Wednesday, April 23, 2014

It's RhyPiBoMo! Rhyming Picture Book Month -- time to rhyme!

My blog post is up!

This is RhyPiBoMo -- Rhyming Picture Book Month, designated and developed by Angie Karcher, author.

It's a month of blog posts about picture book rhyme -- written by authors who excel at rhyme (and then there's me, a newbie). You'll find lots of tips, ideas, how-to's -- really great stuff taught by people who know how to do it well. It's all free, of course!
So check it out!

Find my post here:

And then go read all the other days!

I'm thrilled to be included in RhyPiBoMo. I've written lots and lots of rhyme, tried many stories in rhyme over the years, and, after all that work, I have exactly one marketable manuscript in rhyme.
The story is about music.
I'm not really a musician. I play harmonica pretty well, but that's about it. I remember a little from organ classes, I know how to put together and hold a clarinet and make awful sounds come out. On days when my voice isn't husky from allergies or exertion, I can sing moderately well. I can sight-read music well, though slowly. I can figure out how to play a song I heard, on harmonica, after a couple tries. I'm in a band composed of authors, and we sing and play music -- much of it original -- at agency retreats. I'm no musician, though.
My husband sings beautifully.
Our four kids are all musical. Two sang on stage in high school. One's a real musician, performing for pay -- he and his wife play duets together, songs they write and sing with their own instruments. It's beautiful, heartwarming, inspiring -- intimidating. Seeing how well some people play with (and work at) music makes me realize how far behind I am.

When this idea for a music picture book hit me, I first wrote it down. Then I emailed my son and asked for his help writing the book (really, I wanted him to write it and me to illustrate).
He said no.
He said I could do the job, and he would send a few ideas. His ideas were really great, but I sure was disappointed at first. The story was too big for me to let drop or give away, so I started to tackle it. Piece by piece, stanza by stanza, line by line, word by word, image by image... The story came together. I'm very excited about its potential.
I'm working on the art.

Figuring out one of the characters:

These are early sketches. I have no idea how much of this will be in the final book.

Just like the writing, creating the art of this book scares me.

You never know what you can do until you push yourself, right?

My whole life I've done things that scared me.
It's always paid off.

My page on Angie Karcher's blog has my post and lots of great extras, collected and organized by Angie:

Monday, March 31, 2014

Rhyming Picture Book Month starts TODAY!

Join Angie Karcher all through April as she brings in 35 guest authors to divulge their secrets on what makes great rhyme and how to write it.

Sign up here.
It's easy and fast.
Then read Angie's blog all month.
Soak in the wisdom of such rhymers as -- well, name someone in the industry.
They're probably on the list.

Read the posts, follow the lessons, comment occasionally so you are eligible for prizes, and -- did I mention this part? IT'S ALL FREE.
Join us. (My day is April 23)
By the end of April you'll be on your way to becoming an expert in writing rhyme for picturebooks.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

MRA Poster by Matt Faulkner and me

Michigan Reading Association held its 2014 conference this past weekend, and I got to do some presentations at it. At the huge general session on Sunday they unveiled the poster for next year's conference and -- ta-daaa! -- I helped create it.

Fellow Michigan author-illustrator and dear friend Matt Faulkner drew the MRA lettering scene and that gorgeous, intricate calligraphy of the words Honesty, Diversity, Unity, and Equality.

I did the Michigan readers pen/watercolor art and the layout.

These posters were distributed to teachers and librarians and will hang in schools around the state.
I've already seen a few in schools, actually.
This is a busy season for author visits-- I'll watch for more in my travels to schools around the state.
Pretty heady stuff!

I'm part of Sketchables!

I always thought blog collectives were pretty cool. I belong to a few of them and rarely take part.
The incongruence of those two beliefs made me hesitate when The Sketchables asked me to join their rebooted effort of blogging sketches.
My worry was that I wouldn't keep up.
I tend to get very busy with deadlines and school visits and new projects.

This spread from my sketchbook was drawn
at the NY Public Library's fantastic exhibit, 
The ABC of It: Why Children's Books Matter.

But I knew it'd be good to get into the habit of posting my art online regularly. I have probably 500 full sketchbooks at my house. Some of that work is worth sharing.
So I said yes.

Here's my latest Sketchables post. It shows a page of first draft art for my next Ellie McDoodle book.

Check out the Sketchables blog. See cool, fun sketches by
Priscilla Burris,
Heather Powers,
Nina Crittenden,
Joy Steuerwald,
Steve Bjorkman,
and me.

And, if you're inspired, get sketching!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

When Life Hands You Lemons, Draw Them

It was almost exactly 38 years ago that my high school art teacher took me out in the hallway and gave me a little blank book to draw and write in. It was hardbound, maybe 200 pages, and I'd never seen a book like that before in my life. 
I'd used diaries (hated, HATED the lines and confining dates in them) and I'd used sketchbooks (loved the textured paper, disliked the spiral binding that always let go of the pages) and I'd used scribble pads (loved the smooth paper and low price, disliked the poor binding that fell apart; I never filled them). I'd never seen a blank book that I could fill however I wanted.
Today these things are everywhere. My favorite brand is Moleskine, but I'll use anything in a pinch, and often make my own.

Though I was immensely grateful, it took me a long time to get up the guts to ruin that book by writing and drawing in it. It helped that she wasn't going to grade or approve my work. I'd had a spotty record of turning in work in art class, just a couple short years earlier.
These days I talk about this wonderful teacher -- and awesome teachers who go beyond what's expected to help the most wretched kids, like me -- in almost every single author presentation I do. 
That's many hundreds, so far. Maybe thousands.

This teacher gave me a way out of the scary, ugly stuff in my head and in my life. She gave me a safe way to vent. She gave me a way to remember the good things for my whole life. And she gave me, ultimately, a career. Ellie McDoodle is my character who records her life in a sketchjournal. 

I still keep a sketchjournal with me almost all of the time. I'm not big on constricting, useless rules, so I don't make myself draw in it every day, and I don't keep it with me in the shower, and I sometimes make mistakes or leave blank pages or write or draw something that isn't my best. Eh, it doesn't matter. The perfectionist in me is muted now that I am over 50. And maybe my collection of about 450 imperfect sketchjournals from over the years will be useful to others someday.

For now, for me, they're a daily reminder of what that first book from Mrs. Elizabeth McCarthy taught me: 
- when life hands you lemons, draw them.
- keep track of both good and bad; someday you'll be glad you did.
- it's okay to make mistakes. Most mistakes are funny, years later.
- keep a sketchjournal. And then take good care of it when it's full.

Here's a sketch from that first sketchjournal, from 1975, in my 16 year old hand. 
I'm pushing my younger brother on the tire swing at a picnic.

Here's a page from one of my recent trips to the Upper Peninsula. That's my husband and me on a Lake Superior beach in Marquette. It's surprising to me that my art is so similar, almost 40 years later.

I tell kids to keep a journal. I think it's the single most important thing they can do to figure out their lives. And who doesn't need that?

I'll share more on great teachers in a future post -- I certainly have been lucky to know very many.
I'll share more from my sketchjournals in future posts, too. But maybe you'd like to see what others do with their Moleskine notebooks. Click here:

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Book spine fun

My local indie bookstore's most recent Shelf Awareness issue features Nina Katchadourian's new SORTED BOOKS, an insightful and fun introduction to the idea of rearranging books to form dialogues, jokes, fragments, questions and poetry.
Buy Nina's book at your favorite indie bookstore, or from Schulers, where I sip tea and write books.

Travis Jonker at 100 Scope Notes (now part of the School Library Journal blog family) has been displaying book spine poetry for years, too. And he's put out a call for entries.

Every other time he called for entries I told myself I was too busy and couldn't participate.
Well, I am still busy.
(This is March Is Reading Month! Charlie and I trekked through rain, sleet, and snow to speak to zillions of schoolkids about how to become better writers. And I am on deadline for the 6th Ellie McDoodle book.)

But this time I heed Travis's call.

My book spine poem is about Ellie McDoodle and her love for taking a notepad into nature and documenting what she sees -- and the line at the end exhorts us all to follow her.
Click on the image to see it larger.

The book titles, top to bottom:

Picture This                                       (by Molly Bang)
The Call of the Wild                          (by Jack London)
In the Nick of Time                           (Ed: Anne Van Wagner Childs)
Someone Like You                            (by Sarah Dessen)
Ellie McDoodle                                 (by Ruth McNally Barshaw)
Alive                                                   (by Piers Paul Read)
Awake to Wildlife                              (by Tim Nowicki)
Go Girl!                                              (by Hannah Storm)
Loving the Earth                                (by Frederic Lehrman)
Thinking Visually                               (by Mark Wigan)
Pencil Sketching                                (by Thomas C. Wang)
Pictures of Hollis Woods                   (by Patricia Reilly Giff)
Great Expectations                            (by Charles Dickens)
The World of Incredible Outdoor Adventures by Field & Stream
Star in the Forest                               (by Laura Resau)
Now We Can Go                                (by Ann Jonas)

Try your own Book Spine Poetry! Tell Travis about it.
Take a notebook out into the woods. Tell me about it.
Now we can go!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ellie McDoodle is in China! And More News...

The sale of Ellie McDoodle simplified Chinese rights for the first four books was announced this week. This brings a whole new (huge!) audience for the Ellie McDoodle Diaries. Welcome, readers in China!
You join the readers in North America, Italy, France, Turkey, and South Korea.

Ellie McDoodle gets a makeover this May,
with a new cover for every book:

Did you notice the new name, too? The Ellie McDoodle Diaries are coming to a bookstore or library near you!
Ellie herself remains the same, though. She's a strong, smart kid who always has a journal with her to capture her adventures in. Ellie was made in Michigan but she's destined to travel the whole world.

Book 5 comes out on May 28. In it, Ellie and her friends put on a play: The Wizard of Oz. Their version is based on both The Wizard of Oz book (published in 1900) and The Wizard of Oz film (1939). The Wizard of Oz is one of the best known and most beloved books of all time. The film has been my favorite since the Wicked Witch of the West scared the bejeebers out of me when I was 4. My book, The Ellie McDoodle Diaries: The Show Must Go On, is my tribute to the creative minds who put together the original book and film. I added a few things that aren't in the originals -- like Evil Toto:
(Don't worry! Dorothy and Ellie are in no danger. And you might be glad to know that no cairn terriers nor flying monkeys were injured in the writing and illustrating of this book)

What else is new: My website!!! 
Go check it out:
Kids especially like the character pages:
and the peek at some of my other work: .

March is Reading Month! Charlie (my husband and helper) and I are winding up a very, very busy month of school, book festival, and teacher conference appearances. More on some of that, later. For now, let me just say that I am pretty sure I get the BEST fan mail of any author or illustrator, anywhere. Ellie McDoodle fans often send doodles and illustrated notes. I will share some with you as soon as I get my book deadlines handled.
Which reminds me...

Book 6 is on the way! It's about elections and confidence and believing in yourself and ... well, I am not sure yet what else it's about. I'm still writing the outline. But I do know this: The book comes out next year, so I need to stay on top of the deadlines. 
When things settle down here, I will share some first draft art and writing with you. (Well, after I've written and drawn it. I haven't gotten to that stage, yet. Maybe I will share some first draft writing and art from book 5 -- that one's done.)
Warning: You might not recognize any of it. My first draft writing and art is very different from my final book writing and art. I make a lot of mistakes and I need lots of revisions before my work is ready to put in a book. Luckily, I have a wise editor and a critique group of smart writers to help me.

That's it for now. I'll post more news soon. Thanks for stopping by! 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ellie McDoodle -- live and in person!

Charlie and I had the FABULOUS opportunity to meet Ellie McDoodle, Mo, Ben-Ben, Josh, Lucy, Mr. Brendall, and many other Ellie McDoodle characters yesterday when we popped in to surprise the performers during the Tech Week rehearsal for the stage play at Binda Performing Arts Center on Kellogg Community College's campus.
It was a thrill to see the characters alive on stage.
I'm so excited about the performance this Saturday.
If you're near Battle Creek, Michigan, come by and see it!
Two performances Saturday April 21, 4pm and 7pm.
Click here for all the official information for it or scroll down to the end of this post.
Thank you SO much to Miller College Children's Theater Project and Jenny Andrews for making this happen.
Thank you to the excellent script writer, Jack Wentworth.
Thank you to the fabulous What A Do Theatre and Zac Thompson for directing and managing the play.
And thank you to the performers and their families for making time in their busy schedules to take advantage of an opportunity to experience professional theater, with all its demands and rewards.

The best part of it all? The next Ellie McDoodle book, which I am writing right NOW, is about theater. This production is great inspiration and research!

Here are the performers for Ellie McDoodle: New Kid in School
Adapted for stage by Lakeview High School student Jack Wentworth
Directed by Zac Thompson.

Cast List

Ellie McDoodle...........Anna Harrel
Mom / Whittam...........Ghevon Sebastian
Dad / Brendall...........Anahita Suifollahi
Josh...........Derek Whitesell
Risa...........Kailen Roop
BenBen...........Kessy Cook
Travis...........Avery Beck
Lucy...........Kylie Ohrt
Mo...........Cassandra Galonsky
Marla...........Ariana Saifollahi
Zoe...........Tyree Jones
Sammy...........Kelea Gaskins
Joey...........Naomi Todd
Alex...........Taren Todd
Lisa...........Bailee Goff
Sarah...........Hannah Slayton

The performance will be held at the Binda Performing Arts Center on Kellogg Community College's campus on Saturday, April 21, 2012, at 4:00 and 7:00 p.m. Tickets may be purchased in advance by calling Jenny Andrews at (269) 967-1374 or at the door prior to each performance.  Adult tickets are $8.00; students K-12 $4.00; children 5 and under are free.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

It's PiBoIdMo time!

Go to Tara Lazar's blog to read more.

PiBoIdMo is Picture Book Idea Month -- join the group and commit to thinking up an idea per day for a picture book. Read the official blog for inspiration each day. At the end of the month, choose the ideas you like best from your collection of 30, and maybe finish one. Sell it, repeat.

Click here to go to PiBoIdMo
The picture book has taken a bit of a beating lately in the press.
Some e-book supporters are quick to say the paper book is a relic.
An October, 2010 New York Times article claimed parents are pushing their kids to read more complex books, younger, and suggested parents don't find value in books that have to be read aloud to their kids, as picture books are meant to be shared. This set off a torrent of responses, including this charming one from an elementary school and this one in the Horn Book, more recently.

The truth is, the publishing world is changing (as is every other part of our world). To be alive is to change. I don't know where it's all going. Nobody does. Until we find out, I say we quit wringing our hands. Embrace your creativity, keep reading, keep writing, and keep encouraging kids.

I'm joining PiBoWriMo for several reasons:
- I wanted to join last year but didn't because I was trying NaNoWriMo for the first time and didn't want to split my effort. That's National Novel Writing Month, also held during the 30 days of November, and it's the long version of PiBo: Write a 50,000 word novel in a month. Stephen King writes that fast (though I hope his editors don't). Last year I ultimately met my goal for NaNoWriMo -- I wrote an Ellie McDoodle book in a month. The hard part was achieving a 50,000 word count for a 17,000-word book. I counted edits and rewrites, of course. And since a picture is worth a thousand words, I should have been able to add 170,000 to my final word count. Since the work I do is often half art, half text, and I am often on deadline, it can't always be shoehorned to fit the NaNoWriMo parameters. But it fits PiBoWriMo.
(Shutta Crum is doing both PiBoWriMo and NaNoWriMo this year. Cheer her on -- she'll need it.)

Why else I am joining PiBoIdMo:

- Before I started writing and illustrating Ellie McDoodle books, I tried creating picture books. I really thought that'd be my big mark on the world. Maybe it still will be. This is one way to find out.

- I have a neat idea for a picture book going right now. It'll take a while to write, edit and illustrate, but I'm excited about the idea and I figure, what better time to fire up the brain to think of more good ideas than when I'm already bogged down with something else? No, I meant, already stoked and paying attention to the sweet whispers of of the muse.

Are you thinking maybe you've got some picture book ideas that need corralling? Got a novel idea you'd like to explore? Push yourself to join PiBoIdMo or NaNoWriMo -- you won't know what you're capable of until you try.

(Hey, I just found out my writer husband Charlie has joined PiBoWriMo too -- awesome!)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Meet Children's Books Author Audrey Vernick

A very fun book.

My caricature of Audrey
Author Audrey Vernick is unflinchingly honest and gasp-for-breath funny, in real life and on the page.
When I first met her we were at our literary agent's writer retreat in an idyllic setting near Boston, with a reservoir perfect for kayaking, woodsy paths ideal for writerly contemplation, tables on the patio just right for manuscript  inspiration. And a wide, green lawn that I kept hearing hosts frolicking baby  foxes early in the mornings -- but I never saw them even though one morning I did get up very early to jog. 
This was a lovely backdrop for meeting Audrey and other stellar members of our agent's client list. 
At such events my strategy is to memorize names and analyze people quickly. 
Instantly I pegged Audrey as sort of a sister. 
To me this means she can take endless ribbing (and get even) but she also has a huge heart. She's deep. Compassionate. She plays fair. By now she knows some of my worst faults and insecurities but never uses them against me. 
We drove for ice cream one night --
Erin Murphy, literary agent, and Audrey Vernick, literary author

and Audrey's group got lost. (Probably her fault.) We gave up looking for them and drove back to the retreat center, but I remember worrying -- not for their safety, but for us. Audrey's little, but she's a big part of any party.

It was on this trip that I came to know Buffalo, of Publisher’s Weekly starred-reviewed Is Your Buffalo Ready For Kindergarten? 

Buffalo is fabulously illustrated by Daniel Jennewein who injects Audrey's visionary characterization with watercolors and caran d'ache to make a naive 
giant of a kindergartener, a sort of Baby Huey for today's kids.
And now the Buffalo book has a sibling! A second book, Teach Your Buffalo To Play Drums, debuted last month.

To celebrate, I cornered Audrey and begged her to answer six questions: 
1. Why drums? Why not a French horn? Piccolo? Bassoon? Or my favorite, the harmonica? It’s portable, not too loud -- the only problem is you can’t sing while playing. Does Buffalo sing well? If not, I recommend a harmonica.
Audrey's answer:
I'm still reeling from Baby Huey!

The answer to the buffalo question is embarrassing in that it paints me as kind of random and uncreative. But one day, when I was saying something stupid to my son about teaching his dog to bake, I said, "You know, I should write a whole series--Teach Your Dog to Bake; Teach Your Cat to Surf; Teach Your Buffalo to Play Drums." That last one kind of echoed in my head. And I never thought to look beyond the words I said. Your question makes me wonder why I didn't consider other instruments before committing my buffalo to life in the rhythm section. But drums allowed me to write one of my favorite lines, one that was ultimately cut from the final text:

You know what’s really cool? Your buffalo should walk around with his drum sticks all the time, everywhere he goes, just so everyone knows he’s a drummer.

It must be noted: Harmonicas are awesome, too. Do you know Bruce Springsteen tossed me his harmonica during "Promised Land" in 1984? True story.

2. I know you love to research because you produce awesome books that require a lot of it. Can you tell us about an unexpected discovery that still delights you?
Audrey's answer: 
You ask fun questions, Ruth Barshaw. I think I'm saving my favorite discovery for a book that keeps not getting written by me, but one I really hope to write some day. So let's go with these two tidbits.

Editing the text of SHE LOVED BASEBALL: THE EFFA MANLEY STORY required cutting away some very important scenes. One of my favorites involved Branch Rickey. He's pretty widely regarded as being the man who, by signing Jackie Robinson to play for the Dodgers, integrated the major leagues. But from Effa Manley's point of view, he was more like a thief. This is a scene I regret cutting from SHE LOVED BASEBALL:

But Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Dodgers, wasn’t done yet. He signed five more Negro League players, offering to pay for only one of them, and just a tiny amount at that.
She couldn’t stay quiet any more.
Effa decided to do something about it.
She wrote to Branch Rickey, criticizing the way he took players without paying for them. She asked for a chance to meet with him. Rickey did not respond.
One day she happened to be at Yankee Stadium when Rickey was there. She marched over to him and explained that Negro League contracts were as real as major league contracts. She pointed out that she could take legal action against him. It is said that she made Branch Rickey turn very bright red.

I just love imagining the moment when Effa spotted him. Keep in mind this was the 1940s. She was both African-American and female. And she upbraided the great Branch Rickey right there in front of everyone in Yankee Stadium.

The other discoveries that don't exactly delight me, but make me laugh, have to do with the Acerra Brothers, subject of the forthcoming BROTHERS AT BAT: THE TRUE STORY OF AN AMAZING ALL-BROTHER BASEBALL TEAM. For this book, I interviewed two of the three surviving brothers from the twelve-member team of brothers. And my repeated refrain to their glory-days stories was, "It's a book for CHILDREN!!" The testosterone stories they told! My favorite example of incredibly bad judgment came from Freddie. He was determined to join the Navy during World War II, but despite living blocks from the Atlantic Ocean, he had one tiny problem: he couldn't swim. I can't tell this story without my head involuntarily shaking, but this is how he solved the problem: he gave his dogtags to someone else, someone who could swim, and had him take the swimming test. Don't think about it too hard.
Yikes!!! 3. What is Buffalo’s favorite martial art? 
Audrey's answer:
4. Are you working on another Buffalo book?
Audrey's answer:
I have submitted a list of possible titles; it's in my publisher's court right now.
5. How do you think Buffalo and Ben-Ben would get along? (Ben-Ben is Ellie McDoodle's hyper little brother)
Audrey's answer:
Buffalo would adore Ben Ben and be tickled by his energy. I think they would enjoy hilarious hijinks together, and I'd like to see how you'd draw that, ma'am. But I think Buffalo would need to nap after a few hours. I don't think a slumbering Buffalo would slow down Ben-Ben, though. I think he would continue, sometimes hijinksing atop a sleeping buffalo.

I totally agree. 

6. What’s the question you wish I’d asked? (And what’s the answer?)
Audrey's answer:
What is the derivation of babyhead? (A term I use to describe myself and others).

I don't know the answer. I just know it's a term I use, on occasion, to describe myself. And others.
You've called me Babyhead many times. I don't feel any more enlightened than before. :p   
Audrey, if you need to know what it feels like to wrestle in a Sumo suit, I can tell you sometime. My nephew rented Sumo suits for his graduation party last month, and of course I suited up to fight. (Don't do this on a very hot day. And try not to be the person who puts on the suit immediately after the kid in the wet bathing suit.) 
As to Bruce Springsteen's harmonica, I am in awe. "Promised Land" is part of why I wanted to learn how to play harmonica. I still can't play it... 
Thanks so much for today's duet. :)
  Audrey's other books:

Water Balloon
Clarion Books
September 5, 2011
Her first novel comes out in just a few weeks!

So You Want To Be a Rock Star
illustrated by Kirstie Edmunds
Walker Books for Young Readers
January 2012

by Audrey Glassman Vernick and
Ellen Glassman Gidaro
illustrated by Tim Brown
Overmountain Press, 2003

Indie bound link   
Amazon link  
Barnes & Noble link  

Audrey’s website link  
Please check out the other stops in Audrey's book blog tour: 
Jean Reidy’s blog (6/22) (Buffalo's bucket list!)
Peter Salomon’s blog (6/29) 
Laurie Thompson’s blog (7/13)  
And you'll love Audrey's blog.