Tuesday, November 1, 2011

PB PROJECT X - The Balance of Text and Art

So PB PROJECT X keeps getting more and more interesting.
After receiving the pdf dummy, I followed in my agent's footsteps and printed up the book on my home printer. I cut out the pages, folded them and pasted them into a tiny booklet. "COOL!" my kids said.

And then something happened.

I opened the book as if I were reading it to a child, and began flipping through the pages. I discovered, to my horror, that my text was not working. In my effort to create this different-sort-of-book I had pared away too much text. Now, it's true that a picture book can have practically no text. I mean, hey, Paul Fleischman, the creator of SIDEWALK CIRCUS (Kevin Hawkes illustrated it) invented a story concept with almost no words. Interesting that you can be the author of a book without using words, and without being the illustrator. He had done it well.

But as I flipped through the pages I realized that my book had worked in manuscript form because my illustration notes were on the sidelines to explain the action. They were supposedly invisible notes to the artist, but we were all inadvertently reading them as part of the story. I figured when the illustrations were there they would take the place of the notes and work in the same way. But illustrations don't work exactly like that. Yes, they depict the action, but there are things words do to describe and clarify a scene that art leaves open to interpretation. My illustrator had done a marvelous job--everybody through so. But after cutting away my illustration notes, the book as a total piece was falling flat. It needed more text.

I waited for my agent to call, because she said she would, and when she did she described the problem exactly. Her comments underscored my thoughts. "I hate to send you back to the drawing board," she said. But I already knew everything she was saying. I was glad that, at least I have come far enough with picture book writing that I'm no longer oblivious to the problems and can figure them out myself. It just takes me a while.

So I spent several days adding text back into the story. I went back to some of my earlier drafts of the manuscript before I had cut away so much text and used those versions as a guide. It was a tightrope walk...not wanting to add too much but also making sure we were now hearing the bones of a story to accompany the pictures.

I submitted the revised manuscript to the illustrator, who was gracious enough to agree to redo the dummy. There were other projects going on so I agreed to wait until November 11th for the revised art. I'm eager to see if now, on VERSION 30, I've got it right.

Version 30 after ten months of work, and I've been obsessed. Students, do you see that writing a picture book is not for sissies?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


So, my illustrator partner-in-crime delivered the pdf book "dummy" for PB PROJECT X. I must say, it's awesome. I can't believe the visual puzzle that was constructed. Such amazing talent!

Studying the text with the illustrations has got me wondering, though, if I still need to make a few tweaks to improve the story.

My agent called and said she loved the art. However, she wants to print the dummy and cut it out, paste it together and turn the pages to really get the feel of the book and how it functions. She says after she does this she'll call me to discuss it.

Wow. I can't believe what an undertaking this has been. I've been working on this manuscript feverishly since January - nine months, and yet it still isn't "born." In fact, I wrote the original manuscript a year or so prior to that, smiled at the strangeness of the idea and put it away. Then I found it again while cleaning up some files and started to work on it anew. It went from about 750 words to 211 over the next several months, and finally left the traditional manuscript form and became a table with illustration notes and sparse text.

Part of the reason for continuing to work so long on this is that my agent simply has not deemed it ready to be shopped around. She loved the very first version but has never quite felt it was ready. 28 versions after the first she was shown, I enlisted an illustrator.

If this machine ever takes flight it will have hopefully earned its wings.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

PB PROJECT X - The Concept Art Arrived (No peeking yet)

So, my secret and gifted illustrator forwarded me some concept art for PB PROJECT X. Amaaaaaazing! It's so refreshing to have the ability to work together with the artist in the early stages.

Tomorrow I'll get to see a pdf dummy of the book in sketches, a finished spread, and a page of thumbnails. Yippeee! Then I'll forward all the art to my agent for her input. From what I've seen so far, I think she'll be very pleased...and hopefully as excited as I am. Of course, she tends to be guarded. She's suspicious of this market and what editors will acquire. But she actually agreed that getting this laid out visually would help demonstrate how the book would work.

Will editors shun the project because I've taken away their choice of an illustrator (definitely a fun privilege, as I'm learning)? I have no idea.

I'm also not sure how we'll decide who to pitch this to. The illustrator's prior editors? Mine? Several at once and see who bites? This is where my agent and the illustrator's rep will have to guide us.

Maybe I'll give you a glimpse of art in my next post.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Shhhhh...... PB PROJECT X

In this crazy world where picture books are often unappreciated, floating around in a dismal market of suspicious, pessimistic buyers, an author must get a little creative in shopping new manuscripts to editors.

And so…I have been working on an underground scheme to construct a picture book that is hopefully different, innovative, and, well, fun.

I am breaking the rules with this book. At least you could say I’m breaking away from my own tendencies and testing new waters. For the purposes of this blog, I will call this undertaking….drumroll please… PB PROJECT X.

PB PROJECT X will not rhyme, as my other books do. Nothing wrong with rhyme, but I’m throwing away my comfortable and worn old slippers. The text is sparse. The illustration notes are complex. Sigh. It’s cold, standing on the tile barefoot. But it’s a little exhilarating, too.

PB PROJECT X has a strange layout. I’ve written the manuscript in table format like a flattened-out rubix cube. And this time I’ve approached an illustrator first. Yes, did you read that right? I PICKED AN ILLUSTRATOR MYSELF—which is about as rebellious as a picture book author can be, considering my last name isn’t Berenstein or Beuhner. I’m not married to my illustrator, and I’ve never been allowed much say in the choice of an illustrator before. I know, I know, I’m a rebel. I’ve told all my students never to do this. Let the publisher pick the illustrator, I’ve said. But I decided to collaborate so that I can properly demonstrate how this unusual creature-of-a-book will function. My secret and highly-skilled illustrator, no stranger to the picture book world, is already on board and PB PROJECT X is secretly underway.

Stay tuned. On Tuesday I will see the first thumbnails of the book and a dummy to show the page turns. Plus a finished spread. This is as exciting as cutting class in high school with a bunch of friends. Perhaps my rule-breaking will not result in success, but in the moment I don’t care. I’m willing to ride this and see where it goes. My hope is that PB PROJECT X will eventually find an editor who sees some potential in it.

I'll let you know what happens...the good, the bad, the exciting, or even the horribly disappointing.

Taking risks. Breaking rules. Cold toes.

More to follow.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Picture Book Manuscript Critiques

Praise for my Picture Book Critiques:

"Kristyn Crow is the expert on picture books. Whenever a friend asks for help with a PB manuscript, I always refer to Kristyn. She knows the ins and outs of the form like no one else." Mette Ivie Harrison, Author of The Princess and the Hound (and more)

"Kristyn Crow has special x-ray glasses that make her see right to the bones of my stories. Her writing critiques hit the nail on the head. She's so good she wouldn't even let me use that sentence - because it's a cliché. (I should have asked her to critique this blurb.) She's been workshopping my writing for ten years, and I wouldn't do it without her. Thanks, Kristyn!" Carolyn Fisher, Author/Illustrator of Goodnight, World! (and more)

"Kristyn Crow has reviewed my manuscripts for years. I can always count on her for thorough and honest critiques." Danna Smith, Author of Pirate Nap (and more)

"Kristyn Crow has great insight and experience in what makes a picture book work. Her critiquing and feedback skills help authors to see what their stories are missing as well as what they need to become great." Ken Baker, Author of Brave Little Monster (and more)

"Kristyn Crow's ability to hone in on what is needed to create a successful story is incredible! She has a gift for being able to see what is working and what is not.
Her on-target advice and suggestions never fail to stretch me as a writer and have enabled me to polish and mold my stories into satisfying and publishable tales." Lezlie Evans, Author of Who Loves the Little Lamb (and more)


I'd like to have my picture book manuscript critiqued. What will it cost?

My current cost is $75.00 for 800 words or less. I may raise or lower this price depending on demand.

My manuscript is longer than 800 words. How much will that cost?

Picture book manuscripts in today's market are targeted for a very young audience, and the trend is less text. So if your manuscript is more than 800 words, I suggest you trim it down. Remember that the illustrations will tell a great deal of the story, so your more descriptive phrases can be cut.

What will the critique include?

I will give a summary as to what I believe is working (and what isn't) in the story, and will also insert comments directly into your manuscript as I read along. I may make specific suggestions for improving phrasing, rhyme, or use of illustration notes. I'll offer ideas for what I think will make the story stronger. I may include paragraphs or even whole worksheets with instruction in particular writing techniques if I believe it will help you.

However, I will not rewrite your story, nor will I edit line by line looking for tiny punctuation and grammar errors. If I notice them, I’ll point them out. But I do not consider myself a copy editor. I would like to think of myself as a deep thinker with insight into what makes a good story. If I feel there are significant problems with mechanics I will suggest you consult an editing service to further perfect your work.

I'm afraid to send my story by email, and I don't know you personally. How can I trust you won't steal my work?

I have more ideas than I know what to do with and have no reason to steal from anyone else. But to reassure you further, when you email your manuscript you have created a virtual paper trail. In theory you could prove that I received your work on a particular date and that I used/stole it. Trust me, such a thing would ruin my reputation as a professional, and I would never do it. However, you may have a story about a tap-dancing elephant and I may be currently working on something similar, just by coincidence. When you make your inquiry to me, give me a brief description of the type of story you want me to look at before sending it. If I've got something similar in the works, I may pass on critiquing your story to protect us both.

What's your turn around time?

I will try to have your critique sent via email within one week. If I'm currently overwhelmed with work, I'll let you know and will give you an estimate for when I can have it finished.

How do I make payment?

You can pay me via PayPal, or mail me a check. On the right hand bar of this blog, under the icon that says "Get a Picture Book Manuscript critique from Kristyn Crow" is a "BUY NOW" icon that will take you to my PayPal account.

If you mail a check, I will not cash it until I have critiqued your work. When the check clears, I will send you my critique.

Either way, make an inquiry first to get the process going. Be sure to include a one-sentence description of your story. My email is below, or on the sidebar of this blog.

Any more questions? Contact me at kristyncrowbooks@gmail.com.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Let the School Visit Rumpus Start!

I'm excited that the new school year has begun, and that I'm back to visiting elementary schools. There is something so joyous about getting children excited about reading. I'm grateful I get to generate enthusiasm for literacy. It's one of my favorite things about being an author.

Here's a fun school visit story. I had finished my assembly at one particular school and as children were filing out of the gym, a child approached me. "Those kids don't believe that we're related," he said. A couple of other children stood back, watching us curiously.

"They don't believe we're related?" I asked, to be sure I heard him correctly.

"Yeah. I told them I was related to you, but they don't believe me."

This was a predicament. I had no idea who this child was, and he was asking me to verify that we were relatives in front of his friends. He appeared sincere, almost tearful. What would I do? I looked at the children behind him, and looked at him again. I studied his face more closely. I certainly didn't have any idea who he was, and if I asked him his name it would be obvious to the other children. I didn't want to dismiss him in front of his peers. Then again, I didn't want to be dishonest. For several moments I was speechless.

"How are your parents doing?" I finally asked, hoping this would give me a clue.

"Fine," he said.

No clue.

"Errrr...what's your mother doing these days?"

"I dunno. Just taking care of me and stuff."

Still no clue. Then suddenly he spelled it out. "I've been trying to tell those guys that I'm the son of my mom who's the sister of your husband's brother named Mel. My aunt said so."

Mel--a name! My brother in law. And this child must be his new wife's nephew.

"Yes," I said. "Of course we're related!" And anyway, I thought privately, aren't we all related somehow in the family of humanity? Heh. The little boy bounded away, satisfied. "See?" he said, and the children scurried away.

Another story--a child sat beside me prior to an assembly and said, "Did you know Kristyn Crow was coming to our school?"

I said, "No kidding?"

"Uh-huh. She's a real author."

"That's very cool. Have you seen her around yet?"

"Nope. She's gonna be in this assembly right now."

"Oh okay."

His teacher waved him over and he took a seat with his class. It was cute to see his face--mouth open--when the principal introduced me at the start of the assembly.

Precious. I love visiting schools!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Message on a Back Bumper

A month ago I had a doctor’s appointment that made me a bit nervous. A routine ultra sound had shown a small irregular spot in my uterus. It was only a tiny spot, and this appointment was a follow-up to see whether it had grown or changed. My husband, always supportive, came along. But he just happened to slip away for a moment when the nurse called me in. Not knowing how long he would be, I went into the office alone. Meanwhile, when my husband returned and realized I was already having the second ultrasound—too late for him to enter--he found a way to keep himself busy. He went to the parking lot and found a roll of orange duct tape in the back of my car. With a permanent marker he wrote “I love you Kris” backwards on a strip of the tape. Then he affixed it to the back bumper of my car. This way, he thought, when I put my car in reverse, my back-up camera would reveal the surprise message.

The ultrasound results were good. The spot was entirely gone. Perhaps it had only been a flaw or shadow. Relieved, I met my husband and shared the information. We exhaled our relief. Then we got into the car to leave, and that’s when I first saw his note appear on the screen.

The tape stayed stuck on the bumper for several weeks. It survived a road trip to California and several rain storms. It held through dozens of trips to the grocery store, and a few jaunts to the movies. It was there every time I backed up--a daily love note from my husband--something to smile about. Something to give me pause and to marvel, once again, that I am deserving of love. This has been a difficult thing to accept after having love withdrawn so cruelly in my past.

After some time, the tape began to curl, and soon it would be gone. Ahhh well. It had been a novelty while it lasted.

And then came my birthday. Along with a new bike and an ice cream cake was an odd strip of metal in an envelope. My husband had gone to an engraver and had the words “I LOVE YOU KRIS” inscribed backwards on a metal plate. We laughed together as he tore away the old tape and affixed the message permanently to my back bumper. What had been a temporary love note—an afterthought—would now be a constant reminder of his love and affection.

I’m so glad for the little things--the messages on back bumpers that remind us what matters most. But mostly I’m grateful to love and be loved. It is such a gift. Thank heaven for second chances that take us to a better place.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Last night I went to the back door and called for my dog. (He’s a white cocker spaniel with buff ears and freckles. We named him “Joe” for the legendary Joe Cocker. But my youngest daughter nicknamed him “JoJo” and it stuck.)

“JoJo!” I called. Nothing. I whistled and clicked my tongue. He didn’t come, and upon further inspection, he was nowhere to be found. Our family dog had vanished.

My eight-year old daughter, the baby of the family, was heartbroken. She ran into the yard crying, yelling his name. “What if someone stole him?” she wailed. “Or if he got hit by a car? Oh what can we do? What can we do?”

“Let’s make some signs,” I said. I went to the place I keep blank poster board and pulled out a sheet. And that’s when I saw it. The sign. “HOW TO VACUUM.”

Now jump to flashback. (Flashbacks should only be used sparingly and never in a picture book. But this is a blog, so here goes. Back to the dog story in a bit.)

My son Kyle, who has autism, was attending high school a few years ago and needed to create a “how-to” demonstration. I can’t remember the class this was for, but I’m assuming home economics. He brought me the instruction sheet for the assignment, and in the blank for the name of the presentation it said, “HOW TO VACUUM” in Kyle’s handwriting. I have no idea if he chose this topic or if it was given to him. I hoped somebody hadn’t dumbed-down the assignment for him, thinking him incapable of a more difficult demonstration.

How does someone demonstrate vacuuming to an audience? I mean, you turn the thing on and push it around the carpet. Gee. But apparently this was the assignment. So we found an old broken vacuum cleaner in the cold storage room for a prop, and came up with some written steps for the poster. Kyle wrote each one in his perfect handwriting, and since he can memorize just about anything with stunning recall, he could soon recite each point and demonstrate it . After rehearsing his “act” a few times I sat down and let him give me the presentation completely on his own while I watched quietly.

“How to vacuum,” Kyle said, clearing his throat. “First, we plug in the vacuum cleaner. Next, we turn on the power button, like this. Then we…” Kyle continued with great concentration, performing the steps with a look of total seriousness on his face. It was so important for him to get this exactly right. Kyle is devoted to exactness and perfection.

I couldn’t help but find it humorous—my son’s intensity in completing such an asinine assignment. And then a terrifying thought crossed my mind. If I was finding this humorous, certainly his class would, too. This was one of Kyle’s mainstream classes where he was surrounded by typical students. Kyle was special. Would the class laugh at him? And if they did, how would Kyle respond?

I drove him to school that morning after wrestling with this concern most of the night. Should I contact the teacher and ask about the assignment? Should I have it switched, or request that it be waived? When I asked Kyle about making a change, he insisted he wanted the topic he was given. It’s part of his do-as-you’re-told-and-do-it-right mentality. I dropped him off at the curb and watched him clunk out the door of the van, carrying the vacuum cleaner a few inches above the ground in one hand with the poster under his opposite arm. I wondered if he was headed for the lion’s den--the vacuum his sword and the poster his shield.

But when Kyle came home, he was all smiles. I asked how his presentation went.

“Good,” he said.

“Did the other students laugh?”

“YESSSSS!” He said, clapping his hands together and then rubbing them back and forth. “I was funny.”

Ohhh boy. Well, it was alright. Kyle had completed his assignment, and had amused his classmates, too. I decided that was okay. They weren’t mean-spirited students, just human beings seeing the humor in the situation. After all, I had seen it, too. I couldn’t protect Kyle from the reactions of others to his intensity and innocence. And really, should I?

Flash forward. I put the poster back and chose a blank one. I couldn’t bear to cut “How to Vacuum” apart just to use the back for "Lost Dog" posters. Kyle was away for the summer with his father, and I missed him and his brother terribly.

My daughter and I drove through the neighborhood, posting signs. “LOST. COCKER SPANIEL. WHITE WITH TAN EARS. IF FOUND, PLEASE CALL….” My daughter slept all night on the couch, so she could let JoJo inside if he clawed at the door. There was no getting her to sleep in her own bed that night. But he never came.

The next morning the phone rang. Someone had found JoJo in their yard and called the vet on his rabies tag. The vet, in turn, looked up the tag number and phoned us. We met the man with our dog in an empty supermarket parking lot. He had JoJo on a lead. My daughter sprang from the parked van and ran to our dog in her nightgown—a scene straight from those “Foundation for a Better Life” commercials.

“JOJO!” I scolded, patting his head. “You’re in big trouble!” He happily grinned, panting at us as if to say his adventure had worn him out. It had all ended well and relatively quickly. I thanked the man, and as my daughter and I went around the neighborhood removing our signs, I thought again of “HOW TO VACUUM.” I amused myself with the notion of posting that sign somewhere in a public place. I'm sure it would incite a few curious smiles. I was grateful for this funny memory of Kyle that sprang from our lost dog incident.

It is a wonderful gift that memories are tied to objects so that we can rediscover and experience them again.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

For Meghan Ruby

For Meghan Ruby (Last Name Withheld)


I never knew you.

I first learned of you sixteen years ago when I was visiting my mother’s grave. I looked up from the bench where I was sitting in the cemetery and noticed a woman walking toward a gravesite in the distance. She knelt down, and her hands immediately went to work. Carefully and with great concentration she removed items from a bag and arranged them around your headstone. Exactly what items I couldn’t see from my vantage point. She was alone, and the wind blew through the trees in long steady breaths, tossing her hair. There was no one else in the cemetery. Just me and the woman. It was peaceful.

She continued for quite a while. It had to be done exactly right. Something must go here, something must go there. After some time she stood up, took several steps back, and admired what she had done. Although she was a young mother, perhaps in her late twenties, her face was that of a much older person--weathered from heartache. My loss had been terrible, but hers must have been unfathomable. As she stood in quiet contemplation, she brought her hands to her eyes and then quietly slipped away through the trees.

Minutes later, I wandered curiously over to your resting place. I was astonished. There were hundreds of polished stones in every color and variety surrounding your headstone. Glass butterflies were perched on sticks and dragonflies with spinning wings were placed carefully about. Little kites danced in the breeze, and tiny chimes tinkled. There were pictures, miniature china dolls, and pinwheels. Glass flowers. Bows. Fairies with glitter wings that turned slightly back and forth. A hand-painted sign read, “Butterflies rest here.” It was a breathtaking display. I wondered whether these precious things would be safe from thieves.

And then I read your name. Megan Ruby (---). You were seven years old at the time of your death, only months earlier. At the bottom of your stone was an inscription which read, “And with a brand new body, I will spread my wings and fly.”

A brand new body.

Over the years when I have visited my mother’s grave I have wandered back to your stone at least a dozen times. I’ve been mesmerized by the sparkling ornaments there. Sometimes rearranged, sometimes new, and sometimes old, but always meticulously placed. I have thought about your mother, the woman whose hands put these things here. Her hands were longing to braid your hair and correct your homework. Her hands wanted to cook you meals, pick up your tossed shoes, and zip up your prom dress. Her hands ached to clap at your graduation, adjust your bridal veil, and rock your first baby--her grandchild. Instead, her hands were teeming with unused energy.

So your mother arranged the stones and trinkets. It was work. Work in your behalf. The only work she could do.

Today, sixteen years later, I was at the cemetery again. I sat at my mother’s bench and chatted with my siblings who had come with me. And then I went searching for your stone. I couldn’t find it. Back and forth I walked through the area, reading the names inscribed. It had always been so easy to find before. It took some time, but finally...there. Your stone. It was entirely barren. The grass had grown over the edges. It was dusty and some of the letters had worn. There were no flowers and no trinkets.

And immediately, my thoughts went to your mother. And you know what? I felt glad.

Despite the pain of losing you, time had brought healing. She had either died and was now in your company, or she had found other ways to put her hands to good use. This is what you would have wanted for her, I’m sure.

As a mother myself, I can promise you this, Meghan Ruby. You are not forgotten. You were deeply loved. You had a mother who carried you through a terrible battle. A mother who wished she could have done so much more. A mother with love like this holds you in her heart forever and never lets go.

My daughter turned eight two weeks ago--a birthday you didn’t get to have. I am so sorry for this. I’m sorry for all the things you missed in your short time here. But perhaps it is the rest of us who are missing out. We struggle each day, while you are already free.

I am grateful for you, even though we never met. I will teach my little girl to embrace the time she has. And meanwhile, I’ll be thankful for busy hands.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Mortification Monday

As suggested by author Shannon Hale, I’m sharing a frustrating author experience as part of her “Mortification Monday” topic. So here goes.

One morning I drove through a raging blizzard to find a school that had booked me for an assembly. I couldn’t even see the street signs, and was SO grateful for my faithful GPS. I got out of my car and trudged through the snowy parking lot. I was dragging 70 instruments, my projector, and my laptop in a giant rolling suitcase, dressed in my presenter attire. It was comical. I was slipping, pulling snow, and my toes were numb.

Entering the school, I brushed myself off, found the front office and went inside. “May I help you?” asked the secretary.

“Hello. I’m here for the assembly,” I said.

“What assembly?”

“The author assembly. I’m Kristyn Crow.”

“Kristine…I’m sorry, what was your last name?”


“Are you a parent coming to watch, then?”

“No, I’m the presenter.”

“Ohhhhh. Okay. Well, the principal wants to talk to you about it,” she said. “Have a seat.” Her tone was a little terse. I sat in the lobby, feeling like a kid with a referral. “The principal will see you now,” she finally announced.

I went inside and sat down. “We need to discuss a few things,” he said. “There are some parents upset about your presentation.” I felt like I had just entered the Twilight Zone. Parents? Upset? Presentation? I hadn’t even given a presentation yet. I blinked a few times, frozen. “There have been calls to the school with concerns about authors peddling books to children."

I swallowed. “They are specifically concerned with my visit?”

“No, just presentations by authors in general. I guess there was discussion in a recent PTA meeting about it.”

I had no idea what to say. “Alright. So are you canceling the assembly, then?”

“Well I’m wondering if you can reassure me that you’re not peddling your books.”

Suddenly I was ten years old again, explaining why I threw my chicken patty sandwich across the cafeteria at lunch. I gave him the general outline of my presentation: I introduce myself, talk about what authors do, use fun animations to show how books are made, give three storytellings, and invite students to play along with my books in a rhythm symphony. I explained I had worked very hard putting it together and the results at prior assemblies were very positive. “In fact, I’ve been asked back by some schools who were really pleased,” I said, hoping to pass the audition.

“That sounds perfectly acceptable. But just so you know, there may be some hecklers in the audience.”


“A few parents might watch, and they may have comments for you along the way.”


The assembly went very well. No hecklers. Kids sitting with rapt attention, punctuated by a rowdy rhythmic finale with everyone cheering. Success. In the end, it’s all about the children being inspired to read, and having a good time with books. It’s about making a connection.

Interestingly enough, no administrators attended the assembly, after all that supposed concern. It was just me and the kids. As I left I stopped by the office. “Thanks, Kristine,” the secretary said. “Sounds like they had a lot of fun in there. Oh, we’ll have to mail you your check. Our district takes several weeks to process them through the system.”

“No problem.” I made my way back into the parking lot, dragging my enormous suitcase in the snow.

And a year later, no check.

I could tell you so many other similar stories…a school who dismissed half the children in the middle of my presentation because they “had something else to attend,” technical problems where my PowerPoint shut off because the custodian did not plug in my equipment properly, or a school whose microphone made me sound like Rod Stewart, etc. But all in all, I L-O-V-E to do school visits and in almost every case the schools have been absolutely wonderful.

For every story of mortification, there are dozens of positive ones. Click here to read one of my favorite school visit stories.

Read more “Mortification Monday” stories at Shannon Hale’s blog by clicking here.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Tulips, Stories, and Hope

Last fall, I planted tulip bulbs. 100 of them. Purple, pink, and white, randomly along the borders of my front porch. And as the cold days of winter have moved across the calendar—slowly, like clouds in the wind, I’ve waited for spring.

And I’ve decided that planting the bulbs was an exercise in hope.

There is hope in planting tulip bulbs, just as there is hope in writing a story. You put in the effort knowing there will be no recompense for a long time.

The hope in a story is that someone will understand it, connect with it, embrace it. Maybe a soul will be enlightened by it, have an emotional response, an epiphany, or even just a few good laughs while reading it. The hope is that someone will admire it and find it beautiful—and share it with the world. The hope is that the hard work will eventually be rewarded.

But manuscripts must first survive a cold winter. A winter of silence, doubt, and discouragement. A period of rejection and waiting.

As long as the bulbs are in the ground, there is still hope.

And tulips are tough. They’ll push right up through the unexpected snowfall in early spring, with frost on their petals. They’ll burst right through the hard clay dirt. They are determined. They only must survive the winter. But winters are short for some, and nearly a lifetime for others. When will the tulips bloom? When will spring be here?

This morning there were one hundred green stem tips peeking out from the earth in my yard. I wonder what colors they will be when they bloom.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

So You Want to Get a Picture Book Manuscript Published?

What you’ll get if you sign up for my picture book class this June in Sandy, Utah:

1. A whole bunch of handouts with helpful writing and marketing information.

2. A list of more than 50 literary agents acquiring picture book manuscripts, and their contact information.

3. A cool souvenir binder to keep your materials together.

4. Hands-on analysis of picture books (I’ll provide them) – including the classics, best-sellers, books with gimmicks, etc., and why they work. (Or don’t.)

5. Critique sessions for your manuscripts, including a “critique sheet” filled out by class members, to help you find trends in the feedback.

6. The opportunity to analyze your manuscript from the perspective of an editor who must “pitch” your story in an acquisitions meeting.

7. A friendly classroom atmosphere in a beautiful setting with mountain views. Plus, a break from the routine of your life, and the opportunity to devote a solid week to your craft!

8. Breakout sessions with bestselling authors such as Ally Condie, author of Matched.

9. Direct exposure to New York editors and agents.

10. Writing exercises to get the creative juices flowing.

11. My continued contact well after the conference. I want to hear your ups and downs and be a friend as you go through this writing journey. I’ll spoil you rotten.

“But…I can’t afford it!” you say. Think of it as an investment in your future. I had the same misgivings when I first attended the conference ten years ago. If I knew then what I know now, there’d be no hesitation. If I had not gone, I’m honestly doubtful I’d be published today. Remember you’re paying for a week of intensive study, learning, networking, and connections. Trust me, it’s well worth the price.

Hope to hang out with you for a week!


Visit the conference website by clicking here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Serious Questions Kids Ask Kristyn Crow

That’s an excellent question. You see, Ace’s mama sews the necks of his shirts with ultra-stretch fabric around the collar. He refuses to wear button-up shirts because they’re so itchy. Picky kid, that Ace. But oh, what undiscovered talent!

They decided to go green. Three-wheeled cars use less energy than four-wheeled cars. What? Your family still drives a four -wheeled car?

Heavens, no. Hare has a mild stutter whenever he gets nervous. So the narrator is just imitating his speech patterns, for dramatic effect.

The monster was created using the DNA of a frog, an alligator, a t-rex, and a pinch of Barney the dinosaur. Somebody also threw in the DNA of a monkey, which enables him to scale trees.

How does he play them? Ultra smoothly with a cooooooool jazzy beat.

Stand up to a mirror and squish your nose against it. Look yourself in the eye while you’re doing it. That’s exactly how somebody who’s “a little snuffled” feels.

He already came out, when lightning struck his grave. It was a very stormy night, and something wicked and very spooky happened. The rest is history. Oh, you mean the book. It comes out just before Halloween in 2012.

The mom? What are you talking about? Mom’s aren’t scary! Whooops. I gotta run. My mom is calling.

Got a question for Kristyn? Enter it in a comment here.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Mother, Am I Normal?"

Yesterday my eighteen-year-old son with autism was wiping off the kitchen counter. He stopped, blinked a few times and said, “Mother, am I normal?”

I looked up from my laptop, surprised. He’d never asked me such a thing before. We made eye contact. I scanned my brain files for the correct response.

“I mean, what does normal mean?” he asked. “Does it mean medium? Or good? Regular? Or average? Or ordinary?”

One of his favorite things to do is to search for the meaning of words . He’ll frequently ask me for definitions, and is especially interested in classifying words with similar connotations.

But this was a profound question he was asking. What DOES normal mean, anyway?

“I suppose normal means regular or ordinary. Average," I said.

I thought about my son in his early childhood. He would scream in frustration at his inability to communicate his wants and feelings. In those days, I was an overwhelmed young mother with small children, trying to deal with what felt like his crushing diagnosis of autism. I thought I wanted him to be “normal.” I couldn’t take him to a store without him having a terrible tantrum. People would stare in disgust, because his disability was not obvious from his appearance. To strangers, he was a disobedient child and I was his inefficient mother. I had to be trained by autism experts in how to manage the tantrums and to promote his language development. It was painful in those days to think of how his disability would impact his life.

Then I thought about how far he has come. Today, standing just under six feet tall, he is happy, kind, and immaculately groomed, friendly to everyone he meets. He grins to himself at his own little amusements, sometimes clapping and bounding across the room. Compared to my other children that the world might call “normal,” he is the most responsible, dependable, and tender-hearted. He’s an example to his younger siblings. I love each of my children immensely, beyond words. But there is something so special and profound about the child who struggled the most and--against the odds--came into his own respectable place in the world.

I continued, “But if normal means ordinary and average, then no, you are not normal. You are extraordinary. You are special. You are a miracle. You are SO much better than normal.”

And as I said it, I wondered if any of us should strive to be normal. Don’t we all aspire to somehow stand apart?

My son tilted his head and looked upward, rubbing his hands together happily. There was satisfaction in my answer. “Extraordinary,” he said.

Monday, February 7, 2011

How (And WHY) to Book Kristyn Crow for a School Visit

1. Email me at kristyncrowbooks@gmail.com.

2. Introduce yourself and let me know what you have in mind…a large group assembly, individual classroom visits, a literacy night, etc.

3. Request my detail sheet if you’d like references, price ranges, etc. I am willing to work within your school’s budget.

4. I’ll get back to you ASAP. A conversation has begun! We’ll set a date and time and go from there.

5. Why? Your students will be entertained with an animated PowerPoint and a lively discussion about what writers do, how picture books are made, and how rhythm works in language. I know how to work a crowd of kids--I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve to make them laugh. An author visit is a HUGE boost of energy to your literacy program. I’ll read three of my books, and your students will play instruments along with the book refrain in a huge rhythm symphony. It’s learning and having fun at the same time. The students don’t just listen, they participate interactively.

6. Contact my references if you’re not certain. I can adapt my presentation to your time requirements, or to your particular topic or theme.

"Kristyn has one of the best presentations I've ever seen for elementary schools. Interactive, informative, funny - you can just see the kids having fun and learning at the same time. I highly recommend her for any school on the planet." James Dashner, NY Times Bestselling Author of THE MAZE RUNNER

See photos from my school visits by clicking here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Really GROOVY Story of the Tortoise and the Hare

Available March 1, 2011~ The Really GROOVY STORY of the Tortoise and the Hare ( Albert Whitman, Inc. , illustrated by Christina Forshay ) is the traditional tortoise and hare fable, snapped up with a groovy beat. It is new rhythm breathed into the old tale. As a writer, I can tell you it was grueling work—one of the pieces I worked longest on. It has sets of three rhymes per line, a hoppin’ beat with an anapest meter. I worked on it for over a year.

Don’t misunderstand the intent of the book. The word “groovy” in the title is not a nod to the 1970s. (Although if it makes you smile, groovy.) This book is about movin’ and groovin’, hippin’ and hoppin. It’s about shaking your tortoise shell or your fuzzy cottontail as you hear the words of the story. It’s about little hands clappin’ and little feet stompin’. It’s about movement and rhythm and language with a beat. It’s about involving the reluctant or early reader interactively in the story. Word-play and humor.

When I visit schools, I bring more than 75 rhythm instruments. I involve the children by letting them echo some of the words in my stories. They also perform a rhythm symphony along with the text. I even sing some of the stanzas. My purpose is to teach children that rhythm is the joy of life. Rhythm exists in the rain that falls, in the music that plays, in the heart that beats. And rhythm is in LANGUAGE. You can find it if you let it move you. Close your eyes and hear it. Feel it.

A study was done in London which found that children who can find the rhythm in verse will vastly improve their reading skills. This is because children who can find the “beat” in picture book verse have learned to recognize, phonetically, stressed and unstressed syllables. They have learned to hear to the rhythm of a particular meter, and become aware of how the words are carefully ordered to align the stressed syllables just so. They hear word patterns. They are using both their left and right brains. They just don’t know they're doing it—they’re having too much fun.

Children are wired for rhythm. It’s in their blood. Put any 8-month old healthy baby in a room with music playing--music with a nice beat. That child will wiggle his bottom, bounce, and twist. As humans, we know rhythm before we speak. Rhythm infused into picture book text can motivate reluctant readers because it cries out to their basic instinct to hear, feel, and move to a steady beat.

My book COOL DADDY RAT has scat lines in it. Now, when I read that story to kids, I usually start by reminding them what scat is in music. Not that they don’t already know. They do. They hear scat in Disney movies (like the monkey song in the Jungle Book) and on the radio (Jason Mraz). They hopefully are also taught in school about the one form of music that is truly American—Jazz, where scat was born. I take a moment to remind kids what they already know, and then off we go. They hear the scat. They get it. They get it even though some have suggested “kids won’t understand.” I say, nay. Let us give our children credit.

Getting kids enthused about books—that’s my passion. It’s what this hard work of writing is all about.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Plan for a FABULOUS AUTHOR VISIT at Your School

1. Consider possible authors your students might enjoy having for a visit. Think about the books the students at your school love, current best sellers or reading trends, your literacy theme, etc. Has a school in your district had a successful author visit recently, and would they recommend that author? Do a little research. Most authors have websites you can find by doing an internet search for the name of the author or the title of their book series or character. Find the section on their website about “author visits” or “school visits.” Locate the contact information. To book Kristyn Crow, click here.

2. Make an inquiry. Email the author and request information on fees and what the presentation will entail, length of time, etc. Ask for references – unless the author is such a big celebrity it would be silly. In some cases you’ll need to arrange a school visit through the author’s agent or editor. This information should also be available on the author’s website.

3. Check your school budget. What are the author’s fees and what can your school afford? You can often save money by a) selecting an author that isn’t in terribly high demand…J.K. Rowling is gonna be expensive…gulp… b) selecting an author that happens to be local or at least within your state c) doing a fundraiser—which also gets students excited about the event, d) joining with a local business to fund the event. Businesses are often more than willing to make a donation to help children in the community, and there are tax incentives for them to do it. e) Let the author know if your school is Title 1 or in a low-income area. Authors are sometimes willing to negotiate fees or donate vists to schools in need. Don’t be afraid to ask.

4. Schedule the Visit. Contact the author and come up with a date that works for both of you. Be sure you’ve clearly communicated the details--how long the presentation needs to be, whether he/she will be visiting individual classes, the age range of the audience, etc. In most cases the author will follow your lead. But some authors have a particular way they like to present at every school.

5. Determine whether you will have a book sale. Do you plan to distribute order forms prior to the event so students can order the author’s books? A signed book is a souvenir that can make a lifelong impression on a child. Or, would you rather have a book sale after the assembly, or in the evening along with a Literacy Night? You’ll need to advertise a book sale to parents, since children don’t carry spare money for books. Work out these details now. Ask the author if he/she will be bringing his/her own books or if you should order them. The easiest way to have a book sale is to contact a local book store, such as the closest Barnes and Noble. Ask to speak to the “Community Relations Manager.” Tell him/her about your event and ask if they can send a rep to handle book sales at the school. Sometimes the book store can even donate a portion of sales earnings to the school. Typically the book seller will handle the books and money entirely—the book ordering, cash transactions, and the returns of any books not purchased. It’s a mutually-beneficial arrangement, because the book store gets the sales and the school avoids the work involved with selling the books.

6. Generate payment for the author. Often the process of generating the author’s payment takes several weeks. Get the paperwork started, and email or fax the author any tax documents to sign. You should plan to pay the author’s fee at the conclusion of the visit. If you cannot pay on the day of the visit, give the author ample notice. It’s impolite to send the author away that day without payment because “it usually takes our district two or three weeks to cut a check.” If this is indeed the case for your district, you need to get things started in advance.

7. Arrange travel for the author. If your author is traveling out of state, you’ll need to book airfare and a hotel. You’ll also need to arrange transportation to and from the hotel and school. Either designate an administrator as a driver, or provide a rental car. Forward the author the travel itinerary and all arrangements you’ve made. Again, selecting a local author will save you this hassle and expense.

8. Get students familiar with the author’s books. In the weeks leading up to the visit, encourage teachers to read at least one of the books aloud in their individual classes. Make a bulletin board with the author’s books displayed. The difference this will make in your author visit is enormous. Students will ask more educated, appropriate questions if they are familiar with the author’s books. They’ll be more interested in the connection between writer and story when they know the story. Having an author travel to your school only to be met by students who don’t have a clue who he/she is--and don’t really care--is a waste of everyone’s time.

9. Generate enthusiasm for the event. Make some excited announcements over the intercom, create a sign or banner, purchase some of the author’s books in advance which can be raffle prizes for students, send flyers home, etc. This is NOT to boost the ego of the author. It’s to generate enthusiasm about reading for your students. If the school is excited about an author visit, students will follow that lead. Also, authors can act as role models because they represent ordinary people who worked hard to achieve a literary goal. It’s good for children to learn that stories are written by real people. Meeting an author can motivate kids to write their own stories. It can encourage reluctant readers to read. An author visit can be the fuel for a school’s “literacy engine.”

10. Confirm your event with the author at least three or four days prior. Make sure to find out whether the author needs equipment set-up, such as a microphone or LCD projector. Email directions to the author and a map. Provide the school’s phone number and a personal cell phone number to contact you if he/she is lost or has a question or emergency.

11. Consider whether the author will need lunch. If your author is staying the entire school day, he or she will need to have some kind of plan for lunch. Arranging a lunch in the staff room is often a nice way for teachers to meet the author individually. Or, some schools will choose a handful of students randomly or based on behavior/merit to have a special lunch with the author. If lunch isn’t feasible at the school, join the author for lunch at a local lunch spot, or offer the author the option of venturing to a nearby lunch spot alone. Say, “We thought you might appreciate a break—some time on your own.”

12. Complete as much technical set-up as possible prior to the author’s arrival. If you’re scrambling at the last minute to find an extension cord for the microphone, or if the sound system is buzzing and you don’t know why, you’ll create a stressful situation at the start of the assembly.

13. Have a wonderful author visit!

14. Take a photograph of your students with the author. This can be displayed on a bulletin board later on, to keep the enthusiasm for reading going.

15. Have a follow up activity with your students, where they explore what the event taught them about authors and books. Let them try their hand at writing a story or book. Or have students choose their own favorite books and complete a book report on it. Perhaps students could write to the authors of their favorite books.

If you'd like information about booking Kristyn Crow for a school visit, click here.