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Readers and writers of all ages ask,


"How did I become a children's book author?"


"Where do I get my story ideas?"
           
"What are the Three Easy Steps to writing and publishing a children's book today?"



   A reader, a writer, an author, oh, my!

      I grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (I'm that bonneted, kneeling little girl,  in the middle of the last century, in all my First Grade Glory, at Overbrook Elementary School's May Day celebration.) 
I'm known to tell writers: know what your character wants, what your character needs, what he or she wishes for, longs for, dreams of.
      Can you guess my long-ago wish-dream-longing?
      I wanted my name on the front cover of a children's book!
      I still love the "happily-ever-after" endings of fairy tales, especially Hans Christian Andersen's THE UGLY DUCKLING, and my orange "True Books" that offered up the childhoods of famous Americans.
The Penn Wynne Library was but a stone's throw away from my new suburban home in 1955. Thanks to my trusty library card, the first I'd ever owned, I spent my tenth year voraciously reading through the  blue-spine-ed books on the "K" shelves of the library's Children's Room. I rode along with Nancy Drew and her River Heights companions, seated in the back of Nancy's spiffy blue roadster, supposedly following clues and feeling the breeze, yet unknowingly uncovering how to tell a story.  Through adolescence, I sewed along with Jo and her sisters, I strode the moors, I walked the streets of Chicago with Sister Carrie. Writers are readers, and that's the Truth.  How nice that my Penn Wynne Library gifted me with so many wonderful teachers.
       I earned a degree in Elementary Education from the University of Pennsylvania, minoring in Journalism, and soon after began teaching fifth grade in Chicago.  Eventually, I traded my Phillies hat for a Cubbie-blue cap, my cheese steak for a Chicago hot dog and teaching for Motherhood.  When my son reconnected me with my long-ago wish-dream-longing, I was off and running on my Writer's Journey.  Fortunately, the Faith required of all Cubs fans served me well: my journey to publication took longer than expected!
      Eventually, as I knew it would, my writer's plot line ended "happily-ever-after."
      And lucky me!
      That Happy Ending spawned several New Beginnings.   

Story ideas grow on trees, right?

     Not quite, though I do discover story ideas anywhere and everywhere.


I attended a Folk Art show in a nearby Chicago suburb - the first time I'd ever attended such an event.  There I met 26-year-old Steven Shelton of Columbia, Missouri, whose booth sign read "Limner and Fancy Painter."  Steven explained that before the advent of photography, artists traveled about America painting people's portraits, as well as signs and walls and harpsichord covers.  So taken with this piece of Americana that I knew had not found its way into children's books, I declared Steven's artist's life the stuff of my next book, then immediately researched the titles Steven recommended.  One year later, finally ready to write the story, I phoned Steven, only to learn his disastrous fate proved to be that of his 19th-century models:  dissatisfied with their images, customers refused to pay him!  Right then and there, I saw my story!  My editor suggested a greater role for my character Pippin's dog and a few orphaned sisters who might need their brother Pippin to return home by Christmas to save them from the Poorhouse.  Holiday House published FANCY THAT, gloriously illustrated by Megan Lloyd.


So, you want to write a children's book…

     Hurrah for you!
     The possibilities are endless.
     All you need to do is write, read and connect.
        
     Before you begin, however, ground yourself in The Children's Book World. 
     Read about the children's book publishing industry.  Familiarize yourself with the markets, the formats, the formats, the countless possibilities for telling your story the best way possible.  Recommended titles include Barbara Seuling's HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN'S BOOK AND GET IT PUBLISHED (John Wiley, 2004), THE CHILDREN'S WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS MARKET (Writer's Digest, 2016) and Harold Underdown's THE IDIOT'S GUIDE TO CHILDREN'S BOOK PUBLISHING (Alpha Books, 2010).

     Next?

     Write, of course!  That suffix er in "writer" means a person who.  So, sit yourself down and put your words on paper.
     Consider enrolling in a class on Writing For Children - at a university or community college or a continuing education facility or art center, even online, or by correspondence, or as a degree-seeking student in a low residency program.
     Learn your craft.  Hone your craft.

     And while you're writing, make sure you read!  Re-read what you read as a child but as importantly, read what children are reading today.  Become best friends with your local bookseller, your local librarian.
     Twelve-thousand children's books are published each year.  Each can teach you how to tell a story; each can introduce you to a possible publisher for your story.
     Visit these websites to insure you're reading only the very best in children's books.
     Finally, connect.  A popular theory proposes: you're only six people away from the person you need to know.  When you happen to write for children, The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators introduces you to those six people, and pronto.
     SCBWI is the only professional organization for children's book writers and illustrators.  Its members number over 23,000 around the world.  Geographically-determined chapters help members realize local connections.
     Visit the website and consider joining: http://www.scbwi.org/.
     Discover your Regional Chapter (for instance, the Illinois Chapter, www.illinois.scbwi.org) and promptly connect.
    Check out SCBWI-Illinois’ online newsletter, THE PRAIRIE WIND, at: http://www.illinois.scbwi.org/Prairie-Wind-2/.
     Click away on the website's many links, to discover bibliographies of recommended titles, association websites, reading lists, publisher guidelines, author and illustrator sites, you-name-it.
     SCBWI offers conferences, classes, workshops, retreats, grants, scholarships, and a wealth of resource materials in the $5 compendium The Book, including bibliographies, lists of editors, agents and publishers of all formats, manuscript submission guidelines, contract guidelines, copyright information, contest guidelines and more.

   Each of us has a story worth telling.
   When we’re telling that story to children, our job is to tell it so well, it re-sounds in our young reader’s heart.