Who is Today’s Child?

My big kids humored me a few years ago with one last photo with Santa!

Every time I write a new story, I think about the child that might read it. I think some about the current children’s book market, what’s new and what’s coming down the pike in a few years, but I think more about the child that might one day pick up a book that bears my name.

I think about her a lot. 

Is she tall? Short? Plump? Thin? How does she see herself when she looks in the mirror? Are her jeans too tight or not the right style? Does she have a favorite doll? Stuffed animal? Game? Is she so smart it scares her sometimes and is she afraid to raise her hand in class and give the answer. . . again? Does she believe in magic and fairies and Santa Claus even though everyone else stopped believing long ago? Does she feel like she could fly if only she could just find a way to grow a pair of wings?

And what about him?

Is he skinny? Short? Fast? Slow? Does he hate baseball? Does he love football? Does he love hunting? Does he want to learn to cook or plant flowers or sing? Is he afraid of spiders just like his sister even though he isn’t supposed to be? And what if he never likes reading? So what? Will he ever be able to sit still in class, even for a minute? And what if he can’t? Will he still feel OK in his own skin? What if he likes wandering in the woods better than just about anything else? What if he feels he could fly if only he could just find a way to grow a pair of wings?

We hear an awful lot these days about what we should be writing about. What teachers want for their students, what parents want for their kids and what society says we should be giving them instead of something else. And all of those are very good things. But I didn’t start this very long journey for any other reason than to write for that girl or that boy. I truly believed, and still do, that simple stories with universal truths that meet kids where they are and take them where they need to be are the best kind for growing amazing little people into amazing big adults. Stories of compassion, kindness, goodness and love, woven with adventure, courage and fantasy about heroes kids can trust, believe in and identify with. Those are the kinds of stories I gave my own children, and all three of them have turned into amazing big adults ready to take on the world.

Having the big empty nest I mentioned in a previous post has given me time to think about the why of things. . . why we make the choices we make, why this world is the way it is; why children seem to be busier than ever, have more access to programs and experiences and opportunities than ever and are still killing themselves at an alarming rate with prescription opioids and heroin. Why? Why aren’t they satisfied and happy? I have a few theories, but that would take its own blog post.

So I’m going on a little journey to discover as much as I can about the children for whom I write, and I’m starting by reading C.S Lewis’s Letters to Children and Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. I’ll be sharing what I learn in a series of blog posts over the next few months, not every week, but as often as I can. I think it will be a fascinating journey. I hope you’ll join me.

 


Sensibility- For writers, not knowing your audience could find you producing stories something akin to a broccoli birthday cake or a Thanksgiving turkey made entirely of cheese.

Sense- Get to know your audience by reading both timeless books and what is trending now.


What are some of your favorite books on writing or writing for children?

Aside

The Beauty of Space (Not the Star Wars Kind) and a Critique Special!

Me and my sweetheart at the very top of the Mitten’s UP in beautiful Copper Harbor.

A few weeks ago, after almost 20 years of first-day pictures, new backpacks, shiny, white sneakers and packing lunches, my husband I finally made it to the empty-nest club. To celebrate, we took our first extended trip without any kids or pets, and headed north to Michigan’s gorgeous and remote Upper Peninsula. It seemed like the perfect way to ease into our new roles- drop our daughters off at school, pick up the ferry across Lake Michigan and have an adventure. It was amazing. We talked, laughed, hiked, ate, rested and looked at each other without interruption for 5 whole days! “This empty-nest thing is a piece of cake,” we said. “We’ve got this!” And then we came home.

Yep, you guessed it. The other shoe fell sometime during the second evening of our newly-found, empty-nest bliss. I looked at my husband after our second or third episode of the West Wing and said, “What time is it?”

“Eight-thirty,” he answered.

“That early?” I responded.

“Yep,” he said.

“So this is how it’s going to be?” I questioned.

“I guess so,” he said.

I’m not sure if we both cried right then, or if a number of tears I shed over the next few minutes were enough for two, but there were waterworks a-plenty. It felt good to let it out after all the busyness of getting the girls supplied, packed up and delivered to school while at the same time preparing for our own trip. It was the end of a very long marathon that began the previous September with the last set of senior pictures, homecoming, etc. You know, all that “last time, last kid” stuff we do to send our babies off into the big college world. We trudged upstairs and went to bed, weary from weeping, while at the same time strangely refreshed.

It took me a while to get back into a routine, especially since a week later we made a trip south due to a loved one’s medical emergency. But after we got back home again, I fell into a groove, and it felt good. It was now time to take care of some long-neglected items on my to-do list, and one of those was my bulletin board.

Ever since I became a teacher (once upon a time), I’ve loved bulletin boards. So there’s always one in my kitchen where everyone can see it. It has a nice calendar and lots of room for whatever notes, business cards, receipts, etc. that I need to keep in a safe place. It’s been our family hub for a long time. So, I started removing every piece of paper thumbtacked to the cork. Everything I touched was outdated or no longer needed. I didn’t find anything important. Nothing. Zilch. When I finished, this is what was left:

The empty cork with lonely thumbtacks and a blank calendar almost made cry. . . almost. But before the floodgates opened, I realized something. That emptiness represented space in my life. Something I haven’t had much of since hearing those first amazing words, “It’s a boy!” Those were the absolute best years of my life. There’s nothing better than being a mom! But wow, that space, that cracked, well-used corkboard space looked hopeful somehow. What to do with it?

The temptation to fill it up to stop the loneliness came. . . and went! Are you kidding me? How about pausing, exhaling and letting God fill the space? Or not fill it! What an incredible feeling- to have space that didn’t need filling, just repurposing.

And of course I’m using my part of that space to write, and write and write some more. In the emptiness, creativity has flooded in (and I’m getting my paying work done too). I’m enjoying my quiet hours more than I ever thought I would. Oh, I still cry. And there are many evenings when I ask my husband, “Is it that early?” I mean hey, we’ve only been at this a few weeks. And thankfully, my kids are close enough to us that if the need for a cup of coffee with them becomes overwhelming we can get to them easily. But that space. Wow.

It’s been a week or so since I cleaned off the bulletin board, and it’s still empty. Even the calendar for October is empty (not the one I keep on my computer, but still). I think I’ll keep it that way a while longer. It’s a great reminder to cherish the space as a gift, rather than fill it with more things that don’t really matter.

Happy Writing!

And as a way of celebrating this new season, I’m running one of my famous BOGO Critique Specials. That’s right! Now through November 17th, purchase one picture book critique at the regular price and get a second critique absolutely free. Just click on the PGWRites Critiques tab above for more information. Looking forward to reading your stories in the coming weeks!

_________________________________________________

Sensibility- Life’s seasons can be challenging. Keeping a positive attitude and looking for the unique joys each one brings keeps us moving forward.

Sense- Find yourself with some unexpected space? Fill it with creative projects. They are the best kind of food for the soul!

_________________________________________________

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Excited to Announce Some Poetry MADNESS and My New Nonfiction Picture Book!

Happy March to one and all! It’s been way more lion than lamb around here today that’s for sure. So to help brighten up an otherwise gloomy day, I have two exciting announcements to share:

First, the MADNESS is on again! I’m not talking basketball, I’m talking POETRY. Ed DeCaria’s March Madness Poetry competition returns this year, and yours truly is once again an “authlete.” I’m excited to be part of the fun! The competition begins Sunday, March 5 when the first words are revealed. I’m hoping for tons of support from my blog and Twitter followers as well as my Facebook friends! Learn how you and/or your class can get involved by clicking below:

MADNESS! Poetry

 

 

 

Second, (which really happened first) my first nonfiction picture book for kids, ALL ABOUT SOCIAL NETWORKING (Red Line Editorial/North Star Editions) was released in late January! It’s part of a series on Cutting Edge Technology and is available for purchase from Amazon.com (just click on the picture for more information).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to all of you for your continued support of my writing journey. It means so much to have you along for the ride!


Sensibility- Renewing commitments on a regular basis helps maintain focus and keep dreams alive!

Sense- March is a great time to recommit to those writing goals you set in January. Check your list and take stock of where you are and where you want to go.


Have you met any personal writing goals since January? Share them here!

 

Aside

Introducing Jodi McKay, author of WHERE ARE THE WORDS?

Happy Friday everyone! I’m so excited to welcome my friend and newly-minted children’s author, Jodi McKay to Sensibility and Sense! Jodi’s debut picture book, WHERE ARE THE WORDS? (Albert Whitman and Company, December 2016), illustrated by Denise Holmes, is a fun and funny look at the ellusive world of the punctuation mark! When a period, an exclamation point and a question mark get together to write their own story, they find that something very important is missing. . .the WORDS! Enter some wise quotation marks, an opinionated parenthesis and a colon with a long list of ideas, and you’ve got an endearing tale that introduces kids to the important work end marks and their com padres do. And now, without further delay, here’s Jodi. . .

When a period, an exclamation point and a question mark get together to write their own story, they find that something very important is missing. . .the WORDS! Enter some wise quotation marks, an opinionated parenthesis and a colon with a long list of ideas, and you’ve got an endearing tale that introduces kids to the important work end marks and their com padres do. And now, without further delay, here’s Jodi. . .

 

Patti: Tell us a little bit about your journey as a writer. When did you first get the “bug” and how did you nurture the dream along the way?

Jodi: I’ve been a creative type my whole life, drawing, writing, playing music so I guess I was born with bugs-Ewwww. Regardless of what I was doing in life I always found time to draw or write. I honed my skills during mind numbing high school and college classes (some of my best doodles came from a statistics course), painted while I was supposed to be working, found a way to include writing in my job, and now I shut the door to my office and ignore reality so I can dive deep into the weird abyss of my creative process. Hmm, I’m making myself sound like a slacker. I promise I got things done, just with the occasional creativity break.

Patti: If you’re like me, you’ve been writing ever since you can remember. But some of us had other careers before we settled on writing. What did you do before you became a wordsmith?

Jodi: I have a graduate degree in Psychology and worked at an eating disorder center in South Florida as an aftercare manager/counselor for some time. I stayed home after I had my son and then we moved back to Michigan. I know what you’re thinking, that I’m crazy for leaving the tropics for the frozen tundra. You may be right.

I didn’t start writing until my son went to kindergarten and I felt like I had enough time to breathe let alone write.

Patti: Many people go to college or graduate school to study writing for children. How has your education, whether writing based or not, informed the work you’re doing today?

Jodi: Honestly, I don’t think much at all. It’s been said that people go into Psychology because they have their own issues and I guess if I tried to make a link between my education and my writing then I would say that my issues make me odd enough to think of the quirky, humorous stories that I like to write.

Jodi and her SCBWI buddies at the WHERE ARE THE WORDS debut at Pages Bookstore on January 7.

Jodi and her SCBWI buddies at the WHERE ARE THE WORDS debut at Pages Bookshop in Detroit on January 7, 2017.

Patti: Now, let’s talk about WHERE ARE THE WORDS? It’s such a unique and special book. Punctuation marks trying to write a story!!! So perfect! Can you tell us where the idea came from?

 

Jodi: Thanks! It’s bizarre right? I mean, who thinks of talking punctuation marks? The concept came out of a bad case of writer’s block. I sat at my computer, questioning my ability as a writer and flat out asked my computer, “Where the !@#& are the words?” That was the spark I needed to then ask, “What if someone wants to write a story (me), but literally can’t find words for it?” Once I had the idea I knew I had to present it in a different way and that’s when those sneaky little punctuation marks elbowed their way into the picture. The rest flowed out and was quite fun to create.

Patti: How did your early drafts differ from the final product?

Jodi: I always had the punctuation marks speaking as they act in a sentence, but the way they went about finding the words changed. I think it’s funnier now, especially with Exclamation Point’s role. I also experimented with dialogue tags and some narration, but it just didn’t work.

Patti: Writers love to hear about other writers’ success stories! Can you talk about your journey to publication? How did you connect with your editor and agent, and how did the contract ultimately come together?

Jodi: I say it all the time, the planets aligned (which happens roughly every 500 years) and I was offered a book deal. It goes like this, I won a critique from an author who read my story, offered some feedback, and asked if I would send it to her editor. I sent it and waited 2 ½ months with only one email upfront to say that the editor had received it. Figuring that it was a no I started querying it and then wouldn’t you know it, I opened my email and there was an offer from Albert Whitman! I reached out to the agents I had queried to let them know about the recent development and Linda Epstein emailed me back asking for more work. I was lucky enough to sign with her and she went right to work negotiating the contract with Albert Whitman. I’m very grateful for all of her help in that process.

Patti: We all need great resources to help us along on our writing journey. What are some of your favorite resources- groups, classes, website, blogs- and how do they continue to help you now?

Jodi: SCBWI is probably the greatest resource out there for children’s book writers and illustrators. They are a one-stop shop for finding what you need to write for kids and I would not be the writer I am today if I had not joined. Other online resources I found to be helpful was 12×12 which is open for registration now, Kidlit College offers some great webinars as does Children’s Book Academy, and Facebook groups such as Kidlit 411, Sub it Club, ReFoReMo, StoryStorm, and Agent/Editor Discussion are great for connecting with your peers and having any questions answered. I think continuing education is key to writing for today and tomorrow’s market. What kids need and want evolves so it’s always good to be on top of that and these resources are the best place to stay up to date.

Patti: I like to leave my readers with a nugget or two to think about at the end of each post- a little Sensibility and Sense for the road if you will:) What two pieces of advice would you give to other writers no matter where they are on the path to publication?


Sensibility- Jodi says. . .Let your emotions out. I say this with two scenarios in mind: 1. When writing, access your feelings and use them in your story’s voice or your character’s personality. This will make it feel authentic, a story that only you can write. 2. Writing and submitting can be awfully frustrating. Let yourself be angry, sad, anxious because that’s part of the journey. Go outside and chuck ice cubes at a wall (not a window!), scream into a pillow, ugly cry for a bit and then pick yourself back up and keep writing. Don’t keep those emotions in or they may hold you back from experiencing how rewarding writing is.

Sense- Jodi says. . .Connect with other writers. No one else will understand what you are doing better than people who are doing the same thing. The kid lit community is filled with the most enthusiastic, empathetic, supportive people that I have ever come across and the collective wisdom of the group is invaluable. If being part of a large group is not your thing, then find a small group. By this I mean, join a critique group either in person or online. You should not send a manuscript to an agent or editor without having it looked at by at least three people who can offer feedback. A critique group will provide you with that, but more importantly they will become your champions and friends. At least mine did :0)


Patti- That’s some great writing wisdom, Jodi! It’s been a privilege to be part of your journey. Now, did you want to say something about a FREE critique?

Jodi- I am happy to offer a FREE critique for a picture book manuscript of less than 700 words. Looking forward to reading your work!

Patti: Wow, that’s a generous offer! Let’s do it this way. . .the first 10 picture book writers to comment on this post will get your name in a drawing for a FREE picture book critique from Jodi! Please include your name and the words…I WANT THAT CRITIQUE… in your comment to be eligible!

And don’t forget, I’m offering a BOGO Picture Book Critique Special through the end of January! That means today you have TWO great chances to polish your work and get it ready to submit! So start those comments rolling and check out my offer by clicking the PGWRites Critiques tab above.

Thanks again, Jodi! And be sure to get your copy of WHERE ARE THE WORDS at your local independent bookseller or on Amazon today!

Aside

Happy New Year Picture Book Critique Special!

new-year-1929847_1280Happy New Year! I hope this post finds you and your families well and off to a great start to 2017. Wow, 2017! Seems odd to see that number in print, but here we are. It’s time for setting both goals and boundaries as we each dive into projects that make our hearts sing! So, in the spirit of this brand-spanking New Year, I want to offer a brand-spanking-new picture book critique special.

 

For the entire month of January (OK, I’m a little behind since one week has already passed! LOL) I’m offering two PGWRites picture book critiques for the price of one! That’s right…it’s a buy-one-get-one-free opportunity that typically only happens once each year.

So, if you’re ready to start this writing year off with a bang, save those last few changes on that manuscript you’ve been working on and send it in! Then, when you’re ready, you can send in another picture book manuscript for a second critique absolutely free (a $50.00 value)!

Just visit the PGWRites Critiques page and follow the instructions for payment and submitting your manuscript. It’s that easy! Hope to see lots of amazing stories in my inbox very soon!

Here’s to the best writing year ever!

Best,

Patti Richards


Sensibility– New years are for new beginnings. Dream big and take that important first step.

Sense– Set goals you can reach in a reasonable amount of time. Biting off too much in the first few weeks of the New Year can set you up for failure!


On deck for next week. . . an interview with newly-minted picture book author, Jodi McCay. She’s stopping by to tell us all about her new book, WHERE ARE THE WORDS. And she’s also offering a MS critique (double bonus!). You won’t want to miss it!

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Fabulous Halloween Reads from Penguin!

If you’re looking for some fun and spooky reads for your little (and not so little) ghosts and goblins this Halloween, check out this fabulous reading list from Penguin Random House!

 

Penguin Random House Halloween Reads for Kids

 

Happy Haunting, and Happy Reading!

Patti

Aside

A Thought for Monday. . .

I found this lovely quote today and wanted to share it with all of you!

 

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.”
—Virginia Woolf

 

Write large my friends. Write large-  Patti

 

And don’t forget my Back-to-School Critique special going on now!

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PGWRites Critiques Back-to-School Picture Book Special!

Happy fall everyone! I took a couple of months off from posting for some much-needed R & R, and enjoyed getting images (1)together with friends and family members over the summer. I hope you and yours spent time soaking up the summer sun and making some great memories! School started in my community the day after Labor Day, but I know many of you got started even earlier. I have a high-school senior this year and a college sophomore, so we’re buckling our seat belts for a great year of surprises and celebrations.

In the spirit of learning and getting back to work, I’m offering a back-to-school picture book critique special. From now through September 30th, participants will receive 25% off the regular price of a PGWRites Critique. That’s a $50 value for only $37.50!

Your personalized PGWRites picture book critique includes: 

  1. Line-by-line markup of your manuscript with edits and suggestions. (Using track changes)
  2. A one-page written critique with a detailed explanation of the manuscript mark-up.
  3. A list of the strengths/weaknesses of the manuscript from my perspective, as well as a list of guided questions to help with the revision process.
  4. Answers to your questions about the critique in one follow-up email.

That’s right! All of this for the low price of $37.50! Now that’s what I call a bargain.

Simply visit the PGWRites Critiques tab here at Sensibility and Sense and follow the instructions for payment/submission and in two to three weeks you’ll receive your completed critique!

So get those stories dusted off and sent in. I can’t wait to read your awesome picture book manuscripts!

Happy Writing!

Patti

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It’s a BOGO Picture Book Critique Special!

Hey, all you picture book writers out there!

shutterstock_367865831

Looking for a way to jump-start a summer writing project or take your current work-in-progress to the next level? Then I have a deal for you!

Starting Monday, June 13 through Friday, June 24, purchase one PGWRites Critique and you’ll receive a second critique of a different manuscript absolutely free! Yep, you heard it. Absolutely free!

How to Submit 

Simply click on the PGWRites Critiques tab above between June 13-24, follow the submission and payment instructions, and you’ll receive a second PB critique at no additional charge (a $50 value- good for up to one year).

!SHARING BONUS!  !SHARING BONUS!  !SHARING BONUS!

But wait, there’s more! Anyone who shares this post via Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Linked In by Noon on Friday (June 10) and sends me the link in an email with their PB submission gets a free “second look” on their paid picture book critique submission (a $25 value). So with the BOGO and the SHARE,  you’ll receive two picture book critiques plus one “second look” all for the low price of $50! Wow!

What’s so Special about a PGWRites Critique?

A PGWRites Critique goes above and beyond many picture book critiques by providing line edits, in-MS notes, a one-page explanation of those notes as well as a list of guiding questions for revision, all for the low price of $50. I’m so sure you’ll love my services that I’m throwing in an extra critique for free and a second look just for sharing this information with a friend.

So what are you waiting for? (Besides Monday, of course:) You’ve got just a few days to dust off that manuscript and get it ready for a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective! I’m looking forward to reading some great stories and helping make them even better!

Happy Writing!

Patti

Aside

Why I Love LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET

In an usual turn of events, the top U.S. prize in children’s literature, the Newbery Medal, recently went to a picture book! Unusual, because the Newbery focuses solely on the quality and message of a story and not the pictures. LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET, written by Matt De La Pena and illustrated by Christian Robinson (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers), is the story of a boy, CJ, and his Nana and the beauty, color and energy she helps him to see in the city around him. It’s a feast for the senses in both picture and story, as CJ’s eyes are opened to people and places he might not otherwise see if it weren’t for Nana’s wisdom and special way of looking at the world.

But how did this 760-word picture book (yes, I counted) manage to get the attention of the Newbery committee this year and come out on top? I would venture to say- not because I’m an expert, just a student of this genre who is always looking for reasons why to love a particular book- it’s the practically perfect and musical use of words and story-telling techniques that get the message of this piece across so clearly and vividly. Basically, you could hear this story read aloud with your eyes closed and still “see” what the author wanted you to see even without the pictures!

Now that’s not to say that the pictures are not equally as powerful to this piece as the words, but since we’re talking about the Newbery here, the story must work on its own.

But for those of us who write picture books, this honor sends somewhat of a mixed message (stay with me here, I’m getting to the point). In almost every workshop, class and seminar designed for picture book writers, we hear, “Leave room for the illustrator to tell the story through pictures,” “Don’t do the illustrator’s job,” “Don’t give away too much so the illustrator has room to create.” We hear it from editors, agents and even from other picture book authors. And all of those things are very true. However, in this case, Matt De La Pena writes a story that sings from beginning to end and does it so perfectly a reader might actually see exactly what the illustrator depicted even if he or she had never seen the pictures. That’s the power of his words and the magic that every writer/illustrator team hopes to achieve with a picture book.

For example, if you look on the very first pages you’ll read, “The outside air smelled like freedom, but it also smelled like rain, which freckled CJ’s shirt and dripped down his nose.” Did the author need to say the rain freckled CJ’s shirt and dripped down his nose? I mean, the illustrator could have just shown that instead. But having those words there, in my opinion, gave the illustrator complete freedom to set the rest of the stage. To put in the tree and the buildings and CJ and Nana walking down the steps of the church. To give the reader a true sense of place so that Nana and CJ’s story could continue, completely unhampered by the need to say more.

And each page does the same work. We read about Nana’s umbrella, and water pooling on flower petals and the bus creaking to a stop in front of them and sighing and sagging as the doors opened…absolutely beautiful and necessary words even though the pictures are also there to create an even richer environment in which the story can unfold.

Why does this excite me? Because I’m a lover of words. I love the music they make when they string together in just-right ways. I love the emotions they convey and the power they have to heal and hurt, teach and tease. I love the laughter they evoke and even the tears, because those things are real and in everyone and for everyone, no matter how young or old. Nana teaches these things to CJ while on their journey, and without her powerful words, guiding him at every step, he would not be able to draw the conclusions he draws about the world around him and the people in it. I want the stories I write to sing in this way, and the fact that this picture book received this well-deserved honor means there’s still room for people like me who like a story that works. Stories that work make room for pictures that make the story sing even louder and more beautifully.

So here’s to perfect picture books! LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET fits that description in every way.


Sensibility- Words have power. Use them to inform, enlighten and uplift rather than to tear down and destroy.

Sense- Take an honest look at your stories. Ask yourself if they work even without pictures, and make revisions accordingly.


 

What are some practically-perfect picture books you enjoy reading?

 

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