Coloring Outside of the Lines

This month on YA Outside the Lines, most of the blog entries focus on teen interviews. After all, it’s important to reach out to your audience. To be able to fill the void in their world. To know their wants. Their needs. Their hearts.

And after all, the name of the blog is YA Outside the Lines.

I thought about this assignment for weeks. You see, my audience is different. I write picture books. And although most book selling sites will categorize the target age as 4-8 years old, it’s important to realize you not only have to engage the children, but their adult readers as well.

So, rather than do one interview, I’ve decided to share some of the questions, comments and thoughts that have offered insight into my target audience over the years.

  1. Kids are empathetic.

1st Grader: “Can you write a book about the boy’s sister next? All the bad stuff in When A Dragon Moves In seems to happen to her.”

Others joined in: “Yeah, she needs a dragon too!”

Spray sand from Dragon
Illustration from When A Dragon Moves In (Flashlight Press), artist Howard McWilliam
  1. It’s not the kids who have the short attention span:

Kindergartener: “I wish the book could’ve been longer, but I guess you’re pretty busy.”

(Note: This comment squeezed my heart. We’re constantly told that kids don’t have the patience to sit through longer stories. Methinks it might be the adults…?)

  1. Kids listen to our words and look to us for inspiration.

Letter from 4th grader

I received this note from a fourth grader. Children are bursting with potential. Be the wind beneath their wings, not the one clipping the feathers. (This squeezed my heart too, but in a good way.)

  1. Kids are smart. They want to read, but we have to let them choose their own stories.

I’ve participated in too many festivals where children ages 8 on up pause in front of my booth to pore over my books. You can see their eyes light up as they absorb each page, each word, each illustration.

And then, the tug from the adult. “You’re too old for that book. Look at these over here.”

What these parents don’t often realize is that picture books are mini art museums, where each turn of the page offers a new delight and an avenue for the imagination to embark on a fresh journey. Plus, some readers are more comfortable connecting to stories in a visual sense.

Thankfully, I’ve managed to sway some parents to acknowledge and embrace the power of graphic novels. And look what happens when my own Dragon is interpreted by a brilliant, young artist:

Dragon graphic novel

  1. Kids need to see themselves in books, physically, psychologically and emotionally.

I’m a great supporter and advocate for the We Need Diverse Books campaign. Please read more about it here.

Girl Power

I’d also like to share a personal experience.

During a signing event for When A Dragon Moves In and When A Dragon Moves In Again, a woman approached me and asked what the books were about. I wasn’t even sure she was listening as she paged through a copy, lost in Howard McWilliam’s brilliant illustrations. But when I explained how “Dragon” acts a little naughty when no one believes he’s real, she looked up. “It’s about a child’s frustration?” she asked. And that’s when she shared a bit of her story with me. I felt my heart splinter. Without divulging personal details, suffice it to say that her granddaughter was dealing with challenges no child should ever have to.

With tears in her eyes, she said she thought her grandchild would identify with the boy and his dragon in my story. Would see herself. And that it would help her. We both cried then. And hugged. (Ya know, long ago when we were able to.)

  1. Finally, kids inspire US.

During one school visit, I mentioned that I’m working on a middle grade novel as well as a YA. “How long does it take for a book to be published?” one second grader asked.

“It can take years,” I told her, and described a bit of the process for them.

“Perfect,” she said with a grin. “That means I’ll be old enough to read it when it does.”

And with that beautiful smile in mind, I must go write. Because if there’s one thing I know for sure,  I don’t ever want to let any of these kids down.

Featured

And Baby Board Book Makes Three!

It’s been a long wait, but as my friend Kim says, babies often go past their due dates…and who among us really knows the gestation period of a dragon?

But alas, we are proud to announce the birth of our newest little Dragon, a board book for the tiniest Dragon enthusiasts. Arriving 12:00 AM August 31, and measuring 7 x 0.6 x 7 inches, I Love My Dragon is 10.6 ounces of color-splashed adventure for the chubbiest of teeny fingers. I Love My Dragon cover.jpg

Of course, Larry had to build a sandcastle to commemorate the birth and our other two Dragons were on hand to celebrate!

Dragon Board Book castle

Published by Flashlight Press and illustrated by the brilliant, Howard McWilliam, I Love My Dragon joins its siblings When A Dragon Moves In and When A Dragon Moves In Again, and is now available through your favorite bookseller.

Outs & Abouts

June and July have been a whirlwind of activity for me and the Dragons, hopping between blogs and book events, awaiting the arrival of our newest little member of the “family”, I Love My Dragon, a board book for the youngest dragon enthusiasts.

You see, sometimes for reasons beyond our control, book releases are delayed. While our little baby was expected May 1, his birthday was pushed to June 1, then to August 1. But he was certainly worth waiting for!

I know I may be a little biased, but seriously, how cute is THIS? Howard McWilliam outdid himself (again!) as did my editor Shari Dash Greenspan at Flashlight Press. And it’s available for pre-order from your favorite bookseller!

I Love My Dragon cover

But hey, when you think about it, what could be more appropriate than to be “expecting” when presenting at the Lancaster Baby Shower Expo in Manheim, PA?

And what a fun time it was! We shared Dragon stories:

Lancaster Baby Shower Expo me reading

And met the coolest people!

Lancaster Baby Shower Expo customer

baby shower expo child and mom reading

(These two totally stole my heart!)

The following Saturday, June 8, we “flew off” to The Chesapeake Children’s Book Festival at the Talbot County Free Library in Easton, MD, where I not only had the chance to connect with some of my favorite author buddies at a lovely dinner the evening before…

Chesapeake Children's Book Fest dinner

(Left to Right: Moi, Suzanne Bloom, Debbie Dadey, Wendy Greenley, Robin Newman and Colleen Rowan Kosinski.)

I had the honor of hanging with all of these fantabulous authors and illustrators the next day!

Chesapeake Authors

The library staff and volunteers couldn’t have been more friendly and accommodating, and the attendees couldn’t have been sweeter!

Chesapeake boy (back) reading DA

Not to mention, we had our own “Protectors of the Books”:

Chesapeake with star wars

(Left to right: Timothy Young, Robin Newman, Protectors of the Books x 2), Debbie Dadey, Moi, Cathy Breisacher, Jonathan Roth. Leaning in: Julie Gonzalez)

Thanks, love & hugs to fellow KidLit Author Club member Timothy Young and all of the organizers for their hard work – this event was extraordinary!

Speaking of extraordinary events, I was thrilled to return to BookFest PA (a part of the Central PA Festival of the Arts) on July 13! This is one of my favorite festivals, not only because of the people who orchestrate and attend it, but because it benefits my own beloved Schlow Library in State College, PA.

Bookfest 19 DJ & me

This year, although the board book was still unavailable for sale, attendees were able to preview it – and the response was overwhelmingly (and unsurprisingly) cuteness overload!

bookfest 19 denise cathy me gayle

(Left to right: Denise Kaminsky, Cathy Breisacher, Moi, Gayle C. Krause)

Of course, thankfully our other Dragons received a lot of love – you know how sibling rivalry can be! 😉

Bookfest 19 dad reading to child DA

Bookfest 19 couple reading hebrew edition

(Attendees always love trying to read the Hebrew edition!)

And of course, Larry loves showing everyone how the Dragon is made:

Bookfest 19 making dragon.png

Admittedly, while we’re sad that our summer festivals are winding down, it does give us a chance to head “down the shore” and get down to some serious “sandcastling” of our own.

Hope you’re having a splendiferous summer. May your every sandcastle is a perfect one!

Turn the Page

Last year, instead of sharing goals or “resolutions”, I selected a word to inspire me. The word was “connect”. There were so many amazing words to choose from, but as an author, this one spoke to me. It’s important for me to connect with my readers in order to help them connect with their world.

But at the moment, I feel more than a bit disconnected. Last week, I received a call that no one ever wants to receive. My dad suddenly and unexpectedly left this world.

Dad and me reading.png

I’m devastated. Our entire family is. He was a loving father and grandfather. He was my rock. I remember, as a child, standing at the top of our steps and jumping off with abandon, secure in knowing my dad would catch me at the bottom. He always provided that safe place to land. I guess you could say it was a living metaphor of what was to come in my teenage years, where my mom – and thus, the entire family – battled with the challenges of mental illness and the alcohol with which she tried to wash it away.

My dad never let me fall. Ever.

I started to write we never got a chance to say our last goodbye. Or “I love you”. But that’s not true. Because my dad and I were connected. I spoke to him every week (if not more) and though he lived one thousand miles away, we visited him as much as we could. I called him the day before he died to wish him Happy Hanukkah. We laughed. We talked about normal, everyday things. The price of getting a car fixed. Computer issues. Potato latkes. And the great pride we shared in our family.

And at the end, before we said goodbye, we said, “I love you.” We always did.

Of course, since life can be an unruly tangle of extreme joy and pain, the following day I was given permission by my Flashlight Press editor to share that there will be a new Dragon book next May, a board book for the littlest readers called I Love My Dragon.

I Love My Dragon cover.jpg

This is bittersweet for me. My dad knew it was coming, of course. But what he didn’t know was that it had been dedicated in part to him. It was supposed to be a surprise:

For Mom, who placed that first book in my hand, and for Dad, who helped turn the page.

I truly wish I could place this book in his hand.
 
Much love and thanks to my editor, Shari Dash Greenspan, our brilliant illustrator, Howard McWilliam, and the entire Flashlight family for making this book, this dedication, possible.

Please hug your precious ones a little harder today. Tell them you love them. Provide them that safe place to land. Connect. It’s the greatest gift you can both give and receive. Wishing you all a happy, healthy and safe holiday season, surrounded by family, friends and love.

When A Dragon Moves In – the Graphic Novel? !!!

Today I received a truly splendiferous email. It seems a fifth grade teacher challenged her students to take a favorite story and turn it into a graphic novel.

And guess what?

*drum roll*

One of her students chose When A Dragon Moves In…and her mom not only shared it with me, but gave me permission to share it with all of YOU!

*Tigger dances*

Words can’t describe what an honor and a thrill this is. And so without further ado, it’s my privilege to share the work of this brilliant young artist:

(SPOILER – check out the alternate ending!!!)

1 When A Dragon Graphic Novel

2 When A Dragon Graphic Novel

3 When A Dragon Graphic Novel

4 When A Dragon Graphic Novel

Isn’t this fantabulous? Isn’t this young artist fantabulous???

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Sarah. Like Howard McWilliam (the illustrator for When A Dragon Moves In and When A Dragon Moves In Again), you’ve brought my characters, my vision – my dream – to life! You’re an inspiration to all of us, and we can’t wait to enjoy more of your talents!

Why I Write

Happy National Writing Day’s Eve!

Like many other writers, I plan on sharing some thoughts using the #WhyIWrite hashtag on Twitter tomorrow. But sometimes, 140 characters just isn’t enough.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of reading WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN AGAIN at the Barnes & Noble in Marlton, NJ. Afterward, we created fun fire-breathing dragons out of toilet paper rolls and crepe paper (for directions on making one of your own, click here.)

B&N Marlton Lisas

My heart filled when I heard my little listeners giggling over Dragon’s antics. It squished when they told me about their own siblings. It smiled when they stood in a row and “fired up” their creations.

B&N Marlton stage

Later, as I was signing books, a woman approached me and asked what my Dragon books were about.

She paged through, lost in Howard McWilliam’s brilliant illustrations, as I told her about the boy and his magnificent Dragon. But when I explained how “Dragon” acts a little naughty when no one believes he’s real, she looked up. “It’s about a child’s frustration?” she asked. And that’s when she shared a bit of her story with me. I felt my heart splinter. Without divulging personal information, suffice it to say that her granddaughter is dealing with issues a child should never have to.

But then she said she thought my books could help her sweet child battle through her own frustrations…just like the boy.

When a Dragon Moves In Again crib spot

As we hugged, I knew…

This is why I write. This is why I do what I do.

Hugging child pic

When A Dragon Moves Into…OMAHA!

April 1, 2014 by writerjodimoore | Edit

Last week, I had the intense pleasure of visiting eight different elementary schools in five days in beautiful Omaha, Nebraska. And if that wasn’t awesome enough, my spectacular hubby Larry (the Master Sandcastle Builder himself) was able to accompany me!

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While the weather was a bit chilly (to put it lightly – brrr!), Larry, Dragon and I could not have had a warmer welcome – from the fantastic staff at the Marriott Courtyard, to the amazing librarians and teachers at each school, to the sea of bright, happy, adorable faces to whom we had the honor of speaking!

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The magnificent Maria Wane and her amazing staff are MASTERS at making authors feel uber-welcome! 🙂

 

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Who wouldn’t love to sit in this gorgeous author chair offered by librarian extraordinaire Gail Teten at Western Hills? We want one for our house!

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The students really connected to the idea that building a strong story is just like building a sandcastle, “oooing” and “awwwing” over the pictures of Larry’s masterpieces. Some of the children at Belle Ryan Elementary, guided by the fabulous librarian Annette Luedtke, built one of their own to share with us in anticipation of our visit! We couldn’t be more impressed!

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Others filled their walls with dragons and sandcastles. Indian Hill’s librarian extraordinaire Deanna Reilly (and her assistants George Mihai) read WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN to their students, without showing them the pictures, and then asked them to draw their own illustrations as part of a lesson on visualization! Look at the phenomenal results! Take a look – the future of illustration is here and it’s fabulous!

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At Benson West, Dragons were moving in everywhere…and taking over the school! We’re thinking fantastic librarian Chris Yearley, the wonderful staff and their uber-talented students may have had something to do with this…

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The staff and students of the Omaha Public School District loved seeing Howard McWilliams’ own imaginative ”visualizations” come to life! Here, the children at Sarasota, guided by dynamic librarian Karen Jabens, are spellbound:

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Students at Ashland Park/Robbins (led by the splendiferous media specialists Debbie Wolf and Mary Ruf) were determined and discerning detectives when we talked about revision…first fixing the spelling and punctuation errors, and then creating a more exciting sentence about spiders spinning webs to get to an amusement park! Idea for a new picture book???

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I explained to the students that authors love to PLAY; that sometimes I’ll pretend I’m one of my characters and wonder what he or she would do to resolve the problem. The young actors of Fullerton (“directed” by the amazing terrific tag-team media specialists Barbara Gent and Melissa Bruce) couldn’t wait to participate! Broadway calls! 🙂

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Of course, everyone was enchanted when Dragon himself (made by our uber-talented son, Steven) was introduced!

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Everybody tried to guess what he was made of…

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…and couldn’t wait to check him out…up close and personal…!

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Before they left, I tried to impress upon the students that only THEY can write their own unique stories. Many of them told me that they were already working on projects. I hope they share their art with us! (Hint, hint, teachers…) 😉

The time FLEW and it was time to say goodbye way too soon. Before I left, one young lady asked me: “What’s the best thing about being an author?”

Without hesitation, I answered, “Meeting awesome readers like you.”

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And spontaneous hugs. *heart squish*

Tons of thanks, love & hugs to Pam Swanson and everyone involved with the Omaha Public School District for inviting me to visit! I miss you all already! 

 

Our New BABY!

*squeeeeeeeee*!!!!

Couldn’t be more excited to announce that there will be a new DRAGON for everyone to enjoy!!!

Look for WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN AGAIN, to be published by the fantabulous Flashlight Press and illustrated by the brilliant Howard McWilliam, fall of 2015!

*Tigger dances*

Want a little preview?

It’s bad enough that the new baby takes up Mom’s lap and Dad’s time, but when this tiny, drooly, stinky, crying newborn somehow charms the dragon, the boy decides he’s had enough of this baby business. Is there room in the castle for three? Find out…WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN AGAIN!

How gorgeous is this illustration???

When a Dragon Moves In Again crib spot

*swoons*

Have I mentioned I have an amazing editor and fantastic illustrator?

*squeeeeeee*!!!!!

DRAGON Wins Georgia Picture Book Award! *squeeeee*!!!

Dragon award crop

Sometimes you get so busy with the craziness of life, blogging is the last thing you feel you have time to do. But then certain things happen, things so wonderful you feel you have to pinch yourself – involving people so sweet, so supportive, so extraordinary that you have to stop what you’re doing and say thank you (and verbally HUG THEM!!!) Because it is this, the kindness, friendship and love we experience, that makes life worth living.

I’m honored, thrilled and grateful to share that WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN is the recipient of the 2012-13 Georgia Picture Book Award!

*TIGGER DANCES*

This past weekend, Larry and I traveled to Georgia to accept the award, thank everyone who was a part of this honor and attempt to inspire the attendees of the conference a FRACTION of how much they all inspire me!

You see, this conference was filled with teachers, librarians and media specialists. The educators. The gardeners of knowledge. The caretakers of imagination.

I wanted to hug every single one of them…!

And what a warm, wonderful welcome we received! Our lovely hosts, Joanne Ratliff, Jennifer Graff and Chelsey Bahlmann of UGA (University of Georgia Athens), were absolute Georgia PEACHES!

We hit the ground running first thing Friday morning, enjoying a keynote by the fabulous Judith Ortiz Confer, filled with heart and humor.

Then, I was thrilled to meet so many Dragon-lovers at a book signing!  How sweet and beautiful are they?

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Of course, I may have felt a SLIVER of envy, as many of these folks had met DRAGON’s  brilliant illustrator, Howard McWilliam last year, when I NEED MY MONSTER (written by my fantastic Flashlight “sister” Amber Noll; illustrated by Howard) won the Picture Book award for 2011. But they were so sweet, I couldn’t be upset. *grin*

Following the signing we were treated to a keynote by the uber-talented award-winning artist R. Gregory Christie. I’m always so inspired to hear about an illustrator’s process!

Dragon and I were presented with this GORGEOUS award at a yummy mid-day luncheon. I was so overcome by emotion after the lovely introduction by Jennifer Graff, my thank you was heart-felt, but rather sniffly. And at the risk of having some type of award-show music notify me it was time to get off the stage, I had so many to thank: my lovely hosts (of course!); Howard McWilliam; Shari Dash Greenspan (my amazing editor) and everyone at Flashlight Press; my family (specifically my beloved hubby, Larry, and our two magnificent sons); my writer buddies; SCBWI and the entire kidlit tribe; the booksellers; teachers; librarians; parents; readers; all the students who voted! Dragon lovers EVERYWHERE. *heart squish*

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In addition to the keynote which closed the conference, I was asked to do a workshop, and I was thrilled to accept. I spoke to the attendees about “Adding a Little Character to Your Curriculum”, where we discussed how thinking “outside the box and inside your favorite book” can breathe life into any subject and make a lasting impression on your students. As you can see, we had a blast!

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Since Judith and I shared a workshop room, Larry and I sat in on her presentation before my own. She inspired me to write free verse. Be forewarned.

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The third keynote of the day was the prolific Jennifer Holm. We loved hearing not only about her writing, but how she collaborates with her brother!

That evening, we were treated to a casual author dinner with the other keynote speakers and some faculty. Were we ever surprised when we walked in to find that each place setting had a special DRAGON bookmark – made by a class of local kindergartners! I wish I could share every single one of them, but here’s just a sample of the intense cuteness:

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Needless to say, the company – and the food – was delicious!

I fell into a dead sleep that night, exhausted, until I woke up at 4:42 AM, maybe just a tad anxious about my keynote.

You see, here’s the thing. One of the main reasons I love going to SCBWI conferences is that I not only get information, but I get INSPIRATION. I’ve cried more than once listening to other authors and illustrators speak from the heart. Their words touch my soul, inspiring me to be a better writer, a better person.

Could I do that? I really, really wanted to.

My knees were literally knocking as Larry and I set up. We were happy to see there was a lavalier microphone available, allowing me to move about, not glued to the podium. (Of course, I wasn’t wearing a belt and Larry clipped the battery pack to my dress, gripping my pantyhose underneath – yikes! Thankfully, they were good ones and didn’t fall down – ha!)

Following a beautiful introduction by Chelsey, it was my turn to speak. To tell my story, but more importantly, to encourage the attendees to tell theirs.

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And I know it sounds cliché, but I’m thrilled to say that “they laughed and they cried” during my keynote!

I read DRAGON aloud to them. I shared my passion and my journey.

I told them stories about my own rejections. How it’s important to be in the “know”, but not to get stuck in the muck of the “NO-it-alls”.

How my husband and I have always encouraged our boys to go for their dreams. To listen to their hearts. That if it were easy, everyone would do it.

When Alex and Steve started college, my husband said it was my turn. And I said…

“It’s too hard to get published.”

“What?” My boys looked at me in disbelief. “Have you been lying to us all these years?”

Needless to say, the three of them encouraged me to pursue my dream. I am so blessed and grateful every day to have their unconditional love and support! And I am so thankful that Shari and Flashlight took a chance on a mischievous little boy, a dragon and me.

You see, I’ve always loved the quote by Ben Sweetland: “We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without lighting our own.” I told my audience that the very students that they inspire on a daily basis can be the ones that inspire them in return.

I was thrilled with how many asked questions at the end and then came up to talk with me; to “meet” and admire the Dragon that our son Steve made for my presentations.

But one woman stood aside and waited. When everyone else was finished, she approached, tears running down her cheeks. She said she was turning 50 soon and was questioning what she had “done” with her life. That she considered herself to be a story-teller and had always wanted to be published. But she gave up after getting some rejections. She shared she’d been away from teaching for a bit and had just returned. That she almost didn’t come to this conference, but something told her to.

She said my words inspired her to try again. We hugged and cried together.

There are more tears in my eyes as I’m typing because this is exactly what I wanted to accomplish with my keynote. If I could inspire just one person, I had accomplished what I set out to do.

I only hope this special story teller realizes how much her passion inspired me in return! Our torches, our passions, were shared and in turn, each burns brighter.

I’m home now, but still feeling warm and fuzzy from making so many new friends at UGA. It’s for sure that Georgia will forever remain on my mind…and in my heart!

* Special thanks and love to my hubby, Larry Moore, for being my right-hand man at this conference, and for sharing this – and everything else – in my life! He took most of these photos, with the exception of the one of me holding the award…that credit goes to my awesome friend, Doug (the one with the finger in the dragon’s nose – LOL)  Love him too!