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The Building Blocks of Author / Poet Jude Mandell

This month, we'll be highlighting the Donors from Our Rate Your Story *Build-A-Story* Contest (August 1 - September 10th). Each will share a little bit about themselves and the building blocks of their career, tell you about their latest project and leave YOU a building block to help build your stories! Be sure to check them out! AND don't forget to enter our contest (more info here) to be eligible for prizes!

[Ad: Click on the Book Coves or Links to buy the books!]


I started stacking writing-career building blocks back when I was a teacher. I cut my publishing teeth on books and learning materials for the school and library market--including a multimedia phonics series featuring kids and a robot who go on reading adventures, two middle-grade sports biographies for Enslow, and numerous holiday picture books produced on DVD. I still enjoy the school/library market. But when I became a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), the possibility of writing other kinds of books for kids--like the books I loved as a child--became my new reality. I went to myriad writing classes and workshops, studied mentor texts, and joined two great critique groups to hone my skills. Most importantly, I wrote, wrote, wrote, and revised, revised, revised.

Over time, three KidLit greats took an interest in my work--legendary poet and anthologist, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Bruce Coville, master of middle-grade fantasy, and trailblazing verse-novelist, Ellen Hopkins. It was wonderful working with such generous mentors. But I was a newbie—it was still hard to risk sending my precious poems and stories out into the subjective world of publishing. My critique group buddies egged me on, and little by little my poetry and stories began appearing in collections with traditional publishing houses--Knopf, Scholastic, Lee & Low, Meadowbrook, Abrams Appleseed, and Eerdmans, among others. That gave me the confidence to enter writing competitions. I met my wonderful agent, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary, after winning first prize in the picture book category of SCBWI-Florida’s Rising Kite Contest. Karen’s marketing savvy and belief in my work has helped stack my career-building blocks even higher--with two trade books recently published by Random House.


Books! Books! Books! My mother was so enchanted by books she put drama and emotion into everything she read to us kids before bed. Her excitement and anticipation about where a story or poem would lead was infectious. It’s a wonder we ever fell asleep after she dimmed the lights and tiptoed out! And once we learned to read ourselves, we’d stay up long after ‘lights out,’ devouring our favorites under the covers to hide the bulb’s glow. It worked for a good long time--until one night the smell of scorched wool blanket reached Mom’s nose. Goodnight, late-night reading fests! Sleep brought me sweet dreams of being an author myself. Mom, who was a wonderful poet, encouraged us all to write—poems, stories, books, song lyrics, even plays. I haven’t stopped writing since those early years. Even now, I write cross genre, toddler to adult. I don’t think I’ll ever stop. JUDE'S LATEST BUILDING BLOCKS:

My two newest books, DR. SEUSS DISCOVERS: DINOSAURS and DR. SEUSS DISCOVERS: THE OCEAN are part of a new line of rhymed Dr. Seuss STEM board books for toddlers. The books were a treat to write, not only because the research was fascinating, but because I got to take some of my favorite Seuss characters--the Cat in the Hat and Thing One and Two--on adventures I invented! I know what you’re thinking… Dr. Seuss? He was a genius! No one could ever fill his shoes… I agree! I’m lucky to have the chance to follow in his footsteps. I’m a huge fan. So, when they asked me if I’d be interested in writing for this series, I was thrilled.

Poetry is my first love. And I’m a stickler when it comes to making sure a poem’s rhymes, rhythm, and scansion really work. My wonderful Random House editors gave me free rein to be as inventive as I liked with the story scenarios and poetry. I did tons of research for each book. A dinosaur expert and an ocean expert vetted each revision for accuracy and my editors posed exactly the right questions to ensure each book would be fun, scientifically accurate, and understandable to very young kids. An added perk in writing for this series was that both editors asked for detailed art notes on how I visualized the scenes in each spread-- something most picture book writers rarely get the chance to weigh in on. Ron Cohee, who illustrated the books, added his own delightful touches to my vision and words. What a thrill to see each book so beautifully realized in his playful Seuss-style drawings and brilliant colors!


I have several new manuscripts in process, and two picture books ready for Karen to submit. My most exciting and challenging project is morphing a young chapter book, HANDY ANTEATER and DUCK: Buddies Forever? into a graphic novel hybrid—the first in a projected series about the antics of this odd couple and their funny animal friends. Since I have a background in art and recently completed an in-depth course on Graphic Novels and Hybrids with Mira Reisberg’s Children’s Book Academy, I’m gearing up to try my hand at both scripting and illustrating!


ON STAYING THE COURSE: There are so many factors that helped me stay the course--despite the deluge of rejections I got before my first story found an editor who fell in love with it. Persistence and patience are critical--don’t give up. Joining the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators ( can be a terrific help in finding a critique group to help you hone your work, find the right market for your projects, and overcome your fears that what you create isn’t good enough to submit. Once your work is market ready, be bold! Search out agents and editors who are actively looking for your sort of book and keep sending it out until it finds agent representation with a member of AALA (Association of American Literary Agents) or a home with an industry-recognized publishing house. Once your first book is out on submission, start writing something new! Agents and editors want authors with a wealth of great ideas--enough to power a long and successful career collaboration.

ON OPENING PARAGRAPHS: You have to make the reader connect and relate to the main character from the get-go. That’s a tall order, especially in a picture book. A strong ‘voice’ is an irresistible hook for readers, especially if coupled with a problem the character feels compelled to deal with. “Voice’ is the elusive quality that agents and editors eagerly hope to find in the submissions that cross their desks. To my mind, a strong ‘voice’ conveys a character’s personality almost instantly—through hints of the character’s underlying (sometimes flawed) world view and the word choices and phraseology that make their speech and thoughts about a scene or situation unique and interesting. Whether funny, quirky, or emotionally gripping, that character’s voice and compelling situation, or need, have to grab the reader so tightly at the beginning of a story, they can’t stop themselves from turning the page to find out what happens next. ON WHAT MAKES A BOOK RELATABLE TO READERS: Most writers can come up with tons of clever, interesting ideas for books. But unless the story touches or tickles readers in a relatable way, their interest will likely fizzle out. Stories that call to us as writers (and readers) are usually tied to something emotionally meaningful in our lives, maybe a situation or problem we haven’t worked through. Consciously, or unconsciously, we writers write ourselves into our characters, hopefully in a true and authentic way. And no matter our style--serious or funny--the best stories--the ones that read as real--touch on those truths--universal experiences we all can identify with because we’ve been there ourselves. So, keep putting your main character in situations that are uncomfortable and elicit strong feelings--like guilt, chagrin, joy, compassion, shame, anger, rage, uncontrollable hilarity, embarrassment, etc. Feelings that readers identify with trigger empathy or sympathy, forging a bond between that character and the reader. He’ll keep reading because he cares about the character… She’ll feel the same--in suspense about the story’s outcome… A book that creates that kind of reader connection is a prime example of relatability.

JUDE'S PRIZE: Jude has generously donated two (2) of her Dr. Seuss series poetry books:

These will be given to an author who submitted a notable rhymed picture book.

Meet MORE Prize Donors and Find More Prizes HERE [Click on the Links]

The Building Blocks of Jill Ross Nadler ( The Building Blocks of PB Series Author Jill Dana ( The Building Blocks of Award Winner Nancy Churnin ( The Building Blocks of Editor Julia Recko and Feeding Minds Press ( The Building Blocks of YA Editor Monique Jones Brown ( The Building Blocks of RYS Director / Author / Agent Mentee Lynne Marie ( The Building Blocks of Agent / Author Karen Kilpatrick ( The Building Blocks of Author Heather Macht and Author Agent Mentee Lynne Marie and #SeasonsOfKidlit ( The Building Blocks of Author / Agent Assistant Erin Dealey ( The Building Blocks of Agent Dan Cramer ( The Building Blocks of Non-Fiction Author Audrey Ades ( The Building Blocks of Editor Michele McAvoy and The Little Press ( The Building Blocks of Author Linda Joy Singleton ( The Building Blocks of Helen H. Wu, Publisher & Author ( The Building Blocks of Author Jennifer Buchet ( The Building Blocks of Editor Adam Blackman, Cardinal Rule Press ( The Building Blocks of Author Becky Scharnhorst ( And don't forget to send in your entry here: Announcing the 2023 Rate Your Story Summer Contest

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