Signing at Boulder Bookstore!

Signing at Boulder Bookstore!

This week was filled with the stuff of dreams. Signing books in some of my favorite stores, reading MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN to children of all ages, “playing” with illustrator Susan Eaddy and showing her around Boulder/Denver, and being surrounded by friends and loved ones. Most of all, I am grateful I was able to share all of this with my children.

Quotes on Gratitude

“Today I choose to live with gratitude for the love that fills my heart, the peace that rests within my spirit, and the voice of hope that says… all things are possible.” — Unknown

“There is no joy without gratitude.” — Brene Brown

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

Gratitude list for the week ending November 8

  1. Susan and I got to present and/or sign books at four of my favorite local bookstores — The Tattered Cover, The Book Bar, The Boulder Bookstore, and The Bookies! You can pick up signed copies of both MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN and A TROOP IS A GROUP OF MONKEYS at all of these stores. Go Indies!!
  2. Being able to share my home and town with Susan in exchange for the wonderful time she showed me in
    Look Mom, Face Out!

    Look Mom, Face Out!


  3. GOOD NEWS on a new manuscript! Much excitement and the thrill of possibility
  4. My daughter knocked her singing solo out of the park at the 6th grade choir performance. So proud!
  5. So many friends and family came to our signings and events – an honor
  6. Doing a school visit with one of my in-person critique partner’s fourth grade class! She’s an amazing teacher and writer!!
  7. Boulder put on its best in terms of weather – gorgeous all week
  8. Dinner at Ten Ten Brasserie
  9. Seldom do I engage in retail therapy, but since I was showing Susan around… 🙂 I found a few great things for myself.
  10. The right to vote

What are you grateful for this week?

Categories: Children's Books, Family, Friendship, Gratitude Sunday, My Love For You Is The Sun, Picture Books, Poetry, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,


Renee LaTulippe today. I met Renee initially through my 12 x 12 challenge, and quickly discovered her talent and effervescence as a children’s poet/actress/performer. So much so that I corralled her to serve as the “Poetry Elf” for 12 x 12 these past two years, where she passes her poetic passion onto other bards to be (and already are… no not to be…).

I then got to meet Renee IN PERSON in Florence, Italy where she came to film the inaugural participants of Writer’s Renaissance performing individual poems and a group poem we wrote together. You can see all those videos in this post of her blog, No Water River. 

Renee is so full of fabulousness and vivacity that no matter how shy you are or how much fear you have about poetry, she’ll immediately set you at ease so you can experience the FUN of poetry. (Case in point is my A Lotta Gelatta poem)

Now, Renee has long been an advocate for poets and a supporter of poetry for children, but now she’s passing on her gifts in a course designed to help ALL writers write more lyrically and rhythmically in her course THE LYRICAL LANGUAGE LAB: Punching up Prose with Poetry. Because I am signed up to take this course in July, Renee gave me a sneak peek into the course and a spot in the private Facebook group.

I’ve taken quite a few writing courses in my time, and I must say it’s ASTONISHING how much learning Renee packs into this class. Whether you’ve never written a line of poetry or you’ve been writing poetry your whole life, this course will help you hone your skills as a writer so that ALL forms of your writing shine. In addition to the formal lessons, Renee provides a huge amount personal attention, teaching, and support in the Facebook group. I’ve read some “before feedback” and “after feedback” assignments from the students and the improvement is amazing.

I asked Renee if she would pop into the blog to provide a bit of wisdom and wit about poetry and why studying and “playing” with it is so important for writers of all genres. Please welcome Renee!

First a little about you.

How did you develop your passion for poetry?
I don’t think I developed it so much as it developed me. I guess I had an innate love of language, words, and wordplay. I wrote my first poem when I was seven and was immediately hooked. Putting together sounds and syllables has always been really satisfying.

I also have to point out that I had a couple of wonderful teachers to support and encourage me along the way. Without them, I probably would not have continued writing. I wrote about my early poetic adventures here.

The focus of your blog, No Water River, is reading and performing poetry out loud. Why do you think this aspect is so important?

Poetry is music and is meant to be spoken and heard and savored by ears, mouth, eyes, and bodies, and not just dissected on paper and left there with its guts hanging out. I am especially adamant about this when it comes to sharing any literature with kids – whether it’s a poem or Huck Finn – because, for me, appreciation (of language, story, character, and craft) must come first. And you just can’t do that in a chair!

My high school students rarely sat down. I ran a noisy and weird classroom. I’m pretty sure that “formal text analysis” happens naturally if you just let kids live the literature and get excited about it. I mean, who wants to analyze something she doesn’t first feel in her bones and heart? [Off soapbox, exit stage right]

So now I do poetry videos and ask other poets to do the same because I want kids to see that poetry is alive and fun and not scary, and is waiting to be slurped up with a straw.

What other genres do you write? Is poetry your favorite?

I am published in the educational market with nine award-winning leveled readers for beginning readers through fourth grade, which I co-authored with Marie Rippel. Published by All About Learning Press, these books are collections of short, illustrated, vocabulary-controlled stories that range from 100 words at the early end to 1200 words in the higher levels.

Through 12×12, I also began exploring the world of picture books and have a lot of ideas but only a few paltry drafts. They’re so hard! Why are they so hard?! Oh, and here’s an odd tidbit: although I am a poet first, I prefer prose picture books, both for writing and reading. Go figure.

And yes, I do have a special affinity for poetry because of the art itself and because it’s what comes most naturally to me. I feel at home when writing poetry, and it doesn’t make me angst-eat nearly as much chocolate as PB and short story writing does.

Okay, now on to the course.

What inspired you to create your online course, The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry? Lyrical Language Lab with Renee LaTulippe
As a full-time editor in the educational and personal development markets, I see a lot of books with good concepts but weak language. No matter what you’re writing, it has to be engaging or you will lose your audience in the first paragraph. Over the years, I’ve found myself repeating the same advice to authors: punch up your prose. Engage and delight your readers. Surprise them with unexpected turns of phrase. Keep them on their toes.

And once I started writing for young people and doing critiques, I realized that the advice is doubly important for children’s writers. I have a profound appreciation for language and craft, and a desire to impart that to others.

Many people are intimidated by poetry. How do you address that fear in the course?
Poetry schmoetry! The first thing I do is stress that the The Lyrical Language Lab is not a poetry course. The focus is on using poetic techniques to enhance your writing, not on “becoming poets,” so poetry is simply a vehicle for understanding lyrical language and how it can be applied to all writing. And most of the mentor texts are non-threatening, user-friendly children’s poems and PBs. So be not afraid, prose people!

Why do you think ALL writers need to understand poetry and poetic form, and what approach do you take to teaching it?
Poetry has so much to teach all writers, but especially PB writers. Picture books are meant to be read aloud, so using poetic techniques simply makes sense. You need to create read-aloud language that transports both children and parents into a world of imagination in as few words as possible.

Poetry is about conciseness, word choice, imagery, emotional weight, storytelling, rhythm, and sound – and so must be all texts for young people.

My approach is to
• introduce one concept per lesson
• explain it in detail through the use of mentor texts and my own “points to ponder” analysis
• show students why and how the poetic technique works
• enhance lessons with infographics to visually organize the material
• provide audio files in which I verbally demonstrate the concept

Daily assignments give students the chance to
• put the concept into practice
• write new material, with both prose and poetry options
• apply the concepts to a work in progress
• get personalized feedback

An important part of the class is the private Facebook group, where students post assignments for my feedback. I work hard to create a nurturing and encouraging environment, and to give detailed, honest feedback so students know which areas to work on.

The course is fun but challenging. No gimmicks; just solid teaching.

Is the course targeted to prose writers who want to learn to write more rhythmically or writers who want to write poetry and/or rhyming books specifically?

I designed the course with prose writers in mind, but it’s really versatile and serves all sorts of writers:

Prose writers looking to write more lyrically and enrich their writing with poetic techniques
Rhyming PB writers who would like a stronger foundation in the mechanics of poetry
• Writers who would like to learn more about writing poetry for children
• Anyone with a WIP in need of revision – the class is great for revision!

So far students have included non-fiction prose PB writers, prose and rhyming PB writers, children’s poets, and MG and YA writers, from beginner to advanced. Recently an accomplished published poet used the class to polish a new collection for submission.Ann Whitford Paul Quote

What about writers, like me, who already have a grasp of meter and writing in rhyme? Are we candidates for the course too?
While I do teach meter at the beginning of the course, it’s a small part of the whole, and all the concepts covered are beneficial to all writers. I go into enough nitty-gritty detail that I think everyone will learn something new.

But don’t just take it from me! Here’s a great article by Jane Yolen on revising for lyrical language, and some words of wisdom from Ann Whitford Paul on the need to be familiar with poetic concepts.

What do you hope your students will walk away with at the end of your course?
• The knowledge that every word we use is more than just a verb or a noun or an adjective; it’s also an emotion, an image, a sound, and a memory that can elicit a specific response from the reader.
• The skills to put that knowledge to work to make their own stories and poems more powerful and memorable.

Two questions to finish (and to satisfy my curiosity)

If you had to choose two of your No Water River poetry performances that are your favorite, which would they be?
The only full performances I do are of those poems in my Classics series. Of those, I’d say my favorites are “Jabberwocky” because of the delicious sounds and language (and the costume!) and the three witches from Macbeth because it took me fifteen hours to figure out how to get three of me talking on screen at once.

I also have a whole lot of amazing guest poets, from Joyce Sidman to J. Patrick Lewis. One of my favorite videos of all time is Janet Wong’s performance of her poem “GongGong and Susie.” What a storyteller!

You live in Italy with your husband and two children, and you are fluent in Italian. Do you think having a second language, especially one as beautiful as Italian, informs and enriches your poetry and other writing?
Definitely. As a girl, I wanted to be a multilingual interpreter, and at some point or other I’ve studied French, Portuguese, and Italian in depth and dabbled briefly in Spanish and German. And I love accents of every kind. Studying foreign languages attunes your ear to all the different cadences and nuances of speech and heightens your awareness of sounds and rhythms. Idiomatic expressions also catch my fancy and can spark new writing ideas.

And even the syntax can make me look at things in new ways. For example, in English we say “This flower is beautiful,” while in Italian the syntax is reversed: “È bello questo fiore” (It’s beautiful this flower). I have been accused of Yoda-speak when I use this syntax, but to me “It’s beautiful, this flower” says something completely different than “This flower is beautiful.”

Thanks Renee! I had to ask that last question because I SO want to learn Italian and become fluent. In my spare time – LOL. But on my recent trip for Writer’s Renaissance 2014 I learned that instead of saying “sweet dreams” to someone at bedtime, Italians say “sogni d’oro,” which translates to “dreams of gold.” Talk about a phrase that’s used the same way but says something completely different!

Thank you for this fabulous and heartfelt interview, Renee! I hope I’ll some of my readers will sign up for the Lyrical Language Lab and be classmates with me in July!! 🙂

Click here to learn more about The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry.


Renée M. LaTulippe has co-authored nine early readers and a volume of poetry titled Lizard Lou: a collection of rhymes old and new (Moonbeam Children’s Book Award) for All About Learning Press, where she is also the editor, and has poems in The Poetry Friday Anthology Middle School and Science editions (Pomelo Books). She developed and teaches the online course The Lyrical Language Lab: Punching Up Prose with Poetry and creates children’s poetry videos for her blog Renée holds theater and English education degrees from Marymount Manhattan College and New York University, and taught English and theater in NYC before moving to Italy, where she lives with her husband and twin boys.
Facebook: NoWaterRiver
Twitter: @ReneeMLaTulippe

Categories: Authors, Books, Childhood, Children's Books, Creativity, Guest Blogging, Poetry, Rhyming, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


yolen01It’s no secret that I am a HUGE fan of children’s author Jane Yolen, May’s 12 x 12 featured author (just check the bottom of this post for links to all the others I’ve written about her). Before I even THOUGHT about writing for children myself, I fell in love with her work by reading it to my own children.

So when the opportunity arose to spend four days under her tutelage at an advanced Picture Book Boot Camp at her farm in Massachusetts, I waited all of two seconds before deciding to splurge and treat myself to what I knew would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I will never be the same writer again. Attending that retreat was one of the BEST DECISIONS I ever made, reminding me again why it is so important to nurture your writing and creativity. We should never stop learning, stop growing. Jane is proof of that with more than 300 books published and, I now know, 40 or so completed and/or at various stages of development.

I’ve been wanting to document and share what I learned during our time together, so I asked Jane if she would let ME write her featured author post summarizing the high points (which honestly only scratch

Jane reading to boot campers

Jane reading to boot campers

the surface). She agreed, but did add a few words of her own at the end of this post.

I also have a special treat for you – a video compilation of some of the lessons Jane provided on revision, rejections and critiques and publishing trends.

We covered SO MUCH over the course of four days. It would be impossible for me to share everything, so I am focusing on what resonated with me the most about the craft of writing, as opposed to the business.

First, one thing picture book writers have to keep in mind is that great books are not ones that have a message to deliver to children. We started with a bang when Jane elaborated on this point. She said books are not about “delivering a message,” but rather “the gaining of wisdom.”

“All good books are about questions. Not giving the reader the answers, but teaching them how to ask the right questions.”

In this way, we allow the child reader to relate, reflect, and ultimately determine the meaning for him or herself.



Jane also spent time warning us not to be “beguiled” by our talent. For example, she can rhyme in her sleep, and something she tosses off in 2 minutes will be 95% better than most people could do after hours of work. But that doesn’t mean it’s GREAT rhyme or that it’s new or innovative.

Everyone has strengths in their writing, whether it’s a facility with rhyme, humor, poetic prose, etc. But if you rely on those talents TOO much, you will cease challenging and stretching yourself and your writing will suffer. “Don’t confuse yourself with a genius,” she said. “They are the outliers. For the rest of us, it’s just hard work.”

Here are some more gems from Jane – direct quotes on the subjects of being prolific and taking risks.

Build a Body of Work

  • In the midst of seismic change [in the publishing industry] find opportunities.
  • The best way to avoid writer’s block is the write a bunch of stuff. Work on multiple projects that cross-feed each other.
  • We all have themes that revisit in our lives. We can write and rewrite on that theme, subject, passion again in a new way.
  • Write for your child self. Ask her (or him), “What did you want to read?”

Take Risks with your Writing

  • The worst thing for an artist of any kind to do is to get comfortable. Because then you are not growing, and art dies.
  • Following trends is not writing.
  • Don’t accept parameters that you should be stretching.
  • You can always push the boundaries.
  • Know the rules and structure of writing so you can break them in a meaningful way.
  • Sometimes recognizing where the story is leading you is the most important thing. And if it’s taking you outside of your comfort zone, FOLLOW IT.
  • You do not know what you can and can’t write until you try it. Try it all. Maybe the one thing you thought you could never do will be the thing that breaks you out big.
  • Get outside of yourself. Be open to the universe.

I sent Jane this post for her review, and she asked me to add the following tidbits. So here you go:

  • If you believe your good reviews, you will have to believe your bad reviews, too. Better to believe in the piece that you are writing.
  • Be elastic, ready to bend your storytelling in new ways.
  • Don’t listen to the critic in your head, listen to the story.
  • A lifetime as a writer is a journey, not a career. Even the mis-steps, wrong turns, detours are part of the journey.
  • Reinvent your writing every five to ten years. 

And now for the finale! I invite you into Jane’s living room to see her teaching first-hand. In the first third of the video, she demonstrates a revision technique that has already revolutionized my own revisions. Essentially, you break your prose into “breath spaces” and write it as a poem rather than a paragraph so you can “see” the words better.

Without further ado, here’s Jane.

And as promised, here are my other posts featuring Jane. These go waaay back, and all except one predate 12 x 12.

One lucky 12 x 12 participant will received a signed copy of TAKE JOY, Jane’s treatise on the writing life. So butts in chairs people! I know you’re going to want to be in the running for THAT prize.

Jane Yolen is an author of children’s books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil’s Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?

She is also a poet, a teacher of writing and literature, and a reviewer of children’s literature. She has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century.

Jane Yolen’s books and stories have won the Caldecott Medal, two Nebula Awards, two Christopher Medals, the World Fantasy Award, three Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards, the Golden Kite Award, the Jewish Book Award, the World Fantasy Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Association of Jewish Libraries Award among many others. 

Lucky inaugural Boot Campers!

Lucky inaugural Boot Campers!

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, A Troop is a Group of Monkeys, Authors, Children's Books, Creativity, Giveaway, Goals, Picture Books, Poetry, Publishing, Rhyming, SCBWI, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Uovo di Pasqua - beautifully decorated Easter eggs all over Florence

Uovo di Pasqua – beautifully decorated Easter eggs all over Florence

Happy Easter to those who celebrate!

It is hard to believe just one week ago I was writing this post from my hotel room in Florence, having wrapped up the second Writer’s Renaissance, while watching the sun sink into the Arno. I’ve spent all week being grateful for the simple existence of Florence. I “retreat” there in my mind and heart when I seek inspiration and it never, ever disappoints.

Nonetheless, my week at home was also full of riches!

Quotes on Gratitude

“An attitude of gratitude brings opportunities.” — one of my Yogi tea tags this week!

“Gratitude is an art of painting an adversity into a lovely picture.” — Kak Sri

“Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.” — Margaret Cousins

Gratitude list for the week ending April 19

  1. Seeing, hugging, kissing and talking with my kids. Missed them so much!
  2. For Nancy, who stayed here until Thursday, helping me with the kids while I recovered from jet lag.

    Oh The Thinks You Can Think!

    Oh The Thinks You Can Think!

  3. Finding out, very much by surprise, that I’d been upgraded to FIRST CLASS on my Paris-JFK leg on the flight home.
  4. Watching Jay sing with so much enthusiasm at his second grade Seussical show
  5. Reading Jennifer Reid’s story in this week’s Tuesday 12 x 12 post
  6. Coloring eggs with the kids
  7. Watching the 5th Harry Potter movie with Em
  8. Spring has sprung in Colorado! Green grass, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths!
  9. The chocolate eggs I brought home for my kids (ha!) from Scudieri in Florence.
  10. I wrote a poem in my head last night and REMEMBERED it when I woke up this morning so I could write it down.

What are you grateful for this week?

Categories: Creativity, Family, Florence, Gratitude Sunday, Holidays, Italy, Poetry, Travel, Writer's Renaissance, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Laura Purdie Salas on

In honor of April being National Poetry Month, I thought who better to be our featured author than the SCBWI Golden Kite Honor winner for picture book text in 2013? That’s right! Today we welcome Laura Purdie Salas, award-winning author of A LEAF CAN BE and (get this) more than 100 other books for children!  

If you look at the photo of Laura, you’ll probably think she looks sweet and kind. And she is — unless somebody treads on one of her peeps! Last year at the SCBWI-LA conference, I was lucky enough to have Laura take me under her wing as it was my first time on faculty. Whenever anybody gave me smack talk (yes it did happen) or was monopolizing my time, there was Laura to my rescue! I told her I want to pack her into my suitcase for all of my speaking engagements!

Laura is a phenomenal writer, a huge supporter of fellow writers, a mentor, and an amazing friend. What more could you ask for? A post about poetry you ask? Well, she did that too! Please welcome Laura!

10 Thoughts About Poetry
Hi, 12×12-ers! It’s great to visit this super energetic community! I miss everyone’s enthusiasm:>) I’m honored to be the April Guest Author, and, since my true love is poetry, I’m sharing some thoughts/tips on the writing, marketing, and sharing or poetry. I hope you like it.

The Difficult Truth
1. It’s hard to sell a poetry collection to an editor. This is not good news. But poetry books tend not to make much money (see #2), and even editors who love poetry often aren’t free to acquire it. I have at least four poetry collections that my agent has submitted around that I think are stronger than any of my published collections. No sale.

2. Even once you sell to an editor, it’s hard to sell to the public. My first trade poetry book (meaning a book I wrote and sold to a publisher, rather than writing on assignment from a publisher) sold, at last count, fewer than 2,000 copies. It just went out of print. It was a Finalist for the Minnesota Book Award and got another couple of nice honors, but they didn’t translate into nearly enough sales to keep the book in print.
So, what can you do? Make your work the best it can be!

Immerse Yourself in Poetry
3. Join the Poetry Friday gang. The best way to improve your poems is to read a ton of them. And there’s no better company to do that in than with the Poetry Friday blogosphere celebration every week. It’s easy. You go to Mary Lee Hahn’s blog, A YEAR OF READING, and look at the Poetry Friday schedule in the right sidebar. Click on the link for this week’s host. Then go visit their Poetry Friday Roundup, in which they will post links to all of the participating bloggers. You’ll see lots of single poem posts (people post their own poems as well as poems by others) and reviews of poetry books and interviews with poets. Lots of the poetry is for kids; some is for adults. If you go through the posts each week, reading the ones that seem appealing, you will start to get a picture of children’s poetry. Read. Enjoy. Learn. Comment. Even if you don’t have a blog, you can start to build relationships as the weeks go on. I have made some wonderful poetry friends through this community, and I have also been invited to participate in several anthologies by folks I met online this way. And to speak at conventions and such. Plus, we’re generally just a really nice, cool group of people! You will have lots of fun while absorbing a lot about what works and what doesn’t work, and what you like and don’t like. Water Can Laura Purdie Salas

4. Write for the fun of it. Knowing and accepting that the majority of my poetry will never be shared in book form is a blessing and a curse. It’s a curse because…well, that’s pretty obvious, right? But it’s a blessing because it means I write it because I love it. I can’t help writing poetry–it’s the most fun writing I get to do. And if you want to write poetry for kids, I hope the same is true for you! I’m generally very goal-oriented, so I don’t, for instance, sit and write nonfiction pieces that I know will very likely never be published or even seen by other people. But there’s a freedom that comes with knowing I’m doing something totally inefficient and ineffective as a career strategy. It brings a sense of wild freedom that is wonderful. So write lots of poetry to stretch yourself. Most of it will stink. And that’s good! It means you’re reaching past your abilities. Keep doing that, over and over, and eventually your abilities will improve. And you’ll discover what kinds of poems you’re really good at!

5. Read a TON of poetry! In addition to the Poetry Friday posts, you want to be reading all the poetry books being published in your specific poetry genre (picture books, novels in verse, upper elementary collections, etc.). And you need to read what is being published NOW, not what was hot when you were a kid. Sylvia Vardell, anthologist, teacher educator, children’s poetry fanatic, and blogger, publishes a sneak peek of upcoming poetry books at the start of each year. Here are links for the past couple of years to get you started on your reading.

6. Share your work online. A lot of people are hesitant to share their work online, but it’s the best way to make connections—of the heart, not of the business kind (though that is a benefit as well). For me, I have found that an attitude of abundance helps me. There will always be another poem. That’s my mantra. I don’t share poems that I write specifically with publication in mind, but I do share occasional poems that I think MIGHT be publishable. I also share a super rough first draft every Thursday on my 15 Words or Less Poems post, where I post a photo and share a very short poem draft inspired by it. Then other people join in and share their first drafts based on the same photo. It’s amazing to see the variety! (There are other poetry prompts out there, too, of course.) And for National Poetry Month, I’m posting a riddle-ku (a riddle haiku) every day. It can be very lonely to be writing lots of poems and not getting published. Even though publishing is my overall goal, I enjoy sharing my work and connecting with other poets on a regular basis. I’d encourage you to think about how you can share your work online. Don’t blog? Maybe you’re on Facebook or Twitter, both awesome for sharing poems. Or if you don’t do any of those, you might just share your poems on other peoples’ blogs in response to poetry prompts they post. Hoarding your poems, in my experience, just doesn’t lead anywhere. Yes, every once in a while, I’ve seen a call for poems and wished I hadn’t shared a certain poem online (because many journals and book markets do consider a poem published if it has appeared online). But those twinges of regret have been far and few between and have been greatly outweighed by being an active member of an encouraging, rowdy poetry crowd.

BookspeakImprove Your Craft
7. Learn meter and rhyme. This is the number one weakness I see in poems and rhyming picture books that I critique. There are some good websites and books on this topic, and you should use them. Poor meter is THE number one problem I see in beginners’ poetry. But the ability to use meter well CAN be learned. It’s just that it’s hard and time-consuming. But it’s worth it. One book I recommend is poet Mary Oliver’s Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse. A few more resources are:
• Lane Fredrickson’s Rhyme Weaver website
Interactive scanning tool at For Better or Verse, from the University of Virginia
“Have You Got Rhythm?” by Jan Fields at the ICL site
“Rhymer’s Workshop” (a chat transcript) with Shelly Becker at the ICL site
• Examples of good rhyming books on my Pinterest Boards: Rhyming Nonfiction Picture Books and Fun Rhyming Picture Books

8. For rhyming picture books, make sure you have a story. With a plot. Stories in verse can be lots of fun, but lots of writers forget that story is a crucial element. Often, writers get so caught up in the fun of the rhyme and the wordplay that they leave small elements like conflict and obstacles and resolution out. A great way to test your rhyming story is to write it out in prose. Does it have a beginning and an end? A conflict? Events that cause other events? An ending that feels satisfying? If it’s missing any of those elements, you don’t have enough there for a story, rhyming or not. I’ve been there. It hurts. But it’s better to figure that out now than to have an editor point it out to you:>) (Concept rhyming books and nonfiction rhyming books have other important elements instead of or in addition to a plot.)

9. Create a collection with a super special hook in either topic or form. Or both. I can’t count the number of times an editor has said, “I love this collection of state poems. But there’s already a book of state poetry.” And there is. One. Published 10-15 years ago. I have heard this response on other topics too. Because poetry doesn’t sell well, editors hate it when there’s already a competing book. Most libraries with dwindling budgets will not buy another bug (for example) poetry collection if they already have one. So that means you have to be extra imaginative! Think outside the box. Your topic or poetic form (or both) should be something not already done a lot. Take a peek at Marilyn Singer’s Mirror Mirror and Follow Follow and Bob Raczka’s Lemonade: And Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word for examples of unique forms. For unique topics, look at Poem-mobiles: Crazy Car Poems (J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian), Cowboys (David Harrison), Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole (Bob Raczka again), and This Is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness (Joyce Sidman). For most writers and most large mainstream publishers, an animal poetry collection is much too general. But Joyce has a poetry book coming out all about how animals survive very cold temps. So, one thing you can do is take the topic you’re interested in and narrow it down, give it a twist, approach it from a different direction. Do something that hasn’t been seen before. That is your best chance of actually hooking an editor.

10. Read my Poetic Pursuits:>) From 2007 to 2009, I wrote a series of monthly (sorta) columns for my website on all different parts of writing poetry for kids, from getting ideas to scanning meter to writing in different forms. They’re all on my site and are just as relevant today as when I wrote them. The only difference is that my examples are 6-7 years old. If you’re interested in writing poems for kids, though, I think/hope you’ll find a lot of good info there to inspire you!

Bonus! Two exercises for you to try:
As an 8th-grade English teacher, one class project we did was work in small groups to create ballads by taking the lyrics to a t.v. theme song (like Gilligan’s Island) and telling a myth or a history story by doing a song parody. Same meter, same rhyme scheme as the original theme song, but a totally different topic. I still do this kind of thing today to stretch myself beyond my comfortable poetry forms and meters. So I challenge you to do the same thing! You can see a blog post I wrote about this where I shared my own imitation of a Rebecca Kai Dotlich poem here.

And if you’re interested in giving rhyming nonfiction a try, I’ll lead you through a quick exercise here.
I know this was lots of information, but I figured some of you might be brand new to poetry and thinking about giving it a try. Others of you might be further along in working in poetry and be looking for a few more advanced tips. So…I tried to give a variety. I hope you found something useful here, and I hope you’ll give poetry a try! Happy National Poetry Month!

Laura is giving away a prize to one lucky 12 x 12 participant. Take your pick between these two items:
Choice 1: A selection of five of Laura’s poetry and/or rhyming nonfiction books, personalized.
Choice 2: A one-hour on-the-spot poetry critique session with Mentors for Rent via Skype.

Laura Purdie Salas is the author of more than 120 books for kids and teens, including the brand new WATER CAN BE… (starred reviews in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly—holy cow! , A LEAF CAN BE… (Bank Street Best Books, IRA Teachers’ Choice, Riverby Award for Nature Books for Young Readers, and more), and BOOKSPEAK! POEMS ABOUT BOOKS (Minnesota Book Award, NCTE Notable, Bank Street Best Book, Eureka! Gold Medal, and more). Poetry is her very favorite thing to write! See more about Laura and her work at Laura and her Mentors for Rent partner Lisa Bullard do hourly coaching and critiquing for kids’ writers.


Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Giveaway, Poetry, Publishing, Rhyming, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Rough sketch - My Love for You is the Wind

Rough sketch – My Love for You is the Wind

Not surprisingly, artist Susan Eaddy’s clay illustration of the wood ducks for our Kickstarter campaign has drawn a great deal of attention (and awe!). Most people find it difficult to believe she achieves such stunning results using clay as her medium.

So this week, our theme for the campaign is “Inside the Artist’s Studio.”

Today Susan is offering us a (time lapse) peek into her process with a two-minute video. I had to pick my jaw up off the floor after I watched it for the first time, and I feel confident you will too! On Wednesday, Joanna Marple will feature a full interview with Susan on her blog, and on Thursday, Sarah Towle will share a video she recorded onsite in Susan’s studio in Nashville. You’ll get to see the original Wood Duck illustration!

But there’s more!!

As I write this, we have achieved 80% of our funding goal. We need just slightly less than $2000 to publish MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN! To celebrate, Susan has offered our community a special surprise. IF we reach our funding goal of $10,000 by 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 20th, Susan will complete a second illustration for the book BEFORE our campaign ends on December 11th!

With the winter holidays coming up, this is the only way Susan can complete another illustration before the end of the year. And of course she can’t begin unless we know we’re funded.

Should we reach this goal, the illustration we’ve chosen to complete is the one with the horses – My Love for You is the Wind. How badly do you want to see Susan work her magic on those horses? If you’ve been thinking of backing the campaign or spreading the word but haven’t had a chance yet, NOW is the time.

To sweeten the deal even further, if we reach the goal in time, every backer at the $25 level and above will receive a signed postcard of thanks from Susan featuring the horses illustration.

But first, here is the video of Susan working her magic. Check below the video for tweets you can share to spread the word about Susan’s work on this project. Thanks!

Tweets to Share (As always, feel free to put these in your own words!)

Illustrator Susan Eaddy works MAGIC in clay. Watch this 2 min time lapse video! (Click to tweet this)

Back this #picturebook on #kickstarter so we can see another illustration like this one in 3 weeks! (Click to tweet this)

Prepare to be amazed watching artist Susan Eaddy work #picturebook magic in clay! (Click to tweet this)
// ]]>

Categories: Authors, Crowdfunding, Goals, Picture Books, Poetry, Publishing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


There are so many books by Linda Ashman I could select for Perfect Picture Book Friday. Not only are we huge fans in our house, but I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Linda several times over the course of my writing career. In a fantastic example of the circularity of life, I once cried on Linda’s shoulder at a workshop after MY LOVE FOR YOU IS THE SUN got completely trashed in a first pages session. She then took the time to walk through the manuscript with me and give me tips for making it better. Several years (and MANY revisions later), this past week she was able to give me an endorsement for it as part of my Kickstarter campaign.

Linda is also our 12 x 12 featured author for November, and if you haven’t read her post on bad beginnings (and how to fix them), you should go straight there – AFTER you read this post of course. Then I highly recommend you nab her ebook, The Nuts and Bolts Guide to Writing Picture Books. Lastly, you should check out more of her award-winning, critically acclaimed books. Now – let’s get on with the show, shall we?

M is for Mischief - Ashman M is for Mischief

Written by Linda Ashman and Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Dutton Juvenile (July 3, 2008)

Suitable for: Ages 6-8

Themes/Topics: Poetry, Consequences, Rhyming, Manners, Alphabet Book

Opening/Synopsis: From Amazon: “Clever cautionary poems, raucously illustrated, about 26 children you’d rather read about than meet.

Here are twenty-six brats you’d never want to babysit: Catastrophic Coco, Gluttonous Griffin, Impolite Irma, and Quarrelsome Quincy, just to name a few. Linda Ashman’s perfectly crafted ditties about kids from Angry Abby, who is “apt to argue at any time and any place,?” to Zany Zelda, who “zigs and zags through all the rooms” are paired with hilariously energetic digital collages by Nancy Carpenter. Kids will relish the chaos these naughty tykes create and also the comeuppance many of them justly receive.”

Activities: Linda has a phenomenal teaching guide for this book on her website. As a bonus, she even offers an exercise for writers to learn how to scan the meter of one of the poems.

Why I Like This Book: As a writer and fellow rhymer, I love this book because it showcases how brilliant Linda is at writing rhyme. Internal rhyme, consonance, assonance, alliteration – it’s all here. Not to mention that each character’s personality jumps off the page. No easy feat to accomplish by itself, much less to write all in rhyme! My kids love the book because ALL kids love to read about naughty children. Especially naughty children who are MUCH naughtier than themselves. They express the same kind of glee over some of the consequences the children face in the book as they do for the brats in CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. AND – without even realizing it, they are learning about good manners while reading about and considering these children with their bad manners. The book is a perfect jumping-off point for more serious discussions about behavior and consequences.

For more fantastic picture books and resources please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog and find the tab for Perfect Picture Books.

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Books, Children's Books, Parenting, Perfect Picture Book Friday, Picture Books, Rhyming, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Goofing off with Jim Averbeck, a contributor to this podcast episode, at the Black & White Ball.

Goofing off with Jim Averbeck, a contributor to this podcast episode, at the Black & White Ball.

Yesterday, I did something unprecedented. I hijacked Katie Davis‘ Brain Burps podcast. Took it all for myself!


So I could share all of the amazing, astounding gratitude quotes I got from faculty members at SCBWI-LA. The likes of Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, Bruce Degen, Ellen Hopkins, David Diaz, Lin Oliver, Marla Frazee, Paul Zelinsky… The list goes on.

I so hope you will all listen because it will be impossible not be inspired (and perhaps a little teary) afterward. Plus it’s short. It had to be because I had Katie tied up in the closet with duct tape over her mouth!!

My apologies to Katie for taking such drastic measures, but I’ve been traveling so much I wasn’t able to write a Gratitude Sunday post after the LA conference. I think this podcast episode will do well in its place.

To use Jon Scieszka’s “word” from the conference (you’ll hear more about that in the podcast) — ENJOY!

Categories: Authors, Brain Burps About Books, Children's Books, Creativity, Gratitude Sunday, Picture Books, SCBWI, Travel, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


12 x 12 new banner

Happy May everyone! Always a favorite for me as it’s my birthday month.

And April wasn’t too shabby either! Although I did not complete a new PB draft or revise an existing one, I did successfully lead the first (now annual!) Writer’s Renaissance retreat in Florence, Italy. I still get goose bumps over the memories. It was that good. I hope some of you will consider joining me next year. Even if you can’t come (if you are a man, for instance), you can follow along vicariously on its new Facebook Page. So yes, I’ve kept busy in spite of the lack of draft for April. 😉

Quick reminder: Submissions to our April featured agent Susan Hawk will close today at 6:00 p.m. EST/3:00 p.m. PST SHARP! Our May featured agent, Elizabeth Harding, will begin accepting submissions tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m. EST.

Okay folks. It’s your turn to report. Did you or did you not write a new draft and or revise an existing draft in April?

Here is what you need to do to check in for a chance to win a PB critique from David L. Harrison, even if you didn’t complete a draft!

  1. See the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post that says “A Picture Book Critique from David L. Harrison at the top.
  2. Click on the “Comment on David’s Blog Post” button. It will reveal the task, which is to comment on David’s April 1st post. Commenting on David’s post is mandatory and gets you one point even if you didn’t complete a draft in April. If you haven’t yet commented, click here to do so. Then you click ENTER on that option in Rafflecopter, which will then open the next two options.
  3. Click on the “Wrote a PB Manuscript” button. This will ask if you completed a PB draft in April. If you did, click ENTER, if you did not, move on to the next step.
  4. Click on the last “Revised a PB Manuscript” button. This will ask if you revised a PB in April. If you did, click ENTER. If not, move on to the next step.
  5. Submit your entry. Rafflecopter will track your points.

You have until midnight EST on May 1st to enter your results. I will then have Rafflecopter draw a winner and announce it on the blog on May 2nd.

Many, many thanks to David L. Harrison for showing us how beautifully poetry and picture books come together.  One lucky winner will receive a critique from him too.

Finally, don’t forget to come back tomorrow to meet May’s featured author. She’s fantastic!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Categories: 12 x 12, 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Children's Books, Creativity, Giveaway, Picture Books, Poetry, Rhyming, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


In honor of both our April 12 x 12 featured author David Harrison and poetry month, I decided to feature one of our all-time favorite collections of poetry — Cowboys! Not only the poems evocative, funny, and thought-provoking, the illustrations are phenomenal. You will swear looking at some of them that they are photographs. This book is a great way to round out Poetry Month!



Written by David L. Harrison, Illustrated by Dan Burr

Windsong, April 2012

Suitable for: Ages 7-9

Themes/Topics: Cowboys, Poetry, Old West, Horses, Books for Boys

Opening/Synopsis: From Amazon: The life of a cowboy driving a cattle herd was hard. It took a person with grit to drive a thousand head of longhorns along the Chisholm Trail. Cowboys faced badlands, lightning storms, and deadly twisters. But they also found time to swap stories around the campfire. David L. Harrison has created a cast of tough-as-leather cowboys who speak their minds in twenty-two entertaining poems, brought to life by Dan Burr’s dramatic paintings. Readers follow the cowboys from roundup on a ranch in Texas to the one-thousand-mile trek to market in Abilene, Kansas, where they finally let loose.

Activities: First, have your kids watch this video of David reading a poem from Cowboys on the amazing No Water River poetry website. You could have kids write their own cowboy poems using another of David’s Books, Easy Poetry Lessons that Dazzle and Delight, as a guide. Another great exercise would be to ask kids which poems are their favorites and why, as there are many different styles and topics in the book. Finally, I think it would be great to have kids pair up and write response poems!

Why I Like This Book: It is true that the illustrations by Dan Burr in this book are strikingly beautiful, but equally beautiful are the stories David paints with his words. This collection of poems kept my fidgety son riveted and asking many questions about vocabulary and meaning. I love that children are both drawn in by the poems and also challenged by them. The poems are so evocative and run such a range of topics and emotions, there is truly something for everyone. I’ve read from this book to my kids’ classes and it’s never failed to be a hit. And why not? It’s a treasure of a book.

For more fantastic picture books and resources please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog and find the tab for Perfect Picture Books.

Categories: 12 x 12 Featured Author, Authors, Children's Books, Perfect Picture Book Friday, Picture Books, Poetry, Rhyming, Writing · Tags: , , , , ,

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