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by Ann Rousseau Smith, SCBWI CenCal News Liaison

After publishing a couple of picture books, Karen Jameson retired from teaching and became a full-time author. Karen Jameson’s books include Moon Babies, illustrated by Amy Hevron (Putnam, 2019); Woodland Dreams, illustrated by Marc Boutavant (Chronicle, 2020); and Farm Lullaby, illustrated by Wednesday Kirwan. Woodland Dreams is a Keystone to Reading List Award winner and is included on Bank Street’s The Best Children’s Books of the Year List 2021.

Two more books came out last year: Where the Wee Ones Go: A Bedtime Wish for Endangered Animals, illustrated by Zosienka (Chronicle, April 2022), and Time to Shine: Celebrating the World’s Iridescent Animals, illustrated by Dave Murray (Groundwood, May 2022). Karen has books coming out in 2023 and 2024.

It’s been two years since Kite Tales interviewed her. It’s time to check in!

ANN ROUSSEAU SMITH: Congratulations on your newest books and the ones yet to come. Your first picture book, Moon Babies, released in 2019, was followed by four more in quick succession. A sixth book arrives in bookstores this coming spring! How does it feel now, to be a full-time working author?

KAREN JAMESON: Thank you, it’s a dream come true! I love the creative part and am still learning the business side of things. Figuring out author events, book launches, promo groups, social media, etc. has been an ongoing process. I’m so grateful to my SCBWI writer pals for their continued friendship, counsel, and support.

As always, my greatest joy comes from reading to and connecting with kids.  And, how lucky that my own little grands, now three and four, are the perfect age for picture books!

ARS: All your books are written in verse. In fact, they rhyme. How selective is your agent, Kathleen Rushall (Andrea Brown Literary Agency), in placing those manuscripts? Do you have any tips for the poet or rhymer in our midst?

KJ: Kids love rhyme and verse when they’re done well (and so do publishers)! My agent subs widely and we haven’t had any issues.

Here’s my advice for anyone aspiring to write rhyming picture books:

  1. Read LOTS of rhyming picture books, including recently published titles. Study your favorites to see what makes them sing.
  1. Read your own story aloud AND listen to other people read it, too. Does the language flow? Are there spots where the rhyme feels clunky? Revise accordingly.
  1. Always put meaning before rhyme. In other words, the story is foremost. Only use rhyme IF it enhances your story.
  1. Use lyrical language and poetic devices to make your writing pop.
  1. A good rhyming dictionary and thesaurus are invaluable. I use Sue Young’s The New Comprehensive American Rhyming Dictionary and Webster’s New World Thesaurus.
  1. For more helpful hints, read the rhyming chapter in Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul and check out rhyming picture book webinars on the SCBWI website.

ARS: So, rhyming helps children learn about sounds, words, and language. Rhyme, rhythm, and repetition help children develop literacy skills. Although rhyme is important, what other elements are important in a successful picture book?

KJ: Above all, you need a strong story idea or concept––one that has an original angle or hook. Ask yourself what makes your book stand out from the others. You must be able to express that in a pitch, so it’s helpful to write a one or two sentence mission statement for your book. Craft your story in such a way that every element––character, plot, setting, voice, etc.––is working to bring that vision to life.

Of course, re-readability is the ultimate goal. Make your story so irresistible that kids will want to read it over and over again!

ARS: Tell us about your 2022 books. What’s up next? Can you give us a sneak peek into future projects?

KJ: This year was a busy one! Where the Wee Ones Go (Chronicle Kids) and Time to Shine (Groundwood) released within one week of each other this spring! Wee Ones is a bedtime book featuring endangered animal babies, with lovely paintings by Zosienka. Shine, with art by Dave Murray, spotlights iridescence and how animals use it to survive and thrive in nature.

Up next, A Llama is not an Alpaca with vibrant illustrations by Lorna Scobie, releases from Running Press Kids on March 7, 2023. Spring ’24 brings Wake Up, Woodlands, a companion book to Woodland Dreams, and my second collaboration with the talented Marc Boutavant. More nonfiction news coming soon!

Thank you, Karen, for all your thoughtful responses!

For more information about Karen and her books visit her website. Join her on Twitter and Facebook.

For information on SCBWI-CenCal events (open to all SCBWI members!), go to cencal.scbwi.org.

For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.

Images provided by Lynn Becker and the SCBWI Central-Coastal Region.