Monday, October 27, 2014

That Magical October Sky - Halloweensie fun!

     I'm posting on Monday because--there's no perfect picture book Friday this week.
     Why not?
     Our picture book Friday host is BUSY!
     This is the fourth year that author Susanna Leonard Hill has offered writers the opportunity to win fantastic prizes in a Halloween story contest. It's called the Halloweensie contest because the story has to be for "wee ones." I wrote my story for the elementary set. And in addition to being for children, the story itself has to be a wee 100 words or less.
     Susanna ups the ante by requiring writers to use three specific words somewhere in the story. Broomstick, creak and pumpkin (or some variant of these words) are this year's special words.
     I enjoy the challenge of writing to Susanna's guidelines, and the fun of thinking up crazy scenarios to use her required three words. This year I came up with several stories and had to decide which to post!
     I've never written in rhyme before and so I hope you enjoy (and think that kids would enjoy!) my 93-word story, "That Magical October Sky."


      That Magical October Sky       

      Momma Mouse saw harvest moon.
Public domain image from pixabay (not my house!)
      Little Mouse saw pie.
      Momma Mouse said, “Come in soon!”
      Little Mouse said, “Why?”

      “It’s time for bed,” Momma warned.
      “Back soon!” said Little Mouse,
      Running toward the broomstick
      He’d left beside the house.

      The broomstick creaked and sputtered.
      Little Mouse took flight,
      Headed for a pumpkin treat
      Before he said goodnight.

      Past the trees,
     Through the stars,
     Little Mouse rose high,
     Aiming for the scrumptious shining pumpkin in the sky.


     The voyage was untested.
     The landing pad untried.
     Dropping to the orange orb,
     Little Mouse was pie-d.

     Thanks for stopping by to read. Comments are appreciated. (maybe editorial suggestions?!)
     Writers who are entering the contest have linked their stories to Susanna's blog. Head over if you'd like to read more. Last year there were more than seventy entries! I'm betting there will be a lot of great ones again this year.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Round Trip by Ann Jonas - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

     I have a secret ambition. I want to illustrate. Or maybe secret isn't the right word because I just told everyone. Unattainable ambition would be closer to the truth. I can doodle and "copy" but the individual spark of genius that I see in some illustrators' work skipped my gene pool. And that's okay. I've got plenty of other attributes. But sometimes when I see a particularly stunning book, I feel that ache.
     Prepare to feel the ache.
     This week I'm sharing an older title that stands the test of time.

Title: Round Trip
Author/Illustrator: Ann Jonas (Ann died in 2013 but you can read a profile of  her here and one obituary in the School Library Journal here)
Publisher: Scholastic, 1983
Intended age: 5-8
Themes: Travel, city/country
Opening lines: "We started out as soon as it was light.
                       Our neighborhood was quiet, the houses dark."
Synopsis: The author/illustrator uses black and white silhouettes to tell the story of a family's trip to the city and back.

What I like about this book: I have read armloads of books about trips to the city or vice versa. What makes this book special? The silhouettes are cut so that you page through the book to the end--but it ISN'T the end. At page 32 you flip the open book 180 degrees and page back to the start. Reading the book upside down. With the same illustrations "working" in both directions. Yes, it's a little bit gimmicky but it's done so well that I don't care. And yes, there are a few spreads where the story feels "tweaked" to fit the illustrations. But again, I don't care. It's so much fun to read and look at how the images mesh! Like the optical illusion of the Rubin vase/lady (see the vase/lady here), your eyes see one thing at a time, even though the other image is obvious as soon as you flip the book over. And as a Kickstarter campaign participant, I love the fact that it was a Reading Rainbow book.

Resources: If you have a teachingbooks.net account you can access an author interview and teaching guide for this book. This book is used as a resource for a lesson plan integrating math and reading titled "Going on a Shape Hunt" posted by Liza Cranston on readwritethink.org.
     Although the copy I bought at a used book sale was published by Scholastic, it appears that Harper Collins also publishes it and you can see a sample of several pages here. Better to do this on a laptop where you can easily turn the images around than on a tabletop monitor! If you want to hear the whole book, head to Youtube!

    Talk with your children about a round trip-to school or to a grandparents house. Do you take the same route each direction? How is the trip each direction the same and different?
     Talk about what a silhouette is and then after dark get a flashlight and make shadow puppets. Cut out silhouette shapes and look at them from different directions.

Above all, HAVE FUN! This book ignites imagination.

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

This book IS an old one. Have you read it? Let me know in your comments. :) There is no Perfect Picture Book Friday next week, but I hope you'll stop by to read my Halloweensie story!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Perfect Picture Book Friday Redux #PPBF DOG IN CHARGE

     How do you know for sure that the picture book you pick for perfect picture book Friday is indeed perfect?   
     You write the review and THEN check the list carefully and find that it's already there. Sigh. It wasn't under "humor" when I glanced quickly, but it is on the alphabetical list.
     So, you don't "need" my formal review. But I will say that if you haven't read K.L. Going's picture book DOG IN CHARGE (2012, Dial Books for Young Readers), it is one to find. I was familiar with the author's young adult Printz Honor book, but the picture book was a new one for me. Probably because it's so funny, kids are taking it out of the library (the nerve!) and it hasn't spent enough time in the bins for me to find it. It is a gem for dog lovers, cat lovers and humor lovers. Imagine the chaos that breaks out when a dog is asked by it's owners to take care of five cats while the owners are out! Dan Santat captures the good-natured doofy dog and the haughty Siamese cat perfectly in the illustrations. It reminded me of the old Pink Panther movies where Peter Sellers has moviegoers in stitches with a single eyebrow-raised closeup. Silly, silly, silly and so good.
     Spoiler alert: the official earlier review gives the ending in their synopsis. It's a short book. Just go read it!
     So, that shortens today's post considerably. Have a great weekend!
     Any NEW reviews for perfect picture book Friday are posted on Susanna's blog.
     I'll be heading over to read them soon and learn what else I've missed!

Friday, October 10, 2014

The HUEYS in IT WASN'T ME #PPBF

     Sometimes a book's gorgeous illustrations pull me in and  make me fall in love.
     The book I'm reviewing for Perfect Picture Book Friday has perfect illustrations. But they aren't gorgeous. Sometimes spare lines are all a masterful storyteller needs.

Title: The HUEYS in IT WASN'T ME

Author/Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers

Publisher: Philomel Books, 2014

Intended age: 3-5

Themes: Interpersonal relationships (arguments), humor

Opening Line: "The thing about the Hueys . . .
                      . . . was that most of the time they got along."

Synopsis: A family of jelly bean-shaped multicolored creatures is in the throngs of a disagreement when their brother arrives and settles the problem in a laugh out loud moment that mirrors reality.

Why I liked this book: Kid appeal oozes off each page. These are characters that kids can easily draw imitations of. The use of white space focuses the reader on the characters and their emotions. (Do you recognize this style from The Day the Crayons Quit? Yes, same illustrator!) And the way the initial problem morphs into a blame-shifting "It wasn't me" free-for-all is funny and relatable. Although unintentional in this instance, what parent hasn't used the tactic of distraction to tame some terrible moments? (Or was I the only one?) And, honestly, I have liked all of Oliver Jeffers' books. I reviewed The Incredible Book-eating Boy last year. Although this title is the second in a series (I believe it's now at three!) featuring these characters, I hadn't heard about them and wanted to spread the word.

Resources: Temper tantrums are a fact of life. Learning to deal with emotions is a lifelong process. Behavioral advisor, "Dr. Mac" has a page on problem resolution specially for kids (I liked the tagline "Be a thinker, not a stinker"). Other sites that deal with conflict resolution are the Women's and Children's health network (with a conflict resolution quiz), the Kids Matter site describing win-lose (sharks!), win-some (compromise) and win-win strategies (creative problem-solving) for elementary school ages and older, and teaching-guide materials at goodcharacter.com. 
 
A cute rap video about done by kids about conflict resolution:
(under 3 mins.)




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

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Supersister - #PPBF

     I have been doing research on sibling stories and fell in love with this title.
     You can leave me a comment below and let me know if you agree! The book was published in 2009, so maybe you're familiar with it already.

Title: Supersister

Author: Beth Cadena

Illustrator: Frank W. Dormer

Publisher: Clarion Books, 2009

Intended ages: 4-8

Themes: Older sibling, helpfulness

Opening Line: "Supersister bounds out of bed. Another super day.
                          Hark! A call from the kitchen. Mother is in need."

Synopsis: Told in a tongue-in-cheek manner, a young girl helps out at work and school taking on the role of Supersister. The illustrations show close-up shots of Mother's feet, and a head shot from a distance, but it isn't until the third spread from the end that we learn the reason Supersister is being so helpful.

Why I like this Book: The illustrator wrote and illustrated one of my favorite books, The Obstinate Pen. There's a lot of energy in his spare drawings. While there is humor in the book, the book doesn't go over-the-top in terms of how Supersister helps. Moments of getting dressed, getting her own breakfast, and being a good student at school take on super importance.These behaviors are all things a reader can emulate. Despite being a book with an obvious message, the author uses fun language so it doesn't come across preachy or hokey. I especially loved the moments when Supersister lets us know that superheroes are kids, too (and vice versa!) and checks if Mom is watching and listening.

Resources: DON'T READ THIS IF YOU DON'T WANT A SPOILER
     The baby that is going to make Supersister a sister hasn't been born yet.
     There are many websites to help prepare children for the arrival of a new sibling. The Baby Center and the What to Expect websites have practical information for expectant families.
     Read Kevin Henke's classic picture book Julius, the Baby of the World and compare that story and its main character with Supersister. Talk about how people react differently to changes.
     Websites with fun activities for older siblings while waiting for baby describes activities like helping to decorate the nursery and acting as family photographer.

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

Friday, September 26, 2014

HUGO AND THE REALLY, REALLY LONG STRING #PPBF

     Maybe it's the arrival of the cool weather we had this week.
     Maybe it's the recycle truck arriving at 5AM.
     Or maybe I've just been channeling Grumpy Cat. Because I didn't find a "perfect" picture book to spotlight last week. There is a PERFECT one out there. I read it and loved it. But everyone and the kitchen sink has already reviewed it, singing its praises. And they're all right. If it's possible to make baby elephants and cupcakes more deliciously adorable, the author succeeds. But does the world really need another review of that book right now?? Probably not. So if you haven't read Little Elliot, Big City go do it! The link takes you to the page with the activity guide.
     Luckily, I stumbled across an older book that made the grade this week!

 Title: Hugo and the Really, Really Long String         

Author/Illustrator: Bob Boyle
Publisher: Bolder Media Inc./Random House, 2010
Themes: Adventure, Friendship
Intended Ages: 2-7

Synopsis: (from publisher) In a little house on the top of a hill lives a happy little guy named Hugo. When Hugo sees a mysterious red string, he just knows hes going to find something wonderful at the end of it! Hugos journey takes him across the river, underground, and throughout town—all while gathering curious new friends along the way!

Opening line: (Warning! This was my least favorite part of the book-keep reading!)
     In a little house on the top of a hill lived a happy little guy named Hugo and his playful dog, Biscuit.

Why I like this book: The book is pure silliness. The MC is a short huge-headed purple creature with what look like giraffe knobs on his head. He wears a black necktie. One of the other creatures he meets along the way is named Mr. Alligator Police. A class of young birds lifts their teacher (Mrs. Snake) into the air! You get to follow the increasing cast of characters through underground tunnels and even a noodle shop! And all the while, the other characters who are draped with a LONG red string appear oblivious to it. Giggle inducing. But then there's the refrain "There must be something special at the end!" A profound message cloaked in the absurdity of the story. Great stuff.

Resources: I'm a huge fan of the ages-old string and balloon art. All you need is a paper plate to put glue on, a few small balloons (partially blown up!) and string or yarn. Multi-colors are exciting! Dip the string in the glue and wrap it on the balloon. Wait until it dries and then pop the balloon and ta-da! Something that looks like it's from the Museum of Modern Art is revealed. :)
There are crafty websites with all sorts of great ideas for string craft projects for kids.Try Kid Activities here or Artists helping Children (good ideas for making holiday or birthday gifts, too! Can anyone have too many pencil holders? Not at my house.)
Follow a trail (real or imaginary) for your own adventure.
Read other books about string. Just how long can a long string be?! by Keith Baker is another fun one!

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

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.