Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Should you write a kids’ book? Take this 5-question Yes/No quiz!

Five questions:  that’s all it takes to figure out if you’re cut out for writing kids’ books.  Yes?  No?  Maybe so? 

Let’s get started!

1.  Do you have a billion brilliant story ideas and can’t wait to find a ghostwriter so you can hand them over (upon receipt of a signed non-disclosure and a promise of a share of the royalties) and get them back as fully-conceived stories ready to publish?

2.  Did you love a book you read as a kid so much that you want to write the exact same story, only way better than the original author ever could?  Except updated, with computers?  Or robots?  In set in the future, in outer space?  “It’ll be Little House on the Prairie – on Mars, with a robot butler, and hoverboards, like The Jetsons!”

3.  Does your kid love to draw so much

Writing Style with Strunk & White: #1 and #2

image Flipping through my vintage Strunk & White, rediscovered why I liked the book so much in the first place.  It’s as jarring and fun as anything written about writing today, especially the unassuming Approach to Style section near the back.

020530902X(This vintage edition is actually new to me – it arrived a few weeks ago after I ordered a newer edition from Better World Books; they refunded my money very quickly when I reported the mistake.)

So – I thought – why not bring it up-to-date, sharing these fabulous insights in a way that applies to children’s books?  Brilliant.  And then kick it up just a bit (unless you’re Emeril, don’t call it a notch) with a “Lazy-Day Takeaway” – an easy tip you can incorporate into your own writing, like, immediately, today.  Or whenever.

Why not, indeed???

So I did.  I am.  I will.  I must!

There are 21 points in the Approach to Style, and I’m going to take them on two at a time. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

5 reasons you’d be dumb to fund this indigogo project.

Does anybody really fund these things, anyway?  Or just click Like and pass them around?  I suppose somebody must, but some of the projects are just sheer dumbness, like this group who’s put together The Wikipedia Books Project to… print out Wikipedia.  The whole thing.

Yes, the encyclopedia that has effectively put print encyclopedias out of business… now back in print! 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Three L words to quit using wrong, “less’n” you’re a redneck.

(image © Gaspirtz, courtesy Wikimedia)1.  Lay – You don’t LAY on a bed, and neither does your character or anyone else, though it might be true to say you LIE there (in which case, it’s not a lie).  You can LAY your teddy bear on a table.  That’s all.  Oh, well, a chicken can LAY an egg.  But that would make you a redneck, because you have a chicken.

2.  Loose – You didn’t LOOSE your teddy bear or wallet, you lost it.  Although you may LOOSE your pitbull on an unsuspecting victim, but I’d rather you didn’t.

3.  Less – You don’t have LESS marbles than I do, though yours may well be loose if you are using this word so wantonly.  You probably have FEWER marbles than I do, however, if you’re seriously thinking of comparing things that cannot be counted.  It would definitely make me LESS unhappy if you use FEWER redneck words in your writing.

And now, in return for tolerating my random grammar stickling…here are…

Three words I will allow you to use that most grammar sticklers wouldn’t!

1.  Decimate – Yeah, technically, originally, this meant one in ten.  Like back when everyone was Roman and spoke Latin and knew what deci meant.  It doesn’t any more and as my teenagers say, nobody cares.  Its main meaning nowadays is “kill, destroy, or remove a large percentage or part of,” you redneck Roman relic, you.

2.  Literally – Yeah, technically, originally, this meant ACTUALLY or PRECISELY.  But we all know what you mean and we’re just being jerks if we interrupt with a “did you know????” if you’re just trying to use it the way everybody else in the world does.

3.  Nauseous – Yeah, technically, this means MAKE SOMEONE PUKE.  So if you say you’re feeling nauseous, ha ha, we literalists should just throw up right on you.  But I personally won’t, and indeed, I offer you my permission, as a stickler, to use this word any darn way you please.

What redneck words drive you crazy, in your writing or anybody else’s???

For the win: kill the parents, save your story.

image What do all these children’s books have in common?

  • A Series of Unfortunate Events
  • Anne of Green Gables
  • The Secret Garden
  • Harry Potter
  • Pippi Longstocking
  • The Giver
  • Milkweed
  • Ballet Shoes
  • Great Expectations

Well, by now you’ve probably figured it out – right???  (If you hadn’t yet, the last one gave it away, I’m sure…)

Every single one of these books, many of them enduring classics, features a main character whose parents have – um – gone to the next world.

Tragic, isn’t it?

Or it WOULD be tragic if the books themselves weren’t so terrific because of it.

Why do orphans make such great main characters?

We love these books so much because orphans are forced to fend for themselves.  If they do have a guardian, the guardian is often either incompetent, unaware, or simply not emotionally connected to the main character.

And this is GREAT for your story!


Thursday, February 20, 2014

5 Quick Fixes for Point of View (POV) Pitfalls.

POV pitfalls can be a real PITA, a total pain in the abbreviation.  POV means point of view, as in what your character sees and says. 

With these five quick fixes, you can get your story back on track and make sure it stays that way.

1.  Pick a character, any character

This is a big issue for writers who start with a story in mind that they’re dying to get down on paper.  They charge through, writing the story full speed ahead, but when readers get a chance to take a look, it doesn’t click.  They hate it, or, more likely, just can’t get into it.  What’s going on?  You haven’t picked a clear, consistent “POV character.”  Somebody has to tell us the story.  (What’s that?  You’re telling the story?  Not good enough.)

Quick Fix:

Choose one character who’s in a great position

Bringing stories to life in 3D: Mini-interview with Jo Litchfield

The other day in a bookstore, a book caught my eye:  “Deganit the Doctor.” 

Beyond the appealing 3D Fimo-model illustrations, I bought it because the Hebrew wasn’t overwhelming and because it wasn’t a “baby book,” introducing solid medical ideas and images in a simple format even my kids could understand.

The name of the illustrator didn’t ring a bell, because it’s written in Hebrew.  At home, I sounded it out:  “Joe Litchfield”?  (Hebrew is a phonetic language, so a silent E can’t be transcribed.)

Hmm… sounded familiar, but I wasn’t sure from where.

Then, it clicked:  a wonderful library book

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Five quick tips to reach the kids you’re leaving out.

Try to guess which group gets forgotten most often when we write kids’ books.  This infographic will help you figure it out…


You guessed it:  the “have not” kids, the ones who are socioeconomically in that depressed left-hand group.  Not enough books, yes, and when they do open up a book, what do they see?

It’s not written for kids like them.

Chances are, the kids in the books have parents who are around to take care of them, living orderly lives in clean houses in good neighbourhoods (why are the neighbourhoods in kids’ books generally squeaky-clean, anyway???).

There are easy ways to open up your books to include these kids.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

L-O-V-E spells: a short paean to kids’ books.

image L is for lions, so scary or so meek,
O is for owls, whether or not they speak;
V is for violence we’d all like to avoid,
and E is for excellent, the books we’ve all enjoyed.

Whether in chapters, with pictures or not,
The books that we love all share a special spot;
So share the love that words can weave with children far and near,
And give your love a Valentine that's made of BOOKS this year!

(a little late for valentine’s day, but nonetheless!)

1607467658A great classic book for kids, or the young-at-heart:  Mercer Meyers’
Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zoo, a book that will always, always (for some mysterious reason) remind me of my little sister Sara, who celebrated her Valentine’s birthday yesterday.

What do you love about children’s books???  And what children’s books do you love to share with the kids who are most special to you?

My two new kids’ books… one super-special price.

image I’m thrilled to announce a pre-release special for my two newest books!

On Amazon, both of these books together currently cost $16.13.  But as an initial direct-buy special, if you buy them BOTH directly from me via PayPal, you’ll pay only $9 plus shipping.  I’ll list the shipping rates at the bottom of this post to help you decide.

(Or buy Ezra’s Aliyah alone for Kindle – only $4.99!)

But wait!  Don’t you want to know more about these books before you decide?

I’m super-proud of both of these – they have both been a while in the making.  They’re very different books, one about a serious topic and the other a pure flight of fantasy.

Ezra’s Aliyah

The first book is Ezra’s Aliyah, about a young boy whose family is moving to Israel.  He’s not thrilled about the idea, but over time, he begins to get excited about the move.  With full-colour original illustrations, the book addresses many common concerns and includes a glossary.  (If ebooks are more your thing, buy the Kindle edition here!)


Zoom:  A trip to the Moon

The second is Zoom:  A Trip to the Moon, in which a young boy takes a trip of pure fantasy, hopping in his space ship for a pre-Shabbat journey to the moon and back.  Using actual photos from space along with charming original illustrations, the book also includes quotations and facts about the moon and space from traditional Jewish sources.


Because Amazon’s Look Inside feature isn’t yet enabled, I’m giving you a chance here to peek at several sample pages from each book.

Up close and personal…

(Click on any image to see a full-sized spread.)

Ezra’s Aliyah




Zoom:  A Trip to the Moon





Cost + Shipping Rates

Again, on Amazon at the moment, both of these books together currently cost $16.13.  If you buy them BOTH directly from me via PayPal, you’ll pay only $9 plus shipping. 

(Buy Ezra’s Aliyah alone for Kindle – only $4.99!)

Here are those shipping rates, along with a PayPal button to make your choice super-easy:

  • US Standard $4.18 (5 business days)
  • Canada Standard $8.99 (9 business days)
  • Israel Standard $11.77 (33 business days)

Please ensure that you submit your full, correct address with your PayPal payment.  I’ll send you a confirmation once your books are on their way!


Select your location:

If you’re anywhere else, please leave a comment asking for the rate to your area!

And to see a complete list of my kids’ books, click here.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

This kid talks: mini-interview with reviewer Erik the Great

image Hey, you know who ELSE reads kids books?  Kids!  And it turns out (surprise, surprise), that they have opinions… they won’t just read your book because it has colourful pictures or a thoughtful message (gack).

Are your books turning off the kids they’re supposed to appeal to? 

Just because you wrote it for them doesn’t mean they’re automatically going to love it.  According to Erik Weibel (aka Erik the Great, aka “this kid”), the 12-year-old lead imageblogger, head honcho and grand high poobah over at This Kid Reviews Books (A place for kids and grown-ups to discover books.), there are a few obvious turn-offs that you must avoid at all costs.  “There are a couple of things that will make me want to put a book down,” he says.

What are Erik’s Big Three No-no’s? 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sneakery Peekery… art from two works-in-progress.

What’s your favourite way to illustrate a story you’ll be self-publishing?  Do you wait for it to be completely finished, for the text to be polished and ready to go to print, or do you find an illustrator at the first glimmer of a complete story? 

Me, I fall into the latter category – give me pictures as soon as possible, please!

Right now, I’m kind of wondering why I always feel most creative at the times in my life when I am otherwise busiest?  Probably has something to do with procrastination, and not doing the things that are expected of me in other areas! 

But it’s good news for my writing.  And since I love to see pictures of my stories, here are sneak peeks of illustrations two very different works-in-progress that are approaching the finish line.

Two works in progress

The first is a rhyming kids’ book about Chanukah (yeah, yeah, a bit late for that, I know – but there’s always next year!).  The illustrator is creating a very “paint-like” effect that I’m enjoying watching take shape. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Nice Jewish girl crafts bewitching kids’ fiction.

Sarah Mlynowski wants to be a writer when she grows up – oh, wait:  she is grown-up.  At 31, this nice Jewish girl from Montreal is living and loving the big-city writer’s life.

[note:  I wrote this a few years ago, so unless she’s discovered some kind of potion, she’s undoubtedly a little bit older now –like the rest of us.]

It almost sounds like something out of one of the chick lit novels she writes.  After earning her English literature degree from McGill University, Mlynowski (it’s pronounced Mlin-OV-ski) moved to Toronto to work B008EO71WYfor Harlequin Enterprises, the romance publishers.  There, in 2001, her talent was discovered with Milkrun, her first novel (for adults), which has now sold over 600,000 copies worldwide.

Work = fun on the New York book scene?

Sarah MlynowskiSince then, she’s written or co-written more than 10 books, including the Magic in Manhattan series, set in her new home of New York.  It’s about ordinary teen sisters who just happen to have “Glinda” – their special code word for witching power.

Mini-interview: the chutzpah of kids’ writer Cary Fagan.

image If you could interview any kids’ book author or illustrator living today, who would it be? 

Today, let’s talk about chutzpah in a mini-interview with Toronto writer Cary Fagan.  Last year, I had the chance to chat via email with him about his (then-) new kids’ book, Oy, Feh, So? image(illustrated by Gary Clement).

And then… well, life happened.  We moved across the ocean, and the interview sat in the can waiting for an opportunity to come to light.

  I’m so sorry, Cary!!!! 

But now it has come to light, for I shall share that interview with you, dearest readers, so you, too, can enjoy the wisdom of this witty author.

The good kind of busy

image Since I chatted with him, Cary’s been the very best kind of busy for any writer.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Do your characters speak for themselves? They can, with DIRECT quotations.

image“Aargh!” the writer screamed in frustration, flinging her hands in the air and spilling her Coke.  “How come this dialogue isn’t quite right?” 

Lots of writing & grammar sites tell you the difference between direct and indirect quotations.  But those sites aren’t bossy enough:  they don’t tell you which kind to use. 

I will, and here it is:

Use direct quotations.

Indirect quotations are the boring kind.