Friday, March 29, 2013

COSCBWI March 2013: Reading To An Audience

This month's COSCBWI meeting featured Angela Buelsing, a librarian with the Public Library of Cincinnati.  Angela discussed a very important skill that writers and illustrators need to learn: how to read to an audience.
Angela spent many years honing her read-aloud skills with story time at the library.  To begin her presentation, she read a festive bunny book to show us as an example of fun, energetic, and engaging reading.  (It was just like being back in elementary school!  All we needed were some graham cracker snacks...)  After watching her in action, she broke down some of the skills and pointers that can help make a read-aloud session a success for any audience.  Some of her tips included:
-Be sure to pick the correct book for your audience.  Preschoolers can't be expected to sit still for a long and wordy picture book, while eighth graders don't want to listen to a story about bouncing bunnies.
-Learn to read sideways (or upside down) and clearly.  Kids want to see the pictures while you're reading the text, and they won't understand you if you read too fast or mumble.
-Encourage involvement from your audience to keep them engaged.  You could ask for story predictions (i.e. "There was an old lady who swallowed a....insert pause....") or point out different aspects of the illustrations, rhymes, characters, etc.    
-Expect the unexpected, and roll with the punches.  Anything can happen during a read aloud session, from nosebleeds to hecklers and every sort of interruption imaginable.  Redirect disruptive kids if possible, and engage the audience in creative ways to make interruptions seem like a planned part of the storytelling experience.  
-Leave some time for a discussion and questions at the end of your reading session.  You never know what kids will want to talk about, and they are often very excited to share their thoughts on the book.  They may want to know about your favorite parts, too.
-Practice, practice, practice!  Be sure you know how to pronounce every word in the story so you don't trip over your own tongue.

-Don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself and have fun.  If kids see that you're enjoying read-aloud time, they'll enjoy it too!
Angela also acted out a story to show the importance of body movements and an expressive voice.  She definitely had us all captivated with her storytelling prowess!  By the end of the meeting, we were all inspired to grab our favorite books and share them with a young audience.  :)

If you want to learn more about COSCBWI, you can check out the group website at  I hope to see you at our April meeting!

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Productive Slacker

Over the weekend, I decided to take off my usual Productivity Cape and spend an afternoon at the movies.  I bought a ticket for "Rise of the Guardians" and guiltily walked into the theater, knowing that I should have been writing, or reading, or revising, or querying, or working on a grant.  But the movie had been out since December and would surely be out of the theaters soon--and besides, didn't I deserve a little break?

So I shut up my inner nagger, put on my 3D glasses, and promised myself I'd make up for my slacking off later.

A mere 97 minutes later, the credits were rolling and I walked out of the theater amidst throngs of chattering kids.  Some kids jabbered about the cool battles; a few giggly girls gushed that the tooth fairies were soooooo cute; and there were at least one or two boys who wanted the entire audience to know that the Australian, boomerang-throwing Easter Bunny was AWESOME.  Then in front of me, I watched a little girl take her mom's hand, look up and say, "Wow, that was so inspiring!"

If you haven't seen "Rise of the Guardians," I can vouch that this little girl was right on the money.   I wouldn't declare it the best animated movie I've ever seen (hey--you already know "The Lion King" holds that title in my book), but it was inspiring on so many different levels for different audiences, myself included.  I won't go into why the writer in me was inspired, or why the kids in the audience were inspired, because you should really go see it for yourself.  But a familiar white-bearded, red-suited, jolly old elf had this to say at a moment of revelation: 

"We are very busy bringing joy to children!  We don't have time for....children."

Ouch.  So harsh and yet, so very true.

I think it's incredibly easy for children's writers to get stuck in this situation.  We spend all our time writing, revising, querying, submitting, reading, researching, and doing everything we can so that one day, our books will find their way to children and bring them all the joy we've dreamed of.  But how many of us actually spend much time around children, or pay attention to the things they love?

At conferences and workshops, I always hear that aspiring writers should read, read, READ!  While I agree with this 100% (and then some), I also don't think it's nearly enough.  In a perfect world, kids would spend every moment of their free time snuggled up with a book, but that simply isn't the case.  Kids will always share their reading time (and attention spans) with going to movies, watching TV, and playing video games.  (And who knows what else in the future?!)  As writers, I think keeping up with children's book trends is incredibly important, but it's also our job to understand why they love a pony named Twilight Sparkle on TV, feel the urge to catch every Pokemon, and still want to see "Ice Age" movies after four installments on the big screen.

What can't you get from a book that you can from sitting in a movie theater with sixty kids?  Simply experiencing the story with them: what makes them laugh, or gasp, or kick your seat in boredom, or feel the need to tell their mom, "Wow, that was so inspiring!"  It may just make you realize how you can write more comically, or adventurous, or tweak a young reader's heartstrings in your own touching scene.  And it will certainly inspire you to create worlds and characters they love as much as an Australian, boomerang-throwing Easter Bunny.    

I don't have children of my own, but I feel very lucky that I have a little sister twelve years younger than myself who has helped keep my inner kiddo alive.  I will openly admit that I'd rather see a kids' movie than an adult one any day of the week, and that I adore TV shows on Cartoon Network and video games of the Mario variety.  (And yes, that's probably why I write about talking pirate ferrets and boys who turn into horses.)  But I also know how easy it is to get bogged down in the responsibilities of being a "good writer," and how weeks can go by when I meet more children in the pages of a book than in real life.

If that sounds like you from time to time, then maybe you're overdue for a trip to the movies, too.  (Or the local zoo--or video game store--or library--or any place kids congregate!)  I may have gone to "Rise of the Guardians" feeling guilty, but I left with more inspiration than an afternoon spent tweaking my synopsis and catching up on Twitter feeds has ever given me.

Note: Image is the DVD cover from "Rise of the Guardians."  It is (c) Dreamworks and linked from

Sunday, March 17, 2013

COSCBI March 2013 Illustrator Meeting: Creating Illustrator Postcards

This month marked COSCBWI's second Illustrator Meeting!  As an aspiring illustrator, I just love these meetings and find them so informative.  For March, COSCBWI's Illustrator Coordinator, Nikki Boetger, led a discussion on illustrator postcards.

Illustrator postcards are the way many artists get their work in front of agents and publishing houses.  They involve creating a postcard mailer that showcases at least one example of an artist's work, as well as their website, contact information, etc.  A second full illustration can fill up the back side, or artists can incorporate a small art piece instead to leave plenty of room for mailing labels.  Nikki showed us many postcard examples from her colleagues and shared a lot of great pointers for illustrators to consider including:

Size:  Do you want a big mailer that costs more money to make, or a little one that could get lost easily?

Material:  Do you want it to be glossy or matte?  Heavy card-stock or textured?   What will hold up best in the mail?

Season:  Do you want to tailor your piece to the corresponding season, or just send your favorite example of your work?  How frequently do you want to mail a new postcard to your list of contacts?

Post Office Handling:  Will your post office add stamps or tapes anywhere on your postcard that might cover up your illustration?

Bleed Room:  Does your picture go all the way to the edges of your postcard?  Will it run the risk of getting ruined if part of it is cut off during the printing process, or have you left a nice bit of wiggle-room for safety? 

By thinking about these questions, you can decide how much you to want spend to make a professional mailer AND avoid creating a postcard that might be demolished, dirty, or covered-up by the time it gets to its recipient.  She recommended checking out online printing companies like Vistaprint, as well as local businesses to see who has the type of product you are looking for.

After explaining the basics of making a mailer, Nikki announced a brand-new project for all the COSCBWI illustrators: creating postcards for ourselves!  This multi-month project will take COSCBWI illustrators through the entire postcard-making process--from sketching concept art to formatting and printing a final product.  All COSCBWI members are welcome to take part, and there's no requirement to send the postcard off at the end of the project if you don't feel you're ready.  (While that would be wonderful, it's perfectly fine to use this project for practice, too.)

If you think you'd like to take part, Nikki wants all participants to bring sketches of potential postcard illustrations to the next Illustrator Meeting.  To get our creative juices flowing, she suggested we choose our favorite nursery rhyme, fable, or fairy tale to illustrate.  Once everyone has a few sketches, she'll go over the next steps in making our ideas a professional postcard!

You can find more information about COSCBWI at  April's Illustrator Meeting will take place on April 10th at 7:00 PM at the Barnes and Noble in Upper Arlington.

I hope to see you at the next Illustrator Meeting with plenty of sketches in tow!  I'm already wracking my brain for a good idea...  :)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Celebrating The Old And New

You know how a picture is worth a thousand words?  Well, words can't describe how I feel about this:

<Insert hallelujah chorus>

Yup!  After two years with my old cheapo tablet, I decided to upgrade to a Wacom Intuos model!  All I can say is, it is heavenly!

Now, don't get me wrong.  There is nothing bad about Monoprice tablets.  When I went tablet shopping two years ago, I had no idea if I'd even like digital art, so I didn't want to invest a lot of money in the experiment.  While the Monoprice was a great piece of equipment to get my feet wet, I simply outgrew it.  The more art I did, the more I felt limited by the tablet's features (or lack thereof).  Throw in some recent pen reliability issues (undoubtedly caused by two years of solid use), and I decided it was definitely time for an upgrade.

I chose the Intuos 4 model 1) because it is significantly cheaper than the newer Intuos 5's with similar features and 2) it was recommended to me by numerous other digital artists.  I also downgraded to a size "Small," while my Monoprice was the equivalent of a "Medium" tablet.  I realize that may sound crazy, but so far I think the smaller tablet is much more manageable.  (Plus, it's kind of nice to not have my tablet hanging off the desk!)

Old tablet overboard!

Is there really a big difference between my cheaper old Monoprice and new Wacom?  Heck yes!  The new pressure sensitivity is double what it used to be, and the Wacom screen has a lovely, textured feel that makes sketching a breeze.  You can even tell a difference just in comparing the tablet pens:


AND I can flip the new pen over while drawing and "erase" my digital work just like it's a pencil!  (Super-cool!)  Now, I could probably bore you to tears praising all the great features (like a scrolling wheel--or hot keys--or variety of pen tips!), but I know you'd rather see it in action.  So...

TA DA!      

Ellis says, "Do I look pretty?"

I painted everyone's favorite green-scarred horse, Ellis!  This sketchy little speedpaint is the first 100% digital piece I've ever done.  It took about three hours (yes, that counts as a "speedpaint" for me) and involved around fifty exclamations of, "Ooooh!" and "Ah!" as I finagled with all the Intuos features.

So you see the "new" I'm celebrating.  But what about the old?

Well, I just celebrated the sixth anniversary of my manuscript, The Beast of Bannock, at the end of February!  (Huzzah!)

Ellis and I have certainly been through a lot over the years, and it seemed appropriate that he should have the honor of christening my new tablet.  This poor guy sat on the back-burner while I focused on writing and revising Pirate Ferret for most of 2012, but I'm looking forward to giving Ellis' story the royal treatment this year!  :)

And now you're up to speed with everything I'm celebrating!  I'm eager to see what I can accomplish with my new tablet and can't wait to start those Beast of Bannock revisions!

If I can keep up this speedy painting, I hope to have a lot more art to share with you, too!  You all like paintings of horsies, right?  ;) 

Monday, March 4, 2013

COSCBWI February 2013: The Path to Publication for an Illustrator

Boy, am I all discombobulated with the date change in COSCBWI's monthly meetings!  I truly intended to have this post up by the end of February, but considering our meeting was on the 27th, I suppose that practically was the end of the month!  ;)

COSCBWI hosted guest speaker Alex Clark for the February meeting.  Alex is the illustrator of two picture books, Your Time Will Come and Captain Hammer and Super Sean: The Case of the Missing G.  He shared his path to publication with us, focusing on the non-traditional route he chose for his most recent project, Your Time Will Come.

If there's one thing I've learned from all of the wonderful COSCBWI speakers, it's that there are many ways to break into the publishing world.  Alex started out with a background in design, illustrating clothing graphics for companies like Abercrombie & Fitch and Walmart.  When his son was diagnosed with speech apraxia, he became involved in the CASANA organization.  In a stroke of serendipity, the contacts he made with the organization brought about the opportunity to illustrate his first book, Captain Hammer and Super Sean: The Case of the Missing G.  After that project was finished, he and the real-life Dr. Hammer decided to embark on a new project together which became Your Time Will Come.  After shopping the book around, they looked into self-publishers, ultimately deciding on Word Association Publishers.  The book came out this past December, and Alex has been busy getting the word out to fans and readers.

After describing his publication journey, Alex took questions from the group.  He gave a lot of great advice about the pros and cons of self-publishing.  He said that attitude really is everything, from promoting your book to parents and teachers to leading energetic school visits.  He also emphasized how important it is to have people who will vouch for you and your book, which can build your reputation and even lead to new opportunities.  Lastly, he described some of the fun things he has done as add-ons and book selling tactics, including creating vintage-style baseball posters and offering cartoon children's portraits as part of gift packages.  While it's a lot of work promoting and marketing a self-published book, Alex said it has also been a very rewarding experience.

You can find out more about Alex and his work at his website:  You can also find Your Time will Come on Amazon, and both online and in stores at Barnes and Noble.  I wish Alex the best success and many more future projects to come!

If you want to learn more about COSCBWI, you can check out the group website at  I hope to see you at our March meeting!