• Hello readers and writers!

    Welcome to my blog. You’ll find reviews of amazing books from around the world, writing prompts to experiment with, stories about my work with kids and teens and their books, author interviews, and more. You can click on the categories.

  • Writing a Picture Book

    Often in children’s books, the authenticity of emotion arises from the writer searching for and finding themselves as a child and their own fears and joys.

    Here are some elements of fiction to think about as you explore writing a picture book.

    I’ve come to realize that writing a book for children is a powerful act.  Consider your audience. They are young children who are soaking in everything that touches their lives. A book for a young child is the world. It’s how to see.  The book becomes part of making meaning for the very first time. So that’s what you’re doing when you write a story that is accessible to young children.

    Even though we’re creating books for the very youngest humans – and also because that’s what we’re doing – picture books are an art form with many possible layers to create meaning. Here I’m talking about the language in picture books, but I offer this focus on writing knowing that it’s the coming together of two art forms – words and images – that makes meaning for a child.

    There are almost as many kinds of picture books as there are writers, but I want to offer you a sampling of language writers have used in picture book stories to inspire possibilities for you.

    Julie Flett draws from a memory of a family ritual in her book Wild Berries. The arc of the story is the arc of a day of a grandmother and grandchild picking blueberries.  

    Flett creates an elegant and spare emotional tone in her words and images.  The language is a tool to build characterization – we begin to know the characters through this spare language.

    The is a bilingual story, and Flett weaves words in her own dialect of the Cree language through the telling. In the English edition of the book, Cree is printed using the Roman alphabet.  Flett devotes some of her few words to sounds.

             Tup, tup

    She has helped the reader meet the grandmother and grandchild using spare language.  She includes words in their mother language.  And she brings the reader into the sensory experience of picking berries in the language that a child might hear, and might like to repeat, tup, tup. 

    Bear Came Along written by Richard T. Morris, and illustrated by LeUyen Pham is a wild cumulative tale.

    A bear has got himself in a fix taking a raft down the river, and is joined by one animal after another. The animals’ plight gets worse until it gets even more worse, until all the animals on the raft are piled up at the edge of a giant falls like Niagara. A cliff hanger like this will delight a lot of kids. They will also see the danger the animals face and that is even more exciting.  Sometimes children love stories that scare them. You can read more about this idea in Jan Mark’s genius story collection for slightly older children, Nothing to Be Afraid Of.

    Subversive storiesmight not be considered auspicious by parents,” as one reviewer wrote about Jon Klassen’s This Is Not My Hat. There is a theft, a betrayal, and a likely killing of the main character, a little fish. The language is very direct.  Klassen begins,

    This is not my hat.  I stole it.

    Children love this book. And educators do too and have used it to teach about moral philosophy and ethics in which children talk about trust, lying, and theft.

    You might be interested in exploring fiction that takes readers back in history, possibly based on a life story. A family story can turn on a single concrete item of value to a family that becomes the thread for the reader to follow.

    Using a rope that children once used for a jump rope is the thread Jacqueline Woodson wove through This Is the Rope: A Story of the Great Migration illustrated by James Ransome. She tells this story in free verse. 

    This is the rope my grandmother found
    beneath an old tree
    a long time ago
    back home in South Carolina.
    This is the rope my grandmother skipped
    under the shade of a sweet-smelling pine.

    In Woodson’s author’s note, she described her own grandmother’s experience that brought her family from South Carolina to Brooklyn.  She understood deeply the story of her fictional characters. Often in children’s books, the authenticity of emotion arises from the writer searching for and finding themselves as a child and their own fears and joys.

    You can write dialogue that reveals a character through his speech. In my book, The Cat Who Liked Potato Soup, illustrated by Barry Root, the story turns on voice.   

    The omniscient narrator has the colloquial voice of the main character. It’s partly through his voice that I could help readers imagine the old man. And, of course, Barry Root’s illustrations captured him in brand new ways to me visually. The old man also talks to his cat in repeated lines that become a refrain.

    Fool cat, you ain’t nobody’s prize. Never killed nothin’…
    Which was true. Not a mouse nothin’.

    Children sometimes love the predictability of knowing how a line will end and join in on the telling. It could be that your story lends itself to a including repetition or a refrain. 

    These brief notes on picture books are the introduction to a workshop I offer, “Writing a Picture Book.”  Picture books are an exciting and hugely varied genre to explore.  They include formal poetry such as Naamah and the Ark at Night by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, illustrated by Holly Meade. It’s a ghazal, an Arabic form with each couplet ending in the same word preceded by a rhyming word.  Picture books can include words in two languages to give readers a sense of the sound and rhythm of new words and ways to express ideas.  Picture books can be subversive and challenge readers with new ideas.  Picture books can be a song of hope in the face of trauma like Matt de la Peña’s Love with illustrations by Loren Long.

    To bring the workshop to your library, here’s a link to the listing of my online programs.

    Here are handouts for the “Writing a Picture Book” workshop: https://www.terryfarish.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Writing-a-Picture-Book-Handouts.pdf

  • A Picture Book From Iran: An Umbrella With White Butterflies

    An Umbrella With White Butterflies by Farhad Hassanzadeh, illustrated by Ghazaleh Bigdelou is a story about how four children unknowingly impact one another on the eve of the new year.

    This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Umbrella-Title1-1024x602.png

    Today as I write this, it’s World Read Aloud Day, a celebration of reading with children all over the world. This book of interconnection, An Umbrella with White Butterflies, might be being read in Iran, China, Korea, and Spain, but it isn’t published in English yet. Tuti Books at Fatemi Publishing in Tehran has sent me a PDF of the book in English translated by Caroline Croskery. Thank you, Tuti Books! So now I can tell you more about the book, and maybe be part of a web that leads to this beautiful book coming in English for next World Read Aloud Day.

    Children, unknown to each other, are each a player in a sequence of events that help each of them achieve what they most want for the new year celebration. The story begins in a barber shop where a boy, Ardalan, needs a hair cut and he has only so much time to get it before the clock strikes the hour of the new year. “But the barber works on his own time.” Of course. This story turns on time. And on Ghazaleh Bigdelou’s threads through the story – the cat, the butterfly, the bowls of little orange goldfish for new year, the umbrella. The boy Ardalan has to wait!

    This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Umbrella-Barber2-1024x623.png

    Then comes Atousa, in tears, waiting for her dress from the dressmaker. She has waited so long. Then come Maryam and Ali, waiting to sell their flowers in the market for the new year. At a certain moment, they happen upon Atousa, still waiting for her dress.

    This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Umbrella-rain2-1024x627.png

    Ali helps Atousa. Atousa gets her dress. The clock is ticking for the dressmaker who sends Atousa to the barber to retrieve her husband…Who was sitting in the barber’s chair and must leave, fast! The boy, Ardalan, gets his turn before the clock strikes the new year.

    This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Umbrella-Barber-Shop3-1024x630.png

    The children, strangers to one another, are now wild with their own excitement for the new year. A moment in time, a couple of words exchanged, an umbrella with white butterflies, this is a book about how everything we do touches another.

    Hassanzadeh was shortlisted for the 2020 Hans Christian Andersen Award for the life-time work of a children’s book writer, making him one of the top five children’s book writers in the world.

  • ONLINE Workshop: Writing a Picture Book

    This series has ended. I want to continue to support public libraries; they are working so hard to make sure children have stories to read. I’m offering this workshop to other public libraries and those they serve. Fee is negotiable. Please e-mail me.

    Picture books for children are poems with pictures. They can be hysterically funny. They can bring a family memory to life. Maria Popova describes picture books as “stories that tackle with elegant simplicity such complexities as uncertainty, loneliness, loss, and the cycle of life.”

    What makes a story one that children will love?  What are the components that blend and form the structure and beauty of a picture book story? 

    In this two-week workshop, participants will explore word by word and image by image how one picture book is made. Please join author Terry Farish to explore the narrative components that help a picture book sing.

    Terry will offer prompts and guidelines for participants to write their own picture book in Part I of the workshop. Part II is a Picture Book Writing Group in which participants are invited to share their picture books in progress and join in discussion about the group member’s work. Discussion in the group is on based noting what’s really alive in a story.

    Writing a Children’s Book Handouts with Reading List