Posted in Craft, PB, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Creative Picture Book Formats

The other day I was helping a friend edit a fiction picture book and we were talking about how layout of the language can give a different feel.

To demonstrate I opened up my quote file and found this one by Tana French, “Don’t get discouraged if you’re hammering away at a sentence or a paragraph or a chapter, and it keeps coming out wrong. You’re allowed to get it wrong, as many times as you need to; you only need to get it right once.”

Look at it written as a poem:

“Don’t get discouraged
if you’re hammering away
at a sentence
or a paragraph
or a chapter,
and it keeps
coming
out wrong.
You’re allowed
to get it wrong,
as many times
as you need to;
you only need
to get it right
once.”

– Tana French

I loved the quote in the first place, but I love it as poetry even more.

Let’s think about this specifically in regard to picture books. Will a poetic format add to your story? (I’m not talking about rhythm and rhyme particularly, although that is a possibility.) Or is there another format that will benefit your story?

One that comes to mind is Gretchen McLellan’s No Party Poopers! where the story is only written in dialogue with no tag lines, beats, or description.

Or an oldie Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School by Mark Teague. The opening has a newspaper clipping, then come the hilarious letters. These books are called epistolary.

Author Doreen Chronin has a series of bug diaries. Will journal format work for your story?

I was stunned when I read Mirror Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse by Marilyn Singer where you read the poems one way and then the opposite.

Then there’s the cumulative story where each line builds from the line before. The poem “This Is the House that Jack Built” may have inspired this type of tale.

You might find Karin Lefranc’s list of picture book genres interesting.

I like stretching my mind about how stories can be written. If you know of different picture book formats, please share in the comments.

Posted in MG Novels, So Many Good Books

Because of the Rabbit

How can you resist that cover? Because of the Rabbit (Scholastic Press, 2019) by Cynthia Lord is a fun and helpful book. Everyone at one point struggles with feeling different and will be encouraged by this story.

Emma, who has previously been homeschooled, is now going to public school in fifth grade. Will she fit in? Will she make friends? Getting paired on an assignment with a kid who definitely does not fit in is not her plan. But rabbits are supposed to be lucky, right?

I love the rabbit facts at the beginning of each chapter. And it’s great that Emma’s father is a game warden.

Cynthia is the 2007 Newbery winning author of Rules. See the rest of her books here. Read more about her here–don’t miss the part about giving herself nightmares! And you can see her rabbits and other pets.

Posted in PB, So Many Good Books

Swashby and the Sea

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Swashby and the Sea (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020) by Beth Ferry and illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal is a delightfully warm story that can be read over and over. This story has such a sweet ending.

I love what it says about the sea and Swashby, “She knew him in and out, up and down, and better than anyone.” And I love the adorable illustrations.

Captain Swashby, now retired, is happy living by the sea. Until…neighbors show up. He keeps writing messages to them like “no trespassing” and the sea fiddles with each a bit like “sing.” Will Swashby learn to accept these intruders?

Beth Ferry is the author of Caveman Crush and has quite a number of other books–see them here. I need to check out some more. I like the unusual facts and the box format of her about page.

Author/illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal was born in Peru. You may have heard about her debut picture book, Alma and How She Got Her Name which was a 2019 Caldecott honor book. She’s also a 2018 Pura Belpré Medalist. Read her other awards here.

Posted in MG Novels, So Many Good Books

Mighty Inside

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I loved Mighty Inside (Levine Querido, 2021) by Sundee T. Frazier. With discussions on segregation, relocation camps, Korean War, Jewish culture, and more, this book gives a great picture of life in the mid-50s is a very realistic way. It shows how determination, music, and friendship can change a kid’s life. If you like underdog stories, you won’t want to miss this book.

I also love the author’s writing itself. Here are a few favorite phrases: “the ball had been a side dish to a dinner-sized dose of humiliation” and “his tongue was so tenderized it was practically filet mignon.” These touches of humor help us through difficult topics.

Melvin Robinson is getting ready to go to high school–that can be scary for anyone. But with his stutter he just knows he’s going to be “dead meat.” His life is even more complicated by being black in a mostly white school in Spokane, WA. When his brother comes to his defense against some bullies, it’s not the white kids who have to clean up the resulting mess but the “Negroes.” For Melvin learning to communicate becomes more and more important–there’s the girl he likes, the bully he needs to stand up to, the terrible death of Emmett Till, and a chance to talk through music. Can Melvin show he deserves respect?

Anyone who has ever had difficulty speaking up will especially enjoy this historical novel. As my book recommendation did last month, it obviously deals with racism. So sad we are still seeing people experiencing this in real life. The book is inspired by Sundee’s grandparents’ experiences in the 1950s in Spokane. Read more about the award-winning author on her website here. Check out her other books here.

Bonus–this is a book with a 13-year-old protagonist. (I love seeing more with this age. For a while, it felt like there was hardly any books for the 13 and 14 age ranges.)

Posted in MG Novels, So Many Good Books

A Good Kind of Trouble

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

When I started reading A Good Kind of Trouble (Balzer + Bray, 2019) by Lisa Moore Ramée, I thought, here we go again with another friends-changing-when-they-enter-Junior-High story. But it’s so much more than that. It’s about your own identity and how you don’t have to fit in a box. It’s about getting rid of assumptions. And standing up for what you believe in. And, yes, changing friendships.

Twelve-year-old Shayla wants to avoid trouble, but she discovers that sometimes you have to be trouble. Whether it’s in a relationship with friends or standing up to others, Shayla learns how to do the right thing.

I love the first line: “I’m allergic to trouble.” There’s strong seventh grade voice and humor in this story. This book is a Walter Dean Meyers Honor book, and can also help explain why Black Lives Matter.

Lisa is also the author of Something to Say (2020) and has a middle grade fantasy called Mapmaker coming in 2022. Read more about her here.