Craft Book Read-Along: Writing Picture Books – Section 2 Check-in

writingpicturebookscoverOK, I have to admit it – I barely made it through section 2 of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul in time for this check-in. Something about a combination of illnesses, birthdays, school vacation week, Downton Abbey, and…not exactly writer’s block, but let’s just say it took me 2.5 hours to write about 100 words this morning (with pauses to make fresh cups of tea which kept going stone cold on me as I stared at the computer screen).

And so…drumroll…my progress on section 2:

Chapter 2, which I blogged about a few weeks ago, deals with story questions and answers. This was immensely helpful because I realized that the manuscript I’m revising was trying to ask too many questions. Streamlining will help the story feel tighter, and I spent a while coming up with a good story question and answer. Check! Homework for chapter 2 complete.

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 all deal with point-of-view, voice, and considerations such as setting and historical era. The assignments for these chapters (which I dutifully did!) all require rewriting the opening of your story in a different POV or voice. This is a very helpful exercise, I found. My story was originally written in the third person. I rewrote the opening in first person; in first person (switching POV character); and in diary form (with the original POV character).

I found that writing in the first person allowed me to weave in more of the character’s motivation. Also, switching POV characters helped me think about the other major character in my story, because I have gotten several critique comments that she is “too flat.” Writing in the first person from her point of view forced me to think about her motivations, where she comes from, and WHY she does the things she does.

I also rewrote my opening in some of the voices described in chapter 4. While I think I will stick to my original voice for this manuscript, rewriting my piece as a conversation between two characters, for example, has given me some snippets of colorful dialogue that I can work into my manuscript.

But what really has helped me break through (well, almost) with this story was the advice in chapter 6 about writing a character sketch for each character. I don’t want to infringe on her ideas by breaking it all down here, but I thought the tips on writing a character sketch for a picture book character were helpful and non-intimidating. This doesn’t need to be pages and pages – just enough to give the character some depth.

I said above that I’ve *almost* broken through with this story because, while I’ve resolved my story question issue and think I can deepen my characters, I still have a bit of a plot problem, and so I’m looking forward to section 3 where we get into plot and the structure of the story.

Keep reading! Keep writing! I will officially check in on Section 3 on March 19. (That’s a week later than originally planned but I’m sure no one will complain.)

Author Interview: Gayle Krause

For the past several years, my focus has been on writing poetry and picture books for children. However, one of my goals in 2013 is to develop some ideas for longer work — chapter books and middle grade novels. It seems daunting, though, and I thought it might help to talk with someone who has made the leap. So today, I am posting my very first blog interview with Gayle Krause. Gayle is a critique partner and friend who has published in many genres and is now celebrating the release of her YA book RATGIRL: SONG OF THE VIPER, now available for the Kindle and coming soon in paperback. Congratulations, Gayle!

ratgirl_coverI just love the idea of this book – a retelling of the Pied Piper story. Listen to this synopsis: Sixteen year old Jax Stone is an expert at surviving in a dangerous city, where rats rival the homeless for food and shelter, but she’s an amateur at fighting the immoral mayor of Metro City, when he orders the kidnapping of her little brother. Desperation demands she quickly master the role of courageous opponent to steal him back.

When she discovers her singing has a hypnotic effect on rats and children, she uses her gift to outwit the tyrannical mayor. Disguised as a world-renowned exterminator, she barters with him for her brother’s freedom. To fulfill the contract she lures the rats to their death in the toxic river with her mesmerizing singing, in exchange for gold to pay passage for her brother and herself to the New Continent. But when the corrupt mayor reneges on their agreement, Jax has no choice but to stage another daring musical coup. This time, she leads not only her brother, but all of the city’s children to safety, with the help of a ragtag band of friends and a handsome stranger, who holds the secret to her past and the key to her heart.

Gayle, you are someone who writes across age ranges and genres of children’s literature. Give us a snapshot of your work.

gayle_krauseThanks, Carrie. I appreciate you taking the time to help me promote my newest book.

My very first publishing credits were my kid’s poetry in children’s magazines. My picture book, ROCK STAR SANTA, was released in 2008, as an original Scholastic Book Club selection, and has proved to be a perennial favorite.

Of course, I’ve written a sequel and many more picture books, yet to be published. So while I waited for a second picture book contract, I started writing YA novels. I feel my writing voice is more YA than PB. Consequently the YA novels come easier to me. That’s why I only write rhyming pictures books. I have too many words in my head to tell a picture book story in 500 words or less.  LOL!

April 2012 was a lucky month for me. I was offered contracts for three pieces of my writing.

  • One for a sports poem, ‘Hail Mary Pass,’ in an international sports poetry anthology for kids (AND THE CROWD GOES WILD).
  • One for The Storyteller’s Daughter, my version of the Scheherazade story, in Pugalicious Press’s YA Historical Romance anthology, titled TIMELESS.
  • And for RATGIRL: Song of the Viper, my first full length YA novel, to be released in February, 2013 from Noble Romance – Young Adult, the Sweetheart Line.

You write books for both the youngest and oldest readers in the kidlit spectrum. What draws you to these two age groups?

My previous career was teaching. I trained prospective teachers at the secondary and post-secondary levels. (Thus the YA connection.) During this time, I also directed a Laboratory Pre-K, where I supervised the students preparing and teaching lessons to the children. (The Pre-K connection.) I write what I know best.

What resources or writing classes have helped you make the leap from being a picture book writer to writing longer work?

I don’t believe you can be taught how to write a successfully. You either can do it, or you can’t. I might even say it’s an inherent gift. I’ve read many resource books and tried various prompts, but ultimately I count on my imagination and my awesome critique group, The YA Wonderwriters.

Also, seminars at SCBWI conferences help tremendously.

As a picture book writer, I love that I can sit down and write a rough draft in an hour or two. It’s hard for me to even see where to start with drafting a novel. Where do you begin? Any advice?

Well, there are two types of writers, as you know. Some outline the entire story before they begin to write a word. (The Plotters.) When they do write it’s almost like a second draft because they have predetermined where the story is going.

Then, there are those that write from the heart, and just keep going until the story is out, becoming surprised as they write, as if they’re reading someone else’s novel. (The Pansters – writing by the seat of their pants.) Of course, they have a lot more revising to do.

So, you either do the work first, or last, depending on what kind of writer you are.

Tell us a bit about your revision process for Ratgirl: Song of the Viper.

Ratgirl started as a NaNoWriMo attempt three years ago. Everything that I had in my head came pouring out, but it made my revision process daunting. I had to find the beginning of the story twice. I would say I wrote five revisions, the last two passing through my critique groupIt was the last version they critiqued that was offered a contract.

How has this been similar to or different from your process with Rock Star Santa?

Very different.

ROCK STAR SANTA                                        RATGIRL

1. picture book                                                         1. YA novel
2. 32 pages                                                                2. 200 pages
3. rhyming couplets                                               3. Prose fiction
4. no critique group                                                4. 4-member critique group***
5. final revision took 1 day                                   5. final revision took 2 weeks

Do you work on picture book manuscripts concurrently with your YA work, or do you find that you need to be completely immersed in one age group (or one work) at a time?

Daytime is for the heavy, intense schedule of writing YA, specifically mornings. I find I wake with fresh ideas to insert into the story. Evenings, after supper, are for critiques and/or picture book writing. I especially turn to picture book writing once a YA novel is complete. It’s like a freeing exercise for my brain, because rhyming uses a different part.

What’s next for you, Gayle? Will you stick with YA? Write another picture book? Or maybe something in between?

My brain is always churning out ideas for both. But, at this point, I believe I will be polishing and submitting my MG ‘fractured fairy tale’ poetry collection titled, ONCE UPON A TWISTED TALE.

Thanks for stopping by, Gayle. Where can we find you?

If your readers go to my website: they can click on my books and be directed to the online purchasing site. There, they can also access information for First Peek Critique, my rhyming PB service.

My blog is

RATGIRL: SONG OF THE VIPER is available for the Kindle and will soon be released in paperback.

Craft Book Read-Along: Writing Picture Books – Story Questions and Answers


In chapter 2 of Ann Whitford Paul’s book WRITING WITH PICTURES, she makes a key point about picture book stories, or any story, really. And I know it’s a key point because she bolded it and said “it is critical.” This is not a lady who generally speaks in hyperbole, people, so listen up.

“It is critical that each story has a question”

Having a question – a single question, in the case of a picture book – will keep the story focused and moving in the right direction.

Now, as she states, not all writers know their story question when they start writing. Sometimes you do. Other times, you might discover the story question as part of the writing/revision process. But sooner or later, you gotta have one.

The story answer is one sentence that describes how the question is answered by your story. This short summary is like a blurb or elevator pitch for your story.

Another quote:

“Spend time carefully formatting your question and answer.

If you do, the writing of your book will be infinitely easier.”

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she’s right on this one as I plow forward with revisions on one of my manuscripts.

For practice, I thought I would try writing story questions and answers for some published picture books I’ve read recently. I noticed that, while the story questions are very general and could apply to many different stories, the story answers are very specific to the individual stories. Care to take a stab at it? Leave a story question and answer for a published picture book in the comments.

stuck_coverSTUCK by Oliver Jeffers

Story Question: What happens when we lose a favorite plaything?

Story Answer: When Floyd’s kite gets stuck in a tree, he tosses up object after object trying to knock it down until the tree is so full that there is no more room for the kite and it comes down on its own.

where_the_wild_things_are_coverWHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE by Maurice Sendak

Story Question: What happens when a child’s behavior is too wild for the house?

Story Answer: Max gets sent to his room for his wild behavior and once there goes on a fantastical journey where he can be as wild as he wants, but eventually discovers that while being wild is fun, being where you are loved is what’s most important.

owl_babies_coverOWL BABIES by Martin Waddell

Story Question: What do you do when someone you love is missing?

Story Answer: Three baby owls, surprised to find their mother missing, huddle together and try to reassure each other until their mother comes back again.

kittens_first_full_moon_coverKITTEN’S FIRST FULL MOON by Kevin Henkes

Story Question: What happens when someone, or some animal, wants something that is impossible to get?

Story Answer: Kitten tries many ways to get the moon, which she thinks is a big bowl of milk in the sky just for her, but in the end must be satisfied with a small bowl of milk on her own porch.

ladybug_girl_coverLADYBUG GIRL by David Soman and Jacky Davis

Story Question: What can we do when we’re bored?

Story Answer: When no one in her family will play with Lulu, she becomes Ladybug Girl and uses her imagination to entertain herself.

goodnight_goodnight_construction_site_coverGOODNIGHT, GOODNIGHT CONSTRUCTION SITE by Sherri Duskey Rinker

Story Question: How do people and things settle down at the end of the day?

Story Answer: In a construction site, each machine has it’s own way of settling down to sleep.


gingerbread_man_loose_in_the_school_coverTHE GINGERBREAD MAN LOOSE IN THE SCHOOL by Laura Murray

Story Question: What happens when someone, or some thing, gets left behind?

Story Answer: Thinking that the class who baked him has left him behind, the Gingerbread Man searches the school for his missing students, and finally discovers that he had not been left behind, only left to cool.

Want to practice? Leave a story question and answer for a book you’ve read in the comments…then try it for your own manuscript. (It’s part of the homework for chapter 2!)

Speaking of homework, I’m on track to check in about Section 2, which includes chapters 2-6, on February 26…and hoping not to be derailed by school vacation week.

Library Harvest – 2/15/13

bookharvest_02_15_13Often when I go to the library there’s only a handful of books on the “New Books” shelf. But last week, I hit the jackpot — the shelf was fully-loaded and I staggered home with my bag stuffed full. Full bookshelf…school vacation week coming up…we’re prepared!

Have you read any of these, or any other new books you loved?

Craft Book Read-Along: Writing Picture Books – Keeping the Listener Involved with the Story


Last week, I posted a check-in for section 1 of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS and  mentioned one of my favorite parts from the chapter. In my own rephrasing, the advice that Ann Whitford Paul gives for keeping the listener involved with the story is this: Each time you turn the page in a picture book, the characters must be:

1. doing something new, or

2. interacting with someone new, or

3. in a new place, or

4. having new feelings (that can be shown)

The key idea is, NEW. What’s new? What’s changed? How is the story moving forward? With each turn of the page.

Last week, Cathy asked a great question. She was “curious if you found that typing out the text of the ‘bad’ book revealed that it did not hold true to the *something new with each page turn* rule?”

The answer is YES! My ‘bad’ manuscript includes quite a few long conversations where the characters are literally sitting around talking, and very little changes from page to page. As it turns out, one of my own manuscripts has a bit of that too. Uh-oh.

Cathy’s question also got me to thinking…how much change do good and successful picture books include? So I pulled three picture books off the shelf for a look – one classic and two more recent – and below is what I found.

where_the_wild_things_are_coverWhere the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (HarperCollins, 1963)

Opening: The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind

and another

his mother called him “WILD THING!”

and Max said “I’LL EAT YOU UP!”

so he was sent to bed without eating anything.

Spread 1: Max hammering a makeshift clothesline into the wall. He’s frowning.

Spread 2: Max chasing the dog down the stairs with a fork (all kinds of wrong here!) still frowning. – NEW ACTION, NEW SETTING

Spread 3: Max in his room, still frowning. NEW ACTION, NEW SETTING

Spread 4: A forest grows in Max’s room. He’s not frowning anymore. NEW EMOTION, NEW SETTING (very cleverly growing over the old setting)

Spread 5: The forest continues to grow. Max looks gleeful. NEW EMOTION, NEW SETTING

Spread 6: The room is now completely gone. Max is outside, stomping around. NEW SETTING, NEW ACTION

Spread 7: Max is in a boat “sailing off through night and day” NEW SETTING, NEW ACTION

Spread 8: Max is still in the boat. One of the wild things pops up out of the water and he looks frightened. NEW CHARACTER, NEW EMOTION

Spread 9: Max is coming up to land. Four more wild things are there to greet him. He’s frowning. NEW CHARACTERS, NEW SETTING

Spread 10: Max looks angrily at the wild things and tells them to ‘BE STILL’ and they all look scared of him. NEW ACTION, NEW EMOTION

Spread 11: The wild things all acknowledge Max as their king and bow before him. He looks regal. NEW ACTION, NEW EMOTION

Spread 12: The wild rumpus starts! NEW ACTION

Spread 13: More rumpus

Spread 14: Even more rumpus

Spread 15: The sun is rising. The wild things sit around dozing. Max looks tired and sad. He decides he wants to be “where someone loves him best of all.” NEW EMOTION

Spread 16: Max sets sail on his boat. The wild things run after him. NEW ACTION

Spread 17: Max in his boat, sailing by the light of the moon. He looks determined. NEW ACTION, NEW SETTING, NEW EMOTION

Spread 18: Max in his room, smiling to find his supper waiting for him. NEW SETTING, NEW EMOTION

click_clack_moo_coverClick, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin (Simon & Schuster, 2000)

Opening: Farmer Brown has a problem. His cows like to type. All day long he hears

Click, clack, moo.

Click, clack, moo.

Clickety, clack, moo.

Spread 1: Farmer Brown, looking annoyed, with barn in the background.

Spread 2: Farmer Brown walking toward the barn. NEW ACTION

Spread 3: Farmer Brown looking at a sign posted on the sign of the barn. NEW ACTION

Spread 4: The cows, looking startled. In shadow, we see Farmer Brown shaking his fists as he insists the cows will not be given electric blankets. NEW CHARACTERS, NEW ACTION, NEW EMOTION

Spread 5: The cows, clustered around the typewriter, typing up their latest demands. NEW ACTION

Spread 6: Farmer Brown, receiving the cows’ demand note that the hens also get electric blankets. The hens look on. NEW CHARACTERS, NEW ACTION

Spread 7: The hens holding their latest note to Farmer Brown. NEW ACTION

Spread 8: Farmer Brown furiously running through the field while the cows and hens look stalwart. NEW SETTING, NEW EMOTION

Spread 9: Farmer Brown typing his own note. NEW ACTION

Spread 10: Duck, a neutral party, brings Farmer Brown’s note to the cows. NEW CHARACTER, NEW ACTION

Spread 11: The cows hold an emergency meeting. The picture shows the other barn animals gathered around a locked door to snoop “but none of them could understand Moo. NEW ACTION

Spread 12: Duck delivers a new note to Farmer Brown. NEW ACTION

Spread 13: The sleeping cows and hens, draped in electric blankets, looking content. NEW ACTION, NEW EMOTION

Spread 14: The ducks are now typing a message to Farmer Brown, demanding a diving board. NEW SETTING, NEW ACTION

fancy_nancy_coverFancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor (HarperCollins, 2006)

Opening: I love being fancy. My favorite color is fuchsia. That’s a fancy way of saying purple.

Spread 1: Nancy in her very fancy room, looking pleased.

Spread 2: Nancy reading on her shag rug, eating bon-bons. Also, Nancy with her (plain) family exiting an ice cream store. NEW CHARACTERS, NEW SETTING, NEW ACTION

Spread 3: Spot illustrations of the fancy things Nancy loves. NEW ACTION

Spread 4: Nancy gets the idea to give her family fancy lessons. She posts a sign on the fridge. NEW ACTION, NEW SETTING

Spread 5: Nancy’s family attending their fanciness lesson. NEW ACTION

Spread 6: Nancy brings her family some fancy clothes. NEW ACTION

Spread 7: Nancy’s family is dressed up. They decide to go out to dinner. Nancy jumps up and down with excitement. NEW ACTION, NEW EMOTION

Spread 8: Nancy and family strut outside on the way to the car. All have noses in the air, looking fancy. NEW ACTION, NEW SETTING

Spread 9: Nancy’s family enters the King’s Crown restaurant. NEW SETTING, NEW ACTION

Spread 10: Nancy’s family sitting at a table eating pizza. NEW SETTING, NEW ACTION

Spread 11: Nancy goes to get ice cream for her family. NEW ACTION

Spread 12: Nancy trips carrying the ice cream and it splatters all over her. She looks surprised. Everyone stares. NEW ACTION, NEW EMOTION

Spread 13: Two images of Nancy. Her expression changes from surprise to tears as her parents try to help her clean up. NEW ACTION, NEW EMOTION

Spread 14: Back at home, the family is back in non-fancy attire, and having homemade sundaes. Nancy looks happier. NEW SETTING, NEW ACTION, NEW EMOTION

Spread 15: Nancy’s parents tuck her in to bed. She looks tired and happy. NEW SETTING, NEW ACTION, NEW EMOTION

So what’s the takeway…?

While I expected new action on each page of these great picture books, I was surprised by how often new action was combined with new settings, new emotions, and new characters. I found this to be especially true around the presentation of the story problem (spreads 3-4) and around the climax and resolution (spreads 12-15). It seems intuitive, but it was fun to see it play out in a similar way in these very different stories. I’ll be paying more attention to this as I read my next slew of library books.

Craft Book Read-Along: Writing Picture Books – Section 1 Check-in

writingpicturebookscoverIt’s February 5, and I’m here as promised to check in on my progress reading (and doing) WRITING PICTURE BOOKS. Luckily, Section 1 is only one chapter so I have not fallen behind before starting!

First, I wanted to share one of my favorite bits from chapter 1:

Writers for the very young, even if they’re not illustrators, still must have visual images in their minds.

She goes on to list 4 ways of keeping the listener involved with the story. I’m going to rephrase a bit, because it helps me to think about it this way. The advice is essentially that each time you turn the page in a picture book, the characters must be:

1. doing something new, or

2. interacting with someone new, or

3. in a new place, or

4. having new feelings (that can be shown)

The key idea is, NEW. What’s new? What’s changed? How is the story moving forward? With each turn of the page. I know we’ve all heard this a thousand times before, but it somehow helped me to read it here and think about it in this way.

And now, time for true confessions…here’s how I did:

Assignments for Chapter 1: Becoming a Picture Book Scholar

– Spend time reading picture books (especially those mentioned in Writing Picture Books).

Yup, did it. I read quite a few of the books listed in chapter 1, and even reviewed Manana Iguana, which was charming (not to mention well crafted, as one would expect). I’d actually never read a picture book by Ann Whitford Paul, so it was nice to see something of her work.

– Choose a published book you love, and one that you think doesn’t work (both published in the last 5 years). Type out the text of both books.

I struggled with this a bit. It wasn’t hard to find a book I loved, of course. Finding a good “bad” example wasn’t as easy. Editors at the big publishing houses do a good job of quality control. However, I finally recalled a book that I’d read to my son 3 or 4 years ago. It was so terrible I gave it away. I looked for that book at the library, couldn’t find it, but ended up getting another from the same author (name withheld to protect the innocent).

Did anyone else struggle with this part? If so, what are your ideas for finding a good “bad” book? I thought of looking at celebrity books, and also in the bargain bin at B&N (on the theory that the books must be there for a reason).

– Read a new picture book.

Yes, tons.

– Write a draft of a picture book.

OK, I’m taking the easy way out on this one and using a picture book draft that I already have, rather than writing something new. I’m sure Ann won’t mind.

So, ‘fess up. How did you do? And what are your thoughts on this first chapter?

Don’t forget to keep reading! I will officially check in on Section 2 on February 26 (she said, hopefully).