Thursday, March 26, 2015

Randolph Caldecott - The Man Who Couldn't Stop Drawing -#PPBF

      The longer I participate in Perfect Picture Book Friday, the fussier I am about my selections. I've come to realize that the number of books is staggering, and since no one can read them all, I save my recommendations for the truly special ones.
     Why this prologue? Because my recommendation today is unusual. A picture book for grades 5-9 (NOT ages 5-9!). So if you're looking for something for the little ones, this isn't for you, but it is definitely a book for anyone interested in the history of children's books.

TITLE: Randolph Caldecott -The Man Who Could Not Stop Drawing   

  AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR: Leonard S. Marcus 
from Macmillan Publishers

Publisher: Frances Foster Books, FS&G, 2013
Intended Age: 10-14
Themes: NONFICTION, Illustration
Opening lines: "
Two swans at the water's edge trade bewildered glances when they notice a little frog poking his head out of the river. The frog is clutching a paper--a letter it would seem--which he reads with a look of total absorption."

Synopsis: The biography of "the father of the modern picture book" (from the front flap copy).

What I like about this book:
As a picture book writer and enthusiast, I knew that Randolph Caldecott was an illustrator. I knew that we honor the best illustrators in the field each year with a medal given in his name. But I didn't know a whole lot more. This book is an "old school" comprehensive biography. A birth to death look at a man that accomplished volumes of work in the 39 years he lived. I connected with the fact that Caldecott started in one career--deemed to be a safe way to earn money--and found himself drawn to the second career that he loved.
     Reading the book I learned WHY Caldecott is viewed as the father of the modern picture book. He wasn't the first to illustrate books for children, but his focus on active rather than static illustrations, and the idea that illustrations could, and should, add to the text were revolutionary for the 1800's. The book is text dense, as you would expect a book for grades 5-9 to be.
Balance of text and illustration
  •  Macmillan Publishers provides a peek inside the book here.
  •  Make a list of the Caldecott medal winners. How many have you read?
  •  Treasure hunt! Look carefully at a picture book. How many things can you find in the illustrations that aren't mentioned in the text?
  •  If you're interested in reading more picture books on the subject of art and creativity, I found a wonderful list of children's fiction and nonfiction compiled on this subject by the Art Institute of Chicago.
  •  Try your hand at drawing something in motion. (It's in motion, not you! Although interestingly the book notes that part of Caldecott's style was developed by drawing on a moving train as he traveled from Manchester to London, England!)
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, March 13, 2015

The Mermaid and the Shoe - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

      I read about this book somewhere and put it on my "list." If you're like me, your list can be long! And my library doesn't have all of the books. And my budget for book buying runs out waaay before my list ends. So I'm pleased that I finally got this book through inter-library loan. It was worth the wait!

TITLE: The Mermaid and the Shoe   

Publisher: Kids Can Press, 2014
Intended Age:
Themes: Self-esteem/discovery, adventure
Opening lines: "
King Neptune had fifty daughters. 
                             They were his pride and joy."

Synopsis: When an unfamiliar item sinks into Minnow's world under the sea she sets off to find its purpose, and in doing so finds her own.

What I like about this book: It feels like an old fable. Going against current trends in picture books, the main character isn't introduced until the third page. First the scene, tone and mood are set. The muted underwater illustrations bring to mind the real-life shadowy underwater world, with bright colors saved for Minnow's peek of the world above water. But the bright colors don't signal a longing for another life or another world like other mermaid stories. Minnow's curiosity and fearlessness combine with an overlooked talent that makes this mermaid a happy one right at home where she belongs. One of my favorite lines is also one that may not be a favorite with everyone:

             "Useless!" hissed Calypso (for sisters can be mean that way). 
While I don't think all sisters are mean (!), for me it captured the tumultuous emotions of childhood, but others may feel differently. That's a good talking point below.
(Fun note: the author/illustrator also illustrated Kate Di Camillo's book Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures)

  •  Take a walk and look for lost objects. Make up stories about where they came from and what they can be used for. Some of the stories can be realistic, some fantastical! (Bring heavy gloves and a bag if you want to pick the objects up--they may be dirty or sharp! Have an adult pick it up.)
  • Talk about brothers and sisters. Is this story an accurate portrayal of people you know? What could the older sisters have done differently? 
  • An extensive review (giving away the ending-spoiler alert!) in School Library Journal
  • Recycle an old pair of shoes as a planter, a jewelery box like Minnow tried, or some other idea you come up with!
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 again for stopping by!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Take Away the A - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

My critique partner, Stacy Jensen, is the go-to expert on ABC picture books, but I fell in love with this one and didn't see it on the Perfect Picture Book Friday list. So, with apologies to Stacy, here is this week's recommendation.

                                            TITLE: Take Away the A
                                   AUTHOR: Michael Escoffier
                                   ILLUSTRATOR: Kris DiGiacomo
(note: Ms. DiGiacomo's blog is in French!)
Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books, 2014
Intended Age: 3-7 (Amazon) 7-10 (Kirkus)
Themes: Alphabet (with a twist!), Wordplay
Opening lines

Without the A -- the BEAST is the BEST.

Synopsis: Going letter by letter, the book explores word pairs that differ by one letter, showing how one letter changes the meaning of words.

What I like about this book: First, I like the trim size! It's a bit slimmer than many picture books and it's easy to hold open. Second, there is tons of fun in the wry illustrations. The best beast is flanked by a second place seagull and a third place fish-out-of-water
. My favorite spread is the cat whose "plate is too late"-- with a mouse's tail hanging from it's mouth as it tries to look nonchalant. Without seeming didactic, the book highlights the power of letters for readers who are beyond simple ABC book age. C'est merveilleux!
  •  Make a set of letter flashcards and find your own word pairs (when one letter is deleted).
  • A review of this book on the "delightful Children's book" blog notes that the book was first published in French and the word pairs and art had to be redone for English words. Read the review here.
  • Read an interview with the illustrator (in English!) on the Smart Books for Smart kids blog.
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, February 27, 2015

WALL by Tom Clohosy Cole - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

I was prepared to NOT like this one. That's the mind set I had when I brought it home. And so it's a surprise that I find myself writing this post. But doesn't everyone love a surprise?
     Today's recommendation--

GORGEOUS front and back covers
Publisher: Templar Books/Candlewick, 2014
Intended Age: 6-9 (NOT for the youngest)
Themes: Separation from a parent, History
Opening lines

My mom said that while the wall was being made,
our dad got stuck on the other side.

Synopsis: A little boy misses his father and is determined to reunite his family when they are separated by the Wall. (Berlin isn't mentioned in the text, only on the inside back jacket flap)

What I like about this book: I found myself holding my breath as I read. The tension and emotion swept me into the story. The graphic illustrations are eerily dark and foreboding. Perhaps because I'm an adult and I knew the reality of the situation it affected me more, but I think any child will connect with a child's longing to find their parent when forces they can't understand are keeping them apart.

     The book jacket says that the story is based on historical true stories of escape from East Berlin but I agree with the New York Times review that this story feels more like fairy tale. The boy's heroic deed isn't entirely believable, nor the soldier's response at the climax, but it makes a time in history accessible to younger readers and can spark meaningful conversations about freedom and fairness.The emotional core of the story goes well beyond the specific event portrayed. And that's why it earned my personal recommendation. I hope readers SEE the back jacket flap information about Berlin. I think it would have worked better as back matter, but I guess there wasn't room.
     NOTE: The story has powerful imagery. A parent should read the book first to determine if their child is old enough to process and appreciate the story without being upset. The soldiers in the story carry guns (shown in silhouette) and one single page that speaks to those who weren't lucky enough to escape shows the silhouette of a soldier carrying an apparently lifeless body with razor wire in the background. It is included in the CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2015 Preview in the K-2d grade category.

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 again for stopping by!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Middle grade book recommendations - Echo and Katie Friedman Gives Up Texting

     If you choose books for a middle grade reader, or enjoy reading it yourself, I have two books to recommend.
     This is wild-waving two thumbs up stuff.
     At first glance, the two books are dissimilar . . .

     Pam Munoz Ryan’s Echo is a weighty tome. The ARC I read is 592 pages long. The story spans decades, weaving the individual stories of multiple protagonists together with themes of prejudice, justice (and injustice) and the healing property of music. A lush mash-up of fantasy, fairy-tale, and historical fiction, it reads like Gone With the Wind for middle grade with a brushstroke of magical realism. Stories that cross the globe with elements of family danger, racism and heroism are rendered at a personal level. It’s the kind of book you “experience” as much as you read it. Wondering how it was all going to tie together, the pages flew by (and sleep was lost!). You will want to run out and buy a harmonica, dust off that recorder from grade school, drum on the desk.


      The ARC of Tommy Greenwald’s Katie Friedman Gives Up Texting (and lives to tell about it) clocks in at 227 pages. Not counting the three page forward-looking epilogue, the storyline spans one week. The plot follows a single protagonist who makes the mistake of sending a text about misgivings about her boyfriend to the wrong person—her boyfriend. I began the book thinking the short chapters were the perfect interlude before I needed to go to the grocery store, and we ended up eating leftovers. It was a cover-to-cover single-sitting read. Part of the author's "Charlie Joe Jackson" series, this can be read as a stand alone title. The snappy contemporary first person narrative deals with the issues of honesty, social media, self-discovery and—the healing power of music. 

     Sometimes I wonder why I don’t have the radio on more now. When I was younger I studied to it, partied to it, sang to it every chance I could. While I didn’t personally identify with all of the songs that I heard, I identified with the singers’ angst and contemplation of the emotional journeys they had taken. And music has a way of freeing people up. A way of connecting people. Of making us stop, listen and feel. Going to go turn it on now.
     Other great elements I should highlight. Both books have diverse characters. Both deal with important social issues. Short chapters in both make them easy to dive into.

     I’m not sure about the boy appeal of these books. I’d love to hear from others to hear what you think!
     Echo is published by Scholastic Press and went on sale February 24, 2015
     Katie Friedman Gives Up Texting went on sale February 17th and is published by Roaring Brook Press.


I received a review copy from the publishers. No other compensation was received nor was a review required.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, February 13, 2015

Lily The Unicorn -- Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

    In honor of Valentine's Day my recommendation today is about friendship. True, it isn't a "Valentine" story but rather a story of the silly, heartwarming moments that make me feel book love. Because the core is about love. Love and acceptance between friends.

TITLE: Lily The Unicorn
Publisher: Harper Collins, 2014  
Intended Age: 3-87
Themes: Friendship, Fears
Synopsis: An exuberant unicorn tries to convince a penguin to go on adventures with her.

What I like about this book: The author nails the voice. She may be drawn as a unicorn, but Lily represents any (well-rested!) preschooler. Full of energy, optimism and viewing life through rose-colored glasses, Lily believes she can do ANYTHING. And that anyone can join her in her fun. She doesn't convince Roger the penguin as much as wear him down! The hand-lettered billowy text and illustrations look as if they could have been drawn by a very talented child. A maze of almost random objects placed next to each other on each page, linked by the vaguest threads just as a child's thoughts bounce from thing to thing. At first, the visual "noise" is a bit overwhelming if you try to read quickly. But the key is to slow down! The overall effect is charming. (I wasn't familiar with his books before, but the author successfully sold 50,000 copies of his self-published picture book, The Awesome Book before hooking up with Harper Collins.)

  • View the first fifteen pages on HarperCollins website.
  •  Watch the video (above) where Clayton tells how he eventually decided to put his first book online for free.
  • Talk about things a child can do. Things they'd like to do. Things they are afraid of. Compare the lists--any similarities?
  • Ask a friend (or or new!) to join you on an adventure.
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, Susanna keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

Thanks again for stopping by!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Eastern PA #SCBWI workshop March 7, 2015

     I often blog about writing workshops I’ve attended.
     This time I’m looking forward -- to March 7th.
     I belong to a local critique group with other eastern-PA SCBWI members, and when our RA’s sent out a call for people to host “intimate” workshops (smaller than the 75-150 that show up for the big conferences) we answered. 
     On March 7th you are invited to "Spring into Writing!"
     From 9AM-12:30 at the historic Moland House in Hartsville, PA you can ask ANY question about kidlit to prolific local authors Debbie Dadey and Kay Winters, and agent Marie Lamba. There will be a first page session (get those pages in by Feb 22!), a presentation about what to do and not do, and open informal question time.
     Oh, and you’ll get to talk to me AND have a snack.
     I hope to meet you there! (may the weather be in our favor)
     For more information: check the SCBWI calendar of events for March 7 or just click here.