SHAZAM! Working with Simone Kaplan of Picture Book People

Simone Kaplan

The summer that I was 12, I took art lessons in a small group. Each day we learned the techniques of using pencil, charcoal or watercolor to create portraits, landscapes and still lifes. I could manage perspective and composition, but the skill to highlight and shade absolutely eluded me. I worked for days on my fruit bowl still life, but it persisted in looking like a flat, one-dimensional cartoon. Eventually the teacher took my hand in hers and we erased some extra details, added a few lines here and there, and SHAZAM! Suddenly my bowl of fruit began to appear round, lush and real.

Recently I experienced another delightful SHAZAM! moment. My latest picture book manuscript possessed many of the technically necessary components; a child-like main character with a problem, tension that builds through three de rigeur obstacles, a touch of humor and a tiny twist at the end, under 500 words. Still, it felt flat and one dimensional. I didn’t know how to improve it and yet I kept tinkering with the words, hoping to be inspired.

Then I was given the opportunity to share my draft with Simone Kaplan of Picture Book People and author of the Picture Book Pointers newsletter. Simone read the draft, pondered, and read it again. She took notes, jotted ideas, and formulated options. She went the extra step of peeking at my blog and reading some of my other work. When we spoke by telephone, Simone was prepared, eager and enthusiastic to “take my hand” as it were, and help me find ways to add the depth and dimension that the draft lacked. Where once I needed guidance in highlighting and shading, I now was learning how to refine story structure and pacing.

Here are a few notes that I jotted down, feverishly, as we spoke:

Strategize the middle of the book carefully so that each spread advances the story.

Think of each spread as a unit of experience for the reader, and use that.

The obstacles must serve to prove, convincingly, that your hero has the chops to succeed.

Simone also offered concrete, direct advice specific to my manuscript that was perfectly on point and terrifically constructive. I was surprised and delighted as our discussion led to multiple Aha! sparks of inspiration on a draft that had begun to feel a bit tiresome for me. We pursued the editing process from a developmental perspective, looking at the nature of the characters, the pacing, the story flow, and how to craft them so they came together with flair and pizzazz. This was a very exciting change from a typical critique. With fresh enthusiasm I tackled my revisions. SHAZAM! No longer did my manuscript just seem like a nice little story, now it resembled an actual picture book!

The process of working with Simone was absolutely delightful and packed with helpful content. It is vibrantly clear that she loves picture books and their authors with an authentic, experienced passion. The first thing you might do is sign up for her wonderful newsletter, Picture Book Pointers.  I also urge you to visit the testimonials section of Simone’s website and read the glowing reviews of her work from well-respected people in the publishing industry. When you are ready for your own SHAZAM! moment, I hope you will contact Simone and share your own manuscript. I promise you will not regret it!


About Cathy Ballou Mealey

Children's book author, repped by Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency. Wife, mother, daughter, sister, alumna, autism advocate, book reviewer. Reach me via email at or Twitter @catballoumealey
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18 Responses to SHAZAM! Working with Simone Kaplan of Picture Book People

  1. Joanna says:

    Loved your SHAZAM MOMENT, Cathy. I particularly like point 3 – obstacles serving to prove the protagonist’s chops! Thank you so much for sharing Simone’s wisdom with us.

  2. tinamcho says:

    Thanks for sharing the details of your critique. I signed up for her newsletter last week.

  3. Great tips! I just signed up for the newsletter. Yay!

  4. izatrapani1 says:

    That’s wonderful, Cathy! Those are excellent pointers from Simone and how nice to be so inspired and enlightened! I signed up for the newsletter too; learning never stops 🙂

  5. Those SHAZAM! moments are wonderful aren’t they?

    I’m going to signup for the newsletter. Thanks for the tip!

  6. Susan Brody says:

    Cathy, what a great description of the joy of finding inspiration through the help of another person! May your shazams be frutiful and multiply!!

  7. Shazam! Great point about the “technical” aspects of the work being on paper, but it still can miss something. So glad you were able to get concrete ways to help your manuscript and thanks for sharing the three points that will help the rest of us. I love point no. 3. I believe that applies to writer’s too. 🙂

  8. I’m here trolling all the posts I missed! Thanks for this look inside the critique, and the tip about the newsletter. Just signed up!

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