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Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Monster of a Picture book For Halloween

Check out this perfect picture book for Halloween, The Monstore by Tara Lazar.
Here is a sample:  "The Monstore sells only the most useful monsters, just  right for doing tricky things around the house. The kind that love cab-leg casserole....And the kind that frighten pesky little sisters away."

Readers will enjoy the frustrations that Zack experiences when he buys monsters that fail to scare his little sister, Gracie, away and can't return them because the store offers no refunds.

 I like the way dialogue is put in the characters' mouths by the use of balloons, like in the comics.
When I asked Tara how she came up with the idea, this is what she said:

"THE MONSTORE began as just a title. I love playing with words, making puns, and smooshing words together to make new words--and that's what happened here. I loved the title immediately and thought--nah, this will never fly. Someone has probably already thought of this! But after an exhaustive search, I found ZERO children's books with that title and decided I had a winner. But it would be months before I even attempted to write the story. I didn't have a premise--just the title. And a title does not a story make!

After meeting an agent at a conference, I was forced to come up with a premise. Very quickly I thought, "A boy wants to return the monster he bought because it doesn't spook his little sister." The agent told me it was a winning idea and to go ahead and pursue it. I still hesitated. I was afraid of ruining a perfectly good idea! LOL

Weeks later, when I finally sat down and wrote it, it spilled out. I wanted to give this boy lots of problems and the first thing I thought of was to have the Monstore manager refuse to take his monster back. That's where the refrain "No returns, no exchanges" came from. From there, the story just worked itself out. Although I did revise the first draft several times, the whole of the story pretty much remained the same."

Thanks, Tara!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Different ways of looking at Albert Einstein

Children's biographies can present new ways of looking at famous people, in this case, the scientist Albert Einstein. For example, ON A BEAM OF LIGHT : A STORY OF ALBERT EINSTEIN by Jennifer Berne, Albert doesn't talk for the first two years of his life. "He just looked around with his big curious eyes.Looked and wondered. Looked and wondered." Then be began asking  many questions because there were mysteries in the world and he wanted to  understand them. This picture book biography gives the reader a senses of his personality.

For more facts about Albert, one can check ALBERT EINSTEIN, BRILLIANT SCIENTIST by Amanda Doering Tourville. This is a beginner biography is  32 pages and is equipped with FUN FACTS (example: "Einstein failed a physics class in college. This was partly because he did not show up for class."); TIMELINE, GLOSSARY, INDEX, and TABLE OF CONTENTS.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Boy Who Loved Math

Paul Erdos, the subject of the picture book biography, The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman may be unknown to many readers but  they might be interested to know that he was a mathematician  who's mother didn't  make him go to school, who took such good care of him that she even cut up his meat and buttered his bread for him. He did have to put up with Fraulein, the woman who took care of him when his mother was at work.

Paul developed a special interest in prime numbers, which this book defines: "Prime numbers are special.
They can't be divided evenly. A prime number can be divided only by itself and 1."

He eventually did go to school and then traveled to England to work with other mathematicians. He still didn't know how to butter his bread but learned how when he went out to dinner with other mathematicians.

As years went on, he found his way of living: as a house guest of the mathematician he was working with at the time. The mathematician's family would do things for Paul, like his mother had done: laundry, cooking, etc.

This  is an interesting book  about a fascinating man with math thrown in too.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Laura Ingalls Wilder Days

 Now that school is just around the corner, it’s time to think of books that could be used to study how pioneers out in the American West made everything from scratch. Back then you couldn’t run to the supermarket because there weren’t any.
An excellent book for how they lived is LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the tale of the Ingalls family’s life in Wisconsin.
Pioneer life was hard. When Laura’s ma wanted to make cheese she waited until the cows were producing abundant milk and that happened when they had plenty of grass to eat. And then….
“Somebody must kill a calf, for cheese could not be made without rennet and rennet is the lining of a young calf’s stomach.” P. 186 LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS.
Laura was afraid that Pa would kill one of their calves but Uncle Henry agreed to kill one of his instead.   

If you live near Pepin, Wisconsin you could visit Laura’s birthplace during the annual festival held  this year September 14-15, 2013.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lenore and her path to speaking English

I recently had the pleasure of hearing the author, Lenore Look, speak to a group of second graders and their parents. Lenore held up one of her early report cards and asked the kids what marks they thought she got in conduct. They  gave her higher marks than she actually got. The reason her marks were low was because she didn't understand English when she started school. She was born in the U.S. but her family only spoke Chinese at home. By the seventh grade she finally felt comfortable in English.

I was impressed by her presentation and her interaction with the kids.Especially since she showed us the journal she kept for her writing projects and her use of different colored pencils to keep track of various topics.

Today I'd like to showcase her multicultural picture book, Uncle Peter's Amazing Chinese Wedding.
Jenny, the narrator, is unhappy  about the wedding.
"Uncle Peter is upstairs taking his wedding bath so he'll be clean as Monday morning. Except this is Saturday, and he should be with me, getting dirty at the playground."
But Jenny gets into the swing of things, as she participates in this traditional Chinese wedding.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Art of Writing Rhyming Picturebooks

Welcome to our guest blogger, Laura Purdie Salas!

Laura Purdie Salas with BookSpeak!
Laura Purdie Salas is the author of more than 100 books for kids and
teens. Her award-winning books include A LEAF CAN BE..., BOOKSPEAK!
You can learn more at She is a visiting
author at schools and also coaches writers through 


I love rhyming picture books! The really good ones read effortlessly, as if they tumbled off the writer’s tongue directly into the book. They’re a blast to read and a blast to write. They’re not, however, quite as popular with editors wading through the slush pile (the pile of manuscripts submitted to publishers).

I’m half of Mentors for Rent, a writers’ coaching/critiquing service with Lisa Bullard, and we read lots of picture books for people. Many of them rhyme. And most of those—about 95%, by my guess—just don’t work yet. There are lots of reasons for this, but I’m going to focus on a very mechanical one here: meter.

Meter is the rhythm of the lines of your verse. It’s the heart of your book and will make or break it. Let’s look at the opening to my rhyming picture book, A LEAF CAN BE… (  (Millbrook, 2012). Read these lines out loud:

A leaf is a leaf.
It bursts out each spring,
when sunny days linger
and orioles sing.

Can you hear the beat? The flow?

The pattern of stressed (said with more emphasis) and unstressed (said with less or no emphasis) words and syllables is what creates the meter of your picture book. Here is that opening again, this time with the stressed syllables in bold:

A leaf is a leaf.
It bursts out each spring,
when sunny days linger
and orioles sing.

Look at a few things here. First, there are two stressed syllables in every line. Next, the second syllable of each line is also the first stressed syllable of that line. Third, there are two unstressed syllables between the first and second stressed syllables of each line. That consistency from line to line is what gives verse a pleasing, easy-to-read meter.

The problems begin, though, when different people read the same lines differently. When we are working on a rhyming manuscript with a specific meter, we can read almost any line with that meter—even if it doesn’t naturally come out that way. For instance, read this:

A leaf is a leaf.
It bursts out each spring,
when sunny days linger
and orioles sing.
One day in a bird’s nest,
I found a gold ring.

Those are NOT the next two lines in the book, thank goodness! But I bet you made them fit the meter of the first four lines. Did you read them like this?

A leaf is a leaf.
It bursts out each spring,
when sunny days linger
and orioles sing.
One day in a bird’s nest,
I found a gold ring.

If you did, good for you! You probably read really well out loud and are a great storytime performer! However, that can hamper your own writing. Because you can make text fit an established meter, you aren’t really creating lines that naturally fit the meter. If you just read those last two lines as a normal sentence, without the first four lines, where would the stresses lie?

One day in a bird’s nest, I found a gold ring.

Actually, that’s not 100% true, because people can’t all agree. Different people will read these lines with different emphases. And the same people might even read them differently on different days! But we can probably all agree that if you came across this sentence randomly, you wouldn’t read it like this:

One day in a bird’s nest, I found a gold ring.

And that’s the struggle of rhyming picture books. So, what can you do?

First, scan your rhyming picture book manuscript. Scanning is when you study verse to find the meter in it—the meter that actually, naturally exists, not the meter the poet wants you to put into the words. My favorite directions for scanning are here:

Look at #7 and follow its orders, step by step. It’s not as hard as it looks, and it will soon become second nature if you’re a frequent rhymer. I would add to these directions: Start at the end of your manuscript, and scan your way through it backward. In other words, start with your last line and follow the directions above, one line at a time, working your way back to your beginning. Doing that helps keep you from imposing your desired meter on your piece.

Here are some other great resources for meter perfection:

Lane Fredrickson’s Rhyme Weaver website:

Interactive scanning tool at For Better or Verse, from the University of Virginia:

“Have You Got Rhythm?” by Jan Fields at the ICL site:

“Rhymer’s Workshop” (a chat transcript) with Shelly Becker at the ICL site:

“The Wretched Curse of Rhyming Verse” blog post by Marlo Garnsworthy:

Examples of excellent rhyming books on two of my Pinterest Boards:
* Fun Rhyming Nonfiction:
* Favorite Rhyming Picture Books:

For two months, immerse yourself in learning about meter and reading rhyming picture books with excellent meter. Then return to your manuscript. Re-read, re-feel, re-write!

Then find a new reader. Even with all your work, you’re still too close to your words and rhythm to really evaluate whether you’ve got the beat. Whenever I take a rhyming manuscript to my critique group for the first time, I have someone else read it aloud. Hearing where they pause, stumble, or have to make changes on the fly to accommodate my meter points out all the faults to me. Even more useful is finding people who aren’t writers or teachers to read your work aloud. And best of all is asking kids to read it. If five 10-year-old kids who are decent readers can read your rhyming picture book aloud without tripping over your words, you’ve done it! You’ve written a picture book with great meter.

Using spotless meter in your rhyming manuscript gives it a much better chance of being published! Have fun and good luck!

(This essay is part of a forthcoming ebook called How To Avoid Ten Common Picture Book Pitfalls. This Children’s Writer Insider Guide will be available in Kindle form from Mentors for Rent:

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What Happens When Animals Sneeze?

Have you ever wondered what happens when an animal in a zoo sneezes? Find out in Zoo Ah-choooo by Peter Mandel.

Here's a sample: "Where did it come from? From the Snow Leopard. What did he do? He went Ah-chooOO!"

In this case it lead to a change reaction.

A truly humorous tale for reading out loud.