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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Passion for Picture Books - Evelyn Christensen, Interview

This week, I have the pleasure to introduce Evelyn Christensen who is an award winning author and puzzle creator extraordinaire.  Ev is another long-term Pens and Brushes member.  As a member she provides us with a keen eye for detail and grammar.  She always has great suggestions for potential publishers.  Ev's website has the most comprehensive  information on educational publishing a writer can find.
Evelyn's Educational Market Information  

Ev, what drew you in to writing picture books for children?

I write picture books because I love little children.  When I started out my teaching career I first taught high school math. I then got my doctorate and planned to teach math methods to pre-service teachers, but I thought it would be good to have some elementary school experience before I tried to tell  prospective elementary teachers how to teach.  I ended up falling in love with teaching the little ones, and that’s what I did the rest of my teaching career.  Having three little ones of my own also helped. Reading to children and helping them discover the joy of learning to read themselves are two of the most rewarding things I know.  Writing picture books has become, for me, one more part of that enchanting world of children’s books.
The art part of picture books just adds to the attraction for me.  I’ve always loved art—took a couple of studio courses in college and a couple of art history courses.  I don’t consider myself a professional artist, but I did do the illustrations (just simple line drawings) for three of my published puzzle books.

In writing your manuscripts, what area do you get the most satisfaction in developing and exploring? 

I enjoy developing and exploring character most.  Because picture books are so limited in word count, much of that developing and exploring may never show up in the final text, but my characters are very real to me.

Is there an area you find challenging?

I have the most difficulty in developing story arc and plot.  I have a tendency to write manuscripts that are ‘listy.’  A lot of picture books by other authors, which I like, are also listy, so I don’t personally see a problem with that kind of book, but I’ve heard lots of negative remarks about listy manuscripts from editors and agents.  It’s an area of my writing that I’m working on and trying to improve.

If you could choose one pb author to spend a day with, who would that be and what would you want to receive from your time with them? 

I’ve thought long and hard about my response to this question.  I know you’re expecting me to choose someone famous, but I’m going to be perfectly honest and admit that I would be intimidated to spend a day with someone famous I didn’t already have a personal relationship with.  If I could choose just one pb author to spend the day with, I would choose my very dear friend Mirka Breen.  Mirka is a wonderful writer, and I love her pb stories.  She and I have known each other for four and a half years and been through a lot together, but it’s all been by email; we’ve never met.  So I would love to spend the day with her.  The experience would bring me great joy and inspiration, because Mirka is that kind of person, and I would feel free to pick her very knowledgeable brain about any aspects of pb writing and subbing which I haven’t already bugged her about.

Ev, what is your favorite picture book to read and why do you never tire of the book?

I can’t choose ‘ a favorite’ when it comes to books, any more than I can choose a favorite when it comes to children, but I’ll tell you one of my favorites, as an adult, to read aloud to children.  This will seem very unoriginal, but I truly have always delighted in reading The Cat in the Hat.  I read it so many times to my own children that I practically had it memorized.  It is simply fun to read!  The flow of the language, the rhyming, the rhythm, plus the delightful juxtaposition of the serious-minded fish with the radically fun Cat—it is all a superbly delightful way to entertain a child.

Thank you Ev for joining me on my blog post, Passion for Picture Books.  I appreciate your support in my life and my writing.  Your gentleness in pointing out subtleties or being gently frank with me when I am traveling in my creative head always bring me back down to earth.  I count on you.  You are the grounding for Pens and Brushes.

Ev loves writing picture books, but she also loves creating resources to make learning fun for kids.  Forty-one of her educational puzzle books have been published, with total sales of over 350,000.  Since many of those book sales have been to teachers for use in classrooms, Ev feels good about the number of children whose lives have been touched by her books.

Her Inchimals, a write-on/wipe-off math book with accompanying animal number rods, has won a Teachers’ Choice Award, a NAPPA Gold, and a Creative Child Award.  Aba-Conundrums, Ev’s puzzle book based on the abacus, has won a Parents’ Choice Award and a Creative Child Award.  Her most recent book, published in 2011, is Coin Clues: Making Change, a set of puzzles that give children practice with money and logic.

Ev currently lives in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband Ralph, and enjoys doing volunteer work in her church and community.  Some of the things that make her smile are waterfalls, wildflowers, fireworks, rainbows, puzzles, and children.  She’s especially excited about the recent arrival of her first grandbaby! 

You can find Evelyn's books and more information about her at:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Passion for Picture Books - Mirka Breen, Interview

I am so happy to introduce my next picture book author, Mirka Breen.  Mirka is another member of our critique group Pens and Brushes.  She is valued for a great deal of expertise as a group member.  For me, I appreciate her honesty and no nonsense critiques which she balances with compassionate support.

Mirka, what is it that drew you into writing picture books?

I think of picture books as art books for all ages, including children. I never outgrew them. I cherished them as a very young reader, but began collecting them in my twenties.  Of all the art created today, I am drawn to picture books. I have never resonated to ‘art for art’s sake,’ and paintings that have a story to attach to hit the spot.

When you are writing a manuscript, what area of the story do you get the most satisfaction in developing and exploring?

For me it is almost always the underlying theme. The theme is what hounds me, and when a plot or a story arc makes its way to me, I think of it as having just gotten the anchor for the theme.
Aside from theme, do you find the most frustrating or difficult to develop?

The middle. The beginning comes to me almost in a dream state, and from the beginning I can hear the echo of the end. But the middle, or the ‘many middles…’ Now that is really challenging. I find myself relying more on perspiration, the tried and true formula, when I am moving through the middle of the story. The beginning & end are pure inspiration.

Mirka, if you could choose one pb author, author/illustrator, or illustrator that inspires you, who would you spend a day with? 

I think if I have to pick just one it would be Ruth Krauss. Although she had the benefit of collaboration with a spouse who was an illustrator, she was an ‘author only” master of the picture book form, which is already a sort of oxymoron. The purity and perfection of THE CARROT SEED just hasn’t been improved on. As a writer who doesn’t illustrate, the seemingly impossible process of generating something for a media where we are ultimately guests of the artists fascinates me.   And I heard Ruth Krauss was an interesting person.

Finally, what your favorite picture book as a child or your favorite one to read aloud as an adult?

Because I grew up in Israel the books I read are not known here. But as an adult I would choose Tim and the Blanket Thief by John Prater. Perfect poetic prose to compliment his dream-like water color art. And then there’s the main thing: the theme of overcoming fears, and what fears are made of.

I would like to thank Mirka for being a part of Passion for Picture Books and supporting my writing, illustrating, and photography.  Your cultural history and expanded world views bring a depth to our group and how we all approach the art of writing a picture book.

About Mirka

Mirka was born and raised in Jerusalem and now raises her children in California. She writes Middle Grade novels, chapter books, and story picture books. When not writing, driving her kids or cooking and cleaning, Mirka is busy submitting her stories.
Mirka's novel for middle grades, VOICE OF THUNDER, was contracted for publication. Release date from WiDo Publishing will be set soon.

You can find out more at:

And even more of her occasional musings at her blog, Mirka Muse