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Fifteen Faves of Twenty Fifteen

2 Jan

imagesI’ve read hundreds of picture books this past year! My main goal was to discover the newest published picture books and share the ones I liked with an audience of teachers, parents, and anyone who reads to children. I feel so fortunate to have read and learned from over 360 books! Of course, as I read, I would stop and think ‘I love this book’. I would close my eyes and imagine reading it again to my granddaughters or to a room full of uplifted faces. Some books touched my heart, some tickled my funny bone, and some simply wormed their way into my mind and wouldn’t let go! These are the books I added to my list of mentor texts to inform my own writing.

 

FastFiftyNumber15Not using any specific criteria, these became my top picks for 2015. Below are my Fifteen Faves of Twenty Fifteen listed alphabetically (by title). You can click on the title of each book to read my summary of the story and see the activities I chose to go with each book.

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Bear and Bunny by Daniel Pinkwater and Will Hillenbrand

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The Blue Whale by Jenni Desmond

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Bunnies! by Kevan Atteberry

22484277I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

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Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney

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Leo, A Ghost Story by Marc Barnett and Christian Robinson

23846038Little Tree by Loren Long

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Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins

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Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds and Matt Davies

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The Peddler’s Bed by Lauri Fortino and Bong Redila

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A Rock Can Be… by Laura Purdie Salas and Violeta Dabija

22750405Seaver the Weaver by Paul Czajak and The Brothers Hilts

22749702Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry and Tom Lichtenheld

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Those Pesky Rabbits by Ciara Flood

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Yard Sale by Eve Bunting and Lauren Castillo

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And just because 15 is too hard to choose… here are the 5 runner ups making my list Twenty Fifteen!

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Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed by Leslea Newman and Amy June Bates

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Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats by Alicia Potter and Brigitta Sif

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One Word From Sophia by Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail

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Soon by Timothy Knapman and Patrick Benson

26171165Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder and Julie Morstad

Books Alive!

31 Dec

unnamedYay! I did it!

I promised myself this year that I would read as many new picture books as I could. I got my recommendations from friends and from my library, thank you Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County! Every week I would look at my library’s website and find the new releases and put them on hold for me to read. Today is the last day of 2015 and I have reviewed 360 picture books on my BOOKS ALIVE page! I actually read many more, but these are the one that made the cut for my page.

I quickly realized there were going to be more books than I could possibly read in one year, so I set a few parameters for myself.

First of all, I read almost exclusively fiction because this is what I write. Although I couldn’t pass up a few non-fictions recommended by friends, these are very few of the total number of books read.

Secondly, I only reviewed the ones I could honestly give 3, 4, or 5 stars to. If I didn’t want to reread a story or buy it for my grandchildren, I didn’t review it.

Thirdly, I steered away from commercial characters. Even though I love Winnie-the-Pooh, Curious George, and the Disney franchise, I had to limit my reading and this was one way to do it. I love a good series as much as the next person, but I was really looking for what I could learn from the stand alone picture book to inform my own writing.

Lastly, I stuck to traditionally published books because this is the route I would like to take myself and part of my quest included learning about what sells. So basically, if I couldn’t get my hands on it in my library system I didn’t read it. Although, I have put in purchase requests online for books that were getting a lot of media attention and which were not in my public library.

In total I reviewed… 360 picture books in Books Alive! This does not include the books I read and did not review. It also does not include the books I read that were not published in 2015. Sometimes I would find an author I liked and went back and read more of their work.

Top 10 Things I Learned About Writing Kid Lit from BOOKS ALIVE!

1. There are no hard and fast rules! Yes, publishers are buying and selling rhyming text… good rhyming text. Yes, publishers are buying and selling ‘quiet’ books.

  1. Diversity matters! Even though the We Need Diverse Books movement started last year, I found that there was more diversity in children’s books than I first realized. These books were written and acquired several years before they were published and therefore were in the works before the movement started. I think this issue has been n the forefront of publishers’ minds for longer than we realized. These titles include gender diversity, racial diversity, cultural diversity and diversity in the authors and illustrators who produce these books. And, yes we still have a long way to go… so let’s get busy!

  2. Animal characters still make up the core of picture books. I think children relate well to animal characters and as adults, authors are more apt to tell a ‘difficult’ story one step away from a child protagonist. Also, in going back to the diversity issue, any child can identify with an animal since there is no obvious human trait of gender, race, or culture that makes them different from the reader. Readers can then see themselves as friendly, helpful, brave, adventurous, frightened, etc instead of different from the kid in the book based on physical appearances.

  3. Opinions are like noses, everyone has one. And not everyone can see past their own. Just because someone else did not like a particular book, does not mean that you will dislike it as well. Some of my favorite books are the ones that were overlooked by the media. Conversely, not all the hype about a book coincides with your own opinion. As a matter of fact, I try to generally be positive in my reviews of a book and stay away from those I don’t care for. There are some books out there that you may hate, but remember someone liked it enough to publish it. And you may read a book I have reviewed and think I was crazy to give it 5 stars… again that’s just my opinion. In the same way, agents, editors, and publishers have opinions. There are things they like and things they don’t care for. Just because your work gets a pass from one of these people, does not mean that your work is no good… it’s just not their cup of tea. Try someone else. Research who you submit to so that you can increase the likelihood that they will want your story.

  4. Not all wordless picture books are written by the same author/illustrator. It must be difficult to get your idea across to an agent, editor, publisher, or illustrator if you want to tell a story through pictures exclusively or almost exclusively and you are not the artist. But I have seen it successfully accomplished time and time again. So take your vision and go with it!

  5. There were no books (that I found) beginning with the letter X. That may or may not mean something to a writer out there, but I just thought it was interesting. I might consciously try to write something with an X as the first letter… Xavier’s Puppy? X-Ray Vision? X Marks the Spot? Hey, I kinda like that one… dibs on X Marks the Spot!

  6. Speaking of titles. I can’t tell you how many books I read with the same or almost the exact same title as another picture book. After reading, I would go to Goodreads to record my books read (Which by the way, if you don’t add the date finished, Goodreads will not count it as a book read this year! Guess when I found this out? Last week, when people started posting how many books they read this year and went to look up mine and I had two, TWO. Aiye!). Anyway… while searching for the book by title I would often find more than one with a similar title. Usually this occurred within a few years of each other. But sometimes within the same year, but with different publishing houses. So just because there is already a book out there like yours don’t give up, it might be exactly what someone else is looking for.

  7. Along the same lines, there are hundreds of books with similar themes… friendship, loneliness, fears, lost items, first day of school, bullies, etc. But those that are getting published are new, different, exciting! So what if there are a lot of monster books? Make sure yours is unique… a monster story that only you can tell! Sometimes I’d pick up ‘another bear book’ with dread, and then WOWZERS the author would knock my socks off with the clever jokes, the deep meaning, or the lovely illustrations. And I’d have to remember, THIS is what the publishers want!

  8. Whenever I reviewed a story, I did my best to connect in some way with the author and/or illustrator. I liked their page on Facebook, I sent a friend request, connected on Twitter, looked up their blog. This personal connection gives you another layer of rapport. I found that kid lit people are extremely friendly! They enjoy hearing from fans, they appreciate good reviews of their work on Goodreads, Amazon, and blogs. Many become instant friends, others merely acquaintances. Each connection is another chance to learn from someone who has already made it in the business. Take advantage of personal relationships, these people are your allies in the writing field!

  9. And speaking of making connections… meet as many pros as you can. I love nothing more than to find a great new book and have it signed by the author. Some of the books I reviewed here are a direct result of meeting the author and or illustrator at a workshop or signing event. SCBWI events, Books by the Banks in Cincinnati, and writing workshops are great places to meet the pros. Nothing beats personal connections. I have found them to be wonderful people. They are open, honest, kind, generous, and insightful! This includes the booksellers, librarians, and teachers in your area. Luckily for me, I do know a lot of teachers. For awhile I knew more teachers than an other profession. Now that I’m retired, we still get together for lunch or coffee. It’s important as a writer to remember your audience, parents, teachers, and kids are top on the list! When you check out as many books as I have in the last two years, the librarians get to know you. When you attend book signings, booksellers begin to recognize you. These people can steer you in the right direction when you’re looking for something specific and will be important contacts to have when you are published and ready to go out in public for the first time.

Bonus… give them something, make their life easier, make them remember you. The most important things I did for my readers had nothing to do with my writing journey. The notes I took for myself, were not recorded on my blog, those I keep in my journals. What I did for the readers was simply to give the a quick overview of the story, yes spoilers and all, so they could first see if this was one that met their needs. And then I gave them a few ideas they could use with their children to extend their reading. So whether a parent, grandparent, teacher, or daycare worker, needed a book and an activity to go with it, I tried to give them something they could use. Pinterest became my best friend this year! It takes time to find arts and crafts or easy recipes that are age appropriate without duplicating them too often. But I hope these little things make someone else’s life easier. Many times parents and teachers are too frazzled at the end of the day to think of one more thing. I hope they will come back to my blog once in a while and type in a key word to search for a just-right book and activity for the next day.

Now, off to rest for one whole day before 2016 begins with all its new resolutions! See you on the other side!

 

In Like a Lion

5 Mar

UnknownTrue to its reputation, March is coming in like a lion. But right around the corner, spring is ready to pounce. This weekend we will move forward one hour. Next week we are looking forward to warmer temperatures and melting snow. The following week we will look for four leaf clovers, leprechauns, and pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. And before you know it, we’ll celebrate the official first day of spring with singing, dancing, and frolicking in the streets. Let’s look back just a few short months. What good has come out of this past winter? Has being homebound brought you closer to loved ones? Helped you organize your closet or deep clean at least one room? Given you the time to focus on your craft? Forced you to eat home-cooked meals? Provided solitude for meaningful meditation? Inspired you to learn something new? Offered a creative outlet? For myself, I’ve polished two manuscripts and sent them out to five industry professionals. I organized another critique group. I’ve started a number of new writing projects, one which is very promising. I’ve been invited to be one of the administrators on the Debut Picture Book Study group on Facebook. I completed last year’s picture book review challenge, Celebrate Every Day with a Picture Book.  And I embarked on this year’s challenge to keep up with new picture book publications, which includes reviewing picture books and offering some fun kid-friendly activities for each one on my new page, 2015 Books Alive!

 Check out some of these titles on my new page.

Book Love Blog Hop

31 Jan

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I’m participating in a blog hop to promote the books I love.

This isn’t a big stretch for me, is it? I’m always recommending great children’s literature on this site.

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Last year I challenged myself to find picture books to celebrate every day of the year. (Of course, I didn’t think of this until March so I’m still catching up a few last days of February to complete the year; but it’s almost done!) I’ll bet you knew that February 2nd is Groundhog’s Day, but did you know that May 13th is National Jumping Frog Day? Have you ever celebrated Rubber Duckie Day or World Smile Day or National Violin Day?  You can find my picture book recommendations for those and 360 other days under the heading CELEBRATE EVERY DAY WITH A PICTURE BOOK

So, to complete this blog hop challenge, I will/have:

1. Pick some books you love (any genre) that you think deserve more attention than they are getting. Here are pics of some of the 2015 books I have liked so far. You can find them on my page, at the BOOKS ALIVE! tab.

2. Post reviews for the books you chose on Amazon/social media. I also post on goodreads. You can follow me there as well. I would love to connect with you and find out what you’re reading also. Take a peek at my 2014 Bookshelf on goodreads.

3. Post the reviews on your own blog.

unnamedThis year, I’m focused on reviewing newly published picture books for 2015. This endeavor includes a review of wonderful new picture books and links or ideas to help parents, grandparents, teachers, babysitters, caregivers etc. with simple and fun ideas to do with children to extend their enjoyment of the books. I call it BOOKS ALIVE! And I hope you will join me there to see the new and exciting publications.

4. Display the BOOK LOVE badge.

So you love the badge? Cute little bunny in heart-shaped glasses reading a book. Oh yeah! Grab it for yourself. And take a minute to visit the creator of the badge, Dana Carey Up in the Attic Lately and on the Sub It Club.

5. Tag some friends.

I’m tagging all the members of the new writing Facebook page, Mothers Writing Picture Books. Moms, Grandmoms, Mommies-to-be, and Favorite Aunties, heck pretty much anyone who loves a kid in their lives knows what it’s like to find just the right picture book for their little ones. So if you know of an uncelebrated picture book all you MWPBs, jump right in and share the love.  Even if you’re not a member of Mothers Writing Picture Books, you can hop right in and join the fun. Just follow the five easy rules and VOILA! you’re it!

Thanks to Carrie for her brainchild blog hop. If you would like to learn more about it and possible join in, visit Carrie Finison at her Story Patch site at BOOK LOVE – A BLOG HOP

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