It’s the mid-way point of Storystorm 2023! And so far, so good, I’ve been keeping up with this month long picture book brainstorming challenge created by Tara Lazar.
To me, brainstorming is like like taking a journey with a somewhat vague destination in mind, but no set directions for getting there. Since I’m a big LOTR nerd, that idea connects me immediately to Bilbo Baggins’ warning to Frodo about embarking on a journey, “If you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”
Storystorm, in order to encourage participants creativity, provides daily blog posts written by a multitude of picture book creators.
One of the posts that captured my attention, this Storystorm, was written by Kathleen Doherty. Her post was about intertextuality. Though I had never heard it called by that title before, I was familiar with its theory which says that whatever you create is influenced by something you’ve heard, seen or read before.
Kathleen embraced intertextuality in each of her picture books. Her first, Don’t Feed the Bear, came from her memories of watching Yogi Bear and Ranger Smith’s cartoon high jinx.
It’s a super fun read that demonstrates the power of written communication and it definitely tickles the funny bone.
Kathleen described her second picture book, THE THiNGiTY-JiG, as a reworked version of The Little Red Hen with a dash of creative BFG word-play added to the mix. I think it’s so much more!
The THiNGiTY-JiG has a pleasant repetitive refrain that gets the story going and keeps its transitions flowing. The prose is active, full of onomatopoeia. Each attempt of the main character to achieve what he has set out to do, cleverly builds upon the one before it. Lastly, it has a very satisfying ending. I’d recommend this book to children, as well as to picture book writers in search of mentor books.
There is more Storystorming left to do in the remaining weeks of January, and I’m up for the challenge. I’ll let you know how my efforts pan out at the start of February.
On this the first week of 2023, I’m excited to share with you my interview with debut picture book author, Emma Pearl.
The questions I posed Emma, to a one, revolved around the kindling of the imaginative spark. I felt this focus was just the thing to accompany the sense of possibility and new opportunities that the new year brings.
InterviewQ&Awith author Emma Pearl
Emma, after finishing a project do you ever feel lost as to what project you’ll do next?
No, I don’t really find this a problem. I write for all ages and have far more ideas/projects/WIPs on the go than I could ever hope to complete in a lifetime! I’m usually drawn to the next one naturally when I finish something, but if I’m ever in doubt I just read through my endless files, lists and notes until something shouts ‘WRITE ME!’
I currently have a YA novel about to go out on submission in the new year so I’ve just finished final revisions on that. I’ve also just finished the first draft of my next novel – a YA with similar themes/synergy – so will be tidying that up before sending it to my agent. And I have a sequel for that one planned too, which may or may not be the next one I write. I’d like to get an MG novel out on submission next year too – I have one completed that needs a rewrite and several more that I’m keen to work on – I’ll be discussing with my agent which one to focus on.
I have quite a lot of picture book texts ready to submit and am waiting on my agent to look at them all (I intend to keep her quite busy next year!). I love writing PBs because they require such a different skill set to novels and completion can be achieved in a relatively short space of time, so I often work on them in between novels or when I get stuck in the middle of a novel.
It sounds like you are super busy!
Do you have any brainstorming techniques to get your ideas flowing?
I’ve gathered so many ideas over the years that I don’t actively need to look for them any more. But I do make sure to write them down when I get them – ideas usually come from reading other books, watching movies or conversations. There will be a nugget of something that I find fascinating and then ideas will spin off from that. Also, I constantly mine my childhood memories – what were the things that made me feel the biggest emotions? Even the most ordinary events, habits or people can be turned into amazing stories if you can identify and connect the emotions associated with them.
I agree, Storystorm is a great way to kick off the year with ideas and inspiration!
Emma, Do you have any routines that encourage your writing process?
Not really. I write as often and as much as I can, which is most days, but there’s not a strict routine (life tends to get in the way of that!), and there’s a lot of time spent on things that are essential to my writing career (which is still very much fledgling) that are not writing per se – admin, marketing and promotion, networking, learning, mentoring, critiquing… etc. I am most productive in the mornings from about 9 to 12 so try to maximize writing time then whenever possible.
What have you found to be the best writing advice you ever received?
I’m not sure which one of these is the best, but all of the following have been invaluable:
– first drafts are supposed to be rubbish! I spent many years not getting anywhere with my writing because I was scared of writing rubbish. But a very important lesson was learning to write anyway. You can improve a badly written story but a blank page is worth nothing.
– there is no set of rules, no one way of doing anything, no set path to follow. There are a huge number of amazing resources available, and many of them are free. Find whatever works for you and don’t be distracted by anyone else… but also:
– connect with other writers whenever possible, they will be your greatest comfort/support/cheerleaders/learning… etc.
Thank you Emma, for sharing your excellent suggestions and links to helpful resources!
There was one last question I asked Emma. It was in regards to her great uncle, Roald Dahl.
Emma, I read that Roald Dahl dedicated The Twits to you and I wondered if it was your favorite book of his, or was there a different one that was your favorite?
Great question on the Roald Dahl books! Of course I loved The Twits. It was so very exciting to have a book dedicated to me – I was a real bookworm as a kid and it was just about the best thing ever. It’s a wonderful story of oppression, courage and just desserts, and I’ve loved monkeys ever since! But in all honesty, I think I loved reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory more. I read that countless times, over and over from a very young age (well before The Twits was published). I also loved Fantastic Mr Fox and Danny (I used to play in the gypsy caravan that inspired the story). But my favorite now, as an adult, is Matilda. I think I was 13 or 14 when that came out so it wasn’t part of my childhood as such. But I have a suspicion (that might be completely ill-founded) that there is the tiniest part of Matilda that was in some small way inspired by me. Roald was very close to all three of his sisters, one of whom was my grandmother, and I was the first grandchild to be born to any of them, so I was a little bit spoiled and doted on by them all! I was a huge bookworm and reading long before I started school (not War and Peace, mind you!). Also, a little later on I had a very scary teacher who bore a striking resemblance to Miss Trunchbull (my teacher was also an ex-Olympian shot-putter!). So even if just a tenuous link, I’ve always felt a connection with the character of Matilda, who is one of my favorite females in all of children’s literature and always fills me (and countless others) with inspiration.
I’ve attached a link to 10 year old Emma’s (she’s the little girl at the center of the photo) interview of Roald Dahl. It brought a smile to my face and I hope it does the same for you.
Emma Pearl writes fiction for all ages and is represented by Sera Rivers at Speilburg Literary. Mending the Moon is her debut picture book, and Saving the Sun will be published by Page Street Kids in September 2023. Emma is a picture book mentor for WriteMentor (2021/22) and a freelance editorial consultant for picture books. She lives with her family in New Zealand.
Like many of you, not only do I write a blog, I follow blogs. One of them is Vivian Kirkfield’s blog, Vivian Kirkfield-Writer for Children, Picture Books Help Kids Soar blog on wordpress at http://www.viviankirkfield.com.
After reading Vivian’s blog about the debut picture book Mending the Moon, written by Emma Pearl, and illustrated by Sara Ugolotti, I entered a giveaway to win either a copy of the picture book, or a manuscript critique by the author. I won!
As I had already purchased Mending the Moon, I chose the picture book critique as my prize.
Emma provided me with an insightful and thoughtful review of the present state of one of my manuscripts. She acknowledged its strengths, pointed out its weaknesses and shared thoughts on how it could be improved. She’s even offered to reread it after I complete my revisions!
While in email contact with Emma, I asked if she would allow me to interview her. Emma graciously obliged.
As it’s easier to give attention to shorter posts, at this time of the year, I decided to devote this post to Emma’s beautiful debut book and will follow up with a post that shares Emma’s writing insights.
Mending the Moon, is a lovely tale of inter-connections. It shares the story of a child’s relationship to her grandfather, and their relationship to and with the natural world and its inhabitants.
When the full moon falls from the night sky, Luna wakes her grandfather to help her fix it. Together with the animals of the mountain, from the biggest to the smallest, they search for its broken shards. And when faced with the difficulty of putting the moon back together, the insect world lends its talents to the task. Finally, it takes all the world’s birds to hoist the moon into its proper space and make the world feel right.
MENDING THE MOON’SBOOK JOURNEY as shared by Emma Pearl
I have always loved reading and writing. Something about the magic of immersing yourself in a brand new world, whether it’s of your own creation or somebody else’s, never fails to get me tingling with excitement. It’s the anticipation of what might happen, all those possibilities. Stories are the ultimate human experience, allowing us to live through all kinds of extraordinary events and emotions that may or may not happen in our real lives. They allow us to learn, to believe in magic and to imagine.
I think I was three or four years old when I wrote my first story, a fully illustrated tale about a kind frog who befriended a lonely tree. I never really stopped after that. I’ve written countless stories, plenty of poetry and even a novel in my 20s. But it wasn’t until I had children of my own that I began to think about writing for young people, and it wasn’t until they had both started school that I had the time or the brain capacity to start getting serious about it. So in 2017 at the grand old age of 44, I set about learning how to write properly.
There’s such a wealth of information and resources available online for aspiring writers, and I quickly became immersed in the writing community. I was constantly amazed by the kindness and generosity of other writers – so many people at all levels of experience willing to give their time and knowledge freely to anyone who needed it. And I definitely needed it!
In that first year of learning, I flitted between novel writing and picture book writing. This particular story started with a silly question – what if the moon fell out of the sky? From that start point, out tumbled four whole stories about Luna – a feisty, kind, brave little girl with a grandfather who guided and supported, allowed her to find answers but never took over. Together, they solved all kinds of natural mysteries and problems, helping to put the world back to how it should be. I knew instantly that the world I was creating filled me with excitement and wonder, but I never dreamed I would even share these stories with anyone else, let alone that Mending the Moon would end up being my publishing debut.
I wrote the four stories over a couple of days in 2017 and then forgot about them. I wrote a couple of novels and many more picture book texts. I began to enter online pitch contests with my PBs, not because I ever expected anything to come from them but because I enjoyed it and it was a great way to connect with other writers.
In 2020 I applied for the WriteMentor summer program with my MG novel and was surprised and delighted to be accepted for a 4-month mentorship with UK author Lu Hersey. It was a wonderful experience and an enormous boost to my confidence as well as my craft. In October that year I entered #PBPitch with several picture books. Again, I did it for the interaction. I didn’t truly believe that anyone got agent likes from those things. Well, I didn’t get an agent like but I got something even better – an editor like! Kayla Tostevin from Page Street Kids had seen my pitch and liked it. I could hardly believe it.
I sent her my manuscript, which in hindsight was still in need of some serious revising, and a week later she replied, saying she had some feedback and would love to see a revised version. We went backwards and forwards a few times. Revisions were hard, but Kayla’s vision was superb and I knew I was making the story stronger with her guidance. She had a quiet confidence that we could get it to a point where it could make it through acquisitions, but even if we didn’t manage to, the manuscript would be in great shape to submit elsewhere. And then, just before Christmas, I received the official offer of publication – a perfect way to finish a year that had otherwise been fairly horrendous on a global scale.
It’s a long path from contract to publication, but the whole process has been an absolute delight and I’m thrilled with how the book has turned out. Sara Ugolotti’s illustrations are out of this world and beyond anything I could have imagined. And best of all, one of the other Luna and Poppa stories, Saving the Sun, has also been contracted and will be out next Fall. It’s a dream come true.
A Litttle About Emma Pearl:
Emma writes fiction for all ages and is represented by Sera Rivers at Speilburg Literary. Mending the Moon is her debut picture book, and Saving the Sun will be published by Page Street Kids in September 2023. Emma is a picture book mentor for WriteMentor (2021/22) and a freelance editorial consultant for picture books. She lives with her family in New Zealand.
In my last post I wrote about my idea to create a story for one of my students that would be based on Karma Wilson’s Bear Wants More.
I like to give holiday gifts for each of my students and this student in particular loves that picture book. I’m hoping she’ll be excited to see herself interacting with her favorite characters.
Unfortunately she came down with the flu, so she’s been out this week and on top of that one of her classmates came down with Covid. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and my mask on in hopes that the whole class is feeling better in time for the holidays.
I thought I’d share with you the text I have so far. I’ve changed the name of the main character for confidentiality. I can’t wait to add my student’s photos to the book along with the images of her favorite characters.
Audra Wants More!
Audra wakes up. She’s hungry for words.
She blinks her eyes open,
she peers all around.
She spies, through her glasses, some books in a mound.
She’s eager to read them till the last page is turned,
but Audra wants . . . more!
Mouse scampers by with a book in his pail.
“Come along ” Mouse squeaks,
“Let’s read a nice tale!”
So up Mouse hops
onto Audra’s wheelchair,
they whiz down the hall
to read a book about a Bear.
The pages are many and they flip, flip, flip,
but Audra wants . . . more!
The noon sun glows, when along hops Hare.
“Good day, friend Audra.
Is that book about Bear?”
“Yeah,” says Audra.
Hare says “Follow me!”
There’s a nice stack of books
by my cup of sweet tea.
They turn page after page
with a plip, plip, plip.
And Audra still wants . . . more!
Badger shuffles by
with another Bear book.
“Let’s read this one
in my cozy reading nook.”
They head to Badger’s den.
He gives them a tour.
Audra reads the book
and she still wants more!
Meanwhile . . .
back in her room,
wait raven and wren.
When all of a sudden they hear a loud, Boom!
Books have arrived.
They’ve been plopped on the porch.
It’s a big book bounty
for their best bookish friend.
Audra looks toward the door,
wearing a smile so wide,
full of joy she can’t hide.
And she still wants . . . more.
She’s wheeled to the porch,
she follows her nose.
Her friends yell, “Surprise!”
And her happiness grows.
Everything is in a book uproar.
Audra reads and reads, one book, then two, then two times four.
I’ve been reading the book, On Revision by William Germano. My purpose for reading it was to glean some perspectives, or tips to help me revise more efficiently and more effectively. The ironic thing about reading the book was that it made me think more about my teaching than it did about my writing.
“Good teachers, after all, don’t just demand attention. They pay attention.”-William Germano
It’s true, but I had never thought about it that way. When I work with students, it’s most often in a one-to-one situation. I work on the visual skills they need to develop, or the tools they need to use to access visual information, or on the tactile and braille skills they need to learn to gain access to the world around them. The best way to do that is to find out what they like, what motivates them. Once I can do that everything gets easier and more fun for both of us.
In his book, William Germano describes the act of paying attention in this way, “If you write, you’re asking your readers for some of their time, time they could easily spend on anything else. You’re not just providing them with a text; you’re inviting them into the text. Be a good host. Pay attention. Refill glasses. Pass the nibbles.”
This might not be a new perspective for some, but it definitely was for me. It’s so clear and tangible.
In my teaching, I spend a lot of time thinking up ways to capture my students’ imagination, their attention, in order to get them invested in the skills they need to develop. Why hadn’t I thought about that with the stories I write for children? Maybe it’s because the stories are for potential child readers. If I think in terms of actual readers it might give me a better perspective. I’ll have to try it out.
The funny and exciting thing is that I’ve just started a project (a holiday gift for a student) in which I hope to channel the magic that Karma Wilson created with her book Bear Wants More. One of my students absolutely loves this book and will work so hard to get to the reward of having it read to her.
She is able to say few words, “more” being one of them and she has excellent timing when we read the book together.
My hope is to further develop her early literacy skills by personalizing the familiar book’s setup. My student will be the main character and she will want more and more and books read to her.
It’s only in the planing and playing with stages; it’s got a long way to go.
It’s challenge, but I can just imagine my student’s reaction to seeing herself in a book, and maybe that’s just the perspective I need.
I’ll let you know how things are going as the project progresses.