Friday, October 25, 2013

The Day Louis Got Eaten - Perfect Picture Book Friday

Don't let this cover scare you off! This non-Halloween monster story will fascinate kids.

Title: The Day Louis Got Eaten

Author/Illustrator: John Fardell

Publisher: Anderson Press USA, 2012

Audience: 2-7

Themes: Sibling love, Monsters

Opening: Louis and his big sister Sarah were out in the woods one day . . .
                 . . .when , unfortunately. . .
                . . .Louis was eaten up by a Gulper.

Synopsis: Without hesitation, big sister Sarah chases on her bicycle after her brother who has been swallowed whole by a Gulper, which is then swallowed by successively bigger and bigger crazily named creatures. Neither mountains or valleys or oceans can stop her bicycle chase!And somehow, she knows about the Hiccup Frog that frees Louis. Unfortunately, this places Sarah on the now empty-bellied, hungry creatures' menu, but this is a picture book folks, so you know a happy ending ensues!

What I like about this book: I was nervous when I picked up this book. The combination of the scary title and the bright orange monster leering over the children on the cover seemed like it might be too much for youngsters. But I was pleasantly surprised!
     In cumulative fashion the story builds from scene to scene, at each page turn leaving the reader to wonder - is this it? What more can there be? The creatures are fantastic. Equal parts scary and alluring fantasy adventure. Sarah's amazing bike ride over makeshift bridges, underwater and pulled by a wind-sail is similarly compelling. And there's still the text to consider! Reading the words aloud, the creatures names are fun to say! The Undersnatch and the Spiney-backed Guzzler are just two of the gobblers along the way. With a sparse text, the author moves the story masterfully until Louis speaks his only line of dialogue to punctuate the climax. This photo shows the intrepid Sarah climbing inside layers of creatures to reach her Louis. Charming and fascinating! I'm betting kids want to get close up with this book and trace Sarah's path with their fingers.

Activities and Resources: Anderson Press has a two page activity sheet for this book. The book can be used to discuss onomatopoeia. It has great words like "raar" and "splosh." You can hear the author read the book in a Youtube video. Blogger wouldn't let me embed it in this post (who knows why?!) but it did let me put it in a separate post. So scroll below if you want to see that, I'll post that first. I know I enjoyed John Fardell's Scottish accent! (And if you scroll down one post beyond the video you can learn who I've tagged for the next posts in the Liebster award!)

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.

Thanks for stopping by! Will you be dressing up for Halloween this year? My life-size dog suit is always a hit with the trick or treaters who come to our door!

Scottish Children's Book Awards 2012 Nominee John Fardell: The Day Louis...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Liebster Award - My turn!

 About a week ago, I was nominated by Sue Frye for --drum roll, please:
 The Liebster Award. 

Okay, hold the applause. The beautiful Liebster award is given to blogs with under 200 followers. In accepting this award, I am now obligated to answer 10 questions of Sue's choosing, and then ask/beg 5-10 other people to answer my similarly worded questions.  
But seriously, it's a fast, easy way for bloggers to connect with each other. And there is no time limit. If you want to participate, you get to it when you can.  So now, here are my answers!
·         1.  Who are your favorite published authors? William Steig, Lois Lowry, Robert Heinlein, Mo Willems, Oliver Jeffers and Dr. Seuss. (I had to stop myself---thinking about the books I love gets my heart racing!)

·         2.  Name three of your favorite picture book titles: Doctor Desoto, Harry the Dirty Dog, Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs.

·         3.  Write like a . . . ? Honey badger. Except one with manners who could write for kids. :)

·         4.  If you could write a winning book tomorrow, what genre would it be? 
           Picture book or middle grade. I'll take the awards for either!

·         5.  What do you do while waiting to write?
          Like good tea, I let my ideas steep. When it isn't about writing I'm probably outside in jeans doing
          something that involves getting dirty.

·         6.  If you could write like anyone, who would you write like?
          I want to write like ME! But for prolific production, Debbie Dadey, Donna Jo Napoli and Joyce     
          Carol Oates are good role models.

·         7.  Hot or cold?
           Hot tea, hot cocoa, warm apple pie with COLD ice cream.

·         8.  Sweet or sour?
          All sweet.

·         9.  Your fuel for thought.
           Green tea with lemon (I'm beginning to see a pattern. . .)

·         10.What sparks your creativity?
          Off-hand comments, stories in the newspaper. Go outside and get dirty then take a hot shower and let it all steep. 

NOW, I'm supposed to tag other bloggers and ask them 10 questions similar to these. Let's go worldwide and extend to new genres. Here goes!
Deborah Holt Williams:
Jacque Duffy:
Your questions:
1.  If you go go anywhere to research your next book, where would that be?
2. List three books that made you laugh or cry:
3. Dresses or slacks?
4.  Favorite book from childhood?
5. "I get my best writing done___________"
6. Your writing goal for the next month is_________"
7. Share a tidbit of writing advice.
8. What fuels your writing?
9. What did you think you would be when you were growing up?
10. Why did you decide to become a writer?
That's it! If I tagged you and you want to participate:
 1) copy and paste these questions into your blog
2) link back to mine and 
3) tag five or more bloggers for the next round with 10 questions of your own (previously used questions are acceptable!). 
Easy peasy right? 
I had fun reading Sue Frye's answers and checking the blogs she linked to (if I wasn't subscribed already :) ) Go meet your fellow bloggers!

Friday, October 18, 2013

READY FOR PUMPKINS - Perfect Picture Book Friday

     Tis the season - for ghosts, scarecrows and PUMPKINS!
     Even though some elementary and pre-schools have done away with Halloween celebrations, the fact is that we have passed the autumnal equinox and no one can deny the harvest season is here. My review this week is a great seasonal choice for the classroom as well as reading at home.


Author/Illustrator: KATE DUKE


Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012

Audience: 5-8 (If you are looking for read-alouds, note that this is a 40-page book- 36 pages of text - with 728 words)

Themes: Classroom pets, Gardens

Opening: " I am Hercules.
               I live in Miss MacGuffey's first-grade classroom.
               It's a good life."

Synopsis: A classroom guinea pig learns about gardening by growing his own pumpkin. He needs some help from Daisy, the rabbit friend he makes during summer vacation, and a lot of patience.

Why I like this book: I picked this book up because of its beautiful cover. As my friend Carter Higgins taught me, the juxtaposition of blues and oranges are a winning combination. (See Carter, I'm paying attention! If you haven't read Carter's Design of the Picture Book blog, put it on your to-do list.) Growing up, I had guinea pigs as pets and I'll admit to an additional fondness for the friendly little rodents. Ms. Duke must love them, too. Her first book was "The Guinea Pig ABC" (which I have not read) and "One Guinea Pig is not Enough" (which I read and enjoyed). But beyond my own personal predilections, this book is a multi-layered delight. It would be great to use in a discussion of classroom pets, a spring gardening unit, a discussion of cooperation and friendship, the importance of patience, and the obvious, pumpkin harvest time read. I had to share my favorite spread:
Text reads: A garden is not a place to be angry in.

Activities/Resources: If you have the RealOne video player you can watch a four-minute video of Katie discussing her work with a group of kids.In my research I discovered that blogger Amy Seto Musser reviewed this book when it came out last year and includes a whole list of activities including paper bag pumpkins and pumpkin seed crafts on her blog.  
Teachers could also use this book in a discussion about classroom pets and their needs - including that the pet has to be taken care of on weekends and during holidays and the long summer vacation.
If you've been thinking about getting a small pet, visit or your local rescue- yes, it isn't just dogs and cats who are waiting for a good home.
Finally, this would be a good read before you make a jack -o'-lantern. Explore the textures inside and out. There's a lot of slime to clean out before you could let a guinea pig play inside!

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.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Bye-Bye Baby Brother! - Perfect Picture Book Friday

     Today is the International Day of the Girl.
     I'm not sure how I feel about that. While I know that it is intended to bring attention to the needs of girls worldwide, for me, the act of naming a single day almost trivializes the issue, putting it in the same category as Talk Like a Pirate Day.
     My book selection last week was a perfect selection for the issue of girls' education. If you missed it, click here for the link.
     Last week's selection spoke to a time in history. Other great picture books sweep readers away by their silly or fantastic elements. The book I highlight today speaks to the everyday. It is a charming, non-didactic book addressing the issue of sibling jealousy.

Title: Bye-Bye Baby Brother

Author/Illustrator: Sheena Dempsey

Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2013
In the UK - Walker Books

Theme: Siblings - FICTION

Audience: Preschool - 2 (I think up to 5)

Opening: "What will we do now, Rory?" asked Ruby. "I can't think of any more games to play."

Rory couldn't either.
He was feeling a bit sleepy.

"Maybe Mom will know one. Let's go find her!"

Synopsis: After her little brother arrives, big sister Ruby craves attention from her mother. She amuses herself, playing with her dog Rory (the illustration of Ruby dressing Rory in "a lovely blue sweater" is one of my favorites!)  but when Mom says "In a minute" one time too many, Ruby begins to fantasize about life without baby Oliver. Can she make her brother disappear in a mound of cabbages?

Why I Like this Book: Moments of sibling rivalry don't always manifest themselves in temper tantrums. Sometimes it arises in the quiet moments, like those shown in this book. I particularly like the continued calm of the resolution and the open-endedness of the book's close. While the main character is dealing with a sibling, I think any child will identify with the emotions felt in the moments when Mom (or Dad) is busy. On Ms. Dempsey's blog you can see her new and upcoming projects. After viewing her charming illustrations in this book, I see why she is in demand!

Activities/Resources: I couldn't find a guide or activity book directly linked to this book. I believe this book is intended for some of the youngest siblings who perhaps don't have full-blown cases of sibling rivalry but are just feeling left out or ignored. With that in mind, perhaps families can brainstorm activities that EVERYONE can be a part of. Visiting a farm, dancing (Mom wearing baby in a snug sac),and  setting aside special time while baby naps for "big kid" activities are just a few ideas. The University of Michigan Health Care System has a post about sibling rivalry that includes suggested books and activities if true rivalry develops.

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.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Light in the Darkness - Perfect Picture Book Friday

What's my only beef with the title I chose this week? The title itself. If you search the words online without the author’s name, you come up with horror films, a Star Wars tribute flic, a Bruce Springsteen book, the list goes on, and on. I’ve made it easy for you by embedding the links below. Maybe if enough of us click on them we can get the search engine to find the book first!
This is a meaty 40 page picture book. It won’t be a quick bedtime read. I hope that won’t keep readers from enjoying the Ransomes’ beautiful work.

Title: Light in the Darkness

Historical Fiction

Author: Lesa Cline-Ransome 
     (her author photo with her HUGE St. Bernard is lovely)

Illustrator: James E. Ransome

Publisher: Disney, Jump at the Sun, 2013

Audience: 5-9

Themes: Slavery, Education, Resilience

Opening:  “Rosa.”
            In the dark of our cabin I can’t see my mama, but I can feel her breath on my face in whispers.
            “It’s time.”

Synopsis: Although slaves are forbidden to learn to read or write, Rosa and her mother risk their lives to attend a pit school, a large hole dug in the ground and covered with branches to avoid detection..

What I Liked about this Book: I believe that an education is the greatest gift one generation can give the next, and I felt Rosa and her mother’s passion to learn in these pages. At the price of being whipped and going without sleep, slaves struggled to get the barest education that children today take for granted. It took my breath away.  Without pens or paper, the students studied and learned. Apart from the story itself, the illustrator’s dedication "to the light of his life," his wife (the author), gives a hint of the passion they brought to this project.

Activities/Resources: Watch the demo video about the artwork for this book. Starting with a blank page James Ransome shows each step in his watercolor technique, from pencil drawing, washing off sizing to final drawing. Watching the faces come alive was amazing for a non-artist  like myself. The video is 14 mins in length. Make letters and numbers with twigs and leaves . Draw words in a sandbox or garden. (if you take a photo of these you could make greeting cards from this!).       
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.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Picture Book Word Smackdown Workshop

Recently, I was fortunate to attend two helpful events for writers.
The first was an in-person event held by the NJ SCBWI specifically for picture book writers. It’s hard to believe the next bit. 
It was led by the uber-talented Ame Dyckman, the author of Boy + Bot, and it was free!
Honestly, if you want to write kid lit and you aren’t already a member of the SCBWI, stop reading my blog post for a minute. I'll wait. Join the SCBWI. You can do it online. No, it isn’t free, but if you make the commitment to attend their events, you will get more than your money’s worth. I live in Pennsylvania and belong to the SCBWI of eastern PA but find that the events in New Jersey fit my schedule more often. I have friends with budgets that permit them to fly across the country or even to chapters on other continents, visiting SCBWI conferences to meet particular agents and editors. Doesn't that sound lovely? In the SCBWI, the world really is your oyster.

The subject of Ame’s ninety minute workshop was writing shorter. Now, I’m only five foot three inches tall so you might think I have an advantage here but durn, it wasn't that kind of shorter. The workshop pushed writers to cut their picture book word count; to make the work more marketable and also to make better picture books.
Now, I’ve heard these general words before. Several times. But that’s the beauty of going to workshop events. You never know which is going to be the one where things click for you. 
This one clicked!
The day after listening to Ame, I took a 511-word story that I hadn’t been able to make “zingy” enough and, without losing the heart of the story I wanted to tell, I revised (again!) and created a 349-word manuscript I was really proud of. I got that tingly feeling when the words are working and the story plays visually in my head. Is Ame magic? I guess you’d have to poll everyone else who attended to say for sure. I wouldn't bet against it.

A full book bag is a happy book bag
          What did I do after the workshop that really helped? With Ame’s advice about avoiding backstory and focusing on action, I went to the library (I should get a cot there). I copied the first lines from a stack of picture books I admired. I had read these words before, but for me the act of re-writing the words on a pad of paper helped me see the structure.
When I went back to my manuscript, I was ruthless. Lovely phrases that weren’t absolutely necessary to the story? Deleted. Next, I imagined what my perceptive illustrator would be able to include. I cut more.
Is any one workshop the answer to publication? Probably not. But it's a good step in the right direction. One thing I know for sure is that the world is full of talented writers and it isn’t enough to be good. The work needs to scream “publish me!”
I’ve prattled on long enough today. My second writing event was an online webinar on plotting held by Delve Writing. Look for my post on that upcoming.
One of my talented critique partners, MarcieColleen, posted about Ame’s workshop, too, and you can read her post here.