Children’s Book Landmarks

Mark Twain’s desk! And me.

Yesterday, I saw a School Library Journal post on children’s book landmarks being named to celebrate Children’s Book Week.  I hadn’t even thought of that when I wrote yesterday’s post but that’s something else you could do — visit a children’s book landmark.

Two of the “new” landmarks that will be named next week include Quarry Farm, a site where Mark Twain wrote in Elmira New York and the Cherokee Elementary School in Paradise Valley, AZ where a student inspired the Junie B. Jones books. You can read more about these sites and one more here.

Do you have a site in your area that you could visit as part of the week-long celebration?  If so, you could Tweet pictures of yourself (and your books) there.  There are a number of sites here in Missouri, including:

Mark Twain’s Boyhood home in Hannibal, Missouri.  This isn’t where Twain wrote the books, but where he spent part of his childhood. That said, the museum has an awesome display of Norman Rockwell’s illustrations of Twain’s work.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home in Mansfield, Missouri.  I loved visiting Rocky Ridge and seeing the house where she wrote her books although I think my favorite display was all the various translations of her books.

Eugene Field House and Toy Museum in St. Louis.  Okay, I don’t think that’s the actual name any more — it is now the Eugene Field House. Eugene Field?  You know — he wrote the poem Wynken, Blynken and Nod.  His father was also the lawyer that managed to get the Dred Scott case before the Supreme Court.  And this little tid bit, of course, gives me a story idea.

What sites are in your area?  Visit one of them this coming week and celebrate children’s books!





Children’s Book Week


Children’s Book Week this year is from May 1–7.  Yep.  It starts on Monday.  It snuck up on me!

In celebration of this week, Every Child a Reader encourages authors and illustrators to participate in events in their area. If you are only now finding out about it, I don’t know how possible that will be but you can find a searchable database of registered events here.

What do you do if you aren’t invited to participate in an event? The purpose of Children’s Book Week is to emphasize the value of reading and get the word out about good books.

Promote the Children’s and Teen’s Choice Book Awards.  These are the only national book awards voted on only by kids and teens. They were launched in 2008 by the Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader.  Voting is open from March 3 to May 7, 2017.  Young readers selected the finalists which are listed here.  Books are listed in and voted on in four different age categories — K – 2, 3-4, 5-6 and Teen. Young readers can cast their votes by going here and selecting the appropriate award.

What can you do along these lines even if you aren’t part of an event?  Note: These are not the organizations suggestions.  They’re mine, so here you go.

Promote official events in your area on social media.  Check out the link above and see what events are being held in your area.  Promote them on Twitter.  Post them on Facebook.  Say something encouraging to or about the authors and illustrators who are involved.

If you can’t find a local event, you won’t have time to get the posters and other official gear but ask at your local library about helping promote literacy.  Maybe you could offer to do a reading at the local library.  Maybe you can help in a story time.

Imagine what a great world this would be if every child was a reader!



“What is your favorite book?”

“What is your favorite book?”
I shouldn’t be surprised when young readers ask me that, because teachers and other adults ask them the same question. But that’s a tough one for me. I probably had 10 or 20 “favorite books.” I’m not very good about picking out a favorite food or favorite color either.
Here are several of my favorites.
Black Beauty. I was a horse crazy kid so this was a natural for me which means that I also loved …
Everything by Marguerite Henry. My favorite may have been Mustang Wild Spirit of the West or San Domingo Medicine Hat Stallion.
The Boxcar Children. The original. I focused so intently on this, the first book, that I was shocked to find out it was a series. Yep. Writers are nothing if not observant.
Jared’s Island. I bought a remaindered copy of this at a library sale. Anyone who knows me is going to pick up on the name Jared. Yep. That’s where I got it.
The original Tarzan series.  Yes, Edgar Rice Burroughs.  I loved these books and this time around I did figure out that it was a series and I still own every single one of them although some are a bit besmirched.  I bought the last of them from a co-worker who read on the job in a foundry.
Everything by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  These were such a huge hit growing up that my sister and I had matching prairie dresses.  I kid you not at all.
These were my books. My parents and grandparents also had books that I adored.  I spent hours paging through my father’s copy of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.  My mother’s family medical encyclopedia was a huge hit because of the human anatomy drawings — I spent hours studying muscles and nerves and organs until she realized there were nudie people and hid the book.  I used to read Gene Stratton Porter books out loud with my grandmother.
And these are just the books that read before I got married.  What is my favorite book?  Too many to name just one!  The key?  They all had adventures that pulled me in and I could imagine myself in their pages.  My friends and I spent countless hours acting out and improving on these books and many more.  A girl can’t be Tarzan?  Pfft.  We never would have believed it and, in all truth, we still don’t.

Fact vs Fiction When You’re Making Things Up

Just how fictitious is too fictitious?  That’s the question that I’ve been asking myself as I research a new picture book.  It isn’t fantasy in the unicorns and elves sense.  There is no magic.  But there are animals doing things that animals simply do not do.

Without giving it all away, I have animal and human co-workers, specifically human and penguin co-workers. They are employed on a joint project in the Antarctic.

Obviously not realistic but how fanciful do I want to get?  I want my penguins to act like penguins which is going to require reading up on penguin behavior and watching scads of videos.  Oh, the horror.

But not every penguin behaves like every other penguin. So what kinds of penguins do I choose?

Obviously, I have to pick an Antarctic penguin which rules out Galapagos penguins.  But it still meant that I had to chose between King, Emperor, Adelie, Gentoo, Chinstrap, Macaroni and Rockhopper.

There were several criteria that I could use to choose.  I could pick a penguin with specific characteristics.  Some penguins nurture both chicks vs simply the one that hatches first.  Others are more social.  Some are noisier than others.  They vary in what they eat, where they live and how long they mate.  Yeah, that last one never really featured in the decision process. This is, after all, a picture book and not that kind of picture book.  Enemies are pretty consistent — adult penguins have to watch out for leopard seals and chicks are preyed on by skua.

I finally decided to select the penguin that researchers would be most likely to encounter.  This meant comparing maps of penguin nesting locations with maps of human activity and habitation.  There really wasn’t as much overlap as you might think.

Penguin type – check.  Now I’m ready to start watching those penguin videos and working to weave penguin fact into my highly fictitious penguin story.  Fact definitely blends with fiction in unique ways when you are writing a picture book.





Re-entering Your Story: Picture book version

Ideally, you start a story and you finish it.  You aren’t interrupted.  The words flow from beginning to end.  You don’t need a break.  Everything comes together flawlessly.

Nevermind that we all have lives, families, and friends. Forget about the fact that a paying deadline may force you to set aside your current manuscript so that you can keep the lights on.

I was making steady progress on my young adult novel when I got a message from my editor.  Did I want to write a book on the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Hmm.  Let me think.  That’s me in the Water is Life/NO Dakota Access Pipeline tee.  So obviously I said yes.  I may have actually been a bit more explicit than that.

But that meant putting aside my novel.  And two picture books that I’m working on.  Now that I’ve turned in the pipeline book, I’m trying to find my way back into the world of a my novel. To read about how I’m doing that, check out my post yesterday for the Muffin.

One picture book is easier because I wasn’t that far along.  I had roughed it out but that particular draft was no where near final.  I was beefing up each spread, doing more researching and adding necessary details.  So that one is just a matter of seeing what the next spread is and doing the research.  Yes, its a lot of work but I’m not trying to recapture a story world.

To get into the other picutre book, I’m reading up on scientists in Antarctica. Their world is the world of my story.  The problems that they face and the setting that they are immersed in gave rise to my story problem and setting.  I’m also watching videos of penguins.  This part is super important because the co-star of my book will be a penguin and I have to pick a species.  I don’t think that King will work.  I’m reading up on Emperor and Chinstrap.

If you’ve written a good chunk of the story, go back to a part that came together especially well.  Read it and see if it doesn’t pull you in.  You may need to read it and then go for a walk to free up your mind.

I’m not saying that re-entering your story is going to be easy but it is something that you need to learn to do.  What you learn may be that the way into each story is different, depending on the story and where you are in your life.  But you can re-enter.  You just need to find the right door.


ISO Ideas

ISO ideasYesterday I mentioned how inspirational I found the Library of Congress Magazine.  Apparently I’m not the only one who finds inspiration in this library’s amazing collection.  Check out this post from Jann Alexander in which she discusses the inspiration she finds in the library’s print and photography collections.

If you’ve never spent any time poking around in the library’s online offerings, do yourself a favor.  But not if you have a deadline fast approaching.  Go write and then come give it a good look. You will find photos and engineering records of historic buildings, Abraham Lincoln’s papers, and even an Afghanistan web archive.  This isn’t just about the archives themselves.  Some collections also include a tab of articles or essays about the materials contained therein.

But this isn’t all that Alexander talks about in her post.  She also discusses an archive of oral histories collected by Story  Interviews range in topic from how someone found their calling to parenting, including a discussion between Chris and Gabe Lopez on being transgender and hoping his mother would still accept him. Gabe is now 9 years-old so this is a real eye opener about how young children dealing with being trans. The Story Corps recordings are technically podcasts with a new offering put up each week.  Consider listening and see where other people’s stories take you in your own work.

Last but not least, Alexander recommends that writers find inspiration among the obituaries.  I know that I’ve considered writing several bios after reading someone’s obit and discovering that they were a pioneering chemist, a code talker or more.  In addition to straight up obits, Alexander also recommends Find A Grave.  This is a national web site that includes obits and photographs. Sometimes the photo is only the grave marker but others include early photos, midlife photos and more.  If you don’t have a name to look up, you can also look at popular searches, new listings and new photos, and famous graves.

Next time you find yourself waffling around without inspiration, check out one of these sites and, when inspiration strikes, be sure to say thank you to Jann Alexander for sharing her sources of inspiration.


The Library of Congress: Research and Idea Generation

I’ve just become aware of two amazing resources at the Library of Congress.  Or at least I’ve become newly acquainted. The first is a series of primary source sets and the second a especially helpful publication for idea generation, or at least that’s how it works for me.

As many of you probably know, finding primary sources online can be tricky.  It isn’t that nothing is available.  There is actually quite a bit out there.  But finding it when you need it can be another matter altogether.  But authors aren’t the only ones looking for primary sources.  Teachers realize how primarcy sources can entrance young readers.  To help teachers access sources available at the Library, the staff has put together primary source sets ranging from topics as diverse as “found poetry” to “children’s lives at the turn of the twentieth century.”

The first is not a grouping of found poems but resouces that students might use increating their own.  The set includes a teacher’s guide as well as a variety of documents such as copies of print documents and photographs.  The latter set includes historic photos of children at play, a children’s parade and even a children’s book from the time.

The Library of Congress Magazine is published by-monthly with each issue focusing on a theme such as World War I, Presidential Elections, Photography or Food Collections.  The magazine is approximately 32 pages long and a PDF of each issue is available.

Take a look at several issues of this magazine and see if you don’t come away with some new ideas.  I paged through the issue on Food Collections and quickly jotted down three book ideas — a cookbook, a food history/cookbook and a biography.


The Library of Congress is both a national treasure and an amazing resource.  Take the time to look through some of the educational guides and the magazines.  You won’t regret it.


The agent search continues

Now that I’ve turned in the Dakota Access Pipeline book, I’m getting ready to send another batch of queries to agents. Not that I want this to sound like I’ve queried 100s of them and been rejected all around.  I think that so far I’ve sent out about 5 queries so I am still in the early stages.

The two agents that I’m seriously looking at right now are Laura Biagi and Roseanne Wells.

Biagi is with the Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency.  She caught my eye because she had a degree in cultural anthropology and is interested in books both history and science which is a good match for me.  She is also currently reading picture book manuscripts, including submissions that are text only.  Translation:  You don’t have to be am author/illustrator.  Check out the agency website for the submission guideline form.

Next up is Rosemary Wells with Jennifer de Chiara Literary Agency. She grabbed my attention because she represents both STEM titles in general and also nonfiction picture books.  Again, a good match for me.  You can find a listing for her on the Writer’s Digest agenting blog.


If you plan to submit to either of these agents, you should do your own research so that you can query them with knowledge about why they are a good match for your work.

Recently, I had someone who is concerned with my well-being and career ask me if I should keep posting market news, specifically about agents and publishers that I am interested in.  The question came about because a few people have wanted information from me but refused to share market information themselves.

I made my sales because other writers helped me connect with editors and publishers.  Some of them told me when their own editors were looking for things.  Others tipped me off about markets that are compatible with my work.  They were willing to risk it and so am I.  Yes, publishing is a competitive business but if you have what an editor wants, you are going to make a sale.  If I don’t make one sale, I’ll make another.

So, good luck if either of these agents intrigues you!


Poetry Terms: A Few Key Words You Need to Know

April is National Poetry Month.  Whether you are a serious poet or just someone who dabbles like I occassionally do, this Writer’s Digest post includes thirty-seven key terms that will help you know what everyone else is talking about. Of course, if you are a serious poet, you probably know most of them.

Rhyme, rhythm, and stanza I already knew but another term I’ve frequently seen, but never seen defined, is chapbook. If you write for children, that sounds a lot like chapter book, a type of book for newly confident readers who can handle chapters but still need fairly direct, straightforward text.

In poetry, a chapbook is a small book of approximately 24 to 50 pages.  Not what the “chap” stands for but when I looked deeper into it I found that they are also called brochures or pamphlets.  Traditionally they were stitched but they can also be stapled and generally have a paper stock cover.   They are often themed and have kind of a DIY feel so if you have the urge to try self-publishing something you might want to study up on chapbooks. You can read more about chapbooks here and here.

A lot of other poetry terms, including anapest and dactyl,  have to do with stressed and unstressed syllables. Then there are the terms that have to do with sounds other than rhyme — assonance and consonance, for example.

If you only dabble, you may not feel the need to know all of these terms but if you write picture books it is important to know about word play and how to make your story a fun read-aloud experience.  That means poetry.  You may not need each and every one of these words to know if your piece “works” but an editor or other critiquer may use one of these terms to explain why your rhythym is off.

This list made it obvious that I have a whole lot to learn. I have to say that I knew only about 25% of the terms but now I have a good source for new things, including chapbooks, that I want to learn more about.


Author’s Bio: Three Tips for Combining Business + Fun

I think it may have had something to do with my mood when I got the message.  The e-sports book is heading into the final stages of production and they needed a bio now.

At the best of times, I loathe writing my bio.  Loathe.  In this case, I had 3 – 4 sentences.  For Abdo, I tend to have 50 words.  I need to say something about my body of work and my life and relate it all to the book in question whether that be the Ancient Maya, Trench Warfare or the Zika Virus.

But they needed something so I gave it my best. E-sports.  That, I reasoned, is computers. Computers are science . . . right?  So I could mention both of those in my bio.  But how to wrap it up?  I needed to relate the book to my life and I needed to find something about it all that would appeal to my reader.

I decided to have a little fun with it and eventually I sent them this:

“Sue Bradford Edwards is a Missouri nonfiction author who writes about science, culture and history.   Her books about science and computers include Women in Science and Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA. When she isn’t working, she games with her teen son although she’s not nearly as good as he is.”

This is the first time they’ve ever called my bio “perfect.” I’d love to say that I’ve discovered the perfect formula, but I think that I big part of it is that this was something I could approach using my own voice — educated and cheeky.  Here are three things to remember when you have to write your next bio:

  1. Go with details that relate to the book.  If you’ve written a book about sports, discuss earning your letter in track and field. If you’ve written history, discuss your love of history in general or that particular time period.
  2. Don’t forget to mention your other books.  You may not be able to include them all, but go with something recent and/or something that relates to this book.
  3. Include a kid friendly fact whenever possible.  I game which worked well for this book.  You could mention that you share your office space with your cat or a cockatoo.  Maybe you were an inventor when you were ten.

Writing your bio may not be fun, but customizing a bio for each book gives you the opportunity to create something that is a “perfect” match.