Sunday, October 29, 2017

Susanna Leonard Hill’s 7th Annual Halloweensie Contest 2017 - My Entry #2

The Contest: Write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children using the words candy corn, monster, and shadow. Candy corn counts as 1 word.  Halloweensie Contest.

While you're there, check out the Picture Book Magic class. I am a proud graduate. I was already published when I took the class, yet still found it extremely helpful in taking apart my problem manuscripts and putting them back together in a way that they work better!

Trick or Treat? with Little Bo-Creep  

(101 with Candy Corn and Excluding Title)

By Lynne Marie

            “Each ‘hide and creep’ winner will get candy corn 

treats,” Little Bo-Creep announced.
            She covered her eyes, counted and searched. Not a sheep could be found!   
            “Little monsters,” shrieked Bo-Creep. “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
            All Halloween, Bo-Creep searched in the shadows. When the sun rose, her sheep were still gone.
            “I’ll teach you to roam so far from your home,” said Little Bo-Creep. She painted rocks like candy corn and created a trail leading to the meadow.
            She sat by the gate and waited. The snickering winners grabbed up their treats and started to eat.
Trick! squealed Bo-Creep. 

Please go here to vote for your favorite entry, or to enter: 
One of the prizes is a critique from me! 

THANK YOU Susanna Leonard Hill for sponsoring this fun contest!

PLEASE leave a comment if you enjoyed my story. Happy Halloweensie! 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Susanna Leonard Hill’s 7th Annual Halloweensie Contest 2017 - My Entry #1

The Contest: Write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children using the words candy corn, monster, and shadow. Candy corn counts as 1 word.  Halloweensie Contest.

While you're there, check out the Picture Book Magic class. I am a proud graduate. I was already published when I took the class, yet still found it extremely helpful in taking apart my problem manuscripts and putting them back together in a way that they work better!

Matilda’s Halloween Treat Troubles  

(101 with Candy Corn and Excluding Title)

By Lynne Marie

      “I need to create a spooky treat to share at the Ghoul

Scout party,” said Matilda Monster. “But what?”

      Mummy offered popcorn. “This?”

      “Thanks. It’s a good start. I’ll find a way to make it 

spooky,” Matilda murmured. “I’ll see what treats my 

friends are making.”

      Cyclops pressed candy eyes into soft-baked cookies. 

“Here’s some eyes.”

      Skeleton poked pretzel sticks into oreos for spiders. “Here’s some sticks.”

     “Thanks!” said Matilda.

      Matilda sat in the shadows and thought. “I have popcorn, candy eyes and pretzels sticks. 

Hmmm. All I need is candy corn and chocolates.  Now, I know just what to make.” 

Please go here to vote for your favorite entry, or to enter: 
One of the prizes is a critique from me! 

THANK YOU Susanna Leonard Hill for sponsoring this fun contest!

PLEASE leave a comment if you enjoyed my story. Happy Halloweensie! 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What's in a Name (How to Name Characters) by Lynne Marie

A character's name is a very important aspect of their personality. While a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a character who is "cool," would not be named Horace or Bertha. Likewise,  a character who is boring wouldn't be named Lexi or Jake. So choosing a name is a very important part of writing your story.

A popular method of finding names is by pouring over a baby name book or a baby name finder online, but there are other ways to find perfect names for your characters.

In my first book, Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten (Scholastic, 2011), my main character was named after my pet hedgehog, Apollo Nike, who I called Spike as a nickname. I was aware that many editors don't want many named characters in a picture book, so with the except of a few main characters (Sheldon the Turtle, Wart the Frog, Peek-a-boo the Ostrich, Magoo the Mole), I gave the others names like Camel and Crocodile, Zebra and Rabbit, and Lion and Elephant. Surprisingly, my then-editor at Scholastic wanted me to name all the players, so Camel became Humphrey, Crocodile became Chomp, Zebra became Stripes, Rabbit became Hopper, Lion became King and Elephant became Peanut.

My next book features Spike's friends, including Wade the Flamingo, Hoot the Owl, Sticks the Beaver, and again, Hopper the Rabbit.

Obviously all these names were inspired by something connected with the character (an identifiable feature or action). Because of that, they fit well, and would be easy for a preschool/kindergarten aged child to remember and associate with the animal.

While the above represent some of my simpler animal names, I often do a lot of research before choosing. For example Hazel Mouse from my American Pie manuscript, is named for an actual species of mouse. Harry the Turkey from my Fowl Humor manuscript is named for one of the Presidents who actually pardoned turkeys on Thanksgiving. Lioness, a character in my Borrowing Bosley manuscript, is named for a real Guide Dog. Marilyn Moo-nroe, in my Moo-vie Star, is named for the actress that inspired her. I've also named characters from a pre-fix, root or suffix in their scientific name.

Some names are inspired by rhyme, like Fancy Nancy and Clark the Shark, Others, like Princess Peepers by Pam Calvert, Boris and Bella by Carolyn Crimi, and Punxsutawney Phyllis by Susanna Hill, and my own Slow Down, Sylvia Sloth, show consonance at play.

So here's a quick list of ways to name characters:

               1. Baby Name Book or Online Baby Name Finder
               2. Derivation of Scientific Animal Name
               3. Made up name of fun sounds like Gogi

When it comes to naming a character there is no real right or wrong way, as long as the name fits. I hope that whether though rhyme, research or reading the baby name book -- you enjoy the name game!

Lynne Marie is the author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten - illustrated by Anne Kennedy (Scholastic, 2011), Hedgehog's 100th Day of School – illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Scholastic, January 2017), The Star of the Christmas Play -- illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Sparkhouse Family, 2018) and Moldilocks and the 3 Scares (Sterling, Pending). Her stories, poems, and folk tales have appeared in many magazine markets, including Family Fun, Highlights, High Five, Spider, Baby Bug and more. She is an on-staff writer for Jon and Laura Bard's Children's Book Insider and a book reviewer, as well as a 2016 and 2017 Cybils Award panelist. She is a former New Yorker who now lives a simpler life on a lake in South Florida with her daughter and several resident water birds. You can learn more about her at

If you are interested in being a Guest Blogger, having your book review, or being interviewed by My Word Playground Blog, please contact me.

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Saturday, October 14, 2017

[PPBF] A Review of Bonaparte Falls Apart Written by Margery Cuyler and Illustrated by Will Terry

TitleBonaparte Falls Apart 
Written By:  Margery Cuyler 
Illustrated By: Will Terry 
Published By: Crown Books for Young Readers, 2017

Genre: Fiction 
Suitable For Ages: 4-8
Themes/Topics: Coping, Confidence 
Bonaparte was falling to pieces, and this really shook him up,

     especially when he rode his bike, 
     or played catch,
     or visited the doctor's office. 
Brief Synopsis

From the publisher: Bonaparte is falling to pieces. When he plays catch, his throwing arm literally takes a flier.

And eating lunch is a real jaw-dropping experience. 

Luckily, Bonaparte's well-meaning friends have some boneheaded ideas to help pull him together. 

But will it be enough to boost his confidence and get him ready for the first day of school? 
Why I Like This Book: Bonaparte is a sweet, likeable character with universal appeal. With all of us having our own differences that make us unlike the rest, who doesn't know how he feels? Thankfully, with a little help from his friends, Bonaparte finds a way to run and romp just like his classmates, despite his physical challenges. As a parent of children with different abilities (my son has mild cerebral palsy and my daughter has Asperger's and other syndromes) I LOVE, LOVE this book. Also, I really ADORE that the friends play a strong role in solving Bonaparte's problem. I hope children get the message in this that they can be strong admirable characters by helping someone in need, other than themselves. What a wonderful example to put forward! And the adorable art by Will Terry is monstrously wonderful! A great book ANY time of year including back-to-school, but especially extra fun at Halloween. 

Four Stars from Me!

For MORE about Margery Cuyler and her books, click here:

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For the complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

GUEST POST: Setting Up Your Picture Book Setting by Chana Stiefel

Setting Up Your Picture Book Setting

By Chana Stiefel

Now that my debut picture book DADDY DEPOT hit bookshelves on May 16, I decided to look back at my first draft to see how the published version compares with the original story.

First a caveat: When I wrote my first draft eight years ago, I knew next to nothing about writing picture books. Sure, I read them every night with my kids and I could recite my favorites from my childhood by heart. But I knew very little about the craft of writing picture books—creating a story arc, building characters, introducing conflict, perfecting page turns, developing language . . . and setting up the perfect setting.

Looking back, I found a big surprise: Only two things remained from my first draft—the title and the setting. And guess what? They are one and the same! DADDY DEPOT is the story of a little girl named Lizzie who gets mad at her dad (he’s distracted by football, he tells bad jokes, and he falls asleep during snuggle time), so she returns him to the daddy store. Lizzie goes on a shopping spree in a warehouse filled to the ceiling with dads up for grabs. Will she find the perfect dad?

With a dig at imperfect parents (and children), DADDY DEPOT is a story about unconditional love. It’s also a spoof of our consumer culture in which everything (even dads) can be returned. Or can they?

In 2013, at an NJSCBWI conference, I pitched DADDY DEPOT to my (future) agent John Cusick at four-minute pitch session. He laughed at the idea of a book about a daddy store and said, “Send it to me.” The book sold to Feiwel & Friends a few months later. (Cue the funky chicken touchdown dance!)

I later had a conversation with John about the setting for another story that just wasn’t working. John pointed out that so many kids’ stories are set in schools and at home--and for good reasons. These settings are the places that are most familiar to kids. But what worked for Daddy Depot was that the big-box store was not only relatable, it also transported kids to a whole new world.

Setting is much more than a backdrop. It can open doors to new experiences. For the writer, the right setting presents a world of opportunities for character development, language, culture, conflict, and resolution. In other words, the right setting can set up your story in transformative ways, both for your characters and your readers.

A few other debut picture books I’ve read this year accomplish the same goals:

BUNNY’S BOOK CLUB by Annie Silvestro is the story of a bunny that sneaks into the library through the book drop to borrow books. Her forest friends soon follow. In BOB & JOSS GET LOST by Peter McCleery, two friends are shipwrecked and get lost on a desert island—or do they? FRESH-PICKED POETRY: A DAY AT THE FARMER’S MARKET by Michelle Schaub is a lovely book of poems about friends at an urban greenmarket. MRS. McBEE LEAVES ROOM 3 by Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan is about a beloved teacher leaving a school. The children use their classroom materials and individual talents to cope with the big change in their lives. All of these books have unique settings that kids can relate to, but with an added twist.

When writing or revising a picture book, ask yourself:
  • Is my setting relatable to kids (and parents)?
  • Is it unique?
  • How do the characters relate to their setting?
  • Does it fill the reader with a sense of wonder?
  • How can I make the setting central to the story? (Yes, the illustrator can fill in details, but it should matter if your story takes place on Mars or at the Mini Mart.)
  • What would happen if I drop my character into an entirely new setting? How does he or she act and react?

On this last question, I tried this technique for one of my (semi-autobiographical) characters in a story about a little girl who wants to change her unpronounceable name. What was a standard story about a soccer-playing kid named Chana became WAKAWAKALOCH, a story about a cave girl who wants to change her name to Gloop. The cave-culture setting opened up lots of opportunities for humor and character development, as well the chance for Wakawakaloch to find a solution to her own problem. WAKAWAKALOCH will be coming out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2019! (Still dancing!)

In DADDY DEPOT lingo, playing with setting can be the difference between the Clearance aisle and a Lifetime Guarantee of picture book success! Try it and see what happens.

Author Bio

Chana Stiefel is the author of more than 20 non-fiction books for kids about stinky castles, exploding volcanoes, and other wild stuff. Her picture book, DADDY DEPOT (Feiwel & Friends), debuts on May 16, 2017. Visit Chana at and her authors’ blog, which she writes with her critique partner, Donna Cangelosi. Chana is represented by John M. Cusick at Folio Literary.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

ASK AWAY FRIDAY: With Children's Author Lynne Marie

Lately I have had current and prospective critique clients ask me similar questions about my publishing background, so I decided to whip up an "Ask Away Friday" post to address these questions. 

I am a former paralegal who drafted correspondence and pleadings (1983-2003), as well as professional book reviewer who reviewed novels. During that time, I tinkered with rom-com (romantic comedy) novels and screenplays before switching to children's writing in 1999. 

I threw myself into learning anything and everything I could about children's writing, took many college and other courses, attended many conferences (including NY and LA SCBWI Nationals, SCBWI International at Madrid in 2003, Rutgers RUCCL each year and Highlights Foundation Workshops at Chautauqua in 2001, 2002, 2003 and later in 2005). Programs like RUCCL and Chautauqua are selective, and I was able to get in time and again, so I did have confidence that I was on the right track with my career choice. 

I finally felt ready to focus on submitting four years later, around 2003. However, I got married in May 2003, got pregnant, and was prescribed bed rest. As a result, I was living with my family at my parent's house with no access to a computer. I couldn't write, but kept reading. I intended to return to writing as soon as possible, but my new daughter needed my attention more than my writing. 

BLOG: I did have a blog which actually made Writer's Digest Top 100 many years ago and which you see today here. I don't feel that my blog helped me sell a book, however, I do feel it is a necessary promotion tool, especially now that I have several books to my name.  [Art by: Lisa J. Michaels] 

WEBSITE: I feel the same about websites (personal opinion). However, I do think once you sell your first book that you should buy your domain, get your website set up, and start building traffic and subscribers. 

I finally got back on track in 2010 when Kayla entered kindergarten full-time. At that time, I started submitting and got my first offer on a manuscript called School Bus Buddies from Jenne Abramowitz of Scholastic in 2010. This offer produced my first book, Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten, published in 2011 and illustrated by Anne Kennedy. I did not have an Agent at the time, but had fortunately slipped through the cracks and my manuscript had been seen. 

I had absolutely no recall of this event until I recently found the rejection letter, but in 2003 I had attended the NY SCBWI conference and had a critique with Mary Gruetzke, who liked my School Bus Buddies manuscript, but felt it wasn't for Scholastic Press, so she passed it along to Jenne Abramowitz, who rejected it. 

Ironically, it was the same story (after many years of revision) that the SAME editor from Scholastic accepted in 2010. Please know, had I remembered the rejection at all, I would have never sent again. But I didn't, and I had put enough time and energy into the manuscript to pass through this time. Moral of the Story: Do not submit before your manuscript is ready. This means several trusted people telling you SEND IT OUT! It would be like opening a bottle of fine wine before it's time. 

Unfortunately, soon after Hedgehog's publication I moved myself and my daughter to Florida to escape a bad marriage. It took me several years to get back on my feet (2015), but as soon as I did, I joined Joyce Sweeney's critique group and also formed an online critique group and started relearning and honing my skills. In 2016, I submitted Hedgehog's 100th Day of School directly to my then-editor Jenne, and got an acceptance from Michael Croland, who had replaced her. In 2017, after several editor shifts, my book was published under the same name and was illustrated by Lorna Hussey. Scholastic is currently holding a third, related Hedgehog manuscript, pending successful sales of the 100th Day sequel. 

Like many other writers,  I sent submissions to which I received no response, but for the most part, I enjoyed champagne rejections for many of my manuscripts, with responses like "this is wonderful but just signed a similar book about a dog in Versailles," "unfortunately, I just committed to  a Panda book," "I really like this but just took on another feisty princess book," etc. And so I pressed on and persisted. 

My third book (pending 2018) The Star in the Christmas Play,  was a finalist in the a contest put on by Sparkhouse Family. It did not win the contest, but they brought it to acquisitions and ultimately bought it in April, 2017. I am thrilled to announce it will be illustrated by the talented Lorna Hussey, who created the art for my Hedgehog's 100th Day book! [Art by Lorna Hussey]

My fourth book (pending TBA) Moldilocks and the 3 Scares was picked up by Meredith Mundy of Sterling Children's Publishing.  She had originally seen my manuscript The Dino Store at a SCBWI Conference in Miami in 2016 and loved it, but said, "I already have too many dinosaur books and it would compete for sales with what I already have. What else do you have?" I pitched six books to her on the spot, and she told me to send the first three. Moldilocks and the 3 Scares was one of the first three. Although it was submitted in February 2016, I received the offer in July, 2017, and the contract is currently pending. 

So to recap, I basically was writing / studying / reading for 11 years before I got published (but consider there were many years in there where I was not focused). I did submit to the slush pile and made it through, and I did persist. I am now at the 18 year mark, with four books and this being my best year. I had one book published in January and have a goal of five contracts this year. Even if I don't reach it, I'll have gone further than if I didn't have such a wonderful goal. Two down, three to go. I have a few rewrite requests out and my fingers are crossed. 

This is a good time for me to point out that anyone in this business really needs to have patience in their arsenal of skills and really needs to LOVE what they are doing.  [Art by Lorna Hussey]

Of all the advice I could give, I would say that everyone's path is different, and that perhaps dedication to learning craft and devoted reading, as well as persistence are the best tools to carve a successful children's writing career. 

I think critique groups are absolutely essential and are part of my success. I run several critique groups, including a few for KidLit College ( and SCBWI and am very active in them as well. I have no idea how people get by without a critique group with honest feedback. 

I am currently talking with someone who is on my dream agent list and my fingers are crossed that it works out. However, I have sold four books on my own, so I am not afraid of pressing on without an Agent. It would be nice, though, as there are some houses I can't be seen by that I think would be good fits for manuscripts I have in my stash.  However, I do have a lot of friends that either have an Agent and have not sold a manuscript in quite some time, or, have an Agent and are not happy with them. So to be honest, I do not get caught up in worrying about whether I have an Agent or not and do the best that I can with what I have at hand. 

As I've previously mentioned, in part the fact I am active in critique groups, another part would be the amount of time and energy I invested into my craft, and lastly that each of the books that sold I focused on enough to read over 50 comp titles for, in an effort to make sure there isn't anything else like it, and that it is geared to the publisher to which I submitted. 

I will dive into this in more depth in an upcoming blog post, however I will say that ideas are like children. They come to you from different places, and in different ways, and that no two are exactly alike. So, sometimes I start with a character, sometimes with the plot. Sometimes the idea comes as a seed and I write from there. Sometimes, I don't write a word until the idea is fully formed. 

I actually have more ideas than there is time in the day, however, I try to focus as much as possible. 

I do write all over the picture book and board book spectrum -- which includes meta-fiction, subversive, concept, bedtime, high-concept, friendship, school stories, historical, sweet, rhymed, fairy tales, mash-ups, pun-filled and more! My latest manuscripts are Witch's Christmas Switchmas (an obvious mashup); Counting Sheep with Bo Peep  which is a fairy tale mash-up and counting book,; The Trouble with Lemmings which is about a lemming who struggles to show his individuality, only to find that being a part of a group has its perks; and Tombmates, which is about two brothers who must share a tomb (room) in the afterlife; to name a few. I encourage writers to keep writing and revising and to explore many story options until they find that one that soars above the rest. 

If anyone has any questions for me that I have not answered, please feel free to post them in the comments and I will do my best to answer them.