Saturday, February 26, 2011

Writing My First Children’s Book

One of the questions I’m asked the most on school visits is “Where do you get your ideas?”

Ideas come from all around: TV, magazines, memories, grandmothers’ tales, dreams, and even nightmares. In the case of my first children’s picture book, Crash!, about a little boy and his first golden retriever puppy, I was inspired by a sad personal experience. Years ago, we got a golden retriever puppy, which we named Crash. Crash was a sweet, smart, assertive dog, and he stole our hearts from day One. Unfortunately, he was with us only three weeks. Though we didn’t know it at the time, my daughter, who was only four back then, was allergic to dogs. She fell sick almost immediately with a bronchitis that wouldn’t go away and was quickly turning to pneumonia. The antibiotics weren’t working. Finally, the doctor’s words crushed us: “You have to get rid of your dog.” Believe me, those are horrible words to have to hear. It broke our hearts, but only three weeks after we had got him, we had to give Crash up.

It’s amazing what the loss of a pet can do to you. The one who was struck the hardest was my son, who was about eleven back then. He felt betrayed by all of us, but especially by his sister who in his eyes was the criminal. After all, it was because of her that Crash had to go away. Tears were abundant that first month after we gave him up. To top it all, it was December, Christmas time!

The good side of this story is, we found a wonderful home for Crash. The last I heard about them is that ‘They love him to death’.

Right away we knew we had to do something if we were going to have a dog in the future, so we took my daughter to an allergy specialist who put her on a three-year treatment. Three years seemed daunting, especially at that time; but, as you know, time passes quickly and patience pays off. In the end, the treatment worked like a charm and we were able to get another golden retriever puppy. We named him Amigo. Five years old now, he’s our darling, the bell of our hearts. He keeps himself busy chasing the rabbits and interviewing authors for his blog, Pets and Their Authors. You can visit him at

But to get back to inspiration… I wanted to immortalize Crash. I needed to ‘let him know’ that we would never forget him—and what better way than with a book? I dedicated the story to my son, the one who was struck the hardest by his departure.

Writing is a form of healing. A book is a very powerful thing. For me, it was the only way to put closure to a heartbreaking experience.

If you’d like to check out Crash!, visit:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How I Became a Children’s Book Author

I used to think writing children’s books was boring. Writing for those demanding, whining creatures? Are you kidding? Not for me. No thanks.

That was a few years ago.

Now, nothing fills me with more joy and excitement than writing a picture book or a novel for tweens. Writing for children is like stepping into a fresh, magical, innocent, marvelous world of color and words. Writing for children is, in fact, like walking on a rainbow.

So how did the change happen?

Easy. I had children.

I recently read an interesting post by another children’s author about how in order to write good children’s stories, one must know children. Of course, as always, there are exceptions to the rule, but in general, I find this observation to be true. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one must have children in order to write great children’s stories, but it does mean that one must interact with them, know their fears, fantasies, dreams. In sum, one must have a clear idea of what goes on inside their little heads and hearts.

In my case, having children brought out a tender, gentler part of me to the surface, a part I didn’t know I had. Suddenly, as I read to my little daughter every night, picture books, with their beautiful and evocative illustrations, became very appealing to me. I don’t remember when the exact moment happened, the moment when I thought, ‘I want to write a children’s book.’ But I do know I went from extreme to extreme: from chilling horror to sweet picture books. Two very different worlds, but I’m able to switch from one to the other without much problem. On the contrary, each one serves as a refreshing break from the other. So I may work on a lovable children’s story in the morning, and dive into a disturbing werewolf scene in the afternoon. It’s fun, like having split personalities, without the crazy element (or at least, I hope so!).

So far, I’ve had five picture books out: The Magic Violin, Crash, ChocalĂ­n (Spanish edition), Humberto, the Bookworm Hamster and Frederico, the Mouse Violinist. Two more are in the illustrating stages and will be published next year. I also have a middle-grade novel and about ten more picture book manuscripts doing the agent/publisher roundup.

The world of children’s book publishing is extremely competitive, to say the least. It takes hard work, dedication, perseverance and commitment to become a published author. I know the stakes, but once you step into that magical rainbow, there’s no turning back.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

"Resolution Solution," by Martha Swirzinski

Resolution Solution

Do any of these New Year's resolutions look familiar?

1. Exercise more
2. Spend more time with the children
3. Enjoy life’s little moments
4. Learn something new

Have you been able to make those resolutions stick? Well, here’s a great way to work on all four at the same time. Take some time and get active with your children. They will love the time you spend with them. It’s cold outside so here are some great indoor activities that are fun for the whole family. Turn off the TV, the video games and have fun and laugh with your children again.

Activities that require little to no equ

Charades (place a bunch of suggestions in a hat for the children to pull out)
Scavenger hunt (Come up with a list of items for the children to find, use picture cues for little ones, and tricky riddles for older ones)
Freeze dance (Start the music, have the children move around and when you yell, “FREEZE”, they must stop. Shake it up and bit and have them act out animals, specific movements like jumping, hopping, skipping)

Balloon fun (blow up some balloons and let them bat them back and forth, see how long they can keep it up in the air, or tie a string across two chairs and play volleyball)
Indoor bowling (use any ball you have and soda bottles, cereal boxes or even plastic cups)

“More and more research is being developed about the rise of obesity in children,” notes Ms. Swirzinski, who teaches movement education in a local pre-school and offers teacher training workshops and customized consultations. At the same time, numerous studies continue to link increased brain function and movement, she explains. “Being active grows new brain cells!”

Ms. Swirzinski believes that every child should be afforded structured movement opportunities every day to promote an active, healthy lifestyle and become part of a lifelong regime.

It is along this vein that Ms. Swirzinski has published three children’s books focused on movement. Using entertaining rhymes and charming pictures, these developmentally based books offer fun and creative ways for children to move while also providing mind stimulating activities on each page. By following the suggested activities, children can engage in 30-60 minutes of their recommended structured daily movement, as well as enhancing other mind/body skills. Designed to be enjoyed again and again, the pages of these books are filled with laughter, learning, movement and more.

Martha's book are:

You can find them at

Here are some other great books that keep your children moving. What’s better on a rainy day than a good book and spending time with your child?

Clap Your Hands by Lorinda Bryan Cauley
From Head To Toe by Eric Carle
Animal Action ABC by Karen Pandell and Art Wolfe
Pretend You’re A Cat by Jean Marzollo

Hope you find ways each and every day to make moving and laughing with your children a part of your day.

Stay Healthy,
Martha Swirzinski, M.A.

Make sure to stop by tomorrow to find out more about Eysabeth Eldering’s books. My daughter and I read them and had a great time. They are educational and fun.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Writing Tips from Children’s Author Pamela Hamilton

Welcome to day four of Pamela Hamilton’s 6-day NWFCC February Author Showcase tour.

Here, in no particular order, are some tips and advice, things I know I should do, but don’t necessarily follow. But isn’t that always the case?

1. Write every day. I work full time, so my “writing time” is limited to bits and spurts. Most of my daily writing is in my journal, in the morning while I’m having coffee, at lunch. At night, I try to update my blog or work a bit on whatever piece (or pieces) I have going. On weekends, I dedicate blocks of time, two to three hours on Saturday and Sunday, to working on my current projects. I write like I read: I have a couple of projects in the works at any given time. Mostly because I find it almost impossible to follow my next piece of advice.

2. Stifle that little voice in your head that says “that’s terrible!” and write whatever you are working on from beginning to end. I know, much easier said than done. I love Anne Lamott’s advice in Bird by Bird that says it’s fine to have a stinky first draft. I just wish my inner critic did. My muse has to be really impassioned to drown out the my inner critic, so I generally settle for keeping it quiet for short periods, either for a specific time period, like one hour, or a set amount of writing, so many pages or a chapter.

3. Read. Anything. Everything. I drive my husband (and probably the mailman) crazy with the all of the magazines I subscribe to, from cooking to decorating to writing to gossip, I read them cover to cover. Then there are the books. The local library loves the Hamilton family. Not only do we patronize them, but we also donate very gently used books to their shelves and book sales.

4. Find another creative outlet. I love photography and can spend hours wandering around taking photographs. Thank God for digital photography, because I could never afford to develop all of those pictures. Don’t be afraid to experiment to find your “other love.” I tried knitting, watercolor painting, and even belly dancing before realizing that photography gave me the sense of joy and accomplishment I was looking for. For me, finding that perfect shot is what takes me away from whatever writing obstacle is standing in my way and refreshes me – and my writing. You can see some of my photos at

5. Celebrate your successes. When I was still living in Massachusetts, I belonged to a writer’s group. Whenever someone had a story or article accepted, they brought champagne to the next meeting. These days, I share with my friends on Facebook.

Follow Day 5 of Ms. Hamilton's tour tomorrow at Leave a comment and your name will automatically be entered to win a Three Angels Gourmet Co mug and a package of Divine Dill Dip Mix - at the end of the month, provided by the National Writing for Children Center.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Writing Tips from Children’s Author Nancy Sanders

Welcome to day four of Nancy Sanders’ 6-day NWFCC February Author Showcase tour.

Q: With your experience writing over 80 books, do you offer tips or strategies for other children’s writers to experience success?

A: My book, Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children’s Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career is chock-full of practical strategies and inside tips on how to experience success as a children’s writer. I share actual methods I’ve taken to experience success as well as strategies my writer friends take. To learn more about my book, children’s writers can visit its website at

Q: What are other people saying about your book, Yes! You Can?

A: Here are just a couple of quotes people have told me about this book:

“I’m on Chapter 11 of your book. I love it! You have changed my whole approach to writing for children. By the end of Chapter 2, I started to try your methods. I landed a book contract that same week using your strategies! My whole critique group is buying your book now. I think you may be pioneering a new era. Thank you so much.”


“Thanks to you & your book, Yes! You Can, I now have 2 national magazine articles scheduled for printing!”


“You know how you put those little boosters at the beginning and the end of each section…read on to see how to do it…and you can then reach for the stars…and ‘I’ll show you how’? It is amazing how much they really help me to keep going through the book, and to not give up.”


Q: What words of advice would you like to share with wannabe children’s writers?

A: Always use three different strategies to meet three different goals. So many writers try to write one manuscript to meet all three different goals: get published, earn income, and experience personal fulfillment as a writer. I’ve found that this is a sure-fire recipe for frustration, fistfuls of rejection letters, and hardly any income. Instead, I recommend using a different strategy to meet each of those three goals.

From my experience, I encourage writers to write steadily for the no-pay/low-pay market to build up published credits. I recommend learning how to query widely and query well in order to start landing contracts to earn income while you write. And I always encourage writers to devote a small portion of each week to writing that manuscript they’re passionate about.

In other words, work on three different projects for three different goals. I’ve discovered this helps build up published credits, helps land contracts, and brings a tremendous amount of personal fulfillment as a writer.

Visit Nancy Sanders blog!

Follow Day 5 of Ms. Sanders' tour tomorrow at Leave a comment and your name will automatically be entered to win a Three Angels Gourmet Co mug and a package of Divine Dill Dip Mix - at the end of the month, provided by the National Writing for Children Center.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Writing Tips from Children’s Author Laurie Monopoli

Welcome to day four of Laurie Monopoli’s 6-day NWFCC February Author Showcase tour.

Excerpt from my article: Setting the Stage to Self-Promoting Your Children’s Picture Book

I equate publishing a book to giving birth to a child (obviously a female perception) -- a painstaking process that culminates into a unique, celebrated reflection of oneself. Publicly promoting something that is dear to heart can range from moments of sheer bliss to bouts of disappointing misery. After all, it’s comparable to placing a precious newborn in front of the world to be judged, dissected and scrutinized. You can (and you will) sing the praises of your own book until the cows come home, and still not sell many books. Kudos from reputable reviews sources and notable awards serves a valuable role in the promotion and overall success of your book. So it’s worth the risk to get it out there for some open scrutiny. Read the complete article here:

Follow Day 5 of Ms. Monopoli's tour tomorrow at Leave a comment and your name will automatically be entered to win a Three Angels Gourmet Co mug and a package of Divine Dill Dip Mix - at the end of the month, provided by the National Writing for Children Center.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Writing Tips from Children’s Author Michelle Hall

Welcome to day four of Michelle Hall’s 6-day NWFCC February Author Showcase tour.

One of the first tips that I would give to anyone writing a book for kids is to remember exactly that very important fact ... you are writing the book for KIDS. When you are deciding on characters, language, pictures, settings, those kinds of things, close your eyes, sit quietly and take yourself back to when you were a child.

Remember what books and TV shows, toys and games fascinated you and made you long for more. Bring that little girl or boy inside of you to the surface. Remember those story books that you never got tired of reading, and how you almost felt like you could see the characters as you read. You felt as though you were right there with them and for that special moment you were taken away and your imagination made you feel everything in the story was actually happening.

When I am writing a book I often go to my daughter’s bookshelf and read books that I really find interesting there, or that she has told me is ‘really, really good mommy.’ I go to the park and watch the children play and listen to them talk to each other. I want to not only hear the way they talk to each other, but I want to hear what’s exciting to them and makes them happy.

One of the things I’ve done when planning to write a children’s book is I volunteer to do reading time at my daughter’s school. In doing so I get to see which stories gets the kids’ full attention and involvement, what kinds of characters seem most popular, what adventures and settings are most interesting.

When I write my children’s books I like to give my illustrator a clear guideline of each scene that I want to have with each text. I browse through many children’s books and magazines, watch children’s TV channels and research many pictures on the internet until I come up with what I feel is the perfect scene with characters, actions and setting that matches the text it will accompany.

Last but not least, I have as many close friends and family members tell me what they think about the book as I go along. I listen to ideas. I am open to suggestions and I am willing to do whatever it takes to make that book be a great read for some little girl or boy. And ... of course I ask a child to give me her opinion ... my daughter is my best adviser.

Follow Day 5 of Ms. Hall's tour tomorrow at Leave a comment and your name will automatically be entered to win a Three Angels Gourmet Co mug and a package of Divine Dill Dip Mix - at the end of the month, provided by the National Writing for Children Center.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Writing Tips from Children’s Author L.S. Cauldwell

Welcome to day four of L.S. Cauldwell’s 6-day NWFCC February Author Showcase tour.

When I wrote Anna Mae, I studied the grammatical language of kids in their tweens and teenage years. That meant, kids speak one way at school, one way with each other, and another way when they're with their parents. Try to remain true to the speech pattern of that particular age of that child. Unless the kid is a genius, don't have them speak like an adult. Another tip, make your character consistent all the way through the novel. Don't change your character's personality in mid stream. Also, make sure that the clues make sense to the kids, otherwise, your characters and mystery won't be believable to them.

Follow Day 5 of Ms. Cauldwell's tour tomorrow at Leave a comment and your name will automatically be entered to win a Three Angels Gourmet Co mug and a package of Divine Dill Dip Mix - at the end of the month, provided by the National Writing for Children Center.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Becoming a Reviewer

I started reviewing about 10-12 years ago, but it wasn’t until 2006-2007 that I came up with the idea of writing The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing. I know this sounds a little corny, but I just woke up one night with the idea.

I thought a book like this was needed because there wasn’t another like it on the market, and I knew that I, for one, would have profited from it when I started reviewing. I proposed the idea to my dear friend, mystery author and reviewer Anne K. Edwards, and invited her to be my co-author. She accepted and we immediately jumped into the project.

The book took about a year to write and we had a marvelous time working on it together. Anne had started reviewing around the same time I had and she shared my passion for reviewing, so we were a perfect match. We made a list of topics in the form of an outline and divided the work between us. We also sent a proposal to publisher Lida Quillen of Twilight Times Books and she loved the idea and immediately sent us a contract, so the book was contracted before we actually finished it—that deadline was helpful in keeping us focused and motivated.

So, in a nutshell, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing is a how-to book on how to write well-written, well-structured, honest, professional book reviews no matter their type or length. Its primary audience is beginner reviewers but we’ve received wonderful feedback from intermediate reviewers as well, telling us how helpful they found the book.

I’m often asked what makes a good book review. Here are a few tips:

A good book review, whether short or long, is a well-written, honest, thoughtful evaluation of a book, one that points out the good and the ugly. If negative, a good review must also be tactful. I usually, though not always, follow a simple formula for a review, something I learned from Alex Moore, Book Review Editor of ForeWord Magazine: An interesting lead or quote; a short summary of the plot (without ever giving away spoilers or the ending); an evaluation supported by examples or quotes; and a recommendation (or not). A review is written for the reader/consumer in mind, and must help them decide whether or not the book is worth their time and money. It goes without saying that a good review should be free of spelling, grammatical and punctuation errors. Finally, a good review should engage the reader, should hold the reader’s interest and attention.

Currently, I review for, Voice in the Dark, and numerous other publications. Additionally, I offer book reviewing workshops at online conferences and For those interested in private, one-to-one courses, I also offer these from my website.

Visit Amazon to learn more about the book.