by Hannah Stark
Have you ever considered creating an educator’s guide or activity to go along with your book? There are so many audiences to consider; teachers, librarians, homeschoolers, parents, caregivers, and kids and there are so many possibilities when it comes to what you might make!
For the last fifteen years I’ve been teaching elementary school. I’ve received tons of educator guides to go with books and often search online for activities to supplement a lesson or text. While some publishing houses create educator guides or coloring pages, I’ve noticed some authors and illustrators also create their own. These are posted on professional websites, handed out at school events, distributed at book events, or emailed with newsletters. This post aims to help authors and illustrators come up with ideas to best supplement their book.
The Fun Stuff
Some of the easiest things you can create are printables that are purely for fun. These include mazes, unscramble the word puzzles, word searches, coloring pages, and simple games. I think of these as universal activities because everyone pretty much knows what to do when they see them. While they don’t serve that much educational purpose, they do work our brains in different ways. Here is a simple set of cards I made for a game of memory. Adults just need to print them and kids can help cut them out. Teachers like print and use activities. If there is too much prep work they might steer clear but a game like memory can become an easy classroom center after reading a book aloud.
Arts and Crafts
As an educator and a mom, my Pinterest feed is stock full of “craftivities.” Craftivities are art-based activities that tend to be SUPER cute. These hands on projects can do great things for book promotion, especially with eye-catching photos on Pinterest or Instagram. Educators like to put art projects up on bulletin boards and homeschoolers are always looking for hands on projects to break up the day.
Craftivities can be super simple like making a mask or a puppet of a character from your book. They might be a simple origami activity or what teachers call “foldables.” An example of this might be a fortune-teller. Consider projects that include reuse of materials to keep supply costs down. To create a craftivity you just need to supply directions and some photos of the process or product.
Creating supplements that can be used for deeper thinking about your book can feel daunting! Am I being developmentally appropriate? What grade level teaches this content? Is this how teachers would do it? My first piece of advice would be to talk to teachers that work with the age group your book is aimed towards. Get a sense of what kids can handle academically. Ask a teacher to help you develop an idea or ask for feedback about how to word things more clearly. Teachers are helpers and we love to share our knowledge.
It is also helpful to think about what subject(s) you’d like to create for. Maybe you can tie in some math or a science experiment? It is helpful to take a look at the Common Core Standards for you’re the grade level of your readers. While not all states follow the Common Core, they can give a sense of what is generally expected for kids at a certain age. For example, Kindergarteners are expected to be able to count by tens. This is a page I made using my main character Trucker that aligns with this standard.
There are also many ways to integrate literacy skills. You might create a list of discussion questions. Since my story is for ages 3-6 I created a list of questions to prompt discussion on my website. These include images of trucks and trains from a Pinterest board and it is intended to help develop a young child’s verbal skills.
In the classroom, the list of discussion questions below can monitor comprehension and develop key skills for young learners. This includes sequencing events, cause and effect, character and setting, problem and solution, and message. These are all foundational skills in the Kindergarten to Grade 4 classrooms.
One other idea is to write a paired text to go with your book. Paired texts are generally thought of as fiction and non-fiction texts that can be somehow paired because they connect around a topic. I could write an informational piece about trucks or trains or junctions to go with my book. This provides educators with another way to engage your book in the classroom. For a Kindergarten class doing a unit on transportation, these resources support curriculum, save educators some time and energy looking for another resource, and help develop students as narrative and informative readers.
I hope this post has helped my fellow authors and illustrators become inspired to create resources to supplement their books. If you’d like to see more of the printables I’ve created for TRUCKER AND TRAIN please visit my webpage https://www.hannahcarinastark.com/ .
We are JUST SO delighted to showcase Notable19 member Sara Shacter, author of JUST SO WILLOW!
Notable 19s: From the cover, Willow looks to be the cutest polar bear...friendly enough to be a pet, which leads us to ask: did you have a pet growing up, and has it made its way into any of your stories?
Sara: My only pet was a goldfish named Marilyn, after Marilyn Monroe. The name was my mom’s idea – Marilyn Monroe had very expressive lips, and my mom likened them to a fish’s mouth opening and closing. I know. A bit of a stretch.
Sadly, Marilyn was rather mean-spirited. When I bought her a friend, she ate it. Yet what she lacked in manners, she made up for in fortitude. I was a terrible pet owner. I wouldn’t clean her tank until the water became somewhat opaque. Occasionally I forgot to feed her. But she lived for 13 years.
Marilyn has not appeared in any of my stories, but (spoiler alert…) I thought of her while reading Ryan T. Higgins’ We Don’t Eat Our Classmates. That book is hilarious.
Notable19s: Cannibal fish and being eaten by classmates sound like the stuff of nightmares and would make a person have trouble falling asleep. LOL! What do you think about when you have trouble falling asleep?
Sara: For better or for worse, I often think about my Work In Progress. The peace and quiet lets me ponder plot points and turn phrases in my head. On the upside, I often get inspired and scribble deep thoughts on the notepad that resides on my nightstand. On the downside, I get so involved in my thoughts that I don’t fall asleep! Bit of a vicious cycle.
Notable19s: Warm milk might help with falling asleep; sadly, the tryptophan in turkey does not help with sleep. Now that we’ve got everyone hungry, what is a food you could not live without?
Sara: Bread. Warm, crusty bread with buttery deliciousness melting on top. My husband calls me “Gluten Girl.” I’d make a good medieval prisoner at the top of a crumbling castle tower, eating nothing but bread and water. But it would have to be high-quality bread. No mass marketed white bread for me.
Notable19s: Now that we know what your favorite food is, how about your favorite TV show as a kid?
Sara: I didn’t really have a favorite, but I watched a ridiculous amount of The Brady Bunch. (This may reveal my approximate age…) I logged so many hours that my mom could be in different room, hear the introductory lines of dialogue, and yell, “Isn’t this the one where Marcia gets hit in the nose with a football?” I should really apologize to my mom.
Notable19s: Too funny! One final question for you, so we will ask about the craft. What is the hardest for you about writing? The easiest?
I’m not sure the words “hardest” and “easiest” really apply. When an aspect of craft is difficult, it’s also challenging and exciting. When an aspect of craft seems “easy,” I think it’s more a matter of it feeling joyful than actually being “easy.”
That said, what I struggle with most is the blank page. There are SO many ways to tell a story! I’m a tad type-A, so it can feel overwhelming to seek the “right” beginning. I try to remind myself that none of my words are etched into anyone’s soul. Revision is good! In fact, that is what I enjoy most – revising. Shaping a draft until it sings is incredibly gratifying.
Notable19s: There certainly are many ways to tell a story, and we’re so glad you told yours!
Please be sure to follow Sara on Twitter or Facebook and visit her website for updates and be the first to find out when JUST SO WILLOW is available for preorder!
By Brooke Boynton-Hughes
You sold your picture book manuscript! Huzzah! And now it will become a BOOK! With illustrations! But, will the illustrator capture your vision? Will they draw your characters just as you hoped they would? And what's taking so long, anyway?!
My author/illustrator debut, BRAVE MOLLY (Chronicle), came out earlier this year, and while it is the first book that I've authored, it's the 9th book (out of 10) that I've illustrated. I've heard from author friends that they can sometimes feel a bit in the dark about what exactly is going on with their manuscript once it has been picked up by an editor.
While I can't speak to what exactly is happening on the publisher's end, I'm hoping I can shed a little light on what's happening on the illustrator side of things while you're waiting for months, or years, for your manuscript to become a real-life illustrated book.
While I'm sure my process shares similarities with other illustrators, every illustrator has their own way of working. Please take what follows with a grain of salt.
Step 1: To Illustrate, or Not to Illustrate!
My agent sends me an email with the good news that an editor has a manuscript that they'd like me to illustrate. Occasionally an editor or art director will ask an illustrator to do a sample illustration before officially offering the illustrator the job, sort of like an actor auditioning for a part.
If I'm excited enough about the story to want to spend at least a year of my life with it, then I usually say, "Yes!" Sometimes an illustrator just doesn't connect with a story, although, there are a lot of reasons why an illustrator might pass on a manuscript: scheduling conflicts, already juggling too many projects, stuff going in their personal life, etc. etc.
Step 2: Hello, Publishing Folks!
Before starting a book, I talk with the editor and/or art director about the vision for the book. Sometimes this conversation is short and sweet and sometimes it’s more involved and covers things like color palette, age and gender of characters, or any other number of things that might be relevant to the story. At the very least, technicalities like trim size and page count are discussed at this stage.
Step 3: The Layout!
I start each book by creating thumbnail layouts. Thumbnail layouts are small, rough sketches of every spread in the book. Creating tiny, rough layouts helps get me thinking about what I want to convey without getting too caught up with the details.
At this stage, I'm thinking about how the illustrations can add to the story without just restating visually what the text says with words. I'm also thinking about how the visual pacing of the story works with the pacing of the plot and trying to decide which moments of the story should be double page spreads, single spreads, or vignettes.
Sometimes an editor has already paginated the text, and sometimes I work out the pagination. It depends on the editor and on the story.
Step 4: More Layouts!
Once I have a rough thumbnail layout that I like, I re-draw it more clearly and at a larger size. The new, cleaner sketches give a good sense of the composition of each spread and of the visual storytelling that's taking place throughout the book.
Step 5: Character sketches!
It usually takes a while to figure out what a character looks like, which for me starts by drawing lots of heads. I have pages and pages of drawings of just heads (I'm pretty sure this isn't normal…? But it works for me).
None of the picture book manuscripts I've illustrated contained any indication of what the characters looked like (other than age), which left lots of room for me to play and explore. Once I feel I have the characters figured out, I'll re-draw them side by side and do a digital color study in Photoshop. (In reality, I'm often going back and forth between working on the character sketches and the layout).
Step 6: Waiting!
This is when I email everything to the art director and wait. Sometimes the wait can be a week or two, and sometimes it can be a few months. The process of illustrating a picture book is collaborative and each party needs time to do their part of the job. This is usually when I catch up on personal projects, or if I'm juggling more than one book at a time, I'll switch over to the other project.
Step 7: Notes!
The editor and/or art director will send notes on the layout and character sketches. I make revisions based on their feedback and email them the new version. Rinse and repeat.
Step 8: Full-size Drawings! (My favorite step!)
Once the editor and art director have approved the layout and the character design, I start on full-size drawings. I work directly on my final watercolor paper. (Some illustrators do their full-size sketches on tracing paper and then transfer the drawing to their final support. Also, I want to mention again that every illustrator’s process is different. This is just how I do things.)
Step 9: More waiting!
I scan the finished drawings, email them to the art director, and wait for feedback. I think this is usually when the editor or art director will send the images to the author for review (but don't quote me on that).
Step 10: More Notes! More revisions!
Since I’ve worked out most of the bigger visual problems in the layout stage, there usually aren't too many revisions at this stage. But sometimes, for one reason or another, things need to be adjusted and there might be a lot of back and forth: revise something, re-send it to the art director, wait for notes, revise it again, etc.
Step 11: Stuff happens!
Twice while in the midst of illustrating picture books (and both times with the same, very patient publisher) I had to have surgery rather unexpectedly, which meant that the books had to be pushed back a few months. If your book is pushed back a list, it might be that the illustrator has to deal with life stuff. (Or it might just be because your illustrator is slow. Sometimes we can be slow.)
Step 12: Final Art!
Once I've received approval on the full size pencil drawings, I ink all of the line work and then paint all of the images one by one. Instead of painting the illustrations in order from beginning to end, I jump around so that if the way I paint changes slightly as I go, the progression won't be noticeable. I also jump around so that I can tackle the more complicated images at the beginning when I'm feeling fresh and save the more straightforward images for the end when I'm often battling drawing-hand fatigue.
Step 13: Fingers Crossed!
I scan the final images, email them off, and hope that I get the go-ahead to send the original art via snail mail. Sometimes changes need to be made, and since I work with traditional media (instead of working digitally), this sometimes means that I have to re-do an illustration completely. Sometimes I'll repaint just a small section of an image and ask the art director to Photoshop it into the rest of the illustration.
Step 14: Proofs!
Once the publisher has my finished art, they make scans of the images and the art director lays in all of the text and works their art director magic. Then the publisher has proofs made which they send to the illustrator for approval (I think they usually send proofs to the author, too). Sometimes colors need to be adjusted, or errors are caught and fixed.
Step 15: We made a book! Together!
Once everyone approves the proofs, the book is off to the printer! Hooray!
I imagine that it would be incredibly nerve-wracking to hand your manuscript over to an illustrator who may not envision things the same way you do. But, just as an author wouldn't want someone standing over their shoulder telling them which words to use where, an illustrator wouldn't want someone telling them exactly how something should look. An illustrator's job is not to re-create exactly what the author has envisioned, but rather, to bring their own, unique vision and voice to a story.
So be patient and trust that the illustrator of your picture book loves your manuscript just as much as you do and is doing everything they can to help bring your story to life. And together we’ll make a beautiful book!
We are a group of writers and illustrators who have debut books (actual debuts , debuts as author-illustrators, or debuts with medium/large publishers) forthcoming in 2019. Thank you for joining us on our exciting journey!