Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Why a Writer Writes


     When I was at a picture book "boot camp" last summer, my mentor Pat Cummings challenged me to share more of myself on my blog. Not just industry updates and book reviews, but personal stuff that gave readers more insight into my personality.
     Be careful what you ask for.
     Here goes.
     A friend of mine who also writes gave me a compliment recently. She told me that I was one of her favorite critiquers. She said that I was smart, and I didn't focus on minutiae when there were big picture issues involved. I thanked her with a smile. It's good to feel that I'm helping fellow writers.
     She knows that I've been writing for children but haven't received that elusive first picture book contract yet. Then she asked me if I had considered becoming an agent instead.
     Instead.
http://www.copyright-free-images.com
     Instead of writing for children.

     I think I smiled again politely and acknowledged the question, shaking my head, no. I'm not sure, exactly, because I was already having another conversation in my head as I backed away.
     For a moment, I was aware of the effort to breathe and move in an intelligent manner.
     There might have been foul language involved in the silent talk..
     Don't get me wrong. I think agents are great! I'm in the process of looking for one. And I know that some agents are also writers. Win-win.
     It was the word "instead."

     This post isn't "calling out" anybody. The friend involved isn't part of my online 12X12 writing community and to the best of my knowledge doesn't read my blog. In truth, the words were well-meaning. It's my reaction that may have been "off" but then that's me.
     I think I reacted as strongly as I did because the word "instead" marginalized my passion. I'm not dabbling, I'm pursuing a dream. A career. It felt like asking me if I wanted to eat "instead" of breathing. Eating is good, but I've gotta breathe. And I am writing because at some level I have to. There isn't an off button that I''m aware of.
     So there, Pat, this one was for you.
   

Monday, September 15, 2014

My Bibi Always Remembers - Perfect Picture Book Friday

     I'm so excited that Perfect Picture Book Friday time is back!
     I read 10-15 picture books a week from my library, but it's impossible to "stumble upon" all the good ones. My fellow reviewers are an invaluable asset. A huge thank you to Susanna Leonard Hill for organizing this resource for readers and writers!

     Last week I participated in a new book release blog tour. I don't always "double up" and use the book for Perfect Picture Book Friday. While there are a lot of good books out there, not all of them make the cut. :)
     But last week's does. If you didn't read last week, I'm talking about a new book from the awesome author and illustrator team of Toni Buzzeo and Mike Wohnoutka.
     Regular blog followers of mine may remember that I reviewed the last offering by this team, JUST LIKE MY PAPA last September. I get the feeling that we ought to just put the author and illustrator's name on the Perfect Picture Book Friday list!

TITLE: My Bibi Always Remembers

AUTHOR: Toni Buzzeo

ILLUSTRATOR: Mike Wohnoutka

PUBLISHER: Disney Hyperion Books, Sept. 2014

INTENDED AGES: 3-5

THEMES: Animals, grandparents, Africa

Opening Line: RUMMMMBLE!
                      Thirsty little Tembo hears her Bibi across the wide, parched plain.

Synopsis: An easily distracted young elephant follows the herd as it searches for water. The oldest grandmother elephant carries the knowledge and skill to lead "the way to wet."

Why I like this book: Elephants fascinate me. My family are long-time supporters of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. I've never been to Africa or Asia to see these creatures in the wild and I have a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of the vast space these creatures need to live as they should. I love the book's message about passing knowledge from generation to generation. The author stole my heart on the second spread when she wrote that the elephants were coming "one by one, step-step, searching for wet." The illustrations aren't overly fussy, but small details, like dust devils in the distance, transported me to the elephants' world. Be
Note: This is a Disney book, so I felt a Bambi-like moment of terror when Tembo wanders away and the illustration appears backlit by the setting sun with lions and hyenas in the foreground! Luckily, the problem resolves on the next page. Whew! The combination of anthropomorphism and reality worked well for me.

Activities/Resources: Ms. Buzzeo provides extensive materials to accompany her books. You can find Common Core teaching guides and activities , including a cool Reader's Theater Script on her website.
If you want to learn more about the plight of elephants in the wild, back matter in the book steers readers to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants at www.elephanttrust.org. General information about elephants can be found in many places including National Geographic's website and the kid-friendly Animal Fact Guide.
There are an equally large number of elephant craft choices out there. The paper plate elephant contributed by Leanne Guenther to DLTK's Crafts for Kids blog made me smile.

Other blogs with information and interviews for this new book:
·         The Children’s Book Review – Author Guest Post
·         Momma Drama – Author/Illustrator Interview and Review
·         Book Rock Betty – Review
·         Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers – Author/Illustrator Guest Post and Review
·         As They Grow UpReview
·         Susan Heim on Parenting – Review
·         Kid Lit Frenzy – Author Guest Post
·         Mundie KidsAuthor/Illustrator Interview
·         The Power of One Writer – Author Interview
·         There’s a Book – Review

And FINALLY, download a completely adorable card to make for grandparents from the author's website here. Just download and fold!

As a disclosure, an early advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Winner of a signed copy of MY BIBI ALWAYS REMEMBERS

     Noon is here and the winner of  a signed copy of MY BIBI ALWAYS REMEMBERS IS--
                                                                 (drum roll!)


                                                    ELAINE KIELY KEARNS !!

     Congratulations!
  
     Please PM your mailing address so that I can forward it to the folks at Disney Hyperion who have generously provided this prize.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

MY BIBI ALWAYS REMEMBERS - SIGNED COPY GIVEAWAY!

     I have a special treat for you today in honor of National Grandparents Day!

     Wait. You didn't know tomorrow was National Grandparents Day? If that's the case, here's a link to the history of the day. It isn't a day-off-from-work-and-school "public holiday" but its observance was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. And when you consider all of the things we could be celebrating, grandparents seem like a great choice! There's a link to a great card to share with grandparents near the end of this post, too. :)

     And if you know me at all, you'd probably guess that I'd be celebrating with a book. And you'd be right. In this case, a new book from the awesome author and illustrator team of Toni Buzzeo and Mike Wohnoutka.
     Regular blog followers of mine may remember that I reviewed the last offering by this team, JUST LIKE MY PAPA last September. Perfect Picture Book Friday posts don't start up from the summer hiatus until next week, so I'm jumping the gun a bit but I wanted readers to know about this new book if you want to find the perfect book for kids to share with their grandparents this weekend in honor of the holiday. Or any weekend. Shouldn't we celebrate grandparents all year long? Yep.
 
TITLE: My Bibi Always Remembers

AUTHOR: Toni Buzzeo

ILLUSTRATOR: Mike Wohnoutka

PUBLISHER: Disney Hyperion Books, 2014

INTENDED AGES: 3-5

THEMES: Animals, grandparents, Africa

Opening Line: RUMMMMBLE!
                      Thirsty little Tembo hears her Bibi across the wide, parched plain.

Synopsis: An easily distracted young elephant follows the herd as it searches for water. The oldest grandmother elephant carries the knowledge and skill to lead "the way to wet."

Why I like this book: Elephants fascinate me. My family are long-time supporters of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. I've never been to Africa or Asia to see these creatures in the wild and I have a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of the vast space these creatures need to live as they should. I love the book's message about passing knowledge from generation to generation. The author stole my heart on the second spread when she wrote that the elephants were coming "one by one, step-step, searching for wet." The illustrations aren't overly fussy, but small details, like dust devils in the distance, transported me to the elephants' world. Be
Note: This is a Disney book, so I felt a Bambi-like moment of terror when Tembo wanders away and the illustration appears backlit by the setting sun with lions and hyenas in the foreground! Luckily, the problem resolves on the next page. Whew! The combination of anthropomorphism and reality worked well for me.

Activities/Resources: Ms. Buzzeo provides extensive materials to accompany her books. You can find Common Core teaching guides and activities , including a cool Reader's Theater Script on her website.
If you want to learn more about the plight of elephants in the wild, back matter in the book steers readers to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants at www.elephanttrust.org. General information about elephants can be found in many places including National Geographic's website and the kid-friendly Animal Fact Guide.
There are an equally large number of elephant craft choices out there. The paper plate elephant contributed by Leanne Guenther to DLTK's Crafts for Kids blog made me smile.

Enter to win a signed copy of this book by leaving a comment for me! One name will be drawn randomly from all commenters at noon on Tuesday September 9th. I'll announce the winner later that day.
Read author/illustrator Q & A's and enter to win a copy of this book on other blogs by clicking the links to follow the entire tour for this new book:

Friday, August 29:
·         The Children’s Book Review – Author Guest Post

Saturday, August 30:
·         Momma Drama – Author/Illustrator Interview and Review

Sunday, August 31:
·         Book Rock Betty – Review and Signed Giveaway

Monday, September 1:
·         Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers – Author/Illustrator Guest Post and Review

Tuesday, September 2:
·         As They Grow UpReview and Signed Giveaway

Wednesday, September 3:
·         Susan Heim on Parenting – Review and Signed Giveaway

Thursday, September 4:
·         Kid Lit Frenzy – Author Guest Post and Signed Giveaway

Friday, September 5:
·         Mundie KidsAuthor/Illustrator Interview and Signed Giveaway

Saturday, September 6:
·         Noodling with Words – Review and Signed Giveaway

Sunday, September 7:
·         The Power of One Writer – Author Interview

Monday, September 8:
·         There’s a Book – Review and Signed Giveaway

And FINALLY, since I started this post talking about the link to National Grandparents Day, download a completely adorable card to make for grandparents from the author's website here. Just download and fold!

Remember to leave a comment to enter the giveaway! As a disclosure, an early advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for my review.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Brick by Brick - adult nonfiction book #review

     I had great intentions to blog regularly over the summer.
     Yeah.
     I didn't miss my blogging goal because I was being a slug-about. Rather, it was the contrary. This past summer was a busy whirlwind of writing, travel, conferences and family fun. Some of the fun involved reading new books, so I have mountains of content I can share with you. If I find the time.
     Here's a start. A book of adult nonfiction that combines narrative history and "how-to" observations about a company whose products have mesmerized my family for years.
image provided by Blogging for Books

     TITLE: Brick by Brick: How LEGO rewrote the rules of innovation and conquered the global toy industry (a mouthful!)
     AUTHOR: David C. Robertson with Bill Breen
     PUBLISHER: Crown Business, 2013
    
     Synopsis: The story of LEGO's turn-around after its disastrous financial decisions in the late 1990's.

     Why I like this book: As a writer, I think of myself as an innovator. I don't want to rehash existing content. People can use the internet to find what's already out there. I try to make something fresh and new. Sometimes this means rearranging existing words or using them in new ways. Sometimes this means inventing a new word.But always, innovating.
     My family is also the proud owner of TUBS (yes, the volume warrants capitalization) of plastic LEGO bricks. Like others around the globe, I have endured the pain of catching the sharp edge in my instep. But the perceived value far outweighed the pain. My kids played with these bricks again, and again, and again.
     To illustrate how nuts we are for this toy, while living in England I polished my college-level French in order to telephone a department store in France and order a set that I couldn't get in the local shops for a birthday gift. Proof that the seemingly oddest parts of your education come in handy! And my husband borrowed cash from a fellow traveler while in Austria in order to get the set that was the boys' holiday wish in a small shop that didn't accept credit cards.
     With insider access to LEGO management (the author was the LEGO professor of innovation and technology management at the International Institute of Management Development from 2002 to 2010) the book details the balance of autonomy and product focus that regained LEGO's market-leading success. As a writer, I connected with the theme of tension between creativity and passion, and market focus. When the author talks about the importance of a team with people from different backgrounds, I thought of my critique group members. In the discussion of focus groups, I envisioned read-alouds. Although the author is talking about a children's toy company, the theories in the book are applicable to any continued endeavor.  Blue sky opportunities are important, but not at the cost of reasoned value.
One bin of the many!
    
 The book is full of personal quotes that brought the story alive for me. At times, I had to flip back and forth to keep track of the names, but I'm terrible with names in real life too.
As a nerdy-type, I also loved the facts and figures. How much does it cost to make one mold for a standard LEGO piece?
(*answer below!)

While the book's primary target may be to business executives who can learn from LEGO's business practices, I recommend it to any creative business individual - even solo workers like me!


Disclosure: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.
*It costs $50,000 to $80,000 for one standard LEGO mold.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Trouper - Perfect Picture Book Friday

      I would have bought this book based on the cover alone.
      Mr. E. B. Lewis lives in New Jersey and I was fortunate to hear him speak when he came to the elementary school my kids attended. I don't know if "room parents" go to a lot of the school assemblies, but I made sure I went to his! He is an extraordinary artist, adept at capturing emotions in watercolor brushstrokes. 
     This is the author's debut picture book, but she's no slouch either! 
     I have to stop myself-- I don't want to give all the juicy tidbits away in my opening. On a scale of 1 to 5, this book is a 6.

Title: Trouper
Author: Meg Kearney
Illustrator: E.B. Lewis
Publisher: Scholastic, 2013
FICTION based on real events
Audience: age 4 and up
(an author's note inside the front page mentions
a "kill shelter" but that is not part of the story)
Themes: Dogs, Pet adoption, Kindness

Opening:
               "Back in the before time,
                before I licked your nose
                or sniffed your shoes,
                before you bought my bed and bowl,
               before the place you picked me out,
               I ran with a mob of mutts.
Synopsis: Told from the dog's point of view, Trouper tells the story of a feral dog waiting to be adopted. The reader isn't told why Trouper is homeless. The book follows his journey to the animal shelter and his wait to find a home.

What I like about this book: Everything. Nowhere in the text does it say that the dog is handicapped. And although the handicap is shown in the illustrations, this is a handi-capable dog that plays with the other strays and acts like any other dog. As someone who has owned "special needs" pets, I adore the way the issue is a non-issue here. And oh-h-h those doggie eyes. Without being pedantic, it also addresses the tough issue of animal cruelty ("dodging stones thrown by boys who thought the world was mean, and so they had to be.") and the reward of adopting an older pet. Once again, the dog's age isn't mentioned in the text, but the graying muzzle in the illustrations lets the reader know Trouper is no puppy.
Resources/Activities: I covered this topic when I reviewed Nancy Furstinger's picture book, Maggie's Second Chance. You can read that post here. Susanna Hill also covered the topic and listed activities in her review last week of JJ The American Street Dog. I am a firm believer that kindness to animals develops kindness in other parts of life. The author, Meg Kearney, adopted the dog who is the "real" Trooper. Her website has a short video (keep the box of tissues close by!) about how Trooper joined her family. And she explains why her dog's name is spelled differently in the book.



Interesting side note:
I have an unpublished manuscript about a dog waiting to be adopted, also told from the large black dog's point of view. It was the very first picture book manuscript I wrote, several years ago.This subject is personal to me and I am always thrilled to see the big black dog get a home and story, even if it wasn't mine!

 This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

Thanks for taking the time to leave me thoughts and comments!

How to Hide a Lion - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

     Sometimes I read a picture book and the topic or underlying theme is what draws me in. Sometimes it's the vibrant illustrations. The book I selected this week has sweet illustrations, and a nice theme, but it was the story itself that gave me a serious case of book love. Helen has a second book in this series coming out in July (2014) that I will want to take a look at!
    
Title: How to Hide a Lion
Author/Illustrator: Helen Stephens
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company, 2012
FICTION
Intended Audience: 0-5
Themes: Prejudice, Friendship

Opening: 
     One hot day, a lion strolled into town to buy a hat.
     But the townspeople were scared of lions, so the lion ran away.

Synopsis: The townspeople are frightened by a lion that comes into town looking for a hat. Luckily, when the lion runs off to hide he finds a little girl called Iris who isn't afraid of lions. Despite her parents' cluelessness, their luck eventually runs out when Mom stumbles upon the sleeping feline. What's a nice lion to do?

Why I liked this book: Except for the fact that the lion doesn't eat people, he looks like a wild lion. He doesn't wear clothes or talk. And despite the fact that he is never named in the text and we never see him communicate with humans (we're told that he asks for a hat and he interacts with Iris without dialogue), his personality shines through. He lets Iris comb the leaves out of his mane, he bounces with her on her bed. This book made me believe that everyone could interact with lions like Kevin Richardson aka "the lion whisperer." (see the first three minutes of the embedded video. I think Joanna Marple shared this with me first and I have watched it multiple times!) A magical feeling reminiscent of Robert the Rose Horse (who wore clothes) -- almost so much so that I wondered if the remarkably similar ending was in homage. Although the book starts with the lion, it ends with Iris and cements the logical innocence of their relationship. I also love that Iris never changes clothes. Silly? Maybe. But it makes sense to me.



Resources:  You can page through many of the spreads and read the text on the Publisher's webpage for the book. Read an interview with author/illustrator Helen Stephens about her book.
Lion crafts are popular! Prepare to get your mind boggled by the lion crafts on Pinterest. There are several youtube videos on making lion crafts, too, too much to embed here. Just google youtube lion crafts for kids and there they are! The D L T K's crafts for kids has a super easy paper plate lion. Danielle's Place has a slightly more complex paper plate lion as well as 3-D lions made with styrofoam cups, stuffed lions, paper bag lions--you get the idea. There's a bunch!
Flickr has a vintage paper lion doll with clothes to put on! The image is copyright reserved and the owner didn't respond to my request to get permission to post it here, but you can search the term vintage paper lion doll to see it. It is absolutely adorable!
Talk about the differences between wild and domestic animals.
Visit a zoo.
Talk about what it means to have an open mind. Most kids this age do! Perhaps it's the adults (as in the story) who let experience teach us too much. 
Play hide and go seek. 

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

 Thanks for visiting! Is there an animal you would like to hide in your house?
 I'm fond of lemurs and otters, but I'm content to let them live in the wild.