Be There or Be Square! 2013 NJ SCBWI Annual Conference (Registration Ends April 30, 2013)

I’m not one to shamelessly use my dog to plug an event (What kind of lowlife would do that?),


BUT if you write kids’ books and/or illustrate, and you want to get your manuscript and/or illustrations in front of editors and agents, know the business better, or just hang with your peeps, then this is the conference for you!  And there are only 7 days left to register.

Here’s the important info:

Where:  Crowne Plaza & Holiday Inn Express Princeton SE, 900 Scudders Mill Rd, Plainsboro, NJ 08536 (609-936-4200)

When:  June 7-9, 2013


Even if you feel like your work isn’t ready, it still doesn’t hurt to go.  Why?  So glad you asked.  Because with all those writers, illustrators, editors and agents, not to mention amazing classes, how can you not be inspired and recharged!

Oh, and if that pitch (and don’t forget the picture of the dog!) didn’t do it, the hotel has a pool!


The Car Ride and Listening 101


My six-year-old son is currently in the doghouse for not listening, among other infractions.  So all use of electronic devices, including the holy iPad, has been suspended until further notice.

Of course when issuing the sentence, I didn’t give much thought to timing, as we got in the car for a three-hour ride to Long Island last night.

At the beginning of the journey, there were tears, complaints, and lots of talk about legal action and the good ole: “You are the worst parents ever” banter that after the first hundred times gets stale and all you can think to say is:  “I think you need new material.”

But after this wondrous first leg of the journey, I realized that there was a certain beauty in not having the iPad around.

My husband is the king of making up silly games, and we named every animal we knew, then every animal in an electronic game, and then we made paper airplanes, and played tic-tac-toe.  When the entertainment was beginning to thin, I did something I never did.  I asked my son if he wanted to listen to a picture book I was working on.   After all, he was within my reading demographic.  So, he listened.

“What do you think? I asked.

“I don’t like it.” He shot back.

“Why not?”



And then silence.  But a few minutes later, there were questions from the peanut gallery.

“I don’t get the ending.  Why does Jimmy want a broken toy?  No kid wants a broken toy.”

And silence again.  Until he shot back with: “You need to fix the ending.”

And that was that.

With all the questions, it made me realize that perhaps the ending was not working so well as I had thought.

When I first started writing I had a writing teacher who didn’t see the value in reading your work to kids before the final product was done.  And I always wondered, why not?  After all, aren’t they the intended audience?  Wouldn’t you want to hear their thoughts?  I found it really refreshing to get my son’s opinions.  I love that he was a critical listener (not to mention has the occasional ability to listen, but that’s a whole other story!) and had different ideas about where the story should end up.

I never thought I would say this, but I’m looking forward to the car ride back.  And I wonder what he’ll think of this other story I’ve been working on.  If he’s willing to give a listen!

p.s.  If anyone has cool names for a robot, please send them my way!

By rnewman504

GUEST BLOG: Education Professor and Children’s Author Rosanne Kurstedt Chats about Teaching Writing to Kids Using Picture Books

Reblogged from Laura Sassi Tales.

Laura Sassi Tales

ImageToday I’m delighted to have Rosanne Kurstedt as my guest. I met Rosanne at last November’s NJSCBWI Writing Retreat and was struck immediately by her passion for picture books. She not only writes them, she also encourages teachers to use them as models for teaching writing.  Today she’ll be chatting about how educators can use picture books to support students’ writing. Take it away, Rosanne!

I write picture books. I am also a teacher. When I taught elementary aged students in grades 3-6 (depending on the year) I infused our reading and writing curriculum with picture books. My classroom was overflowing. I read picture books as read-alouds to model reading strategies, discuss big ideas, and to study author’s craft. In addition, students read picture books independently, with partners and in groups. Students used the picture books for inspiration and models for their own writing. We relished in the beautiful language…

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By rnewman504

If You Write Picture Books, Do Something Smart: Make a Dummy


One thing my thickheaded brain learned late in the process of writing picture books and early chapter books/easy-to-reads is the value of making a dummy book.  Now, I wouldn’t even think twice about doing one—if not more, in the course of working on just one book.

But you may be asking what’s a dummy? And why does a writer have to make one? Good questions.  So glad you asked.  A dummy is just a mock-up of your book.  And once you’ve written out your story and the bones are pretty much there, doing a dummy helps with the fine-tuning.  You get to see how the story lays out, where your ah-ha! page-turners fall, where you might need to add a page-turner, and most of all, you get to cut, cut and cut some more.

Since word counts are such a huge issue these days, getting your word counts down as much as possible will help strengthen the story.  Although editors say picture books shouldn’t be more than 1000 words, what I keep hearing is that you need to shoot for the 600-700 word range, if not shorter!

Whether you’re working with picture books or early chapter books/easy-to-reads, your book needs to fit into 32 pages.  Since most picture books are 32 pages (although there are some that are 24 and 40 pages, think in terms of groups of eight), after front matter (the title page and copyright page), you’re left with about 28 pages to work with.

My dummies are not sophisticated.  Although I have heard that there are programs you can use to layout your story, I like the old-fashioned method.  My tools of choice are:

  • 8 sheets of paper (9 if you’d like to do a fancy, inspirational cover), folded in half.
  • Rubber cement glue
  • Scissors

This past week I spent a good amount of time working on a dummy for the fourth book in my easy-to-read detective series.  (I still can’t believe I’m in the fourth book already.)  And while doing the dummy, I realized the story still needs some tweaks.  But unlike the first 1000 drafts, doing the dummy helps me see that the finish line is in sight—well, at least for the next round of edits. 🙂