Archive | March, 2016

Coffee Shop Withdrawal

28 Mar

Just as I’d gotten addicted accustom to spending time in cute little coffee houses drinking creamy flavored caffeine concoctions, I developed terrible heartburn. You guessed it, I gave up coffee. The problem was, I found that I not only missed the rush of energy coffee provided, I also missed the ambiance. I missed the old comfy chairs, the mismatched mugs, the quiet music, the freedom to sit around for hours typing away. So today I decided I was taking my coffee house life back… minus the coffee. Ah, sweet reunion. Now I’m looking forward to finding new little out of the way establishments again, lovely independently owned cafes with unique names tucked away in local communities. And I promise to keep my coffee consumption down to one latte (hey that’s half milk) a week, they do make other drinks, right?

Here’s a picture of one of my favorite little cafes. Just so happens to be in the neighborhood too, so I frequent the Alreddy Cafe quite often. wpid-photo-201411022246192

 

So tell me, what’s your favorite coffee emporium?

 

 

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Grandma is a Slowpoke

21 Mar

27036636Grandma is a Slowpoke

written by Janet Halfmann

illustrated by Michele Coxon

Star Bright Books, February 2016

Grandma and granddaughter go out for a walk. Grandma points out interesting things along the way, a squirrel’s nest, bathing ducks, a rabbit family, and more. Although the girl repeatedly complains that Grandma is a slowpoke, she soon starts to see things Grandma’s way. By the end of the story, the girl is not in such a big hurry to get home. Grandma agrees to stay until the fireflies come out.

One of the perks of writing book reviews is finding new stories that I might have never seen otherwise. This is one of those hidden treasures. My library system has several of Janet Halfmann’s other books, but it has not acquired this title yet. I was able to get a copy from the author herself.

When I read this book, I had an immediate connection to the grandma in the story. It was the slow-paced comforting tone of the book which drew me into the story. And the sweet granddaughter who appreciated the time spent with her grandma won me over. This is one for the family read aloud.

And teachers, pick up a copy of this one when you’re gathering your collection of books for Grandparents’ Day (September 11th) or whenever your class invites grandparents to visit. Maybe invite grandparents in for a special nature walk to a local park. Have a scavenger hunt or if the park is too far away provide twigs and leaves for a natural art project they can do together. Serve fresh veggies and lemonade to end your day.

However you choose to extend the story life of the book, be sure to help your little ones make that connection between the love of reading and their older family members.

Slow down and enjoy your day!

Writers are Readers

14 Mar

I believe I’ve said this more than once on my blog and elsewhere, writers are readers. One cannot write without reading. Yesterday, as part of ReFoReMo (Reading For Research Month) Alayne Kay Christian suggested four questions a writer should consider when analyzing mentor texts. These questions help you dig deeper than what the story is about (setting, characters, plot, conflict, resolution). These questions ask you examine the structure of the story including the opening sentences, page turns, unanswered questions, and story ending.

Mentor texts do not have to be classic stories, they can be, and should be, newer stories as well. I like to read new publications to find out what’s trending in picture books today. So, in addition to the stack of books recommended each day this month as part of ReFoReMo, I also have a continually growing stack of new books (recently published) to read from my library. I request books as soon as I hear about them and wait patiently until they are acquired by my library system. My holds shelf is bending from the weight of them! So this weekend, I took a few hours to dig into the stack with Alayne’s four questions in mind. Here are a few of my findings. Most of these books have more than one aspect which qualify it as a mentoring text, I only chose one for each title. I hope you’ll find them helpful as well.

Anticipatory Opening Sentences

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Always Remember

written by Cece Meng

illustrated by Jago

Philomel Books, February 2016

Opening page: “In the end, on his very last day, Old Turtle swam his last swim and took his last breath. With his life complete, the gentle waves took him away. By dawn, everyone who knew Old Turtle knew he was gone.”

1st Spread: The sun sets over the ocean as Old Turtle’s friends watch the day end.

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Teeny Tiny Toady

written by Jill Esbaum

illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi

Sterling Children’s Books, March 2016

Opening page: “Teeny! Help!”

1st Spread: A large toad is begin lifted off the ground by a huge hand. A little toad looks up in horror as her mother is carried away.

Tantalizing Page Turns

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A Friend for Mole

written and illustrated by Nancy Armo

Peachtree Publishers, March 2016

A story of an unlikely friendship between Mole who is afraid of the daylight and Wolf who is afraid of the dark.

Examples of tantalizing page turns: The illustrations show the footsteps of many animals running above Mole’s underground home. He wonders what is going on and goes up to investigate. (The reader also wonders.) Once out of his home he realizes this was a bad idea. (The reader worries about what might happen to Mole.) Mole panics and falls down. He stays hidden under a bush and falls asleep. But when he wakes up he hears a noise. He hopes it’s nothing scary. (The reader sees two eyes peering at Mole in the darkness, and hopes it’s nothing scary too.)

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Oops Pounce Quick Run! An Alphabet Caper

written and illustrated by Mike Twohy

Balzer & Bray, February 2016

The nearly wordless story of an epic chase is told entirely in alphabetical order with only one word per page. Trying to figure out the next word and what will happen next will delight young and old readers alike.

Compelling Unanswered Questions

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Dario and the Whale

written by Cheryl Lawton Malone

illustrated by Bistra Masseva

Albert Whitman & Company, March 2016

Dario moves north from Brazil to Cape Cod with his mother in the spring. He speaks very little English. Will he make friends with the children who live there? Can he make friends with a whale calf who is migrating south with his mother? What will happen when the whale has to migrate?

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Punk Skunks

written by Trisha Speed Shaskan

illustrated by Stephen Shaskan

HarperCollins, February 2016

When Buzz and Kit have an argument about what song to write next, they try to go it alone. Will they be able to rock on without each other? Will anyone dig their new sounds? Will the punk skunks get back together again, or will their music stink?

Satisfying Endings

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Emma and Julia Love Ballet

written and illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Scholastic Press, February 2016

A parallel story about two ballerinas who have the same daily routines but whose lives do not intersect until the younger ballerina attends a performance one night with her family and the two meet backstage after the show.

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The Sleepy Songbird

written and illustrated by Suzanne Barton

Bloomsbury USA, February 2016

Peep has trouble waking up early in the morning to greet the dawn with the Dawn Chorus. He struggles with this until one evening when he learns that he is a nightingale! Now he sings with his new friends.

 

 

Studying Art Notes

3 Mar

 

If you’re writing picture books, you’ve certainly heard these words more than once.

Leave Room for the Illustrator.

One of the most important aspects of  illustrations is how much information the reader gets from the artwork that is not narrated in the text of the story. Picture book readers trust that the illustrations tell the story as much as the text, and often times more than the text. Illustrations convey emotion, definition, story arc, plot twist, and surprise elements.

In studying picture books which do this well, it’s helpful to practice writing  your own art notes where you think it’s important to the story that the illustrations depict a specific element. I sometimes mark the page with a post-it note to show where I might have added a note if I were the author. Then look back over these notes and try to word them so that my meaning is clear without interfering with the illustrator’s work. Later I can rewrite these in a notebook or just stick the post-it note in my writing journal.

Shutta Crum must be an expert art note writer. Her books Mine! and Uh-Oh! are written using only one word each! If not, how were these nearly wordless picture books written since she is not also the illustrator? Although I have heard that some writers write in a side-by-side column, with the text on one side and the art note on the other, I cannot say with certainty that this is how Shutta submits her work. But it is a good exercise for us to practice.

Look at these spreads and think about what is necessary to put in an art note and what can be left to the illustrator’s imagination.

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Notice that it isn’t always important to leave a note. Do the children need to be siblings or friends? No. Is the specific collection of toys important? No. Is it important that one toy get left behind? Yes. Is it important that there is a dog in the scene? Yes. (That comes out later int he story.)

Note: There are more of these than you realize.

I wonder how many, and what kind of art notes Tammi Sauer included in her first manuscript for Your Alien. I’m thinking there weren’t as many notes as in the example above, simply because there is more text in the story. The illustrator is an adult who can visualize a scene without help.

Take a look at this scene. Was it necessary to say exactly what the alien should be eating (or even doing) on this page?FullSizeRender

I don’t think so. The alien could be eating popcorn, bananas, or pizza. He could even be zipping around the room or playing with the cat instead of eating. Either way, it doesn’t affect the outcome of the story. This is purely up to the illustrator to decide what ‘other ideas’ the alien has on this page.

Even books which are written and illustrated by the same person, must have a certain element of art notes even if they are not specifically written out since the work is submitted as a whole unit, not in pieces.

My guess is that Chris Haughton either jotted down ideas in words or sketches before he produced the final art for his story, Shh! We Have a Plan.shh2

Before he began illustrating, he knew that the littlest character was a different kind of hunter than the others. He was kind and friendly. He was always the first to spot a bird and instinctively attracted the birds to himself. He didn’t carry a net or a ladder, but used bread crumbs to charm the birds.

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As a writer of picture books, balance is the key. Tell your story in a way which allows your reader to be an active participant. Give enough information to feed their imagination while allowing them to make their own connections.

 

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