When my daughter Laura bought a few children’s books as baby gifts, Miranda Paul’s Ten Little Ninjas was one of them. In case you haven’t had the joy of reading this sweet gem, Ten Little Ninjas is about ten mischievous tots who sneak out of bed at night, race around the bedroom, roam the halls, and do anything but sleep until the exhausted Daddy and Mama say, “Attention everyone – back to bed!” Finally, the last page unfolds and – ZZZZZ – the children are slumbering away.
Miranda Paul is the author of more than a dozen award-winning books that have been Amazon Best Book of the Month picks, received starred reviews and honors from the American Library Association, National Science Teachers Association, and the Junior Library Guild. She also became a literary agent for Erin Murphy and she taught Highlights Foundation Workshops for Children’s Writer and Illustrators in The Barn nestled among the cabins in the woods in rural Pennsylvania.
It was there, in 2016, that I met Miranda when she taught the “Nuts and Bolts of Science Fiction Writing” with the acclaimed Jennifer Swanson.
When reading 10 Little Ninjas to my grandchildren, I thought “Hmm. What about 10 Naughty ??” (I don’t want to share what these naughty little imps are because I submitted the book to one of the world’s leading children’s publishers and …to my surprise… received an email the next day saying the book showed promise but not as written, but I could submit a revision and the publisher was willing to take another look at it.
I quickly rewrote and resubmitted the book and received another response SIX HOURS later saying it was much better and, while there were problems with two stanzas, she was going to present it to her team.
Thank you Miranda!
Here is what Miranda taught me in her book and at the Highlights Workshop:
- Find a Mentor Text. A mentor text is a book you admire like 10 Little Ninjas. It inspired my take-off on Miranda’s idea, and I studied the words she used and how she made her book so much fun to read.
- Study, Study, Study. I counted the pages, the words on each page, and made note of the illustrations and the flow of the story.
- Is Your Idea Original? Miranda may have been inspired by the classic story of ten little monkeys jumping on the bed, but she gave that tale a very unique twist. I tried to do the same with my book.
- Visualize it. If it’s a picture book, can you see it? What would you like to see an artist draw on each page? It wasn’t until I took a pencil and roughly sketched out two-page spreads and envisioned the art work that the story came together. I had started just writing rhyming stanzas, but there wasn’t really a good story there. I had to sketch out a book first and then create the words to go along with the flow. Miranda’s ninjas were different on every page, changing from tigers to cowboys to reef sharks. Every page was exciting to see and read.
- Use the most exciting, snazzy words you can in your writing! For example,
Miranda talks not only about 10 little ninjas but also about “9 tiny astronauts zooming in the dark,” “8 rapid racers revving out the gate” and “7 prowling tigers roaming through the hall- one turned back and thwacked the wall.”
- Make your book fun to read! Imagine a child you know, especially the age of the child you’re writing the book for. What would make him or her laugh?
- Revise and revise and revise, and show your drafts to friends, family, or a critique group. I showed 10 Naughty ? to my daughter Laura and her husband Michael who have read countless story books to their three children who are always roaming the halls instead of going to sleep. I also shared it with my son who pointed out one of the things the publisher later objected to – there were too many naughty imps eating candy and changing color.
- Attend writing conferences like Highlights with editors, agents, authors or publishers where you can meet professionals like Miranda who can teach you how to be a better writer or illustrator.
- Use one of your contacts in the industry to submit your work to bypass the slush pile. Luckily, I met the publisher I submitted to at a Highlights workshop!
- Finally, have fun, even in your query letter to the publisher or agent. Tell her you like what she publishes. ( I truly do. Writing for this woman is my dream.) Tell her that you created this original book that’s looks like it fits with the new titles she presents each season. Good luck!