Thursday, March 30, 2017

IF ONLY

     If only, when I wrote my first picture book and received wonderful letters, although not offers of publication, from editors, I was wise enough to either keep sending it out, rather than stopping after four "nos", or to show those letters to an agent who may have been willing to help me, perhaps my professional career would have started sooner and been all that I had imagined it to be.

    If only, when I wrote my first novel for children at the age of 23, I had been lucky enough to have had it published, or if only someone had been so amazed at my accomplishment at such a young age, perhaps I would have been on my way then to acclaim in the industry I've cared about so much.

    If only, when I was young, I had followed my heart and moved to New York City, as I had always wanted to do, the center of publishing for children at that time, perhaps I would have the career I wanted. If only I hadn't been so worried about my parents' stability if I left, and my own well being if I moved to a city where I knew no one and had no prospects for a job or housing.

     If only, when I joined the SCBWI in the 1970s, I had been smart enough to attend a conference then, perhaps I would have met people who could have helped me in my career and taught me what I needed to know to succeed.

     If only I had always made the wisest choice and done everything right then I would be my Perfect Me. I would like to be my Perfect Me, but I didn't do everything right and I am not my Perfect Me, I am only...me.

     I reached for the stars and landed on the roof. But the roof isn't such a bad place to be. From here I have a marvelous view of our yard, which looks particularly beautiful just now, as the roses are about to bloom. I'm a bit closer to the birds, and I love to watch them fly. I can wave to my neighbor and watch my dear husband come home. And being here makes me remember songs which I'll sing to my little granddaughter when I see her next week.

     How I wish I had been gutsy, glamorous, gregarious! I should have had more confidence, courage and charisma. It would have helped to be more self-centered, focused and even ruthless.Maybe then all of those unpublished manuscripts hidden in a box in my closet would have been published books. Yet I still wrote those books, labored over them, dreamed about them, searched for the perfect words, revised and completed them. I am proud of my work, especially that novel I wrote when I was only 23. Although I never considered that I would have to work so many years at the public library, I have read thousands of books and affected many many children in a positive way, and I am grateful for that.

      So the roof isn't such a terrible place to be. I have a lovely view. And to those of you who have reached the stars, I will bask in your glow.

    

ON PUBLIC SPEAKING

     I can still remember the day in seventh grade when I had to read my report out loud to my class. My hands trembled so badly I could barely hold the paper. My voice grew so soft it was inaudible. When the ordeal was over I gratefully took my seat. I never wanted to talk in front of a group of any size ever again.

     I had wanted to be a writer ever since I first began to read on my own. I liked the way writers worked, in isolation, reading, writing, researching. It seemed an ideal life to me.

     Except that writing, especially writing for children, carries a public speaking component. School visits, bookstore events, book festivals, writers are expected to speak, and to be both entertaining as well as educational while doing so. It's a tall order, and the act of writing itself is difficult enough!

    Yet over the years, I have come to enjoy these events, which were so difficult at first. For example, talks I prepared which I thought would last half an hour were over in ten minutes. Questions from the audience focused on someone asking how she could get published, rather than about anything I had presented.

     Then I started to do better. Presenting library story time, often to an audience of over one hundred wiggly preschoolers, helped. Watching the performers who came to the library to give programs helped. I attended other writers' talks at bookstores and libraries to see what they did, and scoured the internet for advice. At my last school talk, the principal told me mine was the best author visit they had ever had.

     Yet sometimes I can't help envying writers of books for adults, who merely need to tell an entertaining story, read from their work, then wait for questions...

    

    

Sunday, February 19, 2017

MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN'S BOOK DAY

     My book, CHICKEN SOUP, CHICKEN SOUP, was one of the books reviewed on this year's Multicultural Children's Book Day, January 27, 2017. Book bloggers throughout the US reviewed the book at their sites. Very exciting! Here is the link to this wonderful event.
https://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/
 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

WHERE'D GEORGE'S MOMMY GO?

     Reading CURIOUS GEORGE to my two year old granddaughter has been a revelation.

     In truth, before now, it's never been one of my favorite books. Although it's been translated into twelve languages and sold millions of copies, I did not understand its appeal. But now that I've read it with a two year, I finally get it.

      CURIOUS GEORGE is a work of genius.

      Really. The story so aptly mirrors the world as my granddaughter, Molly, (age two years and two months, by the way) sees it, opens it to philosophical discussion and ends with a sense of the miraculous. Not only did I learn to love this book, it taught me quite a bit about writing books for children too.

      I was babysitting Molly at her house and I asked her to pick a few books to read before naptime.
When she pulled GEORGE off the shelf I wasn't thrilled. I thought the story would be too long for a two year old's attention span, and dated too, with that ringing telephone and all.

     Boy, was I wrong.

     Let's start with the cover. Does the cover show George eating a banana or with the man with the yellow hat? No. The cover shows Geroge being led away be two firemen. More about why I consider this genius a little later.

     Molly was captivated by the story from the first few pages. When we got to the page where George is caught by the man with the big yellow hat, Molly asked, "Where'd George's mommy go?"

     Where, indeed?

      For a child Molly's age, Mommy is everything. When Molly was one and  half and we read THE THREE BEARS by Byron Barton whenever we came to the page where Goldilocks had broken Baby Bear's green chair, Molly would point to it and say, "Mommy". As in, Mommy will take care of that broken chair. So George was caught because Mommy was not there to protect him. A two year old is trying to understand her world, and the safety of Mommy makes that exploration possible. "Where'd Mommy go?" is actually the central conflict of this story. Without Mommy to take care of him and protect him, George is left to explore a confusing world. He is literally at sea, as he is in the next scene, when the man with the yellow hat takes George onto a boat.

       When he gets to the city and goes to the man's house, George tries to understand the world by being just like the man. He eats dinner at the table, smokes a pipe, and wears the man's pajamas. But when he copies the man by using the telephone as he does, trouble ensues, big trouble. GEORGE HAD TELEPHONED THE FIRE STATION!

      Firefighters are pretty important to a two year old child. Most children take a field trip to the fire station sometime in preschool or kindergarten. Firefighter hats are part of most dress up bins, and shiny fire engines race down streets. So when George phones the fire station it is a super big deal.

     I didn't know how I would explain prison to Molly, but I didn't need to. The picture of George in a dull, grey place all alone was the only explanation that she needed. It is a terrible, dark moment for George, and for the story.

     But he runs away, and then the miraculous - George sees a balloon man.

     Balloons are magical for a two year old child. They seem alive, they seem to have personalities. Just think about the wonderful French movie, THE RED BALLOON, and you will have an inkling of what children feel for balloons.

     Molly was mesmerized when I read about George wanting a red balloon, then getting the entire bunch of balloons instead. The balloons whisk him away and he flies through the air holding tightly to them, just as he had tried to fly like the seagulls when he was on the boat in the beginning of the story. The balloons lead him back to the man with the big yellow hat.

     In the last picture, when George is at the zoo, not only is he holding the red balloon he wanted, all of the other animals have their own balloon too.

      Magical, and completely satisfying.


   

     

     

     

Thursday, April 28, 2016

CONTENT CREATOR

     I have wanted to be a writer ever since I was a little girl who loved to read, an author of books for children.

     I never aspired to be a "content creator".

     Yet that is what writers were referred to in an article I read recently about the future of publishing. Content Creators. Something about that term annoys me, perhaps because it implies that the content is at the service of the device.

     That's not what writing is all about.

     The same article suggests that writers will need to become "personalities" to be viable and published.That's basically fine, many writers have been terrific personalities. If I could find a time machine to zap me to the past I'd like nothing better than to attend a lecture given by the wonderfully personable writer, Mark Twain.

     But other fabulous writers have been shy, reclusive, too homely or eccentric to be ready for prime
time. And that's fine too.

     Being a personality is not what writing is about either.

     It's certainly not about the device which is presenting it, or the way it is written either. Most of our best beloved books were composed with a pencil and a piece of paper. It's about what a writer has to say, not the device she chooses to say it with. The important part isn't content, it's called story.

      Story is older, has lasted and will last longer than any kind of device or content ever invented. Story is powerful, masterful, engaging, enlightening, delightful. Being a writer is about telling a story. It's about having something to say. Long after Apple and Microsoft have taken their bows from the world stage, we will still be listening and reading story.

   

    

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

PHILIP STEAD IS A GENIUS

I just read Philip Stead's new picture book, IDEAS ARE ALL AROUND. I'm blown away! He manages to write such unique, original stories, so different from anything else I've ever read. Thought provoking, yet with plenty of kid appeal too. LENNY AND LUCY, A HOME FOR BIRD, everything he has done is  completely....wonderful.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

VOICE

    Last night I attended a meet up at a bookstore, where children's authors and illustrators had gathered to talk about voice in picture books. As easy as it is to identify a strong voice when one reads, it is difficult to achieve. In illustration, it seems to me, an artist's voice can be so strong that their work is instantly identifiable. Yet their illustration also must create a voice for their character.

     For me, as a writer, especially with the picture book I am working on now, voice is difficult. How to get so completely into a character's psyche that my words reflect my character's soul. I am having a hard time, maybe because my main character is a little mouse!

     Even in a story written in first person, it is tremendously easy for me to drop out of the character's voice to tell some piece of information. How much more demanding it is to keep writing in their voice. But once a strong voice is created, the work is so much more engrossing. So I'll keep working away, constantly striving to improve.