Children’s Illustration Class

I’m taking a children’s illustration class and it’s scary.

It’s class hosted by our local arts center, the North Hills Center for the Arts.

The teacher isn’t scary.

Our instructor is Jeanine Murch and she does some lovely work! I’m especially excited to learn about lettering from her.

The other people in the class aren’t scary. In fact, my friends Beth and Jessica are in the class.

What’s scary is that I don’t have any confidence in myself as an illustrator. I love to doodle and draw and feel I’ve painted and sketched a few nice things lately. But I haven’t achieved something that feels like an illustration to me. I want to create something COOL.

What if I can’t do it?

Do It Anyway

Our homework for next week is to bring in a two page spread that illustrates either a story from a list Jeanine provided, or illustrates something of our own. I have an idea of a story of my own that I might tackle, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it looks better in my mind than it will on the page.

A lot the art I create feels very static, like a photograph capturing an image. But for illustration, I want there to be action and emotion. I want an illustration that tells a story.

I’m pretty confident about my writing. When I go into workshops, I feel connected with words and my ability to craft a sentence that evokes emotions and tells a story. But can I do this with art? I’m just not sure.

It’s ok to be scared, though. Taking this class will be good for me, because if you don’t ask questions, you can’t learn new things.

I’m glad that in addition to this class, I’m also doing #kidlitart28 because having the daily task to create some art is keeping me honest.

In addition to me learning about illustration for myself, I do hope that this class will help me as RA for our SCBWI region. I want to do my best to support all of our members, not just writers.

It’s scary trying something new like this, but I’m going through with it because I know it won’t hurt me. I know I will learn a ton. I may even find that I can create something I’m proud of in the end!



Creative Boost: Visiting a Haunted Library

I like trying new things, they give me a creative boost. I think it’s essential to get out of my comfort zone so I can think about the world differently, learn about new perspectives, and be more creative in general.

One small way I learn about new things is to visit new places. Sometimes I travel big, like going to new countries. Sometimes it’s small, like going to a new library in my larger community.

That’s why in January I grabbed some writing friends and visited a new-to-me but old library, the Andrew Bayne Memorial Library in Bellevue, PA for a creative boost.

It’s technically called the Andrew Bayne Memorial library, and is named after a sheriff of Allegheny County, Andrew Bayne. His daughters donated the building. I read an article online that it was haunted, and I wanted to give it a visit. I’m not really a ghost story lover, and I do but don’t believe in ghosts. I’ve done some reading about the ghosts at Jean Bonnet tavern on the turnpike, and started – but couldn’t finish – the ghost tour at the Omni Bedford Springs.

But I wanted to check this place out. One of my friends apparently worked as a ghost hunter for a short time and was convincingly skeptical, so I wasn’t really nervous while I was there.

It really felt like a library in someone’s house. It reminded me so much of the house we lived in while we were in Brighton Heights. The tall ceilings, the wonky-aligned doors. The gorgeous stairs and stained glass windows. It really is beautiful.

The librarian greeted us the moment we stepped in, and that made it beautiful, too. I had a wonderful time visiting the building but I’ll be honest, I didn’t get much writing done. My friends and I spent a lot of time chatting, but to be fair, we chatted about writing.

I did not see the ghost of Amanda Bayne Balph, who is supposedly haunting the building since a massive elm tree nicknamed “The Lone Sentinel” was taken down in 1998. Perhaps all of the talking scared her off.

Bonus Creative Boost

I did discover this poster listing 100 words every ninth grader should know. My eighth grader did not know all of them, so I have to plan to get him, me, and a dictionary together to learn some new words. Learning about new words is a great creative boost, so this was an unexpected bonus!

learn new words

Going to a new library and breaking myself out of my routine was helpful and keeps me from thinking things always have to be the way I’m used to seeing them. Meeting new people, trying new things, visiting new places is a great way to boost creativity.

How do you get out of your routine?

How do you stretch your creativity and imagination?

Kids Writing Club in 2019

When I was in seventh grade, I got permission from my teacher to produce a literary magazine at my school. Me and several other kids typed up stories and poems and then I ran off copies on a mimeograph machine, the kind with the purple ink that people loved to smell.

This year, I’m revisiting my childhood and starting a kids writing club at our elementary school. Thankfully I have a partner, our school librarian. She’s awesome and loves supporting reading and writing activities. We’re going to meet once a week and write, revise, and share stories. At the end of the club, we’ll have a book of stories. The kids don’t know it yet, but a local bookstore has even offered to host a book signing for them.

I’m pretty excited and I hope the kids who sign up are excited, too.

But before the club starts, I’m looking for suggestions on things that would be great to do in the club and things that would be awful.

So, did you belong to a kids writing club or creative writing club when you were a kid?

Do you wish you did?

What would advice would you give me?

Get Story Ideas by Brainstorming

I get story ideas in wonderful places. Listening to people talk, watching the news, listening to songs.

Another way I get story ideas is from other writers. I have a lot of fun working as a writing coach. I work with a young man who wants to write some scary, scary stories. He loves Stephen King and Five Nights at Freddy’s and all things gory. He’s working on a story for a program and he’ll apply in the fall. I think he has a shot, his ideas are really good.

I met my coachee this weekend and he’s working on a new story. The beginning of the story is a classic. Teens have to housesit and mansion and…

When he shared this idea with me, and I read his very exciting beginning paragraph, I knew this could be good. But I wanted to make sure he didn’t write the same old story. I mean, this is the premise of Scream. And Jumanji. And Cat in the Hat.

“So what makes your story one that only you can tell?” I asked him.

This made him think. Then to help him along with some unique ideas, we took turns brainstorming. I don’t want to share his MOST AMAZING idea here because it’s so good I hope you get it at a bookstore and maybe see it in the movies some day.

This kind of brainstorming is a great way to get story ideas.

I thought it would be fun to practice this story brainstorming here on the blog.

Teens have to house sit a mansion and…

Me: discover it’s the landing spot for an alien invasion.

Ceil Kessler: …trigger a switch by accident, revealing the hidden laboratory of a mad/evil scientist.

Victorria Johnson Wytcherley: Find that the house is sentient and provides for those who promise to upkeep it

Kit Fox: They say no, because they are volunteering to feed homeless teens so the mansion owner surprises them by taking in all the homeless teens as housesitters and they have a big party and eat all the food and the owner doesn’t go to Andorra, which means she’s not skiing when the avalanche happens so being generous literally saves her life and everyone learns a valuable lesson.

Diane Matway: Find the mansion has contained with it a certain magic to create peace and safety again. Three silver bells hold the answers…

So how would your story end?

Writing Puns is Fun

I love writing puns and I love writing with puns. Over Thanksgiving, I brought a new game to play with my family called Punderdome. I found this game at Riverstone Books, my favorite local bookstore. I’m very lucky that the family was willing to give it a try, even my 13 year old son got into it! The game is simple. In round 1, everyone tries to guess the answer to a pun. I was not too shabby at that part. For example, what’s the most disgusting store to shop at? A grocery store!

In round 2, the judge deals out 2 cards with categories and the players try to make a pun combining the two.

For example, one of my answers for “Star Wars” and “Winning” was “Yoda Man!” Too bad I didn’t come up with that answer until after the game.

I use a lot of puns in my writing. I used puns in my story “The Pepper Caper,” published in Highlights for Children (September 2017). I have several drafts of manuscripts that incorporate lots of puns.

There’s always thyme for some puns.

People say puns are lowest form of humor, and one reason is because word play is one of the first kinds of humor that children can understand. But that’s irritating to me, because it implies that children’s level of comprehension is low. My 13 year old made some excellent puns. And in my opinion the best puns require knowing A LOT of words AND their meanings.

Games like Punderdome are a great way to practice your humor writing skills. I also love Rory’s Story Cubes and Word Dominos.

Do you like writing puns? What are your favorite puns?

What other games do you like to play that help you be a better writer?

Tell a Story in One Sentence

If you’re writing a story, there are lots of things you need to know how to do.

You need to know how to create interesting characters.

You need to know how to write dialogue.

You need to know how to build tension.

You need to know how to write a good ending.

Once you’ve got all those things and a finished story, you can celebrate. Then you need to be able to figure out how to tell your story in one sentence.

If you can’t tell your story in one sentence, you might not know your story. It’s also possible you might not HAVE a story.

If you have any plans to send your story to a magazine, agent, or publisher, you should be able to share it in one sentence.

I’ll be brave and share my one sentence summary:

“Sixth grader Whitney decides to run a marathon to win a bet and prove she’s not Quit-ney.”

So – what’s your story in a sentence?


How to Be a Better Writer

I’m always learning how to be a better writer. It never stops. I am always reading different blog posts and listening to different podcasts. Also, I register for webinars from SCBWI. I attend events at the Highlights Foundation, and I always attend the annual SCBWI fall conference here in Pittsburgh.

I’ve learned some really interesting and helpful things lately that I know will help me be a better writer.

Things That Help Me Be a Better Writer

  • Libraries. Did you know the Library of Congress website offers free photos for your use? They are available online in the “Free to Use and Reuse” section on the homepage of the website. These photos can help with information, but they can also offer inspiration. I was so excited to discover this awesome feature. I loved clicking through a collection of Irish heritage photos.
be a better writer

A good reminder!


  • Friends. I’m trying to research some information on Rosalie Edge, and her papers are in New York and Denver. I wasn’t sure what to do – it’s pricy to travel there. So I posted online and asked writing friends who suggested I ask reference librarians for help.
  • Libraries again. Reference librarians are awesome and really helpful.  I want to look at primary source materials, but I can’t pay for a plane ticket to Denver. So I emailed a librarian at the library, and the librarian directed me to the reference department, who showed me the online index of her papers. I’m now waiting to see how much it would cost for the folders I’m interested in to be photocopied. Whatever the cost, I’m sure it’s less than a plane ticket!
  • Friends again. I’m back coaching a young person who wants to be a writer. This young person has some great ideas, but like we all do, struggles with getting the ideas written down in a great way. I want to help my young writer to do his best but I don’t want to change his language or his story. I asked my amazing writer friend Wende Dikec for help. She does a lot of coaching and teaching for young writers and she suggested I focus on guiding, not editing. I kept that in mind for my last coaching session and it felt so great. I felt like I was really doing the right thing as a coach. I’m so grateful!


Things I’m Writing

I’ve had a good end of summer and beginning of fall for my writing projects.

  • At the end of the summer, I turned in eleven short documents that were examples of different text structures. These documents are going to be used by a teacher to help students identify types of text, like cause and effect or problem and solution.
  • I found out I sold a craft and a fiction story to Highlights for Children.
  • Then, I received an offer to write a non-fiction book for an educational publisher.
  • I also started working on my young adult novel. I am excited about the story, but I realized I need to make a story map.

What are you working on this fall and winter?


Real Books Better Than E-books

books reading

Books in Waiting

Sometimes I think real books are better than e-books.

I’m not anti-e-book, because I love to read and e-books make it so easy to read. I love using my library’s app to find an e-book, check it out, and start reading. It saves me the time and gas of driving to my library! I’m not sure the environmental impact of making e-books, but I wonder if it’s offset by reduced driving, printing, shipping, etc.

But I do love a real book. And there are some very special things about real books that can never, and will never be replaced.

I started thinking about this when my youngest son dragged a giant book he loves off the shelf called “Our Fifty States.” On the inside page was an address label for my grandfather, who we called Gonky.

“This was Gonky’s book!” my youngest exclaimed. This was a thrilling thing as my youngest has always felt a special connection to my grandfather. Finding out that a book my youngest loves belonged to his great-grandfather is a very special surprise that could never happen with an e-book.

Eight Reasons to Love Real Books

Here are things that are so great about real books that make then better than e-books.

  1. Making new friends. This is accomplished by spying and being nosey. At soccer practice, I spied a mom reading a giant book that I was reading. I struck up a conversation, confident that I could find something in common with this woman. We are real friends now, and I am so grateful to that real book.
  2. Inspiring my kids. My kids are also nosey and love reading the titles of real books I’m reading. They ask what it’s about, is it good, do I wish I had written it, should they read it, etc. Then they tell me what they are reading. When they see me with my phone, they think I’m playing a game.
  3. Bookmarks. Real books need bookmarks. My kids make me bookmarks. If I only read e-books, my kids wouldn’t have such great gifts to give me. They buy me bookmarks. I use a wide variety of bookmarks and many hold special places in my heart.
  4. Gifts. It’s hard to gift an e-book, at least for me. I love giving a real solid book and I love receiving them even more. In fact, I received two books about oysters for my birthday, and purchased a book as a vacation souvenir. Not e-books, real books.
  5. Inscriptions. My older son gave me the two oyster books as gifts and I was so excited for him to write me an inscription. He wouldn’t be able to do that with an e-book. Now I’ll always remember he gave them to me, selected by him, based on his knowledge of a topic that excited me.
  6. Passing books down. My grandfather had lots of books to pass down, and we love them. I’ll have books to pass down, too. I love that we have these memories of him and love that my real books will be based down, too.
  7. Selling used books. But not every book is worth keeping and passing down. I don’t know if one can sell used e-books, but I love being able to sell (and buy!) used books.
  8. Access to information for all. I love the ease of an e-book, but I think it’s important we still have real books that don’t rely on technology to access. Many of my reasons are based on the emotions surrounding books, but this reason is a larger good reason. I don’t ever want access to books restricted and if we only used technology to read books, I worry our access could be limited or cut off.

I want to always have a book to read, even if it’s one I’ve already read. And I always want you to have a book to read, too.


Would Stuart Little be Published Today?

Based on an idea I call the Stuart Little Experiment, I think it’s harder to be published today in children’s literature. I’m reading Stuart Little with my kids right now. At first they were reluctant to start it. I don’t give in to complaints easily, and they can’t resist me reading to them while we are all snuggled under blankets. After the first few chapters they were hooked.

“There’s not much happening,” said the middle kid, age 11. “But this is fun to read in a day-in-the-life-of kind of way.”

I agreed, parts of it are really entertaining. I particularly liked the scene where Stuart gets caught up in a window blind. The cat is very amusing in that chapter and the idea of a mouse wearing dapper clothes.

Yet there are other parts that make that same kid cry out in disbelief and a little touch of dismissiveness.

“Why does the mother still think this mouse is really her child?” he asks more than once.

We kept reading. And then it happened. I read one chapter that made me think, “Nope. No way. This would never make the cut.”


Stuart Little first edition

Published or Punished?

Before I did my research, I assumed Stuart Little hit the shelves after Charlotte’s Web. Editors would take anything he wrote after Charlotte, I supposed. I was wrong. Stuart Little was written in 1945, and it was White’s first book. But back then, I’m not sure White had very stiff competition.

(Have you even heard of, let alone read Rabbit Hill, the 1945 Newbery winner?)

Some classic books, while quiet, could still find life in 2018. I think Charlotte’s Web easily could be published any year. The horrible pigeon book I read that somehow, beyond all rational thought, won a Newbery Award would never, ever make it today, in my opinion. Probably the roller skating book that also won a Newbery would be dying a slow death in a slush pile today. At least I hope it would.

I think, sadly, Stuart Little would be, too, thanks to the sailing chapter. It started out fun with a cute image of Stuart longing to sail the boats at Central Park. Of course he was dressed for the part. But then White basically dives deep into self-indulgent waters and overloads his text with so many nautical terms that I don’t think either of my kids could form a mental image of what was happening. I think they were relieved I was reading aloud so they didn’t have to struggle with the strange terminology that was served up without enough context to help them grasp the ideas. They got the gist, but I think  other kids might have lost interest, or felt frustrated.

At the very least, I think editors today would heavily revise the chapter.

And what is the purpose of the chapter? To show off White’s nautical knowledge? It taught us a little of Stuart’s character, and perhaps it will tie in later with some kind of plot or story, but it really felt like White was pleasing himself and not necessarily a reader. I’m think this book would not be published.

The Stuart Little Experiment

I would love to try this experiment. I want to put chapters from older, beloved children’s books in front of editors with altered names and see what modern editors would say about the content, writing style, language, etc. Would Stuart Little be published today?

It would be challenging to try and identify books that editors hadn’t read, and to not clue them in that they are reading already published books. We’d need to throw a few fakes into the mix. I wonder if there’s an idea for a conference session somewhere in here??