Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Unnatural Narrators in Nonfiction

By Linda Skeers

You’ve gathered your information. Checked your facts. You’re ready to start writing but

stop and wonder, WHO is telling this story? WHO is presenting the information? WHO is my narrator?

​Maybe it’s not a WHO, but a WHAT.

An inanimate object. A thing.


Let me explain.

Many wonderful books have been written about Martin Luther King, Jr. How do you introduce him to children in a fresh and unique way? That was the task Eve Bunting gave herself -- and she succeeded with THE CART THAT CARRIED MARTIN.

The focus is on the simple, worn down cart that carried his coffin. Bunting was able to show MLK Jr.’s character by comparing his work ethic and struggles with that of the hard-working cart. By stepping back and creating a bit of distance, the story is still emotional – but not sorrowful.

This was just an ordinary cart – that eventually found a home in the MLK Jr. National Historic Site. “This is the humble cart that, not so long ago, carried greatness.”

Sometimes the perfect object can speak volumes.

That’s exactly what happens in Janet Nolan’s THE FIREHOUSE LIGHT.

Nolan had stumbled upon a fascinating little tidbit – a light bulb in the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department has been burning for over 100 years!

And nobody knows how.

Great fact. But is that a STORY?

It became one when she took a giant step back, looked at the bigger picture and wondered about all the events the light bulb would have witnessed through the years.

And THAT became the story!

The book follows the evolution of firefighting from volunteer bucket brigades to sophisticated equipment and new and improved techniques – always being illuminated by that single, amazing light bulb.

How do you handle an intense historical event filled with violence, hatred and prejudice in a picture book?

Sounds impossible.

When Rob Sanders first entertained the idea of writing about the Stonewall riots, he thought so too.

Until he stepped back and focused on the two buildings that joined together to become Bonnie’s Stone Wall restaurant – the centerpiece of the event.

You’ve all heard the saying, “If these walls could talk”? Sanders gave them a voice. And they had a lot to say in STONE WALL – A Building, An Uprising, A Revolution.

By allowing the building to describe the events as they unfolded, it gives the reader an extra bit of space – space to take it in, understand it, but not be completely overwhelmed by it. It’s a safe space to view something so intense and powerful.

Looking for a fresh angle on your subject? Don’t stare at it too closely or you could miss an important element. Step back and look again – what else do you see? Specific objects? A place? What’s lurking in the corners?

By exploring your subject AND everything surrounding it, you might discover a unique and unusual way into your story – one that makes it stand out AND pull readers in.

Linda Skeers teaches how to wrote picture books at the Whispering Woods Retreat. You could be one of her students! 

The Three Step Self-Edit

 By Lisa Amstutz

As writers, we spend so much time agonizing over our words that we tend to get attached to

them. It’s hard to look at them critically when it comes time to revise. Here are some tips to help you edit your own fiction or nonfiction picture book in three simple—though not necessarily easy!—steps.

Step 1: The Big Picture
Before you worry about the nitty-gritty, make sure your story works at the “big picture” level. Ask yourself the following questions about your story.

  • Is your story arc strong? Does it flow smoothly and in a logical manner from beginning to end?
  • Does the beginning of your story clearly establish the main character’s problem (if applicable)?
  • Does your main character solve that problem after several failed attempts that build toward the solution?
  • Does the main character’s personality/experience play into the solution somehow?
  • Does your story have a satisfying ending?
  • Does your story have “heart”—an emotional story arc or connection?

Step 2: Scene by Scene
Now let’s zoom in a little closer. Start by breaking your story into spreads. You can do this by making a dummy or by simply leaving an extra space between spreads in your manuscript. You’ll need 12–14 spreads for a traditional 32-page manuscript.

  • Does each spread contain a complete scene, with a character, a setting, and an action or change of some kind?
  • Think about what the art might show on each spread. Is there enough variety to make the book visually interesting?
  • Does the tension build from scene to scene?
  • Finally, look at your transitions. How can you tempt the reader to turn the page?

Step 3: Polish Your Prose
Now that you’ve looked at the big picture and the scene by scene view, it’s time to zoom in even closer and scrutinize each sentence.

  • Scan for adverbs and adjectives. Try to replace them with stronger nouns and verbs if possible (e.g., instead of saying someone walked quickly, say they trotted or jogged).
  • Do you have a lot of "he saids" and "she saids" in your text? Replace some of them with actions instead.
  • Look carefully at each sentence. Are you telling the reader something that will be shown in the art? If so, take it out.
  • Sprinkle in some alliteration, internal rhyme, onomatopoeia, or other literary devices. Try reading the story aloud to see if it sounds satisfying.

Happy revising!

Lisa is an author and literary agent. You can learn more about her at https://www.lisaamstutz.com/  or


Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Planning a School Visit

 By Susie Kralovansky

When I signed my first book contract, I thought the hard work was over. I was so wrong.

The hard work was just beginning.

Then I planned a hugely successful book release party, and I thought the hard work was over. Again, the hard work was just beginning – I realized that I needed a plan for continued book sales and an income while writing that next book.  

I muddled through what would have been a breeze if I’d had Kim Norman’s book Sell Books and Get Paid Doing Author School Visits. I’m a former librarian and an author who has done tons of author visits, and I still found Kim’s book filled with valuable advice. She systematically covers everything from creating presentations to needed equipment to organizing your contracts.

Norman begins by walking you through creating your presentation. As Kim says, “Author visits are as different as the books they’re about.” (p.7) She also covers:     

          • Setting up an author visit
          • How much to charge
          • Where to find schools that host authors
          • Contracts
          • Book sales
          • Book signings
          • Author websites
          • Staying organized
          • Promotion
In Kim’s final chapter, she shares advice from her writing friends. Rachelle Burk, Kelly Milner Halls, Marc Tyler Nobleman, to name a few, shared advice, humor, and “war stories.”
Aside from practical insider information and action steps, Norman shares the pleasures, pains, and strategies of author visits. In this in-depth, how-to, she shares the mistakes she has made, the secrets she has learned, and the joys of talking books with hundreds of thousands of children over the past dozen years. Kim is a great and generous teacher. She puts everything she does into simple terms, providing templates that allow us to replicate her methods step-by-step.