Book Review: Love is Love🏳️‍🌈

Michael Genhart’s picture book follows a young child who confides in their friend after being bullied for wearing a Pride t-shirt. Ken Min’s thoughtful illustrations take the reader beyond the primary story line to travel the globe and observe other children from and array of cultures and backgrounds who share a great commonality in that they are loved by those in the LGBTQ community.

The main character comes to learn that the love they feel within their family is no different than the love felt in families with a mom and dad. Colorful kites unite children and families from across the globe in a beautiful, soaring rainbow.

One of the greatest lessons we can give our children is that of acceptance and love. Any child who is loved by a member of the LGBTQ community knows that their family is just like any other family. Regardless of what your family consists of, be it two moms, two dads, a mom and dad, or a single parent, families of all shapes and sizes can relate to the message in this book.

I recommend this touching picture book to families of all compositions.

Writing Picture Books and Finding Inspiration

Sometimes, brainstorming picture book ideas feels a little like playing darts with cooked spaghetti. It can be sloppy and frustrating. But if you throw enough of it around, something is bound to stick.

I recently joined in on Storystorm 2019, a challenge for writers to generate 30 new picture book ideas in 31 days. Each day, followers of Tara Lazar’s blog receive posts from guest bloggers with tips and tricks to find inspiration in creating fresh picture book ideas.

At day 16, my brain is feeling a bit more like that mushy spaghetti. However, I have gleaned some pretty good ideas on how to keep focused and continue churning out ideas.

Look Around

Inspiration is around us all the time. Whether it’s a child’s favorite toy, or random misplaced item. Listen to the questions you start to ask yourself and see where they lead.

When I first read a Storystorm post by Susan Taylor Brown about finding inspiration in found items, I found myself looking around the house for some item that would spark a fabulous idea.

I found my glimmer of inspiration in a sad looking stuffed basset hound my son stuffed between the couch cushions. I started to wonder, what does this sweet little hound have to be sad about?

My answer? He wants to be a brave police dog like his idol Blaze (a dashing German Shepherd), but his short legs and long ears make him feel clumsy and slow. However, his yet-to-be-discovered strengths give him his chance to shine.

Just a start. But it is something I can build on.

Embrace randomness

The brilliant Storystorm contributors have also encouraged the practice of embracing the randomness of life and using that to harness creative energy.

Ashley Franklin explains in her blog post, “There won’t be an “aha moment” around every corner. There may not be an aura surrounding your next big idea. If you want access to a constant source of inspiration, look no further than yourself.I have personally found that the more I dwell on not knowing what to write, the harder it becomes to start. Sometimes the simple act of just looking at the random things in our environment is enough to spark an idea we can at least run with for awhile.

When my son was an infant, I was reduced to a drunk-like stupor. I was constantly gushing over his every movement and babbling incoherently along with him. This seemingly ridiculous behavior I was exhibiting sparked an idea. What if a baby had such a powerful aura of sweetness, that they short circuited the brain of every adult they encountered? What if this baby had and older sibling who was unaffected and completely baffled by the behavior of the adults?

This idea later turned into a draft titled, “Max Versus The Baby Babbles”.

Listen

Along the same lines as embracing randomness and utilizing our line of sight, listening is an equally valuable source of inspiration.

Listen to the conversations that kids have. They are truly brilliant and hilarious little beings! A conversation with my son during the holidays about his perception of Rudolf inspired an idea for the alternate story of Rudolf, a haughty reindeer who’s celebrity has gone to his head. A lesson in humility and teamwork is the only thing that can pull this beloved helper of Santa back to reality and the true meaning of Christmas.

All of these picture book ideas came through random everyday interactions and conversations. Nothing special had to occur, I just had to pay attention. As writers, the biggest set back we can bring to our process is waiting for that brilliant idea to float down to us through parted clouds back of a unicorn just begging to be published.

Writing down a lot of ideas, even writing down a lot of crummy ideas, will get us to some of those more elusive ideas. The spaghetti we’ve been throwing will start to stick.

On Resolutions

Following Directions

Every January, I sit down and create a list of “resolutions”, or personal goals. They are set with the notion of improving myself in one way or another, and are often forgotten with the melting snow in spring. This year, I am setting my goals with intention and giving them a clear unit of measurement. Goals are only as good as the individual writing them, and how we write them says a lot about where we are going.

As a high school teacher, I am always encouraging my students to write and revise SMART goals, and to hold themselves accountable to those goals. When my students have a measurable goal that is meaningful to them, they see far greater success in their academics and personal lives. Where I get after them is on the specifics. How do you measure your progress? What time frame are you giving yourself? Is this a realistic goal? And, does this goal mean something to you?

However, when I sat down to write my own goals, I neglected to ask myself the same questions I probed my students with. In writing my goals this year, I had to be honest with myself and follow my own directions.

What do I want?

As a creative individual, I want to devote more time and space to create the things that give my soul life. When I create something I am proud of, it gives me the feeling of accomplishment and purpose. I want to feel that more often.

As a writer, I want to connect. I want to produce more and I want to share it with others who are in the same process of discovering and creating. I want to put myself out there more and take more chances. My pie in the sky wish is to find an agent who gets me, and to sell my books like it’s going out of style.

As a mom, I want to show my son that no dream is out of our reach. I want him to see that hard work and grit can take us to places we never knew were possible. I want him to find his own talents and to embrace those talents with fierce devotion. I want to be his role model.

To get what I want, I need to be smart, and I need to listen to that teacher inside of me. She’s right there with the writer, coaching her along.

My Resolutions

By December of 2019, I will:

1.) Generate 90 new picture book ideas.

2.) Write 12 new picture book drafts.

3.) Send 12 queries.

4.) Write 12 blog post that are meaningful to me.

5.) Write at least 30 minutes every morning (5:30AM-6:00AM).

Whew! Here’s to crushing our goals!

Rachel

So, you want to write a picture book. Now what?

The initial spark that ignited my desire to write picture books was actually because of my sister, Roxanne. She was a fine art major, and for her final portfolio she wanted to illustrate a picture book. She asked me to write the text.

I was very excited about the idea, but quite perplexed at the same time. I had always loved telling stories, and dabbled in creative writing in college, but picture books were a foreign language.

I did not fall gracefully into my existence as a children’s writer, in fact, it was quite the opposite. I spent years drafting my ideas, shelving them, rewriting them, and shelving them again. I even hired an editor to help me mark up my manuscripts.

Through this tedious process, I learned several truths about writing books for children. Hopefully, these truths will perhaps help another fledgling children’s writer get past some of the initial awkwardness of navigating the overwhelmingly vast business of writing for children, and help them find a solid place to start. Whether they are looking to dip their toes into the world of writing for children, or desiring to go all in and seek out an agent.

Truth #1: You Have To Join SCBWI

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is an amazing resource for for children’s writers regardless of where they are at in their career. As a member of SCBWI, you have access to a wealth of information and resources in the kid lit community. Annual winter and summer conferences are held in New York and LA, where writers can workshop their projects and sign up for one on ones with industry professionals. If that is beyond your comfort level, SCBWI has state and regional chapters that offer opportunities to schmooze with other writers and critique work along with more exceptional workshops. Once you are a member you have access to the newsletter and you have priority when booking conferences and workshops. Joining SCBWI was the first, and best, major piece of advice I got from one of my mentors.

Truth #2: You Need To Read A Lot!

When I first started writing picture books, I was 27 years old, newly married, and I had zero children of my own. Diving into the children’s section at the public library was a little awkward initially, but seeing what was coming out, and what was already saturating the market helped me understand the craft more. I was also able to see just how much the industry had changed. The picture books of my childhood where very different from the ones that were currently selling.

Now, I am 35, and I have a 4 year old son. Our trips to the library and our local bookstore result in us leaving with more books than we can typically carry, and our nighttime routine consists of reading and rereading which ever books we are obsessed with at the moment (typically anything involving trains).

Truth #3: You Need Friends

For me, reaching out took a lot, but making friends with other writers has helped me to keep going when I didn’t think I wanted to write anymore. Seeing others at different places in their writing journey has helped me to keep things in perspective, and to realize that the struggle to break into the industry is real for all of us.

Start with looking into your local SCBWI to see if there is a connect group that meets in your area. My local group has been a life line for me! If your area does not have one check your chapter’s site for critique groups. If there is not one that fits your needs, you can post your information for others who are looking for the same thing.

Social media is another great way to connect with other writers! I connected with some fabulous critique partners through the page KidLit 411 Manuscript Swap.

There are many groups to be found through Twitter and Facebook where writers can ask each other questions. If you are not comfortable at first, join and follow the posts to see what discussions are going on until you have a burning question you would like to get input on. There truly is no dumb question, and the strict guidelines in these groups only allow for positive and helpful advice.

Truth #4: You Need A Writing Routine

My initial practice of writing whenever the mood struck was not effective. If you are holding off to write when you are in the mood, you are opening your self up to a lot of excuses.

Setting up a routine to write (no matter how short or sloppy) gets you into the mindset that writing is a craft and it takes work to see results. For me, I have come to learn that I have to write something every day. It could be a one sentence synopsis for a story idea, but I have to keep the juices flowing so that I don’t fall into the void of my life is too crazy to write right now.

Truth #5: You Are Not Alone

If you have that incessant itch to write, do it! Like life, writing is a personal journey with an individual time line. However, it is important to know that you are not alone in your journey. With all of its joy and heart ache, its triumphs and pitfalls, it is an experience to be shared with others.

When we share our talents and our vulnerability with the world, we open our selves up to opportunity. So, go write!