PICTURE BOOKS

MIDDLE GRADE

YOUNG ADULT

author:

Anne-Marie Strohman

I fully transport myself from my reality into the world that I seek to create. In a word, I daydream. Deeply. I put myself with the character, close to the character, sometimes in the character, to taste the dirt when they’re in the dust storm or feel the scratchy bristles of cane stalk whip my face. Then I write it. Later, I make adjustments, because what I have to understand is different from what the reader should feel. Sometimes I have to rein it in or pull back. It’s not always the point that the reader should feel each and everything—but the writer must!  

As writers, we hear all the time that you absolutely have to develop your characters’ backstories. We can spend a lot of time laboring over our characters’ pasts–creating, inventing, discovering–only to have someone read a draft and tell us: “Take out all the backstory!” Too much backstory can drag the pace of a story. Too little, and characters seem unmoored and unmotivated. So what to do?

In Secrets of the Sea, Evan Griffith keeps the story active by providing context to explain how important her work was, providing detailed descriptions and examples to prove his points about Jeanne, and employing effective sentences at the ends of spreads that make readers want to turn the page. In each instance, he sets up expectations, context, or questions that lead readers through a delightful story.

“This isn’t specific to PB writers, but I would just say to any writer: Be kind to yourself and your drafts. Many writers, myself included, struggle with self-criticism or perfectionism, so I try to give myself this advice daily. First drafts can and should be messy. Second and third and seventh drafts, too. There is beauty in the mess. Writing is mostly re-writing. When you’re feeling discouraged, reach out to some writer friends for support. Seek community.”

Emma Kress’s debut YA novel, Dangerous Play, has plenty of action and a lot of games. It’s a book about a girls’ field hockey team who uses parkour to supplement their summer training, and puts those skills to use as vigilantes against perpetrators of sexual assault. It takes place over an entire hockey season, and Kress makes smart choices about how to condense the many field hockey games so that each one serves the story, especially by manipulating pacing and creating tension.

I first heard Emma read from a chapter-book-in-progress, and her voice blew me away. Emma’s writing as such attention to detail, such personality, such emotional resonance. She can write funny and serious–sometimes in the same sentence. Emma’s debut YA novel, DANGEROUS PLAY comes out August 3, and I’m so glad we get a peek into Emma’s brain and writing process. I highly recommend both DANGEROUS PLAY and Emma herself.

Birdsall establishes a strong narrative voice for her omniscient narrator in the opening pages, and then seamlessly slips from one point of view to another without losing the reader.

Dr. Susan McCormick: Accept the unexpected. Sometimes as a doctor, a diagnosis that had eluded me would appear in the night or while I was running or in the shower. These messages from my inner brain were always right. Similarly, accept any magic that pours from your fingers while writing, or any miracles that come while your brain is on break. These ideas from nowhere are often the best.

The moose is meaningful to both Dad and Katie, and the movie creates additional layers of meaning through the old movies (flashbacks) and the way the moose moves from person to person. We know what the moose means, so we can imagine what the characters are feeling, and ultimately, we feel it too.

In her picture book Emily’s Idea, Christine Evans finds that elusive balance and creates a story with specificity AND room for the illustrator to tell their part of the story.