January 2017 Archives

People will give you all

People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.
Meg Cabot

Iron Hearted Violet

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

ironheartedviolet.jpegI decided to read Iron Hearted Violet (Little, Brown and Company, 2012), one of Kelly Barnhill's earlier books, because of reading several recent ones.

Violet is not your average princess. First of all, she's not beautiful. Even her eyes don't match. But her people love her anyway. She's an excellent story teller. Her only friend is a stable boy named Demetrius and the two often escape duties to run around the castle. One day they stumble on a forbidden book and Violet starts reading about the Nybbas, who is not ever to be mentioned. While her father is off hunting the first dragon that has been sighted in years, Violet's mother gets very sick, and cracks start showing up in the castle. Will their world collapse?

Kelly recently won the Newbery medal so I figured it is only appropriate to link to an interview about her win. Here's my recommendation of The Girl Who Drank the Moon in case you missed it.

Let Me Finish!

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Letmefinish.jpegLet Me Finish! (Disney-Hyperion, 2016) by Minh Lê and illustrated by Isabel Roxas is a delightful book. Haven't we all felt "Let me finish!" something we're doing? And especially when we are engrossed in a good book. And who wants to hear spoilers? But that's what the other characters in this book are doing to the poor boy in this story. At least it shows how many others like reading.

This book makes me laugh each time I read it. Words and illustrations are a great match up, making a better whole than either would alone. It fits the theme of Perfect Picture Book Friday, which is why I'm posting it today.

This is Minh Lê's debut picture book. He also writes about picture books on his blog, Bottom Shelf Books, and as a member of the children's literature consortium The Niblings on Facebook. Read more about him here.

Isabel Roxas has illustrated five other books. Her bio on twitter makes me laugh: "Picture book Illustrator, designer and magic-bean buyer." No wonder she could do the humor in this book. Read more about her on her website and you can see some ceramics as well.

I retreat into my fictional

...I retreat into my fictional world where everything makes sense - but even there I can't even control what people do...
John Geddes

Successful Cover Letters

I've had students ask to see sample cover letters for magazine submissions, so thought I'd share several of mine here.

Here's one I wrote for an article that appeared in the magazine KidTime in October 2006. (I've redacted some personal information.)


Editor name
Street address
City, state and zip

Ms. Lastname,

"What is it? An overgrown chestnut? A porcupine egg? A beaver ball? No, although the last two are nicknames for it. What you're seeing is a larch needle ball." That's my opening for an article on the naturally occurring phenomena of larch needle balls. The article might be appropriate for your November theme of "Harvest Time."

My information comes from an interview and larch ball hunting trip with an experienced collector. In addition, I've corresponded with Montana Forest Service and Glacier National Park personnel, Montana scientists, and Seeley-Swan Valley residents. As far as I've been able to ascertain, nothing is in print about this unusual subject except an article I wrote focusing on the collector for Real People ("That's Incredi-ball" January/February '97).

I've also had articles published in Highlights for Children, Cricket, Child Life, and others.

Besides the article I've enclosed eight color transparencies along with descriptions. Of course, I've included a self-addressed stamped envelope for your convenience.


Obviously, that was a postal mail submission. Here's an email submission of a short story that sold.

Attn: Conny

Kiah's mom has just announced they are moving away. Anger bursts out of Kiah like lava spouting out of a volcano. She says she'll stay and just live with friends. But when Kiah thinks about her friends, none of them seem a good fit. But it isn't until she figures out the real reason they are moving that Kiah decides to make the best of it and makes up with her mother.

This short story "No Way" is especially appropriate for the older age range of your audience. The length is 1433 words and I can offer you first rights. I've pasted in the story below.

My writing credits include over 160 magazine short stories and articles for children and adults. I've been published in such magazines as Highlights for Children, Cricket, Jack and Jill, and many others. My recent book projects include three picture books for Unibooks (Korea) and seven e-readers for Compass Media.


So what do these letters have in common? A brief description of the article or story and my writing credits. I'd usually say the title and word count as well, but see that I didn't even do so with the article. If you don't have writing credits, you leave that out. You'll see in one case I addressed the theme the magazine had for a specific issue, and in the other I mentioned the story would fit the "older range" of their audience.

It's pretty simple. Some samples you'll see tell even less about the story. But the basics I usually include are:

• Specific editor's name (or title specified in the magazine's writer's guidelines)
• Magazine name and address for postal mail
• A teaser for the story or article
• What you are submitting - e.g. article or short story
• Title and word count
• If appropriate, why you chose the magazine
• Rights available, if appropriate
• Any applicable background info - e.g. what gives you authority to write the piece and/or writing credits
• For postal mail, SASE for reply or return of manuscript

Letters are single spaced with a blank line between paragraphs. My physical letters have my name and contact information in a footer. It can also follow your name below the signature. And, of course, you want your letter to be free of any errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.

Ideas are the cheapest part

Ideas are the cheapest part of the writing. They are free! The hard part is what you do with the ideas you've gathered.
Jane Yolen


scythe.jpegScythe (Simon and Schuster books for Young Readers, 2016) by Neal Shusterman is a WOW of a book.

Is it a utopian or dystopian novel? There's no sickness, disease, politics, war, or natural death. Yet people keep being born and so the population has to be controlled somehow. That's where the scythes come in--they are gleaners who must take life to reduce the size of the population. They are set apart--can't marry or have children. And they must record the deaths of those they take.

Here are the Scythes' Commandments

Thou shalt kill.

Thou shalt kill with no bias, bigotry, or malice aforethought.

Thou shalt grant an annum of immunity to the beloved of those who accept your coming . . .

Thou shalt kill the beloved of those who resist . . .

As you can imagine, the scythes in their identifiable robes are to be avoided if at all possible. So when two teens are asked to be the apprentice of Scythe Faraday, you can imagine that neither Citra or Rowan are pleased. On the other hand, scythes never are in want, and their families have immunity as long as the scythe lives. And that's just the beginning of the story.

Mixed in with the narrative are excepts from different scythe journals. It's a compelling read--hard to put down. Not a surprise since Neal Shusterman is a bestselling author. Go here to see learn more about him. I personally love his Antsy Bonano books.

When we write fiction we

When we write fiction we write about things that never happened, so we can tell the truth about things that happen all the time.
Sally Apodek

Diverse Books

I have 271 book recommendation posts on my blog--some of those include multiple books. When I started the blog ten years ago, there wasn't such a big push for diversity as there is now. Recently, I was curious how many of my entries were about diverse books. Doing some research, I discovered 49 of the entries had books with diverse characters who were integral to the story. (That's about 18 percent.) The books were not necessarily fully focused on diversity, but at least presented an important character who was nonwhite or other "abled." (If you want to see what books are included, search my blog for diversity or go to this link where I've done the search for you.) If I'd looked at the fantasy books, many of them would fit the diversity category too, as fantasy books often deal with characters who are different from the mainstream of their culture, but I don't think those books are usually counted as diverse.

I didn't set out to read "diverse" books specifically. Fortunately, I was raised to believe people are people despite skin color, cultural differences, etc., which means when I hear of a good book, or pick up a book, I'm not automatically offended because the main character is not like me on the outside. What I see as I read is that these characters are so like me on the inside. Which is why it is so important for "white" kids, "abled" kids, poor, middle class, and rich kids to read these books. They need to see we are more alike than we are different!

On the other hand, according to the 2015 Census, about 62% of Americans are white only, 17% are Hispanic or Latino only, 13% are black only, 6% are Asian only, 1% are Native American or Alaskan, and 2.5% are two or more races. (Note: Arabs are classified as "white" for censuses.) And these statistics don't include "differently abled." But even with these skewed figures, it'd be hoped that good books are written by/about 40% nonwhite "abled" people. Because people who fit these "other" categories deserve to see themselves represented in story too.

The reality is we're not there yet. Look closely at the above infographic. You might find this source post from September 2016 of interest. And here's an interesting post on CCBC on how books are counted.

WNDB_Button.pngWhat can I as a white writer do? Deliberately support those writers who write diverse books by blogging about those books, buying them, sharing about them, etc. And support diversity organizations. I just came across this list: 2016 LINKY (Diversity Children's Books Reviews). It can be a source for me to find books. Plus, I can let people know about it through twitter, etc. And, of course there's the We Need Diverse Books organization. This site has links to awards for specific types of diverse books. Again, it's another source to find books that I can share. SCBWI has a page on their site that focuses on diversity, plus has two diversity grants. Several of these diversity sites want you to notify them if you know of books, awards, etc. not on their lists. That's something any of us can do.

FYI, Multicultural Children's Book Day is coming up on January 27th. You can download a free kindness kit here.
MCBD 2017.jpg

Nurture yourself Read a great

Nurture yourself. Read a great book. Sit in the back yard for ten minutes and listen to all the sounds. What rests you? A rested writer can tackle any problem, including schedules!
Joan Broerman

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Barnhill_GirlWhoDrankMoon_HC_jkt_rgb_2MB_HR.jpegThe Girl Who Drank the Moon (Algonquin Young Readers, 2016) by Kelly Barnhilll is unusual. It's not told all in the viewpoint of a child main character--in fact we're in the viewpoint of two adults, a swamp monster, and even a tiny dragon. The girl's viewpoint comes later in the book.

The people in the village sacrifice the youngest born child each year to keep themselves safe from a witch. What they don't know is that the witch is actually kind and she's been rescuing these children and giving them to good homes on the other side of the forest. This time Xan keeps a baby girl, whom she names Luna. She raises her with the help of Glerk, a swamp monster, and Fyrian, a perfectly tiny dragon. To keep everyone safe from Luna's magic, Xan locks it inside her until she's thirteen. Meanwhile, a young man from the village plans to kill the witch.

I loved this epic story and had a hard time putting it down. And isn't that a beautiful cover? The book has been put on a number of Best Book lists and is a New York Times bestseller.

The author describes herself on her website as: "Author. Teacher. Insufferable Blabbermouth. I also make pie." Read more about her here. I haven't read all of her books, yet, but besides this one, I've already recommended The Mostly True Story of Jack here.