April 27, 2013

A Passion for Animals

Author Sarah Sauer shares the inspiration behind her new book
What Do You See When You Look At Me?

When I was little, I dreamed of owning my own horse and being a vet at a zoo. I loved animals and I felt a special connection to them. However, all that changed suddenly when I was diagnosed, at age seven, with brain cancer.

During my chemo, radiation treatments, and rehab, I looked to  my animals for comfort and strength. When I couldn’t walk, my parents took me to hippotherapy and I felt freedom and hope while I was riding on the horse. Eventually, I got my own horse. In fact, in order to get me to cooperate during my treatment, my parents promised me a new animal for our barn after each treatment cycle.

It was when I feeling sad because the treatments hurt, I couldn’t go to school and be with my friends, and I lost all of my hair that I turned to my animals. They would quietly come up to me and comfort me. Somehow they just knew. My horse would nuzzle me, my llama would give me kisses, and my dog would lick the tears from my face. They did not care that I couldn’t walk or that had no hair. They just loved me for who I am. They loved me unconditionally. But after my treatment was over, I was worried that my animals would not recognize me without my hat!

Even though I knew my dream of being a vet was over, I would not let go of my dream of working with animals. I volunteered at the Louisville Zoo, but soon learned that because of my limitations, I really could not be a zoo keeper. So, after a lot of thinking, praying, and discussions with my family and teachers, I realized that I could combine my love and passion for animals with my love of talking to young children about animals. I enjoyed when the kids would come to the petting zoo and I could teach them about the tortoise, donkey, and goats. I wanted young children to feel the same love and respect I have for animals. I hoped that they would grow up and want to be protectors and supporters of animals and nature.

My passion for animals began at an early age.  When I was about five-years old, my parents gave me my first disposable camera. They asked my sisters and me to take photos while we were on vacation. When we got the film developed, all my pictures were of dogs, birds, and any other animal I saw!

It was during my high school photography class that I learned of and developed my photography skills. My teacher, Ms. Iles told me that she saw a talent in me to tell stories through my pictures. So when I was given an assignment in my early childhood class to create a project that would show my goals in my chosen profession, I turned to my animal photos and decided to put together a children’s book that would show the beauty of each animal.

I want to teach children to look at each animal and see more than just an animal—to see the detail, the wonder, and the emotion of each animal. And so, I now have my first children’s book, What Do You See When You Look at Me? I hope that when children look at and read my book, they will come to look closely at all animals and develop a love and appreciation for all of God’s creation.

April 21, 2013

Twenty-five Top Picture Books

Scholastic asked more than 200 teachers, children’s authors, and children’s literature experts to name the best picture books ever.   Below is the list of their choices.  Did your favorites make the list? Read on to see.

1. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. For grades Pre-K -3.

2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. For grades Pre-K -2.

3. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg. For grades K- 5.

4. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. For grades PreK - 2.

5. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. For grades K - 3. 

6.  The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. For grades 2 - 5.

7. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. For grades K -5.

8.  Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. For grades K - 5. 

9.  The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. For grades 1 - 4.  

10. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. For grades PreK - 2.  

11. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. For grades K - 4.  

12. Stellaluna by Janell Cannon. For grades K - 3.  

13.  If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff. For grades PreK - 2.  

14.  The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson. For grades 1 - 4.  

15.  Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. For grades 1 - 5.

16.  The Snowman by Raymond Briggs. For grades PreK - 2.  

17. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg. For grades 2 - 6.  

18. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. For grades K - 3.  

19.  Skippy Jon Jones by Judy Schachner. For grades 1 - 4.

20.  No, David! by David Shannon. For grades K - 4.  

21. The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco. For grades K -3.  

22. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper. For grades PreK - 3.  

23.  The Mitten by Jan Brett. For grades K - 4.  

24.  Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss. For grades PreK - 3.  

25.  Curious George by Margret Ray. For grades PreK - 2.

April 14, 2013

To Rhyme or not to Rhyme

A good many children's stories are written in rhyme. I don't necessarily advocate that you try this. It's difficult to pull off and some publishers have a strict policy against rhyming stories. They simply won't publish them.

However, if you feel this is the best way to tell your story, then proceed with caution. Rhyme has to be perfect.  No cheating.  Liz Waniewski, editor of Dial Books for Young Readers once told me that rhyme has to be "spot on."   Song writers and poets can get away with it.  Children's writers must produce perfect rhyme.

Author Tara Lazar has four pointers:
1.  Rhyme scheme can dictate story, but shouldn't. Tales shouldn't be forced into the confines of the rhyme.

2.  Editors want to see rhyme that surprises them—not the overly simple, one-syllable rhyme schemes that readers can guess the word before they get there.

3.  Forced rhyme, words that don't exactly rhyme unless you mispronounce them, can ruin a story.

4.  The meter or beat must be perfect—not just matching the number of syllables in each line, but having the correct emphasis on those syllables.

According to author Laura Backes of Writing-world.com, "All picture books consist of characters and a plot.  The plot ideally starts at the moment where everyday life for the main character changes from ordinary to extraordinary. The story proceeds through the extraordinary events the character faces, and his or her efforts to return life back to normal. Once this happens, the story ends immediately.  The mistake many writers make is that they make the rhyme more important than the story."

Don't be intimidated to write in verse.  It's not easy, but not impossible.  But if you love playing with language and if rhyme is an integral part of the story than give it try.

Check out these books to see how rhyme is achieved:
Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahy
Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr.
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess.

For the entire list of 25 great rhyming books, go to:  http://www.notimeforflashcards.com/2013/02/picture-books-that-rhyme.html

April 7, 2013

Writing Fiction

Recently, I received a fiction submission for the Kid’s Imagination Train.  The story was cute but needed some editing.  When the piece was first submitted, it read like an itinerary. The main character did this first, and then he did this next, and so on.  There was no conflict and there was no character change.
The story had potential.  After a few suggestions were made, the author handled the revision brilliantly.  
In the first line of the story, the main character cries as his mom and dad drops him off at his aunt’s home so they can have a date.  This is a good example of conflict.  Eventually, the little boy begins to have fun.  He plays with his aunt’s dog and throws its favorite play toy onto the couch, under the bed, and into the kitchen.  This is how you show, not tell.  
Then the author incorporated the senses into the story.  This helped to draw the readers in to experience what the main character was feeling.  We tasted his sweet snacks, we felt his warm outdoor clothing and the cold snowy playground, and we listened to music they danced to.

Lastly, the author wrapped up the story with a  character change—the little boy finally realized that he had a very good visit with his aunt.
I think writing fiction for children is difficult.  You have to tell an engaging story in just a few words.  And, there's a lot to remember as you write.  But if you show, not tell, throw in conflict, tap into the senses, and add character change, you will be off to a very good start.