Raven Howell's Blog

September 25, 2022

Lionel Ritchie and Literature

Once again, when a Lionel Ritchie song came on the radio this morning, I fell into listening to the tune's wonderful background vocals. Lionel's a talented songwriter and singer, but additionally, his arrangements including vocal back-ups have always been brilliant. You'll find some phrases repeating, some barely whispered in stretched vowels, and many in unexpected places as well.

...And isn't that so similar to a good book? It's the book that has the lovely, mostly subtle, and supporting backdrops that make it a great read. It will embellish, give you goosebumps or a frown, provoke a gasp or simply add color to help you dig into the storyline further.

In my experience as a children's author, sometimes it's the illustrations from the book's artist that can be easily overlooked. And often, that's the "background vocal" as well as the general 50% of the meat and potatoes. Children need a gentler plot or theme explaining, and to give a story depth, using illustrations can really be useful.

My new book, FINDING JOY, explores pet loss and help for children healing from grief. Paging through it, you'll see how illustrator Pam Rice created the discreet "background" for kids to explore their emotions and allow for juvenile clarity.

What's that "Lionel Ritchie" book for YOU?

Finding Joy
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Published on September 25, 2022 07:50

June 13, 2022

Author's three "P"s

Cutting to the chase: persistence, patience and....drum roll....professionalism. I'm often asked "I wrote a story, how can I get a book publishing contract?" or "I submitted my book, now what?" I won't go into the more obvious - for instance, there are many reference books, both print and digital, for publishing house lists and information on how to submit a manuscript or artwork. There is also no set method for getting the attention of an editor or publishing house to publish your work.

But every day that you are busy with your writing or artwork, choose persistence. Persistence is super helpful in both the creative process and in the administrative end of submitting. If your story lacks -if even a little something- be persistent and find the perfect word or twist the plot another way. One of the fabulous illustrators I collaborate with, Ann Pilicer, often has me put eyes on her art because she's persistent in having it look the best it can. So, be persistent, not hard on yourself.

The other persistency is with submissions. Check your emails, your files, and be persistent with those interested in your work. Stay up to date and don't give up if someone negatively criticizes your submission because it's possible someone else will find it's exactly what they're looking for. This is what happened with my rhyming story (and now book), FRIENDS COME IN DIFFERENT SIZES. The theme happened to be what the editors were searching for. It involved good timing, but wouldn't have come to fruition if I wasn't persistent. I didn't give up after many submissions, and re-editing it.

Patience is a tough one for most of us on some level in life. In the book business, it comes with the territory. Hang in there and don't set yourself up with deadlines from publishers. That's out of your control. Instead, use a deadline on your impatience...like right now. Think about creative ways and other outlets to get involved in while practicing patience.

Professionalism is usually not mentioned much and in my experience, is key. Make sure when you submit, you follow the publisher's rules on submissions. Keep your correspondence as professional as possible. If your work doesn't feel perfect or you have not had a honest critique, keep re-working it. That's called being professional with yourself. Why not have high standards for something creative you want to share with the world?

Friends Come in all Sizes
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Published on June 13, 2022 06:22

April 27, 2022

Poetry Month Writing Tools

Somehow National Poetry Month, April, always seems to sneak by me way too quick no matter how hard I try to coordinate celebrations for it. This year, being already the last week of the month, I think at the very least, a short poetry blog for everyone is in store.

It is often that during my poetry workshops, students in elementary or middle school feel overwhelmed about reading/interpreting and writing poetry or they feel underwhelmed and assume it's boring, serious, and has to involve rhyming.

It's challenging to make a turn aound when I have only about 45 minutes with a group, but there has yet to be a time I can recall where the kids don't end up having fun and smiling by the time I'm saying goodbye and heading out the door.

So, if you're a parent with a child, homeschooling, a school teacher or just a poetry lover, take heart and take heed of these very simple formatting rules that make poetry writing creative and freeing and truly enjoyable.

Worried about capital letters? Throw that thought away! In poetry, it's your choice - lower or upper case. Experiment and see which you have a preference for when looking at the words.

Have a fleeting idea? Catching and wanting to share a glimpse of something ethereal? A passing feeling familiar to everyone? Don't bother with complete sentences, sometimes short - your expression caught in a few words or even just one word - does the trick.

Punctuation problem? Uh-uh, not here. Play around with punctuation, bouncing around the sounds of words and syllables you're choosing.

Worrying that your poem has to be a certain length (like long) takes away from the magic you're making with your words, wonder and rhythm. Try writing your verse in shorter lines because it slows the reader down, a good thing.

The most important factor with poetry writing and/or being the enchanted poem reader is that the author describes things in his or her own unique way. Express what you observe and feel, letting go of inhibitions. This is the place you can truly be yourself, and share that "you" with us!

Happy National Poetry Month!

With much love,
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Published on April 27, 2022 06:23

April 14, 2022

Who Me? (A day in the Life of an Author)

From now on I'll think twice before taking off a morning from my usual writing work.

Although every day falls into its own schedule of to-do's and the balancing act of writing and home life, with Easter just a few days away, I've somehow gotten myself committed to several charity functions and donations. The simple act of donating an author signed book would have been too easy, and I found myself coloring eggs for tomorrow's community Easter egg hunt. Great! I love coloring eggs and as I pull out the marble paints and swirls, I'm actually putting on my thinking cap and getting into the ideas I want to put across in my upcoming magazine article due in a few days.

After meticulously painting one dozen eggs, the next dozen is just a little sloppier. Then after the 3rd and 4th dozen, my hands look like paint palettes themselves and I wonder how long it will be until I can scrub the paint from under my nails. Nevertheless, I admire my masterpiece of pretty kid-friendly decorated eggs, and await for all to dry.

Stepping out for a breath of fresh spring air, I fling open the front door. Startling a mischievous squirrel, dirt flies this way and that, as he scurries in surprise. The old, "Who me? Not me digging up the beautifully blooming garden you got here...." I can't help but exclaim, "Really? Really? With the entire landscape full of random nuts and bulbs to go digging for, you choose the prettiest, most hardy gardening spot for your digging?" And, honestly, the squirrel hardly moves or seems concerned. As if daring me, he waits me out, standing still, tail in the air, staring me down. I wait a beat, take a breath, and say, "Hey, I know where you live, buster." And with that, he turns and scampers away. I shake my head, have to laugh, and turn and go back inside.

As I close the door behind me, I spot the cat - on the counter, wobbling the freshly painted eggs around with her paws. Nice.

Back at my writing desk, after helping to make my squirrel and cat's day a little more playful, I'm inspired.
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Published on April 14, 2022 06:40 Tags: writerslifeforme

February 12, 2022

Choosing Chocolate

In my children's writing workshop, I discussed the importance of reading to our becoming good writers. One student felt discouraged, not being able to find a book she enjoyed to read through to the end.

I couldn't help but think of those chocolate boxes with a myriad of flavors and fillings, where you'd inevitably find a half bitten-into chocolate from a taste tester who didn't approve. So, after the students and I confessed of committing the crime ourselves, we decided it's perfectly alright to "taste test" books to find just the right one to bite into and devour.

I'm delighted to report, after one more false start (and trip to her library), the student is now happily sinking her teeth into a book she really loves.

Now for the secret in de-coding those chocolates!

First, square and rectangular shaped chocolates typically have crunchy or chewy centers. You'll find toffee and caramel, perhaps nougat.

Circular and oval treats usually contain soft fillings, like ganache or cream.

Nut candies can be easy to find because they often have bumpy surfaces.

Because shiny foil protects against leaks, those wrappers signal an ooey-gooey liquid center, like a cherry cordial.

Okay. Now - pick a chocolate and grab your favorite book for a good read!

Raven Howell
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Published on February 12, 2022 06:31 Tags: reading

January 28, 2022

Bio Poem Bonanza!

What’s fun about a bio poem? It has the capability of allowing the writer to move beyond the obvious about their subject, even if the poem is about themselves. Plus, it has a simple pattern - and best of all, it does not have to rhyme! For student writers, it’s a great way to focus on one’s experiences, hopes, accomplishments, and unique interests in a format that’s slightly challenging, yet do-able.

Historical figures, such as in the following poem, are popular bio poem subjects.

Stately, presidential, strong, devoted
Father of our country
Who loved freedom, independence, and liberty
Who hated tyranny, distrusted despotism, and wanted to build a new nation
Who feared a life without self-determination, feared losing his independence, and feared living under the rule of an unfair leader
Who led an army to victory, who fostered a fledgling nation
Who wanted to see an independent United States of America and a new democratic country
Born in Virginia and lived on Mount Vernon

I enjoy including heroes, inspirational words and wishes, too. Here are the basic rules:

Line 1: first name
Line 2: three or four adjectives that describe the person
Line 3: important relationship (mother of, son of….)
Line 4: two or three things, people, or ideas that the person loved
Line 5: three feelings the person experienced
Line 6: three fears the person experienced
Line 7: accomplishments
Line 8: two or thee things the person wanted to see happen or wanted to experience
Line 9: his or her residence
Line 10: last name

Need inspiration to start writing? How about composing a bio poem for someone on Valentine’s Day, birthday, Christmas or any time as a “gift” from the heart? Poetry is a wonderful way to express your gratitude and love toward your subject if even in the form of a bio poem.

I wrote this one for my mother.

Kind-hearted, forever curious, compassionate
Wife, mother to three children, grandmother to four children, great-grandmother to Talis and Vizma
Who loves friendships, nature, and sunny dispositions
Who is dismayed by discrimination, happy to help others, readily rejoices in song and dance
Who fears polluting our environment, tyranny, and stray cat starvation
Who adapted to and celebrated a new life in a new country, raised a family in a creative environment, went back to college to graduate, and remains playful at heart
Who wants to see her children’s, grandchildren’s and great-grand-children’s success, and dreams of freedom and peace for all the world
Born in Latvia, lives in Pennsylvania

Try to write a bio poem for or about someone - or about yourself. Feel free to comment with your poetry thoughts, poems or even just a couple of lines you may be inspired to compose and want to share.

Raven Howell
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Published on January 28, 2022 09:00

December 23, 2021

Eek! Let's Build Children's Self-esteem!

As parents or grandparents, we often believe we have to "rescue" our kids from failure. However, for a child to build confidence, they have to take chances, make choices and take responsibility for them. I have always found that if left to their own resources, my kids have solved their own problems. Let them know you are there to offer support or guidance should it be needed, and share with them a more positive way of looking at life's escapades.

I grew interested in writing a children's book about those struggles in childhood that could be perceived as failure. Often, they are actually a golden opportunity to help build self-esteem, and adventure into self-discovery.

In Eek! My Ink! a young girl takes out her paints and brushes, intending on painting her masterpiece. But instead of creating her intended images, the paints accidentally spill and splash and dribble. Oh, no! But, look! That yellow drip created a duck waddling toward a field of sun splashed sunflowers. And the blue paint splotches create a sea of fish! You get the idea. There are no true "mistakes". Sometimes those seeming "mistakes" are treasures, and can lead a young child toward a deeper sense of self-esteem and loving acceptance.

The simple moral? Encourage your kids to try things their own way, and set appropriate goals. Let them get messy if they want, and find their talents and the sparks that light up their hearts.

Eek! My Ink!
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Published on December 23, 2021 07:03

October 5, 2021

The Fine First Line

A call to adventure! Creating conflict! Both are great openers for children’s books. Introducing a new voice, or plunging into action are attention grabbers readers like. Hopefully, it entices one to continue reading.

The first sentence is the perfect spot to provide the writer an opportunity to showcase style, introduce a main character, or establish the instigating scenario of the narrative.

My latest toddler picture book, Rhymes That Go From Head to Toe, addresses the body parts through sensory discovery. Since it's written mainly for the preschool through 1st grade child, the text needs simplicity, but it doesn't have to be boring:


My first line sets up the rest of the book and calls on the reader to consider their own body, their own hair style and their own ears. Where are they, and what do they do? The line also establishes the story in rhyme. You know you'll be sing-songing your way through it. And we are introduced to the "voice" of the main character as they describe themself.

Keep in mind the importance of good accompanying illustrations, and that the parent who may be reading to the child needs to be interested in where the story is heading as well.

These are some general tips I share with students in my writing workshops who become stuck on story start ups:

Set up an action scene from the start. What’s happening to your main character? (Madeline)

Begin with detailed descriptions about your setting. Set up intrigue, curiosity or just plain strangeness in or with the environment. (The Very Hungry Caterpillar)

Sometimes the author has a home run with dialog right from the start. Remember that every word counts. It doesn’t need to be a long sentence, but make it concise and something that will urge the reader to desire more details about your characters. (Charlotte’s Web)

Do you have a favorite first line from a children’s book?

Charlotte’s Web: “Where’s Papa going with that axe?”
The Very Hungry Caterpillar: “In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf.”
Madeline: “In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.”
The Cat in the Hat: “The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold, cold, wet day.”
Peter Pan: “All children, except one, grow up.”

May your first story words be delectable, and phrases beg to be repeated. If you're a writer, remember to work in a good moral or theme and conclusion for your age group.

In Rhymes That Go From Head to Toe, the message of gratitude and self-respect shines out on the last pages:


Happy reading and writing!
Rhymes That Go From Head to Toe
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Published on October 05, 2021 03:45

August 12, 2021

Where Words Leave Off, Music Begins

As a writer of children's literature, skill building for kids of all ages is important to me and I value sharing various ways to make the connections to positive motivation and creative tools in my workshops during library, bookstore, or school visits.

I feel grateful for music being prominent in my household and childhood growing up. My sister and brother and I learned to sing and play instruments and compose our own songs from a very young age. I would sit down at the piano, creating my own magical world, for hours on end during my elementary school years. Many decades later, I still have books full of the poems and musical compositions I wrote from the 1970's onward.

Music ignites all areas of child development including intellectual, social-emotional, motor, language, and overall literacy. It helps the body and mind work together. Exposing children to music during early development helps them learn the sounds and meanings of words. Plus, it elevates mood, reduces stress and improves focus.

I usually have music playing while I'm writing. If the music has vocals, then it's on when I'm doing more administrative writing (or even social media), but creative writing of a story or poetry calls for classical. Articles, features, interviews, blogs & magazine work get a dose of mellow jazz or classic R&B/Soul.

It is natural for humans to experience music. Anyone can access music in some capacity due to the way it's processed in the brain. It has even been used as a tool to help with dementia. And did you know it allows us to feel nearly all emotions that we experience in our lives?

Just as writing for children allows me to express and communicate my feelings, music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, and when we have no words, it is a way for us to understand with hearts when we can't with our minds.
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Published on August 12, 2021 04:01

June 22, 2021

Poetry Tips & Inspiration in 43 Words

Now’s the time to not be afraid.
Dig deep.
Use precision, and word choice play.
Does a rhyme beleaguer,
Or come eager?
Unite memorable images.
Let phrases linger.
Give away the essential,
But keep some deciphering
To yourself,
And the reader to ponder.

A Cheer for the Year
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Published on June 22, 2021 02:54