening keynote.
Fantastic books for gifts!
     Denise is smart. Zany. Generous. And apparently impervious to heat as the room a/c hadn't been turned on before the conference. Think dank, rank men's locker room in the Amazon rain forest to experience it yourself. Despite this hiccup, Denise energized the crowd, sharing images of how her work progressed from merely gorgeous mouse to stylized (publishable!) mouse, reminding us that "good" isn't good enough. Keep exploring and pushing boundaries like the kids we write for.

     I had my critiques during the first session, so I didn't attend anything during that slot. Even if you belong to a zillion peer critique groups, unless your peers are the likes of Jane Yolen and Mac Barnett I recommend hearing what the conference faculty have to say about your work. One of my critiques was with 
fabulous author Ame Dyckman and I got a two-fer surprise with author Adam Lehrhaupt reading and commenting as well. Doesn't get better than that!

     Editor Steve Meltzer taught workshop 2 - Who is going to buy my book? Finding the Right Publisher. (View one of his writing tips on Youtube here)
     I hadn't heard the term "BISAC code" before, but now know to go to the Book Industry Study Group pages for juvenile fiction and nonfiction to see if my book has multiple keyword hooks. Steve's discussion of successful comp titles has me looking for those that got marketing support, second printings, trailers and the like.

     Author Wendy Pfeffer led workshop 3 - Writing Nonfiction and Narrative Nonfiction. Wendy started her career writing educational books and recommended that as a good way to start, learning to work with editors and building a brand name that now allows her pick her own ideas for stories in the trade market. One of her top tips? Don't just get "an expert" for your book. Get "the BEST expert on the subject," noting that these top tier folks are also often the most generous with their time.

     For workshop #4, I attended Scholastic Senior Editor and author Orli Zuravicky's presentation "Developing Picture Book Character." Because picture books have so few words, character development can be tough! And if you're not also an illustrator, you can't rely on the pictures in your head (wouldn't it be nice to have a way to share those "mind pictures" without illo notes!) Orli examined successful classics (Eloise, Clifford, Fancy Nancy, Pete the Cat), noting that while much of your character work won't appear in the pages of your book, it should be done before writing the plot.

     Agent Marie Lamba tackled the topic of "Worthy Picture Books" in workshop #5 by going through examples of what doesn't work. Schtick (jokes, not stories), Poor execution, and Didactic tone led off her list of ten flaws. She used an easel (instead of power point), hugging it at points for emphasis. She had us eating out of her hand! Now I wonder if Dav Pilkey will notice a jump in sales as everyone in attendance scurries to find a copy of one of Marie's favorites, The Hallo-wiener (first published back in 1999, it was new to me!)
     Tired of reading yet? Imagine--this was all day ONE. And I chose to be part of the peer critique groups as well which meant the formal sessions ended for me at 10:30PM. 

     Day two opened with freelance editor and author Harold Underdown's morning keynote. Harold tackled ten things to know about Business Trends. I hadn't considered how reduced library and school sales affected the "BIG" publishing houses' acquisitions, putting the focus on what will 'sell itself' on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble, leaving quieter, quality books for smaller independent publishers. He advised that the material he covered would be delved into in even more depth on his Purple Crayon website. I'm glad to know that e-books have a place in the market, but print still rules as the medium of choice. I like to flip back and forth.
    And you don't need to be on every social media platform, but get a website/blog up!
     My workshop #6 choice was Seven Revision Tips with authors Marcie Colleen and Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. Didn't want to miss this for two reasons: I've heard the adage that 90% of good writing is re-writing, and I'm lucky to count Marcie as one of my critique partners. Listing specific items to look at in our manuscripts--removing past participles, adjectives, adverbs and thought words from our manuscripts, specific goals to look for such as variety not just in text, but in compositional format--my writer's toolbox was bulging by the session's end. Marcie and Sudipta transitioned seamlessly back and forth, covering a lot of material.

     Author Tammi Sauer kept the picture book mojo going-highlighting her work in Picture Books that Sell, workshop #7. Humor is an integral part of Tammi's work and one of her observations I loved and noted is that sometimes the sadder/bigger/scarier the moment, the more humor you can (and should!) find in it. She finds a way to take familiar topics (monsters, pets) mixed with a
timeless theme (perseverance, friendship) and make a fresh story. And while titles may be changed after acquisition, having a great title is one way to catch an editor's eye. And forget 5-Hour Energy, find out what Tammi is eating because that woman is on fire!

     I finished off the workshops (#8!)with a first page session. I was one of two "readers" which is fun to do. Editors Traci Todd (Abrams) and Shauna Rossano (G.P.Putnam's Sons) responded to each manuscript with lightning speed, giving everyone insight on how fast editors can evaluate our work. They reminded writers not to use words that would date a manuscript (like "dude") and as a result of their feedback I'm going to try my draft in third person instead of first.
     The day ended with agent and author John Cusick's keynote and then a book signing. And he brought home the reminder to enjoy the process. Which is one of the highlights of my conference experience. We're all spinning on the same carousel, working toward the goal of successful careers in the industry, but achieving that goal--that part is out of our control. Connecting with the wonderful people who are on the same journey, learning more about the craft and process, those are their own golden ring. And there are enough rings to go around!
     Grab it at the next SCBWI event.

Friday, June 12, 2015

NEW SHOES - Perfect Picture Book Friday recommendation #PPBF

     Today is a two review day! It's like the bonus features on a CD and I hope you have time to view both. :) It's also the last day of Perfect Picture Book Friday until autumn while our inspiring, illustrious leader, Susanna Leonard Hill, enjoys a peaceful summer vacation. :))
     Summer won't be a complete hiatus. I hope you're a regular subscriber and continue to receive my summer posts. For me, summer is time to take advantage of some kidlit conferences and I will be posting about those. I will also post reviews that beg not to wait! Like today's.

Author: Susan Lynn Meyer
Illustrator: Eric Velasquez
Publisher: Holiday House, 2015
Intended Age: 6-9 (I believe it is suitable for younger readers)
Theme: Segregation, Historical Fiction, shoes
Opening Line:   My cousin Charlotte hands me the package
                           as we stand outside Johnson's Shoes.
                         "If you could have any shoes in the window,
                          I ask, "which ones would you choose?"
Synopsis: An African American girl, Ella Mae, and her cousin find a creative solution after Ella Mae learns that African Americans can't try on shoes at the store like the white customers do.
What I Like About this Book: The author took the tough subject of Jim Crow laws and made a beautiful, believable story. No preaching, just a wonderful thoughtful look at life in the southern United States during the mid-twentieth century. The story doesn't attach a specific date to the narrative, but the characters' clothing and a car in the first spread suggests the 1950's.An author's note on the final page gives historical perspective.
Best of all, Ella Mae is an engaging, curious, and proactive character. Her solution to a bad situation isn't to whine or complain, but to make a positive change for the community.
  • The publisher has an educator's guide and four classroom discussion questions with Common Core Standard references.
  • Read an interview with the illustrator here. What life lesson does he hope you take from the story NEW SHOES?
  • Ask the reader if they would buy new shoes without trying them on? Why or why not? (I bought a pair of Mexican huaraches through the mail using the same foot outline technique that Ella Mae's mother demonstrates in the store!)
  • Talk about different ways you can react when someone discriminates against you.
  • Older readers may be curious to learn more about segregation and Jim Crow laws. Scholastic has an article for teachers. The website "Ducksters" also has information for kids.
  • Discuss what you do with old clothing and shoes. Do you treat "grown-out" and "worn-out" clothes differently?
  • Think of something that is important enough to want to earn money for it. What kinds of things can a child do? Kids who are old enough may enjoy hearing about Alex's lemonade stand.
 This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF
Thanks for stopping by!


Baseball season is in full swing! (pun intended!) and here's a book you may have missed.

Title: BETSY'S DAY at the GAME
Author: Greg Bancroft

Illustrator: Katherine Blackmore
Publisher: Scarletta Kids, 2013
Intended Age: 6-10
Themes: Baseball, Grandparents
Opening Line: "Elisabeth, Grandpa's here," Betsy's mom called out."

Synopsis: Betsy goes to the ballpark with her grandfather and shows him her score-keeping skills.
What I like about this book: During my senior year in high school I was scorekeeper for the boy's varsity baseball team, so right away I liked the idea of a story with a female scorekeeper for a male sport. And I enjoyed the way the story weaves the idea of family tradition in with baseball. Betsy even gets to show off her own fielding skills with a foul ball into the stands. Unlike faster paced sports, baseball is easy for younger family members to understand, perfect for inter-generational sharing. Note: the book is text dense, almost a chapter book in picture book clothing, thus the intended age group. Some pages don't have illustrations. Score-keeping is explained in the story and the last four pages repeat the explanations and include blank scoring pages.

  • Most obvious? Score a game! There are plenty of games on television, so you don't have the expense of tickets or the risk of short attention spans for kids who don't connect with the activity. You can photocopy the scorecards from the book or get them here from the publisher.
  • Talk about why people fill out scorecards in baseball. Do the individual statistics matter? To whom? Does it make watching a game more or less fun? Visit the MLB statistics page.
  • A ten-page curriculum guide (baseball shapes, ideas and more!) is available on the publisher's page.
  • Watch the classic "Who's on First" comedy sketch by Abbott and Costello on Youtube
  • Compare this book to other picture books about baseball. Goodreads has a list here, but it isn't a comprehensive one--one of my favorites is David A. Kelly's MAGIC MUD (illustrated by Oliver Dominguez, Millbrook Press, 2013). Ask your readers to list them from favorite to least favorite and talk about what they liked and didn't like.
  • Attend a baseball game. Little league, major league or anything in between. How does your visit compare with Betsy's?
Note: I received a review copy from Mighty Media Press. No other compensation was received.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Thanks for stopping by! :)