Category Archives: Kid Stuff & Children’s Books

Kids’ Week – Author Jessica Messinger

Article by Jessica Messinger, author of Stinky Feet

Thank you, Karen, for asking me to guest blog about children’s books during Kids’ Week. I’m glad to be here.

I think every children’s book author has to deal with the question, “What makes you think you can be a writer of children’s books?”

I hear voices.

My writing began with my love for stories. My mother used to tell me stories about the mice that lived in my hair to get me to sit still while she combed the snarls out of my long, fine, blonde hair. My grandfather and my childhood babysitter read stories to me, and I can still hear their voices when I read those same stories. Stories are a huge part of our lives, and I suppose writing stories grew out of my love for hearing them, and then thinking, “Hey, I could write something like that.”

What did I do to research writing children’s books?

Though I have a BA in English, the research that helped me the most was reading to children. I learned what kinds of books they like, and I learned what I liked and didn’t like about children’s books.

I paid attention to how children looked at the world. Kids will spend hours looking at ants, bugs, worms and spiders. I got down on the ground and the floor with them and listened to what they had to say about the world.

I think it is imperative to spend time with children in the age group for your book, and it helps if you ask them questions or find out what they think about your book topic. With my book, I began to write it when my daughter was in second or third grade and she wouldn’t wear socks with her shoes. When she took off her shoes in the car it smelled like something had died. I knew this problem of stinky feet inside and out by the time I wrote the book.

What books, if any, did I use to help me?

I read Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, parts of Ann Whitford Paul’s book Writing Picture Books, and many children’s books. I also like to read grammar, usage, and punctuation books.

What audience do I hope to attract with my book?

I hope children will enjoy my book, but I hope that the readers of my book will enjoy it as well. If my book becomes a favorite that is asked for over and over again that would be nice too. Some people have told me that my book is definitely a “read-to” book. I do not believe that just because my book is a children’s book, all the words should be simple! Though I like simply-written books to help early readers, when people read my book, I want the child to ask, “What does this word mean,” so their vocabulary expands.

As so many authors do now, I added some thought questions at the end of the story, to encourage discussion about the book between the reader and the listener. I believe this is an important aspect of reading together.

Since you’re self-published, what did you do for your beta-reading and editing?

I sent pdf files to a few friends and asked for their feedback. I tweaked it a little and then I printed five copies and handed them out at my book group for people to see. They looked at the books for a few minutes and loved it. It is a nice book to look at, the illustrations “read” very well, and the colors are fabulous! I learned that beta-reading even a simple children’s book should take time. Next time I’ll print out a few more copies, give them to people to read, and ask specific questions.

I paid to have my book edited (Thank you, Karen, you do fantastic work!) and I would encourage any writer to have their book professionally edited!

What is your writing schedule?

I don’t have one. Maybe that’s why it took me seven years to publish this book. With a toddler and two busy teenagers (our third teenager is currently on a two-year mission for our church) it’s hard to find time to write. Most books about writing say that writing isn’t so much working on your story as it is honing your writing skills, so I have a blog for my book, and a blog for my son, which give me specific writing deadlines.

I love to write letters too! I think we’re losing the art of letter-writing to the convenience of instant messages. Because our family can’t call our son while he’s on his mission, we take time to write letters and lengthy emails to him. Sometimes I get creative and email him a letter written from the perspective of the three-year old, the cat, or the dog. It’s fun to watch my daughter and the animals and to think about how their perspectives might sound. My son loves to get those letters!

What is it like working with your husband?

I’m not sure if most children’s books are written and illustrated the way we did it, but it worked for us. Todd is one of those rare, gifted, fine artists who can also illustrate. When I wrote the story I had ideas in my mind of what the illustrations would look like, so I described them and put them in the manuscript where I wanted them. Todd took those descriptions and worked his magic into the illustrations we have now – which are fabulous! For the last 20 years, I have seen his work on other projects and he still surprised me with these illustrations.

Do you have another project in the works?

Yes! StoryCub has done a video reading of my book, which will be available for free on iTunes and their web site soon. I have a notebook full of ideas and I can’t wait to see which project will jump out at me next.

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Jessica Messinger

Jessica Messinger has a BA in English with a minor in French from Brigham Young University. She lives with her husband Todd and their four children in upstate New York. They live in a teeny house with a yellow lab, Bailey, and a black cat, Midnight. Stinky Feet is Jessica’s first children’s book. She has a lot of ideas for more children’s books and hopes to have enough time to write them all.

Check out Jessica’s children’s book Stinky Feet via CreateSpace, on Facebook, or on her blog.

You can buy Stinky Feet on Amazon here.

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Interesting information about StoryCub

StoryCub produces videos of children’s books being read while the camera pans through a few illustrations from the book. If you click on the YouTube icon on StoryCub’s home page, you’ll go to their videos on YouTube. Jessica’s book will be there soon!

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Filed under Guest Writers & Bloggers, Illustrators & Illustrations, Kid Stuff & Children's Books

Kids’ Week – Author and Illustrator, Harri Romney

Article by Harri Romney, author of Clunky Monkey

From a young age

I’d always had an ambition to write a book since I was around seven years old, which never seemed to fade. Even when I went through university years later, the ambition was in the forefront of my mind. I was told that I was like Peter Pan, refusing to grow up while remaining excited about the same things that children are enthusiastic about (and I still do). Sadly a few years ago my brother-in-law suddenly passed away (he was fairly young), so it was at that point that I decided I was going to achieve personal goals, which included writing that book.

Emotional achievement

After finishing my first story, I remember feeling emotional – a real sense of achievement (eureka moment), purely because of the little manuscript I’d created. Afterwards my head was buzzing with so many more ideas or quirky titles, that it was interfering with my sleeping, driving, studying and life generally; I had to start keeping a notepad nearby at all times.

First story and a series

That first story became part of the series Winston and Fairy’s Adventures, which has been dedicated especially to my brother-in-law. For this reason, when the first paperback from this series Winston and Fairy: A New Sleigh for Santa is published in 2012, some of the proceeds will go towards supporting the National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society which researches the condition that he tragically died from.

Working with kids and being a mom

I don’t research stories before I write them; studying childcare, working with children (and being a mother) has partly helped me to understanding children’s likes, dislikes, or their thought processes and capabilities. However it’s the experiences that children and I share a love of in life such as celebrations, fairy tales, mythical characters, snowy scenery and nature and so on, that inspire me to write.

Countless picture books

It just happens too, that I adore narrative verse, so I choose to write most of my stories in this format.  Additionally, I’ve read countless picture books to my own children every day, since they were both only weeks old (because I read articles which informed parents and educators that it was beneficial to do so), so perhaps picture books are the genre that I’ve been the most exposed to, besides academic literature.

Rejection leads to self-publication

After sending off quite a few manuscripts to agents (and receiving just as many rejections back), I decided to publish my stories on Kindle instead – I would start with Lord Tarquinius Snout’s Adventures, then Winston and Fairy’s Never Ending Winter, and Fireworks and Aliens next, but I needed to get the illustrations done first. And I’d not drawn anything since my college days, 20 years prior.

Why not illustrate it myself?

After joining Goodreads, Amazon Author Central, Twitter and then some networking sites on Facebook, I had an unpleasant experience with one illustrator who tried to hard sell me his work after I’d complimented him on it. Anyway, following this incident, I decided that if I was ever going to get my work published, I’d need to have a go at illustrating myself … I’m glad I did. Examples of my work can be found on this gallery link.

Being a technophobe, I prefer to use good old pencils and paint pens rather than Wacom technology. My husband then enhances colours and removes smudging using a computer, before publishing the pictures.

Paperback and hardback

However, in conclusion, my personal experience (as a published author), has been that picture books which are only available on Kindle or iPad, don’t seem that popular among parents yet (I’ll be the first to admit that I’d not let my children free with these gadgets either). I believe that for this reason and other reasons, paperback or hardback books remain the preferred presentation for picture books; which is why earlier this year, I decided to publish my stories in paperback instead, using a micropublisher and the print on demand facility.

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Harri Romney

Clunky Monkey, A Dog Called Dog, and more recently Lord Tarquinius Snout and the Vacuum of Doom are now available to purchase online in paperback through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Waterstones.

Details regarding publications can also be found on Harri’s website. Be sure to check out Harri’s gallery of illustrations here. Connect with Harri on Twitter.

Click on the link for more information on the U.K.’s National Ankylosing Spondylitis Society.

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Filed under Guest Writers & Bloggers, Illustrators & Illustrations, Kid Stuff & Children's Books

Kids’ Week Kick-off – An Interview with Chris Eboch

Tell us about your latest historical fiction for children.

The Eyes of Pharaoh, 1177 BC: During the reign of Pharaoh Ramses the Third, Seshta, a 13-year-old dancer in the Temple of Hathor, dreams of becoming a famous entertainer. Horus, the brother of her heart, is content as a toymaker’s apprentice. Reya, at 16, has joined Egypt’s army with hopes of becoming a hero. Despite their different paths, nothing can break the bonds of their friendship.

When Reya hints that Egypt is in danger from foreign nomads, Seshta and Horus don’t take him seriously. How could anyone challenge Egypt?

Then Reya disappears. Seshta and Horus set out to find him—and discover a darker plot than they ever imagined. To save their friend, Seshta and Horus spy on merchants, soldiers, and royalty, and start to suspect even The Eyes of Pharaoh, the powerful head of the secret police. Will Seshta and Horus escape the traps set for them, rescue Reya, and stop the plot against Egypt in time?

Set in ancient Egypt, the ideas in this book echo in the international politics of today, while the power of friendship will touch hearts both young and old. Suitable for ages 9 and up.

What kind of research did you do for The Eyes of Pharaoh?

I’ve been fascinated by ancient Egypt since I was a kid. Plus, I grew up in Saudi Arabia, so I have some familiarity with the Middle East, and my family visited Egypt when I was in my 20s. I have at least a dozen books on ancient Egypt on my bookshelf, including several of the Time-Life books about how people lived, with lots of pictures. I also did a lot of library and museum research. The Eyes of Pharaoh is the kind of book I would have wanted to read when I was in fourth or fifth grade.

What is the most surprising thing you learned from your research?

One thing that intrigues me about history is how some of the lessons of the past resonate today. My first novel, The Well of Sacrifice, is an adventure/drama set in 9th-century Mayan times. I explored some of the reasons the Mayan civilization collapsed, such as environmental degradation and too much money flowing to the government and away from the people.

For The Eyes of Pharaoh, I touched on issues such as illegal immigration and the dangers of a country thinking it’s the best and most powerful country in the world, and therefore untouchable. It’s disturbing how some of these themes still affect us. Sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever learn from the mistakes of the past, but I hope my books will get people thinking a little harder about these issues.

What is your writing process like?

Over the years I’ve gotten better at using outlines. Now I prefer to start with them, as it saves me a lot of time and frustration during the writing process. I figure a strong outline is the equivalent of two drafts. I use the analytical process I developed and included in my book Advanced Plotting to make sure the outline has all the elements needed for a strong novel, including good pacing.

That means I’ll spend several weeks brainstorming before I start writing, and I’ll also do most of my research in advance (although there are always little things to check along the way). Once I start writing, I generally write 1500 – 2500 words each day, about a chapter. Then I take a few weeks for editing, and maybe a break between books to catch up on other things.

How did you choose your genre?

Writing middle grade novels seemed like a natural fit to me. I read an enormous amount as a kid, and I still enjoy reading children’s books. It fits my style, partly natural and partly based on journalism training, with a focus on simple, clear language and plenty of action and dialogue to keep the pages turning. Plus, I love ancient history!

I’ve written contemporary novels for kids as well, such as my Haunted series about a brother and sister who travel with the ghost hunter TV show. That has a historical angle, too, because the ghosts are from different points in history. I’m now publishing the fourth Haunted book, The Ghost Miner’s Treasure. The first three books were published by Aladdin, but they dropped the series after my editor left. I’m excited that with self-publishing I can release The Ghost Miner’s Treasure on my own – and one early young reader said she thinks it’s the best yet!

A couple of years ago, I was starting to feel restless and wanted a change. I realized I had mostly been reading adult romantic suspense novels. I decided to try one, and now I’m publishing my third, under the name Kris Bock. I also write articles about writing, teach writing through a correspondence school, lead workshops, and offer private critique services. I expect my future will hold a combination of writing for children and for adults, plus teaching and editing.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Take classes and get professional feedback. Most people try to submit their work long before they’re writing at a professional level. You’ll save yourself frustration if you focus on learning to write better for a few years before you worry about the submission process.

Where can readers find your books?

Readers can learn about my books and order them on my Amazon page. They can also read excerpts of my children’s books at www.chriseboch.com, learn about my romantic suspense novels at www.krisbock.com, or get writing tips and excerpts from Advanced Plotting on my blog.

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Chris Eboch

Chris Eboch’s book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots and is available in print or e-book on Amazon or B&N. Learn about Chris’s children’s books at www.chriseboch.com or visit her Amazon page or B&N page.

Check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog. Chris also writes romantic suspense for adults under the name Kris Bock. Visit her website or see Kris Bock’s books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords.

Connect with Chris on Facebook, Kris Bock Author Page, and on Twitter.

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Chris Eboch’s profile photo by Sonia Sones.

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Filed under Editing & Proofreading, Guest Writers & Bloggers, Kid Stuff & Children's Books

North Dakota Week – Stacy VanDyck Photography

Article by Stacy VanDyck

Before I begin, I want to thank all of my friends and fans who have supported me as I grow in my art.

I grew up in California where I met my husband, and I followed him to two other states before arriving here in Minot. I started my business in San Antonio, TX and it really took off for me when moved to Minot, ND in 2009, and I have been enjoying capturing families in their precious moments.

Because of my husband’s job, we will be leaving Minot in 2013. I plan on continuing with my business as we travel from station to station; until then I will continue to capture the lives of those around the Minot, ND area.

At Stacy VanDyck Photography, clients can expect to be free of flashes and extra lights causing uncomfortable squinting. My studio is setup in my home, but I love taking photos outside in any weather – even in the cold if families want snow pictures.

I use all natural-light when shooting pictures. I find natural-light more comfortable for my clients who are mostly newborns, children, and families.

After each session, clients are given a personal link to view and to share their images with whomever they choose.

For detailed information about pricing and products, you can check out my website. You can also find me on Facebook and blogspot.

Stacy VanDyck

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