Fat Tuesday and Empty Calories in Rhymed Picture Books

Before I get back to my very belated promise to give you the scoop on HarperCollins editor Kristin Daly, here’s a shameless link to my February 1st I LOVE TO READ segment with Courtney Dempsey on KMAX Channel 31 Good Day Sacramento:


I might not have linked it directly but see if you can check it out. The whole crew at KMAX is great fun and the 9:30am hour was perfect! (How do those EARLY Daybreak folks survive and STAY PERKY with a call time in the middle of the night?) Anyway, thank you Courtney, and Allison and Lisa. I’m looking forward to a return visit in time for Good Summer Reads for Kids!

O.K. back to Kristin Daly, who loves rhyming picture books. (Yay!) Yes, editors say they don’t want rhyming picture books but that’s to cut down on the piles of manuscripts they get from writers who are better off using prose. For great examples of good rhymes where every word counts, check out the ones she’s edited at HarperCollins for author Sudipta Bardan: Snoring Beauty and  Hampire and Pirate Princess. Of course I wouldn’t be upset if (second shameless plug) you looked at Goldie Locks Has Chicken Pox or Little Bo Peep Can’t Get To Sleep too.

Here’s my question to you: How do your stories show up on the page? I wrote my latest book, The Happy Mistake, The Invention of the Telephone  (Pearson Learning 2007), in prose and honestly it wouldn’t have felt right in rhyme. Neither would the manuscript I wrote recently about an art gallery adventure! If you have a manuscript that seems forced, try a draft in prose and see what happens.

Then again, some manuscripts just come out in rhyme. I don’t plan them or anything. They just show up in my brain that way. (Scary, I know…)

Kristin Daly says those of us who write in rhyme should beware of "Empty Calories," her wonderful term for the extra words stuck into lines or stanzas in an attempt make the rhythm work or force the rhyme. So I vote for giving up those Empty Calories on this Mardis Gras evening.

And don’t forget to PBIC.

The Best Books in the World

Valley_oak_12 I visited the kids at Valley Oak Elementary in Davis CA last week. Here’s a picture from one of the p.m. Kinders, Kerryne. You can view more of their letters and fabulous art work in my photo album: Letters From Kids.  I wish I could have displayed more of them but those in pencil didn’t scan well. Like the one from Melanie who wrote,

"Books are the Best! You have the BEST BOOKS in the world! I want to be an author too!"

Note to Melanie: Thanks! You’re awesome! Remember what I said in my assembly, ANYTHING’S POSSIBLE!

I’ve also included letters I got last spring from the 6th graders at North Davis Elementary. (Sorry it took me so long!) These kids are probably in middle school or Junior High now but I love the book they made me. One of the letters that was too light to reprint was from 6th grader Cindy Mo:

Dear Ms. Dealey,

Your performance was amazing! Every single joke of yours was hilarious and original. When I first walked into the multi-purpose room, I thought I was up for another boring day, but boy was I wrong! Your books are wonderful and I love the way you tie them into nursery rhymes’ characters, making it much more entertaining/ And I will never forget what you said about being an author. You are right; nobody can know what occupation they will be in the future.

Sincerely,                                                                                Cindy Mo

Note to Cindy: You go girl! I hope 7th grade is a good one for you!

Kerryne and the afternoon kindergarteners at Valley Oak made me a book too. Valley_oak_10 Here’s a page that Celine made for me,and a princess story by Simone. See why I love school visits? If I can inspire kids to read and write and believe in themselves, life is good. Valley_oak_11

And yeah, I know I said I’d get back to HarperCollins editor Kristin Daly’s talk at the fall SCBWI conference in Davis a few weeks ago (boy, I’ve been in Davis a lot lately!), but I’ll save that for the next blog. Meanwhile it’s time for me to PBIC and WRITE NOW! Maybe you should join me…

Query How To’s

Had a great time at the SCBWI NorCa conference yesterday in Davis, CA, featuring a wonderful talk by Harper Collins editor Kristin Daly. (That’s Daly–not Davis, although she’s got the same sparkle. Think BOOKS and the City…) More about Kristin’s talk in the next blog. I’m racing off this morning to Day #2 of my daughter’s soccer tourney. But first a round of applause to RA Tekla White, Assistant RA Genny Heikka. and their volunteers for organizing such a great day.

And second, here are the Query How To’s I talked about yesterday in my workshop on Picture Books. This is how my first book, GOLDIE LOCKS HAS CHICKEN POX caught the attention of an editor without an agent…

The Query Letter:

This is your 30 second “pitch”/ audition /job interview. Make it professional—not casual. This is a business letter. Avoid typos, incorrect grammar or spelling. Use Times New Roman or Courier, 12 pt. — no fancy fonts

One page only! Include:

  1. Brief, specific, catchy, synopsis (1 paragraph), like book flap copy.
  2. If your book begins with a hook, use it!
  3. Will your voice set this query apart? Use it!
  4. Be sure to mention the “Ah Ha!” ending.
  5. Writer’s background : SCBWI
  6. If you haven’t published anything before, don’t say so!
  7. Audience: (Who is going to buy this book?)
  8. Why is it worth publishing?
  9. Why will young readers want to read this book?


  • DON’T send generic: “Dear Sir”—find a name. Then use Ms. or Mr. Last Name.
  • DO inform if this is a simultaneous (multiple) or exclusive submission w/deadline.
  • DO not e-mail unless specified. Snail mail is still preferred.
  • DON’T send certified, etc. Use 1st class reg. mail unless postage is more than Priority
  • DO Avoid: “This is bound to be a best seller.” “All my friends (students, relatives, etc.) read it and they love it!” “I see this as a T.V. movie of the week…”

If you’re still confused, Editor Cheryl Klein from Arthur A. Levine has the best blog ever on Query Letters. Check it out. Informative and entertaining! Who can beat that?

Meanwhile, you know the motto: PBIC and WRITE !

I’m Baaack!

This is why I put the word Occasional in my blog title. Has it really been 9 months since my lSimon_schusterast entry? Wow. Where have I been, you ask?  Well, besides NYC which was awesome, and yes I met all the folks at Atheneum/ Simon & Schuster (That’s me on Avenue of the Americas aka 6th Avenue in the photo.), I’ve been visiting schools all over the map!

Thank you, thank you, thank you to all the wonderful students and staff at Edna Batey Elementary (Elk Grove, CA), my San Diego/Chula Vista pals at Silverwing Elementary, Rice Elementary, and Hedenkamp Elementary. my PhoenixAZ friends at Villa Montessori and Madison Simis School, Taylor Elementary (Sacramento CA), The Learning Express (Roseville CA), Stonegate Elementary (San Jose CA), Folsom Public Library, Kennedy Elementary (Sacramento),Laurel Elementary’s Awesome Author Day (Oakley CA), all the Aggie families I met at UC DAvis Picnic Day, and the kids and teachers at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Day School (San Mateo CA), Village School (San Jose CA), North Davis Elementary, Bright Horizons/ Genentech’s 2nd Generation (South San Francisco), Heather Elementary (San Carlos). I’m hesitant to promise that I’ll post some of their drawings and writing soon, but I’m going to give it a try. Why? Because school visits are starting up again, and I have to catch up! (This reminds me of when I was teaching full time and piles of homework needed to be corrected before report cards…sound familiar, teachers?)

Maybe if I keep my blogs short and sweet, I’ll blog more often–in between the new picture book that just popped into my head last week, and the middle grades novel (yep–same one) that I am determined to finish soon! You know what that means, time to PBIC… Happy writing!   

Authors and Teachers On the Move

Author_people_003_1 Yes, this is me with Avi, at a Scholastic Book Fair Preview event at Fort Mason in San Francisco. Not only is he a wonderful writer, but a nice guy and multi-talented too. He took on the voices of some his characters and presented excerpts from his books to a spellbound audience. Very fun. And no, Avi is not his real name, but a nickname his sister gave him when they were kids.

I drive home from events like this, amazed that I get to hang out with such talented folks like Elissa Hayden Guest (Iris and Walter easy readers), Elizabeth Shreeve (Hector Fuller chapter book series), Elaine Russell (Martin McMillan and the Lost Inca City) , and Lynn Hazen (Buzz Author_people_002_3Bumble to the Rescue and Mermaid Margaret Mary). We met for lunch at Green’s before the event. Lynn is a PR guru.  Notice she’d holding both her books in this photo op while I just have Little Bo Peep Can’t Get To Sleep ?  Very smart! I’m proud to say that Elaine, Lynn and I are Aggies, alumni of the University of California at Davis. If you’re going to UCD’s annual Picnic Day on April 22, look for us and other Aggie children’s authors.

I have truMain_avenue_school6_1ly been on the move lately–to school visits all over, meeting wonderful students and staff. At left are my friends at Main Avenue School in Saramento, CA. At rigEdna_batey_elementaryht are my pals Noah and Nicole Mackes from Edna Batey Elementary, also in Sacto. Thanks to all of you who have sent such creative letters and cards too! Which reminds me. If you can read this blog, how about doing something random today: Thank a teacher ! 

Teachers are on the move every single day, in the trenches, encouraging our kids to do their personal best–despite standardized tests–and I’m guessing there was/is one who has influenced your life. One of the teachers in my life was my 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Uhrig, who had us write in journals (gasp), the very same ones I share at my school visits, with such inspiring entries as "Help! I forgot my book!" So I guess it’s my turn to say Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mrs. Uhrig!!!

O.K. Where was I? On the move–at Stoneridge Elementary and Sierra Gardens (Roseville,CA), Greenhills Elementary (Granite Bay, CA), The Learning Express and Border’s (Sacramento), Books N’ Bears (El Dorado, CA), Miller’s Hill Middle School and Latrobe Elementary (my oldDoug_and_ken_pox_fun stomping grounds in Shingle Springs, CA), Charter Home Study (Placerville,CA), Scholastic Book Fair workshops in Sacramento and Livermore, and Hayes Elementary (San Jose, CA).  54 school visits last year and my calendar is filled with more! And get this–one of the teachers sent me this photo of her late husband and his brother connecting his chicken pox ! ( Don’t try this at home!)

What’s next? Tomorrow I head to an SCBWI conference at Asilomar. Next week I’m at schools in the San Diego/Chula Vista area and then on to Arizona. But coming soon to a blog near you (and hopefully it won’t take me another four months…): photos of my trip to NYC–narrowly missing the snow storm of the decade–and a visit with my editor at Atheneum after the  New York SCBWI gathering. (What’s SCBWI you ask? Check out www.scbwi.org today–after you thank that teacher…) Meanwhile, it’s time to PBIC, before I move on…