I’ll soon be coming up on my fifth anniversary of writing for kids. It was December of 2012, when I first decided this librarian had things to say in books. My first manuscript, which took me a few months to write was a nonfiction biography for kids about a little known inventor. I wanted to get his story out there in the world for kids.
Without an agent, I sent it out to about 5 publishers and played the waiting game. In the meantime, I wrote a narrative nonfiction book that took me a few months and got better at my craft. About 8 months later I received a request for the first bio from a great publisher. They loved the idea, but had a lot of changes for me to make. Would I be interested they inquired? Of course, I was excited and so new to the process. Over the next year and a half I worked with an editor who championed my book and made multiple changes. Ultimately, it was rejected. I was upset, but it helped me to develop the thick skin writers need for the many rejections we receive with and without feedback.
In the next year, I wrote a fiction manuscript with a diverse character. This too was requested, by a Jewish publisher, and had two rewrites, before a pass. Subsequently a similar idea came to fruition by another author that was published by same publisher, but hey great minds think alike! And I’ve learned there are not that many new ideas in the kidlit world of sharks, dinosaurs, monsters and princesses.
So my writing was going places and I was learning the craft and the game. I took a few online webinars and went to a big conference. I have had my writing critiqued by other writers and editors. I signed with an agent about two years ago who believed in my writing.
Through friends and contacts, I got my first stories published by Amazon Education last year. Four e-stories in a format I never thought I would be comfortable writing in: mostly dialogue and little narrative; mostly chats between characters for the reading app Amazon Rapids. An editor who believed in me and bought four stories in a few months.
I am playing the waiting game as writers all do. Ironically, my inventor bio is being read again by the same publisher from four years ago!!! Talk about coming full circle. In the years between it was read by multiple publishers who had good things to say about it, that helped me to revise it and make it stronger. My agent helped with crafting better dialog between characters, which is the weak point of my writing. I also have a fiction manuscript about a cat who can write, out to some great publishers as well.
Now I’m working on a humorous fractured fairy-tale, so removed from the research I usually begin doing for a nonfiction manuscript. I am enjoying the process so much more, as I am writing what I think may be what I should focus on; creative fiction. All the rejections have just make my writing stronger and tighter than it ever was. I have helped some of my kid lit friends with editing their work as well, as I have become a sharper writer.
Did I think I would publish a book quickly? Honestly, yes. I have always believed in my stories. Did I think I would still be revising manuscripts from four years ago today? Not in my wildest dreams. But, I have come further than I thought and have learned that rejection doesn’t always equal failure, but discovery.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting debut author and fellow elementary librarian, Jenna Grodzicki, at the spring NJSCBWI Conference. Jenna’s newest book is “Pixie’s Adventure,” published by eTreasures.
What inspired you to write your debut picture book, Pixie’s Adventure?
The idea for Pixie’s Adventure came to me over 10 years ago. Our cat, who was always trying to sneak outside, escaped during a thunderstorm. My husband and I spent two hours looking for her in the pouring rain. We finally found her on our neighbor’s front porch. Even though I had always dreamed of writing picture books, it took me a long time to actually start. Quite frankly, I was scared to take that risk. In early 2015, a combination of events prompted me to pick up a pencil, and Pixie’s Adventure was the first story I wrote. The rest is history!
What is the topic of your next picture book?
My second picture book, Finn Finds a Friend, is coming out in October with Clear Fork Publishing. It is about a lemon shark named Finn who wants to make some new friends. Unfortunately, his sharky appearance causes potential buddies to swim away or hide. Finn must demonstrate it’s what’s on the inside that truly matters in order to convince the sea creatures that he’s not looking for his next meal.
In addition to Finn, I have 6 other manuscripts (and counting!) I’m working on, including one nonfiction piece.
Who are your favorite authors for kids?
Wow, this is a tough question. I have so many favorites, it’s hard to choose! When I was little, I loved Nancy Drew (Carolyn Keene) and the Babysitters Club (Ann M. Martin). Among my favorite picture books were Miss Nelson is Missing, The Paper Bag Princess, and Click, Clack, Moo. Today, I absolutely love Mo Willems. His Elephant and Piggie books are a hit with every one of my students, as well as my son. I’m also a big fan of Ame Dyckman, Kate Messner, Drew Daywalt, and Jon Klassen.
What are your interests/hobbies besides writing?
In addition to writing, I absolutely love to read. I’m really into YA right now, especially anything by Sarah J. Maas. I love the Boston Red Sox – we try to go to Fenway Park at least once a year. In the winter, I enjoy skiing. And of course, my favorite thing to do is spend time with my husband and our two crazy awesome children!
Thanks Jenna, for your awesome answers!
I had the pleasure of chatting with author/illustrator Lisa Papp, whose newest book is titled, “Madeline Finn and the Library Dog,” published by Peachtree Publishers. Lisa has illustrated numerous picture books, but I was captivated by this one that celebrates the idea of using therapy dogs in libraries to help struggling readers. Lisa and I are both pet owners of rescue cats and my lovely rescue cat, Lucy, is by my side as I am writing this blog post!
LI: What inspired your idea for Madeline Finn and the Library Dog?
Lisa Papp: This story comes straight from the heart. When you meet these beautiful therapy dogs and their owners, you can’t help but fall in love. They are such a tremendous gift to our communities. I discovered the Reading-to-Dogs program at my local library. My husband, Rob, and I were returning books when we saw a long line of dogs waltzing in the side door. We couldn’t help but follow them in. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I remember these gorgeous dogs sitting in a large, bright room with lots of windows. There were about twelve dogs that day along with their owners. A couple of minutes later, the kids came in. That’s when the smiles started. For an hour and a half, we watched kids read to the dogs. The children chose a book, then chose a dog. Some of the parents told us they couldn’t get their child to pick up a book at home, but they would come to the library for this.
It was so inspiring to watch. Many of the children were self-conscious at first, but that all changed when they got next to a dog. Dogs have that wonderful gift of unconditional love. That wonderful gift of accepting you just as you are. The children responded to that immediately. They read them story after story, petting the dogs and stroking their ears while they worked out the tough words. And they stayed at it – the entire hour and a half! The bond between the children and the dogs was pure magic. These wonderful therapy dogs and their owners let me tag along for the better part of a year. I count them as dear friends now. They, and the children they help, are the inspiration for the book.
LI: Do you have any pets/rescue pets?
Lisa Papp:As a matter of fact, we have three rescued cats. All siblings. My husband and I had gone to a flea market in search of a sprinkler. We came home with three kitties instead. Who could resist? We told ourselves things like…oh, so and so loves cats, maybe she’ll want one.….and this one looks like our real estate agent’s cat, she’ll probably want another one just like him, etc. That was eight years ago and we couldn’t be happier to have kept all three. They are wonderful little beings, even if a bit naughty at times. Can’t imagine life without them. I guess you could call them therapy cats because they definitely keep me and my husband sane. There’s nothing better than a kitty snuggle after a hard day. And when we take life too seriously, they are the first to remind us to lighten up – a “who can catch the ball in the air” game does wonders for the soul.
LI: What future projects are you working on?
Lisa Papp: I have the unfortunate habit of working on multiple projects at once. With that in mind, I can tell you I do have a few Madeline Finn adventures up my sleeve, as well as a couple of novels midstream. All illustrated. It seems, no matter if I’m dreaming up picture books or novels, they always center around animals.
LI: What advice would you give to today’s kids who love to draw?
Lisa Papp:I would say, “Keep doing it!” All the time. Anywhere you can. All those characters, all those stories you’re dreaming up will stay with you somewhere. It’s like an invisible basket you’re filling up. All that imagination, the practice of making something from nothing, the pure joy of creating – all of that will serve you well. Because that’s what will sustain you – even if you don’t become an artist. You will know how to reach inside yourself, into that basket of freedom where your imagination has no limits. When you learn to tap into that creativity, it’s something you’ll enjoy the rest of your life.
- Age Range: 4 – 8 years
- Grade Level: Kindergarten – 3
- Lexile Measure: 370
- Hardcover: 32 pages
- Publisher: Peachtree Publishers (October 1, 2016)
Writers are always told ” write about what you know.” So when I started to delve into the world of children’s writing , that was not great information for me; because I wanted to write nonfiction, about new and unknown subjects or places. I come from the background of writing feature news articles for adults. I have always been more comfortable reading and writing nonfiction. But after an almost two year stretch of acceptance and revisions for a nonfiction kid lit biography I wrote, came the ultimate rejection from a great publisher. I was crushed. I then decided to step out of the comfort zone and try writing fiction picture books instead of nonfiction.
Write about what you know: Family, nature, humor. I wrote my first fiction picture book about two years ago and received requests from a couple of publishers who liked it, but wanted some edits. Still haven’t sold that title, but it has led to more fiction writing. My newest manuscript is being read by a few agents and editors right now and I feel confidence in it. It’s funny and kids like funny; it has a feline main character who can read and write.
Working on tightening my fiction writing led to me recently selling my first online short story, written with a lot of dialog; way out of my comfort zone of writing nonfiction narrative. I still plan on writing kids’ nonfiction; I have started on some new ideas for researching in the next few months. But sometimes it is good to try new things and step outside of that comfortable box and stretch your goals a little. For me, the fiction writing led to better writing and revising and I can say it was worth it to take on the challenge.
I am not a mathematical person. I hated taking Statistics in college. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that for unpublished writers the odds are not in our favor. Here’s hoping that 2016, is a great year for debut, unpublished writers of kid and YA lit. There has been a renaissance of lovely picture book illustrators in 2015 and YA writers of dystopian chronicles about fictional characters in fictional lands seems to be the norm. But what about a good, old-fashioned story? I am primarily a non-fiction writer and we depend on great research and facts, woven with lyrical writing. Sometimes that makes our stories even harder to sell and market, especially for the children’s market which is highly fiction driven.
But it is a New Year. And there have been statistics, aha, that say print book sales for kids are up and e-books sales for kids are dwindling. Kids are reading again, be it graphic novels or even non-fiction picture books. It is still a delight to this kid’s librarian to see a young child holding a physical book rather than an IPad. So, to my writer friends out there, don’t give up hope. 2016 is just around the corner and kids are still reading the old-fashioned way. And since eighteen, chai, is a lucky number in Judaism, 2016 added together, 18 doubled or 36, this just might be your lucky year!
The job of the non-fiction writer is tough; besides getting the facts straight, we need to weave together a narrative that presents the facts in an interesting way for readers. Doing the research can sometimes be the easier of the two parts of the narrative non-fiction writer’s job. Finding the right voice and editing your story can take longer than finding the facts.
Where to start? Find an interesting subject for kids who has not been written about endlessly. If you are going to write about Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, what is the spin on your story that is different from the dozens of books already out there? There have been great new children’s bios in the past few years about Albert Einstein, Gordon Parks, even one about the friendship between Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. All of these books relied on strong writing and beautiful illustration to drive forward story.
As a researcher I find my subjects by reading, reading, reading. Newspaper and magazine articles provide a great starting path to finding good subjects for non-fiction. I spend a lot of time in the American History and Biography sections of my library looking for new subjects to research. When I find a person who I think will be interesting to kids or who is an undiscovered hero, I am ready to begin my writing. It usually takes me a few weeks to get the facts, but a few months to write the main story and connect the dots on how to make a scientist’s or historian’s life relatable to kids today. I try to find facts about the person when they were a child and who or what inspired them when they were younger. Is there an important life event of your subject that can be the main plot line of your narrative children’s biography?
Last, but not least, after you have the narrative done, take a few weeks to let your manuscript rest. Read it over with fresh eyes and edit out all the extraneous words; the ands, the “thes” and too many hes, and shes . It’s amazing what a second, third or tenth look at your writing will find. Have some other readers’ opinions. A strong, respectful or poetic voice about your subject throughout your manuscript is key. If you love who or what you are writing about it will show.