Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Writers Wednesday

Welcome! You're in for a treat if you enjoy middle grade fiction, are a fan of humor, or just love an entertaining story. Today's featured author is David Zeltser, author of LUG Dawn of the Ice Age and its sequel Lug Blast from the North

Can you tell us about how you came up with the idea for LUG?
When my daughter was born, I started to think about her future and the world she would inherit. I was also inspired to write something that would make my entire family laugh.

Why did you choose prehistoric times to set your story?
When I began to write about how cavemen might react to major climate change in their world, it put a smile on my face. I felt that the irony of the situation would not be lost on readers, and they would enjoy it. Children are drawn to that era, and by placing the story in prehistoric times, I had the freedom to explore important topics in an entertaining manner.

There is a lot of humor in this book. Where does that come from?
Funny books have always been my favorites. Before I wrote LUG, I wrote comic plays, screenplays, and humor pieces. Coming from humble beginnings, humor has been a constant in my own life. Kids, and their parents, can learn how to handle tough situations through humor. And LUG does exactly that.

The book also touches upon some modern day issues such as bullying and climate change. What key message(s) do you expect kids will take away from your book?
Lug is a small kid in a clan dominated by bullies. Rather than fighting them physically, his journey is to find a way to stand up for what he believes in and thus become a leader in his own right. While there is action in the book around a ferocious pride of saber-toothed tigers, I tried to avoid the typical macho approach when it came to the main conflict. Despite what kids see in movies, the important conflicts they’ll face won’t be resolved by physical violence. The powers that be in this story are defeated through all kinds of other interesting means. I wanted kids who don’t think of themselves as leaders to see what is possible when you really care about something important. It isn’t easy, but by believing in yourself and sticking to your beliefs, the rewards are great.

Who are your favorite characters in LUG?
The two main characters—Lug and Echo. If you think growing up was tough, you should try it as a short artistic boy in the Stone Age. Lug is surrounded by uber-macho cavemen who think the coming Ice Age is “just a little weather.”

Echo is a girl from the rival Boar Riders clan. She is also an animal-lover and the world’s first vegetarian. Both she and Lug have faced tough issues in their young lives, and I’ve tried to capture their determination, as individuals and as a team.

Can you give us an idea of what happens in the next book?
The sequel is called Lug: Blast from the North. All I can say is that there’s a hilarious new character called Blast, and something big, surprising and mysterious coming from the north. The book will be out in Fall 2016.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Nonfiction Monday

For other Nonfiction Monday posts click HERE

For Nonfiction Monday: "Baseball Then to WOW!" by Mark Bechtel.


Did you know that there was a time when batters could request the height at which they wanted a pitch to be thrown? Or that pitchers had the option of throwing overhand or underhand?

Bechtel's new title from Sports Illustrated Kids offers an entertaining and educational exploration of baseball's evolution from the early 1800s to present day. Four well-defined chapters keep the material organized. Colorful illustrations, timelines, and action photographs provide eye-catching compliments to the text and make this 80 page book a treasure of information.

The Basics -  Traces the rules, teams, uniforms, gloves, catcher's masks, and stadiums from 1845 to 2014 thought cleverly illustrated timelines and photographs.

The Players -  counts down the decades with statistic-rich notes on names familiar to fans from Babe Ruth and Ted Williams to Miguel Cabrera.  Hitters, basemen, outfielders, pitchers, and catchers are highlighted along with players such as Billy Hamilton (famous for stealing bases), pioneers in the game like Jackie Robinson and familiar characters from Dizzy Dean to Mike Scioscia.

Playball - takes readers though managers, pitching staff, strategies, umpires, and leagues.

Fan-tastic - explores the relationship between baseball and fans with topics such as baseball cards, amateur play from stickball on city streets to the Little League World Series, game day promotions, and of course...ball park foods.

Fingerless gloves, catchers working without face masks, and livestock giveaways at games are just a few of the surprises you'll discover in this comprehensive look at America's pastime.            

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Writers Wednesday

Meet Carolyn Cohagen, author of the new YA novel, Time Zero which has received excellent reviews from Publisher's Weekly, Elizabeth Banks, star of The Hunger Games, and Tim O'Brien, National Book Award winning author of The Things They Carried, to mention just a few.  

Fans of YA fiction will find plenty to celebrate in this powerful social commentary, woven into an imaginative thriller. Mina's strength and courage is challenged time and again as she struggles to overcome the fanaticism that ensnares her and threatens her very existence. 

I'm looking forward to the sequel.

TIME ZERO will be available May 16, 2016. You can view the trailer HERE.

What inspired your passion for female empowerment that is so evident in Time Zero?
I have always been a feminist. I was lucky enough to be raised in a household in which I was told I could be whatever I wanted, and my gender was never an issue. Our country is currently moving backwards in terms of women’s rights (especially in Texas, where I live). I can’t believe we’re still marching about issues that I marched about in the 1980s. We need to inspire the next generation of girls to not only call themselves feminists but to take action.
What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing?
One of the best parts of being a writer is being able to put yourself in impossible situations and figure out how you would react to them. I got to imagine what it would be like to be denied an education and be forced to marry a boy I didn’t love. I had to face what my limits would be and what circumstances would make me follow through with my obligations when my entire soul might be screaming, “Don’t do it!”

How does your career as a writer influence other areas of your life and vice versa?

The research I did for Time Zero led me to found my creative writing organization Girls With Pens. After years of reading about the difficulties that girls face, I felt inspired to direct the focus of my teaching on girls during the difficult, sticky years of their lives – ages 9-17.

Briefly, what's your book about?
Fifteen-year-old Mina Clark lives in a future Manhattan that is ruled by extremists. Girls aren’t allowed to get an education, they need permission to speak to boys, and all marriages are negotiated by contract. But Mina’s grandmother has secretly been teaching her to read, leading Mina down a path of rebellion, romance, and danger that not only threatens to destroy her family’s reputation, it could get Mina killed.

What led you to write the book? 
I began writing Time Zero in 2010. I was disturbed by the news coming from Afghanistan concerning the Taliban and their unconscionable suppression of women’s rights. But I was also exasperated by the hypocrisy that I felt Americans displayed when they discussed “fundamentalism,” as if it were a problem that only occurred outside of the United States and only pertained to Islam.

What would you like readers to take from it? 
Besides enjoying a good story and connecting with the characters, I hope that readers will better appreciate what it is to have equal rights; I defy anyone to read Time Zero and not be a feminist by the end.

What are your current/future projects?
I am working on the sequel to Time Zero.

What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?
I try to write every day, but it can be difficult. I find that routine (the same time of day, the same location) is the best way for me to write on a regular basis.

Are there certain themes or ideas you prefer?
I seem to be drawn to coming-of-age stories, which is why I keep writing young adult and middle reader books.

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, Margaret Atwood, Philip K Dick. All of these authors are extraordinary at building worlds that are fantastic but completely believable. And Jane Austen because she continues to be the gold standard for family politics and great love stories.

What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you deal with that challenge?

I think getting your butt in the seat is the hardest part. I love to write and yet I still find it difficult to sit down and get started each day. As I mentioned before, I think routine is really the only way to defeat the beast of procrastination.

Anything else you'd like readers to know about you and/or your book? 

The subject of Time Zero might sound serious, but it is a really fun, stay-up-all-night page-turner. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Nonfiction Monday

For other Nonfiction Monday posts click HERE

For Nonfiction Monday: "Animal Planet Polar Animals (Animal Bites Series)"

Here's a kid-friendly look at life in the polar habitat that is beautifully illustrated with photographs and packed full of interesting facts and accessible information.  The book offers up-close looks at various polar animals both wild and domestic ranging from polar bears, snowy owls, and narwhals to the Siberian husky and reindeer. The animal sections are interspersed with thematic units with specific tabs such as Where They Live, How They Live, Vista (showing animals in their environment), Big Data (facts and figures), Animal Gallery (highlighting similarities and differences) and so on. Short paragraphs, simple vocabulary, and  thoughtful organization make this book a great choice for every young animal lover. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Poetry Friday

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Poetry For Children.

My selection is The Tree That Time Built: a celebration of nature, science and imagination.

This anthology of nature-inspired poems is collected by Mary Ann Hoberman, U.S. Children's Poet Laureate and Linda Winston, anthropologist and teacher. The book includes more that 100 poems and a CD of 44 poems with some of the poets reading their own work. 

The poetry is loosely sorted into thematic groups with a brief, thoughtful introduction to each collection. There is a wealth of talent here from early poets such as Blake and Emerson to Langston Hughes and Sylvia Plath along with contemporary writers Douglas Florian and Joyce Sidman.

The book concludes with a glossary and suggestions for further reading and research.

I recommend taking a moment to read the  introduction to the book as it offers readers important insights into Hoberman's and Winston's inspiration for this work, their thoughts on the selection process, and the interconnections between science and poetry.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Buffy's Blog.

My selection is Winter Song by William Shakespeare. This song from Shakespeare's comedy "Love's Labour's Lost" is beautifully illustrated by Melanie Hall.

Here is a lovely way to introduce Shakespeare to young readers. The joys and trials of an Elizabethan winter find expression in Shakespeare's lively phrases and Hall's colorful double page spreads.Alice Provensen provides an introduction and glossary for the less obvious words and phrases.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Writers Wednesday

Today's interview is with New York Times best selling author Brian Lies.

Before we get into the details of your interview, I must say I've been a fan of your books ever since I discovered "Bats At The Beach." I'm intrigued by your unusual choice of animal subjects and would like to know how you ended up with bats and now alligators?

The bat books grew out of a frosty window our daughter noticed one chilly December day as we were getting her ready for school.  She pointed at the bumpy silhouette at the top of the frost, and said, “Look!  It’s a bat, with sea foam.”  I’d never planned to write a book about bats, never planned for the one book to become a series.  The bats became a fun an interesting way to look at activities which are most often shared in groups—trips to the beach or a library, a baseball game, a musical concert.  I’ve enjoyed thinking about how we view the world, and how different these familiar activities might be if they occurred at night (and sometimes upside down).
The alligators in Gator Dad came from the original sketch I drew when I was first thinking of the story, ten years ago.  Then I thought maybe I should do more traditionally cuddly animals.  Rabbits?  Bears?  Especially for a book that could be read by dads who might tire of overtly cute animals, it seemed to me that alligators were the most appropriate animal.  That sometimes tough dad exterior often hides a gentler inside.

How did your interest in writing for children develop? 
I think my desire to write began with my older sister, who for as long as I can remember always wanted to be a writer.  Younger siblings often don’t want to be “left behind.”  But we grew up in a family that values creativity, and it wasn’t long before I enjoyed making stories and pictures on my own.

Perhaps more important, I’m from a reading family, and I was exposed to some books that changed how I thought—Jane Langton’s children’s books such as The Swing in the Summerhouse, The Diamond in the Window, or Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain.  Edward Eager’s magic books.  I remember how magical reading itself felt—being transported away into a different world, and the beautiful pain of being torn out of that world at the last page of the book.  I also believe that if you’ve witnessed magic, at some point you have to wonder if you’ve got any of that magic in you, too.  Could I create something that affected someone else the way these books affect me?  Some day I’d love to do a book that leaves readers with a lump in the throat.

How does your career as a writer influence other areas of your life and vice versa? I’m guilty of that very American habit of identifying yourself by what you do as your job. I write.  I draw.  It seems that being an author/illustrator has created a bit of attention deficit, because I’m always looking around for things that could be additions to stories, always curious.  It seems I’m always thinking about what I’m working on. Having a home office further blurs the line between work and “private life,” because you’re never physically distant from your work, too!

What do you do when you are not writing? 
These days, if I’m not working on a new book, I’m most likely visiting schools around the country.  But for relaxation, I read, I have a wood shop in the basement and like building things, and I enjoy bicycling.  For years I had a big vegetable garden out back, but it became shaded by trees.  Those trees threatened our house (two have fallen on it in the last three years!), so we had them taken out last spring . . .and now for the first time in years, it looks like I’ll be gardening again.  I’m having a little of the “re-opening an important space” feeling depicted in The Secret Garden!

Briefly, what's your book "Gator Dad" about? 
In its simplest form, Gator Dad is about an alligator dad getting through the day with his three kids.  But underneath, I see it as a celebration of dads who are actively involved in their kids’ lives (something that’s good for both the kids and the dads), and perhaps even as a visual script for dads who are more likely to do something to show their love than they are to say something.  My hope is that kids of those fathers will recognize some of this alligator dad’s actions in their dads, and realize that even if dad doesn’t say he loves them, he really does.

I see Gator Dad as a book for kids and for their dads, and would be thrilled if people began to think of it as an automatic “expectant dad” gift, the way people often give graduates copies of Dr. Suess’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go.

What inspired you to write the book?
Around the time our daughter went off to college, I was looking through a decade-old sketchbook.  It included a sketch of a big alligator with his arm around a dejected little gator, both sitting on a wall.  I had found that having a child leave home leads to contemplation, and something about that sketch resonated with me.  I started thinking about all of the times we’d had when I was a stay-at-home dad, and I thought about my relationship with my own dad. . . and the book began to take shape.

What are your current/future projects? 
I’m just starting work on a picture book called Got to Get to Bear’s!, about a character who’s received a summons from a friend who never asks, and how she makes her way through a rapidly-growing blizzard to find out what he wanted.  That will be published in fall, 2018.  I’m also thinking a lot about a story of grief and renewal.  I’ve got a motley group of unusual characters in mind, jostling for their place in line!

What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine? 
I think that if I were solely a writer or an illustrator, I’d have a more regular routine than I do.  Instead, my days are shaped by where I am in the story process.  When I’m working on the text for a story, I’ll write daily, but the concentration required for writing is pretty intense, and I can’t do it much longer than three hours.  When I’m working on sketches or final paintings for a book, I’ll draw or paint daily for as many as 14 hours.  But mixed in with these days of writing and illustration are school visits, which punctuate my schedule and keep it varied.  As a result, most weeks are decidedly interesting.

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
I credit Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever for all of the details I put into my illustrations.  As a boy, I spent hours poring over the pictures in that book for little things.  An apple falling out of a mountain climber’s backpack.  A balloon getting away from a mouse.  There was so much to look at!  Other writers from my early years are Jane Langton and Jean Craighead George (as mentioned above), who gave me a sense of magic in the ordinary, and a desire for self-sufficiency.  One inspiration came from a real-world interaction:  Harry Devlin, of the Wende and Harry Devlin team (the Cranberry picture books, but also my childhood favorites The Wonderful Treehouse and The Knobby Boys to the Rescue) visited my school when I was in fifth grade, and made me realize that being an author and an illustrator was a real job. 

What part of the writing process do you find most challenging and how do you deal with that challenge? 
For me, the most challenging part of writing is committing to one line of thinking or one way to tell the story.  There are so many possible ways to go—which one serves the story best?  For instance, I have one story idea in my queue that might be a simple picture book.  It might be a series of picture books.  Or it might be a chapter book, illustrated with line drawings and punctuated by occasional color plates, and involve a much larger swath of time and characters.  And I haven’t settled on either which route I’d prefer to go as a write, or which would be most satisfying to readers. 

Anything else you'd like readers to know about you and/or your book? 
The “robot rides” that Gator Dad gives to his kids in the book comes from my childhood, when my Dad would put my older sister or me on his shoulders, and we’d steer him through the house by tugging on his ears.  A tug meant a 90-degree turn, even if it meant running into a wall, and a robot ride always involved a lot of laughter.

The Gingerbread Cowboy Book Trailer