TLA, A book launch, school visits, Classes I’m Teaching, Oh My!

Life-sized Abe Lincoln is ready for photo-opps at my April 15th launch party.

Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words

Much has happened within the last month. The book launch trailer for Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words released, which makes me all kinds of giddy. Then, on April 1, the book itself hit bookstore shelves. I hope you will get your own copy from your favorite independent bookstore and share it with the young people in your life. I think you will agree that it has powerful tie-ins with character education. And I employed a fun, direct-address narrator that makes it great for read-alouds, too. Be sure to read the expanded content, linked to the book page here. While you’re on that page, if you’re a librarian or teacher, consider sharing the full bibliography and my working timeline with your students. Everyone will be surprised to learn how much peripheral research was required. And don’t miss the teacher’s guide here. 

Though the book released April 1, the official launch party for Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words will be Sunday, April 15, 2018, at 2:00 pm at Book People in Austin. If you’re in the area, please come by for a reading, snacks, trivia, and a photo opp. You can view/print the Lincoln launch flyer for full information.

Step Right Up

Taking photos of your kids in the bluebonnets is a Texas tradition that has taken on a new meaning for me this year:)

Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness, illustrated by Daniel Minter, continues to be embraced by schools and families around the country. Entire schools are taking the Step Right Up Kindness Pledge. How humbling and lovely! As many of you know, because of my personal connection to horses and my love of all animals, this story is infused with an extra piece of my heart. Now, SRU is on at least four state award lists, including Kansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and the Texas Bluebonnet master list for 2018-19. As a native Texan, I admit to being especially honored by the Bluebonnet nod. At the 2018 TX Library Association (TLA) conference in Dallas this past weekend, I had a blast meeting librarians from around the state during the Bluebonnet speed dating event and signing. What these remarkable literary champions may not realize is that we authors think of them as the rock stars. After all, every educator spends their career to changing young lives every day. Wow!


Honored to see Step Right Up acknowledged for the 2018-19 Bluebonnet master list.

Other highlights from TLA’18 included catching up with other authors, meeting TLA committee and staff members, collecting more books, signing both of my books in the author area, attending the Bluebonnet luncheon, and being stopped by KidLitTV for an interview. You can see that here. 

School visits

I’ve had a lot of school visits in Texas this year, and I look forward to traveling to Louisiana for school visits in May. During my presentations, I offer my personal connection to my books, my writing and research process (aimed to reinforce classroom goals), expanded content, and a conversation about how one person can make a difference with kindness and how words are a super power. During the 2018-19 Bluebonnet season, I hope to visit as many schools as possible.

You can view/print my 2018 School visit flyer here. Email me for more information. 

Upcoming Classes that I’m Teaching

If you’re a librarian or teacher who dreams of being published, stay tuned. I might be offering an online class or webinar just for you!

If you’re interested in having me critique your manuscript, of if you’re interested in hiring a writing coach, donna@donnajanellbowman.comemail me.

June 9, 2018—I will be teaching a one-day workshop on writing picture book biographies for the San Antonio chapter of SCBWI. Registration is open.

June-July—I’ll be teaching an online class about picture book biographies. Stay tuned for details. Email if you would like more information.

Fall 2018 (event not yet announced)—I’ll be speaking at an SCBWI conference about writing query letters, synopsis, and cover letters. Stay tuned.

Subscribe to my e-newsletter to stay up to date with what I’m offering.

That’s quite enough for this month, don’t you think? Thank you for taking the time to read.

Picture book biographies—My most-viewed posts

We’re working to re-establish the blog archives and categories that got tangled up in the recent website import. For now, if you’re looking for past posts about nonfiction picture books or picture book biography (or ies), simply type those terms into the blog search box. You can also find the most-viewed posts below.

*DISCLAIMER: These posts were written in 2010 and 2011, as I was teaching myself how to write picture book biographies by dissecting other books. Since then, picture book biographies have evolved and I have evolved as a writer. When my imaginary household staff, interns, and assistants catch up on the backlog of responsibilities, I hope to return to the topics with a more recent perspective. Til then, enjoy!

NEW! Listen to The Porchlight Podcast where author Cynthia Levinson and I discuss the challenges of writing nonfiction picture books.

Nonfiction Picture Books- the power of THEME

Nonfiction Picture Books – Defining Tight Focus

Nonfiction Picture Books – Language and Tone

Picture Book Biographies with First Person Point of View

Nonfiction Picture Books – The Power of Illustrations

Nonfiction vs. Creative Nonfiction vs. Historical Fiction

Truth Inspired – How Story Dictates Itself

Interview with Marc Tyler Nobleman – BOYS OF STEEL and the Nonfiction Picture Book Genre

Waiting for the “NOW”. When it’s time to start Writing

Stealing, Tweaking, Voice

Alternating POV and Alternating Tense in Nonfiction Picture Books

Dramatic Point of Vew in Historical Fiction Picture Books

To Nonfiction or Historical Fiction. That is the Question

Nonfiction Picture Books – Defining Tight Focus

Research- The Scavenger Hunt of Writers

Do nonfiction picture books always have a story arc?

Research Resources- Start Growing your Cyber Library

From Befuddled to Eureka- Clarifying my narrator’s lens-P.B. Biography

Revising like a Sculptor


SCBWI Grants, the Cost of Research, and My Most Used Research Sites

Interview with Marc Tyler Nobleman – BOYS OF STEEL and the Nonfiction Picture Book Genre

I’m Teaching a NF Picture Book Class! Join Me!

Children’s nonfiction is increasingly popular these days, especially in the picture book form. Yet, it’s difficult to find relevant instruction in writing books, workshops, or classes. With ever-changing styles and creative approaches, it is important to seek out up-to-date expertise on the subject.

I’m thrilled to be teaching a six-week class about nonfiction picture books and picture book biographies at The Writing Barn in Austin this summer. In addition to authoring the recently-released (and, thankfully, acclaimed) STEP RIGHT UP: HOW DOC AND JIM KEY TAUGHT THE WORLD ABOUT KINDNESS (Lee and Low, 2016), and the forthcoming ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S DUELING WORDS (Peachtree, 2018), and KING OF THE TIGHTROPE (Peachtree, 2019), I completed my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I researched the heck out of picture book biographies for my in-depth, fifty-two-page critical thesis. See, I am smitten!  Oh, did I mention that I’ve also written books for the education market? Or that I have other p.b. bios. and nonfiction p.b.s in various stages of revision and submission?

Enough about me.

I am planning our class syllabus around a primary goal: to lead you to creative breakthroughs about your own current and future nonfiction projects. We will do this by analyzing published nonfiction picture books as mentor texts. During class times, we will explore decisions about:

Choosing a viable topic
Narrative vs. expository styles
Scope & Angle—finding the kid-friendly story
Intended audience (length and sentence complexity are a clue)
Word count and page length
Structure—linear and nonlinear options
Creative options in nonfiction and how they affect the nonfiction classification
Word choice / Tone
How to leave room for the illustrator
Research (where to start, when to stop, how to organize)
Back matter
I will share relevant process information about my own books, too.

Students will:

  • Revise current projects and begin new projects
  • Receive feedback me and fellow student
  • Join in collaborative discussions with classmates (in class and on a private Facebook page)
  • Read many nonfiction picture books—assigned and student choice–with an analytical eye
  • Maintain an informal bibliography with low-stress annotations.
  • Have fun, be inspired, and develop priceless friendships with fellow writers

Class begins June 11, 2017. Last class is July 30, 2017.
We skip June 18 (Father’s Day) and July 2 (for July 4th travelers).

Learn more about the class and how to register here.

Contact me with questions here

NEW SALE! King of the Tighrope: When the Great Blondin Ruled Niagara

The announcement made by my agent Erin Murphy, of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

I am so honored that illustrator Adam Gustavson will be working his artistic magic to bring this story to visual life.

The announcement made through Publisher’s Weekly.

Kids books ROCK!

Dramatic Point of Vew in Historical Fiction Picture Books

Continuing my observations about unique storytelling techniques in nonfiction and historical fiction picture books, today I’m turning to dramatic point of view (pov.) Maybe you’ve heard this referred to as third person distant, Objective, or the fly-on-the wall pov. Whatever term you choose to use, I hope you’ll agree that this technique is clever, entertaining, and engaging in children’s literature. And it’s really difficult to master.

Unlike close third person pov, that allows readers to get inside the head of a character, dramatic point of view is more from the narrator’s vantage point, as if he/she is narrating a stage play. In fact, you can trace the roots of this pov back to theatre. More action-focused, rather than character-focused. It’s a clever approach when details about a true event are scarce, don’t you agree?

Here are my two favorite historical fiction picture books with dramatic point of view, both authored by Deborah Hopkinson:

ABE LINCOLN CROSSES A CREEK: A TALL, THIN TALE (Introducing His Forgotten Frontier Friend)
by Deborah Hopkinson. Illustrated by John Hendrix
(Schwartz & Wade 2008)

Summary from author’s website: It’s a tale of two boys who get themselves into
more trouble than bear cubs in a candy store during the year 1816. Abe
is only seven years old, and his pal, Austin, is ten.

Abe and Austin decide to journey down to Knob Creek. The water looks
scary and deep, and Austin points out that they don’t know how to swim.
Nevertheless, they decide to traverse it. I won’t tell you what happens,
but let’s just say that our country wouldn’t be the same if Austin
hadn’t been there to help his friend. 
This episode from Lincoln’s childhood is based on as much truth as Hopkinson could unearth. There really was an Austin Gollaher, and the episode at the creek really did happen, though literary license has been employed to fill gaps. But, it’s the unique storytelling that most stands out with this book. Listen as the narrator speaks directly to ‘you’, the reader, when the subject’s identity is revealed, “Look, now he’s stopping to watch a wagon rumble by. I daresay, you’ve guessed his name. Abraham Lincoln.”
      I think its interesting that the narrator becomes a first-person participant in a third-person telling. It reminds me of the theatrical asides found in old radio detective shows.

From a safe distance, the narrator is taking ‘you’ along to witness events as they unfold.  “Here’s Knob Creek, its waters rushing through the limestone rock into a dark, deep pool. I’d be scared to cross, wouldn’t you? But Abe points to the other side of the creek. “Let’s go, Austin! That’s where I saw the partridges.”

Within this dramatic point of view, the narrator speaks to the illustrator, too, “John, could you please stop painting that noisy water?”  Interspersed throughout the text are exclamations, admitted presumptions that only a participating narrator could get away with, and even a rewind announcement, “HOLD ON ONE MINUTE! I want to be sure we get this right. Because maybe it didn’t happen like that. I mean, would Abe and Austin really have WALKED across a log over that whirlpool? They weren’t that foolish, were they? No, I’m almost sure those boys would have crawled! So let’s try again.” 

What a compelling and entertaining way to draw young readers into an actual historical event. Don’t you agree?

A BOY CALLED DICKENS by Deborah Hopkinson. Illustrated by John Hendrix (Schwartz & Wade 2012)

From jacket flap: Step back in time to the winding, crowded streets of old London….We are here to search for a boy called Charles Dickens.Who is he?A skinny, hungry child with patched sleeves? Yes.
A worker in Warren’s rat-infested blacking factory? That too.
But he’s also an imaginative boy who yearns for books, and who longs to create stories of his very own.
In this example of dramatic point of view, the tone is much heavier, to fit the grim setting. In present tense, the author/narrator invites the reader in, “This is old London, on a winter morning long ago. Come along, now. We are here to search for a boy called Dickens. Once again, the narrator is pointing the lens and directing us, the readers, to follow along.

     He won’t be easy to find. The fog has crept in, silent as a ghost, to fold the city in cold, gray arms.” And the story continues, “Hurry! Let’s not lose him in the twisting, turning alleys. There he is, running to that run-down, rickety house by the river. Are we brave enough to follow him?

How could a reader not follow such an intriguing hook? From here, the narrator directs attention back to the unfolding day-in-the life story which reveals the sad and little known childhood of Charles Dickens.

By the story’s end, the gloominess gives way and we glimpse the future of the boy, full of imaginings and hope. The narrator beckons the reader again, “Now, once again, let us follow the boy. It’s a clear, sunny morning. He is walking briskly; his eyes are bright. And what’s that he’s carrying?” It would spoil the story if I gave too much more away here. Suffice it to say, the story wraps on a hopeful note.

So there ya go, two apparent outliers among historical fiction and nonfiction picture books. Two more examples to prove that there is no formula, template, or single “right” way to write a picture book or to reveal history.

If you know of other such picture books written with the dramatic point of view, please add them to the comments. Even if you don’t have a title to add, please join the conversation.