NAPIBOWRIWEE 2013: Day 4 – Guest Blogger Martha Brockenbrough! (May 4, 2013)


Welcome to DAY FOUR of our 5th annual NAPIBOWRIWEE (National Picture Book Writing Week) 2013 where we try to write 7 picture books in 7 days!

We are officially at the HALFWAY point of this marathon writing event where we are trying to write 7 picture books in 7 days. Day Four is the make-or-break day. If you can get through this day, you can definitely survive the final brutal days of this event! Hang in there, everyone! WE CAN DO IT!

Since Day 4 falls on a Saturday – most of you have the day off. You might have some social obligations, house errands, or family duties, but at least it’s the weekend!


ANSWER: Find a new place to write! Get out of your comfort zone! Write at the museum! A library! Your favorite coffeehouse! A fancy hotel lobby! The park!

My favorite place to write when I get burned out at home is at the Beverly Hills Public Library. They just remodeled the children’s library – it is BEAUTIFUL. Here’s a link where you can see some videos of the breathtaking renovation:

And here’s a great blog with some photos of the children’s library remodel:

I understand the burn-out, fatigue, and depression and frustration that can take over during Days 3 and 4. This NAPIBOWRIWEE event can get brutal. Writing 7 picture books in 7 days is a RIDICULOUS IDEA. LOL! 🙂 But again, it’s just to celebrate writing and disciplining ourselves to WRITE EVERY DAY NO MATTER WHAT. Who cares if some of the 7 books end up in the recycle bin? The whole point is that this is a writing exercise that will hopefully result in a rough draft that COULD have the potential to become a future publishable book. Or a magazine article. Or a really cool blog. Or it could inspire a better idea down the road. And so on. You don’t know unless you try.

I am passionate about getting everyone to write every day because I WRITE EVERY DAY. I have to. I’m a professional writer. This is what I do for a living. I started out as a full-time newspaper reporter (The Seattle Times and The Detroit News) before going to magazines (PEOPLE Magazine). Then after almost ten years of journalism, I got my MFA in creative writing and started pursuing novels and children’s books. During that time, I also fell into TV drama writing. So since 2002, I have been writing full-time as a book and TV writer. I write. all. the. time.

Not everything I write works. A lot of it ends up in the recycling bin. But learning to write every single day has helped strengthen my writing skills. It’s like being an athlete and exercising every day – you build up a lot of stamina. Because you need stamina in this brutal creative industry filled with rejection, rejection, rejection. So I’m trying to help everyone learn how to write every day no matter what so you grow as a writer! 🙂

So how did my Day Three go?

MY DAY THREE EXPERIENCE: Today was ROUGH. I had another work meeting that was very far from my house, so yes, I was caught in L.A. traffic for most of the day. AND it was unseasonably warm – almost 95 degrees in the Valley! Once again, I didn’t have a chance to start working on Book 3 until after dinner.

Instead of a writing a book from scratch this time, I decided to use research for a feature spec screenplay that I’m currently working on for a picture book. My feature spec is a biopic (biography). And since my three published picture books with Lee & Low Books are biographies, it hit me that this historical subject would also make for a very good picture book. So I started writing a biographic picture book.

The end result? Not bad! It’s a little long but the basic structure is there. And the bonus? I sort of now have a rough outline for my script! YAY! Once again… NAPIBOWRIWEE WORKS! 🙂


Now, on to our Day Four Guest Blog Q&A about The Future of the Picture Book with YA novelist and debut picture book author MARTHA BROCKENBROUGH ( Please post a comment about today’s blog and/or let us know how your progress went for Day Four! 🙂

(Keep reading after the jump for our Q&A with Martha Brockenbrough!)


Martha Brockenbrough

Martha Brockenbrough is author of THE DINOSAUR TOOTH FAIRY (Scholastic/Arthur A Levine 2013), DEVINE INTERVENTION, a YA novel, and two other books for adults. She’s also the founder of National Grammar Day. Her debut picture book is THE DINOSAUR TOOTH FAIRY (illustrated by Isreal Sanchez). Her website is here:


QUESTION: Do you think the rise in popularity for the eBook will help or hurt the future of the picture book? As a writer, when you work on a new book, do you think about how it will “read” on an eBook reader as well? 

ANSWER: So far, the rise in popularity of e-readers has meant that more people are reading more books. This is a good thing, even if it’s hard for those of us who love the printed book to envision a future that might be entirely digital. I’m in favor of pretty much anything that gets more people reading, although I don’t see the printed picture book going away anytime soon. They’re just too beautiful and it’s just too cozy. Kids love devices, too, but a parent would have to be nuts to think the glow of an iPad is going to help a child fall asleep. So those will be stories for another context. At this point, I’ve only considered digital enhancements for one manuscript—the least narrative one I’ve ever written. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. The page turn is still a really effective way to add suspense.

QUESTION: There have been many “Boy Who Cried Wolf” articles in the media recently about how picture book sales have declined as anxious parents try to push their students into reading chapter books instead. Why is it important for children to read picture books? What makes a picture book special as well as important for a child’s educational growth?

ANSWER: I actually feel compassion for those parents who are so caught up in their kids’ academic performance that they forget that pleasure is a huge component of learning and practice. In other words, if you don’t like doing something, you’re going to spend a lot of energy resisting it. It’s about the worst-case scenario for intellectual development. I feel even sorrier for the kids. Yikes. That said, we live in a highly visual world. Picture books help kids make sense of visual and textual information. Kids should spend a LOT of time with them before moving on, and there’s no reason to abandon them entirely. People who can process visual information and convey information visually will have a huge advantage as adults. Also, there’s no better way to make a child feel loved than to drop everything and read. Picture books are the first seeds of this kind of love that we plant.

QUESTION: Many aspiring picture book writers are discouraged by the doom-n-gloom reports of the declining book industry (Big Six mergers, lower sales of picture books, more emphasis on the writer-illustrator as opposed to the solo writer). What words of encouragement would you give to these aspiring newbies to NOT give up?

ANSWER: At the end of your life, are you going to care how much money you made writing picture books? Or are you going to care that you helped a child fall in love with reading and understand the world a bit better through something you created? Yes, this is a frustrating, difficult, slow, and sometimes lonely process. But there’s no better way to spend our limited days than trying to make a child laugh, wonder, and understand. That’s what we do. Everything else … the publishing process, the money, is a sideshow.

QUESTION: What challenges do you face as a published author of picture books in these volatile times of the publishing industry? Have you noticed a change in your career in terms of what agents/editors/readers want?

ANSWER: It’s incredibly hard to get a toe hold. I’m in the process of selling my second picture book, but it just takes a long time and requires a lot of patience. I do think the appetite for characters who can be turned into franchises is big and getting bigger, and this requires a different way of thinking about things.

QUESTION: Any final words of advice or any epiphanies you would like to share with us about your own writing/art journey?

ANSWER: Read a lot of picture books. Buy a lot of picture books. Keep creating, and don’t give up on yourself. It’s a subjective business, and the better you get, the better chance you have of finding someone who loves that unique thing only you can bring.


Thanks again to Martha Brockenbrough for answering our Q&A for Day Three!  

Tune in tomorrow by 6 AM (West Coast Time) for our Day Five blog featuring Ford Street publisher and book author PAUL COLLINS (

In the meantime, good luck writing today. Please post any comments below for today’s blog with your thoughts, questions, and writing updates. You can follow me on Twitter @paulayoo. Please feel free to use this HASHTAG – #NaPiBoWriWee

I’m off to write! Until tomorrow’s blog, remember… HAPPY WRITING! WRITE LIKE YOU MEAN IT! 🙂



  1. Martha – great point about the “appetite” for characters who can support a series and the different approach needed. Though hearing from family “You need to write a book like Fancy Nancy so it can be a series” makes me cringe – as if it’s that easy to just magically construct a perfect character!

  2. Thanks, Martha! I love your encouragement, and your focus on what matters about writing picture books–making a difference for kids.

    I must admit that I’m way behind! I have only written one picture book draft so far, but I plan to catch up this weekend. I have a write-in with my writing buddy tomorrow, and that will help.

    Thanks, Paula, for organizing this wonderful annual event!

  3. My 5th draft is finished! I was hoping to be able to add another to my count and look over the 2 that I revised yesterday… but will be glued to my computer watching horses all day. First,the Kentucky Derby and then I’ll switch to FEI TV and watch the Badminton Cross-Country coverage live

  4. I believe that the parents skipping picture books, are depriving kids of a wonderful experience. When I think back about the books I read as a child, I remember the picture books and not the chapter books or middle grade readers. Those pibos were the ones I read over and over — and tuned into watch Captain Kangaroo read even though I’d read them a gazillion times.

    • I have such strong memories of picture books I read as a child. Any book, though, can be the one that gives a child courage or happiness or a sense of connection. This is why kids should be surrounded by many and encouraged to read widely. There aren’t “good” books or “right books” for all … there’s the right book at the right time for the right kid.

  5. Martha, I totally agree with you, picture books will never go out of style… there is nothing like holding a book in your hands and cuddling with your child as you read it to them. I read to both of my children way before they could talk… and their first books were cloth books that they took everywhere with them… they even read them to their stuffed animals.

    Hope everyone has a great day!

  6. Beautiful weather outside today, so I got to work early and finished draft 4. Today’s story was inspired by a personal problem–my corgi barking/herding us up to bed every night! Not sure it will make a good PB story, but it was fun to write from his perspective. Thanks for the motivation to keep going, Paula and Martha.

  7. Thanks for being so honest yet upbeat, Martha. This isn’t an easy nut to crack so the encouragement is great. 🙂

    Did my DAY 4 first draft but I’m not crazy in love with it. Kind of a laborious process today. But glad I attempted it and I will continue to play with the character I created even if the PB ms doesn’t seem quite right yet.

  8. Your post reminded me how important it is to keep reading picture books with my children, no matter how old they are.

  9. Paula, I am impressed with the money that has gone into the children’s library in Beverly Hills. Here in NYC our mayor wants to sell off the libraries to developers.
    Martha, good point on picture books. They are so important to a child’s intellectual, as well emotional development.
    I am working on my 4th draft, not finished yet.

  10. Thanks Martha for the very encouraging words. I am going to have a short rough draft on this 4th one. At least it’s Sat., so I can stay up late to work on it.

  11. Thank you for the encouraging words. I have my 4th draft started. It is a non-fiction. I need to do research for it. It’s going to be about time capsules at least I hope I can make this work.

  12. Day four and a very short concept/board book draft complete. Thanks for the insights, Martha! I love your thought: “Picture books are the first seeds of this kind of love that we plant.”

  13. I was super busy with Free Comic Book Day so I got very little done. I wrote a bit but I was mostly busy with keeping up with my artist table and talking to everyone else around. Then I was too tired when I got home to really do anything else but sleep and be lazy XD.

  14. I was soooooooo lucky to be at New England SCBWI spring conference on Saturday. Walking through the poster exhibit gave me a terrific idea for the day’s draft. Jotted more of an outline than a draft when I got home -exhausted! But a terrific conference and a wonderful time seeing so many friends IRL. Wish I could have stayed all three days!

  15. I had to skip Saturday because I was gone all day, but I will make it up on Sunday. Actually, this where I start to falter every year—day 4. I intend to break the pattern this year, but it does get harder and harder each day.

    On a side note, another reason I think picture books will never go away is that they not only foster an interest in words and stories, but also in art and visual story-telling. The pictures often inspire imagination more than the text and create an appreciation for art and illustration. Picture books are perfect alloys of text and image, creating a whole that is so much more than the sum of its parts.

  16. Martha, I love when you questioned will we remember the money or the fact that we “helped a child fall in love with reading and understand the world a bit better through something you/we created.” That is so true. Thanks for sharing where your heart is.

    Paula, I’m always thrilled to hear how your day goes. You’re such a busy gal. I enjoy your honesty about the bumpy parts of the road. (Both L.A. and literature)

    For me, my day was spent at our small town’s annual rummage sale. I went out looking for stuff and the stuff that idea’s come from. I have 30 ideas from last November’s PiBoIdMo but I seem to be gleaning from what inspires me as the day goes by.

    I gathered tons of objects that seemed to say, “Look at me.” I didn’t write at all yesterday I just gathered items, books, and ideas. Be sure to check out my blog as I gloat over my findings. Truth be told I didn’t write a stitch.

  17. Martha, your answer about what we will want to have accomplished for children by the end of our days really resonated with me. This career is definitely a labor of love.

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