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!

If you find yourself in the wrong story, leave.

9780062104182My wife and I are big fans of books by Mo Willems. We’ve been taking bi-weekly trips to the library with the girls, hoping to find new Mo Willems books to read to them. Most recently, we picked up Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs.

I don’t want to spoil the book for you, because you should read it yourself, but one of the two morals for the story is, “If you find yourself in the wrong story, leave.” I won’t tell you what the other moral is, because you really do need to go read the book. But that moral got me thinking about what it means to be in the wrong story.

Does it get Coulier than this?

When I was younger, I used to wonder what I would do for a living when I grew up. When I was a fan of rock collecting, I wanted to be a geologist. When rocks lost their hold on me, I wanted to be an astronaut. When I realized how horrible it would be to die in space, I found inspiration on television and wanted to be just like Dave Coulier from Full House. In high school, I was such a band geek that I considered becoming a high school band teacher. In college, I looked back on my times as a camp counselor and pursued a degree in Recreation. And where am I now?

I work in a bookstore, planning and marketing events. I am a writer, waiting to be published, but I honestly don’t know whether to devote my time to memoir, flash fiction, or YA fiction. I have a beautiful family, wonderful friends, and a good job, but aside from knowing that I am happy, I don’t know where my story is going. I don’t think I’m in the wrong story, I just can’t see the plot of the story that I’m in.

Have you ever found yourself in the wrong story? Do you know where your story is headed?

10 Favorite Books to Read to Kids

As the day of my next daughter’s birth is imminent (in fact, since I am scheduling my posts a few days in advance to be prepared, it may already have happened), I thought I would put together a list of the books that my wife and I read to our kids.

According to the National Education Association, kids who are read to at home perform better in school. In fact, there are about a billion studies out there that say roughly the same thing.

But even if reading to my daughters won’t do a thing for them scholastically, it is a wonderful way to spend time together and there are few things cuter than when a little girl grabs a blanket and a book and wants to climb into your lap for story-time.

So, here are a few favorites from my wife and I:

Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle, Illustrated by Jill McElmurry

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, Illustrated by Lois Ehlert

I Love You Through and Through by Bernadette Rossetti-Shustak, Illustrated by Carline Jayne Church

The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne, Illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard

The Complete Adventures of Curious George by Margret and H. A. Rey

Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr. Seuss (This one is fun to speed read.)

The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss

Click, Clack, Moo by Doreen Cronin, Illustrated by Betsy Lewin

Leonardo, The Terrible Monster by Mo Willems

Sidney & Norman: A Tale of Two Pigs by Phil Vischer, Illustrated by Justin Gerard

Of course, when my oldest daughter was still waking up for feedings every few hours, I would read whatever book I was reading at the time to her to get her back to sleep, which meant that I may have exposed her to a bit of Orwell’s 1984 at an impressionable age. Still waiting to see if there are any lasting effects.

Do any of you readers have a favorite that was read to you or that you read to your kids?