Monday, March 26, 2012

Who Are You Writing For?

by Susan Berger
As a child, I loved to read, but I rarely wanted to read award winning books. They were books grownups thought I should enjoy.   They didn’t feel like they were written for me. 

Now I am a grownup and a writer and I still love to read kids’ books.  Sometimes I don’t know whether it’s the grown up in me that likes the book or my inner self which never did grow up.
For example: In January I checked out a book from The Kailua library – that’s right, I was in Hawaii -  called The Cheshire Cheese Cat, A Dickens of a Tale   It was on the 2011 Cybil’s finalist list for midgrade Fantasy/ sciencefiction.

I loved it.  But I couldn’t figure out whether it was my grownup self who love it or my kid self.  I checked the front of the book. (Kailua library still stamps due dates on the inside cover.) I was the second person to have read the book.  My grownup self loved that book.  So did the Cybil judges.  It was a winner.
 Then I picked up two picture books highly recommended by the Librarian: 
ThirteenWords, by Lemony Snicket
Oh migosh, you have to read this book!

Ten Birds by Michelle Young 
Really clever.

I loved them both, but I wasn’t sure whether kids would love them as much as I did.  I took them out and read them to five year old Livy and eight year Ka’ula.  Neither girl asked to have them read a second time.  I asked if they thought they were funny.  They each said, "Yes."  Neither of them looked amused. Both immediately reached for another book.
Then there was Lane Smith’s It’s a Book.
I thought it was hilarious, but I couldn’t get any of the kids I read to interested in it.  They nodded and said, "Next."

On the other hand, when I read them Rhyming Dust Bunnies  They wanted to read it again....and again.

The question which surfaced in my mind, was who are the authors writing for?  Who am I writing for?  I am sure we are all trying to keep our audience in mind, but are we managing it? 
I think the minds of the children I know and the minds of those voting on the prestigious awards don’t seem to have a lot in common.

Here is the list of the Newbery Award Winners 2012-1922
I don’t see Judy Blume on there. I see one Beverly Cleary. I see Gary Pausen’s Hatchet. That was one of my son’s favorites. How many of these books did you read as a child?

Here is the list of Caldecott Winners from 1938 -2012
I own a few of these. How many of these have stood the test of time in your house? I notice Dr Seuss and Margaret Wise Brown are not listed, nor do I see Mo Willems.

Then I looked through the books nominated for the 2012 Nene Awards

I don't think many of these titles are on any prestigious award list.  But kids are reading these books.
Here are  the NY times best seller lists from March 25, 2012:

Here is this year’s Cybil finalist list .   I've read a few of these:

Just Grace and the Double Surprise.

Clementine and Just Grace are very popular with the 6-8 set and deservedly so. My inner kid and my grownup self loved these.

I think the grown up in me liked this one. I don’t think it will be a favorite with kids.  It seemed "teachy."

Warp Speed satisfied my inner geek and I will reread this. 
Finally here are the Cybil Winners for 2011 
I plan to read a few more on the Cybil list. I may or may not dip into the NY Times list. The NY Times and I rarely like the same things.
So my questions to you are:
As a parent, how do you choose your children’s books?
As a writer, who are you writing for?  When we labor over our wondrous first paragraph, whom are we trying to impress?  The editor? The agent?  Our target audience??
Tell me what do you think?
Disclaimer: I used Amazon links because I can find the pictures and titles in the same place which makes it easier to do the linking.  All of these books are available at your Independent book stores  or at your local library.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Writer’s To-Do List

by Kris Kahrs

The editors here at The Pen and Ink Blog, knowing that this intrepid reporter is a hale and hearty veteran of the war on organization, approached me and asked for an informative piece for all of our SCBWI compadres in arms out there who are looking for a sane way to get through their next NA-NO-NI-NA-NI marathon.  They know how hard it is to keep organized when you’ve got 5 manuscripts on your desk, all in varying stages of completion, and so much laundry that you need a Sherpa guide to find your bed, and a 20-lb. desk cat on your lap, who is not going anywhere until he gets another can of frisky delish.

This is not that piece.  Instead, I thought I would share my own writer’s To-Do list from yesterday, in the hopes that it will inspire Martha-Stewart-like urges of compulsive neatness and neurotic arranging of your socks in a hand painted egg carton.   In the luxurious two minutes I had while brushing my teeth this morning, I located my To-Do List safely tucked away under said 20-lb. desk cat who needs glasses and thought I would share with you all.  Prepare to be amazed.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

We Interrupt This Post...

... for a Special Bulletin. The deadline for the The Pen And Ink Blog: Illustrative Story Contest is Friday, March 23rd.

"What?" you protest, "Only one week left! That's not enough time to write a paragraph inspired by this illustration by Catherine Lee."

Well, get on it.

March 23rd. Submit to
Resistance is Futile

This has been a Special Bulletin from The Management. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Writing in the Copy Room
Moms and Other Parental Figures Who Write While Making Copies at the Kids’ School


by Hilde Garcia 

8:00 am, Thursday, Franklin Elementary.
Kids dropped off and I pop into the copy room to make quick class set of copies for my next lesson. Instead I walk into a party of moms.

“SO, I need three sets of 25.”

“Can you get that report to me before the PTA meeting?” Another mom says.

“I can volunteer tomorrow at lunch if you need me.” 

I think that was aimed at me since I coordinate groom reps.

“Did you finish checking the translation I emailed you last night?” I say as I put the stack of paper on the counter.

“Copies are ready, who needs the machine?” My friend Judy bellows from behind the copy machine.

“I need coffee… anyone want to make a Starbucks coffee?  I’m buying.” That mom just became a saint.

Cash flies out of purses and backpacks faster than the copies spit out of the copy machine.  Orders are given, and the brave mom who volunteered to do a coffee run disappears. Finally, mojo in hand, we all settle into a nice work rhythm as we finish the copies, laminating, paper cutting and sorting of the endless administrative and educational duties teachers have these days.

“Hey, what’s that?”  Another mom named Maggy notices in my pile.

“Oh, those are pages I’m workin’ on for my critique group tonight.”

“Get outta here.  You’re a writer?  How cool!  Me too.”

Of all the copy joints in town, she had to walk into mine.  “No kidding.  What do you write?” 

“Picture books.  And you?”


10:00 am. It’s still Thursday.
The copies are done and the coffee is gone.  I’m not a coffee person, so I down three mini Kit Kats, two Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and bag of M & M’s - my choice of poison.

The morning flies by with copies and conversation, writing tips and how to start your own critique group.  We discuss professional organizations like SCBWI and how to network.

What really surprises me is how many of these Writer Moms in Disguise (and Dads), I found in that copy room.

April 2011.
A cool mom named Denise and I figured out we both wrote young adult.  Our kids were already fast friends in Kinder and it seemed Denise, and I were on that same path.  We ended up attending the LA Writer’s Day. And when in line at school to pick up our kids, we also met John, a dad in our class who wrote a bilingual picture book, which will soon hit the shelves.  He joined my critique group and I at the SCBWI summer conference.

October, 2011.
I met Maggy in the copy room and we talked of how to start a critique group. We had a mutual admiration for each other as we counted out sets of 25 copies for each of the 20 classrooms at our school.

But what really surprised me was my encounter at a flag football game this past fall.  A mom said, “I know you!  You were at the LA summer conference this year. I recognized your name on the team’s roster.”  Now, there were 1300 people at that conference, so it was impressive that she remembered me.  I felt a bit famous.  The mom, Rosalind, and I then attended a Writer 2 Writer event at the Flintridge Bookstore on Poetry the very next month. 

Networking never ceases to amaze me.

January, 2012.
Clearly between the dishes and the diapers and the endless laundry and practices we take our kids to, we moms do write (and dad’s too).

It might take longer than usual to get a final draft and require several printings to ensure that there aren’t food traces on the draft paper, but we eventually do it and submit it and get published.  I think in today’s world of under supported education where parents have to fundraise, make copies, and volunteer like paid professionals in their kids’ school, it’s a miracle parents get any writing done at all. 

When my kids were infants, I longed for the day they would go to school so I could have “me time”.  Well, it turned into “I need to do this for them time.”  “Me time” is whenever and however I can get it.

My friends in the copy room reaffirmed my desire to write, gave me positive encouragement that I can do it, and often took the stack of copies off of my hands so I could go and hide in the book room to write.

I return the favor, or at least provide endless coffee and chocolate and my experience as a writer mom.

Today, 2012.
I walk into the copy room like any other usual Thursday morning and the same old crew is there, working busily at smashing crayons, laminating words or cutting out shapes.  I plop down my copies and we all pick up where we had left off the last time.  But today, the conversation wasn't about writing, it was about sex.

But that’s a whole other blog post!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Peter H. Reynolds In Conversation

Peter H. Reynolds
by Catherine Lee

The first book of illustrations that I ran into at Barnes and Noble was "Someday" by Alison McGhee and indeed it was profound and powerful. I admired the works so much that I purchased the book. Can you tell me how you make the impact in your illustrations so powerful?
Alison's text was a poem with a mission. As soon as I read it, I could hear the sighs, the tears splashing around the world. The same emotion people feel reading Someday is what I felt as I illustrated the book. I have experienced loss and channeled that into my art. 

Your style is very mild and soft, and the images are lined very non-textual, yet they have such a unique embrace. 
I subscribe to the "less is more" philosophy. Only the lines needed to convey the essence of the story are needed. 

Did this take long to develop? 
When I was about 25 I found a mentor, Aldo Servino. He was twice my age and pushed me to be less careful. At first it was a shock. All these years of art school trying to "perfect" my technique and here comes a guys who tells me to be less perfect. We had to paint 17 murals together on a very tight schedule. Through that experience, I was jolted into a much freer space. I plan on writing a book about some of the specific things he said and did to help relax and allow loose lines to spring out without worry.

Your work is watercolor-based? Do you blend other mediums?
Watercolor is a great medium for me. It is always at the ready no matter where I go. However, I am not averse to using technology. My recent collaboration with Amy Krouse Rosenthal "PLANT A KISS" was all done on my Mac using Adobe Flash. I'd like to do some books with NO color - just done with my Sharpie extra-fine. I also love the "China Marker." Would love to do a book with that someday.

You said that you had been doodling and drawing since you were a little child. Did you know already then that that is what you wanted to be doing? Do you have an art educational background? 
I have indeed been drawing since I was old enough to hold a crayon. I fell in love with making markers and never stopped. My art education has happened over the last fifty years. While I have taken courses, my best research and learning comes from working with children directly.

Can you tell us a little more about, a company that you created with your twin brother, Paul? 
FableVision is an amazing studio perched above the Boston Children's Museum overlooking the beautiful harbor. FableVision is a trans-media studio meaning that we develop everything from no-tech to high-tech - from books to mobile apps for organizations needing their message, story, content to be shared. Jim Henson Productions, The National Archives, The National Fire Protection Agency are just a few of our clients. The bulk of what we do now is web and mobile app development. We love technology, but we know that learning is blended. It might be a combination of a book, a game, a mobile app - and the element so may forget in this day of hi-tech blur - the human element. We actively design with that in mind.

When was it created, and why did you feel the need to create the company, or was it something that you just wanted to do? 
FableVision was created in 1996 with my twin brother. We had a particular vision of what we wanted to do - as we say "stories that matter, stories that move." We wanted to focus on non-violent, meaningful media for all ages - not just children. Most other companies seemed to have a narrow focus. We felt that FableVision was a company that had to be created.

Is you twin brother a writer or illustrator too? 
Paul is a great writer and artist, although he has been busy building our studio and not doing as much as I think he should in the creative writing and art arena. I have been nudging him along!

Does he have anything published as well?
Paul soon will be published. Simon & Schuster will be publishing a book called "Above & Beyond" which encourages us all to go beyond just what is expected. He also wrote a book called "Sydney & Symon" about twins who are aspiring scientists, but also artists and creative thinkers. I have the honor of illustrating both books. 

Are you repped by anyone right now? If not, would you like to be repped?
I have the best agency in the world: Pippin Properties. I am biased, but Holly McGhee, founder of Pippin, happens to have done amazing things for me in the past decade, as well as my fellow "Pips" - David Small, Kate DiCamillo, Jef Kaminsky, Harry Bliss, Doreen Cronin, George Booth among others. 

Can you tell us a little more about the school visits that you do? 
I don't do many school visits these days as I am always busy with new book and film projects, but when I DO - I adore the whole process. Typically I'll read The Dot and have students help me act it out with a big blank pad of paper. It is the after-talk chatting that really is wonderful though. Hearing what part of what I said, or drew, or read - sparked ideas, questions and creative thinking - THAT is magic. I leave wishing that I was able to return as a full-time teacher.

And do would you want to do educational books in the future? Or do you do them now?
Well, I like to think my books are educational -or at the very least, a very welcome addition to any classroom bookshelf. I have lent my art to more content focused books, such as, Charlie and the Kiwi (Simon & Schuster) and to books for educators, such as the upcoming "Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8" by Debbie Silver.

There's a wonderful world of educational books that would love illustrators that have a subtle, gentle childish view, yet have is powerful in delivering and teaching an ideas or formulas and also stories in text books. 
I agree. The world of learning is aching for creative ways to share ideas and knowledge.

Another book that I purchased of yours was The North Star, one of the first books that you written and illustrated. Was this fun for you? Did this story have a spiritual quality?
Do we have a few days to chat about this book? There is so much to share about this special story. It was really inspired by my mission to remind all of us to listen to our own "inner compass." I am a big fan of self-directed learning -of course, with caring guides along the way, but too often kids' real instincts and interests are missed by the current educational system that seems to value memorization over life-long skills. I wrote it to inspire and to help recharge the readers spirits and in that sense, it is spiritual book. The North Star is an allegory which allows the reader to interpret the story in their own way.

Can you tell us the process of picture-booking? 
That's another big question. Whew. There are a lot of ways to do -especially now with e-books.

How long does it take? 
On average - it takes me 4 months from start to finish, but those four months of work might be sprinkled over a year or so.

And you still have editors or directors that refine or critique you before the final published book? Seems wonderful.  
My art directors and editors are still a big part of crafting my books. Sometimes though, it is just a nod of "that's it" from them when the story and art just flows out. Great editors know when to tweak and when to just leave it alone.

Revisions: I'd love to ask you about it. Do you like revising? And does polished work seem better than originals? 
I am not a huge fan of revising. It suddenly turns art into work. I prefer my art that flows out without any pencil sketching. Having said that, I don't mind the revision if it ends up helping my reader understand the ideas I am trying to convey. I often will create four or five pieces of the same art so that I can then sift through to find the one with that spark that just makes it stand out.

What is your favorite line that you would love to tell the adult world of writers and illustrators that have entered the children's market? Well, the line from my book, The Dot "Make your mark and see where it takes you" really sums it up. Just start. Get something down and start sharing. I also suggest to make your story matter - to you. Convey some wisdom you can swear by.

What future endeavors would you like to journey on? 
I'd very much love to explore the world. India, Japan, Africa are just a few places that are rich in human experience and culture. I want to soak it all in and have it inspire my work.

I am working on a musical version of The Dot at the moment. I'd love to co-write more songs, such as "I Want to Dream" (by Nathan Meckel, Burton Collins and myself). There are a lot of ways to share ideas and stories.

Thank you so much for this interview. 
My pleasure!

Please let me know about recent published or publishing works that are coming out soon. 
Sky Color, the third book in my "Creatrilogy" which includes The Dot and Ish, will be released this September. My recent collaboration with Amy Krouse Rosenthal, "PLANT A KISS" has just hit the top ten on the New York Times bestseller list. I am working on a Christmas story and of course, a few new Judy Moody books. Always something on my desk in my studio!

For more info, go to and
Twitter: peterhreynolds