Online Classes

Coming in 2021 — Writing Picture Book Biographies

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Manuscript Workshop

When it comes to getting a picture book manuscript ready for submission to agents or editors, there’s nothing better than constructive feedback from peers and a professional critique from an experienced published author. Here’s an opportunity for both.

A professional critique from me PLUS written and live critique from a small group of your peers

* Groups of five writers each will be formed based on picture book genre (fiction, nonfiction, or biography-specific)
* Every writer’s manuscript must be sent to me for distribution to the group by a designated day, 7-14 days before a scheduled two-hour Zoom meeting.
* Instructions and general critique and workshop guidelines will be sent in advance of the workshop date.
* Each participating writer agrees to prepare and send written feedback on every manuscript by the scheduled Zoom meeting day.
* During the two-hour Zoom meeting, I will facilitate a 20-minute discussion of each manuscript in which positive aspects are highlighted and constructive suggestions are offered in an optimistic manner. I will also share instructional mini-lessons on craft as time permits.


Previous Classes and & Instruction

December 12, 2020—Manuscript Workshop—SOLD OUT

October 18, 2020 — Nov. 22, 2020——Writing Picture Book Biographies that Shine—Six-week online class

July 5, 2020 —August 16, 2020——SESSION TWO——Writing Picture Book Biographies from the Inside Out—Six-week online class. Read more. SOLD OUT!

May 9, 2020 — June 14, 2020 SESSION ONE——Writing Picture Book Biographies from the Inside Out—Six-week online class. Read more. SOLD OUT!

March 5, 2020—How to Analyze Mentor Texts: Fiction, Nonfiction, Picture Books Through Novels. Zoom presentation for Rochester Area Children’s Writers and Illustrators

March 5, 2020—Tone, Voice, and Mood: Not Just for Angsty Teens—Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) panel

October 2-5, 2019—Picture Book Biographies—Onsite Highlights Foundation workshop with author Lesa Cline-Ransome. Boyds Mills, Pennsylvania (Stay tuned for more)

July 1-August 5, 2018— 6-week Intensive Online Class – Writing Picture Book Biographies, facilitated through a Zoom virtual classroom. SOLD OUT!

June 8, 2019—How to Analyze Mentor TextsAustin SCBWI

June 9, 2018.  9:00am – 4:00pm  Picture Book Biography WorkshopSW Texas SCBWI

June 11-July 30, 2018 Sundays –Style & Substance: Picture Book Biographies—The Writing Barn, Austin, TX—SOLD OUT

December 3, 2016 3:30-5:30pm— Picture Book Biographies: How Creative is Too Creative?—The Writing Barn, Austin, TX SOLD OUT

Testimonials from former students

“Donna Janell Bowman’s six-week picture book biography class overflowed with practical information on craft, publishing, and mentor text dissection. I have a master’s degree in writing for children and young adults, have attended numerous Highlights and SCBWI conferences, and I found so much new and useful information in Donna’s class. It’s a must for anyone interested in writing and selling picture book biographies.” —— Anita Pazner

“ABSOLUTELY! I’ve taken another NF PB Bio class that left much to be desired.  This was the full package! My head is still spinning from all the great content.” —— 2020 student testimonial, via anonymous post-class survey
“Donna’s class is extremely thorough and will open you up to the myriad possibilities available when writing picture-book biographies.” ——2020 student testimonial via an anonymous post-class survey
“This class exceeded my expectations especially in learning how to analyze mentor texts….allowing me to gain deeper knowledge and insight into the craft of writing. Donna’s depth of knowledge, skills, and organization made this class a standout!———anonymous student testimonial, 2020.

Whether you’ve never written a picture book biography—or if you’ve already published in this genre—you’ll find Donna Janell Bowman’s course inspiring. She is a superb teacher—well-organized, thorough, and sensitive to students’ needs. Her knowledge of the creative process and the business side of picture book biography is invaluable.”    ——Patricia Bell-Scott, author of the award-winning adult biography, The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice.

“Donna Janell Bowman’s Six-week Online Intensive—Writing Picture Book Biographies from the Inside Out is one of the most outstanding courses I’ve ever taken. Donna’s brilliant skill, organization, and insight is invaluable to anyone aspiring to write picture book biographies. The teaching is spot on. The atmosphere of the webinars is homey and comfortable. And, the lesson material is indispensable.” ———Phyllis Lyte, Writer.”

“Donna’s Picture Book Biography six-week intensive was truly outstanding! I looked forward to each week of her well-organized and very thorough presentations on the many craft elements of PB biographies. Donna covered all aspects of writing from start to finish – from choosing a topic to finding a publisher, and I honestly can’t think of anything she left out! I especially loved her emphasis on the importance of analyzing and comparing mentor texts and will continue to do this on my own. The course was packed with really practical information and handouts along with great exercises to put into practice what we learned – and I can’t wait to learn from her again.”   ———Susan Stewart

Writing Picture Book Biographies from the Inside Out is an excellent class taught by an exceptionally talented and generous author. Donna Janell Bowman shares her wealth of experience in a course that includes craft insights, industry updates, individualized feedback, group discussions, and class camaraderie. And Donna offers all of this in a flexible format to suit writers at any stage of a project—from polishing an existing WIP to plotting a new narrative.” ———Ashley Walker

“This class was everything I hoped for and more. A deep dive into craft, a community of like-minded people, and the perfect combination of practical information and inspiration. I left each session energized and ready to write!” ———Jessica Fries-Gaither

“If you’re new to writing PB bios or have been writing them for a while but want to dig in deeper, you should definitely take Donna’s class! The handouts are invaluable, the camaraderie she develops both in class and in the Facebook group are incredible, and the analyses of many, many current PB bios have made me feel ready and excited to dig into my next few writing projects.” —Debra Shumaker

“Donna tailored the class to meet our individual needs. I came away with such a deep understanding of the content I feel totally prepared to write. Best writing class I’ve taken!!! Donna ROCKS!!!”  —Gail Shipley

“This is a MUST class for any writer wanting to learn about PB narrative non-fiction. Donna’s mentor text analysis process and topic exploration sheets are worth their weight in gold. This class has taken my understanding and writing of NF PB Bios to a new level.”  — Darshana Khiani

Donna’s picture book biography class will make you look at children’s books with a new set of eyes. The examination of picture book biographies will hone your focus on writing styles that may best suit you as a writer. Donna gives examples of published authors’ works as she guides you through this wonderfully detailed course. She encourages you to read, read, read so that you can learn the practice while learning a bit about history along the way. I highly recommend this workshop to anyone wanting to write in this genre. After all, don’t we want to entertain our readers, while educating them at the same time. — Debbie Lodato

“There is an overwhelming amount of information to learn about writing nonfiction picture books, and Donna Bowman’s course on Nonfiction Picture Book Biographies taught me the building blocks I needed to advance my own work. For the first time, I finally understood the process of research and how to go about tracking and connecting the pieces of information I want to include in my narrative nonfiction projects. Donna’s style is friendly, while the course was well-organized and moved at a fast pace.” — Lynn Pedersen

“I was wise to take a summer class with the talented Donna Bowman. During it, I labored, persisted, stretched and cried a little. If you want to grow and learn, please take any class with Donna. You will be forever changed and inspired.” — Wendi W.

“Taking Donna’s course was just what I needed to gain confidence in my writing and join a writing community.  She is an expert on picture book writing and shares her knowledge so generously with all of her students.” —Susan H.

“I got SO MUCH out of this class! I loved the depth of insight you presented and feel that it worked on so many levels – simple enough for beginners, but complex enough for those further along on their writing journey.” —Gayleen R.

“It was a great gift to myself attending your class. I enjoyed your teaching style and the input from classmates. It was excellent!” — Tracy V.

For Grown-up Writers and Professional Development:

Above: On faculty at the 2019 Picture Book Biography workshop at The Highlights Foundation, along with agent Marie Lamba, and authors Lesa Cline-Ransome, and Mindy Yuksel

I love speaking about a wide variety of craft and business topics with writers, teachers, and librarians. By sharing information, we help each other reach our unified goal—to inspire young readers and writers.

Recent presentations I have given include: Using Mentor Texts for Young and Adult Writers; The Nitty Gritty of Queries, Cover Letters, and Synopsis; The Financial Realities of Publishing, and Not Just the Facts, Ma’am: The Duel Benefits of Creative Picture Book Biographies and the Often Blurry Nonfiction Line, described as follows: The current trend toward more creative approaches in picture book biographies is great news for today’s drama-focused young readers and educators alike. A biography with a tightly focused angle, presented through unique storytelling, literary devices, and story structures, can turn an informational subject into story time fare and a conversation about literary variety. Authors balance the role of historian and storyteller by using fiction techniques to stitch carefully-chosen facts into narrative form—while not making anything up—usually. Drawing on my critical thesis research and my own experiences along the publishing journey, I will present a handful of the creative techniques that successfully offer this dual opportunity; how those approaches and any embellishments can blur the nonfiction line; and how publishers, awards committees, and the Library of Congress feel about pushing the boundaries.