Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday Feedback: Josh Funk & The Read Aloud Picture Book

Hey, all,

Just back from one of those totally inspiring few days spent in the nerdy world of #nErDcampMI, where I even hosted an impromptu session on Teachers Write! so we have a bunch of amazing new campers, and I hope they're peeking in here.

A few times over those days, I crossed paths with my friend, Josh Funk, who told me more than once how excited he is to be hosting Friday Feedback this week.

I'm excited too. Not only do I know I have many aspiring picture book writers here who like to participate, but his post is amazing and inspiring and informative! Since, I'm never the best one to give picture book advice -- hey, I'd still like to write my own one day but have no idea how! -- I'm super excited he agreed to guest host!

If you post non-picture book excerpts -- and of course feel free to! -- I will do my usual chiming in in the comments, but otherwise, I'm going to leave it all up to him! You couldn't be in better hands. (And if you're new here, and before you proceed, please take a moment to click this link to read the Friday Feedback RULES):

Photo Credit: Carter Hasegawa

So, without further ado, here is the awesome Josh Funk, author of LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST, THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH, and wonderful forthcoming titles like IT'S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK. Be sure to check them all out and order them in to your libraries and classrooms if you don't already have them (are you crazy?!)!  

See you in the comments. Here's Josh:

Hooray! It’s Friday of Week 1! 

I’m thrilled that Gae & Co. invited me to join in #TeachersWrite - and I’m so excited to be able to share a work in progress, for your feedback.

First, I’d like to say - WOW! I don’t know how you do it. You educators work 80-100 hour weeks … AND you write! I’m not a teacher, but I’m married to one - and I can emphatically (and empathetically) say that you have the hardest job there is (hopefully it’s also an emotionally and psychologically rewarding job, too).

But (oops - sorry) you don’t want to think about school. It’s summer! Let’s write!

Gae tells me there are many of you interested and working on picture books! Great! Before we start, I want to go over a few basics by defining what a picture book actually is. At its core, there are four components, as I see it. A picture book is:

1.     A Story
2.     With Illustrations
3.     For Children
4.     Meant to Be Read Aloud

Yes, there are exceptions to all of the above (concept books and poems might not have narrative, The Book with No Pictures, parodies for adults, and early readers). But I believe that for the most part, the above applies.

What I’d like to focus on today is #4 - A picture book is meant to be read aloud - and usually read out loud by an adult to a child. We, the parents, teachers, librarians, and all adult readers have to perform picture books in front of children.

I know not everyone is a born thespian, but the best picture books (in my opinion) make it very easy for the adult reader to play act. In fact, one of the exceptions above, BJ Novak’s The Book with No Pictures, does a great job of forcing the reader to perform.

So I decided to write my own book that forced the reader to really get into character. If you know me, you’ll know most of my picture books are in rhyme. But my first non-rhyming picture book is coming out this September - It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk.

Yes, it’s a fractured fairy-tale, but not just a fractured fairy-tale - it’s a META-fractured-fairy-tale. Jack doesn’t want to do to what the reader says - and all the reader wants to do is tell the traditional story. So you, the adult reader, get to argue with characters in the book (and they argue back).

Here are a few samples pages to give you the picture (images courtesy of Two Lions, art by Edwardian Taylor):

Jack - Pages 14-15

Jack - Pages 20-21

The story evolved in script form, as my kids and I would read it out loud to friends and family members (the kids playing Jack and the Giant, while I played the storyteller). And while it wasn’t a motivating factor as I was writing the story, I do think it would make for a fun reader’s theater.

And. . . since it's Friday FEEDBACK, the writing sample I’m sharing today is from a follow-up manuscript called It’s Not Hansel and Gretel. The story is told by the same reader/narrator whose only goal is to tell the traditional story. I intend it to be the same format with colored speech bubbles for each of the characters. The section below starts on the third spread of the story:

Page 10-11
When the sky grew dark, Papa ran off.
Hansel: Gretel, I’m worried.
Gretel: Don’t fret, Hansel. I’m sure Papa will be right back with blankets and a bit of food. Our parents love us.
No! He’s not coming back!

Luckily, Hansel had left a trail of breadcrumbs leading back to home.
Hansel: Breadcrumbs? I didn’t bring any breadcrumbs.
Gretel: What kind of person saves breadcrumbs?
I … don’t really … know.
Hansel: It’s a time of great famine. If there are any breadcrumbs left, we eat them.
Okay! Forget the breadcrumbs!
Gretel: Now I’m hungry! Why’d you have to bring up breadcrumbs?!

Page 12-13
The next morning, Hansel and Gretel were still lost and alone. They spent all day searching for a way back home, but found nothi—
Gretel: Look! There's our house!
Hansel: Yay! We found it!
No! You can't find it!
Gretel: Excuse me, but we've lived on the outskirts of these woods our whole lives. I think we know our way around.

Page 14-15
[inside the house]
Hansel: Mama? Papa? Where are you?
Gretel: Maybe Papa got lost on the way home to get blankets and food? He does have a terrible sense of direction.
Hansel: But where’s Mama?
Gretel: She’s probably out searching for us.
Hansel [crying]: Waaa! Waa-aa-aa!
Gretel: Look what you did! You made Hansel cry!
I - I didn’t mean to do that.
Gretel: Don’t worry, Hansel. We can find Mama and Papa ourselves!
Hansel: *sniff* Okay.
Wait! You can’t leave without ME! I’m the one telling the story!

One side note - I normally don’t paginate my stories in early drafts. In fact, until recently I didn’t do much pagination at all, that was often left to the editor and art director. Lately, I feel that I have a better understanding of how pagination might work well with my texts (what and how much could/should be illustrated on any given page). If you don’t feel comfortable (as I certainly didn’t until I had gone through the process a half dozen times with editors) - I recommend not worrying about it. If you do feel confident about paginating your story before submission, it can sometimes be helpful - but it is certainly not required or expected.

Assuming this book will be the same length (40 pages) as It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk, there will be 16 full spreads. For more information on lengths of books, see Debbie Ohi’s post explaining how 40 page self-ended picture books work.

So maybe as you write your next picture book manuscript, you might keep in mind the fact that this will be read aloud to a child by an adult - and see if that changes how your story evolves. 

And, now, since it's Friday Feedback, I’d love to hear your feedback on this portion of the It’s Not Hansel and Gretel manuscript, and look forward to any writing you might share for feedback in the comments! Thanks, in advance,


p.s. Again, for those of you who don't already know them, please first read THE RULES!!

Find out more about Josh Funk at and even more on Twitter @joshfunkbooks.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Friday Feedback: Feedback, the Collaboration of Writing, and a Thick Skin, with my dear friend Nora Raleigh Baskin


Congratulations! You are here.

Teachers Write!

Friday Feedback.

Take a deep breath, and bask in your bravery for just one moment.

You are here.

Ready and willing to put your words, your creativity, a little bit of your soul on the line.

It is something.

Take it in.

Now, let’s get one thing straight. It isn’t going to get much easier from here. You’ll need a thick skin, but you can’t be a great artist with a thick skin. So you’ll fake it, instead. You’ll weather the blows. You’ll develop mindful mantras like, “Eyes on your own page." "It’s not personal.”

But, of course, it always is.

So, instead, you’ll take solace in learning that we all feel this way. No matter how accomplished. No matter how experienced. We lay ourselves bare for all the world to judge, to hate or love, when we put words on the page for others to read.

But until we get to that point, writing tends to be a mostly solitary process. We write in a vacuum, and limit what we share. The good part of this is that there’s no one to judge us (but ourselves) until we are ready, until we hand the manuscript off to beta readers, or agents, or editors.

We buy ourselves time to be ready. . .

I don’t mean to break in here, Gae, but I think if I just tweak your words a tiny bit, the whole thing would sound so much better.

Delete some things here and there. I don’t really have any idea what you are trying to say...

On second thought maybe just delete this entire section.
Isn’t it more powerful if you end here?

Except, if you collaborate, that is.

That, in the red font? That’s my dear friend Nora Raleigh Baskin.

And here she is in this photo --->

Cute! Isn't she?

[Nora, not to be a pain, but do you have to use red for your part? Red seems so angry. Maybe if you picked pink, or green or lavender. Lavender says, "I respect you." Red says, fuck off. Do it my way. . . does that make sense. . .?]

Nora and I just collaborated on a novel. And it was a pretty good precursor to all of this. Teachers Write stuff. Friday Feedback. And, remembering how fragile the writer's ego is. . .

Start to finish, it was an experience like no other. Exhilarating and painful, a constant ability to brainstorm and bounce ideas off another person, but also a constant feeling of being criticized, judged over the shoulder, having an editor from the get go, if you will. Often before the words were even ready for one.

We laughed.
We fought.
We cried.

But we realized too, that in no other field, no other endeavor…

[Nora, in no other endeavor, what? I’m stuck here. Can you jump in?]

Sure, but first, can you rewrite that last paragraph first, and move up that last sentence, or maybe down?… And, oh my god, did you really just use that cliche?

I know you know that any of my five thousand comments to your work are merely in “suggested mode.”  So, don’t get your feelings hurt. And, you know, of course, you don’t have to accept any of  them. . .

In no other endeavor is there the ability to insert ourselves -- as a third party -- into another person’s work. . . another person’s art.

Beta reader. Agent. Publisher. Editor. Consumer.

“I’m sorry, I can’t represent this.”
“Can’t buy it.”
“Would buy it if you’d just consider. . . Could the MC be an Asian girl instead of an Irish boy? And what do you think of making it set in an alternate universe?”

“I’m sorry, but this isn’t working.” “Who thought teens would even care about this subject?”

“No stars.”

“Sorry, we just don’t have the shelf space at Barnes & Noble.”

Your first Goodreads review full of snarky gifs. . .

Please, don’t try this at home - we’re professionals.

Yeah, right.

* * * * *
Where were we?

Oh, yeah. So we wrote this manuscript --
and #nErDcamps galore,
the past year has been a bit of
the NorGae Show! 

And we wrote the entire thing in one single Google doc. which allowed the other person to, not only, see our chapters before we had had a chance to edit or revise them ourselves, but sometimes to actually WATCH the other person typing.

In fact, we wrote our ending at the exact same time! Sometimes losing our cursor as the words shifted further down or further up depending on what the other one of us was typing.

We also left each other endless (sometimes 20 -25 a day) vox messages, FB messages, texts, and voicemails. We skyped and we talked on the phone. We were as close to being in each other’s minds as was possible. (spoiler alert: this process mimicked our characters in a way nothing else could have done)

And it nearly killed us.  Okay, that kind of feels melodramatic. . . how about something like, "And it was really hard"? Besides, DO WE HAVE A POINT? WE NEED TO GET THE POINT OF THIS POST HERE, OR NO ONE IS GOING TO KEEP READING!!

But here’s the thing: We tested the boundaries in many ways, and dove into each other’s words and ego and heart and brain way before any of it was fully formed -- And, isn’t that what teachers do to students all the time, and then wonder why they so hate writing?

[Ah, there it was. I guess I just needed to be a bit more patient. . . ]

At the same time- We loved it. We ate it up.

We never wrote alone. We never had a thought or idea that we couldn’t share and expand on, brain storm, get excited about, or wonder if anyone else would like it or not.
We had immediate feedback.
Immediate gratification, even if that came at the risk of heartbreak.

It was exhilarating. And, terrifying!

I began my writing day at the crack of dawn. Gae would start later and write into the wee hours of the night. I’d go to bed knowing I’d wake up to the horror of slashed lines and comments and/or comments like: Brilliant. Love. Great!!

And that I would have the honor (and I mean that) to read the story that Gae left for me while I was sleeping.

* * * *

The truth is this was the risk/reward system we, as writers, all choose when we decide to put words on the page.

Because… now, wait for it. . . wait for it… that is what writing is -- It’s all about the Feedback.

The process of writing is not complete until someone reads it.

The process of writing is not complete until someone reads it. Unlike any other art form that can stand on its own -- A painting on a wall gets looked at. A dance performance gets watched. A piece of music is listened to.

But writing. . .  writing needs an active participant. It needs the agreement of the reader to invest the time and WORK, often hours, sometimes days and weeks, of commitment. The words come out of your head, onto the paper, into someone else’s head, translated thusly, and out comes something else entirely. It is a shared experience.

Some might argue -- claim they only write for themselves. They journal (which is a whole different animal) or they don’t care what anyone else thinks of their work.

“I just write for myself.”

But I’m going to go out on a limb and say they are lying (even our reclusive Emily Dickinson shared her work and depended heavily on the praise of her beloved sister-in-law).

And this act of sharing? Well, ultimately. . .

It’s exhilarating.

Yes. That! And you are all here for Friday Feedback, for this reason. To share your words and feel the exhilaration.

You are scared, and you are brave; you are taking the risk because you crave that very intimate human connection.

It is both a higher and primal calling.

Nora and I both understand (now more than ever) the trust you put in the universe and us when you share your work here, when you truly allow yourself to be exposed and open to the judgement of another.

It’s scary as hell.

And it about the most exciting thing you can do while sitting in a chair.

So, woo we go!


How does it work? Easy peasy:

Every week, I -- or one of my awesome guest authors -- will share a tiny bit of writing wisdom followed by an excerpt of our own ROUGH, UNPUBLISHED writing for your feedback. In return, we offer you the same opportunity: to share a brief excerpt in the comments for feedback from us -- AND from other campers!). 

See? Simple and exciting. There are just a few RULES: 

1. The Feedback should be specific and always be given in this order:

  • WHAT WORKS (and why)?;
  • WHAT MIGHT NOT BE WORKING if anything (and why)?; and

Please note the order of those. Here at Friday Feedback, our first goal is to be encouraging. We appreciate the gems in one another's writing before we offer up constructive criticism.

2. The excerpts should not exceed three (3) paragraphs, if long, five (5) paragraphs if mostly dialogue or otherwise short.

There may be 30 - 50 excerpts up here on a busy week for me and/or my guest authors to read. If you put up more than the requested length, we do not promise to read beyond the stated limits. You may post excerpts through Saturday and I will check in, but I do not require my guest authors to read past close of business Friday. 

3. We ask you to remember this: there is only so much we can realistically glean from a brief excerpt out of context. 

Friday Feedback is intended to be instructional and inspiring, but our feedback out of context of a full work, must always be taken as merely that. Your job here is to take in the information as you will. Keep what you like. Toss what you don't. In the end, you are the boss of your own writing.

4. You may be the recipient of one of my patented "Superspeed Flash Edits."

Okay, fine, they're not patented, whatever. Sometimes, if your excerpt lends itself to me doing one of these, I will do so: namely, zip through your piece editing for passive voice (where not intended) unneeded words, wrong punctuation, repetition, etc.

I will NOT edit your own unique voice or substantive writing. This is an exercise intended to demonstrate how revision/clean up/intentional writing can truly make our voices pop and shine. It is intended to make you aware of your writing and tics.

If you do NOT want to be the recipient of a Superspeed Flash Edit for any reason, please message me at

So, without further ado, here's a brief excerpt -- the opening -- of our collaborative book out on submission, currently titled THE CLARITY SISTERS OF LAUREL HAVEN! 

We look forward to your feedback, and giving ours in the comments! And, FWIW, other than a few Beta readers and our agents, you are all the first to see it! 

And, of course, please support Nora by adding her extraordinary books, NINE, TEN: A September 11 Story; RUBY ON THE OUTSIDE; ANYTHING BUT TYPICAL and others to your classrooms and libraries! 


They say I am the stronger sister. The more talkative one, the more opinionated and outgoing, so how does that explain Leila grabbing the scissors off the bathroom sink and whacking at her hair, grabbing a fistful and just chopping it off like that?
 And who left those scissors there anyway? 
Everyone knows Baby Gene can reach the sink now.
“What in God’s name are you doing?” I say, but for some reason I don’t move to stop her.  We are only a reflection after all. In the mirror, Leila is on the right and I am on the left, when in actuality it is the opposite. So I just stand there next to my sister and watch.
            “Cutting my hair,” Leila answers with no affect whatsoever.  She stares off past us in the mirror as a long curl of blonde hair falls onto the side of the sink, then slips to the floor, then another, and another. Something about her gaze makes me worry. She’s been acting off lately. Weird and distant. I worry the whole Seekers thing may be getting to her.
            I should take the scissors, stop her before it’s too late, but of course, it’s already too late. Her face is already changing, right before my eyes and I feel my breath catch in the center of my chest.
            Why are you doing this? Why do you want to?
            “Relax, Gabby. It’s just hair,” Leila says, but as steady as is her hand, her voice shakes. She knows, too, that Grayson may be mad since it will probably interfere with his vision. “It grows back,” is all she adds.