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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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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?


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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