Rate Your Story Contest

There's a cool contest out there I wanted to let you know about from RATE YOUR STORY. If you don't know about this awesome, informational website and tool, you should check it out. They have a wonderful newsletter jammed with insider information as well as the ability for you to get your stories rated by professional authors--every month!

I am one of the authors who participates in rating these stories--for free!  So, if you have a wonderful manuscript just waiting out there, send it in! A win in a contest like this will get you noticed as having something that an agent/editor might want.

If you'd like to check it out, go here: RATE YOUR STORY WRITING CONTEST

Some of the things a judge will look for:

1. Marketability--is it unique? Will children love it?

2. Emotional connection--did it make them feel something? Laugh? Cry? Bond with the characters?

3. Understanding of how to write picture books--meaning, the author thinks in pictures and the story will be enhanced by illustrations. In fact, without pictures, it wouldn't be a whole package.

4. Under 600 words. This is not a hard and fast rule, but I've found in rating lots of stories and through my own critique service that if a story goes over 600-650 words, usually, it needs to be cut or the story needs to be restructured.

5. Style elements. How does the author use these to delight their readers? Are they cleverly used? If you're not sure what I'm talking about, please read my post about style elements here: PBU Style Elements.

6. A unique, twist ending--something that surprises the reader, makes them say, awww, or just knocks it out of the park!

If you want examples of stories I think would help you and are wonderful to study, go through my PBU workshop and see the picture books I highlight. All of them are masterpieces in my opinion.

You have until March 31st to get your entries in!

Happy writing and...


SOLD! My New Character Driven series!

Just wanted to share that I will be having a brand new princess series coming by Two Lions! We finally decided on the name--don't get hung up on a character's name. Over the many picture books I've written, only one actually has the name I came up with in the beginning (Princess Peepers). 

So, it's entitled, BRIANNA BRIGHT, BALLERINA KNIGHT! It's about a spunky princess who's searching for her talent.Through lots of trial and error (re: much slapstick), she ends up with TWO! 

How did I get a new series? By holding onto the tenets I found by studying these types of books. I knew publishers needed them, and I set out to find a story that hasn't been written. UNIQUENESS is key! Plus humor helps. My spunky princess is funny and my editor wants more adventures. 

If you want to write a character driven story, please read my lesson on this topic and do the assignment! Character Driven Picture Books. Study these types of books!


Picture Book University: Kid Focus

If you've done all my lessons up to now, you should have a pretty good grasp of how to write a picture book. You've read at least 85 picture books--right? If not, go back and do the lessons you missed. ;-)

Now I want to draw your attention to your latest WIP (work in progress). I've noticed the new writer often forgets who their audience is--KIDS! Sometimes, a grandmother will write about characters suffering from arthritis or the plot will focus around adults and adult wants and needs. Or the jokes will be funny only to grown ups. That has no place in children's literature. Sure, you'll see the double entendre here and there just for adults (even the ending of Princess Peepers has a pun specifically for adults), but the focus is always kid centered. I think of it as a camera lens. Is your camera on yourself? The parent? The grandparent? If so, bring the lens down...keep going...yes, there! To that kindergartner running around your house. See the world the way they see it. If your manuscript doesn't pass the kindergartner test, you need to go back and revise.

If you don't have a child to study, I suggest you get one. Rent a kid! Ha! Well, not really, but maybe you could go out with your friend and ask to bring along their kindergartner/first grader. Volunteer at church to teach Sunday school for the K-2 crowd. My youngest child is 13 now and I no longer have elementary kids around, but I've always taught K-3rd graders at church. In fact, I teach K-3rd on Wednesdays and 4th-6th on Sundays--I know my audience. I watch and observe them. I know how they think. Don't have a church? Volunteer at a local library for reading time on the weekends (or weekdays if you don't have a 9-5 job). It's important for you to understand what's important to your audience. Otherwise, you have no business writing for them.

The best example of an author who really gets the mind of a child is Kevin Henkes. He's a great author to study for kid centered stories. One of my favorite picture books is Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse. It's a wonderful book to study for other elements, too, such as rhythm, plot, etc., but for our purposes here, I'm going to show you how Henkes makes sure his camera is on the child.

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes

Genre: Character driven, humor

Synopsis: Lily loves a lot of things, especially her teacher, Mr. Slinger. That is until he takes away her favorite purse. In order to seek revenge, Lily draws nasty pictures of her teacher, but her teacher, in turn, writes a sweet note which makes Lily feel bad. In the end, she apologizes, making everything better.

I'm not going to go over plot and style elements but I'd advise you to do that! You could learn a lot about rhythm and repetition from this story.

Kid Centered Elements:

  • Lilly loves things a child would love--school, pointy pencils, squeaky chalk, shiny hallways, etc. and her teacher. We don't see her loving things like a massage of her sore hands. If you have a character that needs a massage--please revise this. Children are like rubber. They don't get aching muscles!
  • Lilly describes her teacher as a child would--about things a child would like--his interesting glasses and shirts, how he greets the class, the inviting way he arranges the classroom, and the snacks! 
  • Lilly pretends to be her teacher--she plays with her brother--exactly what a child would do at that age.
  • Lilly liked to draw--and the drawings are very much like what a child this age would do.
  • She rides the bus, and raises her hand and volunteers in the classroom
  • Lilly gets a wonderful, musical purse that she adores. This is so much like what a kid would care about and become obsessed over.
  • Lilly indeed obsesses over this prized object and gets in trouble with her beloved teacher. She can't wait for show and tell to show off her purse.
  • Lilly is embarrassed, but after she loses her beloved purse, she almost cries and then she gets angry exactly how a child would. I know. I've taken up things from children before and if it's special, it's hard for them not to cry and get upset.
  • Lilly seeks revenge like a child would--Lilly loved to draw pictures of her teacher--so she drew a mean one that called him a big fat mean Mr. Stealing Teacher. All the things she writes shows her emotions--she deals with her anger and grief exactly the way a 5 year old would. 
  • Even though the teacher is nice to her when he gives her back the purse, she's still angry and tells him so by saying she doesn't want to be a teacher when she grows up (when earlier she wanted to be like him.)
  • But when Lilly gets a sweet note from her teacher, she feels bad just like a child would when they thought about their actions.
I'm not going to go through the whole thing, but my biggest suggestion to you is if you haven't read this book, please do. Unfortunately, these days, editors are not wanting books of this length. I think it's sad because the character can't be shown eloquently enough without many scenes and words like this. Oh well! I can't change the system. Keep your stories to 500 words or less and keep them KID CENTERED.

Assignment 9: 

  • Check out ten books at the library. Some great authors to look at for kid centered perfection are Kevin Henkes, Tom Lichtenheld, Lauren Child, Doreen Cronin, Kelly DiPucchio,
     and Kate McMullan
  • Write a plot synopsis for each one and identify how the author's camera lens is focused on the child.
  • Write elements which are very kids centered. Are there some that are not? Can you think of reasons why the adult-like element might have been allowed? (Usually there are good reasons.)
  • Take a look at your WIP. Is it kid focused? Are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, little old lady from down the street overwhelming the story? Can you replace a parent with a sibling to take the story down to a more kid centered focus? Are you truly looking through a child's camera lens? Are parents making jokes and not the child?

If you know some stand out kid centered picture books, please post them below. This might help your fellow picture book writers pick out some great examples!

As always, if you like this post, please hit the like button below or the twitter bird! Share!

Do you want to see other PBU posts? Click here: PBU

Happy reading and writing!


Picture Book Analysis: Daddies Do It Different by Alan Lawrence Sitomer

In honor of rhyming Wednesday, I've decided to do a picture book analysis of a non-rhymer that has rhythm--so much so that it can be classified as poetry. And if you want to write something like this, you need to do it well, so let's see why I think this book is so great structurally.

Today's book is entitled, Daddies Do It Different by Alan Lawrence Sitomer.

SPOILER ALERT! My picture book analyses will reveal the climax/ending to every story. So be forewarned!

Genre: Journey, Cycle of the Day, Rhythmic text

Synopsis: A child relates all the things Daddy does differently than Mommy throughout the day but there's one thing they do exactly the same.

Plot elements: A Cycle of the Day story.

  • In the morning, getting dressed--ways Daddy is different from Mommy
  • breakfast time
  • going shopping
  • making lunch
  • going to the park
  • birthday parties
  • playing dress up
  • bath time
  • bed time
  • hugs and kisses
Twist: All through the book, Daddy does everything differently but in the end, Mommy and Daddy both love the child just the same. A touching, sweet ending! If you get your audience to say ah...usually, you'll have a winner.

Throughout the book, there is a repeating phrase of "But daddies do it different." Which binds the text together and children love to be able to join in this repeating phrase. Although this isn't a rhymer, the text is rhythmic: "When I leave the house with Mommy, she packs a tasty snack, brings a bit of juice, and takes an extra sweater." Can you feel the rhythm here? And then the next line leads into the repeating phrase: "But daddies do it different..."

Style Elements:

  • Lines have catchy beats.
  • visual humor throughout (in the scene above, daddy is putting bananas up his nose to make the child laugh.)
  • Use of active, interesting verbs: jingles, gargles, whup
  • Visually interesting--there's an active, fun picture on every page, (eg; Daddy has bubbles on his head in a room full of bubbles in the tub with the dog joining in the fun).
  • Use of made-up words for rhythm, (eg. "He tickles me so much, I get crazy-hyper-nuts")
  • Use of similes/metaphors, (eg, "we jump like kangaroos; make a fort of waffles, drives like a race car, etc.)
  • Sweet, twist ending
If you can think of a catchy repeating phrase and can do a rhythmic story line with lots of action on a subject that hasn't been done, you'll have a winning picture book every time. 

If you like these posts, feel free to click the like button below or tweet it to your friends. Next up, I will start back with Picture Book University, lesson 9. My school visit schedule is winding down--only two more to go this season, so stay tuned!

New Rumpelstiltskin Puppet and School Visit Tip!

Sorry I've been out of the loop. It's school visit season and I'm BUSY! But I will do two more PBU posts to finish out the workshop this month, and then I'll do some PBU tips until next summer where we'll have a PBU 2.

Anyway, I just wanted to share my newest excitement and a tip for you pros out there doing school visits. I had the privilege of seeing a Mother Goose puppeteer at work at a school where they contracted five authors for one big day of reading for their students. I always wanted to have a presentation that wowed the K-2nd grade set with my math books, and although I am dynamic in my presentation where I act out the part of Rumpelstiltskin to them, I noticed how mesmerized kindergartners were with Mother Goose. Why? Because she had...PUPPETS! Her words weren't unique or even inspiring, but the puppets amazed the kids.

A huge light bulb exploded above my head. HA! That's when I knew I needed puppets to enhance my performances for the younger set.

In my math performance, I teach 1st-3rd grade how to multiply by using a funny part in my book, Multiplying Menace. In order to teach multiplication, I now use finger puppets so they can see the concepts. After we finish reading the book, I give each child a worksheet (could be up to 150 kids--teachers help with this), that has a face without a nose on the sheet--and I tell them this is their face and they are to draw hair on it. THEN I tell them that Rumpelstiltskin is going to visit their school. Usually, they'll squeal with delight until I ask them do they REALLY want Rumpelstiltskin to visit? Their squeals turn to scared giggles. At this point, I whip out my Rumpelstiltskin puppet, and he wreaks havoc on the children's noses using his multiplication stick. They LOVE this! We do the multiplication on a document camera where they figure out how many noses he's multiplied on their face. I also use students to be Rumpelstiltskin's minions. It's so much fun!

Here's a few pictures of my puppet. He was pricey as I used a puppet artist who used to work for Jim Henson, but it's worth it. Four days worth of school visits will pay for the puppet, but the puppet has already helped me book more new visits for next year! Worth every cent!!!

If you're interested in getting a puppet for your book, here are some worthy creators to check out:

 My creator took around 5 months to complete--he was from Creature Clones (the artist did the professional photos for me) and he has a year wait time, mostly. Other makers might not be that inundated with work, so you may want to check with them if you're in a hurry.

If you have any questions about school visits, feel free to post!