Monday, August 18, 2014

Brick by Brick - adult nonfiction book #review

     I had great intentions to blog regularly over the summer.
     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

               "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
Intended Audience: 0-5
Themes: Prejudice, Friendship

     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.

BARNUM'S BONES - Perfect Picture Book Friday

     Last week, on the first day of PiBoIdMo, Tammi Sauer wrote the Day 1 post on the importance of a good title. Both as an idea generator and a book seller. My PPBF selection this week proves her right! I saw this title and HAD to take it home.
     Title: BARNUM'S BONES

     Author: Tracey Fern

     Illustrator: Boris Kulikov

     Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux/
                     Margaret Ferguson Books, 2012

     Themes: Biography, Dinosaurs

     Audience: 5-9 years 

     Opening:  "Something exciting happened in Carbondale, Kansas, on February 12, 1873. The Brown family had a baby boy." (honestly, this isn't my favorite opening, but I like where it goes!)

     Synopsis: Barnum's Bones tells the story of one of America's greatest fossil finders. The author's note acknowledges that Barnum Brown wasn't the best paleontologist in terms of keeping scientific records and field notes, but he is responsible for unearthing a tremendous number of fossils, including the first complete skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex.

     What I liked about this Book: Although T. rex is one of the most famous dinosaur names, until I read this book I hadn't heard of the man who found it. I love learning something new like that! Mr. Brown didn't just stumble across his finds, he worked for years and years, often collecting "nothing but sunburn and mosquito bites." After a recent visit to Luray caverns where many of the stalactites were plundered for trophies, I wish fossil expeditions had been less about blasting and plowing and more about preservation, but I believe this is an accurate depiction of a time when people didn't realize that these treasures are limited. Barnum Brown was apparently quite a character, dressing in fashionable clothes out on the range. Here's a picture of my favorite illustration: Mr. Brown dancing with an ethereal T. Rex.

    Activities/Resources: The author has an 11-page teacher's guide available on her site along with links to several dinosaur related web resources. The Classroom Bookshelf includes more curriculum-related resources specific to this text. My family enjoyed the BBC's Walking with Dinosaurs broadcast, and there is fascinating information, including games and puzzles at their website (even a dino dung guessing game!). If you want to try your luck at fossil-finding, Mental Floss has a June 13, 2013 article about ten states with sites open for fossil hunting. Remember, you can't pick up ANYTHING in most state or federal parks. Take only pictures, leave only footprints!

  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 stopping by! I love to read your comments about my choices.

SCBWI rocks it again - and again!

      I have stopped posting twice every week out of respect for my friends and followers email box space and their time. I know I have found it hard to keep up with everyone else’s posts, and I expect others feel the same. But there are special things that have to be shared. I didn’t want to miss the chance to say what great experiences I had at the eastern Pennsylvania SCBWI and New Jersey SCBWI fall events over the last two weekends..

part of mosaic exhibition on display in PA

     Both SCBWI chapters held FREE Saturday events. I should clarify that the events were free for SCBWI members. Non-members did have to pay. But writers who are serious about writing kidlit are usually SCBWI members, so this was a treat for almost everyone there.

     I sat in the amphitheatre for the opening introduction in Pennsylvania only to discover that I was seated beside one of my favorite picture book author/illustrators Bryan Collier! Those of you who follow my blog know that I reviewed his work in Dave the Potter. After we exchanged business cards, he got out his most recently completed illustration project, a book called Knock, Knock:My Dad's Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty that will be published December 17, 2013. I drank in his artistry and passion. So even before the official event began, I was glad I came. Betcha can guess what book I’ll be reviewing soon. . . .

     At lunch, I browsed a mosaic art display that happened to be in the building where we were meeting, part of Penn State's Great Valley campus. These artists' creativity was more inspiration! In the afternoon I enjoyed an in-depth workshop on world-building, the stepping-stone to submitting book proposals, with author Debbie Dadey. She shared her own binder containing all of the elements she uses for her own proposals, and with 158 books sold, her methods obviously are good ones to follow!

     Both chapters tacked on extra events that participants paid for on Sunday. Pennsylvania had a critique fest during which writers had critiques with one agent, one editor, one author, and a peer group. That’s a lot of helpful advice and feedback! Unless you were one of the lucky ones who got an extra spot, the Sunday session in New Jersey featured just one critique but also a host of in-depth craft workshops that were some of the best I’ve attended. I wanted to have a clone to attend multiple sessions. As it was I learned from Joanna Cardenas from Viking children’s books, Liza Voges of Eden Street Literary LLC, Emily Feinberg of Roaring Brook Press, Author Tara Lazar, and Katie Bignell from Katherine Tegen Books. By the end, my head was swimming with ideas. If you were made of hardy stock, peer critiques met in New Jersey from 8-10:30 Saturday night. Yeah, I’m hardy.

     These two weekends confirmed what I already knew. Writers are generous people, sharing their knowledge and support to each other. It’s a community I’m glad to be a part of.

Knock, Knock - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

     In a post last month I hinted at this treat!
     I met Bryan Collier at the PA SCBWI Fall Fest. I sat next to him in the audience and got a delightful shock when he introduced himself. If you aren't familiar with Mr. Collier's work, go find it NOW. He has illustrated more than twenty-five picture books, including the award-winning Dave the Potter and Fifty Cents and a Dream, won three Caldecott Honors and four Coretta Scott King Awards

     Lucky for those of us at the conference, Mr. Collier had copies of his newest project available for sale, before the official release date (December 17, 2013). The project was the illustration of actor, singer, writer, composer Daniel Beaty's first picture book, Knock Knock. If you are familiar with Mr. Beaty, you may have seen his Youtube recitation of a poem by the same name. The profoundly personal poem addresses Mr. Beaty's feelings of growing up with his father in prison. The picture book addresses the broader issue of growing up with an absentee parent, not necessarily one in prison. When I sat next to Mr. Collier and read this book for the first time, it brought tears to my eyes.

Title: Knock Knock
(I don't usually include a link to the title, but in this case
Mr. Beaty's other works using the same name come up pages before
the book if you search the title)
Author: Daniel Beaty

Illustrator: Bryan Collier

Publisher: Little Brown and Company, 2013

Themes: Absentee parents, loss, self-esteem

Audience: 3+ (note: serious subject matter)

Every morning, I play a game with my father.
He goes knock knock on my door
and I pretend to be asleep
till he gets right next to the bed.

Synopsis: A young boy goes through feelings of loss and grief when his father is no longer in his life. A letter from his father helps the boy find strength in himself.

Why I like this book: I grew up from the age of five without a father and this book captures those emotions vividly. While this book's serious subject may not be everyone's choice for a holiday book, it is a work of poetry and art that transcends the subject matter. Mr. Beaty doesn't flinch from addressing hard emotions and Mr. Collier captures those emotions in his watercolors and collages where a boy's wish in a letter becomes a paper airplane flying over rooftops of faces and the image of a boy old enough to shave bubbles up from the child's outline beneath. I found myself discovering new layers of imagery each time I flipped the pages. The walls of a child's bedroom don't just hold up the ceiling, the structure of the room itself is an emotional mirror with catch-your-breath beauty. Although this topic could be depressing, the final message is an uplifting one about personal empowerment. Try to keep eyes dry when you read: "...for as long as you become your best, the best of me still lives in you."

Activities/Resources: Although this book isn't officially released until next week. Elizabeth Bird did an advance review in the School Library Journal during her Caldecott/Newbery predictions (yes, it's that good!). The Horn Book also reviewed the title on November 13, 2013. Teaching has several author/illustrator resources, although nothing specific to this book. Little Brown and Company Books for young readers has the book posted on their site, but I didn't find any curriculum guides for it yet.
I believe this book is a perfect way to explore the topic of emotions--any emotions--through collage. Using a sheet of plain paper, glue and cut-out pictures from magazines, or just shapes torn from colored paper, a child can explore one way to express emotion non-verbally. Talk about other ways to express emotion (good ways and not so great ways like throwing things or yelling). And in the spirit of the holidays, perhaps go pick out a present for a local toy drive.

This review is part of Perfect Picture Book Friday where writers share their reviews of recommended picture books. Perfect Picture Book Friday was the brainchild of talented author/writing mentor Susanna Hill. Her blog keeps a list of the recommended titles.

Thanks for visiting. I'd love to know what you think in the comments. What other books have you seen on this topic?

Kali's Song - Perfect picture book Friday #PPBF

    What does this book have to do with Valentine's Day? Absolutely nothing, except that I loved it. Look to last week's post for the book I picked about a decidedly awkward pair of lovers.
     If you read and enjoyed David McPhail's Mole Music (which is one of my all time favs), the book I feature today is for you!
     Title: Kali's Song 

     Author/Illustrator: Jeanette Winter

     Publisher: Random House (Schwartz and Wade) 2012
     Audience: 4-8

     Themes: Art, Inspiration, Prehistoric people

     Opening Lines: "Thousands and thousands and thousands of years ago a boy watched his mother paint animals on a cave wall."

     Synopsis: His parents think Kali is preparing for his first hunt, but Kali has found another use for his hunting bow, creating sounds that bring his world to a standstill.

     What I like about this book: The use of long sentences in a brief text fits this book's quiet but strong message. Even though hunting is a necessary and revered part of prehistoric society, this book imagines a child whose status is elevated above hunter by his ability to charm the world with his music. The torn edges of the handmade paper used in the background of the illustrations give the book the feel of a scrapbook, recounting a real time in history. The figures in the illustrations have a spare, cave-like feeling that keeps the focus with the story. The combined package pulled me in and I connected with the story and characters.

     Activities/resources: Mr. Schu has gathered his own interview and several reviews on his blog. Ms. Winter doesn't appear to have a website, but as the author of 50 books, she does have a web presence if you search her name. This book is the perfect jumping off point for making your own instruments with simple directions on Kinderart and more complex instruments featured in Pinterest tutorials. After reading, children can also make their own cave paintings with instructions from Ann Arbor News (my personal favorite!)
For older readers, this story is a jumping off point for a discussion of what it means to be "powerful." This calm, quiet text nails it. It isn't the muscles or the weapons that had the biggest impact.

  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

How many of you have read this book already? If it's new to you, it's the kind to find and treasure.