I’ve decided to upload videos of me reading all my children’s books as a service to parents and teachers who are looking for ways to keep kids entertained and engaged with books while we’re all stuck indoors much of the day. Tea and blazing fire included at no extra charge. First installment:
Author Archives: Amy MacDonald
I’m hard on books. I read them in the bath, dog ear pages (though never write in them), splay them face down. With paperbacks that is. Hardcover usually gets treated better. But yesterday I was reading a hardcover of Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea and had to stop myself from dog-earing a favorite passage. A sudden thought struck me—though in pristine condition, the book had been gathering dust in my bookshelf for decades; I checked the copyright page. Sure enough, it was a bona fide first edition. Rare, collectible, and worth many thousands of dollars. Or priceless, depending on point of view. And I came THAT close to ruining it.
In the future I will be a better person.
Fall is when most schools start thinking about a children’s author visit or residency. Here are 5 easy ways to make it a happy, productive event for everyone–especially the children:
* Make sure the students are as familiar as possible with the author’s work. It makes a HUGE difference to their level of appreciation, and there’s nothing like an enthusiastic audience to get the author psyched to give his/her best.
*Ask the author for copies of his/her books in advance if you don’t have them in the library. Many authors will happily send sample copies that a school can either decide to keep or return at the end of the visit.
* Make sure you know their technical requirements and have an IT person on hand to help with the (inevitable) glitches. I once had the school’s A/V system fail before a crowd of 600 kids, and it was not easy to make myself heard or “vamp” for 60 minutes when everything I needed to illustrate my points was on an ‘invisible’ slide presentation!
*Check out the author’s reputation as a presenter. Being a famous writer doesn’t guarantee an author is a good speaker. I (and a lot of teachers) once watched in dismay as a household-name author, the featured speaker at a book festival, sat on a stool and for 30 minutes delivered an off-the-cuff lecture to 400 eighth graders about why it was important to get an education. No slides, nothing about writing, just a lecture.
*Start on time!!! Like most other authors, I have timed my presentation to the minute. When the school spends 15 valuable minutes getting students seated, making announcements, doing an introduction, it means I have to cut out something crucial, like the Q & A, or the funny ending I had planned.
Schools work hard to come up with funds for an author visit. A few precautions like these will ensure everyone gets the most out it. Good luck with yours!
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Here’s a short video of me reading Little Beaver and the Echo to a musical setting composed by Bill Trevaskis and performed by pianist Lois Shapiro at Waterman’s Community Center on North Haven Island (Maine).
The Princeton University Cotsen Children’s Library has come up with a great activity around losing a tooth, inspired by Cousin Ruth’s Tooth. Thanks to everyone who dreamed this up and put it on their creative blog! Click here for instructions.
I recently stumbled across this very valuable and up to date list of 30 children’s book publishers–big and small–who will accept unsolicited, unagented manuscripts. So if your New Year’s resolution is to send out that manuscript, here’s a good place to start.
shook down on me
a dust of snow
from a hemlock tree
has given my heart
a change of mood
and saved some part
of a day I had rued.
This poem popped into my head one day when I’d gone skiing through a hemlock forest after a really bad morning. And it really and truly did give my heart a change of mood. Thank you, Robert Frost.
Wrote this little joke in honor of all the snow we’ve had this winter:
Armageddon mighty tired OF ALL THIS SNOW!!!!!!!
Do I have a future as a joke writer? Or should I keep my day job?
Faith Worster was in second grade when I signed this copy of Rachel Fister for her. This month–all grown up now– she published her OWN children’s book, called Chronicles of Magic. Here she is signing her own book recently.
” I wanted to thank you for helping inspire me to write, ” she tweeted to me.
Has anyone out there been inspired to do some writing of their own by meeting a ‘real author’? If so, maybe you will follow in Faith’s footsteps and become a ‘real author.’ Just be sure to let the author know. It’s a real thrill to hear stories like this!
“I have a great idea for a picture book. How can I get it published?”
If I had a dollar for every time someone’s asked me that question, I could probably pay for the dental work to repair the teeth it’s caused me to grind into dust.
I can understand beginners asking the question. They assume that because picture books are short, writing them is easy. A happy hour tapping on a keyboard, a little consult with the Rhyming Dictionary, a quick pass through Spellcheck, and voila! Ready to send to a publisher.
Less easy to understand is a professional penning a 1,000-word article called “How to Write a Picture Book” which contains only 7 words actually dealing with the topic of writing, and they are these:
“You need to actually write the book.”
Really? You do? But instead of telling them how, the author leapfrogs over this to more fun stuff like finding an agent, illustrating your story, and promoting your published book. Hard as it may be to accept, aspiring authors are probably better served learning how to “actually write” a picture book before anyone goes stoking their fantasies about fending off all the publishers clamoring to sign them. So in that spirit I offer a few “actual writing” tips for picture books:
1. Think visually. By definition, picture books are a visual medium. Pick a concept or story line that’s illustratable. Someone thinking about something–moping, fearing, wishing— is not easily illustrated. The havoc a certain Cat can wreak on a home is.
2. Make sure there is some kind of tension. At the very least, there must be a need to find out what comes next. Young readers–just like old readers– must have a reason to keep turning pages. The driving force behind your story can be as complicated as finding out who stole the bear’s hat, or if the Cat can put the house back in order before Mother returns. Or it can be as simple as just wanting to feel the exquisite comfort of bidding good night to every single thing in the Great Green Room as night falls.
3. Make that tension grow. Is it a humorous book? The humor should get funnier–the chaos caused by the mouse, or the Cat–should increase page by page. Is it a scary book? The monsters should get scarier on each page. A quest for something? The obstacles get harder and harder.
Think of the great children’s book stars:Eloise, Madeleine, Olivia, Frog and Toad, Max, Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, the Cat in the Hat. They all have unforgettable personalities. You should be able to describe your main character in one or two adjectives: feisty, stubborn, self-pitying, irrepressible, mono-maniacal…
5. Make sure the ending is satisfying. Max comes home to find… ….his supper is still warm. Your readers should say “Aaahh” when they come to the end. You’ve given them what they wanted, but not necessarily the way they expected it.
Your idea for a story has all those potential things–hurrah! Of course, you still have to sit down and “actually write” it. Sorry, but you do. Can’t help you with that part. But when you’re done with the writing, get back to me; then we can talk about agents and illustrators, publishers and promotion and Pulitzer Prizes.