Ballet & Beatrix Potter: Framing Your Picture Book

3 Jan

“Is this story meant to be told as a picture book?” is a dreaded question that will ultimately be asked of both novice and experienced picture book writers. The picture book medium is challenging, especially for writers who do not illustrate, because there needs to be just enough action on each page with enough to entice a page turn. If the action in your story stands still there’s no incentive for a reader to want to see what comes next and the setting and actions become monotonously repetitive. On the other hand, if your protagonist is on an adventure through 101 exotic locales, then it will difficult for you to capture it all with 12 to 30 images.

The trick to fitting your story into the picture book format is framing. This technique is beneficial for both writers, artists, and writer/artists. It’s healthy to imagine every second of your story, but now think about what screenshots are essential to telling your story.

Thumbnail these ‘frames’ into a working storyboard. Now let the writer take over and fill in what the pictures don’t say. If you’re the writer, be happy with simply your words and allow the illustrator to re-envision the images. If you’re the writer and illustrator, you’ve just completed a first draft.

You may be thinking, “that’s easier said then done.” True. For inspiration, I recommend scouring Kathy Temean’s brilliantly helpful Illustrator Saturday posts on her Writing & Illustrating blog. Often the illustrator’s will share storyboards and allow you to see the process in creating the story from start to finish.

However, perhaps you are drawn back to the title of this post. “Hey dude, you mentioned ballet and Beatrix Potter. What happened?” This brings us to the meat (or tofu if you are prefer veggies) of the meal. Over the past few years I have relished watching my talented wife Jaewon embrace ballet. We’ve seen several live performances and documentaries and I’ve come to the conclusion that ballet is much like a picture book. The dancers while graceful, move in a frenzy on the stage, but they all remain in one ‘frame’ or scene, with each scene standing apart from the others yet exists in a narrative of sorts.

The ideal example is the 1971 film Tales of Beatrix Potter which takes the classic ballet based on Potter’s animal filled stories off of the stage and into the countryside. It is as if a picture book is brought to life on the screen. Carefully watch how the director, Reginald Mills, frames each scene. There are no transitions, simply abrupt changes from from scene to the scene. Typically the camera will stay still allowing the only movement to be performed by the costumed dancers. Each frame also effectively arranges the character in left to right direction to further promote narrative direction throughout the film. Writer’s do not need to be as concerned with angles as illustrators, yet it’s always more effective if the writer can visualize the full picture.

While you are eating breakfast, sketching a story, or laying in bed, put on this wonderful film and you will have been not only treated to a mimed interpretation of Potter’s world and beautiful ballet but you would have taken a class on framing!


Road to 500

17 Jun

As a child I knew from the moment I buckled into Darien Lake’s “Viper” that I was born to ride. I spent my childhood playing Disney’s Coaster DOS game, drawing over 300 coasters during recess, and leafing through issues of Inside Track magazine. Later in life the passion stuck as worked the rides as an employee of Martin’s Fantasy Island, and Cedar Point and diminished my college GPA by staying up all night designing theme parks in Roller Coaster Tycoon. When I was younger I dreamt of the day I would ride my 100th roller coaster, and while I picture traveling the world  to accomplish this feat, I never imagined it would come to this… my 500th coaster.

The time has come for “500 Rides of Summer.” I could have knocked off a few extra credits in Japan and Taiwan, but I was holding out for that special ride, one worthy of 500. While America offered a plethora of options to choose from, ultimately I chose a park that exudes ‘Americana,’ and represents what an amusement park should be. Consequently, Knoebel’s, in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, with probably the best long-standing reputation of operating a family-friendly park with appropriate pricing and dedication towards renewing, rescuing, and restoring classic rides and attractions, will be the site for my 500th coaster.


In 2004, I was fortunate enough to visit Knoebel’s , so I scooped up coaster credits on the late “Whirlwind” and “High Speed Thrill Coaster,” in addition to the currently operating “Phoenix” and “Twister,” which leaves me with four possible credits at Knoebel’s.


Black Diamond: indoor wooden/steel Philadelphia Toboggan Coaster creation

We’ll start with “Black Diamond” for #498, as it’s a nostalgic ride and one rescued from Dinosaur Beach, a defunct boardwalk in New Jersey.


Impulse: 2015 Zierer’s vertical lift looper

For #499, “Impulse” fits in well as it’s a cutting edge creation at the tip of innovation.


Flying Turns: a 2013 in-house built wooden bobsled

But for the epic #500, I could think of no better (Dollywood’s “Lightning Rod” was a close second) choice than the one-of-a-kind wooden bobsled coaster “Flying Turns.” It’s also significant because it took years of planning, frustration, and investment to finally produce this ‘iconic whirlwind of fun,’ which I rather arrogantly (please excuse the pride) associate with reading #500.


Kozmo’s Kurves: 2009 Miler family coaster

Then the new era begins as all life should with childhood innocence as I take a joyful romp on “Kozmo’s Kurves,” permitting the friendly staff allows this 6′ foot 1 dangly guy to ride.

Thank you to Knoebel’s for hosting my special moment, and I look forward sharing some snapshots and perhaps some video, if Mr. GoPro and I may ride together, of the #500 ride and our overall park visit.

For perspective’s sake, there are dozens of coasterers who have ridden far more than 500 coasters, and they should be celebrated. My 500th ride is not mean to serve as a bragging right but rather a testament to the passion our coastering community has for seeking out the next best thrill. Every single new ride should be commemorated and celebrated. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to #1,000, but I’m happy to know that I got here, and I’ll never stop riding!


Coastering in Hokkaido, Japan at Rusutsu Resort. #GoGoSneaker

Motivation Station

14 Jun


Everything we need to succeed is within; sometimes we rely a greater source to call forth these special powers and abilities. Consequently, say こんにいちは (konnichiwa) to my Motivation Station where a certain Mr. Miyagi sternly captains a squadron of fearless 達磨 (daruma). While Miyagi harks back to my childhood of looking up to the 空手 (karate) and盆栽(bonsai) 先生 (sensei), the daruma are a reminder of my cultural awakening in 日本 (Japan), and the variety of colors symbolize the innocence of my imagination. Each daruma represents a picture book I will be submitting to prospective agents and publishers. Once I begin the quest, as the tradition insists, I must color in one eye. Then when this leg of the journey is complete with an acceptance letter I may color in the second eye.

My motivational militia is the final sight my eyes spy before submitting to the night in hopes the  (baku) will munch away my nightmares. It’s also the second sight I gaze upon (one must always cherish his/her spouse first) before embarking on another day. Sure, to some these are merely five little toys, but to me they are a beautiful reminder of a dream deferred and a reality that awaits.

What is your Motivation Station?

Review: Athena the Brain {Goddess Girls Book 1}

19 Mar



Athena the Brain, a 2010 chapter book, attempts to transport the immortal characters of Greek mythology into the context of modern adolescent high school culture. While such a ‘mashup’ has become commonplace in literature, the premise is done with wit and caution. Though this book ultimately fails because it relies too heavily on its ingenious gimmicks. Think of it as The Flintstones with all of the household accessories in the forms of prehistoric creatures, but without the heart and soul of its characters. The issue stems with the choice of medium as the characters often behave like those in Young Adult (ages 8-12) but the story is crammed into the confines of a chapter book (ages 4-8). This renders it an accessible and enjoyable read for middle and high schoolers reading below grade level. With Athena the Brain, the first in the Goddess Girls series, there is room to grow but since each book is from the point of view of one of Mount Olympus Academy’s students, it’s doubtful that each character will enjoy the development they deserve.

Authors Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams show promise in their ‘ideas,’ they just need to choose the right format in which to flush out their characters. Hopefully they are able to pitch this as a series, as it would work well on a network such as the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon.

This book earns *** for its ‘special effects,’ but due to a lack of relating to the inner struggles of the eponymous Athena it’s difficult to bolt through the pages with care or excitement.

Let the Idea Parade Begin! PiBoIdMo 2015

1 Nov



Quote Parade: Mini Habits

12 Jan

Besides dust, I enjoy collecting words of wisdom. Whenever a catchy arrangement of words motivates, stimulates, or wraps me in a giant smile I digitally engrave it into my personal archives. These motivational quotes appear in Stephen Guise’s self-improvement book: Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results. 


“Fear can’t exist if you’ve experienced something and it wasn’t scary.”

– Stephen Guise 

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”

– Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

“As I age, I realize that now is yesterday’s later, and that later is a bad plan.”

– Stephen Guise 

“If you don’t execute your ideas, they die.”

– Roger von Oech, public speaker

“Emotions will either serve or master, depending on who is in charge.”

– Jim Rohn, entrepreneur

“I am a brain, Watson. The rest of me is a mere appendix.”

– Arthur Conan Doyle from “Sherlock Holmes”

“When you never lose, you tend to win. ” 

– Stephen Guise 

“Be happy, but never satisfied.”

– Bruce Lee

Quote Parade: Best of 2014

30 Dec

Besides dust, I enjoy collecting words of wisdom. Whenever a catchy arrangement of words motivates, stimulates, or wraps me in a giant smile I digitally engrave it. These are my favorite “other people’s words” gathered in 2014.

“Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”

– Dalai Lama XIV

“Don’t take yourself out of the game, there’s already plenty of people that are willing to do that for ya.”

– ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage 

“Eventually things get tragic enough and they circle back to comedy.”

– Mandy Patinkin from “Wish I Was Here”

“I’m not gay. I’m not a cop. Just a guy who sees a guy who might need a sandwich.”

– Bill Murray from “Broken Flowers”

“Writing fiction is lying in a good way.”

– Kristi Valiant, Children’s author and illustrator

“I think that it should become some sort of rite of passage that if you sleep with someone, whoever the more experienced person is should cook an omelette for the other. Wouldn’t that make the world a better place?”

– Anthony Bourdain

“I write picture books because I have funny ideas in my head that I think would entertain children.”

– Josh Funk, Children’s author

“If you don’t know it’s impossible, it’s easier to do.”

– Neil Gaiman

WE DID IT! PiBoIdMo 2014

3 Dec

Dear Imaginators,

Another November, another 30+ picture book ideas! Congratulations to everyone who participated in any shape or form. This year for marked the third year in a row I was able to enjoy it with my 9th grade honors students. Special thanks to Tara Lazar, all of the motivating guest posters, and of course all of the participants. I would love to say “until next year,” but it’s time to focus on churning those ideas into immortal manuscripts. Happy writing everyone!

Creatively pumped,



Not Again! When Images Attack 2

19 Nov

Here I was, pleasantly gnawing my way through a peanut butter chip pancake, when I came across an image of a barracuda. According to my friends at Wikipedia, it’s a BIG fish. Now since it is Picture Book Idea Month, the children’s writer in me took over. “Hmmm… a barracuda… how can we play with this? BARracuda… a bar-tending fish? Not so child appropriate. How about… bear…. bearracuda! Same sound, but different spelling. Talk about a ‘homophone party!’ Certainly someone has done this before?” And just like I do with every idea… I went searching to see if it had been done before. Oh my noodles, it has been done… just not in a picture book – something else entirely. Sadly, this wasn’t the image I discovered first. bearracuda_by_icon109-d3vnx0w This is ‘what’ I found… BearracudaImage I had no idea that the term ‘bearracuda’ has been used to promote a night of fun for large hairy men. See for yourself, please note this site is NOT appropriate for children and/or closed-minded individuals. But then the business man in me kicked in. If this is a buzzword within the gay and lesbian community, surely many will come across my book by ‘mistake,’ (much like I found the website above) and maybe they’ll purchase the book anyway. Hmmm. The moral of the story is… Bearracuda won’t be the name of one of my picture books. Though, as a salute of respect to those with so-called ‘other’ lifestyles, a bearracuda will certainly have to make a guest appearance in an upcoming book.

When Images Attack

1 Nov

Fresh into Picture Book Idea Month, my mind is wired to think the wondrous, the innocent, and the politely bizarre. It feels good to be a kid again and my senses are tuned to pickup on any visual, smell, taste, or sound that may spark an imaginative idea. So today when my wife accidentally pronounced ‘leopard’ like it was ‘leotard,’ the good husband in me vanished with a writer taking over. “Leopards, leotards… hmmmm…LEOPARDS IN LEOTARDS. Yes!” Whenever an idea in my head is labeled by the processing department as “Children’s Book Friendly,” I search on Google and Amazon to see if it’s been done before. While I’m sure this combination is in a ‘grammar’ book, creatively speaking I was in the clear. My next task was to perform a google image search for continued inspiration. That’s when this happened… LeopardsInLeotards With all due to respect to this lovely lady, I can’t bring myself to think of ‘leopards’ or ‘leotards.’ So imaginators, what did we learn today? Sometimes a picture is worth 1 word: “Yuck!”, and it may be best to let an idea fully blossom before allowing a cruel world to influence you. Happy writing everyone!