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OLD KING COLE book trailer

Hello, anybody there…?

I know, I know. I have been away a long time and I apologize. I’ve had an unplanned hiatus- an awful case of blog block,  and then I was too scared and embarrassed to return. But now it’s a new year…

And may it be a happy one for us all!

Last July when I posted, I had already finished the paintings for Old King Cole and was starting sketches for another book (Gabe and Goon 2016.) In the meantime, I have been waiting for final high-res scans and proofs for King Cole which just arrived a few weeks ago. It’s a lengthy process- this book making stuff. I have learned to be patient, though it’s not always easy.

So now, as publication date (Aug 4th) is getting nearer, I’ll be able to post a few of my early rhymes and sketches and compare them to the finished versions. I will do that soon and I hope writers/illustrators will find it informative.

In the meantime, here is the OLD KING COLE BOOK TRAILER.  My stepson put it together. My good friend played the fiddle. And I? Well, you’ll find out my contribution :-) I hope it makes you smile! 



Picture Book Illustration: Making an architectural model

Well, thank goodness for modern technology. Here I am on a small island 10 miles offshore and, though reception is mostly spotty, there are rare moments when I have a good internet signal and can actually tether my iphone to the computer. This is one such moment and I want to show you what I’ve been doing on my working vacation.

In preparation for my next book, Gabe and Goon (Fall 2016), I have made up an architectural model of a boy’s bedroom. Since the whole story takes place in the room, I thought it would be helpful to have this model to sketch from. I can take photos from various angles and viewpoints and maintain consistency. I have drawn floor plans in the past, but I have never done a 3D model before. What fun!



Thinking visually

A few days ago my editor asked me to send her the pagination (what text goes on what page) for my new children’s story. Usually I like to send a clean manuscript, with no side notes that may distract. But this wasn’t one of my nursery rhyme retellings and had more verses then usual, so she wasn’t sure what I had in mind for the page breaks. She said it would be helpful to know this to edit the story.  And  she said that since I am a “visual thinker”,  I surely had the page breaks in mind. She was right. Whenever I write a picture book draft, I do a rough storyboard. I mean rough- like this:

storyboard example (thinking visually)

(click to enlarge)

I do this on a sheet of 8.5×11 paper and there is not enough room for me to write the entire text, so I number my verses in the manuscript and jot down the corresponding numbers in the storyboard (and include the first and last lines of the verses so I know what’s what. )

This simple process really helps me see the flow of the book, the pacing, how the story arcs, if there are too many or not enough verses, if the story moves forward from page to page, if the words suggest good imagery and how the words and pictures fit together.

You don’t need to be an illustrator to do this. I think it’s a useful tool for all picture book writers. All the non-illustrating picture book writers I’ve met said they can envision the pictures. They are visual thinkers too.

Some things to keep in mind: Most picture books are 32 pages. The first few pages are called the front matter. Page 1 is either a half title page (just title of book) or full title page (title, author/illustrator and publisher names.) Pages 2 and 3 can be either the full title spread (if  page 1 wasn’t the full title page) or they can be the copyright and dedication pages. That would allow for the story to begin on page 4. Or, as in my example, I have a half title page on 1, full title spread on 2+3, dedication and copyright on page 4 and the story begins on page 5.  If the story is short, there is also the option of doing 1/2 title on page 1, copyright and dedication on pages 2+3, full title on pages 4+5 and the story begins on page 6. All this is subject to change after the edit- if verses are removed or added- and also after the art director’s input. But it’s a good starting point.

Even if the editor doesn’t ask  for the pagination, doing a storyboard like this is extremely helpful. And if  you are asked for it, this is my editor’s preferred format. I think it’s the least distracting:

P. 6

P. 7

Pp. 8+9


I hope this is helpful.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

On monday I am heading off to Maine for vacation- a working vacation, but still an opportunity to rejuvenate. Have a wonderful summer and I’ll  see you in September!

Remembering My Father

A very happy Father’s Day to all the great Dads out there!  I hope you are getting some extra well-deserved love and pampering today!

I only knew my father for the  first seven years of my life- when I was still in Poland- and he was very dear to me. In his honor, I thought I would post a short excerpt from my in-progress memoir, reliving some early memories of him:


Nothing was better than parading on the streets of Warsaw with my father. We walked, hands clasped, arms gently swinging, my five-year old feet scuttling to match his pace, my eyes alert for sweet shops but mainly fixed on him, my Tata, tall, dashing and jolly as a polka.

His eyes were lake blue and quick to wink. An expanse of shiny brow reached for his tea-colored hair, lightly streaked with gray and always neatly combed, especially when going out. His gently rounded nose, though pink-tinged with tiny broken capillaries, was none the less noble. His mouth, what a mouth! It could chirp a perfect whistle which made me jubilant, or suck up a raw egg which made me gag and run out of the room.

He had a song for everything and he sang with a husky baritone, like  the swish of field grass in a lazy breeze. In between songs, jokes lined up on his tongue.

His whistling made me proudest of all. Such a champion he was that he even performed on the radio once.

“Teach me to whistle Tato,” I said, “please, I want to whistle just like you.”

“It’s easy. Just form your lips like you would to say the letter “u” and then blow some air out,” upon which my father puckered his lips and demonstrated a trill of such beauty and mastery that a songbird would have been slighted. My attempts, on the other hand, produced only harsh wheezes and a good amount of spit.

“Gently, gently,” he said.

I tried again. More spit.

“You’re soaking the floor.”


“Now listen,” he said. “You can whistle or you can giggle, but you can’t whistle and giggle.”

By then whistling was no longer an option. I was in the midst of an out and out, riotous, hilarious giggle fest.

Jaunty, impulsive, slightly reckless. That was my father. He surprised us with a television set – a rare item for communist Poland in the fifties.  He took me to the circus, to the zoo, to the big park downtown for a ride on the carousel. He taught me silly songs. He told me if I was a good girl he’d bring me exotic fruits like pineapples, bananas, and watermelon and, by God, he managed to find them. But if I was bad, he warned, “I’ll send you off to the cygani.”  They often rode in caravans down our street and he knew I was afraid of them. But my father’s eyes couldn’t tell a lie. They twinkled with a waggish glint so bright it put his gold tooth to shame. No way was I going to the gypsies.




Blog Hop: What I Am Working On, Why and How

Oh my dear readers, I have really fallen behind. Over the past two months I have been caring for my terminally ill dog, my sweet gentle Jambo- who died on May 29, 2014. He had osteosarcoma- a deadly bone cancer, apparently common in the large breeds. If you have a big dog (age 7 or so) who starts to limp, do not take it lightly…We are heartbroken to have lost our dear friend.PicFrame

2 Jambo 8-1-06In the midst of this heartache, I have been trying to find joy in painting illustrations for my upcoming book, Old King Cole (Fall 2015.) Jambo’s illness was a huge distraction- physically and emotionally, and now I am working like mad to finish the final art.

And, I  was  tagged and agreed  to participate in a blog hop, in which I am to answer four questions regarding my work:

1- What am I working on?

Right now I am painting the final illustrations for my extended version of Old King Cole- a story about a castle ball and one sleepy sire (that’s all I can tell you for now.) I need to submit the art no later than July 1st- and I think I may just eke it out…Lots of characters in this book so it has been a challenge to draw and paint. The writing was also  demanding because of the internal rhymes and tough rhythms in this old verse and, of course, I had to match the meter perfectly. I spent a good deal of time reworking it on my own, with my agent’s help and finally with my editor. I think it’s in good shape and I am eager to see what my readers think. Of course we’ll have to wait till fall of 2015. It’s just not fair!

As soon as I finish the paintings, I will need to get started on revisions and sketches for my next book, Gabe and Goon (about a boy and a monster- Fall of 2016.)

When time allows, I have revisions to do on my memoir (a project now going on 5 years..) I have to say, initially, the words flowed so easily,  as if the story were already finished and I was just retyping. Sometimes I think complete manuscripts are stored in the file cabinets of our brains. For years, I wanted to tell my story, but  didn’t know how. I kept wanting to unlock that cabinet. Then, in fall of 2009, on a morning walk, I unearthed the key. This is how most ideas come to me- on their own damn time.

And yes, sometimes the words flowed joyously, but there were also many days when I couldn’t find a single word. Some days I loved what I had written; other days I hated it. Reviews from early readers have been very positive so I am encouraged, but I still have a good deal of work to do to get it in shape.

2-How does my work differ from others in the genre?

Ideas are universal but stories are individual.  Any one of us can take the same idea and turn it into a unique story. We have our own voices. We have our own plots.

Back in 1991, when I started working on The Itsy Bitsy Spider, I didn’t realize that I would have a niche in the market and make a career of retelling nursery rhymes. Other people have done it as well, and  still do, but I suppose my books are recognizable by the art and also my format of  humorous, surprise action spreads. For example: The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the rocking chair…  then, a flip of the page to an action spread- Up jumped a cat and knocked her in the air... This  pattern is typical of many of my nursery rhyme books- though not all of them. Sometimes the stories do not lend themselves to this treatment.

As for the memoir- it’s my story alone.

3-Why do I write what I write?

Since I was a child I  dreamed of making picture books, and I can still recall the joy and comfort  I found in reading. To this day I love picture books and have a large and growing collection to peruse and be inspired by.  I love the puzzle solving process of writing in rhyme, of juggling words and staying true to meter. I love bringing those words to life in my illustrations. Writing for children gives me permission to  view the world through the eyes of a child- with love,  humor and wonder!

4- How does my writing process work?

When I have an idea for a picture book, pretty much everything else stops. I make a plot and work on it night and day until I have a good rough draft. I read  and sing (the nursery rhyme books) out loud many times until I’ve memorized the words. I recite (and sing) them to myself in the shower, in the car, on my walks, to my family and friends. I make many revisions and when I feel I’ve done my best- off it goes to my agent.  And then there may be more revisions as per her suggestions- and certainly many more once my editor gets a hold of it :-)

As for the memoir, I’ve had to reserve chunks of time to work on it between picture book projects. I made a simple outline to get started ( I do this in my picture books too.) I am not a complete plotter, but I do need to have an idea of were I am going.  I may stray off the path as the story takes on a life of it’s own, but ultimately I get to my destination. I can’t imagine beginning without some kind of a plan.

I know many writers don’t recommend this, but I  edit as I go along. I have never been good at putting down a quick rough draft of a story.  I can’t just write a horrible paragraph and leave it.  It’s certainly not a final edit, but the writing has to be acceptable at the very least. Each paragraph sets the stage for the next and I just can’t proceed unless I have a good platform to jump off of.


I am tagging:

Jean V. Naggar, the  wonderful literary agent and author of  her alluring  memoir, Sipping From the Nile: My Exodus From Egypt. She is humble, warm and enlightening. You will enjoy reading about her process.

 Emily Kate Moon, author and illustrator of a beautiful and award-winning debut picture book, Joone-  about a spirited little girl who lives in a yurt with her grandfather.  Hear what she has to say about writing for little ones and see some art in progress for her next book.

Helen Maryles Shankman, wonderful writer,  classic artist,  daughter of Holocaust survivors, and author of The Color of Light- a unique and stunning novel incorporating fine art, vampires and man’s inhumanity to man. Read what she has to say and see some of her art.

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