Book Review – MY FRIEND MAGGIE by Hannah E. Harrison

Hannah Harrison picHannah Harrison is such a delightful person and a familiar face on this blog. She gave an interview a few years ago, right before EXTRAORDINARY JANE was published. (My son still carries his now very battered copy of JANE around with him everywhere he goes. My copy is on the very top of my office bookshelf – please don’t tell my son.)

I also reviewed her second book about a crabby cat having a very bad day at a birthday party called BERNIE GETS CARRIED AWAY, which you can read about here.

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Me with Hannah at the spring SCBWI Oklahoma conference.

(Have I mentioned how much I love being a part of SCBWI Oklahoma? So many generous and talented people in this group!)

I received an advanced copy of Hannah’s newest book, MY FRIEND MAGGIE from her when I saw her this past spring at our SCBWI OK conference in April. There may have been some actual jumping up and down when she gave it to me.  I get excited when I receive free books from people, especially when they’re as talented as Hannah.

I’m so honored to be able to review this book before it releases in August. Be sure to pre-order your copy today!

 

My Friend Maggie coverMY FRIEND MAGGIE by Hannah E. Harrison

Published by: Dial Books

Release Date: August 9, 2016

Genres: Children’s, Picture Books

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Plot Summary:

Paula and Maggie have been friends forever. Paula thinks Maggie is the best—until mean girl Veronica says otherwise. Suddenly, Paula starts to notice that Maggie is big and clumsy, and her clothes are sort of snuggish. Rather than sticking up for Maggie, Paula ignores her old friend and plays with Veronica instead. Luckily, when Veronica turns on Paula, Maggie’s true colors shine through.

This moving friendship story has all the heart and emotion of The Giving Tree and Kevin Henkes’s Chrysanthemum. The gorgeous artwork and important message make this a book to treasure. It’s truly a classic in the making. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)


This book has already received some high praise:

Publisher’s Weekly STAR Review

“Harrison tells her story with touching and expert restraint, and her acrylic illustrations have a lovely old-fashioned feel that readers of her previous books will recognize…Harrison shows a deeply sympathetic understanding of the simultaneously fragile and powerful emotions of children.”

Kirkus Review

“Harrison’s brightly colored acrylic paintings amplify the emotions…(her) straightforward, first-person text, while understated, also conveys a wealth of emotion.”

 

 

Maggie 4

 

This is such a fantastic story about friendship, and what happens when that friendship gets put to the test.

Before I even get into the fantastic artwork, can I talk about the inner nerd girl/weird girl/picked-on-by-the-mean-girl little part of each of us hidden way deep down inside that can’t help but tear up at the lunch room scene?

Maggie 2

 

Maggie 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve lived that scene. It felt just that awful.

Talk about nailing the emotions. Pow!

As always, Hannah is a master at using vibrant color, white space, and perspective in her artwork to enhance the emotional impact of the story.

She ties it all together to bring this thoughtful tale to a very satisfying conclusion.

I fell in love with this book. And with Maggie. Everyone could use a friend like her.

 

Learn more about Hannah E. Harrison here.

Follow Hannah on Facebook here.

As a special treat, you can view this clever video Hannah made for her Artist’s Studio Tour.

 

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May #okscbwichat – Special Guest Timothy Lange

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I co-hosted this month’s Special Edition of #okscbwichat on Tuesday evening with our guest, Oklahoma illustrator Timothy Lange.

Timothy Lange

Tim LangeTimothy Lange has been a graphic designer, illustrator and fine art painter for over 30 years. He graduated from the Colorado Institute of Art in 1982 and studied at the Art Students League of Denver (off and on) from 1989 to 2003.

He is an active member of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). He was was transplanted to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma in 2003. Aside from the bugs and humidity, he says its not a bad place to call home.

Follow Tim on Twitter here.

During our Twitter chat, Tim discussed how Chris Van Allsburg influenced his work, he talked about the inspiration for his first authored book SCARECROW’S JOURNEY, the toughest challenge he faced while working on this book, and he even shared some pictures of his art with us. It was a lively chat, despite the threat of inclement weather.

*If you missed the chat, you can view the Storify version of the entire conversation here.

**Next month, we have a special SCBWI MEMBERS ONLY event planned on Saturday, June 11th, in place of our regular #okscbwichat. A FACEBOOK CHAT with YA author Courtney Summers & her agent Amy Tipton.

To participate in the event, click this link: bit.ly/1Tx9RGK and select Join.

If you are an SCBWI member, someone will add you to the group. Make sure to do this before the event so you can post your questions!

We return to our regular #okscbwichat schedule in July when our special guest will be YA author Brenda Drake. See you for the next Twitter chat on Tuesday July 26th!

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To see a full list of our upcoming Twitter chats on #okscbwichat for 2016 CLICK HERE.

 

Fan That Spark OK SCBWI Fall Retreat – The Recap Part I

 

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Our Fall Retreat for Oklahoma SCBWI last month had something for everyone, with specific tracks for novel, illustration, and picture book that allowed you to focus on your area of interest. The theme “Fan the Spark” encouraged all to turn those beginning creative sparks into fully developed stories.

I attended the Novel Track.

(I heard rave reviews from everyone I spoke with who attended both the Picture Book Track taught by Janee Trasler, and the Illustrator Track taught by Tim Jessell.)

The first speaker had a background in theatre arts and showed us how writers could learn from actors when developing their characters. She also stopped by this blog prior to the retreat to introduce herself. Click on this link to get a more detailed view into her background..

Ginny SainGinny Sain – with more than 20 years experience as a working director, choreographer, playwright, theatrical designer, performer , and theatre arts teacher, she has worked as an artist in residence teaching theatre arts workshops in Arkansas and Oklahoma schools as well as teaching and directing all classes, workshops, and productions for over 18 years with the very successful Stages Theatre for Youth program.

“Generality is the enemy of all art.” – Stanislavski

When creating your characters, you want to move from the general to the specific.

How?

By paying attention to the inner lives and motivations of your characters in every scene. And this should be done FOR EVERY CHARACTER.

When an actor prepares for a new role, they get to know their character intimately – what motivates them, how they move about in space, what they like and don’t like – they slip into their character’s skin to portray them in a believable manner. The actor inhabits every inch of that character’s psyche. And they do this before they even step foot onto the stage.

This can feel like a daunting task. Impossible even.

So how do they do it?

They break down the play into moments – or beats – and figure out what’s driving their character’s behavior from moment to moment. Beats are manageable chunks even smaller than scenes. Some obvious beats include when a character enters or exits a scene or when there’s a shift in conversation, or when new information has been revealed. Once the beats are identified, the actors then decide what the character’s objective, obstacle, and action is for each beat.

Objective – What your character wants. Each character has one main “superobjective” that spans the entire work and many smaller objectives that lead toward the “superobjective”. The path a character takes as they move through these smaller objectives is called the “through line”. Each character should have an objective for every beat they are on stage. The objective should be active and directed toward the other characters.  Objectives seek to change things.

Example: “I want to get away from him and leave this room.”

Obstacle – What is keeping your character from getting what they want. Obstacles can be internal or external. Or both. This struggle is what makes the story interesting.

Example: “I can’t leave because he locked the door.”

Action – What your character does to overcome his or her obstacle. There are usually three possible outcomes: the character will give up, overcome the obstacle, or plow through and ignore it. How they react to obstacles shows what characters are made of – reactions reveal a lot about character.

Example: “I jump out the window.”

Focusing on what each character wants as you write each moment – which may be completely opposite/opposing things – can make for much more interesting writing.

Learn more about Ginny by visiting her website: HeARTsong Creative Center.

 

The next speaker was no stranger to our OK SCBWI group or to the previous speaker (being her mother). She gave a talk about how to write emotion into your story without crossing the line into sentimentality.

AnnaMyersphotoCAnna Myers – This award-winning Oklahoma author has published 20 books to much critical acclaim. She has won the Oklahoma Book Award four times for SPY!ASSASSINGRAVEYARD GIRL, and RED DIRT JESSIE. She was also awarded their lifetime achievement, the Arrell Gibson Award, in 2012. She writes historical and contemporary fiction for young readers. She also had her first picture book, TUMBLEWEED BABY, published in 2014. Most importantly, she was our Oklahoma SCBWI Regional Advisor and fearless leader for 14 years.

Anna’s talk focused on helping us see the difference between emotion and schmaltz, the Yiddish word for sentimentality or literally, chicken fat.

“Novels aren’t real life. They need to be sharper.”

Emotion needs to be stronger.

Yet, this doesn’t mean readers want to see characters spill their guts out when grieving. Crying is too easy.

SCHMALTZ! Cut it!

It’s the struggle that’s most interesting. Readers want to see how characters deal with problems – this is where the emotional connection lies.

So, what can you do to show this?

Think of an action to show the emotion.

Anna gave the example of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. This was a devastating time for the entire country. And yet, the most moving image wasn’t of a widow grieving, it was of his young son saluting his casket.

Photo credit: Stan Stearns/UPI
Photo credit: Stan Stearns/UPI

 

This would not have been as touching if he’d been crying. This is utterly heart-breaking. We feel the loss so much stronger. (While researching, I also learned that this picture was taken on John Jr.’s birthday. Seriously. Where’s the kleenex?)

Of course, tears do have their place, but don’t rely on them, or any other bodily expression, as a crutch for showing your character’s emotion. Focus more on that action that expresses their sorrow.

Learn more about Anna by visiting her website: www.annamyers.info

 

The next speaker lead us through a visualization exercise to help us overcome blocks in our creative process.

Pati Hailey PicPati Hailey – Over her career, Pati has written state legislation, online training for large corporations, lesson plans for teachers, and literature for children and adults. She is a frequent speaker at conferences and schools. Pati’s articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines, including Cricket and Hopscotch. Her contribution to this series, TE ATA: Oklahoma Cultural Treasure, is her first published children’s book.

I always find these visualization exercises helpful and I always learn something surprising about my manuscript or my character. Pati walks us through a simple relaxation before taking us through the visualization exercise. During the visualization, we are to focus on a part of our manuscript that is giving us trouble and look at it from a different perspective, paying attention to surroundings in more detail, and thinking about our characters in different ways, even asking them specific questions.

These visualizations allow your brain to relax enough to use your subconscious and solve story problems. You can try these on your own, too. While writing, think about getting up every 30 minutes or so to give your subconscious time to work on any story problems you might have.

Follow Pati on Twitter @PatiHailey

Follow Pati on Facebook here.

 

After lunch, we had a First Pages Critique Panel

 

 

The wise Panel Members: Anna Myers, Tammi Sauer, and Sonia Gensler share their insights.
The wise Panel Members Anna Myers, Tammi Sauer, and Sonia Gensler share their insights. (Photo credit: Regina Garvie)

 

a Speaker Autograph Party

Autograph Party 1
Some of our fantastic speakers signing their books. (Photo credit: Regina Garvie)

 

and then dinner…

We took over the Rock Café in Stroud. (Photo credit: THE Jerry Bennet)
Many of our group took over the Rock Café in Stroud. (Photo credit: THE Jerry Bennet.)

 

…before the final event of the day.

The Inspirational Keynote from LINDA URBAN! YAY!!!

LindaUrbanLinda Urban – Linda writes picture books and middle grade novels from subjects as varied as an angry mouse expressing emotion (MOUSE WAS MAD), a red-headed boy searching for independence (LITTLE RED HENRY), a girl who dreams of playing pianos only to end up with a wheezy organ (A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT), and a girl who tries to fix a horrible mistake with a birthday wish (THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING). Urban’s characters are written with so much heart, yours will burst while reading about them.

Linda encouraged us to be open to inspiration and new ideas throughout the weekend.

She told us the story about when she first felt that spark, that joy from writing. She put her heart on the page and loved that feeling. Then one day the good feeling stopped. A boy called her writing weird, and said she was weird. She felt horrible and stopped writing for a long time.

When she came back to writing, it was a slow, painful process. Once she let herself find that spark again, that feeling of joy, she needed to define the “spine” of her work. “Why do I do it?”

For her, she wants to write about small things that matter to kids in a big way.

“All I need to be successful is to be true to my spine.”

What is YOUR spine?

Inspiration in spades!

Learn more about Linda by visiting her website: lindaurbanbooks.com

 

Stay tuned for The Recap PART II to read all about what Linda Urban had to teach us during the revision intensive on Day Two!

 

Book Review – BERNICE GETS CARRIED AWAY by Hannah E. Harrison

Hannah Harrison Author PhotoI’ve know Hannah Harrison for a few years through our OK SCBWI group and I always look forward to seeing her at our conferences. It’s been such a delight to watch her career and her family grow.

I was so excited when I greeted Hannah at our last spring conference and she said, “I have something for you!” I couldn’t wait to see what it was. When she pulled out an early folded and gathered copy of her new book, I was so thrilled! (I did ask her to sign it for me and she did, of course. She’s such a doll!)

Hannah signing one of her other books for me at our last conference.
Hannah signing another book for me at our last conference.

I’d already pre-ordered a hardback copy months earlier. I’ll have her sign THAT one later to my son. (He’ll probably carry it around all the time like he does her first book, EXTRAORDINARY JANE. He loves elephants, and he loves that book.)

I may have missed something important during the conference as I couldn’t wait to read through Hannah’s book. I fell in love with the artwork and with Bernice’s grumpy little face right away. I think you will, too.

 

Bernice

BERNICE GETS CARRIED AWAY by Hannah E. Harrison

Published by: Dial Books for Young Readers

Release Date: July, 14, 2015

Genres: Children’s, Picture Books

Plot Summary:

Bernice is having a truly rotten time at her friend’s birthday party. First, everyone else gets a piece of cake with a frosting rose. But not Bernice. Then, everyone else gets strawberry-melon soda. Bernice gets the prune-grapefruit juice. And it’s warm. The last straw is the one lousy (squished) candy she gets from the piñata. So when the balloons arrive, Bernice knows just what she has to do: grab them all. And then, poor cross Bernice gets carried up, up, and away. Luckily, she figures out just how to make her way back down to the party…and she brightens lots of other animals’ days on her way.

Hannah Harrison’s gorgeous animal paintings come alive in her second picture book. Her “exceptionally polished” debut, Extraordinary Jane, received starred reviews from KirkusPublisher’s Weekly, and  School Library Journal. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

The artwork is delightfully expressive! How Hannah plays with color, light,  and perspective enhances the emotion of the story so well.

 

Bernice 1

Bernice 2

Just looking at those eyes when Bernice receives that “plain white square from the middle” of the birthday cake, it makes you feel sad all over.

 

Bernice 3

 

One can understand how she gets carried away…

I don’t want to spoil the rest of the story. Needless to say, things get a bit messy before Bernice figures out her problem. Just a lovely book. I know you will enjoy it, and so will young readers.

Hannah has some other exciting projects in the works. She’s just wrapping up the illustrations on her next picture book, MY FRIEND MAGGIE! It’s slated for Dial’s Summer 2016 List. “Maggie is an elephant, and she’s pretty darn cute,” Hannah says. “Her best friend is a beaver named Paula.”
And that’s not all! She’s also signing another two-book contract with Dial for two yet-to-be-determined books! Hooray! More wonderful books from Hannah to look forward to in the future.

 

Learn more about Hannah E. Harrison here.

Follow Hannah on Facebook here.

This exceptional story debuts early next week, so hurry and preorder your copy today!

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SCBWI OK FALL RETREAT 2015 – Fan That Spark

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During the fantastic SCBWI OK Spring Conference this past March, we all got our Spark Ignited.

The next step?

We gotta fan that spark!

Come to our unbelievable Fall Retreat. You won’t want to miss it!

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This two-day event, from Friday, October 9th through Saturday, October 10th, will have specially designed tracks for illustrators, picture book writers, and novel writers built in to the programming. There will also be a first pages panel & discussion, and an entire day devoted to editing. Manuscript critiques will also be available. (For full details, visit the OK SCBWI website.)

Meet our speakers:

stacks_image_43Tim Jessell – Tim illustrates the best seller series Secrets Of DroonDog DiariesAmare Stoudemire’s STAT, Stan Lee of Marvel Comics first children’s picture book, and covers for the reissue of Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s Newbery Honor Books. Jessell is also the author and illustrator of two picture books, Amorak and FALCON.

 

Learn more about Tim by visiting his website: www.timjessell.com

 

trasler - photo with puppet-crop-u483Janee Trasler – Janee writes and illustrates clever  and funny picture books like the Chickies series, MIMI AND BEAR IN THE SNOW, CAVEMAN A.B.C. STORY, and BENNY’S CHOCOLATE BUNNY. She’s also been known to sing silly songs and play with puppets.

Learn more about Janee by visiting her website: www.trasler.com

 

AnnaMyersphotoCAnna Myers – This award-winning Oklahoma author has published 20 books to much critical acclaim. She has won the Oklahoma Book Award four times for SPY!, ASSASSIN, GRAVEYARD GIRL, and RED DIRT JESSIE. She was also awarded their lifetime achievement, the Arrell Gibson Award, in 2012. She writes historical and contemporary fiction for young readers. She also had her first picture book, TUMBLEWEED BABY, published in 2014. Most importantly, she was our Oklahoma SCBWI Regional Advisor and fearless leader for 14 years.

Learn more about Anna by visiting her website: www.annamyers.info

 

LindaUrbanLinda Urban – Linda writes picture books and middle grade novels from subjects as varied as an angry mouse expressing emotion (MOUSE WAS MAD), a red-headed boy searching for independence (LITTLE RED HENRY), a girl who dreams of playing pianos only to end up with a wheezy organ (A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT), and a girl who tries to fix a horrible mistake with a birthday wish (THE CENTER OF EVERYTHING). Urban’s characters are written with so much heart, yours will burst while reading about them.

Learn more about Linda by visiting her website: lindaurbanbooks.com

For full details on the retreat and how to register, visit the OK SCBWI website here: oklahoma.scbwi.org/fall-conference-2015/

Hope to see you there!

TweetSome of our speakers and manuscript critiquers may be making guest appearances on upcoming sessions of #okscbwichat on Twitter prior to the retreat, so stay tuned!

 

 

Hannah Harrison, Author/Illustrator- Interview

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I met Hannah Harrison a few years ago at one of our local SCBWI OK conferences. I was immediately struck by her open, friendly demeanor and her amazing artistic talent. Also by the fact that she had a head of hair even curlier than mine. Hannah won the Illustrator’s Best Portfolio award that year and the next. Still, she remained grounded and humble and just as sweet as ever. As some of you may remember, Hannah gave the keynote speech at this fall’s Agent Day Conference where she told us all about her journey to publication, culminating in a two-book deal with Dial Books. 

Hannah’s first book coming out is EXTRAORDINARY JANE, releasing this February. We’re all so very proud and excited for her.

Extraordinary Jane cover

For anyone with a beloved pet, this delightful and heartwarming story set at the circus shows that quiet qualities like friendship, kindness, and loyalty are important and worthy.

Jane is an ordinary dog in an extraordinary circus. She isn’t strong, graceful, or brave like her family. When she tries to be those things, Jane just doesn’t feel like herself, but she also doesn’t feel special. Is she really meant for this kind of life? Her Ringmaster thinks so, but not for the reasons Jane believes. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Hannah was gracious enough to stop by for an interview, going into even more detail about her work and her life.

Valerie Lawson: I loved reading in your bio how your kindergarten teacher recognized your obvious artistic talent and put you in “Special Art” with the fifth graders. How huge an impact did that teacher make on you and in helping to develop your craft?

Hannah Harrison: So huge! Marlene Witham just made me feel so, well…special! She made me feel like everything I created was really something to behold—whether it be paint, or clay, or dry macaroni. It was so kind of her to have such confidence in me—to single me out the way that she did. Here I was, just a frizzy-haired pip-squeak in hand-me-down clothes, and she noticed me, and believed in me, and made me feel like my talent was unique. So, yes, her impact on my life was huge.

VL: She was bound to single you out when you drew yourself in profile when asked to draw a self-portrait. What Kindergartner does that? Incredible!

Smoking Bunnies
Bunny Smoking Pipe (Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall) by Hannah Harrison 1.25″ x 1.25″ acrylic on museum board. This won Best in Show 2013, awarded by the Cider Painters of America

Your miniature paintings just fascinate me – some as small as one inch by one inch! How did you get into this “small” world of miniature painting? 

HH: Well, I realized that it would probably be a good idea for an aspiring children’s book illustrator to know how to paint children. So I started doing little paintings from old photographs of me as a kid. Since they were just studies, I painted them small (I figured it’d be faster). I thought they turned out kind of snazzy, so I hung a few of them up in the artist co-op that I was a part of as an example for commissions. One of the other artists in the co-op, Irene Goddu, was a miniaturist, and when she saw my tiny portraits, she invited me to join The Cider Painters of America. Before this, I didn’t realize that miniature painting was something people did! There’s a niche for that? Turns out, there’s a pretty big niche with miniature painting societies all over the world. There’s even a World Federation of Miniaturists! Who knew?! So now I’m a Signature Member of The Cider Painters of America and The Hilliard Society, and I feel pretty fancy.

VL: They are really incredible – so much detail for such small works.

HH: Aw, thanks! What is it Bob Ross used to say? Three hairs and some air? It’s kind of like that.

VL: The number of paintings you have of animals far outweigh those of humans and yet the animal pictures tend to have human characteristics, wear clothing, etc. Are you more comfortable with animals or are they just more fun to draw?

HH: I love painting animals and people. But for illustration, I think I am more comfortable with animals—it’s easier for me to paint them from my imagination. People are hard to get just right (painting flesh tones is tricky business, and it’s hard to keep continuity of character), but with animals, as long as they’re good and fuzzy, and have soulful eyes, they’ll at least be endearing (I hope). A badly painted person? Not so cute. Sometimes creepy. Plus I love animals for picture books because 1) they can get into whatever kinds of shenanigans you want them to without too much regard for personal safety or rules or parents, 2) any kid, regardless of race, can relate to and identify with animals. I will also confess that as a kid, I often enjoyed dressing my pet cats up in doll clothes (I was an only child, leave me alone). The cats were not amused. I, however, thought it was stinkin’ hilarious. I still think animals in clothes are funny.

Kitty Victoria by Hannah Harrison, image from artist's website.
Kitty Victoria by Hannah Harrison

VL: Ah, those are excellent points. It’s really important for kids to be able to identify and connect with the characters. (I also can’t imagine someone wrestling a tempermental cat into a costume. That would take special talent, or little concern for danger.)

HH: Ha! It helps to use the element of surprise!

VL: Your paintings are so detailed and yet you are also such a prolific painter, your website has pages and pages of exquisite paintings posted in the gallery, how long does it take you to complete each piece?

HH: Thanks, Valerie! It’s hard to say how long it takes to complete a piece—they all vary so much. But I will say that the plethora of paintings on my website are a result of 10+ years of portfolio building in an attempt to break into the business combined with artwork created for various exhibitions. Show deadlines have a way of bringing the prolific-ness out of you! And being a “starving artist” doesn’t hurt, either.

VL: Ah ha ha! Yes, I agree. Hunger can be quite a motivator.

As a young kid, what was the worst trouble you ever got into? And what was your punishment?

HH: On the whole, I think I was a pretty good kid. My mouth, on the other hand, liked to get me into trouble. And when it did, into the corner I’d go! We spent a lot of quality time together, me, my mouth, and The Corner.

But I do remember this one thing….

Royal Pig Hannah Harrison
Royal Pig by Hannah Harrison

It was winter in New Hampshire, and me and the little boy that lived across the street (let’s call him Ishmael), were in my back yard playing and shoveling snow. We were probably about seven or eight. Anyway, I had this kid-size shovel—probably about three feet long—and the blade was made out of blue metal. Anyway, I got it in my head that Ishmael would be impressed if I got a big shovel full of snow and hurled it over my shoulder—you know, show off my big Popeye muscles. So I got a big shovel full of snow, hurled it over my shoulder, and… THUNK, nailed poor Ish (who was standing right behind me) square in the eyebrow with the metal blade. Oops. Well, if Ishmael was impressed by my super-human strength, he didn’t take the time to say so. He was too busy crying and running back to his house across the street. I knew I was in for it. I had been showing off, and I might have even killed Ishmael. Forget the The Corner—that was kid stuff. Surely the dreaded spoon was more befitting. But I didn’t get the corner or the spoon. No. My punishment was much, much worse. My mother marched me through the snow over to Ishmael’s house and made me…APOLOGIZE! Apologize? The horror! By this point, I was crying pretty good myself. But I did manage to stutter out a snot-filled apology. And, despite his scar and my wounded pride, Ishmael and I were able to stay friends.

VL: Is it wrong that I find that story hilarious? I can relate to poor Ishmael, though. My brother once thought it would be a great idea to throw a shovel up in the air. I caught it with my forehead.

HH: Oh nooo! I’m glad you lived to tell the tale.

VL: What did you want to be when you were in grade school? What influenced this choice?

HH: Oh, man. I have always wanted to be a children’s book writer and illustrator! I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love to draw. As a kid, I would spend hours on the living room floor sketching out the stories from my Little Thinker Tapes (do you remember those?). And then, when I was in second and third grade, I won the Young Author Book Awards, and got to represent my elementary school at a statewide conference. I was able to hear real-life authors speak about making books, and I was hooked. I knew that was what I wanted to do when I grew up. I couldn’t think of anything better!

VL: When did you know you wanted to be a writer/or to pursue the career you chose? When did you start pursuing that seriously?

Black Cat in Ridiculous Green Hat by Hannah Harrison, image from author's website.
Black Cat in Ridiculous Green Hat by Hannah Harrison

HH: Like I said, I’ve always known I wanted to do this, and so I’ve been taking baby steps towards the dream for pretty much my whole life. I always took art classes in school. And whenever there wasn’t an art class that fit my schedule, my teachers let me make art classes that fit my schedule. I took private art lessons, too. I majored in art, and minored in creative writing at Colby College. I created an independent study in children’s book writing, and did an internship with Kevin Hawkes. As a Senior Scholar, I explored the connection between writing and painting. After graduation, I worked for a sign company and in an art gallery, I painted theatre sets, and worked in an elementary school—all jobs that, to me, related back to the ultimate dream of doing books. But I guess you could say that I really got serious in 2002, when I joined SCBWI. That’s when I realized just how much work I still had cut out for me if I ever wanted to get published. Who knew there was so much to learn about the craft and the industry!? Who knew it was going to be so competitive?! Who knew it was going to be so…hard? I pursued children’s books seriously(ish) for 10 years before I got my first offer on a book.

VL: It’s amazing that people think writing books for children is easy, isn’t it?

Were you ever afraid of the dark, of anything under your bed or in your closet?

HH: Yes, yes, and YES! That’s why I always remained under the covers up to my nose, and never, ever, let an appendage drift too close to the edge of the bed. Ever. And if I had absolutely no choice but use the bathroom in the middle of the night, I leapt like a gazelle from said bed in order to completely clear the grabbing zone. And then I scampered. I scampered like my little life depended on it. Because it did.

VL: Ha ha! I would do the same thing. One of the drawbacks to having a very active imagination is that you can visualize monsters right into being.

Did you ever have a clubhouse or secret place of your own? What did you do there?

HH: Yes! My dad built me the most amazing treehouse in our back yard. It had stairs, a wrap-around porch, a skylight, a dutch door, windows with shutters, gingerbread trim, and carpeting…it sounds a lot nicer than the house I live in now, actually. Did I mention my dad’s the best? My friends and I had a lot of macaroni and cheese lunches up there. And I do remember my cousin and I camping out up there one night…until our imaginations got the best of us (see above), and my dad pretended to be a bear. It was also my favorite place to practice my flute. I’m guessing it was my parent’s favorite place for me to practice my flute, too (not so sure about the neighbors).

Top Hat Terrier
Top Hat Terrier by Hannah Harrison

What was the scariest thing that you ever experienced as a kid?

HH: I was once attacked by a bear in my tree house.

VL: Yikes! I hope the bear was your dad.

What was the worst job you ever had while going to school?

HH: The summer I spent in a factory packaging up heat-sinks was pretty awesome.

VL: Did your friends ever come by while you were working and embarrass you?

HH: Nope. Strangely enough, no one wanted to spend their summer afternoons hanging out in the dark, windowless, unconditioned, heat-sink factory. But fortunately, the three older ladies I worked with took care of the embarrassment factor by giving me the nickname “Sasquatch”. Apparently, the work boots at the end of my skinny little legs were quite becoming.

VL: Oh, what an unfortunate nickname!

HH: Tell me about it.

VL: What are you currently working on?

HH: I’m currently working on raising our four year old daughter. I am also working on the illustrations for my second book with Dial, Bernice gets Carried Away.

VL: How exciting! I can’t wait to see it.

What would be your dream assignment/what would you most like to write about?

HH: Hmmm. I’m not really sure! Maybe something with a koala bear in it? Oooh! Or a duck-billed platypus? They’re kind of adorable. See, it’s dilemmas like these that remind me just how much I LOVE MY JOB!

VL: We’re so very glad that you do! I sense there will be plenty more books from you coming our way. Thank you for being here, Hannah. I look forward to seeing your work in print very soon!

HH: It’s been my pleasure! Thanks so much for having me, Valerie!

Learn more about Hannah Harrison and see more of her artwork on her website here.

EXTRAORDINARY JANE is now available for preorders. Click on any of the retailer logos below to order your copy, today.

Extraordianry Jane art

Pub date – Feb 6, 2014 by Dial

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Recap of our Fantastical SCBWI OK Spring Conference – Part Two

OnceUponAtime

First off, I want to apologize for leaving you all in suspense much longer than I had anticipated. Shortly after writing Part One, I came down with some form of spring plague that left me miserable and bed-ridden. I love ending a post on a cliff-hanger, but more than a week is torturous. Although my family, who had to endure my wretched state of being and constant whining, were probably tortured more than all of you.

Back to our regularly scheduled program!

So, after lunch, where my table dined with the lovely Claire Evans (and we learned a little bit about her book preferences; she loves books with convoluted family histories, books where the setting is really important and becomes almost like a character itself, and books about sports), I made it to the illustrators’ showcase room and had a few minutes to peruse through some of the portfolios. Always a fun thing to do. The range of art and talent was incredible.

I made it back in the nick of time to see Katie Bignell, Assistant Editor of Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Katie BignellBooks, take the stage. The title of her presentation was the Best Practices for Writing Your Best Picture Book. She gave us a detailed hand out so we could concentrate more on what she was saying than on taking copious notes. (I still took notes, but that’s just how I help my brain process information. Super Nerd.)

She talked about the best words, the best places, the best characters, and the best stories.

When talking specifically about the best words, she said:

What if Sendak had said…

‘Let the wild rumpus party start’?

How would that have changed the story? Use the best words.

Katie has an unusual background for an editor. She is an accomplished dancer and has studied all kinds of dance for many years. She actually put some of her skills to good use, keeping us awake after lunch by showing us how movement was important. She also said writers should give illustrators movement to illustrate in their stories. Her dancing talent shown most brightly when she discussed rhythm. As a dancer, this was her favorite part of picture books. She said something so lovely that I would never forget it:

“By the very nature of our beating hearts, we are hard-wired to crave rhythm.”

Ah! I could’ve just died that was so fantastic.

Isn’t that just gorgeous? And true?

Who hasn’t seen a child move with abandon to music – before they grow up and become aware/self-conscious of how others see them when they dance?

She said because of this innate sense of rhythm, we can also tell when something is out of rhythm. That is why you should read your book out loud over and over. Have several friends read it out loud as well. Make note of what what sounds good to your ear and what doesn’t.  Make note of when your readers trip over words. Revise it until it sings.

So hard to believe this was one of Katie’s first presentations. She was amazing.

To learn more about Katie Bignell and her imprint, go to Facebook and like her imprint page, Katherine Tegen Books. Katherine Tegen Books has also just started a Tumblr page here. You can also follow Katie on Twitter here.

Our final speaker was literary agent Karen Grencik from Red Fox Literary. Karen talked to us about rejection; something every writer Karen Grencikgets to know intimately. Karen was a very passionate speaker who truly identified with writers and their struggles. It was surprising and refreshing to see someone who felt our misery and took it to heart. You just wanted to hug her.

She told us that when she started out, “I was as scared as you.” In the beginning, there was no one to teach her how to be an agent. She said she made every mistake you hear about at conferences, including chasing speakers out to their cars and asking them to read pages.

Ouch!

Then she started learning. And people were kind to her and forgiving of her earlier missteps. And she kept learning. Now her little boutique agency (that she runs with former editor-turned-agent Abigail Samoun) is really taking off.

Karen gave us an extensive hand out on reasons for rejections (101 reasons to be exact, and they were divided by reading level – picture books, chapter books, middle grade, young adult – fantastic stuff!) and she went through several of the big ones in detail. I’ll share one reason with you here:

#1 reason for rejection: Too quiet to compete or to stand out in today’s competitive market.

What was Karen’s answer to this? Move on and let your heart determine what you write! You’re going to find so many reasons for rejection out there, so you’re either going to quit or keep going.

If writing is your passion, stick with it and learn your craft. Karen did. Who cares how many mistakes you make or how long it takes you to get there?  Don’t pay attention to anybody else’s timeline for success. Yours is the only one that matters and it takes as long as it takes.

To learn more about Karen Grencik, check out her agency website here or follow her on Facebook here.

Next was the Speaker’s Panel where we heard their responses to our pitches. All were read out anonymously, although I did recognize several from our Pitch Clinic that we held over on Twitter prior to the conference. One pitch from the Pitch Clinic received three thumbs up from the panel. That was very exciting! (Congrats! You know who you are, you tyrannical squirrel-lover, you!)

Final announcements came after that where the winners of Best in Show and the Nita Buckley Scholarship fund were awarded.

For the Best in Show, all of the illustrator portfolios were judged by our speakers and the winner…Lauren Juda! She won a free registration to our Agent Day Conference coming up this October, which is a really exciting event!

For Agent Day, we have three agents speaking (and critiquing first pages) along with a special keynote speaker. The agents are: Natalie Fischer Lakosil from the Bradford Agency, Danielle Smith from the Foreward Agency, and Ann Behar from the Scovil Galen Gosh Agency. Right now, registration is only open to SCBWI members, but registration opens up to everyone July 1st. Stayed tuned for more details!

The Nita Buckley Scholarship had so many exciting entries that the  judges decided to give out a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place award. Make sure to look for a write-up about Nita and this scholarship in the next SCBWI bulletin.

  • The 3rd place honor of a free registration to the Fall Agent Day Conference  went to Patricia Harvey(woohoo!).
  • The 2nd place honor of a free registration to the 2014 SCBWI OK Spring conference went to Regina Garvie. (These first two ladies were seated at my table. It was very exciting!)
  • And the 1st place prize of $1500 toward the cost of the SCBWI LA Summer conference went to Brenda Maier. (Brenda is such a lovely and talented young woman. This will be her first LA conference and I know she’s really excited!)

Congratulations to all of the winners!

What an excellent way to end the conference…although some of us didn’t quite end the evening just then. We headed out to a local eatery for dinner with the speakers to unwind and to take over the establishment that wasn’t quite prepared to be completely invaded. They couldn’t fit us all at one table or even inside the building. Here are a few pics of our fine folks kicking back after a day of literary camaraderie. Thanks so much to everyone who made this conference possible and to our dynamic leader, Anna Myers, to whom we all owe so much and without whom this conference wouldn’t be what it is today. We love you, Anna!

SCBWIOK