Tag Archives: reading

Energy Enthusiasm Excitement

2 Dec

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Energy. Enthusiasm. Excitement. These three words perfectly describe Sherri Duskey Rinker, author of the Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site series and several other books for young people.

Sherri must have been exhausted, she had already had two school visits that day. Yet here she came, eager to meet more fans.

Hosted by The Blue Manatee Bookstore she was here to talk to her audience… a loud rambunctious crowd to say the least. And talk she did. To them. On their level. Matching their energy, enthusiasm, and excitement note for note.

 

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Sherri asked them questions, responded to their questions (and sometimes off-topic comments), and told them stories about herself. And of course she read her newest book, Construction Site on Christmas Night.

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Every eye was focused on the book. Every ear was tuned into the story.  She totally had these kids… mind, body, and spirit. I was in awe of her.

On the way to dinner, I asked my granddaughters what they liked the best. The six year old liked Sherri’s story about her sons. She even compared them to herself and her sister, saying that she goes right to sleep after her stories but that her sister does not. And she liked that the author wrote all their names in the book. The three year old said she wanted chicken nuggets and fries, but not the orange fries her mommy gave her the other day… those were yucky. Yep, even my own prodigy can be off-topic at times!

Thanks for coming to Cincinnati, Sherri! So glad I got to meet you in real life! me and sherry

 

Off topic post script: Orange fries are NOT yucky. Mommy is right, they’re better for you than regular french fries.

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Would You Rather?

20 Apr

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I bet you know the game. Choose one of the questions below and answer in the comment box.

  1. Would you rather… have only your favorite book to read for the rest of your life or have only literary crap to read forever?
  2. Would you rather… win a Caldecott, Newbery, Pulitzer, (or another award of your choice) or be able to eat an unlimited amount of chocolate without gaining weight?
  3. Would you rather… be forced to write your next book on your phone or win the lottery?
  4. Would you rather… become a national best selling author or touch the life of only one child?
  5. Would you rather… be a beloved author or live in a world of peace?

 

Coffee Shop Withdrawal

28 Mar

Just as I’d gotten addicted accustom to spending time in cute little coffee houses drinking creamy flavored caffeine concoctions, I developed terrible heartburn. You guessed it, I gave up coffee. The problem was, I found that I not only missed the rush of energy coffee provided, I also missed the ambiance. I missed the old comfy chairs, the mismatched mugs, the quiet music, the freedom to sit around for hours typing away. So today I decided I was taking my coffee house life back… minus the coffee. Ah, sweet reunion. Now I’m looking forward to finding new little out of the way establishments again, lovely independently owned cafes with unique names tucked away in local communities. And I promise to keep my coffee consumption down to one latte (hey that’s half milk) a week, they do make other drinks, right?

Here’s a picture of one of my favorite little cafes. Just so happens to be in the neighborhood too, so I frequent the Alreddy Cafe quite often. wpid-photo-201411022246192

 

So tell me, what’s your favorite coffee emporium?

 

 

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.

 

2015 Books Alive!

31 Dec

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I promised myself this year that I would read as many new picture books as I could. I got my recommendations from friends and from my library, thank you Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County! Every week I would look at my library’s website and find the new releases and put them on hold for me to read. Today is the last day of 2015 and I have reviewed 360 picture books on my BOOKS ALIVE page! I actually read many more, but these are the one that made the cut for my page.

I quickly realized there were going to be more books than I could possibly read in one year, so I set a few parameters for myself.

First of all, I read almost exclusively fiction because this is what I write. Although I couldn’t pass up a few non-fictions recommended by friends, these are very few of the total number of books read.

Secondly, I only reviewed the ones I could honestly give 3, 4, or 5 stars to. If I didn’t want to reread a story or buy it for my grandchildren, I didn’t review it.

Thirdly, I steered away from commercial characters. Even though I love Winnie-the-Pooh, Curious George, and the Disney franchise, I had to limit my reading and this was one way to do it. I love a good series as much as the next person, but I was really looking for what I could learn from the stand alone picture book to inform my own writing.

Lastly, I stuck to traditionally published books because this is the route I would like to take myself and part of my quest included learning about what sells. So basically, if I couldn’t get my hands on it in my library system I didn’t read it. Although, I have put in purchase requests online for books that were getting a lot of media attention and which were not in my public library.

In total I reviewed… 360 picture books in Books Alive! This does not include the books I read and did not review. It also does not include the books I read that were not published in 2015. Sometimes I would find an author I liked and went back and read more of their work.

Top 10 Things I Learned About Writing Kid Lit from BOOKS ALIVE!

1. There are no hard and fast rules! Yes, publishers are buying and selling rhyming text… good rhyming text. Yes, publishers are buying and selling ‘quiet’ books.

2. Diversity matters! Even though the We Need Diverse Books movement started last year, I found that there was more diversity in children’s books than I first realized. These books were written and acquired several years before they were published and therefore were in the works before the movement started. I think this issue has been n the forefront of publishers’ minds for longer than we realized. These titles include gender diversity, racial diversity, cultural diversity and diversity in the authors and illustrators who produce these books. And, yes we still have a long way to go… so let’s get busy!

3. Animal characters still make up the core of picture books. I think children relate well to animal characters and as adults, authors are more apt to tell a ‘difficult’ story one step away from a child protagonist. Also, in going back to the diversity issue, any child can identify with an animal since there is no obvious human trait of gender, race, or culture that makes them different from the reader. Readers can then see themselves as friendly, helpful, brave, adventurous, frightened, etc instead of different from the kid in the book based on physical appearances.

4. Opinions are like noses, everyone has one. And not everyone can see past their own. Just because someone else did not like a particular book, does not mean that you will dislike it as well. Some of my favorite books are the ones that were overlooked by the media. Conversely, not all the hype about a book coincides with your own opinion. As a matter of fact, I try to generally be positive in my reviews of a book and stay away from those I don’t care for. There are some books out there that you may hate, but remember someone liked it enough to publish it. And you may read a book I have reviewed and think I was crazy to give it 5 stars… again that’s just my opinion. In the same way, agents, editors, and publishers have opinions. There are things they like and things they don’t care for. Just because your work gets a pass from one of these people, does not mean that your work is no good… it’s just not their cup of tea. Try someone else. Research who you submit to so that you can increase the likelihood that they will want your story.

5. Not all wordless picture books are written by the same author/illustrator. It must be difficult to get your idea across to an agent, editor, publisher, or illustrator if you want to tell a story through pictures exclusively or almost exclusively and you are not the artist. But I have seen it successfully accomplished time and time again. So take your vision and go with it!

6. There were no books (that I found) beginning with the letter X. That may or may not mean something to a writer out there, but I just thought it was interesting. I might consciously try to write something with an X as the first letter… Xavier’s Puppy? X-Ray Vision? X Marks the Spot? Hey, I kinda like that one… dibs on X Marks the Spot!

7. Speaking of titles. I can’t tell you how many books I read with the same or almost the exact same title as another picture book. After reading, I would go to Goodreads to record my books read (Which by the way, if you don’t add the date finished, Goodreads will not count it as a book read this year! Guess when I found this out? Last week, when people started posting how many books they read this year and went to look up mine and I had two, TWO. Aiye!). Anyway… while searching for the book by title I would often find more than one with a similar title. Usually this occurred within a few years of each other. But sometimes within the same year, but with different publishing houses. So just because there is already a book out there like yours don’t give up, it might be exactly what someone else is looking for.

8. Along the same lines, there are hundreds of books with similar themes… friendship, loneliness, fears, lost items, first day of school, bullies, etc. But those that are getting published are new, different, exciting! So what if there are a lot of monster books? Make sure yours is unique… a monster story that only you can tell! Sometimes I’d pick up ‘another bear book’ with dread, and then WOWZERS the author would knock my socks off with the clever jokes, the deep meaning, or the lovely illustrations. And I’d have to remember, THIS is what the publishers want!

9. Whenever I reviewed a story, I did my best to connect in some way with the author and/or illustrator. I liked their page on Facebook, I sent a friend request, connected on Twitter, looked up their blog. This personal connection gives you another layer of rapport. I found that kid lit people are extremely friendly! They enjoy hearing from fans, they appreciate good reviews of their work on Goodreads, Amazon, and blogs. Many become instant friends, others merely acquaintances. Each connection is another chance to learn from someone who has already made it in the business. Take advantage of personal relationships, these people are your allies in the writing field!

10. And speaking of making connections… meet as many pros as you can. I love nothing more than to find a great new book and have it signed by the author. Some of the books I reviewed here are a direct result of meeting the author and or illustrator at a workshop or signing event. SCBWI events, Books by the Banks in Cincinnati, and writing workshops are great places to meet the pros. Nothing beats personal connections. I have found them to be wonderful people. They are open, honest, kind, generous, and insightful! This includes the booksellers, librarians, and teachers in your area. Luckily for me, I do know a lot of teachers. For awhile I knew more teachers than an other profession. Now that I’m retired, we still get together for lunch or coffee. It’s important as a writer to remember your audience, parents, teachers, and kids are top on the list! When you check out as many books as I have in the last two years, the librarians get to know you. When you attend book signings, booksellers begin to recognize you. These people can steer you in the right direction when you’re looking for something specific and will be important contacts to have when you are published and ready to go out in public for the first time.

Bonus… give them something, make their life easier, make them remember you. The most important things I did for my readers had nothing to do with my writing journey. The notes I took for myself, were not recorded on my blog, those I keep in my journals. What I did for the readers was simply to give the a quick overview of the story, yes spoilers and all, so they could first see if this was one that met their needs. And then I gave them a few ideas they could use with their children to extend their reading. So whether a parent, grandparent, teacher, or daycare worker, needed a book and an activity to go with it, I tried to give them something they could use. Pinterest became my best friend this year! It takes time to find arts and crafts or easy recipes that are age appropriate without duplicating them too often. But I hope these little things make someone else’s life easier. Many times parents and teachers are too frazzled at the end of the day to think of one more thing. I hope they will come back to my blog once in a while and type in a key word to search for a just-right book and activity for the next day.

Now, off to rest for one whole day before 2016 begins with all its new resolutions! See you on the other side!

 

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