Horn Book Awards: A Friend’s Book Is Honored

On Wednesday, May 29, the 2019 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winners were announced.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the awards, they celebrate excellence in children’s and young adult literature. Awards are given in three categories – picture book, fiction and poetry, and nonfiction.  My writing buddy Traci Sorrell’s book is among the picture book honor titles.  Woo-hoo!

I’ll go through the books by category with comments here and there.










The Patchwork Bike written by Maxine Beneba Clarke; illustrated by Van Thanh Rudd (Candlewick)

Dreamers written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Neal Porter Books/Holiday House)
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga written by Traci Sorell; illustrated by Frané Lessac (Charlesbridge)

The Horn Book awards always manage to slip in a number of books I’ve never read.  Of these three, I know We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga because it is written by Traci.  If you haven’t read this book, check it out.  It is getting a lot of press and recognition and it is easy to see why which really makes me want to read the other two in this category.  I will be heading to my library.










The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House)

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (Dial Books/Penguin Random House)
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins)

This group is completely unread by me although I know about the winner.  I’ve been waiting for the wait-lists to die down before I request these titles.  I love it when the intended audience has the book checked out every time I go to the library!










This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

Hey, Kiddo written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Graphix/Scholastic)
Nine Months: Before a Baby Is Born written by Miranda Paul; illustrated by Jason Chin (Neal Porter Books/Holiday House)

From this group, I’ve read Hey, Kiddo and loved it.  I’m interested in writing nonfiction graphic novels so this one was naturally high on my “must read” list.  I think I was the first person to check out the book.  I haven’t seen This Promise of Change in the library so I’ll have to put in a request.  And I’m really looking forward to Nine Months because I love Jason Chin’s illustrations.

Like Roger Sutton, The Horn Book editor-in-chief, I’m impressed by the diversity of these titles.  These are books that should be in our libraries and on our classroom bookshelves.  Me?  I’m off to make a group of requests.  If we have the books, I’m going to stop waiting and put them on hold.  If we don’t have them?  I’m going to put in a request to purchase.  “Because it is on the recent Horn Book award list” seems like a great reason to buy!



How to Write a Rebus

It has been a while since I tried to pen a rebus but I recently saw this call from Ladybug, one of the magazines in the Cricket Media group.

“Call for Submissions: All Aboard

“Deadline: July 1, 2019

“Ladybug (for ages 3–6) seeks short stories, retellings of folk and fairy tales, rebus stories, poems, action rhymes, nonfiction, and songs about travel. For a young child, a walk to the park, a trip by boat or airplane, or a game of make believe might all seem like voyages. We like playful stories with childlike points of view; they need to be short, too (under 800 words). Most of our readers live in the United States, and sensitive explorations of different cultures are welcome.”

I’ve only sold one rebus but I always find them fun to write so I thought I’d take a break from longer projects to write something short.  Not easy.  Like a picture book, a rebus is a little tricky.

But to understand why you first have to know what it is.  In Ladybug, a rebus is up to 200 words long.  This simple stories are meant for beginning readers. A rebus combines print words and pictures that stand for words.  For example, in the sentence “DJ found a green ball” the word ball could be represented by a picture.

The ending frequently features a surprise or twist.  In my rebus, “The Flying Contest,” the ending reveals that the children aren’t watching dragons in flight.  They are flying kites.  So you have to have characters, a setting, a plot and a twist all in 200 words or less.

As with all writing, it is important to study your target market.  In this case, I’ll need to check to see how many picture words Ladybug wants in a single story.  Also what types of words do they depict.  Some publishers limit their images to concrete nouns.  Some will toss in a color or a number.

When you submit your rebus, you format it just like any other manuscript with one exception.  You have to indicate which words should be replaces with pictures.  You can italicize the words but I prefer to underline them.  I’ve also seen people bracket the words or highlight them.  Whatever you decide, just be sure to be consistent.

So if you’ll excuse me, I need to make a trip to the library to study Ladybug.  Then I need to fine tune my twist.


3 Ways Writers and Libraries Can Stay Relevant in the Modern World

Libraries like writers sometimes feel like they are facing an uphill battle.  How do you stay relevant in the modern world when there are so many things that people can be doing besides reading?  If you are anything like the St. Louis County Library, you meet people where they are.  Here are three things my library system is doing that can serve as examples for writers and other creative types.

The whole world of books. More than just print novels, the St. Louis County Library has worked to build its collection to meet people where they are reading.  Graphic novels? Got ’em.  E-books?  You can find both e-books to read and e-audiobooks.  Our headquarters branch also has a collection in Chinese.  Writers shouldn’t just follow trends but they should be paying attention to what is in demand now vs trying to sell what was popular 12 years ago.

Hands on experiences.  In addition to hands-on library programs like crafts and exercise classes, our library system also checks out a variety of objects including musical instruments, telescopes and puzzles.  Check out any of these items and get busy.  The library is also hosting a contest for a book mark design. Writers can take advantage of this by writing how-tos or working activities into their other work.  Think of the number of cozy myteries that include recipes.  Not interested in writing a how-to?  You can still give your readers information that they can use in their daily life.

Stay on top of social issues.  Our library system goes beyond books about hunger and Pride month.  There is also a summer lunch program for school aged children and a month of activities and lectures for Pride Month.  Abdo’s Special Reports are about hot button topics. I’ve written about race and the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Publishers are looking for fiction and nonfiction alike that cover headline topics.

It doesn’t do any good to bemoan a changing world if you want to be a selling writer.



Author Intrusion: What It Is and Why It Matters

Author intrusion can be defined in a variety of slightly different ways.

  • Some people consider breaking the fourth wall author intrusion such as when Deadpool speaks directly to the audience.  You find this in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events books.
  • Author intrusion is also when a character knows things that they shouldn’t or couldn’t know about the world.  If a character in a medieval mystery said something about having to reboot something and he didn’t mean having to put a new boot/shoe on it, that would be author intrusion.
  • Details are important but when a character describes these details in ways that are out-of-character but would be spot on for the author?  That’s author intrusion.  For example, a thirty year-old mechanic who refers to a woman’s citrus body lotion is probably describing things the way the female author would.  If he described the smell as orange degreaser but a whole lot better or smelling the way a creamsicle tastes, that I would accept.

These are all examples of author intrusion.  The first can work in the right manuscript such as something funny and sarcastic.  In a sweet period romance?  Probably not.

The second can also work without sounding anachronistic if it is done just right.  Again, it will work best in a humorous, slightly offbeat piece.  Think about it.  Memes that quote Abraham Lincoln speaking about the internet are funny especially if the sage advice is true and the person realizes (please oh please) that Abraham Lincoln existed long before the internet.

But having a character describe things in ways that sound very like the author but not very like the character don’t work.  They make the character sound fake especially to anyone who is much like this character.  Believe me.  My husband and I listened to an audiobook while we were on the road this weekend.  The book was loaded with this type of author intrusion in relation to a 30 year-old Texas ranger.  My husband pointed out each and every instance.  Granted, it became a running joke between us but that’s now how you want readers to enjoy your book.

Unless you have a reason to include author intrusion, work hard to avoid it.


Memorial Day

Memorial Day is one of those odd holidays.  In the US, we celebrate with BBQs and picnics.  But the other name for this US holiday is Decoration Day.  It is really about remembering those in our military who have given their lives in defense of their country.

Not that I’m complaining about the BBQs but my family has a tendency to spend this weekend in the country. We roam forests, fields and gravel roads.  We stare into the open blue sky.  We remind ourselves that in addition to fighting for the Flag and Freedom, our veterans were fighting for forests, open skies and gravel roads.

Even in 2019, the US isn’t all about cities, politics and social media.  Sometimes we need to stand under the sky to reconnect.  Hope you’ve spent some time this weekend doing something like this so that you can come back tonorrow ready to write!


Arthur A. Levine: Levine Querido

When I heard that Arthur A. Levine was leaving Scholastic, I was a bit blue.  Another powerful editorial presence leaving publishing?  But my panic was premature.  The advent of Levine Querido marks a new venture for the noteworthy editor.  The team undertaking this new venture includes Levine, Nick Thomas and Meghan Maria McCullough.

There will be two lists:

Arthur A. Levine will seek to build a platform for talented authors and illustrators from previously underrepresented categories.

Em Querido, in partnership with this Dutch Publisher, will seek authors and illustrators from around the world.  In addition to locating new talent, it will also translate previously published Querido titles.

When I hear an editor talking about publishing from a broad perspective, I wonder about editor these books.  Clearly I’m not the only person who wondered because Cynthia Leitich Smith interviewed Levine on her blog.  When she asked him about his editorial approach toward inclusivity, he had this to say:

“… I would recommend holding two truths in the front of your mind when editing a book by a person of a background different from yours. One is to start from a place of belief that you and the author have shared emotion and humanity. Don’t exoticize differences to the point where you forget that every person shares a vocabulary of feeling with you.”

He then encouraged other editors to be go on to honor the differences that do exist and to avoid erasing them in any attempt to make the work more universal or “like you.” For editors and readers alike, these types of books represent an opportunity to learn and grow.

In English, Querido means beloved.  But it means so much more.  Emanuel Querido was a Dutch Jew of Portuguese descent. He first opened an Amsterdam bookstore in 1915 and later became a publisher. In 1933, when the Nazis halted the publication of Jewish writers and other dissenters in Germany, Querido set up a publishing house in the Netherlands to keep their work in print.  When the Netherlands fell, he was captured by the Nazis and died in the Sobibor concentration camp. His colleagues reopened the Querido publishing house in 1945.

The goal of Levine Querido is to keep Emanuel Querido’s flame of resistance alive.

To find out more, follow any of the above links or check out the Levine Querido press release.


Working Happy












The last few weeks, I’ve been taking an online Yale class called The Science of Well-Being.  The focus of this psychology class is basically discovering what it is that makes people happy.  One of first things that you do is fill out a profile that helps you discover your core strengths.  Not surprisingly, my five top strengths are:

  • Creativity which includes artistic creativity but also new ways to think of and do things.
  • Love of learning, related to curiosity (my sixth strength), including new skills, topics and areas of knowledge.
  • Judgement sounded bad until I realized that they mean my ability to think things through and examine them from all sides, weigh information, and if needed change my mind.
  • Gratitude for and awareness of the good things that happen as well as a willingness to express this thanks.
  • Bravery concerning acting on or speaking up about what is right even if it is unpopular.

These are the things that make me a good nonfiction author.

But I have also been taking time to use my creativity and love of learning in ways that don’t necessarily involve my writing.  By keeping some things at a “fun” or casual level, I have a little more freedom just to enjoy them. Fun non-work things are a great way to recharge my creative battery.

So what am I doing?  The photos in this post are something of a hint.

I’ve pulled the camera back out.  This means that not only am I polishing (sort of) my photography skills, I am also paying more attention to the things that I appreciate.  In the spring that means flowers and hummingbirds.  I jokingly call this particular bird my muse.  This feeder is in the center arch on our front porch and the bird will let me walk past it to go inside.

To be a writer, you have to write.  You have to read.  But you also have to feed your happiness.  For me that means being creative, learning new skills and doing things that make me grateful.



Reading Writers

How many books do you read at the same time?  I used to be the kind of person who read one book, start to finish, before starting another.  Now, I generally have two books going at once – a print book and an audio book.  That said there are exceptions to the rule.

  • If I realize I need to get something read for book club.  Then I put aside the non book club book to finish the one I will need to be able to discuss.
  • If I have a stack of picture books or graphic novels to read.  Sometimes I will put aside the novel I am reading for a day and focus on these much shorter books.
  • If I am researching something.  Then I will read my research materials during the day and my “fun” book before bed.

How can I read several books at a time?  It helps when they are different types of books but I have found that often my print book and audio book overlap in some way.

I have to admit that when someone claims to be a writer but they are someone who doesn’t read, I am suspicious.  In my opinion, and this is not a humble opinion, you cannot write without being a reader.  In spite of this, I encounter “writers” who simply do not have time to read.  Others tell me that they won’t read because they do not like anything that is being published.

Reading is 100% essential so that you learn the parameters of your genre or type of book. It is also one of the best ways to study good writing craft.  What better way to know what works for the reader than to be a reader yourself?

Step 1.  Read.

Step 2.  Write and read.

Step 3. Rewrite and read.

Because reading is essential all along the writing journey.




Creative Commons: Finding Copyright Free Images

Whether you are blogging or creating PDFs for your students and you need a graphic, it is easist to work with copyright free materials.  Copyright free means that something has no copyright restrictions.  It is public domain or available for anyone to use.  It is something that no one should be making money when someone else uses it.

Under the Creative Commons system public domain items are CC0.

Unfortunately, the problem can often be in finding the images you need.  Most often I use Pixabay.  Most of the people who upload material on Pixabay are photographers or graphic artists.  That means that when you search something like “ape,” “monkey,” or “dinosaur fossil,” you are trusting the person to know the difference between an ape and a monkey as well as which prehistoric reptiles were dinosaurs and which were not.

But I was reading Jane Friedman’s newsletter, Electric Speed, and came across the Creative Commons Search or CC Search.  This is sponsored by the nonprofit behind the CC license itself.  At the time, the search will only find images but the goal is to broaden it to also search audio and text.

Although the search is limited to images the images come from a wide variety of sources, among them museums and other scholarly organization s including:

Flora.on sponsored by the Portuguese Botanical Society

The World Register of Marine Species

Geograph Britain and Ireland

The Rijksmuseum

There are also sources like Deviant Art but with a number of museum and academic organizations there will be carefully curated materials.  As with anything found online, proceed with caution and check your sources.

That said, I am looking forward to having a slightly easier time finding some of the picky, specific images I need to illustrate a scientific or natural point.

You can also modify your search, narrowing the source, the type of license available and more.  Definitely something to check out as you look for the images you need.




Social Media: Pick and Choose

An editor or agent is interested in your book. They ask what you would be willing to do to promote it.  You point out that you blog and that you have a LinkedIn account.  When the next question comes, you cringe.  What about Facebook and Twitter?  Instagram or Snapchat?

My advice to you?  You probably can’t take full advantage of every type of social media.  After all, you only have 24 hours in any given day and seven days a week.  You simply won’t have the time to do everything.  You will have to pick and choose.

You may not want to hear this but promoting your own work is essential.  To do this effectively in this day and age when young readers, parents, teachers and librarians all use social media, you too will have to have a presence somewhere.

Look at what types of social media you already use.  Take some time to study how other authors use these platforms.  Do you see something that would work for you or your book?

Promoting your work on social media will take time.  And I don’t just mean the hours that you will need to post on Facebook or tweet.  No matter what type of social media you choose it will take time to build up a following.  Because of this, it will take time to effectively spread the word about your own work.

That is part of the reason that it is important that you NOT volunteer to use Twitter if you hate Twitter.  Not only will you have to use it every day, you will have to use it for weeks and months to build an effective following.  Do you really want to put that much time and energy into something you hate when you could actually use other social media that you enjoy?

Don’t say no but do take the time to wisely pick and choose what you might do to promote your work.  It will take time and you might as well enjoy it!