Smart Dummies, Dani Duck‘s free month-long event for illustrators to get their creative juices flowing and picture book dummies going and growing launched after last week’s Google Live Event Thursday. We got to talk with Dani about this year’s challenge and why dummies (penciled mock-ups of the complete book or partial book) are central to any illustrator’s proposal for one.

The video below excerpts from the hour-long September 23 Google Hangout joined by Dani, NYC-based illustrated Traci Van Wagoner, Children’s Book Academy founder and director Mira Reisberg and me. You can catch the entire hour-long webinar via the opt-in page here.  

Mira Reisberg in the "Smarter Dummies" webinar

Mira Reisberg joins Traci, Dani and Mark in the “Smarter Dummies” webinar

You can catch the entire hour-long webinar via the opt-in page here. Throughout October, Dani’s blog will present daily helpful posts from kid lit experts, teachers,  illustrators, and author-illustrators.

She’s marshaled some cool prizes for participants who actually complete a dummy in the month. (I’m giving away two: my complete Make Your Marks and Splashes online course on children’s book illustration and a year’s subscription to Guest Group Critiques.) 

As Dani explains on the site, “To officially win this competition you have to complete a basic dummy (No finals) in pencil. A full dummy is generally 12-14.5 spreads (or 24-29 pages) and a cover (1-2 pages). If you can complete 25 pages in a month, you have completed the challenge.”

Prose from pros – 31 days of guest posts

"Smart Dummies" founder Dani Duck of Vancouver

“Smart Dummies” founder Dani Duck of Vancouver

Mira’s kick-off guest post for the smart dummies challenge is here. It’s a nice checklist, Seven Cool Composition Secrets for Your Dummy. On Sunday, author-illustrator Lisa Maslo answered questions about her experiences researching and crafting her debut picture book bio of female education right’s activist Malala YousafzaiFree as a Bird (Balzer + Bray of HarperCollins.)

My guest post  for Smart Dummies about harnessing the power of gesture to begin every drawing is set to run Monday, October 3. Other Smart Dummies posters on this October’s calendar include KidLit blogger and children’s librarian Carter Higgins, elementary school teacher, librarian and podcaster Matthew Winner, (All the Wonders), illustrators Traci Van Wagoner, Shirley Ng-Benitez, Nick Patton of the Picture Booking podcast), Jake Parker of SVS Learning, Hazel MitchellJannie HoNick PattonJoy SteuerwaldJulie Rowan-Zoch and Christina Forshay, to mention just some of those who’ll be sharing.

Here you’ll find the complete schedule and registration info for Smart Dummies. It’s free and you need only introduce yourself in a comment on the site to be up and going.

You can rub elbows with fellow dummy questers in the Smart Dummies Facebook group without being registered participant in the challenge. Conversely, you don’t need to be in the FB group to participate in the challenge or win a prize for completing. Of course, as Dani points out, “You are already a winner if you are challenging yourself to finish a dummy in one month!”

More pushes and prompts (for those unfinished picture book dummies…)

One can’t mention picture book dummy challenges without citing other wonderful challenges out there for illustrators in the KidLit online community: KidLit Art Picture Book Dummy Challenge and KidLit Write Dummy Challenge, Catch the fun hour long hangout we did last year with members of the dedicated KidLit Art helming team, illustrators Diandra Mae, Blythe Russo, Russ Cox and Rubin Pingk, on last year’s KidLit Art Write Dummy Challenge, a precursor event to the annual six-month long Kid Lit Art PB Dummy Challenge that focuses on the PB manuscript. Like Smart Dummies, these KidLit Art challenges are free. blythe

The snappy digital guide, How to Make a Picture Book Dummy (and Submit it) in 9 Easy Steps – not free but nominally priced – compiles posts from the original KidLit Art PB Dummy Challenge, edited and presented by KidLit Art co-founder, illustrator Wendy Martin.

Illustrators are not islands

These wonderful, resource-filled events dreamed up and realized by volunteers – children’s illustrators like you – not only spur you to your drawing board. They land you square in the lap of the Kid Lit online community, where a lifetime of learning, friendships, professional contacts and support potentially awaits you. It’s astounding, really, the few degrees of separation.

And we haven’t yet mentioned the wildly popular Illustration Friday and the professional (but still open to anyone) nonprofit organization the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) with its bounty of resources, contests and plentiful networking opportunities in regional and national conferences.

Dani compiles the different groups and challenges (including those for writers only) on this page of her blog. Thanks to generous people and the Internet’s abundance, you can participate in different kids’ book and art challenges all year round if you want to. 

Robert Quackenbush guest instructs this month

Prolific picture book creator Robert Quackenbush is set to preside over this month’s Guest Group Critiques live session slated for Wednesday, October 26. He’s the author and illustrator of Detective Mole and the Halloween Mystery and nearly 200 other picture books. The long-running Detective Mole, Piet Potter and Miss Mallard mystery series and light-hearted, cartoon picture book biographies are among the favorites in school libraries.


Image from “The Open Boat”, illustrated by Robert Quackenbush

His assignment for us for our October 26 session is straightforward: “Fold eight sheets of 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheets of paper in half and gather them together. Number each page and you will have 32 pages – the standard number of pages for a picture book. Page one will be a title page; Page 2 will be the copyright page; Page 3 will be the dedication page; Page 4 will start your story and Page 32 will end your story. On these folded pages lay out your story and pictures in quick sketches.”

So far it sounds like an exercise straight from the dummy challenges! But Robert is asking for finished art for the October 26 group critique session. “Then do a finished illustration in any media you chose of one spread from your “dummy” book (two facing pages is a spread) without text,” he continues. “The size of the finished illustration will be 10″ x 16″ or 8″ x 20″, depending on whether you want horizontal or vertical 8″ x 10” book, which a standard size for a picture book when closed. For subject matter, I suggest a fairy story or nursery fable – one that hasn’t been done before.


“You can find that out by googling the name of your selection and see if it has been done. There is always a market for unusual folk tales and fables. You might even consider a fable or folktale from India that has not been published before in the U.S for a wide audience including India that looks for books in English. Or write your own story, which is even better,” Robert says.

In the live session October 26, he’ll talk about his own work process through the more than 30 years he’s been illustrating. And he’ll pick some pieces from October 26 Guest Group Critiques shared folder to talk about and teach from. Register here.

And we have a winner…

Congratulations to Laura Rackham for winning Candlewick Publishing Advance Review Copy (ARC) of Hazel Mitchell’s new picture book Toby. The ‘comment contest’ for the post with the video interview with Hazel ended Monday. Thank you to all of you for leaving great comments!