The Gift of a Good Critique

 

We talk a lot about the importance of critiques in the kid lit community.

Ever had a critique that really stings? I find the ones that sting the most are those that have a good point (but a point I didn’t want to hear).

I’ve always loved drawing faces and two Christmases ago I decided to draw these little mini-caricatures on woodlice ornaments for a school fundraiser. They sold like hotcakes.

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They were so popular that I decided to try selling them at an art show last Christmas. Again, they were popular and the more I drew, the better I got. I was pretty pleased with myself.

Then one lady asked if I would do a dozen ornaments for her entire family. But when I sent her a photo of the drawings she said that half of them bore no resemblance whatsoever to her loved ones. She was very polite and apologetic. Despite the rollercoaster of emotions, I sucked up my pride & offered to redo the ornaments. (And secretly swore that I’d never do portrait ornaments again!) The second time I did a pencil underdrawing and took even more time and care. She was happy with the new ornaments and was kind enough to purchase both the original rejected ornaments and the new ones.

I still do mini-portraits on paper & on ornaments but I’m much better at it now thanks to the lady who was brave enough to tell me she was disappointed. That my art did not meet her standards. I am grateful. As much as it stung, it was a gift that pushed me to improve.

This year, a customer said that she was so happy with her ornaments that she was showing them off and her friends could immediately tell who each portrait was.

So if you’ve received a stinging critique of your art or writing, consider how you might use it to propel you forward. And when you are asked for a critique, dig in deep and be polite but brutally honest (but use the sandwich technique because it makes it much more palatable).

Exciting Book News

Do you remember the sweet little pirate character I created a while back?

pirate-ballerina-costume

Well, we have some news…

Pirate Book Announcement

Pirate, Year Round will be published by Acorn Press in May 2019. As you can see we’re super excited! I’ve given her a slightly updated look & I can’t wait to share it with you in full colour. I’ll be posting peeks at my process & lots of updates on Instagram & Twitter (@marlalesage). I’ll also be posting news & updates here occasionally.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

bunny-valentine-carried-away

It’s Valentiny time again! I almost didn’t enter Susanna Hill’s contest because I’m tired, I’m busy, & I have a lot of projects on the go. The usual! But then I got a little carried away making Valentines for my family – I made 5 & there’s only 4 of us! So here’s a quick little 87 word Valentiny & Valentine just for you.

(The rules: Valentine’s story for kids where someone is confused – max of 214 words. You have until Feb 14th to enter. Lots of great prizes too!)

Brains

“Brains… Brains…” The zombie smiled at Zack. Then it moaned again. “Brains… Brains…”

“Eeek!” Zack hid behind a tree.

The zombie shuffled closer. “Brains… Brains…”

Zack darted under the slide. The zombie stumbled after him. “Brains… Brains…”

Zack dashed under the picnic table. The zombie followed. “Brains… Brains…” It stretched one arm down towards Zack, a heart-shaped box in its hand.

“Brains… Brains… I love you for your brains,” it said. “I mean, will you be my valentine?”

“Oh!” Zack laughed. “That’d be nice Zonya.”

brains-zombie-valentine

Halloweensie Time Again!

 

It seems that no matter how busy I get I can’t resist a good contest. Especially one with a good prompt. And Susanna Leonard Hill knows how to throw a contest. Her Halloweensie Contest is one of my favourites. The rules: write a Halloween story for kids using the words ghost, spider, and moon; must have plot and main character; max 100 words.   She’s tough isn’t she?

halloweensie-2016-1

 

I wasn’t sure if I’d have time to participate but once I read the rules… I hammered out a story in 24 hours! Done, thank you very much. But then I realized it was more concept piece than a story with a plot. So I rewrote to fit the rules. Then I decided to rewrite both versions en français which was just as hard as writing from scratch! And then I had to illustrate both versions. And don’t forget the fine-tuning… (Scroll all the way down for a craft!)

Without further ado, I give you my 83 word entry for Susanna’s 6th Annual Halloweensie Contest:

halloweensie-2016-4

Where the Candy Went

Something snuck in my room.

Something creaked cross the floor.
Something ate all my candy and moaned out for more.

But as quick as a spider descends on it’s thread,
I flicked on the light and jumped out of my bed.

Then I growled at the ghost: “You should KNOCK and say PLEASE!”
so the ghost shimmered off on the frigid fall breeze.

I swear it’s the truth and I won’t change my tune
though there wasn’t a witness except for the moon.

halloweensie-2016-5

I hope you enjoy! Don’t forget to hop on over to Susanna’s Blog to read some of the other entries. If you like writing with a deadline, you have until 11:59 PM EDT on Monday October 31st to submit your entry.

Here’s the translated version which doesn’t quite fit the rules and probably has meter issues because let’s face it – writing in your second language is hard.

halloweensie-2016-3-copy

Qui a Mangé les Bonbons?

Quelques chose a venu dans ma chambre hier soir.

Quelques chose a mangé mes bonbons dans le noir.

Je l’ai écouté dans le sombre de la nuit

et j’étais réveillé par le bruit.

Mais il est sorti quand j’ai quitté mon lit.

Je jure – c’est vrai toute ce que j’ai dit.

I really did have way too much fun with this didn’t I? I was invited to do story time at my son’s school and decided to read my poems and do a craft. I looked for ideas online but wanted something super fun that was also simple, cheap, and sugar-free and came up with this:

mypetghostcraft

It was a huge hit with the kids and a few even asked if it was real when I showed them my sample. It sways inside its jar which is probably the coolest part.

Want To Make Your Own Pet Ghost?

halloweensie-2016-craft-copy

Attach thread to a cotton ball (I used a needle to thread them in advance but a few kids pulled a small piece of cotton from the top to attach.)

Gently pull the cotton into the shape of a ghost.

Add eyes and mouth with markers.

Use the thread to hang the ghost inside a cup with a piece of tape.

Tape the two cups together & decorate. We used stickers, stamps, etc. If you make a small hole in the cup with a diaper pin or other sharp object you can attach the flag that way. Or you can just tape the label to the side.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Holidays (Contest)

The Holidays are upon us. And that means another contest! I’m a huge fan of Susanna Hill’s contests – they’re free, the prizes are excellent, and it’s a fun and supportive place to practice your writing technique. Rules in a nutshell: Write a story for children using any version of this first line: “Rocking around the Christmas tree at the Christmas party hop,” in 350 words or less. For more details and to read the entries go to Susanna’s site.

Here’s my entry (343 words), enjoy!


Holiday Heist

Sneaking past the iron gate at City Central Zoo was not that hard. Sheila checked her watch, then bee lined to the camels pen. She shook the smallest camel awake. Her pockets were full of treats so the camel happily followed her.

But over at the petting zoo, the sheep wanted all of the treats for themselves. Their baa baa BAAAA set the donkey off. His loud bray startled the cows.  They mooed even louder. Only the camel was quiet. It was busy nipping at Sheila’s pockets. Sheila passed out treats as fast as she could, swatted at the camel, and shushed the sheep.

Somehow Sheila made it back to the gate with the animals. Climbing over would be impossible this time. So Sheila unlatched the gate and carefully nudged it open. C-R-E-E-E-A-K. Sheila jumped but the guard was fast asleep and snoring loudly. When the gate slammed shut behind the last sheep, the guard yawned. But he didn’t wake up. He just cozied further down into his chair and snored louder.

The strange procession made its way along the frozen sidewalks. Sheila checked her watch again. She didn’t have much time. She tried going faster but the littlest sheep couldn’t keep up. He was too big to carry. Sheila took her scarf off and used it to tie the sheep onto the donkey’s back. The donkey wasn’t thrilled, but Sheila bribed him with a double helping of snacks. Now the procession was noisier, but faster.

Finally they arrived at Sheila’s front yard. She divided the last of the treats and gave each animal a small pile to keep them busy. Then she snuck inside. A few minutes later she came back with a toy cradle, fleece blankets, and her baby brother, Ted. Sheila tucked Ted into the cradle. Then she knelt down beside him. A thief had stolen their last nativity scene but this one was way better and she just knew her parents would love it. And they would be up any minute now. Sheila couldn’t wait to see their reaction.


 

 

The holidays are a busy, bustling time, so I didn’t have time to illustrate my story. Which is driving me crazy. So instead I’m posting this painting: Freddy at Night. Perhaps the little procession passed right by? 

15 ML 2015Freddy at Night  copy

Peer Critiques

This past week at the school, as part of our special project, I talked about critiquing. The students really enjoyed reading each others stories. I gave them this form as a guide for giving feedback, emphasizing the need for kindness and helpfulness.

Guided Critique 

I had them critique one of my stories first. Afterwards, we discussed the experience of giving and receiving feedback. A few weren’t thrilled with their feedback, even though it was kind. This was a great reminder on why being kind is important. I told them it was up to them to decide if they wanted to make any changes. It was great to see that a few did. 

My favourite comment: “I wish I was in your story.” 

On Tuesday we start the art & illustration part of the project.