A Visit to see THE Artist in Residence

Enjoy a road trip with some friends of mine.

valerie r lawson

A few weeks ago some writer friends and I took a road trip from Tulsa to Oklahoma City for the express purpose of visiting the Artist in Residence at the Skirvin Hotel, our fellow SCBWI OK pal and supremely talented THE Jerry Bennett! He kindly set aside his day just for us.

Found him! It’s THE Jerry!

Always happy to see you!

Jerry gave us a tour of his artist’s space, talked to us about comic design – explaining the difference between a penciler, inker, and colorist among other things. And what each job brings to the story.

And white space. He said that was very important. Who knew?

Gathered around Jerry’s workspace as he shows us some of the projects he’s been working on.

All of the artwork that you see in the background is Jerry’s work. Besides giving him this wonderful space to create in and a…

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Finding Baba Yaga by Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen, like Eve Bunting, does not need my recommendations.  I give them, anyway.  I have never read anything by either of these authors that didn’t set my mind to spinning.

Finding Baba Yaga is pure poetry.  That’s not a metaphor.  It is a novella in verse with lines that soar: “The hallelujah chorus of birds,” and “Living well lasts longer than love.”  As lovely as the writing is, read it for the story. Storytelling is what makes Yolen exceptional.

Finding Baba Yaga  follows a runaway into the woods.  It’s about  questioned beliefs and finding ones own way.  You’ll probably want to read it in one sitting.  I did.  This update of an old Russian fairy tale might also make you want to go back and revisit the original tales.

Read Like a Writer, Picture Books

Read Local OK

Here are a few things I’ve learned about picture books by reading picture books:

Picture books don’t have to rhyme.

Picture books can rhyme.  The rhymes don’t have to be formal, but they do have to sing. Read Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s What Can a Crane Pick Up? and Tammi Sauer’s Mary Had a Little Glam.

Picture books don’t need a whole lot of words, but as in a poem, every word must count.  Here’s an example of what a writer can accomplish with less than 100 words: Extraordinary Jane, Hannah E. Harrison

When you are finally ready to submit a picture book manuscript, don’t include illustrator notes unless some small tidbit is essential to your story. You have to leave things open for the illustrator. See how Tammi says just enough and leaves the rest up to the artist:  Making a Friend, Tammi Sauer

Sometimes, the illustrations tell a completely…

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Interview with Brenda Maier

Read Local OK

fortcoverHey, everyone. Make room on your bookshelf for The Little Red Fort written by author Brenda Maier and illustrated by Sonia Sánchez.

Brenda is a teacher, a writer, and a member of my Oklahoma SCBWI tribe. She was kind enough to visit with me and share some details about her debut picture book.

The Little Red Fort is wonderful in about 432 different ways.

See for yourself. 

This, by the way, is what Booklist, Kirkus, and SLJ had to say about the book:

“Maier judiciously adapts one of the best nursery stories, keeps it simple, and makes it her own. The upbeat mixed-media illustrations are nicely varied in composition and perspective. A lively picture book that’s fun to read aloud.” — Booklist

“[Sánchez’s] textured illustrations and sense of humor add depth to each dynamic scene. Throughout the story, Maier’s little Latina go-getter breaks gender and cultural stereotypes….empowering….”…

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Yolen and Penfold: Two Welcome Songs

I signed up for Jane Yolen’s Poem a Day.

Not only does her craft seem effortless…and true craft never is…she always has something important to say. In exchange for her daily dose of good medicine, I promise to buy or check out of the library one of her books each month.  I already have a sizeable Jane Yolen collection, but this month I added two more books—the Kindle version of Mapping the Bones, set in Poland in 1942, and a picture book, A Bear Sat on My Porch Today (illustrated by Rilla Alexander).

I like three-dimensional books, the feel of the paper, the heft, but I carry the Kindle when I’m traveling, read from it when I’m on the treadmill, and just know there is always a library at my fingertips.  I prefer my picture books solid so I can share them.  I like the illustrations big and in my face.

I picked up A Bear Sat on My Porch Today along with another picture book I’ve been wanting, All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold (illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman).  What a revelation when I read the two books back to back!

Yolen and Penfold don’t preach their message of welcome, they sing it.  Children will love the cadence and the rhyme, and you will enjoy reading them aloud, even if you have to read them many times.

Froggy Bottom Blues on Kindle!

I am proud to be a Doodle and Peck author.  As the editor of a small, regional press, Marla Jones has worked hard to expand markets for her authors.

She does her part.  We do ours.  Not only are we working on our next books, we are available to speak, to sign, and to visit schools.

This is Marla’s latest expansion.  Fourteen Doodle and Peck books have now been uploaded to Amazon/Kindle, including Froggy Bottom Blues.  Check us out.  Contact us.

 

 

Fiction Matters

I will never vote for a candidate who isn’t an avid reader, and not just a reader of law books and technical manuals.  We need public servants who read fiction.  Why?  Because being a public servant requires empathy.

Reading fiction allows one to get into the minds of characters unlike us.  It allows us to understand their reasoning…or lack thereof. Reading fiction makes us empathetic, allows us to walk in another person’s footsteps.

I would like to add two books I’ve read recently to my Stories-to-Build-Empathy list: Far from the Tree by Robin Benway and Nowhere Boy by Katherine Marsh.

Those of us in so-called traditional families sometimes don’t understand the choices other people have made.  Far from the Tree starts with an adopted girl who gets pregnant in high school and chooses to give up her daughter for adoption.  She is devastated by the decision.  And that is just one twist in this story.

If you’ve never been afraid for your life, you might question why any family would risk death, why they would risk the lives of their children, to become refugees.  You wouldn’t do that unless you had no other options. Right?  Still, people question.  Nowhere Boy might help young readers understand the why.  It might help the reader believe that he or she, in fact, all of us, can dig down to find what it takes to be kind and courageous.

And three’s a charm!  Read Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel Jose’ Older because it is history with a twist—science fiction set in the Civil War era—and a book that can open eyes about what life was really like for people of color in the 1860s.  What’s more, it is elegantly written.  I can’t wait for the second book in the series, coming in May.

What are you waiting for?  Add these three books to your TBR List!