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How A First Time Author & Illustrator Created a Children's Book Character that Became a Series

Updated on November 12, 2012

What do I Write And Then How Do I Get It Published?

It began with one character and an ambitious, first time author/illustrator to find the right publisher for her book. Sheila Jarkins had many careers before her journey as an author and illustrator. This journey was certainly the most challenging as she embarked into the world of publishing, an uncharted territory.

What do I write? Now, that I have something, is it any good? How do I find a publisher? What should I send a publisher? Who do I send the letter and manuscript to? Do they want a book dummy? Should illustrations go with the manuscript? The questions just kept coming.

Sheila Jarkins' journey is unique in so many ways and definitely inspirational for those of us who would like to get our manuscripts into the right hands of a publisher. And for those of us who just love children's books this is definitely one author to follow.

Come along with me and meet Sheila and her pal Marco Flamingo. This is a story about how a character was created and made its home in books for children.

Marco Flamingo
Marco Flamingo

A Journey Begins

Writers Support Writers

You have always loved children's books and you feel you have it in you to write a good book. That is what all of us believed as we sat around a large table waiting for our instructor to come in and start class. It was winter in Rochester NY when I had arrived early to Writers and Books for this continuing education course, and this is when I met Sheila Jarkins.

Taking a course specifically for writing books for children is very helpful. Our main objective was to learn how to critique each others work. Sounds easy but actually a lot can be said on how to critique. This process is necessary and helpful towards getting your book published. Also, reading your manuscript out loud can help you hear the rhythm and natural breaks.

Before long a new writers group was formed with me, Sheila and another writer, Sandy. We were always trying to generate new story ideas. One day at Barnes and Noble, we each wrote a descriptive image on a piece of paper and then we sketched our ideas out on paper to share. Sheila drew her idea of a flamingo wearing ice skates. It was snowing heavy that day and Sheila wanted to go south and get warm. Instead she brought a warm weather bird to Rochester to experience the winter weather. This was the day Marco came to life.

A Character Takes Flight - Writing the Story

Marco Takes Flight
Marco Takes Flight

Marco Flamingo was in great form as he skated back home with Sheila. The real challenge now was to take Marco into a story that would captivate children's imagination. Since Marco is skating in the north winter cold Sheila decided to have her character explore the world outside his own comfort zone.

Sheila shared her thoughts and feelings with me about the creation of who Marco really is. She told me, from all her years of teaching, she knows just how important relationships are for children. In her words, "Kids are wrapped up in, who are you? Friendship is fleeting with young children. Adults are judgemental, not children. Marco captures the true nature of a child. He shares with his audience a childlike innocence and curiosity."

Marco is playful and with plenty of action he takes children with him on his adventures. Sheila says,"The depth of Marco's character is charming. He may not seem to have much between the ears but he has a love for beauty, nature and experiencing life. He lives in awe of life. He lives in the moment and then he remembers his friends. Happy to be alone but also happy to be with you if you want to be with him."

Every Word Counts - Pictures and Words Melt Together to Say More Than What is Written

Marco is Inquisitive
Marco is Inquisitive

The most enticing picture books capture the imagination with well chosen words and images that say more than words can explain.

"Words have to be carefully chosen to keep kids in the flow of the story. Entice them or lure them along with the images," Sheila explains about her art and writing.

After a few rounds of critiques and rewrites Marco is ready to be laid out into a storyboard. Since Sheila is an artist she wanted to bring images to her story.

There are many varying opinions on whether or not a publisher will be willing to "accept" a package from a writer/illustrator. Some say the editor likes to pick their own illustrator. If the package is sent by both illustrator and author it can be rejected because the editor does not want to purchase the two together. If you are an author/illustrator of the book you have submitted, and you are willing to let another illustrator illustrate your book, then it is not a bad idea to let the editor know you do not have to be the illustrator for your own manuscript.This allows the editor to make the decision on the direction the book will take. If you are the author only, you do not need to find an illustrator to submit with you.

A good deal of research should go into finding the best publisher for your book. In the case of Marco, Sheila researched extensively for a publisher. Her well planned research led her in the direction of a small publisher. Small publishers are happier to take a package deal with author/illustrator. She landed a publisher in a little over a years time.

Getting to Know Marco

Children can Explore the World with Marco

In the first of four books every year Marco greets the migratory birds that fly south for the winter to escape the cold and snow. "What's snow?" Marco asks. The snow birds reply, "You don't want to know!" But, Marco does want to know, so he flies north to experience snow first hand.

Filled with humor and hilarious situations, Marco Flamingo is an upside down migration story. Children will love this adventurous flamingo who never gives up in reaching his destination. The illustrations transition from warm colors to cool as the scenery reflects the climate changes.

Just click on photo to see more about this book on Amazon

The Adventures of Marco Flamingo Under the Sea

Mom's Choice Awards® Honoring Excellence Silver Medal Winner 2010

The adventures continue with America's favorite flamingo. Curious about what he might discover in the deep waters of the sea, Marco swims towards the horizon. But, he will need more than a reed or a snorkle to swim out far and dive down deep. After he solves the problem, Marco is delighted to meet and make new friends. He surprises his flamingo friends with an inventive way to return home.

The illustrations are expressive and painterly. The pinks and yellows of the lagoon sweep to the blues and greens of the sea.

Just click on photo to see more about this book on Amazon

The Adventures of Marco Flamingo in the Jungle

Once again Marco has an exciting adventure. It is Marco’s birthday and he receives an invitation from his friend, E. E. Elephant, to visit him in the jungle.

Marco has quite a harrowing boat trip across the ocean, but arrives in the jungle safely. His friend, Elephant takes him to the watering hole to cool off after his trip. Then Marco has a great time laughing with Hyena, finding buried treasure with Ostrich and even roaring with Lion. At the end of the story there is a big surprise. Another birthday wish comes true for Marco.

The illustrations fill the pages with colorful jungle scenes and action. Marco’s facial expressions capture his excitement and moods.

Click on photo to learn more about this book on Amazon

The Adventures of Marco Flamingo In the Cave

Marco Flamingo is off on a cave adventure in this fourth book in the Marco series. But this time, Marco's friends-Coral, Shelly and Webb-join him. When Marco spots caves, he is eager to discover what he will find inside. Marco's flamingo friends are timid and make excuses for staying safely outside the cave. But when they are scared by the sight of a leopard, a snake and a vulture will they take their chances inside the cave? And what has happened to Marco, the friends wonder. Why hasn't he come out? Come join Marco's friends as they explore the cave in search of Marco and discover what Marco finds inside the cave. You are in for a big surprise.

The darker scenes inside the cave contrast with the desert light outside the cave. The paintings draw the viewer deeper into the cave and invite exploration along with Marco.

Click on photo to learn more about this book on Amazon

Best Helpful Books to Getting Published

As a group of writers we never met without our tools. We all had our favorite books that went a long way to helping us with our writing and with helping us find the best publisher for our writing. Below is my recommended books to help anyone who is seeking a publisher for their children's book or needs a bit of good and helpful input.

Share a childhood moment. You never know you might become inspired or inspire someone else. So share with all of us here. Life is a series of journeys, may yours be full of adventures.


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