Monday, April 29, 2013

Do you NaPiBoWriWee?

     I was recently introduced to NaPiBoWriWee.
     No, it's not a horrible disease. It may take you over for a week like a contagious plague. But, then it's done.

     Full-time book author and TV writer/producer Paula Yoo is challenging writers to write seven picture books in seven days from May 1-7. This is the fifth year for the event.
By [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

     Honestly, I don't know if I will "join" or not. I like to work on a manuscript I feel passionate about, while I'm feeling the passion. If I'm wrapped up in the head of one magnificent character, I don't think I can pull myself away like Cinderella at the ball just because the hand on the clock clicks past midnight. But, I'll bet there will be great posts to read, inspiration that may come in handy later on.
     I read that there will be guest author blogs with Erin Eitter Kono, Varsha Bajaj, Katie Davis, Martha Brockenbrough . . ..
     A writer can never have too much inspiration .

     So, maybe I'll see you there?

Monday, April 22, 2013

I'm a Picture Book Academy Graduate

     I have written about several of my recent experiences attending various SCBWI writing conferences. In Philadelphia and Maryland. And conferences are wonderful. But it isn't always feasible to attend. 

     First, there is the issue of cost and time to travel and stay in hotels in addition to the cost of the sessions themselves. And maybe it's only me, but I find if there is only one weekend in a month that I have prior commitments booked, that's the weekend a conference is offered. Finally, conferences are firecrackers--the experience is an explosion of information and delight, but over too soon.

Yeah, I earned it!
     So last month I was trying to decide what to do. I wanted the inspiration of a conference with the flexibility to fit my own time schedule. And I was looking for a writing experience that lasted longer than a weekend fling.
     That's when I saw the post about The Picture Book Academy's online course.

     For the past six weeks I've been a student at Dr. Mira Reisberg's Picture Book Academy--a mix of writers at various stages of their writing careers exploring children's picture book writing together through daily online "lectures," critique groups and conference calls (with calls recorded for students that couldn't access them in real time). Mira's passion for the subject was palpable, and her record of successes with previous students an inspiration.

     Sharing some of her picture book favorites, Mira's "Monday's with Mira" Youtube videos were previously undiscovered gems. And the video clip of "the Revisionaries" critique group spoke to the need to continue the exchange of ideas and critiques throughout a successful career. I came away with a renewed sense of focus and a conviction that it isn't enough to write good picture books--children deserve great picture books and it is up to writers to rise to the challenge. And if Mira reads this, yes, I know I need to update my website. I promise, it's on "the list!" I'd share a copy of the adorable art on my graduation certificate if I could figure out how...
    Seriously, thanks, Mira.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Nocturne: Dream Recipes by Isol - Perfect Picture Book Friday

    First, a note: If you missed my blog post on Tuesday, you have until May 5 to leave a comment on that post to enter the BOOK GIVEAWAY for Debbie Dadey's newest book in her Mermaid Tales series with Simon & Schuster. 
Don't you want to know what role the vampire squids play?

    Now, on to today's "business." Is it possible to be speechless and still write a blogpost?
     Wow! I am in love.
     Don’t worry, my husband knows about my obsession with books. 
     To back up, a few weeks ago I saw that an Argentinian author/illustrator I wasn’t familiar with had won the Astrid Lindgren MemorialAward. This award, established in 2002 and presented by the Swedish government, comes with a cash prize, equivalent this year to $770,000! Maurice Sendak was one of the prior award winners. The 2013 award winner’s name? Isol.
(If you want to see a photo of Isol, click here for the Reuters article announcing the prize winner. I couldn’t find any images of her in the public domain.)
     I had to learn more.
     My library didn’t have any of Isol’s books. The internet was my next stop. I ordered, and waited---and it was more than worth it! 

Title: Nocturne: Dream Recipes

Author: Isol  (Elisa Amado, translator)- Note: her website is NOT in English
Illustrator: Isol

Audience: ages 4 and up 

Themes: Dreams, imagination, sleep

Opening and Synopsis: I can’t start with the words. The structure of the book itself blew me away. Look at the photo! You don't see this in the image on Amazon. Instead of being bound down the side in traditional book fashion, Nocturne has vertical spiral bound pages. As the subtitle hints, the book is organized like a cookbook.  Ahead of the title page are musings about the nature of dreams, then following the title are step-by-step instructions to follow each night for a new dream. Eleven pages of dream prompts follow. And what's the icing on the cake?
     The pages are simple drawings, in muted colors, with a single line of text such as the "Dream of being another." Big deal, right? Ah-h, but the point of the book is that dreams are part of the world usually unseen. So, Isol has made drawings in glow-in-the-dark paint that are only visible after you prop the book under a bright light and then head to the dark. 

     Remember I said I was blown away by the structure of the book? The back cover is actually TWO layers accordion hinged together so the book can be stood up bedside to inspire little dreamers. Note: some of the hidden pictures are meant to inspire creative thought, not necessarily prompt peaceful sleep. It all depends on how your little one feels about the suggestion that wild animals may be watching while he/she sleeps.
Kirkus didn't like the book for little ones. feeling the sparse inspiration was more suited for ages 10-14. I'm not with them on that. I think younger elementary school age kids would enjoy the novelty and creative fun. My book is new, so if the glow-in-the-dark paint doesn't hold up, I'll let you know!

   Finally, the opening words: 
     "There are many kinds of dreams:
     adventurous dreams, dreams with ridiculous scenes, dreams in which nothing happens, 
     confusing dreams, dreams about people we've recently seen, dreams in other languages, 
     dreams we can't remember...

Activities: Publisher's Weekly will tell you the text of a few more of the prompts that I didn't want to "give away." The book itself is an activity--the last page of the book is one for kids to draw themselves. Make a dreamcatcher. Talk about good and bad dreams. Older kids may want to start a dream journal. All ages can draw a dream they remember. Try drawing in the dark, with only the light of a flashlight. Craft and hardware stores have non-toxic glow-in-the-dark paints suitable for use with kids. Maybe you want to create your own flip pages, or a mural size glow-in-the-dark masterpiece!

  And yes, I have another Isol book waiting in the wings for its review! How did I miss these before? (too many books, too little time...!)

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Lost Princess author answers your questions-book giveaway!

      Last Tuesday I invited blog readers to submit questions for children's book author, Debbie Dadey. I said I would post the answers today, so after hesitating in light of yesterday's events in Boston, I decided to go ahead with the post. Debbie is all about bringing joy into the world to help raise strong, happy kids and I hope getting to know her brings a bit of comfort to everyone's day.

      Debbie is the author and co-author of 158 books, including The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids series from Scholastic and Mermaid Tales from Simon and Schuster.  Set for a May 7 release, her newest book (#159!) The Lost Princess, continues the Mermaid Tales series, bringing ocean ecology and marine life into fantasy stories.  A former first grade teacher and librarian, Debbie lives in Bucks County with her three children, three dogs, and handsome husband. She says that she loves visiting elementary schools and speaking with groups about writing.  Her passion is helping reluctant readers.    LinkedIn   Twitter

      To celebrate the new book, Debbie is giving away one copy of The Lost Princess to a lucky reader of my blog!

     First, I need to give you Debbie's answers to your questions. So here's Debbie!

  1. From a YA writer attempting her first work for younger folk. What do you think sets writing for elementary school kids apart from writing for older audiences (even older middle graders?) 

            Hi Katia, I think YA has filtered down even to fifth and sixth graders, so that’s important to keep in mind.  Many high schoolers don’t read YA; they read adult books.  Of course, that being said, there are some adults who enjoy YA.  So, it’s definitely a mixed bag of readers.  Young adult stories can use harder words (but not just for the sake of being harder) and tougher concepts.  Some YA books are very raw (think Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson) and some just a step above a middle grade (perhaps with the only difference being length-think the first Twilight book which was relatively tame).  For instance, a middle grade book would never have a sexual encounter and rarely ever profanity.  In YA books, this sort of thing isn’t uncommon.  The thing to keep in mind is the audience and how they relate to one another.  You want to keep the plot realistic and your characters and how they interact ‘real’ as well.  Good luck, Katia!

  1. What is your secret to your immense productivity? (related question: When did you publish your first book?) 

My first book, Vampires Don’t Wear Polka Dots, came out in 1990.   It turned into a series called The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids.   I was lucky to co-author that, as well as several other series, with the very talented Marcia Thornton Jones.  She taught me that there is no such thing as writer’s block.  There may be a day when you don’t write well, but you can always write-even if it’s “I don’t know what to write” over and over.  Pretty soon that gets boring and you write, “I guess I could write about this….”   I also brainstorm, do a rough outline, and try to write every day.  I believe in working hard, but I’ve been very lucky and blessed.  My newest book will come out in May, The Lost Princess, which is #5 in the Mermaid Tales series.  I am having such fun with the underwater world and I think that makes me want to write more.  

  1. Carrie wants to know: how did you approach the agent vs. publisher debate when you first started submitting? Has that changed over time?

You can win me!
My first 90 books were without an agent.  I started writing at a time when children’s authors didn’t really need an agent.  I feel that may have changed as many houses only accept agented work.  It hasn’t always been easy working with an agent, but it is wonderful to have someone ‘in my corner.’  I would definitely work to get an agent if I didn’t have one.  I am currently with Writer’s House.

  1. Sue asks: What’s the secret to holding a chapter book series together?

I think strong characters are very important to a chapter book series.  But a fast-paced, action-filled plot is just as important.  I also feel that kids must be able to relate to the characters in some way, even if the series is fantasy.  Somehow the story must be grounded.  For each of my series, I have a big binder.  In it are maps, charts, character sketches, and notes about the world I’ve built.  For instance, in my new Mermaid Tales series, I have a tail chart.  Since my mermaids and merboys (and their teachers and families) have different color tails I needed to keep it straight!

  1. Why are chapter books important? Can’t kids go right from picture books to middle grade novels?

They probably could if all kids were fabulous readers, but in the real world that isn’t necessarily the case.  Some kids, even as young as kindergarten and first grade, want to read a chapter book.  They don’t want a baby book (picture book). Take it from this former librarian; it’s a big deal to read a book with chapters.  Not only is a middle grade novel often overwhelming just in its length for a second grader, it is often more difficult for them to comprehend.  So, that’s where chapter books come in.  They are books that are developmentally appropriate (in what a second and third grader is interested in) and with a vocabulary that is on target.  

Did you see that beautiful cover? If you missed the synopsis last week, here it is again:
In this Mermaid Tales adventure, Shelly’s not sure she’s ready to be royalty.
Not one of the merkids in Shelly Siren’s third grade class can believe the shell-shattering news: Shelly is a princess! A real princess! It’s been a deep, dark secret in Trident City, but now everyone knows—and Shelly doesn’t know how to act. Should she start wearing a glittery crown? Or move to a grand undersea palace? Will her friends have to call her Princess Shelly? She knows it’s an exciting turn of events, but Shelly’s not sure she can truly fit the royal part. Can she find a way to be a princess and stay herself?

Volume 1 of the series
Now that you've read this far, it's time for the giveaway! Debbie is giving away one copy of The Lost Princess to a lucky reader of my blog! If you are 18 years of age or older and a resident of the U.S. all you have to do is leave a comment in this post to be eligible. If you share the post to Facebook or tweet about it, let us know and you'll get another entry. The winning name will be pulled May 5 (just in time for the May 7 release!)
So, what are you waiting for?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Windows With Birds - Perfect Picture Book Friday

I have a new favorite book about moving (sorry, Sesame Street!).
It was one of those lucky finds. The cover is nice, but not the sort of cover that grabs you by the throat and says “READ ME.”  But I was browsing the author R’s and I hadn’t seen this book before so I picked it up.
This book is a master class for the writer’s rule to say everything you need to say with as few words as possible. I’m not moving. I don’t have a cat. Still, the words gripped me and pulled me in.

Title: Windows With Birds

Author/Illustrator: Karen Ritz

Publisher: Boyds Mills Press, 2010


Themes: Moving, Family, Home, Cats

Opening: This was the house (page turn)
                that had windows with birds (turn)
                twenty-six stairs, twenty-nine hiding places (turn)
                and one foolish mouse in the basement. ( turn)

Synopsis: You experience a move from a sprawling single family home to a smaller, high-rise apartment from a cat’s point of view. Without schmatz, the author conveys the feelings of disorientation and difficulty that accompanies a move. As a writer, I especially enjoyed Ms. Ritz’s switch from past to present tense and the judicious use of the words house and home to let the reader know that what is truly important to a family travels with them wherever they are together.

Resources/Activities:Apart from the message about moving, this book brings up an interesting question about how our surroundings make a place feel like home. Without going to look, ask kids to draw a picture of what they could see outside their favorite window. Make a list of what makes the place you live feel like home. The Librarians' Choices blog suggests that older readers can "create their own stories about “change” moments and imagine it from the perspective of an animal." If you are moving and you have animals, read this book then go to these posts by the San Francisco SPCA and the Humane Society of the United States.

Is this book new to you? Let me know. If not, I'd love to hear what you thought of it!

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ask the author of The Lost Princess + book giveaway news!

     Next week, I have the pleasure to host my first author interview.
     I am privileged to know the author, and have spoken with her many times. So, rather than just asking MY questions, I thought it would be interesting to whet your appetite this week with a little information about the author, and find out the questions YOU want answered by a children's book expert.
     How do I know she's an expert? The author is no newbie. She has authored or co-authored 158 books and counting!
     Without further introduction, meet Debbie Dadey:

     Debbie Dadey is the author and co-author of 158 books, including The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids series from Scholastic and Mermaid Tales from Simon and Schuster.  
     Her newest book scheduled for a May 7 release date, The Lost Princess, brings ocean ecology and marine life into a fantasy story.  A former first grade teacher and librarian, Dadey lives in Bucks County with her three children, three dogs, and handsome husband.   She loves visiting elementary schools and speaking with groups about writing.  Her passion is helping reluctant readers. You can like Debbie on Facebook here.

As part of Debbie's author interview next week, I will be holding a book giveaway for The Lost Princess. 
It gets me all twitchy happy just thinking about it!
     Now the big surprise! You won't find this on Goodreads yet.
    With Debbie's permission I am giving you a sneak peek at the cover for The Lost Princess. This book is the next release in Debbie's "Mermaid Tales" series with Simon & Schuster. 
     Mermaid Tales is a series of chapter books aimed at elementary school readers.  Yes, the cover is shimmery, shiny fun.
     Now don't you want a copy!?

      If you leave a question for Debbie in the comments following this post, I'll forward them to Debbie. Next Tuesday, come back for the answers. Depending on how many questions there are, she may not be able to answer them all, but she will read them all and select from them. This is your chance to ask the author of 158 books anything you want to know about her writing process, books, inspiration....

     C'mon folks! What have you always wanted to know?


Friday, April 5, 2013

Dave The Potter - Perfect Picture Book Friday

In earlier posts this year I reviewed the most recent Charlotte Zolotow award winning books. In that same vein I’ve been reading (or re-reading) the Caldecott winners. Although I’m not an artist, I believe that many of the Caldecott winners were inspired by the words in their stories (if there were words!). 
The book I review today is one of those amazing word/illustration combinations, a 2010 Caldecott Honor book and winner of the Coretta Scott King Award. This is a gem. It illuminates a personal journey and transports the reader in time. Read it, man, read it (Did you hear the Scottish accent of the Scotts brand lawn product spokesperson when you read the last sentence? If not, go back and try again.)

Title: Dave the Potter

Illustrator: Bryan Collier

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, 2010

Audience: ages 3 and up 

Themes: Biography, Individuality, Art, Black History

Opening: Let me preface the words by saying how much I LOVE them—
“To us
It is just dirt,
The ground we walk on.
Scoop up a handful.
The gritty grains slip
Between your fingers.”

Synopsis: The author’s lyrical prose tells the story of a slave whose talent allowed him to make some of the biggest clay pots in colonial America. Other potters didn’t have the strength to lift the clay or the talent to keep it from collapsing. Amazingly, although slaves weren’t supposed to learn to read or write, Dave inscribed his pots with lines of poetry and anecdotes of the age, preserving a piece of history for generations. Get out your thesaurus and find the word 'stunning' --the text and illustrations are all of these.

Resources: I am not the only person who loves this book. There is a Youtube reading from ReadMeAStory1, but I didn't embed the link because it didn't move me as much as reading the book on my own. Other videos talk about the book in the context of an actual potter's work. If you can put up with the bad audio, you might like this.  If you search "Dave the Potter activities" online, you will get pages of suggestions. My favorite is from the Milwaukee Art Museum's participation in The Dave Project. Pages of suggestions there alone. If you had fifteen words that would last forever, what would you want to say? Get out the clay and make your own lasting tribute to Dave. The publisher's website has a teacher's guide for classroom activities. 

If you had fifteen words that would last forever, what would you want to say? 
This certainly puts the under 500 word picture book preference into perspective! I'm thinking on my fifteen words...

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. She keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books.