books

Author Melissa Stewart on the Importance of Structure

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, I got to chat with one of my all-time favorite authors who’s not only accomplished, but is also generous with her knowledge. Please welcome the queen of nonfiction herself, Melissa Stewart! Here she is, discussing her new nonfiction picture book, Tree Hole Homes: Daytime Dens and Nighttime Nooks illustrated by Amy Hevron, and published by Penguin Random House.

Special note: Heads up, writers! Check out Melissa’s blog for amazing resources and writing tips. (see link below).

Please describe the journey to publication for Tree Hole Homes.

The idea for this book traces all the way back to the summer between third and fourth grade, when I read My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. Oh, how I longed to live off the land and make a hollow tree my home, just like the main character, Sam.

Time passed, and I forgot about the book until a trip to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, in 2011. The instant I spotted a tree with a hole big enough for me to squeeze inside, Sam’s story came rushing back. And as I stood inside and looked up into the hollow tree, I knew I’d write a book about tree hole homes.

I created a file on my computer and added information from my nature journals. Whenever I read or heard anything about tree holes or animals that live in them, I added more notes to the file. Eventually, I knew I had enough information, but I didn’t know how to structure the book or how it should begin or end. I was stuck.

But then in 2018, while hiking in Topsfield, Massachusetts, I stumbled upon another large tree hole. As I awoke the next morning, the beginning of the book popped into my mind.

I ran to my office, and as I wrote it down, the ‘opposites’ text structure came to me. Using index cards and sticky notes, I mapped out the book in just a few days. Then it was time to start writing.

Please share a short and compelling excerpt from the book.

Here’s the first spread of Tree Hole Homes. It invites readers into the world of the book.

Can you help inspire nonfiction writers by giving them some tips on how to make expository literature fun and engaging?

For me, text structure is the biggest challenge when writing expository literature. It’s something I usually have to work out over a long period of time, and there’s really no short cut. At least not for me.

After I figure out that important piece of the puzzle, I focus on voice and rich language, which are closely linked. For Tree Hole Homes, I thought a wondrous, lyrical voice would work best, so I worked hard to choose words and phrases that would enchant young, curious minds. Selecting verbs carefully and incorporating figurative language help to give a piece of writing its voice.

Please share a few of your favorite nonfiction books from 2022.

Oh my goodness, there are so many! Off the top of my head, a few picture books I’ve really enjoyed are:

Because Claudette by Tracey Baptiste and Tonya Engel

Diving Deep: Using Machines to Explore the Ocean by Michelle Cusolito and Nicole Wong

Footprints Across the Planet by Jennifer Swanson

One Million Trees: A True Story by Kristen Balouch

Pizza! A Slice of History by Greg Pizzoli.

For middle grade, I’m a big fan of Secrets of the Lost City: A Scientific Adventure in the Honduran Rain Forest by Sandra Markle.

My favorite book of the year (so far) rides the MG/YA line—Seen and Unseen: What Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and Ansel Adam’s Photographs Reveal About the Japanese American Incarceration by Elizabeth Partridge and Lauren Tamaki. I hope this amazing book wins the Printz and the YALSA Nonfiction Award.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers regarding the editing process?

Be open to new ideas, but also remember your vision for the book. Other authors may write about the same topic, but what you bring to your book—your hopes and dreams, your experiences in the world, your passions and vulnerabilities—Is what makes it special. There’s a little piece of the author’s heart at the center of every great nonfiction book.

And a bonus question just for kicks! Would you rather live in a treehouse OR in a mountain cave?

A cave can be dark, damp, and chilly. I’d definitely rather spend my time in a treehouse looking out at the wide world.

BIO

Melissa Stewart has written more than 200 science-themed nonfiction books for children, including the Sibert Medal Honoree Summertime Sleepers: Animals that Estivate, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen. She co-wrote 5 Kinds of Nonfiction: Enriching Reading and Writing Instruction with Children’s Books, edited the anthology Nonfiction Writers Dig Deep: 50 Award-winning Authors Share the Secret of Engaging Writing, and maintains the award-winning blog Celebrate Nonfiction. Melissa’s highly-regarded website features a rich array of nonfiction writing resources.

LINKS

Blog: http://melissa-stewart.com
Twitter: @mstewartscience
Facebook: Melissa Stewart | Facebook

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Author Candace Fleming on Falling down the Rabbit Hole- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, I will confess that I’m having a full on fan girl moment. This award winning author is a master at writing nonfiction, but she writes equally stellar fiction. I still remember being blown away by her 12 x 12 webinar about writing across genres. It truly inspired me, to this day. So without further ado, please welcome the illustrious (and also very kind) Candace Fleming!! She discusses her new middle grade book, Crash from Outer Space: Unraveling the Mystery of Flying Saucers published by Scholastic Focus.

BUT first- YAY! Candace is generously giving away a FREE copy of her book and a very short critique (no longer than four pages). To be eligible to win, please enter the Rafflecopter contest by clicking HERE. Contest ends Nov 11, 2022, US only.

Please describe the journey to publication for Crash from Outer Space: Unraveling the Mystery of Flying Saucers, Alien Beings, and Roswell.

Hi, Lydia! Thanks for asking me to stop by and chat about Crash.  You know, I wish this manuscript had a dramatic publication story: multiple submissions, hard-fought revisions, suspenseful back-and-forth commentary between editor and agent.  In truth, Crash might be my simplest publication story.  I was struck with the idea while hiking in New Mexico.  That same day, after returning to my hotel room, I sent an email to my Scholastic editor Lisa Sandell.  I didn’t create an outline, or write a proposal.  I just explained in a couple short paragraphs what I had in mind and she said “yes.”  I went home and got to work.        

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?

During a week-long hiking trip in New Mexico, I took a side trip to Roswell.  I wasn’t thinking about doing a book about saucer crashes or anything, I just wanted to walk through the UFO Museum.  I mean, come on, UFO Museum?  It was just too kitschy to pass up.  And you know what?  It is kitschy.  But then I noticed the other museum-goers.  Many of them were absorbed in the “facts” the museum presented about alien autopsies and abductions and government coverups.  And it struck me: Roswell is compelling, but there’s a bigger, more important reason for writing about it.  The Roswell myth is the perfect vehicle for exploring our fascination with UFOs. Why do we believe extraordinary claims without extraordinary evidence? How can we determine what’s legitimate evidence and what isn’t?  And how do we “unpack” conspiracy theories in a way that enables us to arrive at the truth.  It’s all about critical thinking.  And yes, believe it or not, all that came to me while wending my way through the UFO Museum.  It’s almost like a gift book, yes?  I mean, I rarely see a project so clearly. Hmmm…maybe it was alien intelligence.      

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.-

July 5, 1947 was oven hot, recalled Gerald Anderson.  He’d ridden in the backseat of his Uncle Ted’s Buick for what seemed like hours.  Eventually, they stopped and hiked across the plains of San Agustin—himself, his father and brother, Uncle Ted, and his cousin Victor—in search of moss agates.  Just five years old at the time, Gerald was tired.  He trudged along, wishing he had a bottle of cold pop.  Instead, he got something far more astonishing.

After hiking over an arroyo, the group came upon a crashed flying saucer, its silver metal glinting in the sunlight, the wide gash in its side exposing an interior of blinking colors.  In the shade of the wreckage lay three dead creatures.  Beside them, surrounded by several strange-shaped boxes, sat a live one.  To Gerald, it appeared to have been giving first aid to the others.  But when it saw the hikers approach, the creature froze.  It drew back in fear and covered its head with its hands.

What did the creatures look like?

According to Gerald, they were short, just 4 or 4 ½ feet tall with large tapering heads, and large almond-shaped black eyes that were so dark and shiny they had “a bluish tint when light reflected off them.”  The creatures had no visible ears, their noses were nothing but two holes, and their mouths looked “like a cut,” just a straight line.    

The living creature didn’t make any sounds, not even as they moved closer.  Anderson remembered his Uncle Ted trying to talk with the creature, first in Spanish, then in sign language.  It didn’t understand a word, but it calmed.  It laid its four-fingered hands in its lap and looked from person to person.

What I love about your books, especially with your nonfiction middle grade, is your attention to detail. You make scenes pop, almost as if the text was fictional, yet it’s all rooted in fact. Can you tell us a bit about your research process?

Oh, man, my research process in one paragraph?  That’s tough.  My process is long and winding.  I go down rabbit holes.  I investigate far afield from my initial subject.  Instead of searching for facts, I let the material speak to me.  It’s a very organic and very personal process. I follow my curiosity and intuition.  Why all this?  Because only through research can I discover what my story is really about.  I mean, sure, I know the topic.  But what do I really have to say with a particular piece of history or science?  I never really know that until I wallow around in the research.  That research takes me months, often years.  And it typically takes four paths: primary sources (including interviews and visits to archives) secondary sources (I use as few of these as possible), travel (I believe houses speak and landscapes hold memories) and experts.  All this wide and varied research leads to all kinds of tiny discoveries. These tiny details can be used when writing scenes to flesh out the moment, and bring it into sharp focus. 

Please share a few of your favorite books from 2021/2 that inspired you.

Is it a terrible thing to confess that I don’t use other people’s work as mentor texts?  I’m trying to be as wholly original and creative as possible when I write nonfiction.  I’m eager to discover new ways of telling, as I did in my picture book Giant Squid, with its cantilevered line breaks and lyrical text.  I worry that if I look too closely at others’ works, I’ll mimic.  And mimicry is not originality.  Besides, I don’t believe one can’t simply squeeze their story into a “found” structure.  Structure springs naturally from the research and how you see the story being told.  But I do deeply admire lots of nonfiction writers, talented creators like Deborah Hopkinson, Carole Boston Weatherford, Sarah Miller, Cynthia Levinson, Leesa Ransome, and Deb Heiligmann.  I devour their books, but NOT when I’m writing in the same genre.  I hold back on Cynthia and Carole’s picture books until I’m done writing my own picture book.  The same goes for Sarah and Deb’s books for older kids.  I can’t read them until I’ve completed my own middle grade or YA nonfiction.  Does that make sense?        

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?

Follow your instincts and write the book you envision.  Break the rules.  Keep inventing and reinventing yourself as a writer.  Don’t just stick to what you do best.  Challenge yourself. 

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?

An eagle.  I’d like to soar above the earth, and see it from an entirely new perspective.

BIO

Candace Fleming writes picture books, middle gradeand YA biographies. Among her nonfiction titles are Giant Squid, Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart, and The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Imperial Russia.  In 2021, she took home both the Sibert Medal for Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera and YALSA’s Excellence in Nonfiction Award for The Rise and Fall of Charles Lindbergh, marking the first time the same author has won both of these nonfiction awards in the same year for two different books. Additionally, she is the recipient of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, NCTE’s Orbis Pictus Award, as well as the two-time recipient of both the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award for Nonfiction, and SCBWI’s Golden Kite Award.  Her 2022 nonfiction titles include Murder Among Friends, Polar Bear and Crash From Outer Space.

LINKS

Website:  www.candacefleming.com

Twitter: @candacefleming

FB: candacefleming

Instagram: @candaceflemingbooks

Purchase the book: https://bookshop.org/p/books/crash-from-outer-space-unraveling-the-mystery-of-flying-saucers-alien-beings-and-roswell-candace-fleming/17896859?ean=9781338829464

#FallWritingFrenzy 2022 Winners!

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Greetings #FallWritingFrenzy peeps-

We know you’re all excited to see the winners from the fourth annual Fall Writing Frenzy contest! There were almost 300 wonderful entries. You can access, read, and comment on many of them here, if you haven’t already:

Fall Writing Frenzy Entry Form 2022

It wasn’t easy- but Kaitlyn (Fall Writing Frenzy creator), Alyssa (2022 Fall Writing Frenzy Guest Judge & Donor), and I, Lydia, (Fall Writing Frenzy Co-host) managed to narrow the entries down. And of course, we have more than the original 20 prizes to give…we just couldn’t help ourselves! We all loved multiple entries so much that we just had to offer more than one prize!

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Thank you to everyone for your patience, but most of all, for the way you all came together as a community. In the past few weeks, Kaitlyn, Alyssa, and I have been overjoyed as we watched you make connections with one another, become inspired in your writing, and cheer each other on. This is what makes the kidlit community so special!

And now….the time has come to make the special announcement everyone has been waiting for…BUT- before we do, we would like to say, from the bottom of our hearts, that you are ALL winners in our eyes. We had trouble narrowing down and choosing the winners because there were so many stellar entries. You are all tremendous writers, and what’s more, you’re devoted to your craft. And that’s the most important thing. So please don’t be disappointed if you don’t see your name below, we could only pick a certain amount. So here we go…

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The winners for the 2022 #FallWritingFrenzy contest are:

Yara Flores, Jackie Light, Jackie Bright, will receive a critique from Ana Siquera
Yolimari Garcia,
The Anjana, will receive a critique from Ameerah Holliday
Carren Jao,
A Mooncake for Diwali, will receive a critique from Adria Goetz
Claudine Pullen,
Little Autumn, will receive a critique from Alyssa Reynoso-Morris (Alyssa selected this winner!)
Morgan Lau,
What’s in the pot?!, will receive a critique from Alyssa Reynoso-Morris (Alyssa selected this winner!)
Joyce Schriebman,
They’re Not Lemons, will receive a critique from Lauri Hornik
Doug Richter,
The Twinklings, will receive a critique from Charlene Chua
Jyn Hall,
Illuminating, will receive a critique from Taryn Albright
Andrea Bevill,
Renewal, will receive a critique from Lynne Marie
Carrie Karnes-Fannin,
Dark Thirty, will receive a critique from Ebony Lynn Mudd (Ebony selected this winner!)
Marty McCormick Bellis,
Peter Peter’s Pumpkin Shells, will receive a critique from Jocelyn Rish
Emily Holewczynski,
Jack O’Lantern, will receive a critique from Irene Vázquez (Irene selected this winner!)
Jennifer Anyong,
Pepita: Vampire Puppy, will receive a critique from Marcie Colleen
Tonnye Fletcher,
Scarlett and the Flute, will receive a critique from Kirsten Larson
Kendra Bell,
A Reverie’s Wings, will receive a critique from Elizabeth Law
Andi Chitty,
The End, will receive a critique from Jennifer Arena
Erin Woodsmall,
She Moved Through the Fair, will receive a critique from Dainese Santos
Jasmine Fang,
Mooncake Festival Beneath the Same Round Moon, will receive a critique from Feather Flores (Feather selected this winner!)
Kate DeMaio,
The Red Light, will receive a critique from Feather Flores (Feather selected this winner!)
Alexandra Millarhouse,
A Young Queen’s Quest, will receive a critique from Miranda Paul
Cindy Green,
What a Friend, will receive a critique from Kaitlyn Sanchez (Kaitlyn selected this winner!)
Linda Bozzo,
Four Doggie Vampires, will receive a critique from Kaitlyn Sanchez (Kaitlyn selected this winner!)
Sarah Hetu,
Fredrickson Fright, will receive a critique from Lydia Lukidis (Lydia selected this winner!)
Katie Brandyberry,
Welcome to the Neighborhood, will receive a critique from Lydia Lukidis (Lydia selected this winner!)

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Lindsey Hobson for The Curse
KC Davard for The Stitched-Up Man
Nathan Christopher for Zombie Red Riding Hood
Jen MacGregor for Headless
Rob Geyer for Will the Light Be On
Lynn Greenway for Spiderwebs
Marianna Sacra for Once Were Green
Kaylen Stewart for Gone
Vashti Verbowski for The Dark Side of Light
Debbie Exton for Under the Little Red Hood
Rennae Kletzel-Gilham for Follow the Light
Marla Yablon for New Year

 

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To the winners- expect an email in the next few weeks, matching you with your donor. You can download the winner’s badge by right clicking on the image below and saving to your desktop. Feel free to post on social media!

Fall Frenzy winner 2022
We send you all virtual hugs – please continue to write and connect with the kidlit community! Each voice is distinct and special. Thank you for this wild ride, we are already looking forward to next year’s edition. In the meantime, please follow us on Twitter (@KaitlynLeann17, @AReynosoMorris, and @LydiaLukidis) to continue connecting. And feel free to follow our blogs:

Kaitlyn’s blog: https://kaitlynleannsanchez.com/blog/

Lydia’s Blog: https://lydialukidis.wordpress.com/

Have a fabulous day and we look forward to continuing connecting with you all!

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Author Sarah Albee on Drawing from Life Experience- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an author who wrote one of my favorite middle grade nonfiction books, Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines. Her name is Sarah Albee! Here she is discussing her new middle grade nonfiction book, Troublemakers in Trousers: Women and What They Wore to Get Things Done, published by Charlesbridge.

BUT first- YAY! Sarah is generously giving away a FREE copy of her book. To be eligible to win, simply comment on this blog. Contest ends Nov 4, 2022, US only.

Where did you draw the inspiration for Troublemakers in Trousers: Women Who Dressed Like Men to Get Things Done?

I’ve always been interested in writing about people who have been erased from the historical record, and sadly, “women” is a rather large category. I also wrote a book for National Geographic a few years ago called Why’d They Wear That? in which I explored history through what people wore. So I guess this book is the center of several Venn diagrams!

What is your writing process, and does it vary depending on the project?

I wish I could say that with every book I write, my process grows more streamlined and my notes more organized, but the truth is, every book feels like a first book, and I struggle to find the core message and the structure and, well, how to tell the story. But at least I can say that the more history I research and write about, the more robust my brain’s “knowledge bank” seems to be. It’s always great when I’ve got a good idea for a book, but, as they say, the devil is in the details.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.

This is from the author’s note. It’s not the whole thing, but I think it sums up a lot of why I wrote the book:

When I was in third grade, I showed up at school wearing a black-and-white checked pantsuit. It was the seventies, so I’m pretty sure it was a hundred percent polyester. I thought I looked extremely “dy-no-mite.” My class was going on a field trip—some sort of outdoor nature expedition—and I figured that surely the dress code for girls wouldn’t apply that day. I was wrong. The school principal called my parents. My dad had to leave work and bring me a skirt to change into. That was a pivotal moment in my life—an awakening of sorts. I became suddenly aware that double standards and dumb rules existed, and a lot of them were unfair to girls in particular.

The following year, my fourth-grade gym teacher divided our class into groups: boys and girls. When I learned that the boys would head off to the other side of the divider to play basketball while the girls learned “dance,” I put my tiny foot down. (I was the smallest kid in my class.) I wanted to play basketball. I was ordered to sit on the sidelines. As punishment, I couldn’t participate in either activity. These episodes caused me to develop a strong sense of indignation. I became keenly aware of injustice and was quick to point it out. I was a really fun little sister, as I bet you can tell. Just ask my older siblings.

Back in the day, girls like me were called tomboys. Nowadays many such girls are known as good athletes. I grew up (and up some more) and became a college basketball player. Luckily  came of age at a time when attitudes about what girls should wear and what sports they should play were changing. Still, my early experiences stayed with me. Those feelings of indignation were knitted into the fabric of my personality. Maybe that’s why I wrote this book. Maybe the cumulative impact of those feelings prompted me to seek out bigger stories of injustice and triumph.

I loved your book Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines. How do you go about choosing your topics and themes, and more importantly, your hooks?

I’ve been fascinated by poison my whole life, and the idea for this NF book was prompted by a lifetime of reading fiction, in which poison factored into the plot. From Snow White to Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie mysteries to Shakespeare—poison has always fascinated me, and I wanted to find out what happens at the molecular level when a person is poisoned. And also, to try to understand the psychology behind the often-monstrous mind of real-life poisoners!

Do you have other WIPs or projects in the pipeline you would like to mention?

I currently have five books in the pipeline, and four of them are nonfiction picture books! I believe the pandemic both highlighted and also exacerbated the struggles many kids have when faced with densely-written text without accompanying visuals. Picture books are, as my teacher-husband has informed me, an excellent dual-coding strategy, not just for young kids, but really for every reader.

What is the best (one) piece of advice you would give to other nonfiction writers?

Blargh. This one is easy for me to toss out there, and yet I really need to remind myself about it every time I sit down to write. So here is my advice:

Ask yourself: Why will a kid care about this?

I think many of us—and dare I say I’m including not just myself, but also some editors and reviewers and others in the publishing world—love writing that fascinates us as adults, but it’s really eye-opening to hang around kids and see what THEY want to read or know about. Teachers know what I mean, of course. I’m fortunate enough to be around loads of kids when I visit schools, and also because I am married to a teacher, but I still must remind myself constantly to think about my reader!

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?

A dolphin. They’re so smart, and they (hopefully) don’t have to spend all of their time searching for food, so they have time to play! They just look like they’re having so much fun.

BIO

Sarah Albee is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 150 books for kids, ranging from preschool through middle grade. Recent nonfiction titles have been Junior Library Guild, Bank Street College of Education Best Books, and Notable Social Studies Trade Books selections, as well as winners of Nerdy Book Club and Eureka! Nonfiction Children’s Book Awards. She especially loves writing about topics where history and science connect. 

LINKS

https://bookshop.org/lists/books-about-history-and-science

www.sarahalbeebooks.com

Author Valerie Bolling on the Economy of Words- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an award winning author who creates emotionally resonant work with very few words, Valerie Bolling. Here she is discussing her new book, Ride, Roll, Run: Time for Fun!, a picture book illustrated by Sabrena Khadija and published by Abrams.

BUT first- YAY! Valerie is generously giving away a FREE copy of her book or a 15-minute AMA. To be eligible to win, please enter the Rafflecopter contest by clicking HERE. Contest ends October 28, 2022.

Please describe the journey to publication for Ride, Roll, Run: Time for Fun!

The first draft of  RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN! (illustrated by Sabrena Khadija) was written in 2018. It was titled CITY FUN at the time of submission, and during the publication process, its title was changed to the current one.

In June 2020, Meredith Mundy, Editorial Director at Abrams Appleseed, acquired the book as part of a two-book deal. The sequel to RIDE, ROLL, RUN is BING, BOP, BAM: TIME TO JAM! and will be released next fall.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.

Dribble, fake.

Fast break!

Shoot, wish.

Swoop, swish!

You have a skill for saying a lot in few words. How do you render your stories so sparse yet emotionally connected? What’s the editing process like?

Regarding emotion, I try to make thoughtful choices about words so that I can convey what I want the reader to feel. Fortunately, amazing illustrators have created art that beautifully contributes to telling each story and helps depict the emotions.

Please share your favorite books from 2021/2 that inspire you.

  • My Hands Tell a Story by Kelly Starling-Lyons & Tonya Engle
  • Good Night, Oppy! By James McGowan & Graham Carter
  • Fly by Brittany Thurman & Anna Cunha
  • Abdul’s Story by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow & Tiffany Rose
  • American Desi by Jyoti Gopal & Supriya Kelkar
  • Big Wig by Jonathan Hillman & Levi Hastings
  • Look and Listen by Dianne White & Amy Schimler-Safford
  • A Costume for Charly by CK Malone & Alejandra Barajas
  • So Not Ghoul by Karen Yin & Bonnie Lui
  • This Field Trip Stinks by Becky Scharnhorst & Julia Patton

And so many more …

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers regarding revision?

It’s hard to narrow this down to one piece of advice, because I teach entire workshops on revision to both children and adults. If I give just one tip, I would say that it can be helpful to focus on one story element at a time. For example, you may want to read through your manuscript, looking only at language or at pacing. Sometimes it can be difficult to try to focus on everything at once. Looking through a specific lens may enable you to see something you didn’t previously and help you refine that particular aspect of the story.

BIO

In addition to RIDE, ROLL, RUN: TIME FOR FUN!, which Kirkus Reviews described as “pure joy,” Valerie Bolling is the author of TOGETHER WE RIDE, which has received starred reviews from the Horn Book and School Library Journal, and LET’S DANCE!, a 2021 SCBWI Crystal Kite award winner and CT Book Award finalist. Sequels to her 2022 books (TOGETHER WE SWIM and BING, BOP, BAM: TIME TO JAM!) as well as a Scholastic Acorn early reader series, RAINBOW DAYS, are slated for 2023.

Since I use so few words in my books that feature sparse, rhyming text, there’s not a lot to edit. That’s the good thing about being minimalist with words from the start. I was fortunate that my edits for LET’S DANCE! and TOGETHER WE RIDE were minor. I removed two stanzas from LET’S DANCE!, and only two words were deleted from TOGETHER WE RIDE – and that didn’t happen until we saw the words paired with the art. For RIDE, ROLL, RUN, however, I added words because Meredith wanted more text. Thus, I increased my word count from 50 to a bit over 120.

A graduate of Tufts University and Columbia University, Teachers College, Valerie has been an educator for 30 years. She currently works as an Instructional Coach and also teaches picture book writing classes. She is a WNDB mentor and deeply immersed in the kidlit writing community, particularly involved with SCBWI, the 12X12 Picture Book Challenge, Black Creators HeadQuarters, and Diverse Verse. 

Valerie and her husband live in Connecticut and enjoy traveling, hiking, reading, going to the theater, and dancing.  

LINKS

linktr.ee/ValerieBolling 

Website: valeriebolling.com

Twitter: twitter.com/valerie_bolling

Instagram: instagram.com/valeriebollingauthor

Facebook: facebook.com/ValerieBollingAuthor

Author Patricia Newman on Empowering Young Readers- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an award winning author who really puts in the work, Patricia Newman. Here she is discussing her new book, A River’s Gifts: The Mighty Elwha River Reborn, a nonfiction picture book illustrated by Natasha Donovan and published by Millbrook Press.

BUT first- YAY! Patrica is generously giving away a FREE critique of 10 pages of an NF book or the overview and outline sections of a NF proposal (up to 10 pages). To be eligible to win, please enter the Rafflecopter contest by clicking HERE. Contest ends October 14, 2022.

Please describe the journey to publication for A River’s Gifts: The Mighty Elwha River Reborn.

A RIVER’S GIFTS began as a casual conversation in September 2018, between my husband and one of his colleagues about where her college-aged triplets worked the past summer. Theo, one of the triplets, interned with the Elwha River Restoration on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Engineers had just breached two dams to drain Lake Aldwell above the one-hundred-year-old Elwha Dam and Lake Mills above the eighty-five-year-old Glines Canyon Dam. Theo had helped replant the barren lakebed with native seeds and seedlings, one member of a small army of botanists and volunteers who would go on to plant 400,000 plants on 800 acres of lakebed over seven years.

When my husband arrived home that evening, he told me about Theo’s internship and said the Elwha River Restoration seemed like a great idea for a book. He was right!

I interviewed Theo and a number of other stakeholders, including Olympic National Park scientists, members of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, politicians, and community members. Next, I created a proposal to outline the idea for my editor. My agent submitted the proposal in February 2019. By July, I had an offer. Between July 2019 and now, I wrote, revised, and revised some more, Natasha Donovan delivered sketches and then final illustrations, and we weathered supply chain delays while the book was printed.

Where did you draw the book’s inspiration and what is the takeaway?

The perseverance of the people who worked on the Elwha River Restoration project inspired me. More than twenty-five years passed between the date the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe first lobbied for the dams’ removal and the date the dams were removed. I admire the dedication of this group of scientists, conservationists, and citizens.

The Elwha Restoration project is about connection. Our connection to the river and the river’s connection to us. In every environmental book I write I try to demonstrate our connection to nature.

What’s your research process for nonfiction books?

I usually travel for research. Being on site enriches the details, especially sensory details. I learned about salmon from a fish biologist at Olympic National Park. A tribal host gave me a tour of the Lower Elwha Klallam Museum. She shared the tribe’s connection to salmon, plus their stories, language, and ceremonies. I visited a tribal fish hatchery built to keep the salmon run alive for the Lower Elwha Klallam people while the river was dammed. A botanist took me on a hike to one of the former lakebeds, now a riot of plants native to the area.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.

The following lines come from the first two spreads. I wanted to start the Elwha’s story back when the river first formed tens of thousand of years ago.

Mountain snow melts. Plip . . . plop . . . plip.

  The drops flow together as trickling streams,

    and then unite as one river.

For thousands of years the roar and thunder of this river

  tumbled through steep canyons,

    carrying rocks, branches, gravel

      and winding a twisting path through the forest.

Always, it flowed north to the sea

  sharing its gifts with

    animals, plants, and people

      who cared for it in return.

Millions of years ago, before Washington became a state,

  before humans walked the earth,

    before wooly mammoths roamed,

      powerful forces transformed rocks under the sea into mountains that touched the sky.

        Rocky, craggy, rough, and steep.

Ice fields blanketed mountains and lowlands,

  and fed smaller glaciers that marched slowly forward,

    carving the narrow canyons

      and broad valleys

        where the Elwha River would soon flow.

I love your mandate “Empowering young readers to act.” What are some tangible things children can do to initiate change?

Thank you. The power of a child’s voice is important to me. They may not be able to vote, but they have the power to touch our hearts with their ideas and their commitment. Here are five easy ways to get started:

  1. Pack a zero-waste lunch for school. No plastic bags or plastic packaging allowed. No plastic straws. The only items you should throw away are items that can be composted, such as orange peels or apple cores.
  2. Read books about the environment and talk to your friends, parents, and teachers about them.
  3. Participate in a beach or river clean-up. If you don’t live near a beach or river, take a walk around the block or your school yard and pick up trash. Categorize what you pick up and share your findings with your class.
  4. Have a family meeting to talk about energy and water conservation. Do you turn off lights? Turn off the water when you brush your teeth? How can you conserve even more energy and/or water?
  5. Pay attention to the people running for elected office. Write to one of them and ask them about their plans for the environment.

Please share your favorite books from 2021/2 that have inspired you.

When the World Runs Dry by Nancy Castaldo

How to Build a Human by Pamela S. Turner

Dressing Up the Stars by Jeanne Walker Harvey

Serengeti: Plains of Grass by Leslie Bulion

Tree Hole Homes by Melissa Stewart

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other nonfiction writers?

Write from your heart. Your topic must be something you’re passionate about. The best nonfiction books make emotional connections not only to our readers, but between us as authors and the research we do.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any ice cream flavor, what would it be?

Heath Bar Crunch

BIO

Critically acclaimed author of nonfiction books for children, recipient of a prestigious Sibert Honor,

Patricia Newman empowers her readers to seek connections to the real world and to use their imaginations to act on behalf of their communities. Using social and environmental injustice as inspiration for books, Patricia frequently speaks to adults and children to share how we can affect change.

Patricia’s nonfiction books for children have been welcomed in classrooms and libraries around the country. A River’s Gifts received starred Kirkus and starred Booklist reviews. Other titles include Planet Ocean – Orbis Pictus Recommended, Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year, Outstanding Merit; Sea Otter Heroes – Robert F. Sibert Honor, ALA Notable Book; Eavesdropping on Elephants – Outstanding Science Trade Book; Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year; Eureka! Gold Award from the California Reading Association; Zoo Scientists to the Rescue – Eureka! Gold Award from the California Reading Association, Bank Street Center for Children’s Literature Best Children’s Books of the Year; Plastic, Ahoy! – Green Earth Book Award, AAAS/Subaru Science Books and Film Prize, finalist; Neema’s Reason to Smile – Parents’ Choice Recommended.

Buy links for A RIVER’S GIFTS: Amazon  Bookshop.org  Lerner Books

Website: patriciamnewman.com

Twitter:  @PatriciaNewman

Facebook: @PatriciaNewmanBooks

Pinterest:  @newmanbooks

Trailer:

Carrie S. Fannin, A #FallWritingFrenzy Success Story!!

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Hello world!!

Welcome to my book blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome the awesome author Carrie S. Fannin. I met her during the #FallWritingFrenzy competition I co-host with literary agent Kaitlyn Sanchez. And if you participated in the competition yourself, feel free to comment below and share with us.

Here’s Carrie’s success story, in her words:

One of the things I love about kidlit writing contests is how they push me to grow as a creator. Fall Writing Frenzy’s beautiful and intriguing array of photo prompts each year makes me reach a deeper place than usual to find the story. 

But the process of writing ‘Once a House’ for the 2021 contest pushed me even further. It helped me take a leap that led to an entirely new role in the writing world.

While ‘Once a House’ didn’t win any prizes in the Fall Frenzy, I found myself with this piece that felt like my writer’s voice was coming through in a new way, that the poem was saying a true thing. Maybe it was working from a photo, which was a new thing for me, that helped me find my next gear. 

A few months later, I saw a call from Little Thoughts Press magazine for kidlit poems and stories with a nature theme. I sent in my Fall Frenzy piece and was thrilled when I received an email from the editor Claire Taylor a few weeks later that the poem would be published—my first publication credit!

But the success story doesn’t end there. 

I’d gained confidence from the struggle to find and write this story from a picture prompt. Another bit came along with its acceptance for publication. Then a little bit more confidence in the magazine accepting more pieces. And so, with the wind at my back, I took a leap and did something a little out of character for me—I asked if I could come onto the magazine as a submissions reader. 

It was an experience I’d always wanted, and I’m delighted to report Claire said, “yes.” 

I’m just finished reading the submissions for the upcoming “Autumnatopoeia” themed issue, a delightful mashup of the fall season and onomatopoeia as an inspiration. (More about the magazine and current submission opportunities here.)

From writing a story to publishing it to becoming a submission reader–all are successes that sprang from the fabulous Fall Writing Frenzy contest. And that from a story that didn’t win a prize!) If anyone is on the fence about whether to give entering the contest a shot, I say, “go for it!” You don’t know where it might lead. 

***

(See more below about the entry, etc.)

Time of Contest – October, 2021 

The prompt I chose:

(Photo credit: Julia Solonina / Unsplash) 

A reverse search on this image reveals the building is the chapel at Berg Eltz, an 850+ year old castle in Germany. The age of the property and location were two of the sparks for my poem. 

Read more about the castle’s fascinating history here: https://burg-eltz.de/en/eltz-castle-the-attractions/castle-tour.html

My entry: 

Once a House 

by Carrie Karnes-Fannin (177 words)

She’d once been a house,

 but that was long ago. She remembered

 what it was like.

 seasons

 stacked memories,

 piled like cordwood ahead of winter snows

 For at her heart

 were the trees.

 timbers

 people called them,

 turning the black forest

 into boards and rafters

 And trees

 never forget

 those they’ve sheltered.

 Chicks under the eaves

 with broken shells clinging

 to their damp heads.

 Mice and their hidden highways

 between golden paneled walls.

 A girl’s laughter ringing in the hall,

 and through the years.

 she’d loved them all

 But,

 the wood reclaimed her

 as its own,

 while

 time dripped down

 slowly slowly

 leafy crowns bathed by crystal rains

 fed the tender roots

 that coursed through cracks

 twisting turning tasting

 and drank deep from her well

 of memories.

 A thousand dappled suns

 kissed her ruined walls,

 casting shadows

 among the saplings.

 she loved them still

 Now

 under a frosty blanket,

 her bones slept

 yellow orange red

 drifting falling dreaming

 as the

 once-and-future girl climbed,

 ascending

 echoes

 of

 the house

 who used to be a home,

 and would always

 remember.

My interview with Little Thoughts Press magazine with more about writing the piece:

https://clairemtaylor.com/ltpblog/fannininterview

Announcement from LTP about my joining them as a reader:

Questions:

What would you say to other authors struggling in the querying trenches?

If I could give one piece of advice to a creative who is querying, it would be to quit.

Quit querying? Not at all. But the words we choose to tell a story matter, and that includes the stories we tell ourselves. We often talk about struggling in the trenches—it’s as if we’re at war to get a book deal. It may feel like it! However, can you control how many “likes” you get in a pitch event? If agents respond to a query? The number of full requests you receive? No. Many of us (myself included) struggle because we’re trying to control the uncontrollable. And that’s exhausting.

So, my advice is to quit spending spoons on what you can’t control, send out those queries, and get back to creating the fantastic work only you can make.

How do you deal with rejection?

I’m going to be honest and admit that receiving passes can be super hard. Some hit harder than others. One of my coping methods is having many potential wins in the making. Don’t hang your hat on one project or one agent. In addition to querying, I enter a ton of contests (like the Fall Writing Frenzy!), apply for mentorships, submit directly to publishers, etc. That way, there’s always potential for good news just around the corner.

Who are some of your mentors when it comes to kidlit authors?

I received a formal picture book mentorship in 2020 in Justin Colon’s PB Chat program with author Elisa Boxer. And even now, I closely observe how she approaches the business side of our industry. In that way she continues to mentor me.

Though she might be surprised to hear this, Sara Fajardo has also been a great mentor. I’ve learned so much seeing how she navigated signing with an agent, her first book deal, etc., and from reading her gorgeous writing. When confronted with a thorny story problem, I ask myself, “What would Sara do?”

And just for fun, if you had to be an animal, what would you be and why?

I’d love to be a sea turtle. They are beautiful, serene creatures who travel the world and lead such mysterious lives.

The 2022 #FallWritingFrenzy Prize Donors!!

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Hello kidlit people!!

In case you haven’t seen, Kaitlyn and I are so excited to announce the prize donors for the 2022 #FallWritingFrenzy competition!

Click here to see the rules and criteria:

www.lydialukidis.wordpress.com/fallwritingfrenzy-2022-rules/

And click here to see the 2022 prize donors:

www.lydialukidis.wordpress.com/fallwritingfrenzy-2022-donors

Please share with your kidlit friends!!

Sincerely,

Lydia & Kailtyn

Author Sarah Aronson on Weaving Personal Experience into Story- PLUS GIVEAWAY!

Posted on Updated on

Hello world!!

Welcome to my blog, Blissfully Bookish. For this Q & A, please welcome an author I always wanted to meet because she wrote one of my favorite books, Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines. Sarah Aronson was more than happy to hop onto my blog. Here she is, discussing her new book Brand-New Bubbe illustrated by Ariel Landy and published by Charlesbridge.

BUT first- YAY! Sarah is generously giving away a FREE signed copy of her book. To be eligible to win, please enter the Rafflecopter contest by clicking HERE. US only, contest ends Sept 16, 2022.

Please describe the journey to publication for Brand-New Bubbe. Where did you draw the book’s inspiration?

When my stepson and his wife called us with the news that they were having a baby–our first grandchild–I was (of course) immediately delighted for our family! I was so ready to be a bubbe! But then, a friend asked me if it bothered me that technically the baby and I would not be related! That question bugged me. It made me think about family and what it takes to blend two families into one…and the main ingredient to do that: LOVE! It got me thinking about those first years when my husband and I started dating and bringing our kids together, and how we needed to be patient for them to get to know each other and develop the bonds that make us a family. These are big emotions to write about. But writing about step-parents felt too close to home. So I thought deeper. About the other members of a family. Like bubbes! And how a child might feel at the prospect of getting a new grandparent on top of everything else. In Brand New Bubbe, I strived to let Jillian tell her story. I wanted to show how this child was able to bring her whole family together, with the help of my very favorite thing to make…soup! I tried to tell the story with some humor, too! That always helps! Like soup, family is made with love. And there is no one set recipe!

As for my writing journey, this one was 100% fun.

I loved writing about Jillian and Bubbe. I loved thinking about Jillian’s emotions and salty behavior as she got to know Bubbe. The pivotal revision occurred at an SCBWI conference in Miami! After lecturing about cinematic techniques, I sat in on (editor) Jill Davis’s session on making a picture book dummy. Of course, I’d made dummies before. But this time, it really clicked. I saw where the text was too long. And where it needed more umph. I could see I’d have room for the recipes and resources. After chatting with Yolanda Scott, who was also at that conference, my agent sent the revision to her and she said yes!

Most of my publication stories aren’t this neat. Most take a long time and many many twists. I am still a writer experimenting with genre, voice, and form. And that means a lot of my ideas don’t pan out. (I’m okay with that. The process is the point.) But this one, I have to believe, was meant to be! From the first draft, I felt it! I could hear the voice. Check my website for information on my program, The Family Constellation. Instead of a family tree, how about we honor all the people who bring light into our life. There is more than one way to define family.

Please paste a short and compelling excerpt from your book.

I loved writing this line: “Family is more than blood,” she said. “Give Bubbe a chance.” (And she wasn’t asking.)

But this one is my favorite:

Like soup, family was made with love. And there was always room for more.

What is your writing process, and does it change based on whether you write fiction or nonfiction?

Oh, my process changes all the time. Each project teaches me so much about the craft. But

some things remain consistent:

I believe in NEVER saying no to a good idea. When I catch some inspiration, even if I don’t feel ready or capable of writing it—really ESPECIALLY if I don’t—I go for it. I do not mind failing! Curiosity is my greatest strength.

I do four pomodoros most mornings. The down time between the writing sessions helps me find new connections and ideas as well as focus. I always end my writing day with some notes to myself about where I want to start tomorrow. I journal a lot from all my characters’ voices.

I am also a person who often has a couple of projects going—preferably at different stages. I like to have what I call “a peach sorbet” project—something just for me. No expectations!

When I’m stuck, I go to the journal. Side writing opens up possibilities. It helps me understand my characters, the setting, the connections, the contradictions. It shows me where I need to be braver. I never feel completely ready to tackle a story. I am never sure if I have the skills. If free writing doesn’t help, I doodle. Or draw squares. Or a swirly. Being stuck usually means something gigantic is coming. It is actually quite exhilarating. When I reach, I have the potential to soar.

And of course, I am always reading, learning, listening, watching the world, and asking big questions. That is our job. As writers, we must engage with our world. We must face our fears. Deal with what is happening around us. When we share who we are and what is important to us, our readers will connect with our stories.

Tell us about one of my favorite books, Just Like Rube Goldberg: The Incredible True Story of the Man Behind the Machines.

Thank you! I LOVE RUBE, too!

From the time I saw the breakfast machine in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I have been fascinated by Rube Goldberg contraptions. I began researching and writing this book after I heard a friend read her picture book biography about Keith Haring. Her message and words got my brain swirling. I asked myself if there was someone I needed to write about—who could help me say what is important to me. And of course, it was Rube! Like me, Rube believed in play. In creativity. He was willing to try lots of stuff. Most people don’t realize that he wasn’t an inventor—he was an artist! When I realized that there wasn’t a picture book biography about him, I started shaking!

I loved learning about him! And now, I love bringing Rube to young readers. You would not believe what some of these young inventors create. Check out the human Rube Goldberg contraption on my website. (It is so much fun making a human contraption that returns a book to the library!) Rube inspires all kinds of creativity—in the arts and the sciences.

It is an honor to write a book about someone you admire. It is even more exciting to tell a story that allows you to say what you believe in your heart. My message is at the end of the book:

Figure out what you want, work as hard as you can, and most of all, have a great time getting there, just like Rube (and me, too)!

Please share your favorite books from 2021/2 that have inspired you.

Some of my favorite books are works in progress written by writers I’ve worked with at The Highlights Foundation. Let me tell you: the magic is there. If you are looking for a great place to learn about craft, GO!!!!

As for published books, you’re going to make me choose? There are too many great ones.  I don’t just flipflop as a writer! I flipflop as a reader, too!

Healer and Witch, by Nancy Werlin

Debating Darcy, by Sayantani Dasgupta

Dear Student, by Elly Swartz

Big and Small and In Between, by Carter Higgins, illustrated by Daniel Miyares

Born Behind Bars, by Padma Venkatraman

A Comb of Wishes, by Lisa Stringfellow

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin

Knight Owl, written and illustrated by Christopher Denise

See You Someday Soon, by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Suzy Lee

Abuelita and I Make Flan, written and illustrated by Adriana Hernandez Bergstrom

The Shape of Thunder, by Jasmine Warga

Dad’s Girlfriend and Other Anxieties, by Kellye Carter Crocker (out this October)

Murder Between Friends, by Candace Fleming

Dancing at the Pity Party, by Tyler Feder

What is the best piece of advice you would give to other writers?

Try everything!

Eat Dessert First!

Don’t limit your curiosity! Advocate for your imagination. Don’t worry if a project seems too difficult. Instead, REACH! Groan! Stretch! Fall and get back up! You never know what a story will become until you dive in.

Do Not Give Up!

But when you need help, go to your community. Or reach out! We are so lucky to have this big blended family of supportive writers and illustrators.

And a bonus question just for kicks! If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?

Easiest Question of all. I am a tiger.

BIO

Sarah Aronson began writing for kids and teens when someone in an exercise class dared her to try. Since then, she has earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and published books for kids and teens, such as Beyond Lucky, a young MG series, The Wish List, and Just Like Rube Goldberg (Beach Lane Books), illustrated by Robert Neubecker, which has been included on many state lists. Brand New Bubbe (Charlesbridge) has received excellent reviews, including a star from Shelf Awareness. In 2024, look for a picture book biography of Bella Abzug, called Abzuglutely! (Calkins Creek, Astra Publishing).

When Sarah is not writing or reading (or making great soup or riding her bike), she is talking to readers about creativity, writing, social action, and of course, sparkle power! She loves working with other writers in one of her classes at the amazing Highlights Foundation. Warning: When she gets really excited, she makes funny faces and talks with her hands. Don’t be shocked if she talks about the power of play. She lives in Chicago, Illinois.

WEBSITE: http://www.saraharonson.com

Like tips? Sign up for my weekly newsletter on the writing process on my website!

The 2022 Fall Writing Frenzy Contest is on!!

Posted on Updated on

Hello kidlit people!!

Kaitlyn and I are so excited to announce that our Fall Writing Frenzy contest is up and running for 2022! We have a new guest judge, and a slew of talented donors who are all professionals in the industry.

Click here to see the rules and criteria:

https://lydialukidis.wordpress.com/fallwritingfrenzy-2022-rules/

And please share with your kidlit friends!!

Sincerely,

Lydia & Kailtyn