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The Art of Friendship in Children’s Picture Books

I really enjoyed this workshop at the FL SCBWI Conference in Miami led by Tamar Brazis, the Editorial Director of Abrams Books for Young Readers and Amulet Books.  She has focused on picture books and middle-grade fiction for the past seven years, and has worked on the New York Times bestselling Jellybeans series by Laura Numeroff, Me, Frida illustrated by David Diaz, City I Love by beloved children’s poet Lee Bennett Hopkins, and Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes, a debut novel by Jonathan Auxier.   

She loves comforting picture books, and ones that she has a strong emotional reaction to.  Her favorite book is Frog and Toad. She also shared other friendship stories that she loves, and I can see why they resonated with her (and me).  One of my favorites is Waddles, by David McPhail.  It's such a sweet book filled with 'aw' moments and it brought tears to my eyes by the end.  I also had a huge emotional reaction to Making a Friend by Alison McGhee, and enjoyed City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems, and The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell (which gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling by the second to last line...and the very last line was a wonderful surprise).

A couple of the stories she shared with us were framed by seasons, which worked really well.  She told us that friendship stories can be between two children, a child and a stuffed animal, or two objects like a sock and a mitten (I never heard of Smitten before, but I can’t wait to read it). 

Tamar spoke about creating dynamics of relationships in a very human way.  She gave us a great exercise to help create memorable characters.  Really think about a friendship you had when you were younger, and write down all the details.  I LOVE this exercise!  Not only does did it tap into great details I can use in my manuscripts, but I can see how it could spark great new picture book ideas.  Besides using it to flesh out existing manuscripts and the new ones I’m writing for the 12 x 12 Challenge, I’ll definitely use it during the next PiBoIdMo.    

She also did a great second exercise, and explained a third right before the time was up.  I can’t give out all of Tamar’s secrets though—so definitely take her picture book workshop if you have a chance!  It was full of information and inspiration, and many of us left with ideas or scenes we'd like to use in future picture book manuscripts.

It was great taking the picture book workshop with Nancy Viau.  I met her for a few minutes at Rutgers in 2005, and have been online friends with her for years.  I loved having a chance to see her again and have her sign my copy of Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head, which Tamar Brazis edited…and Nancy also has a picture book coming out with her in the spring of 2013 entitled I Can Do It! 

*If you're looking for more awesome picture book info, check out part 1 and part 2 of my posts from the Picture Book Intensive with editor Alexandra Penfold and author Lisa Wheeler from the FL SCBWI Orlando event in June. 


**If you want to do a super-quick favor for a very sweet editor and talented baker, please click on this Facebook link and 'like' the photo of these adorable Cookie Monster cookies that Alexandra Penfold entered in a contest.  The winner gets a trip to Seattle to visit CakeSpy, and she's so close to winning first place...but the competition is really tough.  Look at this photo--she definitely deserves to win!


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( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 25th, 2012 02:18 am (UTC)
Good Luck in 12 x12
One of these days I would love to take a picture book intensive writing course. They sound so beneficial and motivating. Thank you for sharing your experiences and I wish you good luck in the 12 x 12. Look forward to connecting with you in the future.
Jan. 25th, 2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
Re: Good Luck in 12 x12
You're welcome, Eric. I hope you're able to take a picture book intensive, too. I absolutely love coming home with new tools and inspiration, and wish I could go more than a couple times a year!
Mirka Breen
Jan. 25th, 2012 04:25 am (UTC)
You're such a great resource.
Jan. 25th, 2012 11:12 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much, Mirka. :)
Tina Wheatcraft Cho
Jan. 26th, 2012 03:13 am (UTC)
Thanks, Mindy, on sharing your experiences. Since I'm unable to attend these conferences, I like reading about them. I'll have to check out those friendship themed books, as my fist 12x12 story is based on making friends!
~Tina Cho
Jan. 26th, 2012 03:40 am (UTC)
Re: thanks
You're welcome, Tina. I really love the friendship books she shared with us. Let me know what you think of them!

I hope the writing exercise and info helps you strengthen your new manuscript. It's amazing how many gems we have hidden in our memories. I can't wait to dig out more of mine!

Good luck with your revision of your first 12 x 12 story. Do you know what you'll be writing about in February?
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 7th, 2012 03:54 am (UTC)
You're welcome, Joanna. I love City Dog, Country Frog, too!
Christina Farley
Feb. 5th, 2012 01:34 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the notes. Facinating! Sounds like you had a great time. I wish I could've gone! Maybe next year? I'm toying with a PB idea that I've had forever in my mind, just haven't had time to sit down and work on it. But PB's are so hard to write! Give me a 90k novel any day over a 1k PB!
Feb. 7th, 2012 03:58 am (UTC)
You're welcome, Christy. I wish you could've gone, too, and hope I'll see you in Orlando!

Ooh--can't wait to hear more about your PB. They're definitely harder to write than they look...but they're so much fun! They go through a bazillion revisions--but while working on a novel for so long I love the thrill of completing a new PB draft or round of revisions.

I've been meaning to send you an e-mail to see how you've been doing. Hopefully later this week! It's been way too long.
Mar. 16th, 2012 02:51 pm (UTC)
Cynsational News & Giveaways
User cynleitichsmith referenced to your post from Cynsational News & Giveaways saying: [...] lity." See also Mindy's notes on Picture Book Workshop with Abrams Editor Tamar Brazis [...]
Mar. 16th, 2012 06:14 pm (UTC)
Re: Cynsational News & Giveaways
Thanks, Cyn!
Mar. 21st, 2013 04:24 pm (UTC)
Hi Mindy, I have an upcoming manuscript critique with her. Thanks for providing a little information on what to expect. :)

-Hannah Holt
Mar. 27th, 2013 11:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Thanks
You're welcome, Hannah. I had a picture book critique with her, and her feedback was wonderful. It's also easy to see how enthusiastic she is about picture books.

Good luck with your critique!
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )


Mindy's head shot
Mindy Alyse Weiss
I write humorous middle-grade novels with heart and quirky picture books.

I'm an Administrator on the SCBWI Blueboard, the FL SCBWI Newsletter Editor and Critique Group Coordinator, and a proud member of From The Mixed Up Files...of Middle-Grade Authors

I've been married for twenty years and have two beautiful daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix pup who was rescued from the Everglades.

I've been published in Highlights three times and placed in the 80th Writer's Digest Competition.


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