Tag Archives: Children’s literature

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.  

 

 

 

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Back to School

26 Jul

It’s almost back to school time here in my little piece of the midwest. It’s a time simultaneously dreaded and celebrated by teachers, students, and parents. The end of July marks the start of back-to-school sales, the last days of summer vacation, and the final hours of personal freedom. Although I’ve been retired for three short years now, my teacher’s soul still aches for the beginning of a new school year.

For me, July is a time when I really start to value the gift that is summer vacation. The minutes of extra sleep in the morning, the carefree hours of dilly-dally, the days and weeks of unfettered sojourn. One of the most precious gifts of summer vacation has always been the endless supply of library books and hours upon hours of relaxed reading enjoyment. I never understood people who didn’t love reading. As an educator, I studied this alien phenomena. Why did so many children hate reading? Why did they avoid reading? Why did they find it so laborious?  Kids are not born hating reading. As a matter of fact, I’ve never met a kid who didn’t enjoy sitting on someone’s lap and listening to a story. Even as they got older, toddlers and preschoolers still enjoy hearing a story from the criss-cross position on the floor, so it’s not just the human touch of the lap which makes reading enjoyable. Actually most kids don’t start disliking reading until school-age. Which begs the reason so many kids dread the beginning of another school year. Do they equate school with achievement in reading, writing, math, or failure, embarrassment, and boredom? I made reading success my mission. What could I do to foster a love of reading in every child I met? How could I make reading an enjoyable activity? How could I turn reluctant readers into successful readers?

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So, contrary to popular beliefs, I and countless other teachers across America spent July and August preparing for the next school year. Before the first #2 pencils hit the sales rack, I attended classes and workshops dedicated to helping me be a better teacher. Prior to the last days of vacation, I spent days researching new titles and finding just the right books for my students. In lieu of the last hours of personal freedom, I scoured thrift shops and discount stores for things to make our reading time special. Because for me, nothing was more important than helping students find their own joy and self-worth in a book. And although I won’t be joining you in another adventure this school year, I will always value and respect the passion and dedication of teachers everywhere.

Tradition holds the back to school time as a season in and of itself. The end of July marks the beginning of a clean slate for a new year, the hopefulness of new or renewed friendships, the promise of fresh ideas and discoveries, and the anticipation of a precious gift. Wishing all my young and young-at-heart friends the gift of a wonderful school year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

First Lines

27 Feb

I suspect the picture book market today can be likened to Grab-n-Go, a popular convenience store serving a fast paced generation.

Consumers are looking for fast service, fresh ingredients, and value pricing when choosing a foodservice solution and convenience stores are answering the call with innovative programs that meet the latest food trends.
-Marilyn Odesser-Torpey

Not in the sense of speedy delivery of sandwiches, but picture books must GRAB the reader on the first page, if not the cover, and GO on to provide high quality literature with a fresh twist at a value price.

What are your favorite children’s books? These are books you have Grabbed and Gone with over the years. These are your go-to books. These are the books we give as gifts and reread for our own pleasure.

We can recite the first lines of these books.

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Here is Edward Bear, coming down the stairs now, bump bump bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.

– A.A. Milne (1926)

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Where’s Papa going with that ax?

-E.B. White (1952)

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The sun did not shine, it was too wet to play, so we sat in the house all that cold, cold wet day. I sat there with Sally. We sat here we two and we said ‘How we wish we had something to do.

– Dr. Seuss (1957)

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The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him ‘WILD THING!’ and Max said ‘I’LL EAT YOU UP!’ so he was sent to bed without eating anything.

– Maurice Sendak (1963)

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One sunny Sunday, the caterpillar was hatched out of a tiny egg. He was very hungry.

– Eric Carle (1969)

These books stayed with us for a reason… they hooked us into the stories we saved in our hearts. And so whenever we hear these lines we are immediately transported back to the time we sat in someone’s lap, or pushed our way to the front of the group, or felt the joy of reading and rereading our favorite books independently, or probably all three.

Now of course, a good opening is worthless without an equally great follow up. These are tied together in our memories. A few words can elicit a flood of emotions and trigger an avalanche of subsequent memories. The power of those opening lines is what keeps us opening those books over and over, rereading those pages, and reliving those adventures like it’s the first time.

Did you notice something about all the quotes above? Look at the publication dates. That’s right, for the most part they are 50+ years old. THAT is the staying power of a great hook, a powerful first line, an exceptional story. THAT is what we are striving for as writers!

But does that mean there haven’t been any brilliant first lines since 1969? Absolutely not. That’s just where my memory takes me. Where does you memory take you?

Let’s look at some of today’s first lines. The most recent books of 2016 are all of two months old. How many first lines do you already know? Which ones do you think will become classics? Will today’s children quote these books in 50 years? Let’s certainly hope so!

 The books below are listed alphabetically by title so as not to show favorites.

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Dennis was an ordinary boy…who expressed himself in EXTRAORDINARY ways.

-Salina Yoon (2016)

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Lula Mae wanted a puppy, but Mama said, “Dog’s just another mouth to feed. These are hard times, Lula Mae. You’ve got to make do.

-Susan McElroy (2016)

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When the crickets sing and the end of summer is near, Grandma and Granpa say COME.

-Marc Harshman (2016)

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Peddles was just a pig.

-Elizabeth Rose Stanton (2016)

25777449 I’m running in place, listening to my feet pound the pavement.

-Pat Zietlow Miller (2016)

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I never imagined, before you came along… that our house could get this messy and LOUD!

-Sherri Duskey Rinker (2016)

 

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Snappsy the alligator wasn’t feeling like himself.

-Julie Falatko (2016)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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)

RM Logo

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…

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Freedom

10 Feb

I’m always on the look out for new picture books. And today I read three you must add to your list. All five star books, each unique and beautifully written. Each one discusses a different aspect of freedom in different formats, non-fiction informational, first person historical fiction, and poetry with a historical perspective.

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Which Way to Freedom? written by Mary Kay Carson (Sterling Children’s Books, 2015)

A must read to understand the institution of slavery and the Underground Railroad in the United States. People, events, and ideas are presented in full with color illustrations, maps, and diagrams to help the young reader grasp this part of our nation’s history. The final pages are dedicated to learning more about present day slavery still practiced in parts of the world including South Asia and West Africa.

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Freedom on the Menu written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Jerome Lagarrigue (Dial Books, 2004)

Another wonderful picture book to share our rich, if not sometimes unpleasant, history. Written from the first person point of view of a young girl learning about civil rights through the actions of her brother, sister, parents, and historical figures in Greensboro, North Carolina. She has the innocence of a child as she learns tough lessons and finds true heroes in her hometown.

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Freedom in Congo Square written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie (Little Bee Books, 2016)

Young readers spend a virtual week following the lives of the slaves in and around the plantations of New Orleans. Monday through Saturday they experience the hardships and hopefulness of the people as they slop the hogs, plow the fields, shine the silver, scrub the floors, pick the crops, can the beans, and so much more from sunrise to sunset. But on Sundays they commune at Congo Square. Freemen and slaves play the music of their motherland, dance, sing, and share their news.

I wrote a review for another book by Carole Boston Weatherford, Voice of Freedom (Candlewick Press, 2015) earlier this year. You can read it HERE. 22747807

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer

14 Jan

22747807Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer

written by Carole Boston Weatherford

illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Candlewick Press, 2015

Winner 2016 Caldecott Honor &  Sibert Honor awards

 

Carole Weatherford and Ekua Holmes collaborate to create a masterful biography of the woman known as the Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement. Brilliant artwork deepens the meaning of the lyrical prose of the story. The text is infused with specific quotes and gives the reader the flavor that they whole thing is autobiographical when in fact it is a biography told in first person. Each spread depicts a different event or time in the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, 20th child to Mississippi sharecroppers who grows up to become a civil rights leader and one of the three women in a group to be the first African American women to sit in Congress.

One of my favorite quotes is,

I feel sorry for anybody that could let hate wrap them up.

Ain’t no such thing as I can hate anybody

and hope to see God’s face.

Out of one blood God made all nations.

It’s no wonder this book won both a Caldecott Honor and a Sibert Honor this year.

Babies Ruin Everything

14 Jan

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Babies Ruin Everything

written by Matthew Swanson

illustrated by Robbi Behr

Imprint, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

July, 2016

 

Swanson and Behr are co-creators of over sixty books and their lives together which include their three children. Their depiction of a less than enamored sibling is a comical twist on the traditional ‘I’m a big sister now’ story. The mischievous protagonist with a genuine conflict gives new meaning to the word brotherhood. Definitely not your sweet run of the mill story, but you’re going to love this feisty little girl who calls it like it is!

Big Sister is upset when her baby brother arrives. Her whole life is turned upside down and no one seems to care. The baby has overtaken her room and even her club. He doesn’t know how to act at parties, stand on one foot, or throw a frisbee. Then she starts to see the value of having a baby brother. She begins by teaching him everything she knows and together they manipulate their parents into submission.

I read an Advanced Reader’s Edition. Get in line now to pick up your own copy this summer!

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