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.

Perfect Picture Book Friday - Bridget's Beret by Tom Lichtenheld

Perfect Picture Book Friday- Bridget’s Beret

Author/Illustrator: Tom Lichtenheld

Publisher: Henry Holt & Company, Christy Ottaviano Books, 2010

Intended for ages 4 and up

Themes: Self-confidence, Artistic expression

Opening: Bridget was drawn to drawing. She liked to draw as much as other kids liked ice cream.

When the beret that Bridget believes gives her artistic talent blows away, Bridget has a crisis in confidence. Throughout the text, Lichtenheld pays homage to a host of famous artists. And in the end, our heroine gets her mojo back.

When the experts say that this book is for ages 4 and up, I’ll endorse the up! It’s a great story for anyone who occasionally suffers from artist’s/writer’s block. Good advice for finding your way back to anything you really love.

Bridget’s Beret is a 40 page picture book, but doesn’t feel over long. It was a 2011 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year.

I love the bright colors in this book. I have a purple beret in the drawer somewhere--I think it's time to break it out!

Thanks for stopping by...

Handling an Author's Appearance - Debbie Dadey

On Saturday, January 27th, I went to an author appearance at the Doylestown Library. The library’s presentations often focus on authors of books for adults. I wanted to attend because Debbie Dadey is an amazing writer for children. She has authored 154 books, and counting!
I also wanted to attend to see how a seasoned children’s author handled a non-school audience. There were no sign-ups for the event, so there was no way to know who would show up. Here’s the low down—

When I got there the Pearl Buck Room was set up with about thirty chairs in a semi-circle. In the center of the circle was Debbie and her four-foot-long radio controlled inflated flying shark. As kids came in, Debbie offered each of them the chance to “drive” (fly? swim?) the shark. Talk about a kid pleaser!

Before long the organizers had to set up another row of chairs. Then another. By the time Debbie’s presentation began, there was a crowd of approximately seventy in attendance. It was about half adults and half children. I was surprised to see that of the children, about half were boys. 

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Although Debbie’s newest publication (released earlier this week) is part of her Mermaid Tales series for Simon & Schuster, she is perhaps best known as co-author of The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids series, a series with loads of boy appeal.
Debbie talked about her path to publication-including her “never give up” message for adults and children. Then she talked about her newest book, Danger in the Deep Blue Sea

Debbie asked the kids to guess what a mermaid’s worse enemy is. Apparently, sharks are the mermaids’ worst enemies. Humans are the mermaids’ second. She explained that this is why mermaids live at the very bottom of the deepest parts of the sea. Sharks swim nearer the surface and mermaids want to stay away from them. Who knew? 
The Friends of the Library made sea-themed cookies!
She was very convincing. 
Next, the kids were enthusiastic participants during Debbie’s shark trivia session. Then, as the noise level grew, Debbie turned to a short reading from her book. Finally, she turned them loose on the remaining refreshments and a cute craft (making an open shark’s mouth from a folded paper plate). She had talked for about twenty-five minutes.

Some of the kids made the craft, some left, and others got in line for the book signing. Along with a sampling of some of her older books, Debbie was fortunate to get her newest book from the publisher two days before its official release. I waited my turn and got my copy after the kids. :))

Last week, Cynthia Leitich Smith also posted about a book launch event with author appearances by one picture book and one YA author. Refreshments apparently are key!
If you have any tips for a great author appearance, please share them in the comments!

A Kernel of Writing Advice

While it is a wonderful to get caught up in the heat of writing, the words flowing from a pen (or onto a computer screen) unbidden—the fact is that the words ultimately need to make sense to an audience. 

One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve received was that a scene I wrote didn’t have to be true—readers had to believe that it was true. This advice works on two levels. 

First, if you’re writing something that is based on events or emotions that really transpired, unless you are writing nonfiction and are in essence telling the reader “this happened,” it doesn’t matter that it’s true if it isn’t believable. Conversely, if something is believable, it doesn’t matter if it’s the biggest whopper or scientific impossibility on the planet.

Writing for kids is especially fun because kids embrace the absurd. But within the parameters of a story, the absurdity still has to make some sense. In recent Caldecott winner  Jon Klassen’s “I Want My Hat Back,” because the rest of the plot makes sense, no reader stops to ask—why was a bear wearing a hat in the first place? Mo Willems makes us believe that a pigeon really could drive a bus if we only gave it the chance. In the subtle interplay between the believable and the absurd we can see these authors’ craft.

Last month I was fortunate to attend an SCBWI picture book workshop with Christopher Cheng. Next month I’m heading to the MD/DE/WV SCBWI conference. I’ve found that attending workshops is an investment in craft that repays itself many times over.
What’s one piece of writing advice that has helped you?

Find a Conference and GO!

Last weekend I attended the MD/DE/WV SCBWI conference. That’s a mouthful. A tasty morsel of writing goodness.

Author/Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette on left
I had never been to one of their chapter events before, but it ran like clockwork. These folks are on the ball. By the time I checked back to their website on Monday, it was updated and the event was gone. Luckily, I took notes.

However, I don’t really need notes because the minutiae of what each speaker said isn’t the point of this post (although I will give those of you who weren’t fortunate to attend a brief run down!). The point is—it was wonderful to spend time meeting other writers and writing professionals. I even had a face-to-face with an online writing friend I’d never met in person. It was a tremendous mini-vacation. For twenty-four hours, I didn’t have to think about what anyone else needed. It was all about me and writing. The next time someone asks you what you want for your birthday or any other holiday involving gift-giving, instead of “stuff,” think of asking to go to a conference. 

T.A. Barron spoke first about the necessity for joy and heroism in stories, and how he weaves these elements into his own work. I guess other listeners were as impressed as I was because by the time I got to the “bookstore” they set up at the conference all of Mr. Barron’s books were gone.

Editor Jill Santopolo was the second speaker. For her, character is the hook that draws her into a story. She advised everyone to put an interesting, imperfect character in a challenging situation and have the character show an element of likeability in the first chapter—if not on the first page. I had to leave ten minutes before the end of her presentation for my critique while she was still using book examples to illustrate what she meant. I’m the kind of learner who needs to “see” something, so the examples were enormously helpful.

My critique with Mr. Stephen Mooser was stellar. Yes, the man who co-founded the SCBWI was there in person, giving encouragement and advice. He has a knack for not just pointing out problems, but also brainstorming solutions. He is a true critique rock star.

Ammi-Joan Paquette was speaking while I had my critique, so if someone who was able to hear her wants to chime in below in the comments, that would be great!

The last speaker before lunch was Mr. Mooser. Talking about the digital age and using quotes from Daniel Nayeri, Mr. Mooser noted the overwhelming number of books being published and advised authors to be sure their work was both as good as traditionally published books AND that they have a way to drive readers to find their work before they go a non-traditional publishing route. is Mr. Mooser’s new interactive website for his self-published book of the same name. He advised writers to think in terms of this sort of additional content before going the self-publishing route with children’s books.

Mr. Zelinsky signing, and signing...
Picture book writer and illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky started us back after lunch. Using his own work, Mr. Zelinsky explained how he structured a picture book. Then he showed illustrators how he looked to museum paintings as inspiration. Finally, everyone got to see the “interior” of an interactive book featuring the work of a paper engineer. Making the images slide and glide isn’t as easy as it appears! Paper magician may be a more apt term for the engineer. We were treated to the hysterically funny Z is for Moose book trailer, with Mr. Zelinsky noting that he didn’t believe the trailer increased sales, but that teachers and librarians like to use them.

Editor Sylvie Frank explained why some picture books are too quiet and admitted that in today’s market she probably would have rejected the classic Goodnight Moon. She also advised writers to avoid formulaic manuscripts. Even though a particular story style worked before she wants to writers to push themselves to write something new and different. (Note: she has recently left Holiday House and joined the Paula Wiseman editorial team).

Agent Evelyn Fazio was the final speaker before the question and answer panel. Focusing on dialogue, peeves that she mentioned are unnecessary use of foreign speech patterns and interrupting dialogue with explanation. She advised writers to focus on setting up scenes before dialogue and make language relatable.

By the time the day finished, my notebook was full of notes for my own manuscripts and fresh ideas for new projects. Sure, the three to four hour drive each way was a drag but doable.

So what are you waiting for? Check your schedule then go find a conference in your area!

Writing Space - Part 2

As long as it’s quiet, I’m not too fussy about my actual physical writing space. But finding the quiet space, ah, there’s the rub.
If I’m at home and no one else is around, I prefer working on the kitchen table.. It meets three important criteria.

1.      It’s close to the range so I can make copious amounts of tea.
2.      It has good lighting.
3.      And I like to look out a window now and then.

But when I want to write and I’m not alone at home—I head to my “office.” That's what happens most of the time.
The space I call my office probably wasn’t intended to serve that purpose. You have to walk through the bedroom to get to it. I’m guessing that when the house was built, the space was meant for extra storage or a sitting area. But our family isn’t “sitting alone by ourselves” kind of people, so for the first year or so after we moved here the space was empty.

If you tried to walk around the perimeter of the room you would bonk your head because the walls angle in, following the roof line. But you don’t need all that much headroom if you’re seated!
My amazing husband took a sheet of plywood and laminated the top to make it smooth and pretty. Voila! A huge desk, perfect for the way I like to spread out and look at drafts while I revise (which I do a lot of). With the walls painted the both soothing and inspirational colors of the air/sea and jungle, I am happily settled in. Artwork make by my children is over my left shoulder.

The only problem with the space is that it’s over the unheated garage. Even though it has one heating vent, if any heat comes out of it, I have never felt it. A small space heater, parked directly behind my chair, solves this issue in the colder months.
I have to go downstairs to refill my mug, but that’s not altogether a bad thing. I don’t know if it’s the blood flow to my brain or the change of scenery but walking around often helps me find the right words when I’m stumped.

I’ve tried to write on a treadmill, but I’m not that coordinated. The treadmill I tried to work on wasn’t a fancy set-up intended for writing and I found I could either walk and hold the pad, or hold the pad and write, but every time I tried to hold the pad in place and write I ended up sliding precariously backwards. It’s okay. I can shoot a decent free throw. Writing while walking isn’t a necessary skill. 

I’ll bet a lot of people won’t agree with me here, but I believe that one extra bonus of the “office” is that our wireless network signal doesn’t reach there (yes, the router is ancient!). This means no cheating with peeks on the internet. When I need to do research, I have to come downstairs. And that’s a little inconvenient. But I’d rather have it this way. In my writing space there’s no email, no Facebook. Just me and my writing. 

And the best thing the office space has going for it compared to the kitchen is—I can leave it as messy as I want. If I’m mid-thought when I have to stop, it’s no problem. Paper can stay where I left it. I don’t have to constantly shuffle through the stack again, trying to find the places where I marked my notes. It’s a wonderful thing.
Do you have a special place where you get your best writing done?

Finally, the winner of the giveaway announced last week on my post about the 12x12 picture book group--drum roll, please--Everyone's a winner! When I pulled one name out of the hat, the other slips of paper looked so forlorn. And I know how excited I am when I get a new book to read. So, this time the only luck you needed was to have commented on that blog post during the one week period that ended today. I'll be contacting the winners later today to get mailing information.

Writing Space - Part 1

This should be obvious, but in order to be a writer you have to write.
Thinking about writing ideas is important, but it isn’t writing. Unless you’ve got a new-fangled   standing writing station, writing means putting yourself in a seat and putting the words down.

For me, the writing process involves two kinds of writing space.

1.      Mental space
2.      Literal, physical space

Sometimes, the mental space is the hardest part of the equation. Family time is a number one, code red, priority to me. I’ve realized, however, that I’m a lot better mom, wife, daughter, just a better person in general, when I’m happy. Putting my writing goals at the top (or at least near the top!) of the list is necessary to my happy balance.

The ten minute layovers—standing in line at the grocery store, waiting in the car line to pick up kids—are good times to noodle with ideas. If I forget my pocket notebook, I often come home with pockets full of scribbles on paper scraps. However, when I’ve finished noodling the ideas around and I finally want to put the words in order, my writing process works best if I can tune everyone and everything else out. Forgive me for sounding like Greta Garbo  but—I want to be alone!

I have always been fascinated by other writers’ routines. The Brain Pickings website has a great compilation. Personally, I find Ray Bradbury’s approach works the best. My writing should pull me to the desk. If it doesn’t, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write though. That just means something’s wrong with what I’m working on. Either I need to try a new angle or ax the project altogether and move on to something else. If I’m not feeling passionate about a story, how could I expect a reader to be?

The worst moments for me are when I literally have the time, but my head’s not in it. Sitting and staring at a blank page isn’t productive. But I don’t usually have that problem. My problem is writing along merrily and then looking back and realizing that what I just spent time on is the embodiment of the reason that there is a delete button. I wasn’t in a creative state of mind and my work showed it. Cut. No paste.

At times like these, I remind myself—writing isn’t necessarily a linear process. I’m reminded of something the pediatrician told me when I was worried that our kids weren’t eating balanced meals. “Look at a week,” he said. Applying this to my writing has freed me from the disappointment of individual bad writing days. As long as it’s occasionally two steps forward, the step back now and then is just part of the dance.

Now it’s off to dance with some of my favorite characters! We haven't reached the final frontier. (Something you should know about me, I love bad puns.)
And where do I write? That’s Part 2, this Friday.

Sunday, July 13, 2014


     Do you know a kid who doesn't like music?
     Me neither.
     That's one reason I'm excited to be part of a blog hop tour for Jennifer Jackson's debut picture book blog tour for: THE PUNKYDOOS TAKE THE STAGE. The book comes with a CD of Punkydoo music!

     Although her debut picture book was just released on July 1, 2014, author Jennifer Jackson isn't a total newbie to the world of publishing. Jennifer Jackson's ( love of writing started in theater, where she has written and directed original ensemble-based physical theater pieces.She also choreographed many projects including American Dreamz and The Beckoning of Lovely.
   Today, Jennifer is graciously answering a few questions about her new book and her writing process.

1. The title, THE PUNKYDOOS TAKE THE STAGE, is so much fun? Which came first, the story or the title?
     The name of the band, The Punkydoos, came before anything else! "Punkydoo" is a nickname my family has used for years. One day I thought The Punkydoos would be a great name for a band that played music for kids. Then I realized it would be even more fun if the musicians were kids themselves. I began to wonder what that would look like in a picture book. The title for the book came once I knew that the story would be about Lexi-Lou finding a place for her (very big!) voice by starting a rock band and putting on a concert.

2. Your author dedication refers to the "real" Punkydoos. Where did you get the inspiration for your story?
 I mentioned that "Punkydoo" is a nickname. First, we all used it for my younger sister. Now it's what we call her little girls. They were the inspiration for the book, particularly for Lexi-Lou's bold spirit and the band's fearless attitude. My nieces are forever optimistic and they never back away from a challenge

3. Who do you picture as the perfect reader for your book?

     Kids who like to dream big!

4. I can picture the Punkydoos as characters in preschool Scooby-Doo-type adventures. Are there more Punkydoo books in the works?

     Yes! The Punkydoos are always up for new adventures. Stay tuned . . . (And by the way, Monkey's favorite cartoon is Scooby-Doo!)

5. Do you dummy the words in your manuscript?

     Once I feel a story is complete, I mock up the entire book with the actual pagination. My stick figures are pitiful, but I find that getting a sense of how the book reads with page turns really helps the revision process.

6. What have you learned from your experience creating your first picture book that you will incorporate into your next manuscripts?

    Some things I know I'll keep working on--conflicts that make kids want to turn the page, upping the stakes, and adding moments of real discovery and connection for the characters.

7. Do you have a critique group or use other revision strategies to polish that first draft?

     I actually love revising. I'm not afraid to take a story apart and put it back together in new ways. Once I feel that I've done all I can to write the best possible story (and this usually takes several drafts!) I'll show it to a few readers I trust to give useful feedback. I don't just want people to tell me it's good! I want to know what needs work. I also like going to conferences and workshops where you can dig in with a critique group run by a strong facilitator.

8. Writing requires a lot of perseverance--and fuel. Do you have a favorite writing snack to maintain your focus and keep the creative juices flowing? (everything chocolate is good in my book!)

     Oh, I agree, chocolate all the way! Mocha lattes. Double chocolate muffins. And for some reason, I love to eat chocolate covered banana chips when I write. You could say they're my Scooby snack!

And now . . . ta-da! Here's the cover of THE PUNKYDOOS TAKE THE STAGE!

I know Jennifer would love to hear your comments and congratulations below! 
If you want to learn more about Jennifer and The Punkydoos, the schedule for the rest of her blog tour and book buying information is listed below. If you want a copy for yourself (and who wouldn't!) visit one of the blog links below. Good luck!

The Punkydoos Take the Stage Blog Tour Schedule:
Friday, July 11th
·         Mundie Kids: Review and Giveaway

Saturday, July 12th
·         Lille Punkin’ Reviews: Guest Post and Giveaway

Sunday, July 13th
·         Book Rock Betty: Review and Giveaway

Monday, July 14th
·         Noodling with Words: Interview

Tuesday, July 15th
·         Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers: Review, Punkydoos Playlist, and Giveaway

Wednesday, July 16th
·         As They Grow Up: Giveaway

By Jennifer Jackson, illustrated by Dan Andreasen
Disney Publishing Worldwide
ISBN: 978-1-4231-4339-0; ages 3-5 Yrs; $17.99