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

Kid-Friendly books about the Writing Process

A perennial favorite…

Kid-Friendly books about the Writing Process

There are wonderful books aimed at inspiring children to write and read.
Now that school has started, I thought I’d share a bundle of titles
that I’ve come across. Some of these books are useful during school
visits. Others are wonderful classroom additions. All of them are
visually appealing.

This list of recommended reads is full of color, humor, and story. The
whole idea is to make writing fun for kids. Yes, even grammar and
punctuation. If we can wrap Language Arts lessons into a positive
experience, young writers are bound to blossom. But, these aren’t only
for elementary school kids. Writers of all ages can benefit.


THE PLOT CHICKENS by Mary Jane Auch,
illustrated by Herm Auch (Holiday House, 2010) Henrietta loves to read
so much she decides to write a book of her own. With the help of her
three old aunties, she hatches a plot, gives her character lots of
problems, and writes what she knows. But when Henrietta publishes her
story, the critics say she’s laid an egg! Is this the end of Henrietta’s
career as an author?

A BOOK by Mordicai Gerstein Once
upon a time there was a family who lived in a book. All but the
youngest had stories they belonged to–fighting fires, exploring space,
entertaining in the circus–but she didn’t have one yet. Walking through
all the possibilities of story types Mordicai Gerstein presents her
quest in unique and changing perspectives


SHOW; DON’T TELL: SECRETS OF WRITING by Josephine Nobisso’s,
illustrated by Eva Montanari (Gingerbread House, 2004) Innovative yet
accessible writing strategies appropriate for both fiction and
nonfiction are presented in this enchanting tale of a writing lion who
holds court for a cast of animal friends. Aspiring writers learn the
essential nature of nouns and adjectives and how to use them to express
their individual visions so that they “show and don’t tell” every time.
Writing lessons are cleverly integrated into a tale that incorporates a
sound chip, a scratch-and-sniff patch, and a tactile object to engage
the aspiring writer’s five senses in fun proofs.


S IS FOR STORY: A WRITER’S ALPHABET by Esther Hershenhorn,
illustrated by Zachary Pullen (Sleeping Bear Press, 2009) What is a
first draft? What is a writer’s notebook? Authur Esther Hershenhorn uses
the alphabet to help explain, explore and examines the tools,
techniques and strategies for those hoping to live the literary life.
Budding writers of all ages will be inspired to put pen to paper (or
fingers on keyboards)!


illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff (Lerner, 2010) All aboard! Join a
family of giraffes on their journey to Punctuation Station. As the train
chugs along, you’ll learn the ins and outs of using periods, commas,
apostrophes question marks, hyphens, quotation marks, and exclamation


by Brian P. Cleary, illustrated by Brian Gable (Lerner, 2009)One book
is never enough to explore the wide range of verbs! The crazy cats
deliver loads of additional examples to illustrate the power of both
action verbs and linking verbs. **Different titles cover specific
grammar points with humor. Nouns, pronouns, adverbs, adjectives,
antonyms, synonyms, metaphors and similes, conjunctions, etc.)

VOICES IN THE PARK by Anthony Browne (DK,
2001) Four different voices tell their own versions of the same walk in
the park. The radically different perspectives give a fascinating depth
to this simple story which explores many of the author’s key themes,
such as alienation, friendship and the bizarre amid the mundane.

WHAT DO AUTHORS DO? by Eileen Christelow (Sandpiper,
1997) A sprightly text and colorful illustrations follow two creative
people-and a talkative dog and cat-through the writing process step by
step, from the inspiration for a story to the satisfaction of sharing
the book with readers. Eileen Christelow based this instructive picture
book on questions children asked during her classroom talks around the
country. Simple enough for young children to understand.

THE BEST STORY by Eileen Spinelli,
illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf (Penguin, 2008) The best story is one that
comes from the heart. The library is having a contest for the best
story, and the quirky narrator of this story just has to win that
rollercoaster ride with her favorite author! But what makes a story the
Her brother Tim says the best stories have lots of action. Her father
thinks the best stories are the funniest. And Aunt Jane tells her the
best stories have to make people cry. A story that does all these things
doesn’t seem quite right, though, and the one thing the whole family
can agree on is that the best story has to be your own.

WORD AFTER WORD AFTER WORD by Patricia MacLachlan,
(Katherine Tegen Books, 2010) Every school day feels the same for
fourth graders Lucy and Henry and Evie and Russell and May. Then Ms.
Mirabel comes to their class- bringing magical words and a whole new way
of seeing and understanding. An honest story about what is real and
what is unreal, and about the ways writing can change our lives and
connect us to our own stories- word after word after word.

Stealing, Tweaking, Voice

Recently, I had a fabulous conference critique on a new picture book biography. It left me smiling for days, mostly because of two words: “great voice.” It’s taken a long time nail the concept of voice.  If you’ve been writing as long as I have, you know how ambiguous the subject of voice is. I mean, how do you define it? Good luck explaining the term to a ten year old, to your spouse, to a new writer.  It’s like describing a new flavor. Usually, you just know a good one when you taste it. As a picture book writer, it is the ultimate compliment. It doesn’t come easily. And writers aren’t the only ones who struggle with it.

The day after our ASCBWI conference, I was fortunate to spend a workshop morning with famed illustrator E.B. Lewis. He spoke about the relationship between words and images. He addressed the illustrators in the room by encouraging everyone to “steal” from other works. Not, in a plagiarism way. He meant by copying the color of the sky in one painting, the shape of a shoulder in another, the shadows, hands, flow in yet another painting, and on, and on. By extracting ideas from established works, artists can create something fresh and unique to them.  In fact, this is how music has been composed for centuries, too. And it’s how my wedding dress came to be.

I know, you’re now asking what a wedding dress has to do with voice. Well, maybe you remember being a bride-to-be, shuffling through racks of puffy white gowns, pouring over the thick wedding magazines, clipping pictures of dresses, and veils, and glittery things. I certainly did that, but I never found THE perfect dress. I liked the sleeves of one dress, the bodice of another, the neckline or beadwork of another, the scalloped train of yet another, and so on. I took images of these disparate pieces to a seamstress, tweaked the whole with my own personal tastes, then voila!  I walked down the aisle in a dress that was uniquely me. My own style. If my wedding could be defined in terms of voice, that dress was it. Though each piece was inspired by others’ creations, it came together as my own original design.

Back to writing. I think there are two kinds of voice. There’s the overall voice set up by the narrative style, and there’s each character’s individual voice. They can’t be forced. Voice to a writer comes from reading, reading, reading, and writing, writing, writing. Though we may not always physically clip phrases, words, sentences from pages, our readers’ mind somehow records it. First, maybe we imitate a writer we admire. In time, like my wedding dress, we process component parts, add our own personal spin and voila! Our written voice comes more naturally.

I’m still smiley about this editor’s kind words about the voice of my manuscript. It reminds me of how very far I’ve come as a writer.  I have a whole lot of established authors and their fine books to thank for it. And there’s so much more to learn. Which means it’s time to hit the books again.


Donna’s Dummy for Dummies

I’m currently polishing a p.b. biography and a fiction picture book that I’ve been whittling away at for a couple of years. Before I attempt to submit the manuscripts, I want to work them each into a picture book dummy to test the pacing, illustratable scenes, and page turns. Obviously, a publisher’s art director would have final say over such details, but if I, as the writer, haven’t visualized the books as a whole, my work may never see the light of day.
My experience with picture book dummies has left me feeling a bit guilty about the number of trees that have been sacrificed in the name of a mock-up. I imagined the perfect alternative. A dummy that could be reused and repurposed. One that would offer the flexibility that different projects demand. And it had to be low-tech.
But, first things first. Once I’ve re-re-re-revised my manuscript (while consuming oodles of chocolate,) I story-board to get an overall view of the layout.  The storyboard is the first dummy. It’s also handy as a planning tool, especially if you’re an outliner. You can create your own storyboard pages, of course, but here are a few sites with samples and more details about picture book construction. Cheryl Klein’s Words, Wisdom, Art, and Heart, Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Construction, Editorial Anonymous’ Basic Book Construction, Uri Shulevitz’s How to Make a Storyboard,  Drawn’s idiot proof picture book dummy.
Now, it’s time to test the page turns. The aim is always to keep a reader interested enough to turn the page again and again. The best way to visualize the story as a book is to break it up into actual pages and read aloud. That’s where my own dummy for dummies will come into play. It’s a humble new tool, but it’s become mighty handy.
Donna’s Picture Book Dummy for Dummies.
An inexpensive three-ring binder will allow me to move pages around as needed.


Twenty-four laminated sheets of white paper will represent a 32 or 48 page book. I chose white paper to avoid color-vibe that might distort the underlying emotion of my text as I read. (I know, geeky, huh?) I had the lamination done at my local office supply store and it was ready within thirty minutes. (Note to self: next time, watch for store coupons.) Note the use of dry erase or wet erase markers. I can make easy text changes with the aid of the ten little erasers attached to my hands.



The particular organization of front matter in picture books varies. I wanted to create the actual page-turn feel of the book so I dedicated pages one, two, and three to the title, copyright, dedication, acknowledgements, and other front matter. I’ll ignore these mock pages, of course.


There is no set-in-stone rule about where the printed text begins. Most often, it begins with a hook on page 3 or with a double page spread on 4-5. I can rearrange my pages as the story dictates. I can write out the text on the page with my fine-tip markers, cut and paste from my manuscript and tape onto these pages, or use the old standby sticky notes if the order is still in question.



Thanks to my multi-colored  dry/wet erase markers, I can even doodle some very bad illustrations that nobody else will see. Once the story is dummied onto these shiny pages, I can read the text aloud to gauge the cadence, the flow, the rhythm of the story.Best of all, I’ll re-use these pages over and over again. Mother nature will thank me.