The Best Advice, by Anthony D. Fredericks

A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks

The Best Advice!

The lattes were excellent, and we were enjoying a long conversation at a local coffee shop. Both writers, we were sharing some of the things learned over decades of writing experience and dozens of published books. My friend asked, “What’s the best advice you’ve shared with prospective children’s authors?” I thought for a moment and replied, “I think the best advice I could offer any writer is that, if you want to be successful, you must read children’s books on a regular basis.”

Interestingly, when I’m introduced to folks who express a desire to pen a children’s or YA book, many believe that just because they’ve raised some children (and told them stories at bedtime) or volunteered at their child’s school, they are ready to write their own book for kids. Unfortunately, just being around kids does not adequately prepare one for writing children’s literature. We need to immerse ourselves in the culture of children’s literature. We need to know the language, the themes, the concepts, the tenor, and the presentations. And, the ONLY way to do that is to read children’s or adolescent literature on a regular basis . . . every day!

As I frequently share with aspiring authors, if they are not reading children’s books, they are putting themselves at a severe disadvantage. The books they read as former students are not the same kind of books kids read today. Reading current literature—on a regular basis—has enormous benefits. Here are just a few:

  • Introduces you to a wide range of authorial styles.
  • Shows you language patterns that resonate with readers.
  • Gets you in a literary mindset that sharpens your focus and hones your perspective.
  • Demonstrates how other authors address the beginning, middle, and ends of stories.  
  • Gives you the opportunity to compare good stories with bad stories.  
  • Allows you to see how different authors handle similar themes.  

By studying the diverse ways of presenting a story, we give ourselves an education available nowhere else. Reading a wide selection of books opens our eyes to the infinite variety of storytelling techniques and the ways in which we might approach a topic or issue.  

As you read all those children’s books, here are a few questions you may want to consider. You might, as I often do, decide to record the responses to the following questions:

  • What did I enjoy most (or least) about this book?
  • How did the author introduce and describe the main character?
  • What would readers like most (or least) about this book?
  • What did the author do to establish the setting for this book?
  • How did the author deal with conflict/resolution?
  • How did the author help me create mental images about what was happening in the story?
  • How did the author demonstrate their respect for me as a reader?
  • Why would I want to read (or not read) another book by this author?
  • What did the author do that kept me turning the pages?

Here’s the absolute key to success: If you want to write children’s/YA books you have to read children’s/YA books! One without the other is like vacationing in Maui without going to the beach or a lemon meringue pie without a crust. They’re only half-complete! Read, and keep reading, lots of children’s or adolescent literature and you will notice a decided improvement in your own abilities to craft stories . . . memorable stories . . . for a new generation of readers.

Here are a few pertinent quotes on why writers need to be readers:

  • “Reading inspires writing. It always has. Writing is a way to say ‘thank you’ to the authors who have touched our lives.” —Joe Bunting, author
  • “The way I am as a writer comes very much out of what I want as a reader.” —David Foster Wallace, author
  • “I have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500—you need to read. You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader. It’s the great writers who teach us how to write.” —Madeleine L’Engle, children’s author
  • “I am always chilled and astonished by the would-be writers who ask me for advice and admit, quite blithely, that they ‘don’t have time to read.’ This is like a guy starting up Mount Everest saying that he didn’t have time to buy any rope or pitons.” —Stephen King, author
  • Okay, it’s time to end this month’s column. I have a book to read!


    Tony is an award-winning author of more than four dozen children’s books. In addition, he has written the critically acclaimed 10,000 Writing Ideas: Essential Strategies for Every Writer (https://amzn.to/3u2WDdH ). [“From one of the most creative and innovative authors of our time, 10,000 Writing Ideas is a resource that you will find informative and inspirational.” —5 stars]

    NOTE:  If you are interested in the latest tips, strategies, and ideas about creativity, you should check out Tony’s monthly newsletter: Creatively Speaking: Ideas to Ignite Your Creative Fires (https://www.smore.com/3xnpk-creatively-speaking). It’s a quick read packed with solid information and insights.   

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    Member News—May 2021

    Member News is a monthly feature on the EasternPennPoints blog. We want to celebrate our Eastern PA SCBWI members’ good news and help spread the word far and wide. Send us your children’s book–related news—book deals, releases, awards, author or illustrator events (signings, launch parties, appearances), etc. If you’d like your news to be included in next month’s column, please email Laura Parnum at epa-ra2@scbwi.org before June 20, or fill out our “Good News Survey.”

    Here’s some exciting news from our members this month:

    The Proud Button by Danette Richards was just published by Clavis Publishing in both Dutch and English. The illustrations were done by Annelies Vandenbosch, who lives in Belgium and has illustrated both the English and Dutch versions. The Proud Button is an inspiring story about believing in a magical button and more importantly, about believing in yourself. It is for children five years and up.  


    The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh

    The Way to Bea by Kat Yeh (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, September 2017) was included in this month’s SCBWI Recommended Reading List. Each month, SCBWI features books written and illustrated by SCBWI members, and every month highlights a new theme that will foster discussions, activities, and enjoyment. The theme for May was “Celebrate Asian Pacific Islander Heritage.”


    The Book of Untold Stories by Sherri Maret

    Author Sherri Maret released her latest children’s book, The Book of Untold Stories (RoadRunner Press, May 2021) with illustrations by Thomas Hilley. The Book of Untold Stories is a picture book to inspire young readers and storytellers. It has fourteen prompts to spark the imagination as well as information about creating stories. 


    If you have good news to share, please send it to epa-ra2@scbwi.org to be included in next month’s Member News column or fill out our “Good News Survey.”

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    A Virtual Meet and Greet for PAL Members, by Lindsay Bandy

    Calling all PAL Members: 

    PAL Virtual MEET & GREET

    When: Thursday, May 27, 7:00 – 8:00 p.m.

    Where: In your home via Zoom

    What: Join PAL Coordinator Lindsay Bandy for a fun Meet & Greet filled with opportunities to network, ask questions, and share your ideas about how SCBWI can serve PAL members even better.  

    Organized by: Lindsay Bandy (Eastern PA PAL Coordinator)

    RSVP to: Lindsay at lindsay@lindsaybandybooks.com

    She’ll provide you with the zoom link the morning of the event.

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    A Cafe Chat (and Critique Giveaway!) with Award-Winning Illustrator and Agent Shadra Strickland, by Berrie Torgan-Randall

    A Cafe Chat with Award-Winning Illustrator and Agent Shadra Strickland, by Berrie Torgan-Randall

    Welcome back to the EasternPennPoints Café, our virtual café here in Eastern PA. Today’s café chat features a conversation between award-winning illustrator and agent Shadra Strickland and our Illustrator Coordinator, Berrie Torgan-Randall. We are excited to have Shadra presenting in two upcoming webinars for our region: Writers Who Want to Illustrate (June 7) and Illustrators Who Want to Write (June 10). Registration is open, and critiques are available. Please see below for registration information a critique giveaway!

    Berrie: Hi there, Shadra, and welcome to the EasternPennPoints Café. As we settle into our comfy booth, what will you have to drink? Orangina or Genesee Beer? 

    Shadra: Coffee, please. 

    Berrie: I like to find a connection with the person I am interviewing, and I see from your bio that we both were art majors at Syracuse University. Tell me, do you bleed orange (inside SU grad joke about being totally loyal to SU)?

    Shadra: Ha!! Wow, small world. Go Cuse! What a great introduction to illustration and design. I was a design major before switching over to illustration. SU gave a me a lot of tools that I needed to push my art life forward. Maybe we passed each other on the quad!

    Berrie: Congratulations on all your awards throughout your career. Are there one or two that have the most meaning to you?

    Shadra: They have all meant a lot to me. The Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award and the Ezra Jack Keats Award were both pretty special to me. Both of those stand for such high ideals in children’s literature, and winning both really connected me to a strong and loving community of picture book creators and champions of kid lit.

    Artwork from Bird written by Zetta Elliott (Lee and Low Books 2008)

    Berrie: You are a very busy person—not only are you an illustrator and an author but you also teach college courses at the Maryland Institute College of Art, run an Etsy shop, work as an Agent-at-Large, and own a dog. How do you do it all? 

    Shadra: Coffee . . . lots of coffee . . . No husband. No kids. LOL—I’m only half joking.

    Well, teaching is seasonal. I do get to take time away and focus on my work through the summers and winters, but it does get challenging through the semester. This last year and a half has especially felt like trial by fire as I stepped into chairing the department during COVID. I’m so looking forward to summer break. 

    The Etsy shop has its fits and stops. This past year was an exceptionally strong year for art sales thanks to so many people raising visibility of Black artists. I had to enlist the help of two of my quarantine buddies to come by each weekend for about a month to help fulfill orders and eventually brought in a part-time assistant. It was such a gift to have everyone pitch in. Things have slowed down a bit now, so I am only in the shop for a few hours each week and I’m licensing a couple of my popular prints with Anthropologie and Artfully Walls to give myself a bit of a breather. 

    Agenting is a direct extension from what I have been doing as a teacher. Out of the six clients that I have, five are former students. My agent (who is still representing me), Lori Nowicki, critiqued my students’ work each year and began signing some of them. Eventually, she asked me to try repping a few of my own. Because I also have taught professional development for many years now at MICA, I was able to build upon my business know-how by way of teaching. Everything just seems to roll into everything else. It’s a fun life. 

    And Lucky, well, he’s my assistant. I wouldn’t be able to get any of this done without his licks of support. 

    Berrie: As an agent, what advice would you give an unagented illustrator when submitting their work to Painted Words Represents?

    Shadra: That’s a good question. First rule for me is, please show us a wide range of kids. Kids in classrooms, kids at home, kids out in the world. Outside of that, try to show work that is consistent. It’s okay to switch media. Media isn’t style. The way that one thinks, draws, and sees the world is what style is made of, not just if it’s done in ink or pencil. Outside of your portfolio, do keep a sketchbook and share a few pages at the end of your more curated portfolio. I’m interested in seeing what people make when no one’s watching. 

    Berrie: Your illustrations are so alive with a mixture of different mediums. What mediums do you prefer and why?

    Shadra: Thank you! Each book just feels different. Each one has different needs based on the tone of the writing. The most outside of my “style” has been A Child’s Book of Prayers and Blessings by Delores Jordan. I chose to work in linoleum cuts for that project because I wanted to communicate mostly in color and shape since the intended audience was much younger than those of my other picture books. 

    I am working digitally for a project now (it’s killing me) because I want to capture movement in a way that digital painting makes the most sense. My preference, though, is watercolor, gouache, and pencil (or ink). At the end of the day, I paid a lot of money to go to art school and I’m gonna use everything I learned. 😉

    Artwork from Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance written by Nikki Grimes (Bloomsbury, January 2020)

    Berrie: So, I know you have a webinar coming up on June 7 called Writers Who Want to Illustrate and on June 10 called Illustrators Who Want to Write. Can you tell us a little bit about the webinar and who should think about attending?

    Shadra: I have taught Advanced Book Illustration for almost eight years now, and what I enjoy most is showing people how to write from the back door; meaning, I really respect play and have writers write to visual prompts instead of trying so hard to write the thing that sits at the front of the brain. I have found that the best ideas are the ones lurking under a few layers and have to be coaxed out in unexpected ways. So, if you’re a writer who wants to unearth some stories that you may not have known were inside of you, we should have a good time together.

    For the writers who want to illustrate, I’d love to share a few exercises to help bring the ideas out of the head and onto the page. Most people think that artists just sit down and draw the thing, and for some lucky artists, that is certainly true. For others, like myself, drawing requires a lot of preparation, research, and trial and error. So for anyone who’d like to learn some of the secrets of how to build an illustration from the ground up, I’d love to have you!

    Berrie: It was great sharing a drink with you and getting to know you. It’s always nice to meet a fellow Orangeman (another inside SU joke referring to the SU mascot). 

    Shadra: Thanks so much, Berrie. It’s been fun hanging out! Go Cuse!


    Shadra Strickland is an award-winning illustrator. She won the Ezra Jack Keats Award and the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in 2009 for her work in her first picture book, Bird, written by Zetta Elliott. Shadra co-illustrated Our Children Can Soar, winner of a 2010 NAACP Image Award. She studied design, writing, and illustration at Syracuse University and later went on to complete her M.F.A. at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

    Shadra travels the country, conducting workshops and sharing her work with children, teachers, and librarians. She currently works and teaches illustration at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.


    Webinar Info

    If you’re interested in attending either one or both of Shadra’s June webinars, you can find out more and register here: https://epa.scbwi.org/events/crossover-webinars-writers-who-want-to-illustrate-and-illustrators-who-want-to-write/. Be sure to log in as an SCBWI member to get the discounted member price.

    Giveaway!

    Eastern PA SCBWI is giving away a free written critique with Shadra Stickland for a picture book manuscript/dummy (maximum 5 pages) or illustration portfolio (maximum 6 illustrations) to one lucky Eastern PA SCBWI member! To enter, please comment on this blog post before 9:00 p.m. EST on Monday, May 24, 2021. We will choose the winner at random from those who comment. Must be a current Eastern PA SCBWI member to be eligible. Please include your full name as it appears in your SCBWI membership. If you’d like to comment on this blog post but not be entered to win (e.g., if you are not an Eastern PA SCBWI member or if you are not interested in a critique), simply state that along with your comment.) Materials for the critique are due June 5, 2021. Instructions for submitting materials will be sent to the winner.

    Posted in Cafe Chat, Contests, Giveaways, Interviews, Uncategorized, webinar | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

    It’s About Time, by Anthony D. Fredericks

    A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks

    It’s About Time!

    Not long ago, on my afternoon walk, I was introduced to a friend of a friend. We chatted about the weather, how we were dealing with the pandemic, and the sudden emergence of daffodils throughout the neighborhood. My friend mentioned that I was a writer of both children’s books as well as adult nonfiction. When she told her neighbor I had published over one hundred books, an incredulous look crossed her friend’s face. “I’ve always wanted to be a writer but never had the time,” she said. “How do you find the time to write?”

    It’s a question that sometimes surfaces in social situations. I often share a common response: “I never have to find the time to write, because I always make time to write.” I explain that, for me, writing is a passion, never a hobby. It’s not something I need to scribble on my “To Do” list, rather it’s a daily convention—a morning religion, if you will—like brushing my teeth, putting on a clean shirt, or brewing a pot of Kona coffee.

    Writing is not an add-on to my life, it’s my raison d’être!

    “But, Tony, I’ve got two kids, a household to manage, bills to pay, tennis lessons, soccer schedules, shopping, cleaning, and a husband who likes to eat dinner every now and again. I just don’t have the time!”

    Okay, I get it! But, consider this: Instead of looking for time to write amidst all our personal and household responsibilities, perhaps we need to find time to do all those chores and obligations once the writing is done.

    For me, writing is my passion . . . my priority. I get up at 5:30 a.m.—prime time when the world is still asleep and the neighborhood still. A quick shower, a simple breakfast, and a towering cup of java and I’m at my desk by 6:00. My task is getting words on a page or editing the words I put on the page the day before. I am focused, I am determined, I am writing. Every. Single. Morning.

    Later is when I’ll clean out the garage, go grocery shopping, weed the garden, mop the kitchen floor, hang a painting, do laundry, run errands, or take my afternoon walk. Writing comes first. It is most important. It’s always on my schedule. Everything else may or may not get done . . . and I’m okay with that. They are not priorities . . . 1,000 words a day is.

    Sometimes we let all the chores and “duties” of our lives command us. We convince ourselves that all those activities are just as important as our desire . . . our desire to write a book or craft a story for children. We make long lists of errands—homogenizing all our responsibilities into one big pot. Time to write gets dumped in too because it demands a certain quantity of minutes or hours in a busy and overcrowded day. However, when writing is mixed in with everything else, it loses its importance; it reduces its significance. It’s no longer a priority, it’s now a chore . . . another obligation like washing the dishes, vacuuming the living room carpet, or putting the kids’ toys away.

    We now have to find time to make it happen.

    You might be surprised by all the things in your life that are not essentials . . . that are not priorities. You might be equally surprised by the ways in which those nonessential responsibilities suck time away from your passion . . . from what “floats your boat.” Perhaps, we need to ask ourselves three questions: 1) Is writing (for children) my ultimate passion or is it one of my obligations? 2) Is writing a necessity or a pastime? and 3) Does writing command my attention or vie for my time?

    Or, consider these: 1) When we mix writing in with everything else, guess what suffers? 2) When we blend our passion with our chores, guess what is diminished? 3) When writing is on the same list as vacuuming, guess what gets compromised?

    Today, I have to pick up a prescription, do some laundry, spackle a wall in the guest bathroom, and install a garden trellis. Those will all come later . . . maybe. First, I write.

    It’s about time!

    ____________________

    Tony is the author of more than 50 award-winning children’s books including Tall Tall Tree (Sourcebooks/Dawn), The Tsunami Quilt: Grandfather’s Story (Sleeping Bear Press), and Desert Night, Desert Day (Rio Nuevo). He has also authored Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know From Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/3wK6FD9[“This book tells the truth about being an author of children’s books.” —5-star review]

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    Member News — April 2021

    Member News is a monthly feature on the EasternPennPoints blog. We want to celebrate our Eastern PA SCBWI members’ good news and help spread the word far and wide. Send us your children’s book–related news—book deals, releases, awards, author or illustrator events (signings, launch parties, appearances), etc. If you’d like your news to be included in next month’s column, please email Laura Parnum at epa-ra2@scbwi.org before May 20, or fill out our “Good News Survey.”

    Here’s some exciting news from our members this month:

    SCBWI’s April Recommended Reading List featured several author from our Eastern PA region. Each month, SCBWI features books written and illustrated by our members, and every month highlights a new theme that will foster discussions, activities, and enjoyment. The theme for April was “Celebrate the Earth.” Books featured from our members included High Tide for Horseshoe Crabs by Lisa Kahn Schnell; The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide by Annette Whipple; Lela and the Butterflies by Sherri Maret; Mama Miti by Donna Jo Napoli; and Sadie’s Snowy Tu B’Shevat illustrated by Julie Fortenberry.


    Congratulations to Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and Lindsay Bandy. Their books Your Name Is a Song and Nemesis and the Swan have advanced to round two of voting for the Atlantic Region Crystal Kite Award. The annual Crystal Kite Award is a peer-given award to recognize great books from fifteen SCBWI regional divisions around the world. The last day for SCBWI members to vote is today, April 30. The winners will be announced in May.


    Hallee Adelman released two books in her Way Past series this month: Way Past Sad and Way Past Jealous (Albert Whitman & Co; both released on April 1 and illustrated by Karen Wall). In Way Past Sad, James is sad. Way past sad. His best friend, Sanj, is moving away. James feels all alone, and even hugs from Mom don’t take away all his sad. But it helps to talk about it. Nothing can change the fact that Sanj is moving, but will James and Sanj always be sad? Or is there a way to get past it? In Way Past Jealous, Yaz is jealous. Way past jealous. Yaz loves to draw, but no one ever notices her pictures. Everyone loves Debby’s drawings, and one even got put up on the classroom wall with a star on it. Now Yaz’s jealousy is making her think ugly things, and even act mean! How can she get past jealous?


    Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow announced a book contract with HarperCollins for Hold Them Close, which will be illustrated by Patrick Dougher. This ode to Black children encourages them to hold on tight to their proud history, loved ones, and moments of joy in the face of racialized violence and oppression. Publication is set for fall 2022.


    The Secret Life of the Sloth illustrated by Kate Garchinsky

    The Secret Life of the Sloth by Laurence Pringle, illustrated by Kate Garchinsky, was released from Boyds Mills Press on April 20. Meet Perezoso, a brown-throated three-fingered sloth who lives in a rainforest habitat. Young readers will be fascinated as they learn all about her life—how she searches for food, keeps herself safe from prey, and gives birth to a baby. Kate’s gorgeous, realistic illustrations celebrate these intriguing creatures, and the story is filled with important facts and terms. The back matter at the conclusion of the book provides more in-depth information, a glossary, and further resources. Check out the book trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFJp2mCYSK0.

    Kate was also featured in the February 2021 issue of Newtown Square Friends & Neighbors. Check it out: https://issuu.com/bestversionmedia2/docs/2987_newtown_square_friends___neighbors_web_feb21/22?ff&fbclid=IwAR2z9A-SBraHEp3dIgFcYkw7-uZjmKJwd8Sglx8IkV3fijnvt2U5VpLuoYk


    Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls by Annette Whipple

    Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls (Reycraft Books, 2020) by Annette Whipple was nominated for a 2021-2022 Keystone to Reading Elementary Book Award in the primary division. The Keystone to Reading Elementary Book Award is run by the Keystone State Literary Association KSLA, a vibrant community of educators and others interested in promoting literacy and literacy education in Pennsylvania.


    On March 31, 2021 Annie Lynn released an SEL (Social Emotional Learning) song, co-written with Rocky Mountains SCBWI author Jolene Gutiérrez, which was featured on author Lydia Lukidis’s blog, Blissfully Bookish. Jolene and Annie “won each other” in the Fall Writing Frenzy, run by Lydia and agent Kaitlyn Sanchez. The song was written to go with Jolene’s book Mac and Cheese and the Personal Space Invader (Spork, August 2020; illustrated by Heather Bell). It was also written loosely enough to pair with any book about body autonomy and physical boundaries. The name of the song is “Space Creator.” Here is a link to the lyrics video: https://youtu.be/ivN4zfayrW4


    Miosotis Flores Never Forgets by Hilda Eunice Burgos

    Author Hilda Eunice Burgos recently revealed the cover for her upcoming middle grade novel, Miosotis Flores Never Forgets (Tu Books; release date: October 5, 2021). The beautiful cover was illustrated by Lissy Marlin. In this novel, Miosotis Flores is excited about three things: fostering rescue dogs, goofy horror movies, and her sister Amarilis’s upcoming wedding. But Miosotis soon notices Amarilis behaving strangely—wearing thick clothing in springtime, dropping her friends in favor of her fiancé, even avoiding Miosotis and the rest of their family. When she finally discovers her sister’s secret, Miosotis faces some difficult choices. What do you do if someone is in danger, but doesn’t want your help? When should you ask for support, and when should you try to handle things on your own? And what ultimately matters most—what Miosotis wants, or what’s right for the ones she loves? Miosotis Flores Never Forgets is currently available for preorder.


    If you have good news to share, please send it to epa-ra2@scbwi.org to be included in next month’s Member News column or fill out our “Good News Survey.”

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    Three Classic Mistakes, by Anthony D. Fredericks

    A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks

    Three Classic Mistakes

    I was in southern Virginia as the visiting children’s author at a local elementary school. The slide show was over and it was time for questions from the audience. I responded to the usual barrage: “How long does it take to write a book?” “Have you ever written a book about dogs?” “Are you rich?” And (my favorite) “You look pretty old. How come you’re still writing children’s books?” Then, a fourth grader hit me with an unexpected question: “When you teach writing workshops, what are the three biggest mistakes you see?”

    It was a great question—one I had to think about for a while. I eventually responded by telling her that I often see mistakes relating to character development, conflict resolution, and an overuse of adjectives. For the purposes of this month’s column (and as a good refresher), let’s take a look at these frequent miscues in a little more detail.

    Creating Characters

    Are you perfect? No! Am I perfect? Definitely not! Are any of your friends, relatives, or colleagues perfect? Categorically no! We live in a world of imperfections, and it is those imperfections that create characters. No book character—either those in adult books or those in children’s books—is perfect. We remember characters because of their imperfectness, not because they do or say everything perfectly. That would be boring. The same holds true for your characters. Make them slightly less than perfect. Make them wild. Make them weird. Or make them all of the above.

    • A boy, afraid of heights, who must climb a mountain to rescue his dog
    • A rich girl who steals from the hardware store
    • Three gangly brothers who attend ballet school
    • A kid from “the wrong side of the tracks” who writes poetry
    • A shy and withdrawn girl who is asked to give a speech to the entire school about her writing award

    Memorable (and readable) characters are imperfect . . . just like you and me!

    Lack of Conflict

    Memorable children’s books have conflict—a challenge the main character has to solve or overcome. Here are a few examples:

    • In Bridge to Terabithia (by Katherine Paterson, 1977), Jess has to come to grips with a terrible tragedy to his best friend. Only then does he understand the strength and courage his friend has given him.
    • In The Great Kapok Tree (by Lynne Cherry, 1990), a man in the Amazon rain forest has to make a critical decision after all the forest animals whisper in his ear, begging him not to destroy their home.
    • In If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (by Laura Numeroff, 1985), the reader must face the challenge of offering a rodent a tasty treat . . . and all the consequences that follow from that simple act.

    If you just offer a “day in the life” story (boy gets up, boy goes to school, boy comes home, boy eats dinner, boy goes to bed, boy goes to sleep), you’ll seldom attract the attention of a child much less an editor. Provide your main character with a conundrum, challenge, or personal obstacle to overcome and your manuscript will, most certainly, rise to the top.

    Overuse of Adjectives; Underuse of Verbs

    Want to put more power into your sentences? Then eliminate most of your adjectives and concentrate on your verbs. Believe it or not, there is more power in a carefully chosen verb than there is in all the adjectives in the English language. Here’s an example of a sentence overloaded with adjectives: “He was a strong, muscular, handsome, dashing, well-groomed, and outstanding young man.” You see, the problem with this sentence is that we know so very little about this individual other than what the author has told us (telling vs. showing). The author has relied on a string of adjectives to describe this person, but has not taken the time to show us the real person he is.

    On the other hand, a carefully chosen verb can add considerable power to a sentence—one that helps the reader gain a clear mental image of what is going on. For example, take the following sentence: “She walked down the street to give Candice a lesson she would never forget.” “Walked” is a weak verb—it’s ordinary in the same way that “talk,” “say,” “run,” or “move” are weak. But, substitute a potent verb in that sentence and it carries a much more powerful message. For example, “She stormed down the street, ready to give Candice a lesson she would never forget.” See the difference? You’ll also note that there is no adjective in the first part of that sentence, yet through the use of a certain verb we know quite a bit about the central character.

    These admonitions have one thing in common above all: they can all be controlled by you! Each of these three mistakes is under your influence. You have the power to address all three or none at all. Take it from a “pretty old children’s author,” close attention to these issues will make a significant difference in your writing!


    Tony is the author of more than 50 award-winning children’s books including A is for Anaconda: A Rainforest Alphabet (Sleeping Bear), Mountain Night, Mountain Day (Rio Nuevo), and In One TidepoolCrabs, Snails and Salty Tails (Sourcebooks/Dawn). His latest children’s book— “All Aboard!” Starts with A—has just been released. 

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    Announcing the 2021 EPA SCBWI Mentorship Pairs!

    We’re excited to announce the final pairs in our very first EPA SCBWI Mentorship Program, which officially kicks off TODAY!

    Congratulations to these promising mentees, and thanks to the mentors willing to share their experience, time, and talents.

    Check out where you can find our mentees and mentors on social media and the web, and be sure to say hello in the comments.

    We’re looking forward to wonderful things!

    Learn more about Carrie at www.CarrieRohman.com

    Learn more about Kat at http://www.katyeh.com/DEFAULT.html

    Say hello to Mary at MSpiersWriter@Verizon.net!

    Learn more about Linda at http://www.lindaoatmanhigh.com

    Say hello to Kristen on Twitter @KrisRashid

    Learn more about Jamilah at jamilahthewriter.com

    Say hello to Pradeep on Twitter @VelugubantlaP

    Learn more about Sandy at https://sandyasher.com/

    Say hi to Mark on Twitter @Magrocrag

    Say hi to Lindsay on Twitter @Lindsay_Bandy or visit www.LindsayBandyBooks.com

    Say hi to Berrie on Twitter @berrietr or learn more at www.berrietr.com

    Learn more about Kate on her web site: Illustrated by Kate Garchinsky – Children’s Books, Natural History, and Paintings by Philadelphia illustrator, Kate Garchinsky (penguinart.com)

    Say hi to Samantha on Twitter @lrwordartist or learn more at her web site https://samanthadivine.com

    Say hi to Eric on Twitter @iamericbell or visit his web site at IAmEricBell.com.

    Say hi to Cindy on Twitter @CL_MockWrites

    Visit Hilda’s web site at HildaEuniceBurgos.com

    Say hi to Charity on Facebook: facebook.com/charitymunozart or Instagram: instagram.com/munozcharity Or visit her web site charitymunoz.com

    Visit Adrienne’s web site, http://www.adriennewright.com or say hello on Twitter: https://twitter.com/adiillustrate or Instagram: i.am.adriennewright

    Say hi to Lorinda at lorindalende@gmail.com

    Say hi to Nicole at Nicole@Valentines.net and visit her web site www.nicolevalentinebooks.com

    Visit Eric’s web site at IAmEricBell.com

    or say hi on Twitter @iamericbell

    Say hi to Nazneen on Twitter @NazneenAkbari or visit her web site nazsnook

    Visit Nadine’s web site www.nadinepoper.weebly.com or Follow Nadine on Twitter or Friend Nadine on Facebook

    Say hi to Bernadette

    You can find Bernadette on Instagram @bmzderod or visit her web site at https://bziembamail.wixsite.com/my-site

    Say hi to Diana on Twitter @dianarwallach or on Instagram @dianawallachauthor, or visit her web site www.dianarodriguezwallach.com

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    Lessons from Falling on the Ice, by Berrie Torgan-Randall

    Lessons from Falling on the Ice 

    I knew at five years old what I wanted to be when I grew up—a professional ice skater. I decided on my chosen profession after my parents took me to an Ice Capades (Disney on Ice) show.  During that show I imagined myself as one of the skaters twirling and leaping effortlessly. I took one skating lesson and left with a sore bottom and a hurt ego. Similarly, when I watched the Nutcracker ballet, I imagined myself as the Snow Queen being lifted effortlessly in the air by a handsome and strong Snow King. Despite numerous years of ballet lessons, I left with good posture but no prima ballerina status. I was always more of a dreamer, much less of a doer, unless it was in art class. I loved everything about art class—the burlap and glue collages, the linoleum prints, and the smell of the tempera paint. In pursuit of this passion, I went to art school where I took all sorts of fine arts classes. Even though I loved art school, my Fine Arts degree left me with no sense of how I was going to make a living as an artist.   

    Growing up, I loved being in the art room, and there was one other special place where I loved to be—the school library. In the library I would admire the illustrations and read about distant worlds. The books I enjoyed took me along the banks of the Charles River to ride a swan boat and through a magic wardrobe to meet a talking lion named Aslan. After working odd jobs after art school that weren’t very gratifying, I reconsidered my career options and remembered the joy of my time spent in the school library. I went to grad school to become an elementary school librarian.   

    Being a librarian is my bread and butter; a profession that I love. However, my true passion is illustrating and writing children’s books. Unlike my skating and ballet lessons, I have stuck with this dream even though the experience has left me with bruises. With hope in my heart, I started attending conferences to achieve my dream of illustrating books for children. These conferences became my muse, inspiring me to use my imagination and be creative. When I began, I would shyly present my portfolio. The other illustrators intimidated me. They were published and had beautiful portfolios and websites! The harsh but realistic criticism of the conference presenters reminded me of the difficult years of critiques in art school. Despite my own fears, my family encouraged me to continue, and my husband suggested that I be inspired not intimidated. It took a few conferences to get over the intimidation and the desire to crawl under a rock.   

    During those early SCBWI conferences, more advanced illustrators offered advice about closed conferences (RUCCL) and acceptance-only classes at the Highlights Foundation. Being accepted into these programs wasn’t as easy as I had imagined. It took three years before I was accepted into a closed conference for writers and illustrators. When my self-addressed envelope came in the mail, I cried out in frustration before I opened the envelope. I imagined another rejection. Ironically, that self-addressed letter was my first acceptance. Other SCBWI and closed conferences followed, and each time I attended a conference, my portfolio matured. Through the critiques and advice, I was able to produce a dummy book, and my confidence grew. I began to get my hopes up that each upcoming conference would be the one where I got my big break and would be offered a contract. My little fire of passion and anticipation would flare up, only to be diminished at the end of the event.   

    As I continued to work diligently on my portfolio and received constructive criticism during more conferences, I was no longer devastated by each rejection and less shy about presenting my work. Then, at a recent conference, a change in my thinking was more important than a big break. Heidi Stemple and Jane Yolen pointed out that writing for children is about the three Ps (Passion, Perseverance, and Patience). I did a quick self-assessment. I already had the passion and the perseverance. For the sheer love of what I do, I had already written and illustrated several dummy books, created a seasonal three-panel cartoon, and completed other art-related projects. Working without getting a contract or seeing a major publisher’s logo on my project left me psychologically bruised. It’s the third P (Patience) that I work on daily. It’s difficult to be patient and wait for an acceptance letter to a conference, a positive review of my portfolio, or an email with a contract.

    As a child I was a dreamer instead of a doer. What I lacked in my physical abilities I made up for with my strong and powerful imagination; I could picture myself in the Ice Capades and the Nutcracker, but I wasn’t willing or able to put in the work to become a star skater or a prima ballerina. Now as an adult and an illustrator, I am a doer. I volunteer for SCBWI. I work hard every day to improve my skills. I have made numerous contacts and spend hours in my studio constantly improving my portfolio. Despite this, I continue to be a dreamer as well. I constantly say to myself, “If I just attend this conference . . . If I just participate in this Instagram challenge . . . If I just attend this class . . . If I just write this article, I can achieve my goals of becoming a published author-illustrator. I know now that you need to fall on the ice more than once in order to skate for the Ice Capades and practice more than pliés to be the prima ballerina, and similarly, I will continue to do what I love (even if I end up with even more bruises) and to practice patience. 


    Footnote: Soon after I wrote this article, I received my first contract to write a series of graphic early readers to be published by Blue Bronco Books (Fall 2022).  


    Berrie Torgan-Randall has been passionate about children’s literature since she was a little girl and has fed her desire by becoming a children’s librarian and by pursuing a career as an illustrator and writer of children’s books. Berrie is the Illustrator Coordinator for the Eastern PA region of SCBWI. She is looking forward to making connections with professionals while organizing events for illustrators who are on a similar journey of creating beautiful and meaningful picture books.

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