Two Picture Book Biographies about Inspirational Women

Every March I discover so many fabulous new (to me) picture books through ReFoReMo!
I love picture book biographies. My daughter and I often learn about someone we have never heard about, and, if we are really interested, we can do some study on our own to learn more.
This year I will share with you two picture book biographies I was introduced to through ReFoReMo about inspiring women.

1. “Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine” by Laurie Wallmark, Illustrated by April Chu
This book was mentioned in this blog post about comparison titles.
I was curious to find out more about one of the main characters in “The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency” series by Jordan Stratford, one of my daughter’s favourite middle grade series. (For more on that click here.)
The book does not disappoint. The illustrations are equally as remarkable as the words.
Ada Lovelace was always fascinated by numbers. As a young woman she met Charles Babbage, a famous inventor, who showed her his “Difference engine”, a mechanical calculator. If you want to see a “Difference engine” and how different it is from today’s calculators, you can check out this video.

Imagine having to take this to school!
Charles Babbage also told Ada Lovelace about his “Analytical Engine”, a mechanical computer. But this device had never been built. The “Analytical Engine” was the inspiration for the world’s first computer program, written by Ada Lovelace.
I look forward to Laurie Wallmark’s next picture book, which is called “Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code”.

2. “Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois” (Words by Amy Novesky, Pictures by Isabelle Arsenault)
This book was introduced to me in this blog post of mentor texts for books that are layered in both art and writing. The luscious language combined with the gorgeous illustrations do indeed make this a fabulous read.
Louise Bourgeois grew up surrounded by tapestries as her mother ran a tapestry workshop. She studied math in university but after her mother died she turned to art, eventually becoming a world famous artist. She is most know for her spider sculptures. Many people find spiders scary, but Louise Bourgeois did not. Spiders are weavers, like her mother was, spinning and repairing webs.

"Maman"

“Maman”

I realized after I read the book that I had seen one of her famous spider sculptures (Maman) and even posed in front of it for a picture when I was in Ottawa.
Here is a video explaining more about the Ottawa installation.

Amy Novesky has also written about Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, and Imogen Cunningham.

Both of these books are also mentioned in this ReFoReMo blog post by Vivian Kirkfield for having great first lines.

Have you been following ReFoReMo? If not and you are looking for some mentor texts for picture books, I highly recommend it.

Have you found some new favourite picture books?

Valentiny 2017

As Valentine’s Day approaches our thoughts naturally turn to…Susanna Leonard Hill’s second annual Valentiny contest!
This year, we have to “write a Valentines story appropriate for children (children here defined as ages 12 and under) maximum 214 words in which someone is confused!“ For the full rules, click here.
Last year at this time I was sweating in tropical Hainan, celebrating the Chinese new year. I remember desperately trying to find a place where I could connect to the internet to upload my Valentiny 2016 story. This year I am at home and it’s a totally different story. For one thing, IT’S COLD! But at least I have no problem connecting to the internet.

Candy Calamity

“Package delivery for Mr. Cupidus!”
“That’s me.” The head candy maker climbed down the ladder.
“Sign here, please.” Mr. Cupidus signed.
“Your load’s over there. Enjoy,” said the delivery man.
The head candy maker rubbed his hands. He danced over to the load of 1000 tons of chocolate, just waiting to be moulded into heart shapes.
Mr. Cupidus whipped off the tarp.
He stopped. He stared. He gasped.
Mr. Cupidus’ heart beat faster. “What’s this?”
Instead of a big brown blob there was a huge mound of red and white goop.
Mr. Cupidus sniffed. “Mint.”
He tasted. “Yes, definitely mint.”
He tugged at his heart shaped tie. “What am I going to do with 1000 tons of candy cane fondant?”
“Hey, Mister,” he yelled at the delivery driver. But the driver sped away.
Mr. Cupidus hung his head. “It’s too late anyway. Valentine’s Day is tomorrow.”
Then his head snapped back up. “Unless…I just adjust my controls?”
Mr. Cupidus jumped into action. “Yes, that’s it!”
The next morning, Mr. Cupidus looked at the newspaper.
The headline read:
     Heart-Shaped Candy Canes a Valentine’s Day Hit!
     Mr. Cupidus Declared a Genius!
Mr. Cupidus grinned. “I wonder…What should I do for Easter?”

Don’t forget to read some of the other stories. We participants appreciate it.
And Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope that you enjoy it with your partner and/or children or just giving yourself some self-love.

The Animals’ Twelve Days of Christmas

It’s time for the sixth annual holiday contest!

Here is a condensed version of the rules, as taken from Susanna Leonard Hill’s website: “Write a children’s holiday story (children here defined as approximately age 12 and under) using the basic format/concept of The Twelve Days Of Christmas!  Your story may be poetry or prose, silly or serious or sweet, religious or not, based on Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or whatever you celebrate, but is not to exceed 300 words.”
Now this is a challenge! After starting with 424 words, I managed to whittle it down to 299. I hope you enjoy it.

The Animals’ Twelve Days of Christmas

Blinky Elf rubbed her hands together. Winky Elf stomped her feet.
“I just don’t understand why we have to do this,” said Winky.
“You’ll see,” said Blinky.
Winky frowned. “We have to do this how many places?”
“You’ll see why…”
Both cleared their throats.
“On the first day of Christmas…my true love gave to me…Some black oil sunflower seeds.”
Blinky scattered the seeds.
“On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me…Two bales of hay.”
Winky put down the hay.
“On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me…Three pine cones.”
Blinky hung them up.
Winky saw a few birds land.
“On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…four corncob pipes…”
The elves stopped and looked at each other.
Blinky shuffled the papers. “Ah, this is the right version.”
“On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…four cobs of corn.”
Winky dropped the corn.
“On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…five water tubs…”
Both elves heaved the tubs of water over.
Rabbits and squirrels joined the birds.
“…Six balls of suet.”
Blinky hung up the suet.
“…Seven tempting raisins.”
Winky saw some deer now and more birds.
“…Eight yummy flowers.
Blinky put them down.
“…Nine scrumptious hawthorns.”
More and more animals arrived.
“…Ten tasty carrots.”
Blinky flung the carrots.
“…Eleven luscious berries.”
Winky scattered the berries.
“Last verse,” said Blinky.
“On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…twelve fragrant apples.”
Blinky threw the apples.
“OK, let’s go,” said Blinky. “We have a tight schedule.”
Winky looked back. Deer, rabbits, mice, cardinals, chickadees, sparrows, squirrels, nuthatches, and woodpeckers feasted.
Winky smiled. “We have to do this how many places?”

<Phew!> I look forward to reading the rest of the entries.

And for those of you who want to sing it, here’s the whole last verse:

On the twelfth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me:
Twelve fragrant apples,
Eleven luscious berries,
Ten tasty carrots,
Nine scrumptious hawthorns,
Eight yummy flowers,
Seven tempting raisins,
Six balls of suet,
Five water tubs,
Four cobs of corn,
Three pine cones,
Two bales of hay,
And Some black oil sunflower seeds.

And if you haven’t read the distinctly Canadian version “A Porcupine in a Pine Tree” by Helaine Becker, you’re in for a treat. See a preview in the video below.

Merry Christmas! Happy holidays!

The Gift of Inspirational Words

I love Alayne Kay Christian’s idea of “giving the gift of inspirational and touching words” to blog readers. She is doing this for a contest; however, we should make this a regular feature in our kidlit community, don’t you think?

My journal

My journal

While looking for an appropriate quote, I revisited my journal, one where I had saved quotes and pictures and cartoons over the years. I had not looked at it for many years, and I really enjoyed myself. I should do it more often.
In the end I decided to go with two quotes that I have had hung up for years. But because they have been hung up, they have sort of blended into the landscape. Yesterday I read them with fresh eyes.
Both quotes have to do with the topic “Believe”. “Believe” is something especially relevant to my life right now, as I have been really struggling with my writing since September. Last week’s five rejections in three days didn’t help…
And so I present to you my two inspirational quotes. I hope you like them as much as I do.


When you come to the edge of all that you know, you must believe one of two things:

There will be earth to stand on,
or you will be given wings to fly.

Author unknown


Come to the edge.
No, we will fall.

Come to the edge.
No, we will fall.

They came to the edge.
He pushed them, and they flew.

Guillaime Apollinaire


I look forward to reading the other inspirational quotes. Perhaps I will find several to add to my journal.
I encourage you to take a look at the quotes too. Maybe you will find something that you needed today.
And if you want to enter the contest, it is open until December 25.

CANSCAIP 2016 Conference

Yesterday, I attended my third CANSCAIP conference. As always, I came home inspired and full of new ideas.
I will wrap up my experience by giving you one insight I gained from each speaker.
Ashley Spires, who has written several fabulous picture books including “The Most Magnificent Thing” and “Small Saul” (our gift this year), was the first keynote speaker. She spoke on author insecurity, which she called “the not-good-enoughs”. She ended her lecture by telling us that coming to a conference like this one is like shouting in the face of the “not-good-enoughs”. I agree!

Kathy Stinson

Kathy Stinson

Kathy Stinson, best know for “Red is Best” (Canada’s “Where the Wild Things are”) and the more recent “The Man with the Violin”, talked about several challenges of writing picture books. She said that most beginnings of picture book manuscripts sounded like a lot of “throat clearing” before a speech. That is, there were many unnecessary words before the actual beginning of the story. So if you are looking for a good place to cut words, then look at your beginning first.
Helaine Becker, the hilarious and very straightforward author of many nonfiction books, gave us a lot of information in her one hour lecture on nonfiction books. She told us that when evaluating an idea, the “kiss of death” is when the information about the idea is readily found on the web.

"Breaking In" Panel

“Breaking In” Panel

My next lecture was a panel of four newly published authors (Joyce Grant, Mahak Jain, Kate Blair, and Caroline Fernandez) who shared their road to getting published. All four, who three years ago were unpublished, had very different stories. They also had loads of advice. One thing that was suggested is to go to the Ontario Library Association (OLA) SuperConference, at least to the expo. There you will find most of the kidlit publishers, as well as librarians, teachers, and book store owners. Hmmmm, I have never been, but it looks like an excellent opportunity.

Patricia Storms shows us her storyboard for "Never Let You Go"

Patricia Storms shows us her storyboard for “Never Let You Go”

My final lecture was on storyboarding with Patricia Storms, author of “Pirate and Penguin” and “Never Let You Go”. She suggested that even if you are not an illustrator, you can draw pictures along with your text when you storyboard. That way you will see what you can leave up to the illustrations and so cut out of your text.
We wrapped up the day with a final keynote from David Booth, an author and educator. He talked about how Canadian children’s books used to be and how they are today, reflecting more of actual life. He reminded us that the future of Canadian children’s books is in our hands. As he so eloquently put it, you can kill a dog in a children’s story, as long as there is a puppy later. In other words, always leave a child with hope.
Bonus: One of the comments made during the breaking in panel by a member of the audience was about the CSARN mentorship. Check it out. It’s free!
What new and/or inspiring writing information have you learned recently? Feel free to share in the comments.

Bringing History to Life

On Sunday, I attended a fabulous talk by Mary-Eileen McClear, a storyteller for more than 30 years, called “Bringing History to Life”.

These are three of the many things that we talked about:

1. You have to know what your story is about. Try diluting it into six words.
I had heard about writing what your story is about in one sentence to maintain focus, but never in six words. This was a fun exercise, and one I will revisit. For some inspiration, go to the six word stories website.

You can also watch this video done by Larry Smith about how six words are often the way in.

2. Story ideas are everywhere.
To prove her point McClear randomly handed out articles she had saved. It was fascinating to hear what stories and connections people came up with based on the article they received. My subject was one that I am going to research more to see if I can turn her story into a children’s story.

That very day I started to read Jane Urquhart’s book called “A Number of Things: Stories About Canada Told Through 50 Objects”, in which she talks about Canada’s history as seen through 50 objects. The author suggests we find 50 different objects and make another version of Canada’s history. I think this is a valuable exercise. Perhaps you do not want to do it about a country’s history, but instead your local history or even your own family history. Who knows what stories there are just begging to be told? Perhaps it is an exercise that is valuable to revisit at the next PiBoMoId in January.

3. Find your way into a story by first discovering why you were intrigued.
You need to connect to your story first so that you will be able to help your reader connect to it. So what intrigued you about the story in the first place? And what emotions did the story bring up? Your readers also need some sort of emotion to connect with.

The afternoon was a fun filled one, and I definitely want to participate in future storytelling seminars.

For now though I have a lot of ideas to work with. One suggestion was to listen to storytellers like Syd Lieberman. Listen to the story called “The Johnstown Flood of 1889” for an exceptional example of making a story come alive through senses. Enjoy!

Halloweensie Contest 2016: Serena’s Shadowy Hallowe’en

It’s that time of year again. It’s time for one of my favourite contests, the Halloweensie contest! Here are the rules from Susanna’s website:

“Write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words, children here defined as 12 and under), using the words spider, ghost, and moon.   Your story can be scary, funny or anything in between, poetry or prose, but it will only count for the contest if it includes those 3 words and is 100 words (you can go under, but not over!)”

Here’s my entry with a word count of 99.

Serena’s Shadowy Hallowe’en

Serena looked up at the Hallowe’en moon, wiping tears from her eight spider eyes. There would be no one to go trick or treating with this year. Her 70 siblings had been splatted or squashed since last Hallowe’en. Hallowe’en had been her favourite time of year. Not now…
She opened her eyes. Silvery shadows hung in the air.
“Hello, Serena,” they said. Serena rubbed her eyes, but seventy silver shadows still shimmered in the air.
“We are ghost spiders, allowed to appear every Hallowe’en,” her siblings said.
Serena smiled. “Hallowe’en still is my favourite time of year,” she thought.

If you haven’t already been creeped out, then here’s a video of the real ghost spiders.

There are plenty of other contest entries to be read to get you even more into the Hallowe’en spirit. Click here to go to Susanna’s website.

Three Children’s Magazine Markets

Recently I have been researching children’s magazine markets. I have not abandoned my picture book writing. However, some of my stories I believe would be better suited to magazines.
Here are three children’s magazines I have submitted to and that you might want to too:
1. Cricket Media
Cricket Media has five literary magazines and six nonfiction magazines you can submit to. Submit your story through submittable for the literary magazines and send a query if you are interested in the nonfiction magazines. Click here for more information.
2. Kayak Magazine
I recently sent a query to the editor of Kayak magazine, a Canadian history magazine for children ages 8 to 13. Unfortunately, I got a rejection the same day. However, it’s nice to know that the editor is open to querying. Here is the list of e-mails for Kayak magazine and its magazine for adults, Canada’s History.
3. Highlights Magazine
Highlights has several different magazines you can submit to through submittable. Click here for more information.

Watch this podcast by Katie Davis for some tips about writing nonfiction for children’s magazines. She’ll even give some links to a couple of nonfiction children’s magazines you can submit to.

Right now we are studying “Anatomy of Nonfiction” by Margery Facklam and Peggy Thomas in my Word by Word Book Club on Facebook. I highly recommend this book for people who are interested in writing nonfiction articles and books.
I am also considering attending The Institute for Writers. By the way, they have a holiday contest. The deadline is October 31. I am dusting off one of my old manuscripts and submitting it. Maybe you would like to too? Here are the details.

“Meet the Publishers” Talk at the “Telling Tales” Festival

I have always wanted to go to the Telling Tales Festival, but something has always come up. However, when I heard that there would be a publisher’s panel there, I knew I had to clear my schedule and make it a priority to attend.
I wasn’t able to arrive until around 2:00, but that still allowed me to experience enough to make me want to go back.

Great crowd!

Great crowd!

The crowds were large as you can see here at Kevin Sylvester’s lecture. I attended the second half and learned a thing or two, such if you want to be an artist, make sure you study math. Why’s that? Many pictures are based on mathematical principles.

Bill Slavin ready to talk

Bill Slavin ready to talk

After his lecture, I had a little bit of time to attend the first half of Bill Slavin’s presentation. It was his first time there, but he said he definitely wanted to come back. I observed his presentation through the eyes of an author. One thing I noticed is that he had plenty of audience participation, which kept the audience engaged.
Another thing I noticed is what a great read aloud book he had just had published. “Who Broke the Teapot?” had the members of the audience–and not only the children–yelling out the repetitive line, which is, you may have guessed, “Who Broke the Teapot?” With a mystery in it, and a total twist to the ending, this book makes a great mentor text. I highly recommend it for children ages 4-7. Well actually children of all ages.
I headed on over to the publisher’s panel next. You may be wondering if it’s worth your while to attend these panels after you’ve been to several. Doesn’t the information get repetitive? Aren’t the questions and answers the same? But my take is that you will always come out with several golden nuggets that you will not get elsewhere. These publisher panels are great places to do research on publishers, and you often will find out information during them that are not to be found elsewhere.
For example, publisher Sheila Barry of Groundwood Books admitted that on their website it states they don’t accept picture book manuscripts. However, even though it states that, if you send them a picture book manuscript, they will read it. They read everything. Groundwood Books accepts unsolicited manuscripts by the way. For submission guidelines click here. But do your research to make sure that it is the right fit for your book.

Meet the Publishers

Meet the Publishers

Vikki Vansickle , author of “If I Had a Gryphon” and marketing and publicity manager at Penguin Random House Canada moderated the discussion, and the third panelist was Denise Anderson, marketing and publicity manager at Scholastic Canada. Denise Anderson did say 99% of the published manuscripts at Scholastic Canada were agented. Hmmm, I wonder about the other 1%.
Next year I hope that I can arrange my time so that I can arrive earlier. I would have loved to have seen talks by Ruth Ohi, Barbara Reid, and Helene Boudreau. And if there is another publisher’s panel, so much the better.

Three Publishers Accepting Unsolicited Children’s Picture Book Manuscripts

It’s hard to believe that summer is almost over. In less than two weeks school starts, and then a more structured and scheduled life begins again.

I know that I have neglected this blog a little bit in the past few weeks. Although I will miss the free and spontaneous nature of summer, I am also looking forward to having a bit more structure in my life.

I will miss my morning glories

I will miss my morning glories!

In the past week, Brian Henry of “Quick Brown Fox” has generously shared three publishers accepting children’s picture book (and other) manuscripts.

The first is Albert Whitman and Company. They are accepting picture book, middle grade and YA manuscripts. Picture book manuscripts for ages 1-8 can be either fiction or nonfiction, and they can be up to 1000 words. For submission guidelines click here.

I am going to direct you to Brian Henry’s website to read about the other two. This is as a thank you to Brian Henry, because he’s very generous with sharing his knowledge. As well, his website is chock full of information about agents and publishers, and he prints some great stories by his students. It’s worth your while to receive his newsletter.

For the next publisher (picture books to YA), click here.

For the final publisher (picture books and novels), click here.

As always, make sure that you research these publishers to see if they are a right fit for you.

By the way, at Brian Henry’s last course I attended, I met a student who told me that Highlights magazine is now taking submissions online, so you no longer have to mail them. Click here for more details. I have recently submitted two pieces. Wish me luck.

What publishers do you know that are taking unsolicited children’s picture book manuscripts?