Imperfect Gifts for Thanksgiving

21 Nov

Last July, my mother took a bad fall from the top of the staircase. She spent her birthday in the hospital. Luckily no bones were broken, but she had severe cuts and bruises and her dementia worsened significantly. Mom had to give up her license and her home. This has been an emotional ride for the whole family. Thankfully, mom doesn’t need to be alone through this, she has children and grandchildren and great grandchildren who love her dearly. Mom is living with my sister and brother-in-law who have made her feel welcome and needed. She spends many hours a week watching a digital picture frame of photos from her past and retelling those memories to everyone who stops in for a visit. In cleaning out her house, I passed heirlooms on to the family. One thing I kept for myself was her set of knitting needles. There are many things mom can’t do anymore, but knitting is something she can do. And teaching me to knit is one of her new tasks.

22291344_2014584645484208_4380399781917116534_oIn September, I was thrilled to meet funny man and Caledecott Award winner, Dan Santat. I was moved to tears hearing the back story behind his newest picture book, which he authorstrated.  In addition to getting my copy signed by the legendary surly asian guy, I also got a beautiful tote bag. That bag has become my knitting bag. I’m proud and happy to have a reminder that mom can still teach me something new literally ‘after the fall’. Like Humpty Dumpty, mom was able to pick herself back up (with lots of help and support) and move forward in her life. She is an inspiration to me and I know I’ll never read this story without thinking about her. IMG_7800

AFTER THE FALL written and illustrated by Dan Santat (Roaring Brook Press, 2017) That famous egg Humpty Dumpty takes the famous fall. But what happens when all the king’s horses and all the king’s men put him back together again? He’s patched up but not quite the same. Not only can’t he climb back up the wall to sit and do his favorite thing, bird watching, he can’t even climb up to the top bunk and ends up sleeping on the floor. The wall haunts him. Now even bird watching mocks him. He faces the wall every day. And little by little he works up the courage to climb back up. What happens when he does? Humpty Dumpty cracks again… and he flies away. Humpty Dumpty is the most beautiful bird in the sky.

So fast forward to today, two days before Thanksgiving and I count my blessings, always counting my family first. With mom’s help I have knit four scarves and one baby blanket to give my grandchildren for Thanksgiving. Today was such a gorgeous sunny day, I took pictures of everything outside to show off the rich colors.

 

 

 

If you look closely, you’ll see all the imperfections. But I hope you also see the love. The first two scarves have the most mistakes. Each one was ‘ripped’ and restarted more than once. There were a lot of dropped stitches and uneven edges. But I eventually mastered the simple garter stitch, casting on, binding off, and adding a new skein of yarn to a working project.  I finished them both off with pom-poms using up the leftover yarn and adding a bit of both colors mixed with white so each granddaughter would have a piece of her cousin’s scarf in her own. The next two multicolored pastel scarves are for the two older granddaughters’ younger sisters. The yarn was dyed like this and I bought a giant skein so I didn’t even have to add another ball to finish each one. By now, I was able to whip these up in a couple of days. Then the big challenge came. I learned to combine the knit stitch with the purl stitch and a slip stitch and followed a simple herring bone pattern using two different balls of yarn at the same time to make a car seat/stroller blanket for my youngest grandchild and first grandson… the little prince. Wow, after the scarves I thought I was up for something different. This was a little more than I had bargained for. Not only was I losing track of the pattern, I had trouble keeping my tension even, so one end of the blanket is much wider than the other end.

The scarves and blanket are ready to give my precious grandchildren. They’re not perfect, but then neither am I . So when my little ones are wrapped up in soft colorful yarn, they’re also wrapped up in my love. And because I am who I am, no gift is complete without a book. No, no one got my signed copy of AFTER THE FALL. But I did find three books featuring knitting to give each family.  Sadly, I mailed off the baby blanket this morning without a book picture, but you get the idea.

 

 

 

 

EXTRA YARN written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen (Balzer and Bray, 2012) In a black and white world Annabelle finds a box of colorful yarn. After knitting a sweater for herself, she uses   some of the extra yarn to knit a sweater for her dog, then her neighbor, and his dog, and her classmates, and her teacher but she still had extra yarn. It seems that tiny box had an endless supply of colorful yarn, so Annabelle knits sweaters for her mom and dad, and all the people (except Mr. Crabtree), and all the animals in her neighborhood. Then she goes around the world knitting and spreading bright colors over the otherwise drab scenery. An evil archduke offers Annabelle a million dollars for her box of yarn but she refuses to sell it, so he sends robbers into her room to steal the box. Unfortunately, when he gets the box it is empty. He curses her and throws the box out the window. The box finds its way back to Annabelle who still had enough extra yarn to knit a sweater for her tree.

LOST. FOUND written by Marsha Diane Arnold and illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Roaring Brook Press, 2015) Bear loses his long red scarf in the woods. It is alternately found and then repeatedly lost again by each animal who finds it. Eventually they all find it again in a clearing and in a struggle to claim the scarf for themselves they destroy it. But Bear has an idea, taking up all the loose yarn he teaches the forest animals to knit one extra long scarf that they all share around a campfire.

PENGUIN AND PINECONE written and illustrated by Salina Yoon (Bloomsbury, 2012) Penguin loves his new friend Pinecone and thinking he might be cold, Penguin knits him a scarf to match his own. Pinecone is still cold, so Penguin does the hardest thing… he helps him return home to the pine tree forest and leaves him in a pine nest to keep him warm. When Penguin returns he finds his friend has grown into something even greater.

Another great picture book is KNIT TOGETHER written and illustrated by Angela Dominguez (Dial Books, 2015). I wrote a post about it a few years ago. Follow this link for a quick review and some fun yarn activities you can do with your little ones too.

There’s more fun with LOST. FOUND and PENGUIN AND PINECONE on these pages.

*** If you got this far, please like, comment, or share. Thank you! ***

 

 

Books By The Banks, 2017

12 Nov

Every year along the banks of the Ohio River, Cincinnati hosts a huge book festival. Well actually, it’s downtown in the convention center, so it’s literally closer to banking institutions than to the river banks, nevertheless it’s an event you can bank on every year! And every year, I meet more new and wonderful people – authors, illustrators, teachers, librarians, parents, kids, friends, volunteers.

This year I attended a panel of ‘authorstrators’, author/illustrators. These talented people both write and illustrate. I was inspired by Loren Long, Rafel Lopez, Ben Clanton, and Amanda Driscoll. Look at this small sample of their work. Amazing!

Each artist has his/her distinct style. Without looking at the names or even knowing the artists, I’m sure you could group these books into four piles based solely on the art. These books present readers both windows and mirrors to see themselves and others in literature. Of the many things discussed, I think the key message is to be fresh, different, unique, and true to yourself.

I was particularly in awe meeting Rafel Lopez. He spent several minutes talking with me even though there were other people in line waiting to meet him. We discussed his work, and the importance of bringing diverse books into the world. He chuckled with me at the trouble I sometimes have convincing people I am spanish because I don’t fit their stereotype. And he encouraged me to continue writing and submitting. “There is a place for all our work,” he told me. I will treasure my copy of Maybe Something Beautiful which he autographed for me.

 

And then, I had the pleasure of listening to the award winning author and National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Kate di Camillo speak. I just wanted to curl up and never leave her funny, warm, human spirit. She spoke directly to my writer’s heart and my reader’s soul. She talked about connections, about making connections with the world around you and writing toward the connections with others. She also talked about keeping everything open so you don’t miss a thing. Keep your eyes and ears open. Keep your heart and mind open. Keep your brain open. Allow creativity to find you and inspire you to write, or draw, or dance, or sing, or do whatever it is that connects you to the world outside yourself.

 

Even though the line was looooooooong, she took a moment to look up and smile for each and every fan wanting a picture taken with her. What a genuine kind person she is!

 

And last, but not least, I took a few minutes to stop by the bookmobile parked outside the front doors of the convention center. Actually, the bookmobile is part of my former school district and I wanted to pop in and say ‘HI’ to the wonderful folks who work tirelessly to put books into kids’ hands. There is no checkout system. Kids are free to browse the shelves, sit and read, and take home any book that speaks to them. They don’t even have to live in our district. Our librarian was calling out to families passing by, “Come on in. Pick a book to take home.” And they did. They climbed up the steps to the brightly painted, remodeled school bus, designed by nationally renown author/illustrator Loren Long, into the inviting reading space filled with books, stuffed animals, cushioned benches, and friendly faces of Princeton City School employees. My heart was bursting to see the happiness a few pages could bring to those kids and their parents.

If you have any gently loved children’s books laying about the house, please consider a donation to this or many other organizations in your neighborhood.

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Polish Your Manuscript

28 Sep

Zoya-Natural-Deux-Nail-Polish-Collection-For-Fall-2014Getting a manicure this morning made me think about polish. Not just what color to apply to my nails, but also how to polish a manuscript. You’ve got your first draft, or second, or third. Is it ready to go out into the world?

Let’s start with the overall look. Do you want a serious or playful look? Modern or traditional? This will affect every other decision you make from the color to the shape to the length. The same is true for writing. You will make different decisions for fiction vs non-fiction, fantasy vs realistic, humorous vs serious. The structure of your manuscript depends on the ultimate form you envision.

Experiment with different colors. Use the color samples. I went in with my own polish but ended up with a different color. It was in the same color family, but richer and more ‘fall’ than ‘summer’. When writing, be sure to deepen or lighten a scene to achieve the overall mood you envision for the story.

Is it you? Look at all the options available. Many are not for you. Why? Too long, too glittery, too boring, too trendy? Remember there’s something for everyone. Some people like short, natural nails. Some like long, pointed, sparkly nails. Some like designs, flashy colors, or holiday styles. Readers look at options too. You need to reach YOUR readers, not EVERY reader. If you stay true to yourself, your readers will know it. They will flock to read your books, visit your websites, meet you in person. So even with a second, or third opinion, stay true to yourself. My technician provided the look I was going for with a simple piece of advice. She knew what I was wanted and she helped me reach MY goal.  A good critique group or partner can do the same thing with a line or scene that isn’t hitting the right notes. It’s still your story, but someone outside of your bubble might help you see it differently.

Don’t worry about the rough draft. You can’t be too precious about it. To start, my technician needed to soak and scrape the old polish off before we could proceed to the next step. Your first written draft should be treated the same way. Once it begins to grow out, you need to get in there and rewrite. Strip away whatever is not working. Like with nail color, you can change it up any time you want. This character not working? Add more dimension. That scene not working? Get rid of it. The mood feels off? Add details.

Trim and shape-up. Polish does not get applied to old scraggly nails. Shape up your writing too. Trim excess words and replace worn-out phrases with fresh ideas.

Senses are key. Color may be the main character in a manicure, but you can’t help but notice the other senses as well. Smell of the chemicals, feel the roughness of the emery board and the smoothness of the hand massage, listen to the chatter of the technicians and their clients, taste your complimentary beverage.  Give your reader the full range of sensory experiences in your story. Pay attention to the full range of senses. A story based solely on one sense will fall flat.

Emotion. Your technician wouldn’t be pleased if you were unhappy with your manicure. She wouldn’t want you to leave in tears. But with writing you might. What emotion do you want to convey? Do you want your readers to laugh, cry, puff out their chests, hang their heads, wring their hands. Do you want them to feel disappointment, fear, confidence? The worst thing would be to have your readers feel nothing. You want your readers invested in the story. If they can put down your book and walk away, you haven’t done your job. Make them feel!

Ambiance matters. Did you have to wait a long time to be seen? Was the staff friendly? Did your technician take his/her time with you? Pay attention to the details and the overall tone of your story. Simple things like language and sentence length can make or break a reading experience. Be sure you match both to your target audience. A long introduction will not work in a picture book, but world building in a high fantasy is much more complex. Know your readers and give them what they need. Give them what they don’t even know they need. Just like you’d reward your technician with a nice tip, your readership will reward you with enthusiasm and loyalty.

Your nails should shine when you leave the salon. Your manuscript should shine as well. Do you love your manicure? Was this is good experience? Do you want to come back? The salon needs return customers. So do authors. You want to leave your readers wanting to come back again and again. Give them heart. Give them passion. Give them quality. Give them a reason to care. Give them a reason to come back.

Time. Everyone knows you never leave the salon with wet nails! This holds true for your manuscript. Sometimes we’re so eager to get out there that we submit before we are ready. This could ruin your writing career. Like nails, your manuscript should never go out until it is completely ready. I know it looks great on the surface, but if it’s not solid through and through, it’s going to meet rejection. This is a slow business. Even with a stellar story, you usually have to wait a long time before you find an agent, an editor, a publisher. No matter how hard it is to sit and wait… sit and wait! (Of course with writing, unlike manicures, you can begin working on your next manuscript while this one is curing.)

Happy Writing!

And Happy Polishing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Creative Life

22 Jun

When thinking about creativity and creative people we often think of artists, musicians, or inventors. But really, when you get right down to it, we are ALL creative beings.  Merriam-Webster defines creative as ‘the ability or power to create’, and create as ‘to bring into existence something new’ and ‘to produce through imaginative skill’. Everyone from the boardroom to the maintenance room has the ability to create something new through imaginative skill at work and at home.

Children do this instinctively. Given an empty box, a child will create a whole new world, a new mode of transportation, a home for imaginary animals, or quiet place for contemplation.

French sculpture, painter, and pioneer of modern art, Henri Matisse defined creative people with these words:

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As writers, illustrators, publishers, and more we are well aware of the power of imagination and the creative souls of individuals. We make it our business to provide, enhance, nurture, model, and shape new ideas.

Today, I’m taking Matisse’s words to heart. Working on a new story idea, I need to be all these things (and more).

What do you need to reach your goals?

 

 

Title Comparison

2 May

What do two bunnies and carrot, four kids and four toys, one toddler, a baby, a dog and his toys,  one greedy ghost, and two brothers and one dinosaur all have in common? Their inability to share. Look at the book covers below. What else do all these stories have in common? The same title.

MINE!

Pictured in descending publication order:

25785748 written and illustrated by Susie Lee Jin (Simon & Schuster, 2016)

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written and illustrated by Sue Heap (Candlewick, 2014)

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written by Shutta Crum & illustrated by Patrice Barton (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011)

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written by Mathilde Stein and illustrated by Miles van Hout (Lemniscaat,2006)

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written and illustrated by Kevin Luthardt (Atheneum, 2001)

But what’s more important is what makes them different.

Let’s take a look at the uniqueness of these seemingly identical picture books. The theme of sharing is evident by the title and artwork on the covers, it’s what’s inside that makes these stories more unlike one another than simply the characters on the covers.

Three out of five of the books are nearly wordless, meaning the illustrations carry the story. Luthardt‘s story comes in at 30 words and Jin‘s story is told in only 19 words. Both Luthardt and Jin are author/illustrators meaning the complete storytelling experience is their own. Everything the reader experiences is a result of their text and art. Which brings us to the only book which has a low word count and is illustrated by someone other than the author. Crum‘s story comes in at only 8 words, even fewer than the two author/illustrators. Several page spreads have no text at all. How is that accomplished? Art Notes! Much of the story is told to the illustrator, Barton, through art notes. Barton then uses those notes to guide but not dictate her work. Not only is this important for writers and artists, but also for parents and caregivers. When ‘reading’ these stories with young children, be sure to leave room for the child’s story and their own interpretation of the story on the page. Ask questions, allow them to discover meaning and thus ‘read’ it for themselves.

The other two books are wordier. Heap‘s story is told in 224 words and Stein‘s story is told in a whopping 508 words. And contrary to popular opinion these are not the two oldest books, which generally have  a higher word count than today’s books. Are non-illustrator authors dependent on more words to tell their stories? No, Heap is an author/illustrator, only Stein is an author only. Her story is illustrated by van Hout whose artwork adds whimsy and humor to the text.

So, what about these stories with the same title makes them unique? They all discuss the theme of sharing but it’s how the theme is revealed that is unique. The low word count stories are targeted to a younger audience. In Crum‘s 8 word story a toddler of unidentified gender tries unsuccessfully to keep his toys away from a younger sibling but ends up losing all his toys to the dog. Jin‘s 19 word story replaces children with bunny rabbits who find one carrot, one top hat, and one very sad snowman. And Luthardt‘s 30 word story is about brothers who receive a stuffed dinosaur in the mail and end up ripping it in half before they learn that they need to share in order to play with their repaired gift.

The two books with the higher word count are geared for a slightly older and more mature audience. Both main characters are of preschool or school age. Heap‘s 224 word story centers around an older friend or sibling who finds it hard to share with three other younger children. It’s not until she sees how sad the baby is not to have one of her toys that she learns to share. This added a layer of empathy is more appropriate for older readers. Stein‘s 508 word story features a greedy ghost who arriving in a new home, insists on claiming everything from the toast to the toys as his own. The older girl protagonist sees only the bright side of his greediness allowing him to have whatever he wants and finding something else for herself. When the ghost sees that she is happy with what she has, but doesn’t want to play with him, he learns to share so they can have fun together. The change in the ghost’s attitude actually turns him into a ghost that the owner of the mansion up the hill doesn’t recognize. This measurable character change is a sign of maturity the older reader is working toward.

Same titles. Same theme. Different stories.

This is truly an example of what your mother always taught you: Don’t judge a book by its cover.

 

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

Spring Training

26 Mar

lucy-psychiatristWas your winter writing as depressing as mine? ACK!

The story accepted by an honest-to-goodness editor in a real publishing house was turned down in the acquisitions meeting.

But I pulled myself together in time for the new year. And what a fun-filled, jam-packed year it’s been so far!

I spent January gathering ideas with Tara Lazar in Storystorm (aka PiBoIdMo). February brought a blizzard of information at the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York. And March has been a whirlwind of reading mentor texts with Carrie Charley Brown in ReFoReMo.

Now, with a fresh arsenal of writing ideas, information, and mentor texts I’m ready to take on a new season.

CharacterSpring Training is upon us and I’m going to be ready for the big game!

 It’s time to get off the bench and stretch those writing muscles. fce54108a076897bcd7844d5c2ad99ab

Write.

Write.

Write.

I’m working on honing my craft, developing those mad writing skills…

until I hit one out of the ballpark!  bfb5b5cf1817b81725091347991476b8

And when I finally get that call…

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all that training and practice and diligence will have paid off! your-a-good-man-charlie-brown-baseball-game-youtube-o3Vo6x-clipart

 

Special thanks to Charles M. Schulz, creator of the Peanuts characters, for his wisdom, creativity, inspiration, and many years of humor.

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16 Feb

photo-26It’s a common enough question. One I’ve asked children countless times… at the end of the day while we waited for dismissal and around the dinner table when the conversation was lagging. I was just asked this question myself at our local SCBWI meeting after my trip to New York for the national winter conference. I answered with a few of the ‘big ideas’ I’d garnered, but here I’d like to share more general observations.

Let me begin by saying this was my first national conference and I was quite awestruck. I had attended several regional conferences before this one, but I quickly learned that a national conference is much more overwhelming than the regional conferences. I did my best to soak in all the combined knowledge and talent surrounding me. I took copious notes, which I highly recommend. You know, you think you’re going to remember every syllable just to walk out the door and be in fan shock over seeing a ‘celebrity’ and completely forget everything you just heard. Not saying that happened to me. (Not saying it didn’t happen, just not saying it did.)

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I recommend you attend as many functions as possible. It’s not only beneficial but also economically sound. After all, we paid a lot of money to attend, why not squeeze every ounce of  the experience out of the opportunities afforded. This particular conference offered more than 30 workshops and 55 faculty members. (Read all the materials carefully before registering. Diligence is key in making your selections.) In addition to the workshops, there are keynote addresses, panel discussions, and various formal and informal gatherings. Take in as many of these as you can.

Have a plan. Know what you want to get out of this experience. Are there specific questions you’d like to have answered? What contacts do you especially want to make? Is there something new you’d like to try? Knowing what you want will help you focus your energy in the right direction. img_1446

Relax (if you can) and enjoy the ambiance. There are superstars all around you!  Make connections. You never know who is sitting next to you until you ask. I had lunch right next to Tomie dePaola and across from Jane Yolen. I listened to, and cried with, the multi-award winning illustrator, Bryan Collier   and got my picture taken with him. I ran into many Facebook friends and made new friends. No, you won’t get to see and talk to everyone (there were over 1000 participants this weekend), but you will get to meet some very interesting people.

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Take advantage of the opportunities to submit your work to agents and/or editors. This is one of the perks of attending a conference. Many of the editors in particular are closed to submissions except for these special circumstances. If you have something ready, do that immediately. The window of opportunity is small, don’t miss out. Be sure to research the recipient’s tastes and wish list before sending it out. Follow their guidelines to the letter. You don’t want to waste your time or theirs.

Enjoy yourself. No matter where you go, take in a local experience. In NYC I didn’t have time to do the  typical ‘tourist’ things, but I did ride the train and eat the cheesecake!

Half the Fun

10 Feb

Getting there is half the fun, right? RIGHT!

I never thought I’d get to an SCBWI national conference, but this year I took the plunge with my friend and writing partner, Jennifer.

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We departed on a bright sunny and unusually warm day in Ohio, knowing that nor’eastern Nico was predicted to hit that night. After our first sighting of a NYC road sign, we stopped for a celebratory DQ Blizzard. I named mine, Nico. Then I ate it!

We drove just more than halfway to make the next day’s drive easy. As we settled in for the night the snow fairies came, promising a blizzard of their own making.

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Luckily, we were prepared with an ice scraper, shovel, boots, and a de-icer.

Patting ourselves on the back we headed out. But our luck was short lived. We ran into a traffic jam sitting behind a long, long, long line of trucks. No one was moving. We crept along two miles of highway before being detoured off the road. Sadly, we weren’t the only ones having a slow start that day. A trucker had careened off the road, closing the highway, and on the exit ramp we saw another unfortunate trucker sidelined.  img_1362

Two hours later we were enjoying the views of a small riverside town. It was actually quite beautiful in the snow.

Once we got back on the highway and the rest of the trip was easy-breezy. Crossing the Hudson at dusk, I knew we had finally made it! img_1408

***

Now, fast forward 24 hours and I’m sitting in a cozy corner of the Ballroom level of the Grand Hyatt in New York City. Jennifer is engrossed in her intensive course she’d signed up for and I’m reflecting on my first day in the big apple. No, I didn’t go see the sights. Instead, I met a cousin I hadn’t seen since I was a very young girl. He brought me family photos and we talked and talked and talked! We spent several hours at one table and then moved into the restaurant for lunch and spent another couple of hours reminiscing and catching up on our new lives. fullsizerender

So until tomorrow, when I attend my first SCBWI Winter Conference, I know that getting here was half the fun!

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.

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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!

*****

28687145

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!

 

 

 

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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Franklin IN Conference: Tricks and Treats of the Trade

14 Nov

October brought gorgeous leaf color on a beautiful college campus. The Franklin Writing Conference was a one day intimate gathering for authors and illustrators. About fifty SCBWI participants joined a four panel faculty for a day of learning and camaraderie.

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Pictured from left to right. Jennifer Zivoin, illustrator of multiple picture books and early readers including Big Red and the Little Bitty Wolf (Jeanie Franz Randsom); Andrea Hall, editor at Albert Whitman; Shannon Baunach Anderson, author of several children’s books including Penelope Perfect and Coasting Casey;  Tina Purcell Schwartz, founding agent of The Purcell Agency.

First of all, I was super excited to meet my agent Tina Schwartz in person! Although we have communicated through email, text messages, and Face Time, it was great to have dinner with her and chat informally.

Secondly, I made a connection with Andrea Hall who is reviewing one of my stories for publication. Fingers crossed!

Thirdly, I met up with Facebook connections Kathryn Powers and Teresa Robeson. Both lovely ladies and talented illustrators.

And last, but not least, I spent quality time with one of my critique partners, Emmie Warner. We carpooled, shared a room, and supported each other through our second conference together. Thanks Emmie!

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My Top 10 Tricks and Treats of the Trade:

(in no particular order)

Be prepared to meet agents and editors with your best work. Have it polished and shined to a sparkle. And lead with your strongest work.

Research submission guidelines and follow then to the letter. Do not make the mistake of losing your masterpiece in the rejection box because you failed to follow directions.

Do your own market research before submitting. Know where your work fits on the shelf. What are some similar titles? How does yours stand out?

Take revisions seriously. If your agent or editor asks for revisions, consider what isn’t working and how to improve it. Don’t rush your revisions, it’s not intended to be a quick fix.

Use market guides such as The Book Markets for Children’s Writers, Writer’s Market Guide, and Children’s Writers and Illustrators to find agents and editors who are the best fit for your work.

Don’t take rejections personally. There are many reasons why an agent or editor may pass on your work which may be more due to their own needs and wants rather than your talent.

Your characters need to visually carry your story (picture books). Let your characters distinguish themselves.

Focus on creating visual movement between scenes.

Work with peers to polish your work. Be open to constructive criticism. It’s easier to swallow a ‘no, that doesn’t work’ from your writing partners than it is to get a ‘no, that doesn’t work’ from an agent or editor.

If something isn’t working, keep trying.    Revise.    Resubmit.   Repeat.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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