Guest blogger: Jodi Moore Post originally appeared on YA Outside the Lines, a blog co-authored by YA writers.
I’m a huge fan of the Butterfly Effect. Not only of the movie, but of the theory alleging that one tiny action in a system can inspire huge effects elsewhere, or as the analogy states: one flap of a butterfly’s wing in Brazil can result in a tornado in Texas.
Not that I want a tornado in Texas. Hmm. Maybe I believe in the Kindness Effect. Where one act of kindness can inspire large change…
But I digress. This month, we’re questioning whether or not we’d change anything on the journey to publishing our first book.
To which I answer, absolutely not. I wouldn’t change the fact my husband and I were in the throes of Empty Nest. Because hard as it is to let go, it was time to let our little birdies fly. And their accomplishments, spirit and drive continue to fill our hearts.
I wouldn’t change the fact my husband brought their sand toys to the lake anyway, that Labor Day after they left for college. Because with the help of the other children on the beach, he built a castle. The castle that inspired When A Dragon Moves In.
I wouldn’t change the fact that although some renowned publishers (from the big six) insisted I determine whether the dragon in the story was real or imaginary before the book could ever be published, I stuck to my original of idea of wanting the reader to decide. Because finally, one editor, my editor, Shari Dash Greenspan of Flashlight Press, “got it.” And then she gave the manuscript to brilliant illustrator Howard McWilliam, who took the idea and elevated it to heights I’d never even imagined.
Guest blogger: Amanda Noll, author of I Need My Monster and Hey, That’s MY Monster! and two more upcoming monster books!
In January, I had the unique opportunity to participate as an author at the ALA Midwinter Conference in Seattle, Washington, The number of vendors and professionals was staggering, and the whole experience was tremendous. I was hosted by IPG (Independent Publishers Group), the awesome, hardworking team who distribute my books and the entire Flashlight Press line to bookstores.
Librarians began lining up even before it was time for me to start autographing the free copies, and that line didn’t end until we ran out of books, all 100 of them! I’ve never had people queue up to meet me; I almost felt famous! I credit IPG for creating the buzz: they promoted my signing front and center at the Friday night opening session, and that’s when the excitement started to build. Cynthia and the rest of the IPG team kept the line moving and made sure books were ready for the enthusiastic librarians awaiting them.
It was thrilling to be at an event where peers and professionals knew and loved my books, and were excited to meet me. I connected with many local librarians, and had a chance to greet and speak with librarians from as far as Brazil and Asia, and from all around the world.
The librarians shared countless stories of reading my books to their young library patrons or students, and to their own children at bedtime. They told me they were absolutely thrilled to see the upcoming board book Are You My Monster (July 2019) as well as the upcoming picture book prequel, How I Met My Monster (October 2019). Flashlight Press prepared gorgeous sell sheets, which the librarians eagerly snatched up.
Signing my books at an ALA conference was a defining moment in my journey as an author. I’m grateful that this milestone can now be checked off my bucket list.
Amanda’s monster books are available through IPG, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and your local bookseller.
My first attempt at writing a picture book came in 1998.
I thought the story was amazing. It wasn’t.
Fortunately, I was twenty-two years old, I had just completed my Bachelor’s degree in English, and I knew everything. I spent the next year of my life making all the wrong moves, trying to get my story published. I submitted on my own to large houses that only accept agented materials, wrote stories that I labeled as picture books, but were five thousand words long, and put together ridiculous query letters daring publishing houses to pass on what was sure to be the next great work in children’s literature.
Almost immediately, I had a need for actual employment. I began working in a preschool surrounded by picture books that were actually good and got a part-time job as a Children’s Librarian to make ends meet. Slowly, I began to realize something awful. My stories weren’t good, and my way of getting them published was even worse. The twenty-two-year-old who knew everything had become a twenty-three-year-old who knew nothing. It was the perfect starting point.
The next few years were spent taking the business of writing and publishing seriously. There were groups to join and books to read. I joined SCBWI or the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It was an amazing resource putting me in touch with people and organizations that understood from experience what it took to get something published. I read any picture book that I came across and borrowed from the limitless imaginations of the kids in my class and the ones that came through the library. If you want to write picture books, find a job working with children. It’s basically cheating.
While writing picture books was starting to make a little sense, the submission process was still frustrating. At a time when most houses still only accepted submissions via snail mail, a writer could wait six months to a year for a form letter response that basically said “thanks, but no thanks.” I had begun to receive a few personalized rejections. In the world of submissions, a “no” that is personalized is viewed as a positive, so I kept at it. Continue reading “My Long Journey to Becoming a Published Children’s Book Author”
Today we’re sharing the second post in our new interview series where we chat with the inventors, designers, publishers, and others behind some of our favorite family-friendly products.
We were fortunate enough to speak with Holly L. Niner, author of the Mom’s Choice Award-winning children’ book, The Day I Ran Way. We loved hearing her perspective on writing, reading, and parenting. The full interview is published below.
MCA: The Day I Ran Away is about a little girl who throws a tantrum, gets banished to her room, and runs away. Why write a children’s book about this? What was your inspiration?
The idea for The Day I Ran Away came from an America’s Funniest Home Video I saw on TV in the early 2000s. A little boy was outside his house with his back pack asking, “how can I run away when I’m not allowed to cross the street?” For me, that captured a dilemma of childhood. You want to be grown up, but you can’t. It captured a feeling that’s not just relegated to children; haven’t we all wished we could run away at some point? But maybe what we really need—as both children and adults—is just a “timeout” from our real or perceived troubles.Holly Niner: Story ideas come from many places. A little snippet of something seems to stick in the “what if” side of my brain and sometimes turns into a story. I try to write those snippets down as they come to me or else the day-to-day of life may push it out of my brain forever. Continue reading “Mom’s Choice Awards Interviews Holly Niner”
Author Linda Lodding is a featured interviewee on Julie Hedlund’s April Author-Palooza! Read what she has to say about writing and publishing picture books, and leave a comment on that post to be entered to win a manuscript critique from Linda or one of the other multi-published authors.
Barbara Gruener, school counselor in Friendswood, TX, interviewed author Jodi Moore about writing When a Dragon Moves In. You can listen in here, and read Barbara’s review on The Corner on Character blog, here.
If I have to draw something I don’t know well, I would always gather lots of pictures of the thing so I get it right. It’s easy to do this nowadays with the internet. I didn’t need to research cats, though, because we have kept cats as pets for years. At one stage we had six, but right now we have just three: a big grey one (very like the big grey cat in That Cat Can’t Stay), a black one and a tabby who is quite old (about 19 years, I think) but very sprightly still. I see them all the time, so I sort of know how they look.
What about people?
Again, I didn’t need to research or gather reference for the people, because I have drawn so many over the years I just seem to know how to do it now. Sometimes, if I need to draw someone in a very difficult position, or they are, say, playing a sport I’m not completely familiar with, I may have to look that up. But I don’t think I needed to do that for this book.
Were any of the characters based on people you know?
No, I don’t know anyone quite like these characters. Although memories of how someone might have stood, expressions they may have had in certain circumstances, that sort of thing will have informed the drawing. It’s important to be a good observer when you are an illustrator. Always notice how your friends stand, what faces they pull, how they react to things. Then you will know how to draw people in similar circumstances. And you can always exaggerate a bit if you want to make it funny.
How long did it take you to create this book?
I didn’t get all that long to do this particular book. I think it took about three months to do the final art, but I was doing other work as well. If I had been able to sit and do just the book, and nothing else, it would have probably taken about six weeks. Add maybe another couple of months for the roughs and discussions, so perhaps five or six months in all.
Were you responsible for the use of white backgrounds and using text as part of the picture?
Sort of. I am given a manuscript, and I know how many pages I need to fill. Sometimes I decide which bit of text will go on which page, and sometimes a designer or editor will tell me (I think that’s what we did with That Cat Can’t Stay). Then I produced a set of rough pencil drawings that went with the text. After I had done that, it was the designer at Flashlight that had the great idea of changing the layout of Dad’s rants, so that sometimes it was boxed like a comic strip, and sometimes the words snaked around the page. She re-sized and re-positioned my sketches to fit, and then I used that new layout when I did the final art.
Did you like drawing for a children’s book?
I always enjoy doing pictures for children’s books. Well, nearly always. Except when I’m a bit behind with my work, then it just seems like work that has to be done. A bit like homework.
We liked the expressions on the character’s faces, esp. the Dad’s. How did you manage to get the expressions right?
Remember that thing about watching your friends’ expressions? I’ve been doing that a long time. But also, drawing is a bit like acting. You have to imagine what the person is feeling, and what that would make them look like. And I’ll let you into a secret: when I draw faces I am usually acting the expression that I’m drawing. I sit scowling as I draw a scowl, and grinning when I draw a grin, trying to feel what it is to be the person I’m drawing. When I was doing all Dad’s expressions, I think my wife must have thought I was quite bonkers.
Did you mean to have the Dad look harsh?
I didn’t want Dad to look harsh, exactly, but he had to look disapproving and completely determined. If he had not, it wouldn’t have been as funny when the rest of the family kept winning, and the cats kept staying. And in the end, we know he’s really an old softy, don’t we?
What is your favorite style of illustrating?
Such a difficult question. I have done quite a few children’s books, and each time I approach it differently. I always try to make the style of the pictures fit the text as best I can. My favourite style is the one that works best with the writing. But I know that’s not really a proper answer to your question, so I will confess that I do like to draw slightly cartoony characters with lots of energy and exaggerated body language and facial expressions. Like Dad, in That Cat Can’t Stay.
Do you like reading books?
I love reading books, but I always feel that I should be working and not sitting enjoying a book because I have so little time. So when I don’t have enough time, I love to listen to audible books. I do that while I work. I find I can listen while I am drawing without any problem, although I can’t if I have to think. So if I am working on roughs, and I’m thinking about the text I’m illustrating, I can’t listen at all. It distracts me. But once all that is done, and I’m just concentrating on the final drawing, I can listen to another book and it’s fine (I really enjoy Charles Dickens). Maybe drawing and listening occupy different parts of the brain.
The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister, available for the first time this week, is a great new children’s book about children’s play. Ernestine is scheduled to the max, and she’s not enjoying her life that much. After seeing her next-door neighbor, Hugo, play with abandon in his yard every day, she decides to blow off some of her activities in favor of play. So, she goes to the local park with her nanny, and she plays with Hugo, too.
As I’ve written recently, I’m very concerned about the widespread censorship of play in books, TV shows, and movies aimed at young kids (9 and below). Ernestine is one of my favorite new books in this genre.
Here I present a fascinating interview with the author, Linda Lodding. She provides some great insights into the backstory of the book, as well as how it might contribute to the play movement.
Q: On your web site you note that you didn’t play a lot during your childhood. Why do you consider play so important now that you would write a children’s book encouraging play?
I don’t remember a play-filled childhood in the sense of spending carefree days outside in nature. Thinking back as to why that might have been, I can point to two reasons. Firstly, since my parents grew-up in the New York City, I don’t think they knew how to offer a nature-filled childhood to my sister and me. Secondly, when I was about five, we moved to a house in the wilds of New Jersey, surrounded by dense forest, situated on what was once an Indian reservation. The woods seemed frightening. Grizzly things with fangs, and child-eating witches with gnarly fingers lived in the woods! And, of course, so did the tomahawk-wielding Indians whose land we were living upon. My mother tried to coax me outside to play, (she even took her ironing board outside so that she could iron while I was outside) but I was happier inside with my Barbies. But I did do a lot of imaginative “pretend” play – alone and with friends.
I never set out to write a book encouraging play per se, but was inspired by my own family’s ludicrously funny situation. Like many parents, I set out to enroll my child in as many classes as possible so that she’d quickly find her passion and excel. Of course my daughter’s schedule wasn’t nearly as exaggerated as poor Ernestine’s, but she was falling asleep in her “Ballet for Tots” class and had little energy for her African drumming class. But I also recognized that play time was fundamental to her growth and we eventually pulled back on activities.
Q: In a previous conversation you told me that you added the nanny character in a later revision. What did you have Ernestine doing alone before you added the nanny? How do you think the nanny changes the central message of the story?
Like all books, The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister went through many revisions. In earlier drafts of the book, I had Ernestine running away after school — breaking free from the demands of her after-school schedule to experience play. There was a lot of interest in the book from large publishing houses, but a few editors were concerned that this scene could be perceived as reckless. It’s every parent’s nightmare to lose their child and a few editors were concerned that Ernestine’s actions would alarm to parents. So, I later introduced the character of Nanny O’Dear to allay any potential unease with Ernestine being alone. The added bonus of having Nanny in the book is that she is also a play companion for Ernestine – together they share the joy of play. There’s a lot to be said for adults also participating in play. I don’t think adding Nanny changed the central message of the story which is, ultimately, to let children experience the joy of play.
Q: Why are there so few children’s books depicting children playing outside? Why are there practically none that depict children playing with no adults directly supervising them?
There are books depicting children playing outside, but it’s hard to think of contemporary picture books where children are depicted as playing outside unsupervised. I think this is a direct result of societal fears for our children’s safety. We are bombarded with stories of pedophiles and missing children and these stories send us a chilling reminder that we must be vigilant for our child’s safety or else…As a parent, I can appreciate that it’s a thin line to walk between protecting our children from genuine threats and giving them challenging opportunities in which to learn and grow.
But back to your question. While I’m not an editor and don’t make acquisition decisions for publishing houses, my take on the reluctance of depicting unsupervised play in picture books is that since adults are the primary picture book buyers, children’s book publishers are leery of putting stories out there where the child could be perceived as being in danger and thereby alienating book buyers. Naturally, publishing is a business and in order to protect their investment in a book, publishers need to make sure that the book will have a wide-enough appeal.
Interestingly, in older fiction (Easy Readers, Middle Grade and beyond) you can find an abundance of stories where children are playing and exploring unsupervised. I do think that children are drawn to stories where the protagonist is given freedoms that today’s children don’t generally experience — characters that are orphans, or are somehow left to fend for themselves in an adult world. One of my favorites growing up was From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, where a brother and sisters run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This wouldn’t be the same story if their mother was in tow. And I do think that the hugely popular Magic Treehouse series partially owes it’s kid-appeal to the fact that the kids are on their own solving mysteries. Perhaps this is a way for children to experience freedoms that they haven’t been allowed. But in picture books, you won’t see this kind of characterization – unless they’re talking animals. Pigs and rabbits are allowed to take some risks!
Q: You told me that you weren’t very aware of the play movement before you wrote this book. How do you think that it can contribute to the play movement?
While I was aware of the over-scheduled child phenomenon, I was less aware of the pro-play movement. It wasn’t until The Busy Life of Ernestine Buckmeister was accepted for publication, nearly two years ago, that I started to research the benefits of play. Articles such as “The Virtues of Play” (Wired Science) and “Want your kids to get into college? Let them play!” (CNN) dramatically focus the debate not only for parents but also for students, academicians, and policy experts.
Research shows that children can greatly benefit from unstructured playtime — imagination flourishes, emotional maturity develops, and certain life skills are honed. I learned that play is essential to physical, intellectual and social development and contributes to healthier and happier children. The bottom line is that children who play do better in school and are more likely to become successful adults. The irony is, if our child could take a class that guaranteed that sort of outcome, I think we’d all enroll our kids immediately!
While there are many wonderful organizations that are crusading to put play back into children’s lives and recess back into schools, I’ve yet to come across a picture book that squarely addresses this issue. Hopefully, through the book’s humor, parents will be able to see the light-hearted side of this subject and, if they aren’t already doing so, just may decide to get their kids playing. If my book gets kids and parents laughing and playing, then maybe I can make a small contribution to this important movement.
Q: Let’s say a real-life Ernestine reads this book. Ideally, how would she react?
Ernestine is an exaggerated character, but I don’t think she’s too far off from what some children experience. There are many children who cope beautifully with full-schedules and those kids probably won’t recognize themselves in Ernestine but will enjoy the book on another level. But I also think there are many Ernsts and Ernestines out there who are wishing for time to just be — not to perform, to train, to compete — but just to play. And those young readers may feel sympathetic to Ernestine. If the book starts a family dialogue then that’s a great bonus. But as a writer, my aim is also to entertain and tell a fun story.
Jodi Moore, author of When a Dragon Moves In (Flashlight Press 2011, illustrated by Howard McWilliam), talks about her first picture book in an interview on WHVL TV, State College, PA. It aired April 2011.