Tag Archives: Children’s Books

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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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!

 

 

 

 

 

How I Got My Agent

5 May

 

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I am so thrilled to finally have this story to tell! It’s the one every writer yearns to tell. It’s the one that’s unique to every writer.

This one is mine.

After three years of writing and submitting to agents, I finally broke through the barrier. You know, the one between being someone who writes and being a writer with an agent.

I did a lot of the usual things aspiring authors do. I joined SCBWI. I continue to go to monthly meetings. I have attended several state and regional conferences and workshops.  I took online classes and webinars. I started three different critique groups specifically for picture book writers, two of which are still active. I joined several online writing groups. I became an administrator in one of those groups, the Debut Picture Book Study Group. I am active on several social media sites.  I purchased and devoured how-to books. And I got to know my local librarians and bookstore owners on a personal basis. I read, read, read picture books.

In short, I did everything I could to learn the craft.

And of course, I did my best to write good stories and submit to agents who were taking on new clients in my genre.

But I also did my best to make connections in the writing community. It was one of these fortunate connections which ultimately led to signing with my agent, Tina Schwartz of The Purcell Agency. I met Tina during a webinar on Writing Queries. We hit it off right away and I began working as her Literary Assistant. Tina was interested in my work. The first story I subbed to her was rejected, but the second pitch was a hit! She called me on Wednesday morning and made a verbal offer of representation. We spoke for a long time and she emailed a standard contract. Luckily for me, my son is an attorney so I emailed the contract to him for a quick look-see and an explanation of some terms of ‘legalese’.

The very next day I was on my way to Chicago for a writing conference. I was so crazy over the moon I could barely stay in my lane! My friend and critique partner (and passenger) was almost as excited as I was. And being the sweetheart that she is, she reread every single workshop and discussion offered as I drove  pondering which alternate sessions to attend in light of my new circumstances. We memorized the names of agents/agencies and editors/publishing houses we wanted to meet that weekend. I’m so happy we had decided to take the shoulder days on the conference. This extra evening gave me the opportunity to better prepare myself without feeling rushed the morning of the conference with new concerns in addition to a 5 hour drive. Then we focused on having fun and learning as much as we could. It was actually a nice reprieve from the constant preoccupation of possible representation. If my brain wasn’t overstimulated before the conference, it certainly was afterwards.

In the meantime, my son had redlined the contract with a few suggestions and I made a list of questions, questions, and more questions I wanted to ask Tina. (Remember those shoulder days? We stayed Sunday evening, had dinner with new friends and didn’t head home until Monday morning.) Monday, I relaxed, reviewed notes, discussed it with my son and husband and I called her on Tuesday morning with my inquires. We spoke for almost an hour, something I appreciate in an agent. She was very patient with me and answered all my questions and concerns. We negotiated the terms of the contract, and Tina re-mailed it on the spot. I printed it out. Signed. Returned a scanned copy. And celebrated!

Now, Wednesday again. One week after the initial phone call, Tina emailed me again. She has sent my manuscript to five publishing houses, houses I would not have been able to get into without an agent.

Unreal! I’m still pinching myself!

 

 

 

 

 

A Birthday Cake for George Washington

19 Jan

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A Birthday Cake for George Washington

written by Ramin Ganeshram

illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

Scholastic Press, January 2016

 

Amid the controversy of this particular picture book, my copy was sitting on a holds shelf at the library waiting to be picked up. I was anxious to see if it was still there, or if it had been pulled from the shelves as it had been pulled from Scholastic’s inventory.

“The children’s literature world has been stirred up by Scholastic’s announcement on Sunday that they are pulling A Birthday Cake for George Washington from their line-up and offering full return credit for unsold copies. The nutshell for anyone new to this issue is that a picture book for young readers was published, and then recalled because it ended up altering and reinterpreting history in ways that made slavery seem like a sometimes proud and happy experience, without sufficient accuracy and context in the story itself for its young readers to understand the reality of that experience (though there is a note in the back matter clarifying some of the license taken).

-Turning Diversity Flare-Ups into Opportunity
Elizabeth Bluemle, Publisher’s Weekly January 19, 2016

You can read the whole article and additional links  HERE

 

The story itself, is about the making of a birthday cake for the president of the United States when there is no sugar in the house. The head cook is a slave named Hercules who is well-known and respected for his talents. The story is told through the voice of Hercules’s daughter, Delia. The tension rises because there is a storm and no one can be sent out for more sugar and Lady Washington arrives to check on the proceedings. Hercules is in an uproar and no one knows what to do. In the absence of sugar, Hercules uses George Washington’s favorite treat, honey, as a suitable replacement. Dinner is prepared by Hercules, a French chef, and the kitchen slaves. Everything is done just in time and enjoyed by the president’s guests. At the end of the evening, the president comes to congratulate his cook for a wonderful meal.

The rest of the story, as they say, is told in the afterwords of the author and the illustrator. These are obviously stated to enrich open discussion, but are not a part of the story itself.

Author’s Notes:

  • The cake made in this story is actually from a recipe from Martha Washington’s cookbook. It was marked as a family favorite, and so it can be assumed that it was made often by Hercules. It is called Martha Washington’s Great Cake and the recipe is included at the end of the book.
  • The Washingtons owned more than 300 slaves  who lived both at the Mt. Vernon plantation and the house in Philadelphia.
  • Slaves were often shuttled back and forth between Philadelphia and Mt. Vernon because there was a law stating that any slave living in Philadelphia for more than six months was automatically free.
  • Hercules did have a daughter named Delia, but she lived in Mt. Vernon and would not have been in Hercules’s kitchen in Philadelphia.
  • Hercules escaped from Mt. Vernon on February 22, 1797, George Washington’s 65th birthday.
  • On his death, George Washington freed his slaves through his last will. However, Delia was owned by Martha Washington and was not freed in George Washington’s will. She therefore remained a slave until Martha Washington’s death, and from then we do not know her fate.

 

Illustrator’s Notes:

  • The artist mixed media to tell the story. There are photographs of actual kitchen items placed among the drawings.
  • Although there would have been no leafy greens at that time of year in Philadelphia, however, they were a popular crop during that time period and included in the artwork for visual appeal.
  • The artist chose to portray the slaves as happy people because as slaves in George Washington’s kitchen they took great pride in their intelligence and culinary ability.

 

 

 

Louise Borden

14 Dec

Have you ever been so preoccupied that you walked out of a store without paying?  I have.  I did.  Today!  I was in my favorite children’s book store, The Blue Manatee, in Cincinnati laughing and talking with old and new friends.  One of the employees is a teacher I used to work with, and who works there part time.  Every time I visit on a Saturday we hug and catch up with each other’s news.  And today was extra special because I got a chance to meet a children’s author.  Louise Borden, is a native Cincinnatian who has written several books for children and young adults.  She read from some of her books and talked to the kids and parents in attendance.

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I picked up a picture book, Big Brothers Don’t Take Naps and her new non-fiction The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H. A. Rey.  She graciously signed both copies and we talked for a long time.  I was fascinated with her story as an author.  I also learned that we have a lot in common, having been and lived in many of the same cities around the world.

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We chatted for so long, that when I walked out of the store, autographed books in hand, I was in a happy fog and simply left without paying!  I didn’t realize my mistake until I got home and started showing my husband my new purchases… uh, are they called purchases if you don’t purchase them?  Yikes!  I called the store right away, explained what had happened and gave them my credit card number over the phone.  Whew!  Yes, these are my new purchases!

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Friends

19 Nov

Eric Carle has long been a favorite in our house.  My children cut their teeth on his books.  My 3 year old granddaughter can ‘read’ Brown Bear, Bear all by herself.  Of course, she will only do this while sitting in your lap (smart girl).  My 15 month old granddaughter was dressed in a Very Hungry Caterpillar knit baby outfit for her first Halloween. And today, I picked up a copy of his newest book Friends for my son who just got engaged.

51r4PVqDyOL._AA160_The artwork is amazing! Naturally.  It’s a beautiful story of a young boy who’s best friend moves away.  He is so lonely that he decided to go find her.  He swims through oceans, climbs mountains, travels through forests, and finally goes through a flower garden where he gathers a bouquet and finds his friend.  “I knew you would come,” she said.  And they got married.

On the last pages, Eric Carle shows the reader a photograph taken of him with a little neighbor girl when he was only three years old.  That photo is the basis for the cover art.  When he was six years old, he and his parents moved back to Germany and he never saw his friend again.  But years later, he married his wife Barbara who was one of the primary inspirations for this book.

Awww, I’m a sucker for a good love story.  I guess that’s why I immediately thought to buy this book, not for one of my granddaughters who love picture books, but for my son who loves his best friend.

Gotta go now, my eyes are a little wet.   Oh yeah, before I forget, here’s a nice little youtube of Eric Carle talking about his new book.  You watch while I get a tissue.  See you around the blog!

                                                                    

Walk a Mile in His Shoes

17 Nov

In looking for writing inspiration, I was browsing my pinterest boards and found this gem I had forgotten about.  It is definitely worth sharing. Barbara Gruener writes a blog called Corner on Character.  She has loads of great teaching ideas to help kids learn character education values.  This one is called Empathy in a Shoe.  Basically, you have several different types of shoes in shoe boxes for children to look at.  Inside each one, she has written a situation that the person wearing those shoes might be in.  Then she asks students to answer the questions posed as that person.

(Note to self:  Change the wording in the box from ‘the person that’ to ‘the person who’.)

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 I can still get to the blog posting from my pinterest account, but when I added it here, it would not open.  Hopefully you have better luck with it than I did.  

It’s a great technique for teaching empathy, but as I was browsing I realized it’s also a great technique for writing as well.  Once you know a little bit about your character, take a few minutes to walk in his shoes.  There’s so much more to learn.  I decided to try it out with one of my new story ideas and I was amazed at how much better my character sounded on the page!

Have fun working with this technique.  Leave me a comment, I’d love to know what you’re up to!

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