Saturday, May 9, 2015

My Top Picks for Favorite Picture Books

It's the last week of celebrations over at Wordsmith Studios and today we discuss what we are reading.

I read picture books.

There. I said it. I am a grown woman, a health professional, a triathlete, a married mother of two tween boys, and my favorite books are picture books.

After a full day of discussing the cause and effect of bacterial plaque and the prevention of periodontal disease to my patients, running/biking/swimming for an hour or more, chauffeuring my kids here and there, re-learning trigonometry to help with my freshman son's homework...all I want to do at the end of the day is relax with a short, funny book that I can finish in the night without having to fall asleep midway through the first chapter. Picture books.

I love picture books. I write picture books. I read picture books.

It's May and I've already read 113 books this year!

Since I go through picture books like it's candy, I'm going to share with you my favorite[s]. Yes, plural. I have so many favorite picture books that I can't pick just one. So I'm going to share with you my top 10!

Looking at my list, I can tell you that I gravitate towards humorous books that are on the quirky/goofy side, but with heart.

In no particular order:

Planet Kindergarten Planet KindergartenPlanet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt

PLANET KINDERGARTEN is a fun, engaging story that is told from the unique perspective of a child. The MC imagines his school is in outer space and experiences an exploration of his lifetime. Author Sue Ganz-Schmitt manages to capture the authentic emotions that children experience on their first day of school.

The MonstoreThe Monstore by Tara Lazar

What's not to love about a Monstore- a store that sells monsters! Tara Lazar's language and word choice are superb. It makes a fun read aloud. Illustrator, James Burks, did an outstanding job of bringing the characters to life. Kids will have a field day thinking of the monsters they'd like to have.

Prudence Wants a PetPrudence Wants a Pet by Cathleen Daly

Prudence wants a pet so badly that she even goes so far as to get one on her own- a branch, a twig, an old shoe, etc. This book is so funny you can't help but laugh out loud. Cathleen Daly did a wonderful of characterizing Prudence as a sweet and clever child that you can't help but empathize and fall in love with her.

 CarnivoresCarnivores by Aaron Reynolds

I adore this book! Aaron Reynolds did a fantastic job of instilling in our hearts the importance of self appreciation. I love the message that sometimes others can be misunderstood in a hilarious way.

A small note of warning: Not ideal for the sensitive reader. A few characters do get hurt in the story-telling of this book. On a side note, it makes for good discussion and lesson about ecology and the nature of things.

Sophie's SquashSophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller

A delightful story about a little girl named Sophie who takes a friend, Bernice, wherever she goes. But Bernice happens to be a squash, which makes this story hilarious, yet endearing. Sophie's positiveness is infectious. I also love the subtle lesson on the cycle of life that is intertwined with the story.

Creepy Carrots!Creepy Carrots! by Aaron Reynolds

Twilight Zone meets The Shining in this hilarious picture book by Aaron Reynolds. I've always been a fan of the Twilight Zone series so this one grabbed and sustained my attention throughout the reading. In Creepy Carrots, a rabbit fears that his favorite food is after him. You will never look at a carrot the same way again.

Mr. Tiger Goes WildMr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter  Brown

Mr. Tiger, sporting a top hat, coat and tie, is a proper tiger. Unhappy with his mundane life, he decides to let loose and follow his animal instincts. With sparse text and lovely illustrations, this story conveys the universal message, be yourselves, in a brilliant and humorous way.

The Day the Crayons QuitThe Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

This is one of those books I wished I could have written. Duncan wants to color, but when he opens his crayon box, he finds letter after letter from each colored crayon protesting about the unfairness that goes on in the coloring box. It is original, clever, fresh, and oh, so FUNNY!

The last two books are not humorous picture books, but they stood out to me as beautifully written picture books that pulled my heart-strings.

City Dog, Country FrogCity Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems

A poignant story of friendship between a dog and a frog written with beautiful language and eloquent style. It is also about loss that is told in a sensitive manner that children can comprehend. The four seasons depicted in the story brilliantly brings us to another emotional level.

Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting DownSit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Wow! Picture books are difficult to write, let alone a historical nonfiction story. In a few word, author Andrea Pinkney, writes a powerful poetic story of four college students staging a peaceful protest by sitting at an all-white diner counter. A civil-rights story of courage and equality.

View all my reviews

Again, it was difficult for me to narrow my list to top 10 so I'm going to share with you five more as Honorable Mentions:

This Is a MooseThis Is a Moose by Richard T. Morris

 MapleMaple by Lori Nichols

I Don't Want to Be a FrogI Don't Want to Be a Frog by Dev Petty

 This Orq. (He Cave Boy.)This Orq. by David Elliott

The Three Ninja PigsThe Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz

Hope you get a chance to check out these books. There's nothing like a picture book to melt your stress away.

"Writing is like a vacation. I get to travel anywhere my imagination takes me" ~Romelle Broas

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

My name is Romelle and I read picture books! 

To see what other Wordsmith Studio Members are reading, join the blog hop below:

Monday, April 13, 2015

Wordsmith Anniversary!

Happy 3rd Anniversary, Wordsmith Studio!

For those of you who don't know, Wordsmith Studio is a place where creative minds go to get inspired and keep their creative muse entertained and challenged. There is a veranda for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and multi-media where you can hang out as you please. You can read more about their mission on their website at

I've been a member of Wordsmith Studio since its inception in 2012. It all started on April 1, 2012 when I discovered Robert Brewer's 30-day Platform Challenge on Twitter. Many of the participants decided to keep the momentum going with the friendships that were formed. This led to the creation of Wordsmith Studio.

Artwork created by Khara House

For Wordsmith's 3rd Anniversary, Wordsmith is holding a reunion via a blog hop. Some of us have moved on to do other things, while others remained; some active, others (like me) pop in and out. The reunion is a wonderful idea because we get to see what others have been up to. 

Here's the 411 on me with Q and A provided by Wordsmith:

What are you writing?
I write nonfiction for children and picture books. Robert Brewer's Platform challenge and the support of Wordsmith helped me get out of my comfort zone to explore the kidlit community through Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (to name a few). I've met some wonderful people in the kidlit community. If you are a picture book writer or are considering it, here are the groups I belong to that provide valuable resources for picture book writers. 

Kidlit 411
Sub It Club

What are you currently working on?
I've got at least 10 work-in-progress picture books in various stages. Some are simmering (waiting to be looked at with fresh eyes), some are cooking (currently in editing/revising mode), and some are being plated (in preparation for submission).  

I also critique fellow picture book writer's works on a regular basis. I belong to three critique groups and critique a minimum of 6 picture book manuscripts a month. Joining a critique group is one of the most important things I've done as a writer. In my blog, I write about the value of critique groups

Aside from writing and critiquing, I am constantly reading! I read picture books, both nonfiction and fiction. You can find me on Goodreads. Feel free to stop by and see what I'm reading.

What's the biggest thing you've learned from your writing?
1) The more you write, the greater your chances of finding that gem that will lead you to a contract. It's a subjective business so the more stories you have, the better your odds at finding the love connection between agent/editor and your manuscript.

2) It's all about numbers. I learned that my latest story is almost always better than the last one I've written. How many times have you written a story only to re-read it after a few years (or even months) have passed only to say, "Oh, this isn't as good as I thought it was." So keep writing!

Have you made any lasting connections through Wordsmith? (I added this question)
I have to give a shout-out to the friends I've made through Wordsmith. They are all kind and generous people. The friends I've formed a special bond with are:

Lauri Meyers- my fellow picture book writer and Wonder Twin. We hang out in the same kidlit community, shop at the same kidlit stores, and have similar taste in books. She knows my inner most darkest secrets. Okay, not really. I don't have any secrets, but she knows how I think and how I write. She critiques a good way.

Jennifer Chow- my Asian inspiration. I had the opportunity to meet up with Jennifer when she visited San Francisco. Jennifer, Amy, and I got together for lunch to get to know one another. Her award-winning novel, 228 LEGACY, inspired me to write a cultural nonfiction picture book.

Amy Pabalan- my close friend (yes, real close that we live only a few miles from each other) and adviser. We try to meet every so often to talk shop, talk about life in general, and get inspired. I feel so blessed to have met Amy through Wordsmith. She's my buddy, my home-away-from-home kinda gal. When I need a break from writing, we get together for tea (coffee for her).

Lori Sailiata- my Hawaiian sistah from anothah mistah! She lives on Oahu, where I'm from. I had the opportunity to meet Lori in person too when I went back home to Hawaii. She is the co-owner, content creator, and new media strategist at Hawaii Content Marketing. She and Amy have been so helpful and supportive when my e-Book came out. They introduced me to Twitterview. Lori is my go-to person for my author platform questions.

Wordsmith Studios- where connections are made. Thanks for stopping by!

Curious about what Wordsmith Studio has to offer? Want to see what other Wordsmith Studio members are up to? Then check out the link below.

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Debut Author Interview with Donna L. Martin

Big Break with a Small Publisher

Do you have a story idea that is for the niche market?
Do you want personal attention and have some say in the publication of your book?
Are you an unpublished writer waiting to be discovered?

Then small publishers may be for you. 

Debut Author, Donna L. Martin made a big break with Anaiah Press with her book, THE STORY CATCHER. 

In this interview, Donna will share her publishing journey with us, which started with a Pitch Party on Twitter that resulted in an unexpected surprise.  
After the interview, I've included a resource of small presses you may be interested in, along with some helpful information to help you decide whether small presses are for you.
You don't want to miss this! So sit back, relax, and get inspired with Donna!

Tell me about your book and the inspiration for your story idea.

My debut picture book, THE STORY CATCHER, is about a little girl's struggle to make the wiggly words of her favorite book sit still long enough for her to be able to catch them and read a story.  I tutored a young girl a few years ago who had a learning disability and was unable to read on her grade level. After working with her for the entire school year, she was finally able to read on her own. That experience of a child struggling with a learning disability was the basis of this story.

Do you have an agent? If not, what made you decide to submit on your own?
No, I don't have an agent at this time but I am looking for one. After two years of searching for one, I found out about a Twitter Pitch Party where picture book manuscripts were allowed and just took a chance. It was supposed to be mainly agents so I really didn't think about an editor requesting my book.

How did you learn of Anaiah Press and what drew you to them?
I had never heard of Anaiah Press before the pitch party. I decided to go with them because I was so impressed with my editor, Jessica Schmeidler. She had an open communication style that matched mine and I could tell she was really passionate about her author's works. I knew I could trust her with the future of my story.

What benefits do you see publishing with a small press?
Small presses with small catalog lines might have easier submission guidelines and be more willing to take on an untried writer. Small presses have smaller staff numbers so authors have a better chance of connecting with high level individuals who are responsible for the decision making. 

Does Anaiah help with the marketing of your book?
Anaiah offers a number of marketing support to their authors including blog posts, book cover reveals, book trailers, and blog tours.

What have you done to promote your book?
Book marks, business cards, car magnets, school visits, author visits to Barnes & Noble, contests and giveaways, blog tours, book reviews, book submissions to book awards, book submissions to my local library acquisitions committee, future participation in my city's annual Children's Festival of Reading where up to 15,000 people will be able to sign up for my STORY CATCHER FAN CLUB.

What are you working on now? Any new stories in the works?
Currently I have 11 completed picture books, 2 completed early reader chapter books (one martial arts based fiction and one creative nonfiction), and two young adult works in progress (one mystery and one fantasy), along with research on my next creative nonfiction story.

Fun Facts
When did you write the first draft of STORY CATCHER: 2013

Number of months before you felt STORY CATCHER was submission-ready: 6 months

How many months was it from the time of submission to acceptance with Anaiah Press: 1 day

Number of months from the time of contract to publication with Anaiah Press: 11 months
The number of publishing houses you submitted to prior to your contract with Anaiah Press: ZERO

Thank you so much for sharing your journey with us Donna! For more on THE STORY CATCHER, check out this fabulous video:

Donna would love to hear from you! Check out her Facebook fan page, drop her an email, join her STORY CATCHER fan club or find out what interests Donna on Twitter or Pinterest:

Author Email:
Story Catcher Fan Club Email:


For more on the pros and cons of small press publishing, check out the links below:

Robert Brewer of Writer's Digest goes into detail with a three-part assessment: Submissions Process, Publishing Process, and Career Building. He interviews authors about their experiences working with small presses and with publishers about what they expect from authors and what they offer.

Agent Rachelle Gardner of Books and Such Literary Agency invites guest blogger and author, Jessica Knauss, to discuss the pros and cons of small presses. Jessica's post is based on her personal experiences and gets to the meat of the topic with bullet points, which makes it a quick and easy read.

Literary Agent, Carly Watters gives us her personal opinion on the disadvantages of seeking an agent and a publisher simultaneously with a focus on small presses.

For a list of small publishers, check out my personal link here.

If there are any small publishers you've had experiences with, have submitted to, or know of that I've missed on my list, please share them with me in the comments below. Thank you!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Reading for Research

If you want to write a picture book, the common advice is to immerse yourself in picture books and read, read, read!

I use Goodreads to keep track of the books I read. I average 180 books a year, but only a few stand out to me. Here are my favorites for 2014-2015:

These are the books that I connected with. I want to write a story that will become a favorite for readers. 
I want to write a story with characters that readers will think about long after they put down the book. 
I want to write a story that touches the heart of readers whether it tickles their funny bone or pull at their heartstrings, like what these books did for me!

Studying picture books such as these will make you write a better story. How?

Reading for Research Month or ReFoReMo, the brainchild of Carrie Charley Brown! 

"The ReFoReMo challenge was founded to help picture book writers reform writing by reading and researching mentor texts. The challenge is supported by author-educators...It is necessary to read a wide variety of picture books to truly understand the form, the market, and the craft of writing them. The goal of ReFoReMo is to build reading background while learning how to use mentor texts." ~Carrie Charley Brown

It is a FREE online study group designed to help writers understand the structure of picture books and what makes a story stand out. They have a spectacular line-up of guest bloggers to assist writers in their research. I'm definitely going to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge offered by ReFoReMo.

Join me and together let's unlock the secrets to writing a great book! 

You can sign up for the Reading for Research Month Challenge here

Designed by Lori Nawyn

I'm a proud participant of ReFoReMo

Happy Research!


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Confessions of a Writer #2: So Close Yet So Far

I have a confession to make.

Lately, I've been plagued by doubt, fear, and nonsense talk.

You've heard of the saying, "So close yet so far."

Well I'm all too familiar with the phrase.

Image courtesy of Digital Arts at

So many times I've fallen short of something grand. Here are a few examples:

In 2011 I applied for the Barbara Karlin Grant. I was young in my career. You know the writer's high of a newbie where for every contest, every submission you are already dreaming of celebrating before you get the notice. Well, imagine my excitement when I received the letter in the mail. As I read the first line of the letter, my emotions skyrocketed with the words, "I am writing to present you with…(wait…for…it…)… this LETTER OF MERIT for your submission, I'M A MONSTER TOO!" My emotional high descended. I read on, "…you did not win the grant…" My heart plummeted. "…but the judges felt your proposal deserved extra recognition." And there it was. My emotion, suspended in air for a brief moment.

So close yet so far…

2. SCBWI Conference Critique by V.P. of Scholastics

In 2013 I attended the International SCBWI conference in LA and had the opportunity to sit down with the V.P. of Scholastics for a critique. In her words, "…this [my ms] is what we're looking for. I want you to revise your manuscript per my comments… I want you to send this to me…do you have an agent? You need an agent…I will recommend you to some who are here today…" STOP right there! Not so easy. I've been trying to get an agent since. Imagine the thought of having an editor waiting for you, but you can't get through the door. 

So close yet so far…

3. New Voice Contest by Lee & Low

This is the latest contest I entered. I didn't win. Surprise. Surprise. BUT I was sent a nice letter with nice comments from the editor stating that I was among the finalist. This news didn't disappoint me too much because by now I've developed a tough skin. But it's the thought of being…

So close yet so far…

And then there's this: 

A visual reminder of where I stand. Great. Story of my life. I received a few of the #2 ratings and I can't help but feel that life has a wicked sense of humor.

So close yet so far…

Can you imagine the torture? I don't mean to sound ungrateful, because I'm not. I'm very pleased at how far I've come. I'm just saying that the feeling of closeness is a big teaser for me.

I'll be honest, I have a full time job with two active kids with busy schedules of their own. As a mom, their schedule is added to my already busy schedule. But I make time between sporting events, during lunch breaks, in the wee hours of the night, and hours in between. I continue honing my craft. I take classes, read, write, get involved with writing groups on social media to stay informed. With all the hard work and effort put into my writing, I find myself questioning my writing career.

Do I want to pursue this?


How much longer can I subject myself to rejection?


Is this all for naught?

(nonsense talk)

Then I ask myself WHY do I write? 

The answer is simple.

I enjoy writing. 

Then I remind myself:

I enjoy writing because my inner spirit is released. There is still that kid in me wanting to explore and share a world of wonder. Writing is also like a vacation for me. I get to travel anywhere my imagination takes me.  I may question my writing future, but quit? I can't. Quitting is not in my vocabulary. As far as I think I am, there was always a word of encouragement and validation that I am a good writer. This gives me more determination to pursue what I love and that is to write.

Whenever I find myself questioning myself I look at this picture: 

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." -- Winston Churchill


Friday, January 2, 2015

2014 A Year in Review

My intentions for 2014 was to streamline my life so I could concentrate on my writing. That involved putting a hold on some of my social media groups and athletic training. The first half of the year was spent editing/revising my WIP picture books and the latter half was spent taking writing classes. Below is a recap of the events that kept me busy during 2014:

Personal Life Events

May 19- June 23
I enrolled in Mira Reisberg and Sudipta Bard-Quallen's online course, The Pleasures and Craft of Poetic Techniques, offered by the Picture Book Academy.

It is an interactive e-course complete with a weekly webinar to make your writing sing. Now when I write, I am more aware of my word choices that will make my prose read aloud like verse.

June 9
I was invited to a Meet my Character Blog Hop by
Jennifer Chow, author of The 228 Legacy.
The questions Jennifer provided was a great opportunity to delve into the main character of my story.  It was also my chance to introduce my new eBook, Running Boy, published by MeeGenius on June 9.

June 21
I signed up for my local SF/South SCBWI agent's Day. It is an all-day affair about the author-agent relationship, tips on creating a memorable pitch, marketing, and picture book pacing. The best part of the event was the agent round table discussions where we got to do a Q & A up close and personal with the participating agents. They are all very lovely people; many that represented picture books.

Agents that were present:
Deborah Warren, East/west Literary Agency
Caryn Wiseman, Andrea Brown Literary Agency
Abigail Samoun, Red Fox Literary Agency
Sean McCarthy, Sean McCarthy Literary Agency
Mira Reisberg, Hummingbird Literary Agency
Laurie McLean, Foreward Literary

July 21 to August 15
Sudipta Bard-Quallen and Kami Kinard offered a free online course called kidlit Summer School. It is a month long course on writing strong and irresistible characters that ran 6 days a week. Faculty members consisted of kidlit authors. It was loads of fun and encouragement that kept me writing all summer long! Needless to say, it helped me with my character development.

August 4- September 22
I completed Kristen Fulton's fabulous 8-weeks Nonfiction Archaeology course. It was packed with information, videos, and webinars that kept me informed and inspired. If you are interested in writing nonfiction picture books, this course is a must. See my review of Kristen's course here. Thanks to Kristen, I got to complete my first nonfiction picture book this year!

During the month of November, I joined the Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) challenge with Tara Lazar.  The challenge was to create 30 picture book ideas in a month. Tara had a terrific line up of guest bloggers and prizes galore! Sadly, I didn't win any of the prizes, but I still came out a winner with a notebook, of not 30, but 31 ideas!

Between writing, revising, and taking classes, I read loads of picture books. The best way to learn to write picture books is to read them. I've kept a tally on Goodreads. Below is a collage of the books I've read in 2014.



The end of the year is also a time to reflect on all those who continue to inspire me as a writer. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the following for their support, encouragement, and camaraderie:

Kidlit 411
Picture Book Academy
Agent/Editor Discussion Group
Kristen Fulton
Mira Reisberg
Sudipta Bard-Quallen
Kami Kinard
Susanna Hill Leonard
Tara Lazar

Julie Hedlund

My critique group:
The Prose Shop
Picture Book Critique Group
And my new friends at kidlit manuscript swap


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