Student Success Stories: Sharon Langley

I'm excited to share this interview with Sharon Langley on the blog today. She was just telling me about her awesome experience at NCTE, and I can't wait for her book to release in January so that I can experience it for myself.   

Sharon is giving away a signed copy of her debut picture book, A Ride to Remember, at the end of this post. 

Myrna: What is your profession?

Sharon: I’m a writer! Since elementary school, I’ve written poems, skits and short stories. I have worked in education as a teacher and literacy coach, both of which have given me many opportunities to share books with young readers and to have students perform skits and assemblies that I’d scripted.

Myrna: What made you want to start writing picture books?

Sharon: I thought that 500 words, the average length of the average picture book, was an achievable goal. Who knew how difficult it could be? Telling a story, fleshing out characters, creating a mood or feeling … when you think about it, it’s probably more of a challenge to do so much using so few words. Oh well, I guess I like a challenge!

Myrna: That's the best attitude! It really is a challenge.

You have a picture book coming out in January that’s based on an event from your life. Could you tell us about your story and why you decided to share it?

Sharon: The story of my family’s role in the integration of a local amusement park has been a part of my family’s oral history for as long as I can remember. When I joined SCBWI, and then Storyteller Academy, I began to think that perhaps my story could become a picture book. I think it helped that people were showing interest in the story based on Round and Round Together, a book my co-author Amy Nathan had interviewed me for and written for young adult readers (middle and high school students).

Myrna: I didn't realize your story was already out there in a book. Do you want to share how you see children making a difference in the world around us?

Sharon: When pulling together the manuscript for A Ride to Remember, it was important to me that we included the contributions of other children, families and young adults who helped push the park to integrate. It confirms that there were many people who did not agree with segregation and felt that it was wrong. They expressed their support for all children by including their own children in the protests, marches and demonstrations.

Myrna: That's so important. Do you have any advice for writers who have stories from their own lives they want to share?

Sharon: Family lore, oral histories, scrapbooks and photo albums are a great place to start. I’m convinced that everyone and every family has a story to tell. Interview older family members to recount the stories and share the photos, letters and other artifacts.

When my family has a reunion, my aunt, along with a cousin, would post large boards with family photos that include captions and artifacts like postcards, love letters, and souvenirs. They act as docents to describe the special events that occurred in our family and to highlight the family members connected to those events. My aunt has since passed away, but I’m thankful that she and my cousin made this an integral part of family gatherings. I’m also very grateful that before she passed away, she was sure to appoint a younger cousin as her successor and the “keeper of the family flame.”

Myrna: I'm sorry you lost your aunt. It sounds like she was a family treasure.

Speaking of history, when and why did you take Arree Chung’s Making Picture Book Stories and Dummies?

Sharon: I signed up for Making Picture Book Stories and Dummies in 2017 because I wanted to continue to grow as a writer. I was very happy that the manuscript for A Ride to Remember had been accepted, and throughout the editorial process, the revisions were somewhat minor. However, in watching Arree’s success and the new books that he was publishing, I felt it was important to learn more about the craft of picture book writing. I also appreciate that the lessons are available to revisit whenever I feel the need.

Myrna: Yes, I love that. How did taking Arree’s class change the way you write picture books?

Sharon: Every story isn’t a personal story or a family story. Taking Arree’s class helped me to think about the essential elements of story, character and pacing. I also participate in online story idea generating contests, such as Storystorm, and I return to my Storyteller Academy lessons to help me develop and expand a kernel of an idea. Some “kernels” require research or further exploration. Some “kernels” need time to develop. For some ideas, I need time to ruminate and mull them over. Then I’ll come back to them later to see if there’s enough content or information for them to become a fully developed story. 

Myrna: True! Could you tell us about your book deal with Abrams Books for Young Readers? Did you have a literary agent? 

Sharon: I’m represented by Susan Schulman at Susan Schulman Literary Agency.

Myrna: Did you get to choose your amazing illustrator? Details, please!

Sharon: The manuscript had been accepted, most of the revisions had been made, and we were waiting for an illustrator to be assigned or to sign on. This part of the process took the longest, and I was beginning to be concerned because I didn’t want the story to languish. And although people often say that authors have no input about illustrator selection, I found that our editor was very open and receptive to suggestions. In fact, he actually asked me for a list of illustrators that he might consider approaching. Since I’d been a classroom teacher and literacy coach, I’d read lots of children’s books to my students and in my work with teachers. It was really important that the illustrator depict Black people in a warm and inviting way.  

Myrna: And Floyd Cooper does that so well.

Do you have any advice for our readers?

Sharon: Keep writing. Keep learning. And keep reading. I recently read a quote from Pam Allyn, “Reading is like breathing in. Writing is like breathing out.”

Sharon: I think this is true: I find that I need both mentor texts and author mentors. I read mentor texts because I have come to appreciate the many ways in which picture book manuscripts can be crafted. Mentor texts in some ways provide a blueprint, but because there are so many types, they also help to expand my ideas about what a picture is … and can be. I also have several mentor authors that I read for a variety of reasons: some because they’re so prolific. They keep the ideas flowing and they’re continually publishing new titles. And, others are author mentors to me because they write across multiple genres: picture books, poetry, young adult … you name it. These kind of author mentors help me to think flexibly and remind me to continue to explore ways to express my creativity.

Myrna: I do the same thing. What’s next for you?

Sharon: I have fingers crossed for my follow-up manuscript: hopefully, it will be accepted. I’ll be sure to let you know when I have more good news.

And in support of A Ride to Remember, I’ll be attending book festivals, readings, and special events. Please follow me on social media and visit my website for future dates and appearances.

Myrna: Where can we find you on the Internet?

Sharon: You can find me on:

Myrna: Where can we buy your book? 

Sharon: A Ride to Remember is available for pre-order at amazon.com or support an independent bookseller at esowonbookstore.com. And you can always spread the word by asking your local bookstore to carry it.

Our book comes out January 7, 2020. And, I just learned that Floyd Cooper’s birthday is January 8th, so “Happy Birthday” to him, and to our book baby!

This announcement appeared in Publishers Weekly on October, 19, 2017.

Sharon: Since then, we’ve received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly. Here’s hoping for more starred reviews and positive word-of-mouth. 

Kirkus Reviews said, “This book delivers a beautiful and tender message about equality from the very first page.”

Myrna: That's wonderful, Sharon! Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with all of us! 

Book Giveaway Details

Sharon is giving away a signed copy of her picture book. To enter, let me know something that you've learned from Sharon in the comments by midnight on December 6. You don’t have to buy anything or be a student. 

Please share this post on social media for extra entries, and paste the link to wherever you shared as a reply to your original comment.

Thank you for reading!

Blog Contributors

Myrna Foster writes and edits content for Storyteller Academy and the WriteRiders Newsletter for SCBWI Nevada. She has spent a lot of time teaching and coaching children, including five years as a preschool teacher. She's also worked as a journalist, and Highlights High Five has published six of her poems. 

Arree Chung is an author/illustrator and the founder of Storyteller Academy. Arree’s Ninja! series has received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. Kirkus also gave a starred review to Mixed, which recently won the FCGB award. 

Today Arree lives a creative life, making stories for children. Arree spends most of his time making picture books, writing middle grade novels, and sharing his love for art, design, and storytelling with kids and dreamers everywhere.

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20 thoughts on “Student Success Stories: Sharon Langley”

  1. Wonderful interview, Sharon and Myrna! Sharon- it is really cool that you are bringing your family’s story (and an important part of history) to the picture book format. I never really thought about diving into my own family history for picture book stories, so it’s something to consider for the future. In any case, I’m so glad we got to chat last night, and I’m really looking forward to hearing more on Friday!

  2. Amanda Malek-Ahmadi

    Sharon I am so excited for you! I hope the follow-up manuscript is the one you shared with Julianne and me on the first night of Critique Group. Congrats on your book release in January. I cannot wait to read the story about the park integration. Thank you for finding a beautiful way to share your childhood.

  3. Fantastic interview, Sharon and Myrna! Believe it or not, I learned a few more things about Sharon. After all of the books and years in the game, I can count on one hand how many of the authors I’ve been blessed in knowing I can truly say I’ve connected with on a friendship, even familial level. From the moment we met F2F last week at NCTE we clicked and I felt I’d known her forever. She is pure and real, the genuine article!

  4. This is a story only Sharon can tell. I cannot wait to see the marriage of the text with the amazing Floyd Cooper’s art. I don’t think I even knew there was ever a carousel on the Mall! Great luck as this book enters the world.
    Pamela Ross, a carousel fan since Way Back When 😉

      1. I responded to your email but please allow me this public squeal of joy in public!
        Thank you, Sharon. Thank you, Floyd. Thank you, Storyteller Academy!

        Wooohoooooooo!

  5. When I first began writing picture books years ago, like Sharon, I assumed that the “limited” word count (which has shrunk from 700 to 500 to 300 to below) would make it easy to dash off a book. Boy, oh boy, was I ever wrong! But I’m still working at it and, hopefully, getting better at understanding what makes a great story and how to incorporate those elements into my own work. Being a student of Storyteller Academy has certainly helped me to see storytelling in a new light. Thank you, Aree, and you, too, Myrna, for building such an awesome learning space for picture book writing. And congratulations, Sharon, on the publication of A RIDE TO REMEMBER. It’s already on order (14 copies!) at my county library, and I’m first in line to get a copy. 🙂

  6. What a great reminder that family stories are important to keep alive. They are our history and a great source for book ideas.

  7. I’m so excited for Sharon! As a teacher myself, she makes my dreams look possible! I especially like the fact that her story is real and based on a true event. Like she said, every family has their own story to tell. I also like what sharon said about using author mentors. As a student of SA, I’ve been focusing more on finding mentor texts, but the idea of a mentor author has opened a new horizon of knowledge and creativity. I’m so excited to read this book. Even if I don’t win, I’ll be buying copies for my classroom and my kids at home. Congrats Sharon! And thanks, Myrna!

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