On the Making of Children’s Books with Kenneth Kraegel | A Breathe Conference Retrospective

Let’s continue the Breathe Conference experience together.

9780763653118On Friday, I spent my first two sessions with Candlewick Press author, Kenneth Kraegel. Kenneth wrote King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson, as well as the soon-to-be-published The Song of Delphine. Both sessions were (very) great and gave me plenty of ideas for publishing my long-awaited, barely anticipated Thom and Tom series.

The first session was titled “Children’s Books 1: Nuts and Bolts of Picture Books.” This was the description:

Discuss the many elements involved in making a picture book—writing the text, finding a publisher, working with an editor, understanding how an illustrator fits into the process, promoting your book.

That was a lot to tackle in an hour, but Kraegel rose to the task. Here are a few of the things I learned:

  • There are two main types of picture book authors.
    • Authors who are not illustrators
      • These folks start with the story
      • The publisher chooses the illustrator (It is frowned upon for the author to suggest an illustrator unless there is a compelling reason (like marriage) to do so)
      • Advances and royalties are split between the author and the illustrator
      • Manuscripts are submitted with the words only, images suggestions are sparing and indicated by brackets within the text
      • Examples – The Relatives Came & Button Up
    • Authors who are also the illustrator
      • These folks can start with either story or images
      • Advances and royalties go to just one person
      • Manuscripts are submitted as a “book dummy” – a black & white sketch book with typed text, either physical or in pdf format
      • Examples – Dr. Seuss & Mo Willems
  • Children’s books are typically 32 or 40 pages (or rarely larger by 8 pages at a time), though with endpapers and paste down pages, the copyright info, title page, and story only take up 26 or 34 pages
  • Most children’s books are 1000 words or less
  • Current trends lean toward very sparse sentences
  • There is no standard page size for children’s books (each publisher sets their own rules)

748879The rest of Kenneth’s presentation was practical across the publishing world. Things like: do your research on a publisher before submitting your manuscript to them, develop a routine for your writing/illustration, treat writing like a job to get into the habit once it actually is one, and make friends with your local indie bookstore in order to have an idea of what is published and what is needed in the marketplace.

After such great information from the first session, I couldn’t help but stick around for the second, “Children’s Books 2: Using a Storyboard to Write Picture Books”

After a demonstration of how storyboards are used, we will create our own and discuss the experience. Artistic ability is not required. Bring a work-in-progress or create a new story in the session.

My work-in-progress was a Thom and Tom story (“The Breadbox of Doom”) that I had in my notebook. Surprisingly, the story came out to the exact length of a 32 page picture book. But now I’m wondering how lucky I’ll be with the rest of the stories in that universe.

With one storyboard under my belt, I’m getting excited about the new publishing possibilities before me. I’ve got plenty of work yet to do in order to get my writing off the ground, but Kenneth Kraegel’s class gave me a kick in the right direction.

Thanks Kenneth!

Now, everyone do yourself a favor and go buy some of his books from an indie bookstore near you!

Book Review | Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

The preface for today’s review goes like this: I didn’t think I would enjoy a book that deals heavily in the fairy realm… I was wrong.

Fablehaven is Brandon Mull‘s first in the series of the same title. The cover features endorsements by bestselling authors like Christopher Paolini (Eragon) and Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game). It’s an attractive book. The type of cover that calls out to kids (and adults like me) with a key scene and makes you wonder, “Now what is this all about then?”

Here’s the plot summary: When Mom and Dad win a cruise, Kendra and Seth Sorenson go off to stay with their grandparents. Little do they know that their grandparents are the caretakers of a magical preserve for mythical creatures. And when Seth decides to break some of the rules, the whole family is in danger. With enemies like wily witches and powerful demons, Kendra and Seth find help from a couple of rule-breaking satyrs and the Fairy Queen herself.

I don’t want to go to into detail here because it is a great read, and I would hate to spoil any of the twists that the author so skillfully weaves in.

That said, here are a few things that the author does well that we could all learn from.

Character Dichotomy – Kendra is definitely the protagonist, as we see the majority of the story through her eyes, but her brother Seth is the one who really moves the plot along, so I consider them both to be main characters. The great thing about having two main characters is that you can draw from their differences to enrich the story. Kendra is the quiet reflective one who follows orders well. Seth is her polar opposite. Either way, readers will have someone with whom they can identify.

Making It Worse – I sometimes feel bad for my own characters when I take them from one bad situation and place them in a worse one, but as long as we have characters that people care about, it is a great way to draw readers into our story and increase tension. Mull does a great job of both creating characters that we care about, as well as making them do things that make us cringe. I found myself often cursing Seth as I read because of the bad decisions that he made, but in the process, I was really saying that I care about these characters enough to want everything to turn out well in the end.

Parenting Tips – It’s kind of funny that in a story where the parent’s are absent (though not dead or completely out of the picture), real life parents would be able to pull so much out of the story in order to teach their kids. Many of the characters lend to teaching moments for parents who are reading this book with their kids (or teacher with their students). Things like, “Do you think it was a good idea for Seth to go off the path after his grandfather told him not to? What happened as a result?” Stuff like that.

Illustrations – I realize that this isn’t the author’s doing specifically, but kudos to the publisher (Aladdin – an imprint of Simon & Schuster) for including some excellent graphic illustrations in the book. They are one of the perks of the novel that have nothing to do with the story, but everything to do with the reading experience.

If you are a writer, check out this link for Brandon Mull’s advice to writers (young and otherwise). And whether you are a writer or not, pick up a copy of Fablehaven.