Wednesday, February 8, 2012


photo by James Bowe

Maggie and the First Grade Blues is the not the first picture book story that I’ve ever written.  There have been several others.  I am very proud of those stories and many have won awards.  One of the stories, When Sheep Won’t Leap, was written in rhyme.  This picture book manuscript was critiqued by an editor at Dial Books for Young People following an Editor’s Day conference.  One of her suggestions:  make sure that the rhymes are spot on.

After revising it accordingly, I submitted it to many publishers.  But as the rejections rolled in, I finally decided to shelve it.  This piece was going nowhere.  No one was interested in it; no one would ever read it.  Then many months later, I learned about a poetry contest sponsored by the Institute of Children's Literature (ICL).  This respectable establishment offered a poetry contest.  I thought about my rhyming picture book.  Maybe, just maybe it might be worth editing again for this contest. 

The guidelines stated that the word count should be less than 300 words.  That meant a few stanzas needed to be omitted.  But this threw off the rhyming scheme, so I referred to a synonym dictionary (once more) to make sure I had perfect rhymes.  After several revisions, I thought it was complete.  Then I asked myself:  would this entry stand out above the others?  That’s when I took a critical look at the stanzas.  The lines were ordinary.  Nothing special.  I needed to create a unique look.  So, I started toying with the shape of words and found that I could illustrate action by using different sized fonts and by arranging letter placement. Afterward, the poem took on a new life.  A reader could envision the movements of Ella and her sheep. 

Regardless of the outcome of the contest, I was proud of this story.  I put it out of my mind until the the unbelievable happened.  Three months later, two emails, and one contest winner.  When Sheep Won’t Leap won first place.  This month, an interview and my rhyming story appears in the ICL newsletter, The Children’s Writer. 

This is what I learned from the experience. 
Never give up.  
Edit, edit, edit. 
Continue to showcase your work.
Make your work unique. 
Believe in yourself.   

I never would have guessed that my story would be read by others. Now, thousands of people will read it and learn how the story came about.   I’m leaping with joy, just like Ella’s sheep!

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