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Lord of Books

24 Apr

Can you imagine not having access to a library? José Alberto Gutierrez of Columbia can. So he’s doing something about it.

José is know as the Lord of Books in his poor Colombian neighborhood of Bogotá.

He started picking books out of the garbage 20 years ago. On his rounds as a trash collector in the wealthy neighborhoods of Bogotá, José noticed books in good condition being discarded on a daily basis. His first rescue was a copy of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. He began bringing home 50 to 60 books a day. Now his home houses upwards of thirty thousand books reaching up to the ceiling!

José learned to read on his mother’s lap. She could only afford to allow him to go to school up to the second grade. The rest of José education came from her. His mother, and later his father, read to him every night, instilling a love for stories in a largely illiterate environment.

Columbia’s capital of over 13 million citizens, has only 19 libraries. Most of them are in the wealthier neighborhoods, leaving the poor neighborhoods without service and the people who need it most, without.

15 years ago, José opened his home library to his friends and neighbors. He calls his library The Strength of Words. His community library is now open every weekend to the citizens of southern Bogota. His neighbors come with bags to collect books to take home with them. Each bag, each book, each word, is strength for a population of people hungry for stories, news, education. As he is fond of saying, “reading is a tool for life”.

Now, José and his brother-in-law drive around town with boxes of books to distribute to the people of Bogotá who cannot come to him. This modern day bookmobile provides access to literature for hundreds of people per trip.

There are many videos on YouTube about José Gutierrez. Here is one of the most recent ones.

 

904b3364f397a7670b02538fe5c794ccv1_max_755x566_b3535db83dc50e27c1bb1392364c95a2“Books are one of humanity’s greatest inventions.” -José Alberto Gutierrez

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2016 Christmas Picture Books

17 Dec

I spent a magical morning reading more than a dozen new Christmas picture books. Three were religious in nature the rest secular, and one was a Christmas/Hanukkah combo story.  All were published this year.

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Although this is not a comprehensive list of the new Christmas titles, these are the ones I was able to get from my local library. In this collection, I found a few new favorites. They are listed alphabetically by the author’s last name.

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A Night of Great Joy

written and illustrated by Mary Englebreit

Zonderkidz, 2016

Sweet rendition of the biblical Christmas story. The children set the stage and put on the play of the first Christmas. Cute pictures showing how young children might put on a simple production of the Christmas story.

*****

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The Day Santa Stopped Believing in Harold

written by Mareen Fergus and illustrated by Cale Atkinson

Tundra Books, 2016

Love this new twist on the old ‘I don’t believe in Santa anymore’ syndrome. This time it’s Santa who doesn’t believe… in Harold. He’s discovered that it’s Harold’s mom who writes the letters and Harold’s dad who puts out the milk and cookies. And at Harold’s house, Harold has a few doubts of his own. On Christmas Eve, they both decide to wait up and see if the other is really real. Funny. Sweet. And definitely believable!

*****

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Santa’s Underwear

written by Marty Rhodes Figley and illustrated by Marty Kelley

Sleeping Bear Press, 2016

Is there anything funnier than underwear? Santa can’t find his special Christmas long johns. He can’t get dressed until he does. Kids will love watching Santa try on all his other pair of underwear. But none of them will do. Finally, Santa finds a special gift from the reindeer… a new pair of long johns as bright as Rudloph’s nose!

*****

28686978The Christmas Fox

written and illustrated by Anik McGary

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2016

Lovely story and artwork. All the other animals invite Little Fox to go meet the new baby but Little Fox is too busy playing in the snow. The other animals have gifts to bring the baby and Little Fox doesn’t believe he has a gift. But when he decides to go he brings the his joy and the baby smiles!

*****

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The Biggest Smallest Christmas Present

written and illustrated by Harriet Muncaster

G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2016

Tiny story that packs a big punch! Clementine is small, very small. She doesn’t think Santa knows how tiny she is because he brings her gifts that are too big. So she sets about to let him know her actual size. Then one year he brings her the biggest gift of all… a giant dollhouse… just perfect for Clementine!

*****

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Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree

written and illustrated by Lori Nichols

Nancy Paulsen Books, 2016

Sisters Maple and Willow spend the day choosing just the right Christmas tree. It’s the best tree in the world, but Maple is allergic. The tree ends up outside and both girls are disappointed. Then in the middle of the night, Willow gets a great idea. She gets up and decorates a most unusual ‘tree’ in their living room.

*****

1762447The Christmas Boot

written by Lisa Wheeler and illustrated by Michael Glean Monroe

Mitten Press, 2016

Beautiful book! Artwork and story work together to tell a wonderful tale of Christmas magic. A lonely old woman finds a single boot in the snow. The one boot becomes two and soon she has everything she needs and more, until the owner of the boot returns. He takes his boot but gives her exactly what she needs.

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Run out to your bookstore or library and find a few new favorites of your own.

Merry Christmas and Happy Reading!

 

 

 

Western Pennsylvania SCBWI Conference, 2016

27 Nov

 

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This cute little reading robot was host to a couple hundred SCBWI members from Pennsylvania, and three from Ohio. Two of my critique partners and I drove almost five hours to be a part of this conference in Pittsburg on the second weekend of November. It was a beautiful weekend, crisp, sunny, and full of hope.

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The faculty for the weekend included Heather Alexander (former agent from Pippin Properties and now freelance editor), Mary Colgan (senior editor at Boyds Mills Press), Brett Duquette (senior editor at Sterling Publishing), Karen Grenick (founding agent at Red Fox Literary), Jasmin Rubero (editor at Dial, Random House), Jennifer Soloway (agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency), Jennifer Ung (editor at Simon Pulse), and Rebecca Weston (former editor at Delecort Press and now freelance editor).

As always, SCBWI conferences are chock full of information and opportunities to meet new people. With eight faculty members and only four workshop sessions, I had to choose my sessions strategically. This weekend I chose to learn more about queries, leaving room for the illustrations, reasons for rejections, and acquisitions. But the best thing I did, was submit a story for a critique. Not only, did I receive a thorough and thoughtful critique, I also received an encouraging invitation to submit.

And surprise, surprise… I was chosen as one of the six most promising authors in attendance! Each agent and editor who critiqued work chose one person to receive this honor. It is indeed both humbling and exhilarating !

As a critique group we are quite pleased with our efforts. At the end of the day, we each had something to celebrate!

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Author, Author!

20 Oct

This has been an exceptional month in author visits for me. In the past four weeks I have met and learned from three of the best in the industry. Conventional wisdom dictates that that aspiring authors read, study, and write in the genre they want to learn. For me, one of the best ways to learn has always been to go directly to the source, in this case the authors.

Lisa Yee visited the Joseph Beth Bookstore on September 21st. Lisa writes primarily in the Middle Grade/Young Adult genres. She is funny, witty, and full of life lessons. And her books mirror that. Although MG/YA is on the older end of the kidlit spectrum, there are many crossover skills for the picture book writer as well. Know your audience. Immerse yourself in their language, struggles, and joys. Identify what makes them tick. Give them what they need. Lisa’s new DC Super Hero series does all of that and more. Personally, my favorite things about her are her past Disney life and her huge Winnie-the-Pooh collection.

 

 

Pat Zietlow Miller was in Cincinnati for school visits on October 4th sponsored by The Blue Manatee BookstoreI was lucky enough to meet up with her and bookseller, Alia Jonesfor dinner downtown on Fountain Square the night before her school events. We had a great time together. We introduced her to Graeter’s Ice Cream and I got my squash signed, so win-win! Pat is the author of five picture books. I met Pat last spring at an SCBWI conference in Chicago. She is a wonderful speaker and an amazing person. Her first book, SOPHIE’S SQUASH, has a sequel which just came out this fall SOPHIE’S SQUASH GOES TO SCHOOL. Pat knows what it takes to be a friend and her children’s books resound with the message of friendship and dreams. Another one of my favorite Pat Z. Miller books is WHEREVER YOU GO. The positive message is so Pat!

 

Jacqueline Woodson is an author, poet, and winner of a the Caldecott Medal, a Newbery Honor Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and an ALA Notable Award  in addition to many others. I was lucky enough to meet Jacqueline at Joseph-Beth this week on the 18th where she was talking about last year’s award winning BROWN GIRL DREAMING and her newest book ANOTHER BROOKLYN. Jacqueline is also the author of several picture books which I adore, one of my favorite being THE OTHER SIDE. Listening to her read and speak is such a joy. If you haven’t had the chance to hear her, you really need to treat yourself to a copy of her audiobook. The biggest piece of advice I took away from Jacqueline’s presentation is to empower yourself. 

 

So, off I go. With Lisa’s Supergirl, Pat’s Squash, and Jacqueline’s Brown Girl Dreaming I am fortified to take on my challenges and write, write, write. See you soon!

 

Hispanic Heritage Month

4 Oct

Thirty days between September 15th and October 15 are dedicated as National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States and are observed in North and South America. It was first established as a one week period by President Lyndon Johnson and later expanded to a one month period by President Ronald Reagan.

Follow this link to a Calendar of Events for 2016.

“September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month
The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in paying tribute to the generations of Hispanic Americans who have positively influenced and enriched our nation and society.”

The celebrations began with a recital played on a spanish guitar commemorating the 400th anniversary of the death of spanish author Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote.

So I thought it was only fitting that I share some of my favorite recently published picture books celebrating hispanic heritage. Pick up a few to share with your favorite niños.

 

MARTA BIG AND SMALL (Roaring Brook Press, 2016) Jen Arena and Angela Dominguez seamlessly name animals and their characteristics in both english and spanish as Marta compares herself to the jungle animals.

OLINGUITO, DE LA A A LA Z, FROM A TO Z! (Children’s Book Press, 2016) Lulu Delacre speaks first in spanish then in english as she takes the reader in search of the newest mammal discovered in the Andes rainforest, the olinguito.

FLUTTER AND HUM (Henry Holt and Company, 2015) Julie Paschkis delights us with her art and poetry. Enjoy this collection of animal poems in both english and spanish.

MANGO, ABUELA, AND ME (Candlewick, 2015) Meg Medina and Angela Dominguez tell a lovely story about the relationship between Mia and her abuela who learn to speak each other’s language.

MAYA’S BLANKET  (Children’s Book Press, 2015) Monica Brown and David Diaz wrap you up in the magical blanket Maya’s abuelita made for her when she was a baby. As she grows the blanket frays and becomes different articles of clothing until the last remaining piece is the story.

 

 

 

 

 

Classic Remake

3 Jul

 

Many folks remake classic stories, fairy tales, and songs. Last year I wrote a little story to go along with the classic Who Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar song and hand play kids love. I took it to a new critique group last month to get a new perspective on it. Lo and behold, one of my critique partners had just read something similar to her preschooler that week! At first I was bummed, it’s been done. But then I got a copy of the book she read, Who Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar? written by Bonnie Lass and Philemon Sturges and illustrated by Ashley Wolff.

614330The story is clever and the artwork adorable! Skunk finds the cookie jar empty and begins the search for who took the cookies. With only a trail of cookies crumbs to follow, Skunk begins the search. On each page Skunk finds a clue leading her to believe she knows the culprit with the refrain kids will join in saying, “Mmm…Oh! Now I know…”. But each guess is incorrect and the accused has a catchy little rhyme explaining why it isn’t them. Eventually the trail of cookie crumbs leads to the guilty party. Luckily there’s plenty of cookies left and everybody shares in the cookie feast!

I’m so glad I didn’t give up without reading the book. First of all, I love finding new and wonderful children’s literature to share with my family and friends. Secondly, I can see that this has genuine kid appeal. Thirdly, although both my story and this one are based on the same premise, I believe mine is different enough to be unique in the market. (fingers crossed) And, bonus… this version was published in the year 2000, so I figure it’s been long enough between stories to hit a new generation or two of young readers. (toes crossed) Now I just have to convince my agent and future editor!

 

 

 

 

 

Would You Rather?

20 Apr

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I bet you know the game. Choose one of the questions below and answer in the comment box.

  1. Would you rather… have only your favorite book to read for the rest of your life or have only literary crap to read forever?
  2. Would you rather… win a Caldecott, Newbery, Pulitzer, (or another award of your choice) or be able to eat an unlimited amount of chocolate without gaining weight?
  3. Would you rather… be forced to write your next book on your phone or win the lottery?
  4. Would you rather… become a national best selling author or touch the life of only one child?
  5. Would you rather… be a beloved author or live in a world of peace?

 

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.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day

13 Feb

A word to the wise, when shopping for Valentine’s Day picture books check out the newest publications in addition to your old favorites. And, by check out, I mean your library shelves first. Then, check out your local bookstores before ordering online. Why? Because this year I found three terrific new books at my library went to the bookstore for my local shopping AFTER I did my online shopping for my out-of-town valentines. To my disappointment, only ONE of these brand-new books was available at the brick and mortar store. And since I waited until two days before Valentine’s Day, I couldn’t get my top picks for my hometown valentines. It turned out okay though, because I was able to pick up some wonderful titles anyway.

Click on the titles for a link to my Goodreads review of each book.

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Be A Friend

written and illustrated by Salina Yoon (2016)

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Here Comes Valentine Cat 

written by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Claudia Rueda (2015)

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Worm Loves Worm

written by J.J. Austrian and illustrated by Mike Curato (2016)

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Hedgehugs

written by Steve Wilson and illustrated by Lucy Tapper (2014)

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Penguin in Love

written and illustrated by Salina Yoon (2013)

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I Wish You More

written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld (2015)

Paying It Forward, Starting In My Own Community

12 Feb

Author, Lauri Fortino is paying it forward with proceeds from her debut picture book. Check out her blog and support her mission or your own community in your own way.

Lauri Fortino's Frog On A (B)log

Little Man Asleep_Peddlers Bed Scene from The Peddler’s Bed illustrated by Bong Redila (Ripple Grove Press, 2015)

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Even before my first children’s picture book, The Peddler’s Bed, was published, I knew I wanted to help people. But how? After the book was released, I began to research non-profit organizations that might be a good match. And although there are many extremely worthy causes out there, it didn’t take long to realize that the best match was right here in my own community: The Syracuse Rescue Mission.

Since 1887, the Syracuse Rescue Mission has been helping people in need by providing food, clothing, and shelter. Though they have evolved over the years, adding more services, programs, and locations, the values of faith, hope and love continue to form the foundation of their mission.

This is what the SRM is all about: Putting an end to hunger and homelessness for men, women, and children in…

View original post 264 more words

Be A Friend

10 Feb

February 11th is National Make a Friend Day. Two years ago I added this day to my Celebrate Every Day With A Picture Book tab. This year I’m excited to find a brand new picture book friend to celebrate this day.

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Be A Friend by Salina Yoon (Bloomsbury, 2016)

Dennis expresses himself through mime. But not everyone appreciates Dennis’s unique form of communication. He is often alone and lonely. Then one day Joy notices him and he has someone he can give his heart to. They find that being different is okay and soon so does everyone else. This is a great example of how actions speak louder than words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outside the Box

12 Jan

When the American Library Association thinks outside the box,open empty cardboard box 3d illustration

this is what happens…

A picture book is awarded the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature, the John Newbery Medal winner is https://julianaleewriter.com/books-alive/l/last-stop-on-market-street/ by Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson.22521973

A 56 page story is awarded the most distinguished American picture book for children, the Randolph Caldecott Medal winner is https://julianaleewriter.com/books-alive/f/finding-winnie/ by Lindsay Mattcik and Sophie Blackall.24819508

An autobiography and ‘celebrity’ picture book is awarded The Coretta Scott King (Illustrator) Book Award. The winner is https://julianaleewriter.com/books-alive/t/trombone-shorty/ by Troy Andrews and Brian Collier.23167689

This is the first time in the history of the ALA Youth Media Awards that the same person won both the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award and the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievment in the same year. Congratulations to Jerry Pinkney! Pinkney’s newest picture book this year was https://julianaleewriter.com/books-alive/g/the-grasshopper-and-the-ants/20839547

Other picture books taking home ALA awards this year are….

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Emmanuel’s Dream by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls  won the Schneider Family Book Award for books that embody an artistic expression of the disability experience.

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The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy by Beatrice Alemagna won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award for an outstanding children’s book translated from a foreign language and subsequently published in the United States.

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Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle and Rafael Lopez won the Pura Belpré (Illustrator) Award honoring a Latino writer and illustrator whose children’s books best portray, affirm and celebrate the Latino cultural experience.

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Funny Bones by Duncan Tonatiuh won the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children.

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https://julianaleewriter.com/the-cybils-2015/easy-readers/dont-throw-it-to-mo/ by David A. Adler and  Sam Ricks won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for the most distinguished beginning reader book.

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

2015 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.

2. 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!

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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!

6. 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!

7. 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.

8. 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!

9. 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!

10. 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!

 

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