Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.
KRISTIN DALY discovered her love of children’s book in high school, when she worked at her local public library. In May 1999, she began working at Golden Books as an Editorial Assistant, working on picture books, series fiction and easy readers. In January 2002, she began working at HarperCollins Children’s Books, where she now works as an editor. Her early work focused on mostly picture books and easy readers, but now she edits all levels of children’s books. Currently, she is especially excited to be working with best-selling author Gary Blackwood on his first I Can Read Book, The Just-So Woman and newcomer Sudipta Bardhan on her first HarperCollins picture books, Snoring Beauty and Hampire! I was delighted to have met Kristin at a recent SCBWI retreat.
You have a lot of experience editing picture books, easy readers and rhyming stories. What advice would you give to a writer who is contemplating writing a story in rhyme?
I actually have two pieces of advice! The first is to Make Every Line Count. In writing rhyme, it’s so tempting to make yourself and your story slaves to the rhyme and meter. There are two immediate signs that you’ve fallen into this trap: The first is if you find that you’ve been adding unnecessary adverbs, adjectives, and articles in an effort to meet the syllable count of your meter. The second is inverting the object and verb of a line to read something like, “His carrots he never ate in haste,” just because the line before ended with "taste." Writers of rhyme should always watch out for empty calories, or all of that “filler” material that may sound good, but doesn’t move a story along at all. If you find yourself writing lines and adding words simply to meet your meter or rhyme scheme, you are filling your story with empty calories.
My second piece of advice is to read your work aloud, because although the rhyme and meter may look fine on the page, when you read your verse aloud any forced rhyme or uneven meter will jump right out at you. I do this as an editor, too--whenever I'm editing a rhyming picture book text, I close my office door and read the text aloud to myself several times to make sure everything sounds perfect. It's the surest way to know whether or not a rhyme is really working.
It seems that a current trend amongst many easy reader publishers is toward featuring licensed characters. Do you have any advice for someone who wants to write ”non-licensed character” easy readers for the trade market?
While it's true that more and more licensed characters are popping up in easy-to-read books these days, this isn't necessarily a new trend. Licensed characters have been appearing in easy-to-read books for years; it just seems new because there are so many of licensed books right now. That said, not every easy-to-read line publishes books featuring licensed characters, and even those that do--such as Random House and Harper--generally do not exclusively do so. It's the same with nonfiction--some easy-to-read lines publish a ton of nonfiction, some publish a little, and others none at all.
And so my best advice to a writer of easy-to-reads is the same as it is for writers in any genre: Know your market. Go to bookstores and libraries and actually look at the different easy-to-read books out there. Look at titles individually, and look at the easy-to-read lines as a whole. Take the time to become familiar with the different lines, because each has its own distinct personality. And within each easy-to-read line, read some books at different levels. Which houses are publishing more original (as opposed to licensed) beginning readers? Which ones seem to publish more books at the same "level" as your own manuscripts? (For example, while Harper's I Can Read! line technically publishes up through Level 4, we tend to do more titles at the younger levels, from My First up through Level 2.) What types of stories are the different lines publishing--who seems to focus on Frog-and-Toad type friendship stories? Who does easy-to-read poetry or nonfiction? And so on. The more knowledge you have about the market, the more effectively you'll be able to target your submissions, and the greater the chance that your manuscript will find the best home.
What's your favorite children's joke?
Q: Why do elephants paint their toenails red?
A: So they can hide in a strawberry patch.
(Corny, I know, but it still makes me laugh!)
Thanks so much, Kristin!