Please join us to discuss everything literary (especially kid literary): good books, the writing life, the people and businesses who create books, controversies in book world, what's good to snack on while reading and writing, and anything else bookish. We welcome your thoughts.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Coloring Outside the Lines by Judy Press

When I was a kid I loved to color in coloring books, especially if I had a new box of crayons to work with. There was something about the smell of new crayons, with names like, "Granny Smith Apple Green" and "Wild Strawberry Red" that promised hours of creative fun. I also liked the challenge of staying in the lines, although I never thought about what would happen if I disobeyed this unspoken command. It wasn't until around age seven that I gained enough confidence in my drawing skills to put away the coloring books and draw freehand. 
As an art educator, I'm often asked my thoughts about kids using coloring books versus drawing from their imagination. My reply is that I whole-heartedly endorse coloring books, as long as a blank piece of paper and crayons is also available. In the seventies an anti-coloring book was released. It was a fun new take on the traditional coloring books. It  has remained popular and was recently re-issued.
So what do coloring books have to do with writing for children? Sometimes it takes "coloring" outside the lines to come up with a good story. Below I've quoted from an article in the June issue of "Children's Writer" about some new books that test the limits and rules of writing picture books.

"Writer and illustrator Jon Klassen has created handfuls of noteworthy children’s books, and in the process has managed to cut through convention to break new ground. From his much ballyhooed I Want My Hat Back (Candlewick) to the Caldecott Medal winner, This Is Not My Hat (Candlewick) to The Dark (Little, Brown), written by Lemony Snicket, Klassen’s books bust boundaries. Writer’s House Agent Steven Malk represents Klassen, and explains, “I’m often drawn to picture books that many people might describe as quirky or different. For that reason, I think I represent a lot of books that break barriers, but if I had to point to one, I’d have to go with I Want My Hat Back. It’s a great example of a book that contains certain ingredients—in this case, namely the ending—that many people might think would be challenging in the current picture book market, yet it’s become a hugely successful bestseller.”

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Oh, what do you see in the sea my friend?

Still Fishing for an Agent?

Kitty Griffin & Natalie Lakosil

When I write to her I call her, Dear Agent, and really there is something nice about having someone on your side.

Writing is a solitary, sometimes lonely ab-session (I say ab-session, not obsession because for me, and for many of my writer friends, stories are something that need to be drained out of us. We become infected with characters and their predicaments and what can a writer do but write, or drain out the story?)

I really wasn't looking for an agent when I found Natalie. I'd successfully negotiated a deal for a book and felt fairly comfortable with life.

But a friend and I decided to go to the New Jersey SCBWI HUGE BIG GIANT conference in Princeton and


What a conference!
Seriously, there were dozens and dozens of agents and editors 


we were all trapped in a hotel together! They couldn't run from us.

But I'd submitted a story that drained serious blood from me. A project years in the making and I knew (I know) it's dark, it's odd, but I submitted my pages and was paired up with this lovely young woman.

And she really liked my writing.

She wasn't just patting me on the head and saying, "There, there, crazy writer." No. We talked. We clicked.

I gave her a copy of my latest book. I followed up with a thank you card. 
And when she made an offer to represent---

I took it (although, being the very cautious person I've become, I had Attorney Mary Flower look things over. If you ever need someone who knows kids books and contracts, she's very good and she's in NYC)

So we signed. And now that it's summer and Route 19 writers are off and about the world, one to Ireland, one to Italy...Natalie agreed to do a post about getting an agent.

(See, isn't she lovely?)


Starting your agent hunt? 

This is the post for you!

There are a lot of ways to find and connect with the perfect agent. And by perfect agent, I don't just mean agent-at-the-biggest-agency-who-will-make-you-an-instant-bestseller-perfect agent.

If that's what you're aiming for, throw it out the window now, please.

The perfect agent for you is one that will serve your career best. That means that the perfect agent fits your ideal communication style, has the contacts and experience (has negotiated contracts or the agency has negotiated contracts) in and for the genre you write (both directly, and indirectly for subsidiary rights), understands what to do with and help guide and direct your vision (are you hybrid? You better pick an agent who knows what that means, and understands digital and self-publishing!), has the time to dedicate to you both editorially and for career development (ok, and yes, for some hand-holding), and will fight for you. Oh, and loves your work. I guess that's important too (kidding - it is).

So how do you find this Perfect Agent?

Start with a list. Check out these websites to begin pulling in names to submit to:


You can also take a look at the acknowledgements page of similar books to yours - authors will often mention their agent - or pick up a copy of JEFF HERMAN'S GUIDE TO PUBLISHERS, EDITORS AND LITERARY AGENTS, or SCBWI's THE BOOK (if you're a member - and if you're writing for children, you should be a member!)

After you have your list, RESEARCH.

Cyber-stalk them on Twitter. On blogs. On their agency websites. Read interviews about them. Google their name and see if any conference bios pop up - anything that will help you figure out current tastes...and if they meet YOUR criteria (see above). Don't just rely on the sites above to tell you what they're looking for - tastes change, and "historical fiction" may really mean "only post-1850's historical fiction." 

After you research, NETWORK.

Start following the agent on Twitter. On Pinterest. On Google+. Comment on blog posts. Say hello at a conference. I guarantee this is important - because if I get a query from someone who just says "I follow your blog" vs. "I follow you on Twitter, and you know me as @clevertwittername, and we talked about cats who wear hats" I pay a LOT more attention to @clevertwittername. Even the "I follow your blog" submission gets more attention than no mention of why I was chosen to submit to at all!

Finally: submit! As comprehensive as any website or book tries to be, they're always a little outdated. Make sure to verify current submission guidelines for each person on your list before you submit.

It'll help to have The Perfect Book to send this Perfect Agent. But hey, that's for a different post!

Bio: Natalie Lakosil is an agent with the Bradford Literary Agency. 
Follow her on Twitter @Natalie_Lakosil
 or read more about her on her blog www.adventuresinagentland.com.

Natalie M. LakosilBradford Literary Agency
5694 Mission Center Rd. #347
San Diego, CA 92108

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

We Need Bookstores--We Really Do!

Or how I almost had a heart attack but then didn't because I had the chance to read...

by Kitty Griffin

We've all seen the disappearance of the neighborhood book stores. Pittsburgh used to have three independent children's bookstores. 


Now there are none.

We used to have Borders. Gone.

And the Barnes and Noble we have now carries more toys than children's books.

Because we've got our e-readers. Who needs books?


Well, duh, you say.
But I'm bad. I've gotten so used to my Kindle that, ho hum, I don't go to the library like I used to. I don't go to Barnes and Noble like I used to. 

That's stupid!

Obviously something happened at the bookstore. I wasn't there for a book. I was there for a cup of whole milk, chai tea latte. Not books.

Getting my tea, I went back into the very nice YA section and saw this--

and nearly fainted.

Because of the back jacket, it read: "The Inventor's Secret" is the first book of a YA steampunk series set in an alternate ninetieth-century North America where the Revolutionary War never took place and the British Empire has expanded into a global juggernaut propelled by marvelous and horrible machinery.

See, I've just finished a middle-grade 
the first in a trilogy
about a girl, who happens to be a princess 
in a world
the American Colonials LOST the Revolution.

Now do you understand my gnashing of teeth? I've just finished three hundred and ninety eight pages of ...

So I bought the book and zipped through it.


It's nothing like mine.

But I needed to read it. I really needed to read it. Because when my agent and I get ready to market we need to know what's out there.
Mine is NOT steampunk. Mine in middle grade. 

But now I know. And knowledge is power.

And I'm so glad I went into the bookstore for the cup of tea. 

Next time I go I'm going to look at books first ... and then get a cup of tea.

But I'm so glad I spent that half-hour picking up books, holding them, and looking through them. 
It's what writers need to do.

I just wish there were more book stores. I really do.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Family Book Club reads about Mary Anning, the dinosaur hunter

by Susan Chapek

May 21, 1799 was the birth date of Mary Anning, daughter of a sea-coast carpenter who became famous for discovering (and studying) Jurassic fossils in the cliffs around her home town of Lyme Regis, England. 

Factual and fictional accounts of Anning's life and work have been targeted to all ages of readers, and are readily found in libraries. What if you gathered a selection of books--one or more suitable for each member of the family--and planned a family activity evening around Mary Anning and her fossils? 

Family Book Club meetings can include read-alouds, discussions, research, learning to sing or play appropriate music, related craft activities--even a special meal or snack (to celebrate Mary Anning, I suggest tea and rock buns).  

Here's a read-aloud version of her adventures that will delight the youngest dinosaur fans:

Stone Girl Bone Girl, 
The Story of Mary Anning
Laurence Anholt (Illustrations by Sheila Moxley)
Scholastic, 1999

Or choose these slightly more challenging picture books:

The Fossil Girl
Catherine Brighton
Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2007

Mary Anning and the Sea Dragon
Jeannine Atkins (Illustrations by Michael Dooling)
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999

Questions are sure to come up! You'll find answers in this bio for adults:

Jurassic Mary 
(Mary Anning and the Primeval Monsters)
Patricia Pierce
The History Press, 2006

Or you and your middle-grade children may prefer to read and discuss this "lighter" bio:  

Curious Bones: Mary Anning and the Birth of Paleontology
Thomas W. Goodhue
Morgan Reynolds, 2002

Meanwhile, parents can enjoy this version of Mary Anning's adventures, as imagined by the author of Girl With a Pearl Earring:

Remarkable Creatures (A Novel) 
Tracy Chevalier
Dutton, 2010

*          *          *          *         *         *         *         *          *

Another post you may enjoy:

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Best Writing Advice Ever: Make Mistakes by Andrea Perry

  Do any of these sound familiar?

Write everyday.
 Write what you know.
Write the book you want to read.
 Just start.
Give yourself permission to write badly.
The first 12 years are the worst.
 Never open a book with weather.
If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time - or the tools- to write.
 Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea.
All you have to do is start writing, finish writing, and make sure it's good.

I am sure we could all add to this list. But the best advice I've heard in quite a while I read in Neil Gaiman's 2012 Commencement Address at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia:

"...I hope you'll make mistakes. If you're making mistakes, it means you're out there doing something.  And the mistakes in themselves can be useful. I once misspelled Caroline, in a letter, transposing the A and the O, and I thought, " Coraline looks like a real name..."
"And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes.  Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being there.  Make good art."

Monday, May 19, 2014

Scrapbooking Fun by Judy Press

Scrapbooking has been around for some time now and continues to be a fun hobby and creative way for children and adults to remember people and events.  This past weekend my nine-year old granddaughters attended a scrap booking birthday party. The mother of the birthday girl purchased small loose-leaf scrapbooks and supplied the girls with photocopies of classmates, scissors, markers, glue sticks and decorative papers. What a special memento the girls had of their friend and her special birthday party! Below are two scrapbooks for children. Check out the web and your local craft store for additional books and lots of great craft supplies.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Tension on Every Page

by Cynthia Light Brown

Do you have it? Tension that is. Every page, even every paragraph--or at least nearly every paragraph, needs to have it.

Tension doesn't have to be a fight scene. It could be the tension of humor, or an encounter with someone your mc is interested in.

Go to a random page and ask yourself: is there something on this page that makes the reader want to read the next page to find out what happens?

Now, even harder: Go to a random paragraph and ask yourself: Is there something in this paragraph that makes the reader want to read the next paragraph to find out what happens?
When the answer is no, then cut that page/paragraph/scene. Period.

Two of my favorite books for writers address heightening tension:

WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK by Donald Maass. I have to admit that before reading it I thought this book might be simply high-gloss advice on how to write a plot-driven thriller. You could certainly use it for that, but I found it to be surprisingly useful for all kinds of books, and I have come back to it many times. (Note: I have both the book and the workbook, and find the workbook the most useful.)

Mr. Maass devotes three sections to keeping the tension high. Here's one piece of advice:
Delete scenes that are set in kitchens, or driving from one place to another, or taking showers, or eating, especially in the first 50 pages. None of us want to cut these scenes, but they are almost always - at least in first drafts - scenes with low tension. These scenes often review what has already happened, they pause, they deaden. They might show character, but they don't have us worried, they don't raise questions, and most importantly, they don't make us turn the page.

Cut those scenes. 


If you like, you can paste them in another file so that if you REALLY need the scene you can bring it back, trimmed down and with added tension, and maybe later in the book. But consider if there's a setting that is naturally more conducive to higher tension; instead of  sipping coffee, can your characters discuss the situation while doing something compelling?

I have a scene like that on page 11. Ouch. It reveals character, and it's short - less than a page, so I thought it was okay. It's not, and I'm cutting it. I have already revealed this aspect of the character's personality, so it's not essential in that sense, which leads me to the next book about writing...

SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Renni Browne and Dave King  is an excellent resource for line editing in particular (though it's great for big-picture things as well). In keeping up tension, one area they discuss is more subtle:

Unintentional repetition. This is where you repeat the effect. It might be two sentences that show the same information, or two paragraphs that show the same character's personality trait, even if they do it in different ways. It can be hard to spot, even for seasoned writers, so put your manuscript aside then focus on looking for this repetition of effect. And of course, ask other beta readers to look for it as well. One place it crops up in is interior monologue. There could be occasions when your intention is to show your mc anxiously repeating thoughts, but most often that's not the case. The interior monologue might be realistic, but it might also be repetitive and therefore tedious.

Browne and King have some excellent examples. An unlike some books, they don't use obvious examples; they show examples of good writing that can be made even better. When I read their "before" examples, I don't always see the repetition, but I see how it was eliminated in their "after" examples.

When in doubt, cut it out!

Monday, May 12, 2014

And the Winners Are... The Best Books for Babies 2014!

Best Books for Babies Committee, 2013 (That's me, 3rd from left in the middle row)
o, without further ado, here is the list, accompanied by the committee's commentary.
Baby Parade

Baby Parade 
Smiling babies and their caretakers promenade through a cheerful landscape that combines realistic elements with unusual patterns and  textures.
Diggers Go

Diggers Go
Energetic paintings of various kinds of heavy equipment stretch across the pages of this sturdy board book accompanied by amusing interpretations of the noises they make.

High contrast illustrations present stylized images of familiar animals and objects; slight changes in texture add tactile appeal.
Global Baby Girls
Global Baby Girls
Crisp photos showcase baby girls from around the world who are 'beautiful, strong, bold and bright' and sure to capture the interest of the very youngest listeners.
Good Night, Trucks: A Bedtime Book

Good Night, Trucks: A Bedtime Book
Colorful cartoon-style pictures feature eleven different kinds of trucks, focusing on what they do and where they go at the end of the day.

Soft black-and-white photos of babies face pages that combine playful pastel illustrations with short sentences describing the babies' actions. There are three other books in the Happy Healthy Baby series, Eat, Move and Reach and all four books are recommended.
It's Time to Sleep.
It's Time to Sleep.
Brief and basic, this colorful point-and-say board book shows photos of babies, blankets, books and bears among other familiar items associated with daily activities and bedtime routines.
Maisy's First Colors

Maisy's First Colors
Maisy and her friends enjoy their favorite yummy foods, featured in simple drawings with bright colors and described with brief rhymes.
My Mother Goose: A Collection of Favorite Rhymes, Songs, and Concepts

My Mother Goose: A Collection of Favorite Rhymes, Songs, and Concepts
A treasure trove of traditional rhymes and original content, this collection is decorated with old-fashioned watercolor illustrations.
Thumpy Feet

Thumpy Feet
A goofy-looking orange cat with big green eyes, Thumpy Feet is interested in the same kinds of things that absorb babies' attention: eating, playing, stretching and sleeping.

If you'd like to learn more about these titles, view the archive of past winners, and get tips on selecting books for babies and reading to them, please visit the Best Books for Babies website! You - and the babies you love - will be glad you did.

I'll be back later in the month with tips on writing and illustrating for this discerning (and sometimes persnickety) audience.

One Final Note: If you ever get a chance to serve on an awards committee, grab it! I have learned more about excellence in children's books (for any age, really) from observing and participating in the committee's thoughtful selection process.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Five on Friday: Sports Poetry, Who's Comes in First? by Andrea Perry

May being National Physical Fitness and  Sports Month,  I decided to see if I could find any sports poetry collections.  Of all of the topics covered in children's poetry anthologies, sports was one I thought would be lacking.  But in a very brief review of the choices of athletic verse, I found books about fitness, outdoor games, specific sports, the origin and history of sports, sports seasons, sports figures, sports events and sports terminology. The only subject matter I could not find was a poem about artificial turf.  Luckily, I was able to fill that void:


You'll notice that it never dies
in stadiums it occupies.
Nor does it ever sprout a weed.
Its mudlessness is guaranteed.
It won't turn brown, it doesn't grow.
It's not a surface that you mow.
It's real estate that's custom made
upon which many sports are played.

Here are my five picks, for players of all ages:
Certainly your first question might be, Jabberwocky? Yes.  This Jabberwocky, by Lewis Carroll and illustrated by Christopher Myers (2007), is an interpretation of the original poem in which only the first and last verses are left in tact.  The rest is rhymed and reimagined around the Jabberwock, a menacing basketball presence, and the players he faces on the court.  To say more would be to spoil the tale, as the verse and artwork are both fabulous, and well worth a look.

Another unusual sports poetry book for older readers is  Jump Ball:  A Basketball Season in Poems, by Mel Glenn (1997).  Jump Ball follows a basketball season at Tower High School including all of the "players."  Told for the most part in free verse, there is rap and shape poetry as well.  The narrative of the season, and defining tragic event, even includes mixed in broadcast accounts of the games.  Though cliche in parts, the overall treatment is novel and entertaining.

In addition to organized sports, sometimes it is just fun to be outside and moving.  A Stick is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play by Marilyn Singer and LeUyen Pham (2012) is a celebration of universal types of play, from hide 'n seek to hopscotch to catch.  The poems follow one group of children all over their neighborhood on a summer day.  Each entry is simple and read-out-loudable. The word play is as much fun as the action.
Really Fast!

Skateboard races,
pigeon chases, 
running bases.
Backyard dashes,
racecar crashes,
puddle splashes.

Everything's a blast
when you do it really fast!

A little history makes a play in The Fastest Game on Two Feet: And Other Poems about How Sports Began by Alice Low and John O'Brien (2009).  Here we get poems preceded by fun facts about the origins of sports from ancient times to modern day.  Who could resist a book that claims the original soccer ball might have been a skull!  And what role did religion play in some early sports?
Under the heading of basketball, we learn of James Naismith's Predicament
"I don't want a game
where you run with the ball
for someone would tackle
and someone would fall..." it begins.
What does he want for his 'new' game? What doesn't he want? How should it be played? What does he use and what should he call it? Read, rhyme and learn!

Sometimes we are not even good at something (swimming!) but love to do it anyway.  That's what we take away from one of the 17 untitled poems in Good Sports:  Rhymes about Running, Jumping, Throwing and More by Jack Prelutsky and Chris Raschka (2011).  The energy and humor of these short poems make the reading zip along.  
"I'm skating down the sidewalk,
I'm a meteor on wheels..."
The artwork of this skateboarder carries us along as readily as the rhyme.  Younger readers will find it hard to keep still after playing along with each of the narrators.  These poems will get you moving!


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Are You Being Served? A Recipe for a Great Critique Group

by Emma D Dryden, drydenbks LLC
This post originally appeared in 2013 on “our stories, ourselves,” Emma D Dryden’s blog that explores the stories we tell and the stories we live. Emma D Dryden, founder of the children’s editorial and publishing consultancy firm, drydenbks LLC, is a highly regarded children’s book editor and publisher. She spent a weekend with the Route 19 Writers Group looking over our manuscripts, critiquing our work, answering questions, and inspiring us to think about our work in new ways. This is what she posted on her blog after that weekend and we’re honored she’s allowed us to re-post it here today.


- 2-12 dedicated authors (can be of different genres & formats; can be of same genre & format)
- heaping doses of imagination
- heaping doses of respect
- heaping doses of sensitivity
- liberal doses of gentle honesty (if you opt for brutal, critique group will become too tough and hard to swallow)
open-mindedness and creative flexibility
- willingness to ask questions and listen to answers
- generous sprinkles of laughter (can use hysteria and guffaws if desired)
timer (enables fair attention paid to each author)
- cough drops & water (enables requisite read-alouds)
bathroom & stretch breaks
delicious food
comfortable setting (a cozy setting is even better, if you can find it)
wine or spirits (for after critiques are completed! Some may find wine or spirits appropriate during, but proceed with caution)
optional: friendly dog and/or cat; fireplace; views (ocean, woodland, mountains, etc.); anything else to enhance experience


Gather ingredients together on a regular basis. Stir with professionalism, exuberance, imagination, and inspiration. Surprises may result. Quiet moments of reflection may be required. Questions can be asked for which there may be no immediate or clear answers. That's ok. Allow for staying open to possibilities; critique groups vary based upon the ratio and balance of ingredients.  

Caution: If each author doesn’t feel heard and respected, the ratio of ingredients has gone awry and you will most assuredly want to double-check your recipe.

Note: Every once in a while, it's a good idea to add a one-time ingredient to this recipe, such as a professional editor or published author who will provide a new voice and perspective to the discussion – this can best be achieved over a weekend. For a sample taste of this sort of enhanced group experience, go to this post from the Route 19 Writers blog. 

This recipe serves many, including a richer society of writers and readers.