February 28, 2011

Picture Books In The Classroom

Get ready.  This is going to blow your whiskers back!

APRIL FOOL, PHYLLIS! IS HERE!!!  Woo-hoo!  *Cheers and throws confetti with reckless abandon!*

(Although, I don't actually have a copy yet... :))

AND, it gets even better!  The exceptionally knowledgeable and qualified Shannon Morgan has just completed Classroom Guides for April Fool, Phyllis! and they will be up on my website (for anyone who would like to download) hopefully by the end of today.  The timing couldn't be better because, as of this weekend, the book is available on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble and it should reach Indie bookstores of discerning taste this week :) (Holiday House, publisher of April Fool, Phyllis!, markets primarily to schools and libraries, so not all bookstores will carry it... unless you ask :))

What need have I of a classroom guide? you may ask.  Well, if you're not a teacher, a homeschooler, or possibly a daycare provider, you probably won't have much use for it - unless you have a hamster who likes educational bedding.

But if you ARE a teacher, a homeschooler, or a day care provider, what could be more fun than using picture books as a source of learning in your classroom?  And how better to do that than with a handy dandy guide that gives you a whole slew of ideas and resources on how you can incorporate the story into language arts, social studies, science, math, art etc. for your specific grade level?  Including content standards!

Some books lend themselves to curricula more readily than others.  April Fool, Phyllis! should be one of them.  There aren't that many picture books about April Fools' Day, and it's a fun holiday to explore with young readers.  In addition, it opens the gateway for discussions of weather, maps, and making maple syrup :) among other things.

Not to toot the horn of my own book (er, or something along those lines) but the classroom guides are really awesome.  (I'm allowed to say that because I didn't write them :))  I hope you'll all check them out and pass the word along to any teachers you may know.  It's like a gift - whole lessons already planned! - they may shower you with gratitude and offers to take you to dinner :)

For any of you who might be interested in creating classroom guides for your own picture (or other) books, I highly recommend Shannon!  She is a woman of many interests, so if you click on her link and see pictures of cute cats in cups, or recipes for amazing homemade bread, be assured you have not gone to the wrong place :)  Once the guides for April Fool, Phyllis! are up on my website, you'll be able to see examples of her fine work.

And now, as if all this wasn't exciting enough, Phyllis and I are off to the Big Apple - right this second! - to visit my niece's school and perform the debut reading of April Fool, Phyllis! (from the F&G because, like I said, I don't have an actual copy yet!)  There is a special surprise for my niece - the book is dedicated in part to her, because April First is her birthday :)

If we remember to take any pictures, I'll share them tomorrow :)  Wish us luck!

February 25, 2011

Mutton Busting and Another Award!

It's still February, still winter, and there's all kinds of ice, sleet, and freezing rain falling out of the sky.  Obviously, we need some amusement.  SO....

Today's post is not strictly about writing or really anything to do with it except maybe inspiration :) but it is amusing.

Everyone's heard of rodeos.  Most of us have probably been to at least one in our lifetime.  If so, you've seen bronc busting and bull riding.  But the other day my friend, Clare, told me about a new twist that just proves people will do anything!

Apparently, future bull and bronc riders have found a way to break into the game at an early age.

Mutton busting!

5 year old kids don helmets and protective vests (actually, they don't always - sometimes just a cowboy hat), grab onto the back of a sheep, and hang on for dear life!  Really, they're very determined.

If you don't believe me, check out this video:

I wish I'd known about this when I was 5.  It looks like fun... although maybe not for the sheep :)

So, like I said, not much to do with writing, but seriously, there has GOT to be a story in there somewhere!

And now, I am so honored to have received another blogging award from my new friend Alison over at Alison Pearce Stevens!  Isn't it nice?

As part of the award, I must list 7 things about me.  So...

1.  I love all animals, but horses and dogs are my favorite.
2.  I went on a roller coaster in Amsterdam when I was 7 and it cured me of EVER wanting to get on a roller coaster again!  ... but I love bumper cars :)
3.  My first car was a cream-colored Chevette Scooter named Rover.  (How many of you name your cars?  It's par for the course with me... after Rover came Skippy, then the Mouse Mobile, so named because mice were constantly nesting in the engine and it did NOT smell good!  My current car, as my devoted followers will already know, is called the Dog Mobile because really, part of my job description is chauffeur, and my dogs ride shotgun :))
4.  I love oatmeal raisin cookies and good chick flicks, separately or together :)
5.  I am a closet Grey's Anatomy fan - well, I guess not anymore!
6.  My favorite color is blue - any shade.  Yellow and pink are tied for second.
7.  If I could meet a celebrity from history, I would be very tempted to pick Man O' War or Secretariat, even though I know I should choose someone like Martin Luther King Jr.!

And now, I would like to pass this award on to some new blogging friends:

Becky at What's Your Thought On That
Kari Marie at Writing By Heart
E.J. Wesley at The Open Vein
L.A. Colvin at First Draft on Life, Literature and Lunacy
and really, this list could go on for a long time, so I'll stop there!

February 23, 2011

Beer is Zo Moe!

No, we're not starting the morning off with questionable beverages!  This is about a picture book :)

Or it will be, as soon as a little business is out of the way.  I have to start by confessing to my lie.  It was actually kind of a double lie: although I don't eat a lot of meat, I am not a vegetarian, and although I will do it when occasion dictates, I do not enjoy public speaking of any kind, not just about vegetarianism :)  Congrats to those who guessed!

So, about that picture book....

Although blond hair and blue eyes may be a tip-off to my Friesian heritage, I do not, in fact, speak Dutch.  So it may come as a surprise that I'm going to have a book published in The Netherlands this coming spring - in Dutch!  And it's not a book that was originally published in English and translated.  It's a first edition.  The title is Beer is Zo Moe! (or, for our English speaking audience, Bear Is So Tired!) and it is due out in May 2011 from Veltman Uitgevers.

How, you may ask, did I pull this one off?  Well, I'll tell you...

Nicole Rutten, the exceptionally talented illustrator of Not Yet Rose, was invited by a Dutch publisher who admired her work to submit a book.  It had to have both story and art, however, and she does not write.  So she asked me if I could provide the story.  I did, she translated it into Dutch, the publisher loved it, and the rest is history - or, maybe history-in-the-making since the book isn't actually out yet.

Putting a picture book together is a surprisingly long process.  (Those of you who write picture books already know this!)  I have had manuscripts sit on an editor's desk for as long as two years before she decides if she wants it or not.  Once the decision is made, you're still looking at anywhere from a year and half (if everything goes smoothly) to upwards of 4 years before your book is actually available for purchase.

Beer is Zo Moe! has actually come along very quickly.  From submission to publication (assuming it's released on time) it will have taken just about a year.  We are currently deciding on a cover.  This is the one we probably won't use, but it's fun to see anyway:

Want to see some more?  Well, okay.  You've twisted my arm :)  One more...

How cute is Little Bear?!

The story includes back matter about bears - The Bear Facts :) - so it has a useful educational component as well!

So how fun it that I can't read my own story?  It's pretty entertaining to try, though :)  Need a little amusement to break up your work day?  Try clicking on the bottom photo so it enlarges and see if you can read the story aloud!  Let me know how you make out!

February 21, 2011

First Challenge!

Okay, folks, this is exciting!  We are off and running with the first writer's platform building challenge today!  The winner will receive an awesome prize, and as you well know, I  am all in favor of prizes :)

As of the writing of this post, I have deliberately not read anyone else's challenge yet, because I didn't want to be influenced (or intimidated out of even trying!) so I'm really looking forward to reading them all once I've finished mine.  The rules state that we must include one secret, one lie, one interesting quirk, one annoying habit, one of our best character traits, one of our favorite things in the whole wide world, use the words bloviate, fuliguline, (yes, those are actual words and yes, I will have to look them up before I can use them!) blade and rabbit, and accomplish it all in 300 words or less in any writing form we choose!

Ready?  Go!

Susanna was not like the other rabbits.  She liked to get up at 5 AM, not 6 or 7.  She preferred the openness of the meadow to the safety and confinement of the briar patch.  She loved how blades of spring grass tickled her feet, like fuliguline down.  And while the other rabbits were quiet and kept to themselves, Susanna liked to hop up on the back porch steps of the farmhouse where the sun was warm, and bloviate at length about the merits of vegetarianism to anyone who would listen.  She spoke especially firmly about this to the dogs, a habit the other rabbits found bizarre.  Why would anyone talk to dogs?  The other rabbits figured that the reason she enjoyed public speaking and communing with dogs was because she was adopted.  No denying she was odd, but they were willing to overlook her eccentricities because she was loyal and kind and always quick to help when called upon.  Susanna loved her home and her family, but sometimes she felt her differences and couldn't help but wonder where she had come from, and how and why she had ended up here.  Still, she was a happy rabbit - how could she not be with all the good fortune bestowed upon her by not just one but four lucky rabbit's feet :)

There you go - and only 220 words - pretty good for the queen of long-windedness :)  Those of you who have read Punxsutawney Phyllis may recognize the familiarity of the opening lines :)

Now, here is the question:  I may have revealed something about myself that isn't strictly true (actually, of course I have, because the rules required one lie!)  Can you guess what it is?  The answer will be in my next post, but I will look forward to your guesses!  If you want to, feel free to try to guess the secret, too, and/or follow the guidelines listed above and submit your own list/paragraph/story/poem in the comments for us to enjoy and guess at if you're not already in the Crusader Challenge (because I know a bunch of my followers are very creative and not crusaders!)

So, see if you can guess and/or add your own attempt!

February 18, 2011

In The Pink! - A Winner and Some Good News!

One of my favorite things about blogging - aside from getting to talk with so many interesting people! - is getting to give prizes :)

Today, we have a winner in the PENNY LOVES PINK contest.  I'll give you a hint.  She (okay, all the entrants were shes, so not much hint so far!) said her favorite pink things were:

1. Laynie! (Even her sling is decorated in pink stickers!)
2. Grapefruit lip gloss from Bath and Body Works.
3. Strawberry Cake, which I made for Laynie's birthday. 
4. Pink cheeks! Is there anything cuter?
5. Flamingos. Call them tacky, but how can you hate anything that is naturally that pink!

Note the reference to the sling?  How fitting that the winner should be someone who can use a little pick-me-up this week :)  It turns out, the winner (well, actually her daughter) needs a little cheering from a broken collar bone, so isn't it nice we can help?

In case you haven't guessed yet, the winner is BECKY!  Come on down!  Please use the Email me button on the right hand side of the blog to let me know your address (so I can mail your prize) and how you'd like the book signed (so Cori can get it just right :))

Thanks to all the other contestants.  I really appreciate your enthusiasm.  I wish everyone could win, but alas - not possible.  For those who would still like a copy of PENNY or any of Cori's other books, please visit Cori Doerrfeld on Amazon.  And thanks again to Cori for such a terrific interview!

And now, for some other great news in the pink department:  April Fool, Phyllis! arrived in the warehouse on Wednesday!  Hurray!  *cheers and throws confetti*  This means that, once they get around to inventory and unpacking boxes, it should be available any time now.  So exciting!  Keep your eye on Merritt Book Store (likely to have it first), Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, and you could be among the first to have your very own copy :)

Here's a sneak peek :)

The Cover (OK, you've seen this before :))

Phyllis surveying Punxsutawney Hollow
illustration copyright Jeff Ebbeler 2011

illustration copyright Jeff Ebbeler 2011

Really, how cute is Phyllis :)
illustration copyright Jeff Ebbeler 2011

Okay.  That's all you get.  You have to go read the book to see the rest :)

Have a great weekend everybody!

February 17, 2011

How About A Writing Course?

Before we get involved in other things, let me take a second to remind you that the contest to win a signed copy of PENNY LOVES PINK is still open.  Please scroll down, read Cori's interview, and enter to win if you're interested.  You have until tomorrow (Friday Feb. 18) at 9 AM EST to enter, and it's a prize definitely worth winning!


I don't know about you, but I generally feel I need all the help I can get :)

When I go on school visits, and even teach writing workshops to kids, I always tell them that writing is a process.  Nobody gets it right the first time.  Revising and editing are part of the game.

Learning to write is also a process.  I'm sure there are lots of people out there who are truly masters of the craft, but I don't feel like I'm one of them just yet.  Although I have a number of books published, I still feel like I'm learning.  My writing can always get better.

Whether you're published already or not, if you feel like you have things to learn, or areas you could improve on, one great option is a writing course.

There are lots of them out there.  I can personally speak for those offered by the Institute of Children's Literature and Jordan Rosenfeld, both of which are available online.

If you'd like something more "real" (i.e. an actual physical class that you go to and see other people!) I can also highly recommend The ABCs of Writing or Children.  Here's the info if you're interested:

The ABCs of Writing for Children will be offered again at Merritt
Bookstore, Front Street, Millbrook, NY, on Tuesday afternoons from 1 – 3

Class will meet once a week for 6 weeks
Dates: April 5, April 12, (skipping April 19), April 26, May 3, May 10,
May 17

Karen Kaufman Orloff – ex-magazine editor and author of four picture books
PLEASE!) and a regular columnist for “The Poughkeepsie Journal”

Della Ross Ferreri: Author of two picture books (STAR OF THE SHOW, HOW
WILL I EVER SLEEP IN THIS BED?), and two beginning readers (PICNIC ON THE
SIDEWALK, HEY! YOU’RE EATING MY HOMEWORK!) plus numerous poems/articles in
children’s magazines

Class will cover:

• How to get ideas
• How to structure a story
• Writing in different genres, including rhyme
• Creating great characters
• First drafts and re-writing
• Writing effective query letters
• Submitting to publishers

In addition, there will be:

• Manuscript critiques
• In-class writing exercises
• Ample Q & A time

Small, intimate class setting. Informal atmosphere.


For more information, contact Karen ( 845-896-8038)

The only drawback with Karen and Della's class is that you have to live within driving distance of Millbrook, NY (or have a private jet - but I'm thinking most of us aren't quite there yet :))

Have any of you taken courses?  If so, please share them and tell us how your experience was and whether you'd recommend them!

February 16, 2011

Think Pink! Meet Cori Doerrfeld - Part 2

As if yesterday wasn't exciting enough, today there's more!  Read on for the rest of Cori's interview, and then... wait for it... a CONTEST!!!  You could win a free signed copy of Cori's new picture book PENNY LOVES PINK!

So, onward...

SLH:  PENNY LOVES PINK, your most recent title, is the first book you have both written and illustrated.  Was the process different for you?  Easier?  Harder?  What gave you the idea for the story?

CD:  PENNY LOVES PINK, will be the first book that I have both written and illustrated.  It was definitely different for me than other projects, and more difficult.  The main reason was because I cared so much about every detail, since my name was the only one appearing on the book.  It was also more personal when editors suggested big changes or wanted to tone down certain elements.  There were times when I wondered whose book it really was.  In the end however, the publisher has been so supportive and truly wants only the best for me as an illustrator and author.  I originally wrote the book in 2005.  I was working at a daycare, and I could  not believe how self-absorbed the two year olds could be.  Some of them literally lived in their own worlds, where the color of a shirt, or a certain stuffed animal decided the fate of the world.  The original book was called, Leah Loves Pink, inspired by a real little girl who would not potty train unless her toilet was pink.

SLH:  What are you working on now?  Do you have manuscripts out for consideration?

CD:  Right now I am currently working on new ideas for books. I have one book out for consideration, a dummy in progress, and a few ideas just simmering in my mind.  I will say that this stage is the most difficult for me.  It takes a lot of focus and energy to actually sit and take a blip of an idea to a fully formed dummy with sketches.  I also get distracted easily when a new idea occurs to me…it is hard to find time to work on them all!

SLH:  What are your inspirations?  Most difficult obstacles?

CD:  The majority of my inspiration comes from the kids I have known and cared for.  I was a toddler teacher and a nanny for several years.  It was always fun to see what ideas the kids really responded to, and of course to hear all the wacky little ideas and sayings they had themselves.  My own daughter is quite the inspiration at times.  She gave me one idea that I hope to get into dummy form sometime soon.  Other than that, there are the people who inspired me as a child, Jim Henson, Tim Burton, Chuck Jones, Bill Peet, Don Bluth, and the countless animators at both Warner Brothers and Disney. I spent a good part of my childhood wanting to be an animator, and animated films still influence and inspire me today.  As far as obstacles go, time is my greatest enemy.  I sometimes feel if I just had a tiny bit more time in each day, I could truly develop a masterpiece.

SLH:  Do you attend writers or illustrators conferences?  Enter writing contests?

CD:  I have never attended any conferences.  I really should find out how to become a part of my local illustrator/writing community.  I do have one friend who I meet with on a regular basis to brainstorm and share ideas.  And I once had the amazing pleasure to meet with some local greats including Caldecott Award winner, Stephen Gammell, and best selling illustrator, Derek Anderson.  The birth of my daughter prevented me from going to the next group meeting…and I never got back in touch with them.  The only contest I ever entered was to be the artist for The Minnesota State Fair Commemorative poster.  I didn't win this year, but someday I hope to make that poster.  I love our state fair!  

SLH:  (Hang on - this one has a lot of questions in it!)  What has been your best selling book so far?  Which book's sales (if any) did not do as well as expected?  Why do you think that might have been?  Were you surprised by one book's success over another's?  Have all your titles earned out?  Are they all still in print?  Have sales affected publishers' willingness to do further projects in a good or bad way?  (WHEW!)

CD:  This question is difficult to answer.  First off let me explain that the majority of my books were done under a work for hire contract, and therefore I earn no royalties whatsoever on those titles.  I currently have four books still on the market trying to earn royalties, and two more on the way.  The Brooke Shields books sold well enough I suppose, but I have been disappointed in the overall sales of the two books.  I earned one royalty check with the first, and nothing on the second.  The first book, Welcome to Your World, Baby! was picked up by a Korean publisher, so that has given me a little bit of hope.  Penny Loves Pink has only been out a month, and I honestly have no idea how well it is selling. I have been very nervous about the over-saturation of pink themed books, and worry that it will ultimately effect sales.  I think how well Penny does will influence whether or not Little Brown wants to do another book with me.  I am still waiting for my best seller.  It is definitely something I'd like to achieve, for my career and my bank account!

SLH:  Are you available for school visits?  What is your preferred age range and group size?  Do you have materials available for teachers and/or parents that go along with your books?

CD:  I  am available for school visits.  I taught preschool for many years, and I have also spoken to college level illustration classes.  I do prefer to either talk with young kids, the age group my books are created for, or college level kids who are interested in pursuing a career in art.  I would however be happy to speak to any class.  When I speak, I try to bring along sketches, proofs from the book, and fun examples of my art to help show my process.  I am also happy to prepare a project for the class, such as generating a story idea, or making a pink monster.  This can be done while I am visiting the class, or whenever the teacher has time.  

SLH:  What is your website, FB fan page, blog, twitter?

CD:  My website badly needs to be updated, but for now it's what I've got.  Please find me at and on Facebook as Cori Doerrfeld.  One of my other goals is to make more of an online presence, so hopefully I'll soon have a new website with a blog as well.

SLH:  Do you have any advice for beginning authors, illustrators or author/illustrators?

CD:  I truly feel that I myself am still beginning.  I know for me the biggest shock upon getting my first book, is how quickly you are expected to work.  I have typically had three to four months to complete an entire book from start to finish.  That includes sketches, revisions, finished art, and revised finished art.  It can be grueling at times, but ultimately it is worth it to have a job you love.  I would also say that you should truly just create what you enjoy.  Don't try to force an idea or painting.  Think of things that inspire you, that make you happy, and go from there.   You do need a bit of a tough skin, especially if your work is published.  Editors will want to change things, critics won't like you, and sometimes you have no money.  But I will say that there is nothing more satisfying than seeing your ideas in print.  

Thank you so much, Cori.  I have really enjoyed hearing your thoughts on all of this.  Thank you for sharing your experiences so generously.

And now.... the moment you've all been waiting for... THE CONTEST and your chance to win an awesome prize!!!

Here's what you have to do:

1.  Be a follower of this blog (bonus entry if you get someone else to follow the blog and tell me who it is :))
2.  Leave a comment telling why you would like to win PENNY LOVES PINK (or for whom) and listing your 5 favorite pink things!
3.  Make sure to leave your comment by Friday February 18, 9 AM EST because the winner will be announced on Friday's blog post!

That's it!  That's all you have to do.  Although, if you'd like to also share your thoughts on how awesome Cori is, or how much you love this blog and can't wait to read it every day, feel free to gush :)

February 15, 2011

Meet Cori Doerrfeld!

Okay, all you picture book fans.  Big excitement today!  Allow me to introduce you to Cori Doerrfeld, author/illustrator of PENNY LOVES PINK, as well as illustrator of 14 other books!

Cori has so many interesting things to share, that I am going to divide her interview between today and tomorrow.  At the end, there will be a contest, and the prize will be a free signed copy of PENNY LOVES PINK.  Woo-hoo!

Welcome, Cori, and thanks so much for joining us!  I am especially interested in talking to you because you do both writing and illustrating, so your approach to creating picture books comes from a whole different angle than mine does!

Cori Doerrfeld and devoted fan :)

SLH:  When did you first become interested in writing and illustrating?

CD:   As I child I was always creating something.  I would cut out paper animals and leaves and turn our family room into a jungle.  I would terrify my little sister with ghostly stories about the old mirror under her bed.  In school I was always recognized as the "kid who could draw" and fulfilled many requests for Ninja Turtles, Roger Rabbit, and Aladdin.  I was always eager to participate in the yearly "Young  Authors" competition, although I never won.  Many of my teachers, however, encouraged me to focus on my writing skills.  In high school I participated in a few competitions and I did win a full college scholarship based on a fantasy story I wrote.  Unfortunately, I did not attend that college…but instead went on to receive my BA from St. Olaf College.  I focused solely on my art while I was there, and really didn't come back to the idea of writing and illustrating until about 8 years ago.  The short answer: writing and illustrating have always been a part of my life in some form or another.
One of Cori's early drawings!

SLH:  Which came first for you - writing or illustrating?  Does one help you with the other?

CD:  Drawing has always been the number one way I spend my free time.  I drew everything as a child, from unicorns to portraits of Jack Nicholson.  As mentioned above, I wrote for school, and enjoyed doing it, but art has always been my main passion.  Professionally, I also find myself more in the realm of illustrator than author.  I was first hired to work on books as an illustrator, and I am just now getting the chance to prove if I can juggle both roles.  When I write, I often think in imagery, almost like a storyboard reel for a film.  Most of my stories emerge from random sketches and doodles.  I often thumbnail an entire book, and then go back to create text for each page.

Another early drawing
SLH:  What is your typical work day like?  How do you find time to write while being a mom?  Any particular rituals that help you get into work, or do you have a favorite time of day to work?

CD:  My typical work day is anything but typical.  I am for now, a mom first.  My husband also takes on freelance work…so I have to factor that into my work time as well.  The best solution we have come up with is simply trading off evenings and weekend days.  When it is my night to work, I try to get down to my studio as quickly as I can after dinner.  I usually pick a podcast or playlist of music to listen to, and get right to work.  When you have limited time, there are few seconds to spend on ritual or sometimes even making sure your work space is clean!  I literally take a seat, and get to work!  My favorite time to work is late morning, which I only get once a week for now.  Luckily, I do not have any other jobs to compete with my time, but I would love to find something part time at some point for a more stable source of income. 

Cori's studio

SLH:  What was your first published children's book?

CD:  The first children's book I ever worked on was called, "Ticktock: Time Nursery Rhymes".  It was published through a local educational publisher called Picture Window Books.  I believe it came out in 2007.  Since that first book I have illustrated nine more titles with Picture Window Books, two with Harper Collins, three with Little Brown, and one with Dial Books for Young Readers to make a grand total of fifteen books!

SLH:  Do you work for one publisher or multiple publishers?  If multiple, do you find the different houses different to work for?

CD:  As I mentioned above, I have worked with several different publishers…and they are all their own unique experience.  Picture Window Books is a smaller, local publisher so they really gave me total freedom with my art and layouts.  The bigger publishers, however get far more involved….which has been both good and bad.  Some of my most challenging experiences were while working on the Brooke Shields books.  I had to not only please my editors, but Brooke also got to personally approve each drawing…even though I never directly heard from her!  It has been interesting working with different publishers.  Some have been very laid back and fun to work with, while others are more passive aggressive and controlling.  The biggest issues I have ever run into, have been over time.  It is so frustrating when you work so hard to stay on schedule, only for things to get tied up and dragged out on the publishers end.  Overall, I have truly enjoyed working with the editors and staff at each publisher…every book is it's own adventure!  

SLH:  What is your process when you receive a manuscript?  How do you evaluate whether you think it's a manuscript you can illustrate?  Have you ever turned a manuscript down?

CD:  First,  I have never turned down a manuscript…although if a story didn't seem like a good fit, I would consider passing.  Usually a publisher will email me a manuscript roughly broken up according to spreads.  I always start with thumbnails, quick rough little drawings that try to capture the basic shapes and layout of each page.  From there I move on to rough sketches.  I always scan all of my sketches, clean them up and play around with them in Photoshop, and then I actually layout the book myself with text in Indesign.  This truly gives me an instant feel for how the book will look.  I also do color roughs in Photoshop, so all my colors are planned out before I paint.  I send PDF's of the book all laid out to the editors, and if they approve the sketch, I go ahead and paint the final! 

SLH:  What is your medium of choice?  Do you always illustrate in watercolor, for example, or do you use different approaches for different books?

CD:  Most of my books have been created with acrylic paint.  I have done a few books digitally, but my medium of choice is acrylic.  I paint on Bristol paper, with no prep layer.  I have dabbled in pastels as well…but the dust drives me crazy!  I would love to explore other ways of using paint, or perhaps some pencil or ink…but I find that the more work I do, the more anal I become.  And there is nothing more satisfying, then just instantly painting over a mistake when you're using acrylic paint! 

SLH:  You have illustrated books for a celebrity (Brooke Shields).  Was that process different in any way from your other projects?  Were there special requirements because you were working on a celeb book?  Did you ever actually communicate with Brooke in any way?

CD:  I briefly touched on the celebrity book experience above.  The two books I illustrated for Brooke Shields did involve several unique factors and challenges.  Brooke was very involved, taking the time to go over all my artwork.  She communicated with me through my editors.  I never received one email, note, autograph, or personal thank you from Brooke.  Although when I was struggling to complete the work on the second book after the birth of my first child, they did send me a copy of her book on postpartum depression.  The biggest challenge on the celebrity books was the time crunch.  These books were done very quickly, with barely seconds of wiggle room.  I pulled my first all nighters since college!  

Well, I don't know about you all, but I find Cori's process and experience fascinating!  I hope you'll all join me tomorrow for the second half of Cori's interview and the contest to win her book!  And if any of you have questions for Cori, post them in the comments and we may be able to include answers in tomorrow's post!

February 14, 2011

Happy Valentines Day!

Happy Valentines Day, Everyone!

I hope you all have someone to celebrate love in your life with, whether a spouse/significant other or a feisty groundhog (Phyllis will find a way to get mentioned as often as possible!)  I also hope that you will have the opportunity to over-indulge in chocolate today because really, why not :)

Since Valentines Day is about love, I thought I'd take a moment to mention a few of the things I love about being a children's writer.

I love that it has let me stay home with my children.

I love that it's creative - every day brings something new.

I love that it offers me the chance to visit schools, share my passion for writing, and meet the people I write for.

I love being part of the writing community - so many interesting, talented, creative, wonderful people!

And I love sharing the writing experience in the blogosphere, and look forward to hearing your thoughts on writing, parenting, teaching, and the world of children's literature each day.

Here a few Valentines children's picture books I love (for your enjoyment if you haven't read them yet!):

The Ballad of Valentine by Alison Jackson
Slugs In Love by Susan Pearson
Love, Ruby Valentine by Laurie Friedman
Love, Splat by Rob Scotten
Henry In Love by Peter McCarty (not, strictly speaking, a Valentine book, but so cute!)

But wait a minute!  What's this?

Who is that handsome stranger?
And what is he doing with Phyllis?

Do you think Phyllis has a secret admirer???  We'll have to keep an eye on that situation...!

Have a wonderful Valentines Day everyone! and please join in the comments with your favorite Valentines books, groundhog love stories, or anything else that tickles your fancy on this love-ly day :)  Oh, and in keeping with the pink theme of the week, don't forget our Meet Cori Doerffeld post coming up in the next couple of days, with an opportunity to win her new picture book, PENNY LOVES PINK!

February 11, 2011

And The Winner of I WANNA NEW ROOM Is...!

Holy Home Renovations, Batman!  9 AM - the moment we've all been waiting for!  Time to select the winner of Karen Orloff's new picture book, I WANNA NEW ROOM.  I hope you're all a-twitter with excitement.  I know I am!

And now...

The entries:

My lovely assistant (still wearing her crown...!)

My lovely assistant, balancing her crown and choosing a winner whilst I provide photographic documentation with my other hand - no mean feat let me assure you!

And the winner is.............................................


Congratulations, Theresa!  To collect your prize, please email me using the "EMAIL ME" button on the right-hand side of the blog.  If you could give me your address (so I can mail your prize) and tell me who you'd like the book signed to and if there's anything special you'd like it to say (so I can tell Karen) that would be great.  If you can do it ASAP since I'm meeting Karen for lunch :) so she can sign the book that would be even better!

Thank you so much to everyone else who entered!  I'm sorry there couldn't be prizes for all, but if you didn't win this time, you'll have another chance next week.  Cori Doerffeld will be visiting.  Her interview is really interesting.  I'm so looking forward to sharing it with you.  And she will be giving away a signed copy of her new picture book, PENNY LOVES PINK, which looks terrific!

Have a great weekend everyone!

February 10, 2011

A School Visit With Chocolate And A Tiara On Top!

First things first:  yesterday's contest for a free, personalized signed copy of Karen Orloff's new picture book, I WANNA NEW ROOM, is still open.  Check yesterday's post.  Meet Karen.  Enter to win :)


One of the things I love about writing for children is getting the chance to visit local schools and share my stories with the people I wrote them for.

Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting a local pre-school.  I was supposed to go last week on Groundhog Day but we got snowed out and had to reschedule.  That's been happening a lot lately... I think I'd best send Phyllis to have a word with the Weather Man!

Luckily, the sun was shining yesterday (even though it was zero!) so Phyllis and I were able to make our way to Millbrook Community Preschool.

Imagine Phyllis's surprise and delight when she discovered that the children had presents for her!

They made her a tiara which says "Phyllis" on one side and "Queen Groundhog" on the other!

Here.  She will model it for you...

I hope you can see how sparkly it is, and how exceptionally beautiful she looks even though I know the print is too small to read.

Wait.  Maybe we can get closer up...

That's better!  Is that gorgeous or what?!  Phyllis refused to take it off (which is why she was wearing it with her scarf as we were leaving.)  She asked me specially to tell all the kids at MCP that she slept in it last night and she is quite certain that it was responsible for her wonderful dreams in which it was already spring :)  She is also fairly certain that when she sings with it on, her voice is even more beautiful... if that's possible!

As if a sparkly tiara weren't enough, the children also presented her with a bar of dark chocolate, which was their best guess as to what her favorite food would be.  She wishes them to know it was simply scrumptious... and yes, she brushed her teeth after... all 30 of them :)

Here she is with her chocolate (it's pretty hard to see because it's wrapped in purple, but she's holding it on her paws)
Good thing we took the picture when we did... that chocolate is nothing but a happy memory now :)

We had a wonderful time as we always do at MCP.  In case any of you happen to be in the market for a local preschool, I highly recommend it.  It is run by Diane Schnoor (who also happens to look simply smashing in a tiara.  She and Phyllis may be twins separated at birth... who can tell?)

And now, Phyllis and I are off to Sophie Finn Elementary School where, even though there will be lots more kids, they're going to have to work pretty hard to come up with anything as wonderful as a sparkly tiara and a bar of dark chocolate :)

Don't forget - entries are still open in yesterday's contest!  Scroll down and read about Karen Orloff and enter to win a copy of her new picture book!

February 9, 2011

Meet Karen Orloff!

At last!  The big day is here!
Today I am thrilled to introduce you all to Karen Orloff!  Not only will you get to meet her, but at the end there will be a contest and you could be the lucky winner of a signed copy of I WANNA NEW ROOM!

Karen is an ex-magazine editor, currently  the author of four picture books:  I WANNA IGUANA, IF MOM HAD THREE ARMS, I WANNA NEW ROOM, and the forthcoming TALK, OSCAR, PLEASE!  She also writes two columns for The Poughkeepsie Journal and teaches classes for adults interested in writing for children at Merritt Books in Millbrook, NY. 

Welcome, Karen!  Thank you so much for joining us this morning!

SLH:  How did you get interested in writing for children?

KKO:  When I left my full-time editing job to be a stay-at-home mom, I naturally got interested in children’s books. Since I’ve always loved to write, I thought I could try to do that! Of course, it was easier said than done.

SLH:  What made you choose picture books?

KKO:  When I first started, I had no idea I could write picture books, since I wasn’t an illustrator. So I wrote a middle-grade novel! I got some nice feedback from a couple of publishers but it was ultimately rejected. Discouraged (I also hadn’t yet learned about resilience!) I shelved it. A couple of years later, I went to a conference and discovered I didn’t have to be an artist to write picture books after all! That freed me up to work on stories for younger kids.

SLH:  How did you get your ideas for I WANNA IGUANA, IF MOM HAD THREE ARMS, and I WANNA NEW ROOM?

KKO:  The iguana book came from my real life situation: My kids wanted a dog and we had allergy issues. So we opted for iguanas, something I wasn’t exactly warmed up to. The idea of the letters just sort of popped in my head as a cute format. And I walked around with the title “I Wanna Iguana” on my tongue for weeks before I actually wrote anything down. The companion book, “I Wanna New Room” went through many transitions before I got it right. I knew I wanted to do some sort of sequel but the actual story was hard to pinpoint. When my editor, Susan Kochan, said some eye-opening words – “It doesn’t have to necessarily be about the iguana – you can put Alex into another situation where he wants something” – all of a sudden, I had lots of new ideas. Of course, it still took a while to come up with the idea of having a new baby in the house, forcing Alex out of his room. In one draft, I had Alex asking for a new bike. Susan finally liked the brother dynamic of I Wanna New Room the best.

As far as If Mom Had Three Arms – I think this just came out of the
fact that I was a busy mom. I mean, what mom wouldn’t love to have an
extra arm to do more things?

My newest book, "Talk, Oscar,Please!" (Sterling, to be released March 1, 2011) probably came out of my relationship with Bailey, our dog.  Yes, we did finally get a dog and no one is allergic to her, thank goodness!

SLH:  What (if anything) do you wish teachers, librarians and/or parents knew about writing for children and/or do you have any advice for beginning writers?

KKO:  People are always surprised to know that my books are not always published by the same publisher. They want to know why I’ve “switched.” I tell them I didn’t switch, but for whatever reason, my first editor passed on a manuscript and so I tried to sell it to others. They don’t realize that having one book with an editor doesn't mean every single thing you write after that will get published! It’s that whole perception that writing for kids and getting published is easy that drives me crazy! It’s a struggle. There are many reasons why manuscripts get rejected. It may be too similar a story to something already out there, it might be too “slight” to be worthy of the investment of a picture book, it might just not be that particular editor’s taste, etc. I always tell new writers that you must be persistent! Getting a few rejections is nothing! It’s all part of the process. It actually makes your writing stronger. You must have a thick skin and keep on going if you want to get published in this tough market.
It literally took me ten years of writing, going to classes, attending workshops and conferences, sharing my work with critique groups, and revising my stories over and over before I got my first acceptance. After that, it gets a little easier because you’ve learned so much about your craft. But you are always still learning, still improving, etc. You’ve got to just keep with it!

Thank you so much, Karen!

If anyone is interested in learning more about Karen, her books, and her classes on writing for children, please visit her website.  Her books are available on Amazon, but if you'd like signed copies you can order from Merritt Book Store! (search Karen Orloff or her book titles)
And now, for the CONTEST!  I'm going to make this one easy for you :)
If you'd like to win a personally signed copy of I WANNA NEW ROOM, all you have to do is:
1) be a follower of this blog, and 
2) leave a comment about why you'd like a copy of the book
on this post by Friday, Feb. 12 at 9 AM which is when I will conduct a random drawing for a winner!
Good Luck!

February 8, 2011

Life Is Good - Blog Award!

I received my first ever blog award today from Megan Bickel over at The Write-At-Home-Mom.  Thank you so much, Megan!  I am honored!

Megan's blog is interesting and inspiring, and always fun to read.  Her posts are wonderful for both parents and writers.  If you haven't visited her blog before, I highly recommend it.  (You might notice it's listed in the sidebar under Blogs I Love To Read!)  She is friendly and enthusiastic and always full of good ideas!

The requirements for the award are to link to the giver (see above :)), tell a little something about yourself, and then pass it on.

So, something about me...  Well, to start with, if you could see my summer wardrobe you'd quickly note that about half of it actually says "Life Is Good!"  I'm definitely a glass is half-full type, but it's not hard because I have so many wonderful things in my life to be grateful for.  Like anyone, I have days that are difficult or discouraging, but for the most part, life really is good.  On my blog, I hope to make my readers' days a little brighter in some small way, whether by sharing information they might find interesting/useful, or by finding humor in the sometimes frustrating writing life, and by encouraging my readers to feel like a part of a friendly community.  I hope it works :)

And now, I'd like to pass the award on to a writer I think gets the "Life Is Good" philosophy :)

February 7, 2011

Writer's Platform Building Crusade!

Writers, as a group, are an amazing bunch.

They are always coming up with creative ideas.  They are generous about sharing their ideas, which makes the writing community a great one to belong to.

Rachael Harrie over at Rach Writes had a wonderful idea for linking writers together.  She calls it the Writer's Platform Building Crusade, and this is its second year.  It's a way for writer's to support each other - helping others and helping themselves at the same time.

Let's face it, writing is a tough business, especially now.  As Rachael rightly points out, we can all use a little support :)  If you're interested in being part of the Crusade, here's the link:

Writer's Platform Building Crusade

I hope you'll join in.  I'm really looking forward to meeting other writers and reading their blogs.

And now, an update on the Picture Book Marathon....

I got off to a good start on days one and two, but have fallen behind - a bit too much going on! (although luckily there was a lot of birthday cake involved :))  I'm going to do my best to catch up this week, though!  Wish me luck and send inspiration my way :)

And don't forget - guest post with Karen Orloff coming up, probably tomorrow or Wednesday!  Get ready to enter a contest for a free signed copy of her latest book, I WANNA NEW ROOM!

OK.  Enough chit-chat.  Time to get to work!!!

February 4, 2011

How To Find A Good Book: Children's Book Review Blogs

What a great week of celebration!

Phyllis would like to wind it up by saying she just found out that Elmo from Sesame Street has the same birthday she does!  Imagine, 2 such celebrities sharing the same birthday!

Lest you be in danger of falling into a funk now that National Phyllis Week is ending, let me hasten to cheer you with good news.  Next week, we will have a distinguished guest!  None other that Karen Orloff, author of I WANNA IGUANA, IF MOM HAD THREE ARMS, the recently released I WANNA NEW ROOM, and the upcoming TALK OSCAR, PLEASE!  Not only will you get to meet her, but we'll be giving away a free signed copy of I WANNA NEW ROOM to the winner of whatever contest we come up with :)  (Feel free to make suggestions.  Otherwise, you'll just have to live with whatever I dream up...)

The following week (because I don't want to over-excite you by putting too much good stuff in one week!) Cori Doerrfeld, the talented author/illustrator will be visiting.  You will have a chance to win a free signed copy of her newest book, PENNY LOVES PINK.  (Of course, since you're here, you'll have to play to win :))

Now, on to today's topic...

Many of my posts so far have focused on writing.  Today I'd like to favor the teachers, librarians, parents, and other readers in our midst.  Since it's Friday, you might have a little free time over the weekend to enjoy what I have to share.

The world of children's books is a truly wonderful one!  There are so many talented authors and illustrators, and so many fabulous books.

But sometimes there are so many good books that the choice can be overwhelming.  How do you choose a book that might be just right for bedtime, library story time, or your classroom?

Certainly your children themselves are a good guide - they will reach for things that interest them.  Word of mouth is also great - your friends and colleagues will always have recommendations.  But what if you're looking for a book on a specific topic?  How do you find one?  How do you know if it's worth the trip to the library, or the price at the bookstore?

One option is to look at Children's Book Review Blogs.  Here are a few terrific ones:

Children's Book Browser
Going on a Book Hunt
The Reading Tub
A Fuse #8 Production
A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Enjoy!  I hope you find something great to read :)
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