Featured Author Katey Howes October 2017

12 x 12 member Katey HowesI’m going to be honest with you all. I was scared to write this post. I know I’ve got a couple books coming out—which feels amazing and unreal all at once—but I don’t think that makes me any sort of expert. I am well aware that luck and timing and the subjective magic of the publishing world have as much to do with my current success as the hard work and learning and talent that went into my manuscripts. And I KNOW that many of you in 12 x 12, my (extremely quirky, extremely extended) writing family, have poured just as much research, talent and hard work into your manuscripts. We’ve been to the same conferences, read the same books on craft, taken notes in the same webinars. I didn’t know what I would say to you that you didn’t already know.

Then, a friend suggested I think about what I like best about making picture books, and how that influences my writing, and share that with you. And it all came together.

You see, my favorite part of making books for kids is reading them aloud, or hearing kids read them to me. When I discovered this, it changed the way I wrote. I spent considerably more time and energy crafting not just the plot, structure, and characters, but the music of each manuscript.

I say “music” not to compare reading out loud with singing. I personally think it has more in common with dancing. Reading a picture book to a child—or a room of children—is like dancing with a partner (or 26 of them.) You reach out your hand. You find the rhythm. You lead and hope that your partner understands your cues well enough to follow along.

Magnolia Mudd and the Super Jumptastic Launcher by Katey Howes

Dancing to the right music feels natural the very first time. You can anticipate the next move. There are moments that let you show off, and spots where you can catch your breath. You feel connected to your partner, and to the music. Dancers look their best and have the most fun when the music sets them up for success. Reading a well-written book aloud is just the same.

When it comes to the read aloud, your words are that music. Teachers, librarians, parents and kids will come back to your book again and again—like a favorite tune—if the read aloud gives them that natural flow, those moments to shine, and enough room to catch their breath. A good read aloud builds that connection between the reader, the listeners, and the “music” of the words. Your book read aloud might resemble a restful waltz or jumping, jiving East Coast Swing—there are as many types of picture books as there are ways to dance. But there are techniques that you can use in revising any of them to make your writing easier and more fun to read out loud.

Here are some of my tips to writing a book that demands to be played on repeat.

  1. Vary sentence length: When all your sentences are the same length, reading the book out loud feels like you are doing the same 4 steps, over and over again. It gets boring and predictable. Making sure to vary short sentences and longer ones gives variety and interest to the read aloud.
  2. Or Don’t: Of course, some dances ARE the same 4 steps, over and over. And some books utilize this technique for good reason. A picture book written with rhyming couplets or short, similar sentences on each page is great for very young “dance partners,” for whom predictability is a desirable trait. They enjoy being able to guess what happens next, they take comfort in a familiar rhythm.
  3. Take it from Blues Traveler: “The hook brings you back,” sings Jon Popper. And he’s right. Adding a repeated phrase to your text can increase listener engagement in the read aloud. Whether it be a character’s catch phrase, a lyrical refrain, or a nonsense word, a “hook” adds cohesion and opportunity for participation to the read aloud, and it makes your story memorable.
  4. Punctuate your performance: Using only declarative sentences leaves the reader’s voice on one note. Putting questions and exclamations into a text encourages the reader to vary their inflection – and the listener to respond. It grabs the dance partner’s attention and breaks up monotony.
  5. Dance with the stars: Dancers like a chance to show off their special moves – dips, twirls and flips are crowd pleasers! Readers want to amaze the crowd, too. Give them reasons to use their special moves – unusual voices, big reveals, tongue twisters …anything that lets the reader be a star!
  6. Make room to breathe: Reading out loud – like dancing – is hard work! Look for places in your story where you can create a natural pause with your wording or punctuation. Or consider using a wordless or nearly wordless spread. Let the illustrations do the talking so your reader can catch their breath. Wordless spreads can also build tension, reveal important details, or let listeners linger on an important realization.
  7. Whip and Nae Nae: If this song has taught me one thing, it’s that people like to be told what to do. If professional educators will do something called “the stanky leg” in a school assembly because a song demanded it, imagine what you can get them to do with a well-written book. Try using action words that simply beg to be acted out during the read aloud.
  8. Watch your step! Nothing spoils a nice dance like tripping, falling, or stepping on your partner’s toes. Scan your manuscript for anything that might be trip up a reader. Difficult-to-pronounce words, alliteration, rhyme, and unusual sentence structure are all choices you should consider carefully, weighing the risks and benefits.

I really hope these tips (and my slightly belabored analogy) have you dancing through your next revision. Thanks for having me here on the 12×12 blog. I’ve had the time of my life. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

 

Grandmother Thorn by Katey HowesKatey Howes is passionate about raising kids who love to read. She treasures those moments when books allow children to relate their experience to the greater world, or when their curiosity skyrockets from interest to obsession.  Katey is the author of GRANDMOTHER THORN (Ripple Grove Press, Aug. 2017) and MAGNOLIA MUDD AND THE SUPER JUMPTASTIC LAUNCHER DELUXE (Sterling, Jan. 2, 2018.) She is a team member at All the Wonders and founding member of Picture the Books.  You can get to know Katey better at www.kateyhowes.com or by following her on Twitter @kateywrites or on Instagram @kidlitlove. 

This Post Has 229 Comments

  1. Hi Katey – I love your dance analogy! I especially like how you describe writing a great read aloud book that provides the reader enough room to flow, moments to shine, and time to catch their breath. Looking forward to reading your upcoming book!

  2. Great comparison between music you can’t stop dancing too and picture books that beg to be read over and over again. Congrats on your books!

  3. Katey, Congratulations on both books! I’ve read one and can’t wait to read the other!
    I enjoyed your musical take on writing picture books. It’s a whole new perspective for me to consider. Well done! Now, what do I do if I have two left feet? 😉

  4. HA! “Time of your life”! I wouldn’t apologize for that comical reference! Also… did you throw that “be” into the #8 sentence about tripping up your reader on *purpose*?!
    I took down all these tips! Epiphany for me!

    1. Glad you liked the joke – and no, that “be” is just me, leaving typos lying around again. If I had a nickel for every stray word and every coffee cup I left where it didn’t belong, I’d be a rich woman. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  5. Katey –

    This is great. I never thought of “dancing” as I practiced reading my manuscripts out loud…I’ll give it a try!! Thanks for great tips!!!

  6. Katey – These are some wonderful things to think about when reading one’s manuscript aloud! Thanks for the dancing-writing tutorial. And congratulations on your books. 🙂

  7. Katey, I got so much from your tips. You presented the ideas in a way I had not heard before, and in a way in which I can remember them. Thanks so much!

  8. This is FABULOUS advice, well told! As self-proclaimed queen of analogies I bow to you. Keeping this for future reference!

  9. LOVE the dance advice, Katey…it relates perfectly to picture book writing! I’m so thrilled for you and excited for all the other books of yours that I know will be part of my library one day.

    1. Vivian, I can just imagine you gliding around the room – or getting funky – while you read with the children i your life. Thanks for reading, and for all your friendship and support. I can’t wait to dance around with your books in hand!

  10. Boy I sure hope I can Cotton-eyed Joe, sasshay or two-step my way into the publishing world. Thanks for sharing your journey good luck with all your books.

  11. Katey, your analogy is golden! Music and writing go hand-in-hand. I’m a very rhythm-driven person. As a reader, as a writer, as a student of writing, so much of what I appreciate about a good piece of writing is the rhythm of it! Poor rhythm can make a piece very difficult or unpleasant to read, but a varying sentence length instantly draws the reader into a comfortable flow. Varying sentence length creates interest and texture. Having said that, I write in rhyme a lot, and I also appreciate the rhythm that comes from not varying sentence length, haha! I get so much pleasure out of reading PBs with my kids, and having them jump in on refrains or favorite passages, when they sense the rhythm’s cue.

    Thanks so much for your clever insights. Please, be assured, we absolutely value your thoughts, and you did a great job!

    1. Thank you so much for a thoughtful response. I love the rhyming rhythm, too. My husband says he always knows when I’m working on a rhymer, because I tap the table and hum under my breath all day long. Sometimes you just have to live the music of your manuscript! Good luck with your writing!

  12. Thanks for sharing your tips, Katey! Love the analogy ????. It’s good to think of the story from a different perspective- I will try to let my readers shine! Congrats on your books!

  13. Your post really helped me remember the best part about writing–the read-aloud. Thanks for the analogy and your insights.

    1. Thank you! I know too well how easy it is to forget about reading the book aloud to kids when we are so tied up in the craft and details. All the best to you and your manuscripts!

  14. Love the analogy! I think what you say is so true. The musicality of language is what makes the difference between a mundane story and one that sings. Congrats, again, on your success!

    1. Oh, I often think reading a manuscript to my ids is the scariest part of revising! But watching their reaction and interaction with the text really provides so much insight. Glad to be of help to you.

  15. What a fun analogy of writing strategies, Katey. I loved reading this. Congratulations on your two new books. They sound intriguing.

  16. Katey, this is an excellent post. I love dance; although I do not consider myself to be a dancer I love the rhythm and motion of music. It’s very hard for me to keep still when any music is playing. I often noticed that rhythm when reading aloud to my children (years ago), and I look for it in my own writing. Thank you for this analogy which makes good sense to me and I’m sure it will be helpful in my continuing efforts. I am printing off your tips to keep on hand. All the best to you as you continue to succeed.

  17. What a terrific analogy re: the music of the manuscript!! As I read my current WIP aloud I have a new vision of it as music in words. Thank you, Katey.

  18. Great analogy! I love the thought of ‘showing off our moves’… great encouragement for me to be a bit more adventurous and be mindful of how to try and make my manuscript stand out. Thanks for taking the time to write this post and congratulations on your 2 books. I look forward to reading them : )

  19. Katey, Your dance analogy advice was spot int in helping me with my latest revision. And it made me smile. 🙂
    Looking forward to reading your books. Best of luck to you!!! And thank you!

    1. Traci, I can’t think of a better set of compliments – If I helped you improve your manuscript AND made you smile, then my work here is done! I hope you enjoy the books when you have a chance to read them. All the best to you.

  20. I love this analogy, Katey, as musician and lover of rhythm and lyricism, I really relate to your post. It’s so much fun to read a picture book that rolls off the tongue and flows with grace. I am very intrigued by both of your titles and I can’t wait to pick them up!

    1. Kelli, I’m so glad I could speak to the musician in you. I seriously thought I had no rhythm until college, when I took a few swing dance lessons. Suddenly, so much about music clicked into place! I’m happy to be able to bring what I learned then into my writing – and yours – now! All the best.

  21. So great, Katey! If I may extend the analogy a bit further—a child (writer) dancing for the first time may need to put their feet on someone else’s feet or be held, in order to feel the beat and gain confidence to risk dancing solo someday. You and your books (and all those dancers in 12×12!) help give that courage and confidence to keep dancing! Thanks for sharing.

  22. You’ve offered great advice, Katey, but there is one big problem I have with your post…
    now I can’t get that Blues Traveller song out of my head!!!!

  23. Katey, you are so right about keeping children engaged with rhythm. Once my students caught the beat of a book they were spot on, but on a book that stopped and started all over the place I lost them, no matter how engaging my reading voice. I loved the idea of the “dance”. Thanks for putting that in my head!

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with the class of kids – I have had the same thing happen. I think kids are really in tune to musicality and rhythm, and they are drawn to it. I’m sure you’ll find good ways to put that experience to work in your own manuscripts.

  24. Katey, I love the idea of thinking of the text as music. It’s so important to remember that our main goal should be to write a story children want to listen to again and again. Thanks for this wonderful post!

    1. Thanks, Jenna! I know that you’re so in touch with what kids enjoy – you always seem to be having such fun with the little ones! Hope this advice helps you make your next manuscript even more special.

  25. This is great, Katey. I appreciate the many comparisons you’ve made to dancing and music in our picture books. Also, it’s a very helpful reminder that these stories are meant to read out loud. I expect that truth to help me as I plot out my manuscripts. Thanks for sharing, and good luck!

  26. Congrats, Katey, on the release of your books! It was fun to dance through your blog and savor the tips. I look forward to reading your stories.

  27. Love your post, Katey, especially the magical sentence: “When it comes to the read aloud, your words are that music.” Congratulations on GRANDMOTHER THORN and MAGNOLIA MUDD. Great MC names 🙂

  28. Katey, Congratulations on your journey, discoveries and success. You have provided some great takeaways here for all of us. Let your reader be the star!!! Classroom Dancing at its best. Thank you.

  29. Hi Katey, congratulations on your books and many thanks for taking the time to compile the tips on your post. It’s always helpful to get a different and refreshing perspective on writing issues and the dancing analogy was exactly that. Thanks and best of luck in the journey of writing and publishing great books!

  30. This post is just wonderful, Katey. Your analogy is perfect and I loved every single bit of advice. Every picture book writer should file this away for reference.
    I’m soooo excited for you. I remember reading your manuscript, CLEMENTINE, back in 2014. Such a clever idea. Have you done anything with that manuscript?
    Congratulations on your success!

  31. Thanks Katey, this was a fun post! I enjoyed each part of the dance and the reminders filled with fun. All the best with your books.

  32. Fun, fun, fun! Thanks, Katey. You have put into words a concept I’ve struggled to explain to people. Language is music and dancing! Brilliant.

  33. So much truth and wisdom in this post! Like this… “Dancing to the right music feels natural the very first time. You can anticipate the next move. There are moments that let you show off, and spots where you can catch your breath. You feel connected to your partner, and to the music. Dancers look their best and have the most fun when the music sets them up for success. Reading a well-written book aloud is just the same.” Thanks so much for the fun post, great tips, and toe-tapping inspiration! This one’s a keeper. 🙂

  34. And I had the time of my life reading your post! 🙂
    The dance analogy was incredibly helpful as were your list of tips. I also loved your friend’s suggestion to think about what you like best about making picture books (which led to the content of this post.) I think that is a helpful question for us all to ponder!
    Thank you!

  35. Katey,

    Great Job! I loved your post. I felt like you were writing just to me. The information you shared was very written so well I plan to reread the information again. I am sure it will help me improve the manuscript I am currently working on. Keep up the great work. I am so glad you shared your excellent ideas. I have renew inspiration. Your comments about about not knowing what to say relates so much to how I feel about not always having something valuable to share. We are surrounded by so many talented, amazing writers. I can’t wait to read your book. Thank you again.

  36. Thanks, Katey! Great post on looking at all the right moves for a terrific read-a-loud! Congratulations on your just released books.

  37. Thank you for the valuable (and clever) advice! I’ve printed them out & posted them on my “thinking” board above my desk. Now my eyes can dance over them when I’m struggling. (See what I did there?!)

  38. Congratulations! Thanks for the great advice. Grandmother Thorn is on it’s way to be via Chicago Public Library.

  39. I love the dance analogy. It hit home the importance of the relationship between the reader and the listener and how that needs to be carefully crafted. Congratulations on your success. To the dance!!

  40. Katey, thanks for your great tips on rhythm in picture books … so important … and so tricky. I love your fresh take on this!

  41. Well that made me laugh! A dancing analogy for sure! Certainly writing has a rhythm to it. Shakespeare rolls off the tongue and is relatively easy to learn because of that. I’m trying more of that in my story ‘In a Tiz’ with the mantra ‘No hat, no play, no hat no play…’ like a heart beat. Wondering if an illustration note of a heart pounding would be ok there… Great new ways to think. Thanks Katey.

  42. Particularly loved the suggestion to vary the punctuation and incorporate questions. What a terrific way to make a story more interesting!

  43. What a great analogy, Katie! All good reminders. Having several different people read a ms aloud is helpful and fun. I’m always surprised by the different voices and inflections they bring. Thanks so much!

  44. I never connected dancing and writing before–interesting idea. You are right about reading aloud. That’s where the music is! Can’t wait to read your books.

  45. I’m playing with “dancing” in my revision this month, so reading “Of course, some dances ARE the same 4 steps, over and over” came at a perfect time. I had begun to “silence” my text a bit and then remembered, there was a reason why I was writing in 4-steps at the start!

  46. Great post, Katey! Thank you. As an undergrad dance major (100 years ago!) I certainly can relate to your analogies. Thank you sharing your experience and tools. And congratulations on your success!

  47. Thanks for a terrific post! I know I’ll read this one again, and save for a revision reference. Congratulations on both your books- I look forward to reading them out loud.

  48. Wow, I dance all the time – and also put playlists together for different forms of dances. Reading your metaphors to writing is AWESOME! Have copied your list to use again! Thank you! Look forward to reading your books!

  49. Katey,
    Your blog truly resonated with me. My favorite time of my teaching day was storybreak, and I always tried to pick books that were fun to read and listen to- it gave me a chance to flex my drama muscle and also to engage my students as one group. Nothing feels better than to hear at the end of a book, ”Read it again!” If I enjoyed the reading of the story, my students always reflected that feeling back.

  50. Thank you for the kinesthetic learner-friendly, dance specific analogy, which will stay with me like the stanky leg image. Congratulations!

  51. Hi Katey,
    Thanks so much for getting over your fear of writing this blog post–you knocked it out of the park with your dance analogy! You tips are timeless and I’ll now be making playlists for my writing. 😀

  52. Love the dance analogy Katie! That does give a different perspective at looking at the writing we do. Thank you for sharing. Congratulations on your picture books. I look forward to “dancing ” to the text!

  53. Loved your dancing analogy, Katey! That really struck a chord with me. I will hold that image in my mind as I write. Thank you!

  54. Great tips! I also love to read aloud so making that my fundamental reason for writing what I write makes sense. Thank you!

  55. Hi Katey, thank you for your inspirational post. You helped me to think a bit more about putting myself out there. I am quite shy and getting worse as I get older, but your words have encouraged me to work on getting over it. And you did a fine job of explaining various things, like punctuation which I need to add more of to my writing. Thanks so much and congratulations on you new books.

  56. I love your idea of identifying the part of picture-book writing that you like best. The answer probably reveals a bit about what makes each author unique. It’s good to play to our strengths! Thanks for sharing.

  57. Yes! I couldn’t agree more! The best part about reading aloud to my students is the books rhythm and how it draws them into the story. You explain it so well in terms of how to fine-tune this skill in our own writing. Thank you!

  58. Hi Katey,
    Your dance analogy is awesome! I love reading aloud to kids and thinking about where you can show off and where you can catch your breath is a great way to approach the pacing of a story. Thanks for the insight!

  59. This was excellent. I loved your analogy! I want to start reading my manuscripts to children and see if some would also like to read to me. Thanks for sharing. Great job!

  60. Congratulations on your success, Katey! Whoop! Whoop! I liked your analogy of writing to a dance. It makes perfect sense! I envision little readers hopping and bopping to the story beat. Thanks!

  61. Thank you for all this great advice, especially about remembering to think about making the reader sound good while reading your book. I will definitely think about this more as I write!

  62. Katey’s words remind me of why there’s a Friday Dance Party! Something about dancing, and having dance rhythms in kids’ writing, inspires. Thank you, Ma’am. “You make me feel like dancing/writing.”

  63. Hi Katey,

    Thank you for the great advice. I love the dance analogy. Congratulations on your books, I can’t wait to read them.

  64. Thank you to share your insight – “…spent considerably more time and energy crafting not just the plot, structure, and characters, but the music of each manuscript.” How true! Congrats and I look forward to reading your books!

  65. Hi Katey,
    I will definitely go back and listen to the music of my picture books–to make sure the words sing to readers and listeners! Thanks for this wonderful way of helping us with our writing!

  66. Fantastic post! I love the dance analogy and there was tons of excellent advice embedded throughout. Thank you!! And congratulations, I can’t wait to read your work.

  67. Congratulations on your books Katey. I look forward to reading them and see how they sing when read out loud. I loved your Blog about writing books that relate to dance. It’s another interesting way to help writer’s understand the challenge of writing picture books for children. Thank you for the wonderful writing tips too.

  68. This is great! And it’s so true that everything changes once you’ve read a book out loud to kids. You see things more clearly. Can’t wait to read your latest book Katy! I’m so excited about it!

  69. Hi Katey, thank you for sharing your expertise and joy in writing. I think you have hit on it exactly with what you say about reading aloud to kids. And your tips are great! I love the idea of the repeated pattern and the “Dance with the Stars” is a wonderful idea. I’m going to paste that above my desk so I can remember about things like voices, big reveals and tongue twisters.
    Best Wishes – Pauline

  70. Katey, I loved this post! The dance metaphor is so rich and I feel like it applies
    to my illustrating as well. Thanks for the tips and looking forward to reading your books! xo

  71. Thank you Katey for this very insightful post. I totally agree with the dance analogy! And one of my favorite things to do as well is to read books out loud to children! It is such a special experience when you allow them space to participate. Congratulations on your upcoming book! It sounds super “jumptastic!”

  72. With all that goes into crafting a story, I think reading it aloud prior to submission is a magnificent idea! Thanks for the refreshing blog post & wishing you much success

  73. Can only echo others’ appreciation for the dance analogy. To see the reader as your dance partner and the text as the music that connects you extends the whole notion of language’s “music” in a wonderful way, with a new means for understanding how it works and how to address what doesn’t. Thanks, and look forward to reading your books.

  74. Hi, Katey!
    I loved what you said about finding what *you* (I) like about picture books. That was such a breakthrough moment for me! Your beautiful post reminded me that we are each unique and we each have our unique view of the world to share with others. THank you so much for this insight, and for all the writing advice and encouragement!

  75. Your post has me dancing around my desk, Katie! I love the analogy & your revision tips. To your continued success!

  76. Thank you for this! I absolutely love the analogy of picture books to a dance. I recently read one of my manuscripts to my 6-year-old niece. It was the first time I’d ever read one of my manuscripts to a kid…and it was magical. We so often forget in our writing process (or, at least, I do!) that the reader plays just as much a role in creating and enjoying the story as we do. I really appreciate your break down of critiquing a manuscript with this element in mind. Super helpful!

  77. Katey, thanks for the excellent post! Your dance analogy is spot on. I look forward to reading your books. Congratulations!

  78. Great analogy, Katey! I’m always thinking of the music of the words, but dancing to them will take my next revision another step forward! Your list of tips is much appreciated and I’m printing them out now. Congratulations on your picture book success. Wishing you many more…

    Linda

  79. This was a wonderful post, Katey. I love how you shared your inspirational moment which helped focus your writing on beautiful language. The tips you included all useful to know and keep in mind while we draft. Thanks for visiting! 🙂

  80. How fun to do-si-do through your list of solid pb suggestions and sashay through your word dance. Congrats on your successes and thanks for sharing your valuable insights. Jazz hands!

  81. Great post Katey! Thank you for sharing and congratulations on your two books. I discovered reading aloud and dancing both feel awkward in the first minute. Your tips will be next to me while writing like that one friend who always keeps me out on the dance floor longer than I want to be. Yet I never want the song to end.

  82. The music of the manuscript totally resonated with me as a teacher and reader of children’s books such a great way to look at what you write!

  83. Thank you Katey, this is a great post! The dance and music comparison is a terrific connection to writing a picture book. I’m looking forward to reading your books. 🙂

  84. Looks like I’m going to need to find out what the “stanky leg” dance move is! Great post to wrap up what a book needs to be successful. Thanks and Congrats on your successes!

  85. Reading picture books aloud is my favorite part too. I love when you read a book to yourself and it is so good that you think ‘I must find someone to read this too!’ My poor husband has patiently listened to many a children’s book for exactly this reason. Thank you for your advice on writing such a must read aloud book.

  86. Great post! Thank you for reminding us that picture books being read out loud is one of the things that makes the writing different from other writing. We talk about leaving room for the illustrator, but I love your analogy, because after the words and illustrations dance with each other, they get to dance with the reader and listener (who also get to dance with each other). Yay.

  87. These are such great tips! I love trying to find the music in a story – what will make this idea really sing to readers? Thanks for the reminders.

  88. Great advice and analogy! I had not considered the similarities between reading aloud and dancing, but you are so right. I love the give and take of reading to a group of children. I have to keep that in mind in my own writing. Thanks!

  89. Katie
    I really enjoyed reading Grandmother Thorn, so thank you for that. As a newbie author it is valuable for me to listen to the most experienced people but also those that are enduring the early struggles, so thank you for that too.

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