Tag Archives: Children’s literature

A Moment in Time

12 Apr

35631584Today’s moment was when David Wiesner, three time Caldecott Award winner, spoke to a group of fans. He shared his perspective on writing and illustrating. And, he took us through the process of writing his newest picture book, I GOT IT!  Like many stories, I GOT IT! focuses on one moment in time which is stretched out across 32 pages. Pulled from his boyhood memories of playing baseball in the neighbor’s back yard, David illustrated the actual and imagined circumstances surrounding the moment when the smallest outfielder is confronted with a fly ball.

138069Of course I picked up my own copy of I GOT IT! as well as a new copy of THE THREE PIGS. Along with most of my picture books, this one was left to a new teacher when I retired. But how many times do I have the opportunity to own a signed Caldecott Award winning picture book? Answer: Four to date.

 

(Another thing I learned is that a Caldecott Award winning autograph does not have to be legible, It’s a good thing the artwork is so fierce.)

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Among the many fans in attendance were three legendary Cincinnati illustrators, who agreed to stand for a photo. From left to right: Loren Long, David Wiesner, Will Hillenbrand, and C.F. Payne.

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Thanks to Joseph-Beth Booksellers for bringing another amazing author and illustrator to Cincinnati.  Look up some of David’s other picture books in your local bookstore.

 

 

Oh yeah, and that moment when I got my picture taken with David Wiesner!IMG_1261

 

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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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.  

 

 

 

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!

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