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Open Worlds, Open Minds

2 Feb

A picture book is a magical thing. It can entertain, educate, and persuade. It can make you to think, feel, and imagine.

Every year the writing community gets together and chooses the best of the best. These are the ones which are adorned with shiny stickers. These are the coveted titles. This year is no exception. Let’s take a look at the Caldecott winners of 2017.

Randolph Caldecott Medal Winner

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Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat

Written and illustrated by Javaka Steptoe (son of John Steptoe, author of 1988’s Caldecott Honor winning Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters).

Little Brown Books for Young Readers

Art and story work together to inspire and delight readers.

***

Caldecott Honor Books

27414464Leave Me Alone!

Written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol

Roaring Brook Press

Pure entertainment. Family relationships, wild animals, and space travel are knit into a rollicking story.

28250952Du Iz Tak?

Written and illustrated by Carson Ellis

Candlewick Press

A story of homes and relationships all told in a strange inventive language. Here, the artwork does the heavy lifting. Discovery and imagination blend with a healthy dose of nonsense.

28101612They All Saw A Cat

Written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

Chronicle Books

Questions what you see and what you think you see. It’s all about perception and understanding truth from individual viewpoints.

25785628Freedom in Congo Square

Written by Carole Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie

Illustrated by Freddie Williams Evans

Little Bee Books

Historically accurate account of slave and free blacks in New Orleans told in lyrical language depicting the soul of humanity.

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.

*****

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

Merry Christmas and Happy Reading!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Persistence with Miranda Paul

13 Aug

 

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I met children’s author Miranda Paul at the Northern Ohio SCBWI conference last year when she sprang unannounced into my hotel room with her famously infectious laugh and we became fast friends.  We already knew each other through Facebook and we had promised to meet up and get to know each other better at the conference. You can learn more about Miranda too at her website, MirandaPaul.com.

Miranda is the author of several picture books available on Kindle, but she didn’t become well-known until her first traditionally published picture book, One Plastic Bag (2015) made international news. Since then, Miranda has published four other picture books and has another two scheduled for publication next year.

Coming Soon:

Blobfish Throws a Party – illus. Maggie Caton
Are We Pears Yet? – illus. Carin Berger

And now on the cusp of the publication of her newest picture book, 10 Little Ninjas, I have the pleasure of interviewing Miranda about writing and persistence. Miranda answered all my questions thoughtfully and completely. I’m excited to share her insights with you too!

ME: As a former educator, I’m always interested in author’s previous professional lives. What can you tell us about yourself before you became a world famous author? How did this help your writing career? What non-writing experience was the most influential in your writing success?

MIRANDA: To answer your first question, I’ll tell you what I tell kids in many school visits—and in the back matter of my book Whose Hands Are These?—that I’ve had many different jobs, and that’s OK. I’ve been a teacher, a store cashier, a volunteer zookeeper, and more. I think every experience helps my writing career, because there’s no replacement for tapping into a personal memory. Exposure to something new or learning a skill outside the writing subset expands your bubble.
To answer the last question, it’s hard to say what non-writing experience has been the most influential. Participating in drama and theatre taught me how to take criticism and direction. I learned the importance of working collaboratively with others toward a final, polished production. I often hear from writers how much they fear “not having control” of their book (or illustrations) when traditionally publishing. I’ve never met Nate Wragg, illustrator for 10 Little Ninjas, and it’s Karen Greenberg’s first acquisition for Knopf Books for Young Readers. Yet through trusting them (and so many others at Penguin Random House), the book has become an Amazon Best Book of the Month for August and was reviewed in School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly. Learning to trust and honor the expertise of other creatives was something I didn’t have to overcome. I have professionals such as April Deming and Michael Tolaydo to thank, because they taught me these lessons and more.

ME: Have you found a difference in being accepted inside or outside of your own community? (Do people see you differently based on how long or in what capacity they knew you before you became a writer?)

MIRANDA: I’m not really sure how to answer this. People are always longing for acceptance in some capacity, especially young people. But gaining acceptance from peers or the community isn’t why I write. I’ve always loved writing, and have always done it. In fact, being a kid who liked to write poems or stories until 2 a.m. often made me feel quite different, the opposite of someone who’s accepted, you know?

ME: What specific obstacles did you face while working on becoming a published author?

MIRANDA: Oh, there are many. And I know other authors who have overcome much greater odds. There’s balancing family life (not unlike dad and the sensei in 10 Little Ninjas!), and there’s rejections of course. My newest book, 10 Little Ninjas, was rejected multiple times—even by my own agent at first—and once turned down after being rewritten three times for the same house. But there’s one obstacle bigger than rejections—the obstacle of yourself. We doubt our abilities, we keep our work to ourselves in fear that it’s not good enough. Once I learned to take myself seriously, I found momentum. Momentum is huge.

ME: How do you manage your professional time, especially in terms of speaking engagements?

MIRANDA: I have really large calendars, and a couple of people who help me keep things straight. Recently, I’ve had to turn down a few requests, which breaks my heart, because if there’s a teacher or group of kids or festival that invites me, the person inside is saying “YES! YES! YES!” But the calendar is saying, “Think again, Sister.” So, I let the calendar rule my life to keep some sense of order.

ME: Have you ever had an idea that just didn’t gel? What do you do with these gems?

MIRANDA: All the time. One of my first picture book manuscripts, for example, which I tried pitching at a conference once, was an inanimate-talking-object story with a holiday and religious twist. With a moral! Sometimes, stories need to be tucked away, or saved for family. Other times, an idea isn’t quite ready to be developed. I keep an idea notebook where I write them all down. I will never, ever run out of things to write about. The best ideas find me, and keep nagging until I can’t not write them. Like my new one about inanimate talking objects written in all dialogue, coming out in 2017 called Are We Pears Yet? (Ha! Never say never when it comes to breaking the writing rules!). It’s illustrated by Carin Berger and published by Neal Porter Books.

ME: What would you say is the major hurdle to traditional publication?

MIRANDA: For me, it was first realizing this career was even a possibility, and then deciding to go for it. I’d written my whole life, but never knew much about getting a book published or really made it a goal. Another hurdle was then getting my work out there, on submission, because I never considered it “ready.” I’m a natural editor; I tinker with manuscripts for years and still might not consider it done. The work could always be better, I think. I can’t say what the major hurdle is for other people. I often hear from people who have an idea but haven’t actually started writing, let alone revising. Finishing something is a lot of work, especially when the perception is that writing for kids is easy or fun or a hobby. I’m grateful for my B.A. in English every single day, but even more grateful for not allowing myself to get too distracted by building a platform, marketing, etc. before I’d even built a large body of work.

ME: What other writing experiences have you undertaken?

MIRANDA: I’ve written a YA novel, a screenplay, hundreds of poems, and have freelanced for newspapers, magazines, and even app/game companies. I’ve taught writing, and continue to teach workshops when I can. There’s very little I haven’t done, and I think that helps me improve and grow as a writer.

ME: What plans do you have for your future self?

MIRANDA: Keep on keeping on, mostly. I am collaborating with my husband, Baptiste Paul, on a few manuscripts that we’re very excited about.

ME: What advice would you give aspiring authors?

MIRANDA: In the words of Roxette, “Listen to your heart.”

I love the quote! Thanks for interview Miranda. Let’s wrap this up with one last bonus question.

ME: What one worthwhile question have you NEVER been asked? (And what’s the answer to that question?)

MIRANDA: I don’t often get asked about my favorite desserts. They are (in order): tiramisu, chocolate-covered strawberries, and Special K bars.

And for those of you who want to follow Miranda on social media, you can find her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.  

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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