Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Autumn Litwits Log is Coming!

Hi all -

The Autumn edition of the Litwits Log is about to go out, so I want to put a shout out to anyone who wants to sign up.

What's the Litwits Log? you ask.

It's a newsletter about kidlit by me, and other fabulous authors in my critique group: Natalie Dias Lorenzi, Ammi-Joan Paquette, and Kip Wilson Rechea. 

I wanted to put the last edition in the blog so you could get a taste, but I couldn't figure out how to do it, so here's a few screen shots.

We start off with a seasonal header and a main article.
Then we move into Book Bites, small reviews of 6 books: 2 Picture Books, 2 Middle Grades, and 2 Young Adults.   We absolutely will review our own books, but we also review other books and we won't review our own more than once.  So, for example, you won't see another review of Monkey Ono.  That would be sooooo boring!

We finish off each newsletter with Kip's Tip, a tip on writing or working as a writing from Kip Wilson Rechea.

 And that's it.

We do it seasonally, so there will only be four per year.  And all the articles are pretty short.  Who has time to read a novel-length newsletter?  I sure don't!

The upcoming feature article is an interview with author Ammi-Joan Paquette who has had FOUR books release this year!  WOOSH!

 If you'd like to give us a go, the sign up sheet is right here:

Happy Thursday!

(In other news: Magoo had a great first day of school.  He likes his teacher.  He went to art.  And he's excited that the class project this year will revolve around starting businesses.  I don't fully understand what he's talking about, but he's psyched about it.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

First Day of Fifth Grade

Here we are.  Like many people, it's back to school time.  Summer is very busy for me because I have to balance work with Magoo's social schedule, so I'm usually pretty psyched to send him back to school. 

This year, however, is bittersweet.
This is the final year of elementary school.

I take a shot of Magoo on the front steps every day on the first day of school.  Here he is from Kindergarten to Fifth Grade.  (You'll probably have to click the image to get the larger view.)

I think he's excited, but also nervous.   It's not a huge change.  He knows all the kids.  He's been going to that school since he was three so he knows the building inside and out.  But it's a new teacher.  New fifth grade rules and responsibilities.  New work load.

He allowed me one final smile before he went in and started his day.

Now that I'm back home, I can't wait to go pick him up and hear all about it.  But honestly, I'll ask him how his day was, and all he'll say is, "Good."

But I'll pry it out of him.  :)

Have a great day everyone!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #28: Progression of Time

Many picture books are immediate.  The things that happen in the story, happen quickly: boom, boom, boom.  Like MONKEY ONO, for example.  Once the family leaves Monkey Ono behind, it's plan, execute, fail, plan, execute, fail, until Monkey Ono comes up with a successful plan to have a beach day.  It doesn't take place over days or weeks or a year.

This is often the case, but not always.  So today I thought I'd look at how different picture books handle the progression of time.

Let's start with the smaller intervals (hours) and work our way up, shall we?

One way to mark the passage of time is to, literally, count.

In TRACTION MAN IS HERE by Mini Grey, the boy and Traction Man have a car ride to Gramma's house to endure so they count Christmas trees.

On one hand, who wants to write about a car ride, right?  But on the other hand, killing time in a car is something I remember distinctly from my childhood.  And I love the way the author uses this moment to capture how the toy would see it, traveling in the InterGalactic People Mover.  Of course the boy and Traction Man fall asleep, because that's another big part of long car rides for kids. (And another way to pass the time.)

In THE LITTLE RED HEN MAKES A PIZZA by Philemon Sturges, there are plenty of times when the Hen is making the pizza and time is passing.

There is a nice visual progression (beautifully illustrated by Amy Walrod) of the Hen going through all the steps, but there is also a nice bit of text that I like:

     So she chopped and grated and grated and sliced.

The use of and between every activity helps separate the cooking chores and draws them out, rather than lumping them into a list, i.e. So she chopped, grated, and sliced.  Also, by repeating grated, the author gives time to the act of grating in and of itself.  Repetition as a way to pass time.

In THIS MOOSE BELONGS TO ME by Oliver Jeffers there's another lovely example of word and illustration working together to express a passage of time.

Although I should say, this is more of a time jump.  The main character, Wilfred, has fallen down and gotten himself tangled in a large amount of yarn.  He can't move.  It starts to get late, as you can see by the deep blue twilight sky and the text, It was getting late and the monsters would be out soon.

The audience doesn't witness the evening progress with Wilfred lying there.  He falls and the next thing we know hours have passed.  If nothing is happening during the passage of time, why not jump it?  If this had been a story about how Wilfred learned how to be independent, we might need to spend time with him as he figured out a way to free himself, but since the story is about the relationship between this boy and a moose, things don't get going again until the moose arrives.  Insert time jump.

Now let's move on to the passage of DAYS.

Everyone knows the classic THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR by Eric Carle.

Not only are the short pages a super cute way to show the holes and the illustrations, but Mr. Carle uses a linear list the days, On Monday..., on Tuesday ... etc., which shows the passage of time and teaches the kiddos about the days of the week.

In WINK: THE NINJA WHO WANTS TO BE NOTICED I wanted to show that Wink had been working with the circus family for awhile.

I could have done a series of illustrations showing the days passing, but I hadn't done any small illos in this book so it would have looked out of place.  So I summed it up in the text:

     So Wink came back the next day, and the next, and the next.

Like Little Red Hen, I use the word and and word repetition to show the passage of days.  It illustrates the point a little nicer than, Wink came back for a week. That might be accurate but it's not lyrical, yanno.

Then, in SPRING IS HERE by the fabulous Taro Gomi, we have the passage of a full YEAR.

The book starts off with a calf.  The the illustrations zoom into the black patch of fur as it transforms into a field of sprouts...

The sprouts grow into wheat, and soon people are working and playing in the field as the seasons progress. Eventually, it snows, and as the snow melts and the illustrations zoom out we see that the calf has grown throughout the year and it is now a young bull.

SPRING IS HERE cleverly goes through the seasons in text and illustrations, but it also shows the cumulative effect of a year in a bull's life.  It's time progression and a time jump all in one. 

One of my favorite ways to show time passing is to negate it, as in THE HELLO, GOODBYE WINDOW by Norton Juster and Chris Raschka.

This is the story of a little girl visiting her grandparents.  When she's tired and takes a nap, we the reader know that time is passing, but for her the character, nothing happens at all when she is alseep. 

If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a sound?

If a girl is not awake to have fun, does fun exist?

For the girl, NO!  No, it does not. 
Is this hilarious?!  I just love it.

Thanks for passing some time with me today!  (And my apologies for being a day late.  I have a crazy checklist of things to get to my agent yesterday and I couldn't manage a blog post, but I will try to do these regularly on Mondays.)

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Every summer, I have Magoo write a story.  He's got a fabulous imagination but finds writing a chore.  So I try to help him, teach him, and push him - and he always produces something really cool that he's proud off.  (That's not to say that there isn't a bit of head-butting along the way, because there totally is.)

In years past, I have helped him with plot and typing.  This year, the goal was I would not help with the writing at all, only edit and critique his copies so he would get used to the revision process.  Also, I would not type.  He probably went through 7 - 8 drafts and typed everything himself.

Without further ado, enjoy PAPER CLIP COMMANDOS.

In years past, Magoo has drawn the illustrations and I have scanned them into the computer.  But I figured since this was a learning experience, I would teach him how to use Photoshop.  I sat next to him most of the time and gave him tips and taught him how to use certain tools.  But (with the exception of the cover) he did all the illustrations himself.

If you'd like to see some of his other work through the years, check out:
Grizzly Bear and Squirrel
The Cat's Escape
The Penny.

Happy Thursday!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #27: Whipping That Dummy Together

Once you have your sketches and text, it's time to put them together into dummy book form.

Years ago, when I first started, I would make an actual paper book.

Now, I usually send a PDF dummy.

They both begin the same, with the "putting together" part, so I'll start there.

First thing you need to do is scan the images into your computer.  (Note, I do everything on Photoshop and I have my own scanner.  If I lost you on "Photoshop", you can do everything super old school at Kinkos with cut out text and Invisible tape.  But it is 2013.  And if you're making a dummy book, you should probably have some kind of photo editing/art program on your computer.  So I'm just going to go ahead with my standard procedure.)

Once everything is scanned in, you add the text. 

Sketch with text from MONKEY ONO

RANDOM NOTE:  Let me add that 85 - 90% of the dummy is pencil sketching.  You'll want to include a few pieces of color art, but only a few.  So much of this will change.  Do nice sketches, but know that the project is still fluid at this point.

If I'm going to print this out like a paper book, I format the pages to be 8" X 10", because that's what my printer can do.  Then I carefully print up one page, flip it, insert it back into the printer, and print the next page on the other side.

It's good to work slowly and carefully during this process, so you don't accidentally print one page upside down or get them out of order - which is all very easy to do.

Anticipate that you will notice some mistakes when you look at a printed page.  Maybe there's a small typo or you dropped the quotes or something.  If you can fix it NEATLY with a pen, go ahead.  For example, you can easily add a period in, no problemo.  But if you can't, it's worth it to fix the problem on the computer and reprint.  You want to hand in something as professional looking as you can.  It means using more good paper (did I mention you should print on good quality paper with as high a brightness number as you can get) and using more ink (which isn't cheap) but do it.  Seriously, do it.

Then, when all the pages are ready to go, head down to Kinkos or Staples and get it bound.

Here are some photos of one of the earlier dummies for WINK, THE NINJA WHO WANTED TO BE NOTICED.  A lot changed.  Some things stayed the same.

(Above) You can't see it, but there's a nice clear cover on the front and a nice black plastic cover on the back.  Keeps all the paper nice and neat. 

(Below) Most of the pages will look something like this: all pencil sketch with printed text.  When you are laying a picture book out, it's fine to be messy with your sketching, but by the time you're ready to show it, you want things to be neat.

Here's a two-page spread that shows what the finished color illustrations would look like.  (Let me note for the complete newbies that this is not an original piece of art that I've put in a book.  I scanned the art into the computer, just like the sketched.  Everything in a dummy book is a copy.)


Do the best you can with text placement.  Look at other books if you're confused.  If your book gets picked up, choosing the font and placing the text will all be something the publisher does.  They may want to move things around and ask you to re-compose a scene.  Stay cool.  Stay fluid.  Do your best and don't sweat it.

Now, if you're making a digital PDF dummy book, it's a little different.

I usually try to fit four pages on a sheet, like so ...

Dummy book pages for MONKEY ONO

You'll want to make sure that you go through each page and read it out loud.  For some reason (and maybe it's just me) it's so much easier to miss mistakes on the computer than on paper.  It helps if I read it out loud.  Sometimes I'll have Magoo read it and he'll notice things.  (He recently noticed that I forgot to print a whole page out in a dummy book.  Oops.)

RANDOM TIP:  Add page numbers!  This really helps when an agent or editor is talking to you about a specific page.  I occasionally forget, and then my agent wants to strangle me.  :)

When I have all my digital pages ready, I go into a program called LibreOffice and put them into a power point, then save as a PDF.  If you don't know how to make a PDF with your computer, I'd suggest Googling it.  I'm not really a "computer girl" but I have learned that if you type in specific words and are patient, you can find directions to everything on the internet.

If I can do it, you can do it.

Nowadays, it seems like most people want something digital.  It saves paper and people don't have to keep things in real files.  But if you're in the cold-call submission process, you'll want to find out if someone would rather have a paper dummy book or a digital dummy book.  Also, in addition to a dummy book, always send a manuscript.  It's easier for people to make notes in a text file than on images.

ONE LAST TIP:  Make sure your contact information is SOMEWHERE on that dummy.  What if it goes stray at a conference and an editor picks it up and loves it, but doesn't know who made it.  ACK!  Disaster!  Whip your name and email on that puppy!

Good luck!  Have a great week!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Secret to a Great Party ...

Last night we went to a party hosted by my husband's co-worker.  I am not an unfriendly person, but it is difficult for me to make small talk with a group of people I don't know, so I am not a great fan of parties.

However, this party had a surprise bonus:  KITTENS!

The co-worker's wife was fostering three kittens and they had their own room.  People, there was a ROOM FULL OF KITTENS at this party!

Oooooo - they were so cute!  My CUTE-METER went off the charts!  They were very friendly and playful.  And when it was just me, alone with the kittens, they crawled over over me and then got really mellow.  I kept thinking, I should leave.  I should get back to the party.  But then the kittens were all cozy in my lap and I was petting them under their chins and they were giving me those blissed-out eyes... 


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Baked Honey Donuts

A little while ago, Magoo and I were watching TV and there was some scene involving a donut.  I don't remember exactly how the scene went, but I do remember that Magoo was not familiar with the deliciousness of a donut. 

On one hand, why should he?  Because of his dietary issues, I've never taken him to Dunkin' Donuts or Krispy Kreme. 

On the other hand, he's an American!  He NEEDS to know the YUM of donuts!  And, as his mother, I try very hard to make sure that he has something equivalent to what his friends are eating: pizza, birthday cake, and now, donuts.  I don't want him to miss out because he has food restrictions.

It wasn't difficult to find a recipe to convert.  The tricky part was the pan.  Most - if not all - donut pans are aluminum or non-stick.  (Both of which are not OK for Magoo's system.)  When I bake, I use glass or stainless steel.  But there aren't any glass or stainless steel donut pans out there.  Or, I should say, I couldn't find any.

So I got creative.  I went on Etsy and found some vintage glass mini-bundt cake pans. They're called Little Princess Glasbake molds (in case you want some) and they're from the 1940's.  This morning we gave them a go.

I topped half of them with a honey/Earth Balance glaze and half with melted dark chocolate.  (Breakfast of champions, right?!  Little Chocolate Donuts, anyone?)

I have to say, they came out quite well.  Nice soft, spongy texture.  Sweet flavor.  And Magoo was happy boy.

Here's the recipe in case you're looking for a gluten-free, sugar-free donut treat.


Makes 8 donuts. (In the Glasbake molds.)

2 cups GF Flour
½ tsp xantham gum
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp salt
¾ cup buttermilk substitute (Coconut milk + lemon juice)
2 large eggs
¾ cup honey
2 TB melted butter
1 TB vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 425. Coat donut pans with cooking spray.

Juice ½ lemon and pour into measuring cup. Fill cup will coconut milk until it reaches ¾ cup. Mix. Let sit. 

Combine dry ingredients in one bowl: flour, xantham gum, baking powder, nutmeg, salt. Whisk.

Combine wet ingredients in another bowl: buttermilk, honey, eggs, melted butter, and vanilla. Whisk.

Whisk dry ingredients into wet ingredients until just combined. Don't over mix.

Spoon into donut molds about ½ – ¾ full.

Bake 10 minutes.

While baking, prep donut toppings. Melt chocolate or mix honey-butter glaze.

Remove donuts. Let cool in pans 4 minutes. Use butter knife to work the edges and flip over.

Glaze and enjoy.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Literary Character Collages

Alice                2013               j. c. phillipps

Matilda               2013               j. c. phillipps

Max                   2013                 j. c. phillipps

Mowgli               2013               j. c. phillipps

Remember the boy in the horse costume I showed you last week?  Well, I intended to do a series of kids in costume, but as I was working on a girl in a mermaid costume, I thought, Who's going to buy this?

The answer was parents of a girl who loves mermaids.  But then, if I gave the girl red hair and these imaginary parents happen to have a mermaid-loving-daughter who's blonde, they aren't going to want the red-headed girl. Then I thought,  Maybe these kids are too specific to sell?

You may think, But Julie, shouldn't you create art for the sake of art itself?  Isn't it yucky to think of the market?

That's partially true.  The best art comes from someone who is creating something based on inspiration, not sales.  That said, I like to sell stuff.  And Marketing Julie pays close attention to what the customers buy at Open Studio each year.  I like to balance it out.  The first half of the year I make stuff that I want to make.  The second half of the year I try to anticipate what the people may want.  And that's how I got to my new idea: Literary Characters.

Costumes became Alice in Wonderland became Literary Characters.

I'm still doing kids.  But now instead of appealing only to parents with kids who may happen to like a certain costume or dressing up, these pieces will still look great in a kid's room, but also in a classroom or a library.  Triple threat!

I had a blast making them and I think they turned out really well.

Here's a Vine video of Alice in Wonderland coming together.

Happy Wednesday Everyone!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #26: Sketching the Dummy

By this point you should have the picture book laid out in some kind of rough form, be it stick figures or rough sketches or what-have-ya.  If you are strictly a writer, then this might be all you need to do to help you shape your manuscript a bit better.  But if you're willing to go a little further (and those who illustrate must,) then let's draw!

At this time, I decide if I want square pages or rectangles.

WINK THE NINJA WHO WANTED TO BE NOTICED is a standard tall (or portrait) rectangle.
KITTEN'S FIRST FULL MOON by Kevin Henkes is square.
FLOTSAM by David Weisner is a wide (or landscape) rectangle.

I tend to go tall rectangle a lot, but the new book THE SIMPLES LOVE A PICNIC (Houghton Mifflin, 2014) is square.  It changes the way you sketch things out so it's good to have an idea.

I have a few templates on my computer that I have made over the years that look like this...

I print up a bunch of these and then I have something to frame my compositions.

If you can't make this on a computer, then just draw it with a Sharpie and go make some copies at Kinkos, or just draw a bunch - they're just rectangles!

It's usually a little intimidating to stare at this and think, I am starting to sketch a new book.  Jiminy Christmas - the pressure!  So just relax, look at your rough layout, and start small.  Also remember, no one ever has to see this.  Ever.  It can be just for you - just like a first draft.  If you go in expecting it to suck, it may free you up a little bit.

Also remember, this is a tool.  You don't have to produce the most gorgeous sketches ever created by a human being.  Some artists do.  Some artists get the shading just right and it's so neat and gorgeous you want to publish it as is.  I, however, aim for clarity of story without making an accomplished sketch.

Here's an example of what I try to do at this stage. (Note, this layout is not in MONKEY ONO.  This is from an early draft.)

Considering what the final art looks like, this is not an accomplished sketch.   But the storytelling is clear, and there are enough details for me to know if I can cut chunks from the manuscript.

For example, if the text here reads:

     Monkey Ono clutched the plan and followed Java into the living room.  
     "I know my plan will work," he said.

A lot of that info is in the illustration, so I might rewrite the manuscript to read.

     "I know my plan will work," Monkey Ono told Java.

The task at hand is to go through the whole book producing clean, clear sketches.  This usually takes me a few days and I usually trash a lot of it, either while drawing because I find a certain composition doesn't work, or later on, because this is only a draft as well.  Then, when I'm happy, I look at the manuscript and re-write so the two smush together well.

Here's a few more example sketches:

The Simples Love a Picnic sketch

Wink the Ninja Who Wanted to Be Noticed sketch

Authors, it can really help shape your story and your writing to try to go as far into this process as you can, even if you can't draw.

Illustrators, remember that you're first composition might not be the best composition.  Try a few options.  And if you get stuck, look at other picture books - they are filled to the brim with layout inspiration.

Also, that this probably goes without mentioning, remember to leave space for the text!  :)

Thanks for stopping in.  Have a great week!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Illustration Friday: Horse Costume

Horse Costume          2013            j. c. phillipps

As the season progresses, I have to start thinking about Open Studio Hartford in November.  It's been a watercolor heavy year for me, but I know that my kids' room collages always sell well so I've been thinking for awhile about what I wanted to do this year.

The short answer is:  Kids in Costume.

The long answer has to do with a variety of illustrators and picture books and this illo from Sophie Blackall's Missed Connections.

Inspired by the man in a bear costume and a young friend who loves horses, my first in this series is a boy in a horse costume.  It also happened to fit in nicely with this week's theme for Illustration Friday, which is HYBRID.

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Picture Book Workshop #25: Layout

Greetings Writers & Illustrators!

Today I want to start a series on Making a Dummy Book.

First off, what's a dummy book?  Is it a book for less-than-intelligent people?  

 No, no.  Think of dummy like a crash test dummy.  It's not real. It's a test.  A dummy book is a rough draft of a book.  We author/illustrators make them ourselves to show a agent/editor how a book would look all sketched out.  And the first thing you need to do when making a dummy book, is prepare how the book will be laid out.

If you're a writer you might be thinking, Julie, I don't need to know this stuff.  I'm a wordsmith  solamente!

I beg to differ.  On one hand, sure you can only think about the words and let it go at that.  But even if you don't illustrate, it can only help your writing to understand how a picture book is laid out, how to use the pacing of the page turns, and how to fill 30 pages with story.

I should start by saying that layout is one of my least favorite parts of the process.  It's not unlike putting a puzzle together and I'm not in love with puzzles.  Therefore, I have come up with a couple different ways to do it because I'm always looking for a way to make a challenging task more enjoyable and sometimes all it takes is a little variety.

Here's one of my methods:  Posterboard and Sticky Notes.

As you can see, I have drawn on a bunch of two-page spreads ranging form page 6 to page 36.

Why start on page six, Julie?  Why not page one, Dumb-dumb?

Page 1 is the paper that gets glued down to the cardboard of the book.
Page 2 - 3 are end papers.
Page 4 might be a copyright page, or it might be blank.
Page 5 is usually the title page.

Most of the time, the book doesn't get going until page 6.

In MONKEY ONO, page 6 is actually the copyright page, but I used part of it in the illustration for a two-page spread.

Sticking with the poster board method, I would simply go through the story, breaking up the text somewhat evenly, and make little stick figure stinky note drawings and pop them in place.  I'll often start at the beginning for a few spreads, then I'll jump to the end and lay that out the way I want it, then I'll go back and try to fill in the middle.

You might find you don't have enough boxes filled.  OH HAPPY DAY!  You have more space!  Perhaps you can add more details to one scene or a plot twist or another character challenge?  Or perhaps you can take your time drawing out a joke or a dramatic scene?   And if it's only a page or two of extra space, that's not a problem.

In Ammi-Joan Paquette's new book GHOST IN THE HOUSE, illustrated by Adam Record, they had a mini-title page then a full two-page spread title page(s). 

Now, what is more likely to happen if you're me, is that you have TOO MUCH STORY and NOT ENOUGH BOXES.  Aurg!  Now you have to condense.   And it's not a really big deal.  It just means that you might have to take some show-scenes and make them tell-scenes and you might have to sacrifice a two-page spread and make it into a one-page spread.  There are always ways to do it, but have to whittle.

This is where it's handy to have sticky notes because you can pick those suckers up and move them around without redrawing.  (That said, I have recently grown fond of the stick-figure first layout.  Anyone can do it and it saves a lot of drawing time.)

Basically, you just keep moving your sticky notes around and filling and condensing pages until you have approx. 30 pages of story, somewhat* evenly balanced.

*I say somewhat because you don't have to have any hard rules like 20 words per page.  But picture books are a little like a song in that there is usually some kind of pattern/structure that the whole book follows.  For example, it would be odd to have a book like Jon Klassen's THIS IS NOT MY HAT where there are usually 10-20 words per spread and then suddenly have a page with 100 words on it.  It would be jarring.

There are days when I CANNOT DEAL with the poster board.  I don't want to sit there and stare at it.  It mocks me and I hate it.  Besides, I want to sit on the couch, or something.  When that's the case, I'll tote my sketchbook wherever and kick back and sketch.

If I have most of the text already, I'll print it out in a small font like 10 pt and cut it into bits and tape them into my sketchbook so I don't have to rewrite, like so:

Sometimes I get lucky and I get enough pages this way.  Not usually.  I still have to rework some things.  But as long as you go in with the attitude that it's a fluid process with lots of tweaking, whatever you choose to do, you'll get it done.

And chocolate always helps too.