Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Writers Wednesday

I’m delighted to introduce Lynn Plourde and her newest picture book, Bella’s Fall Coat. You may be familiar with some of Lynn’s 30 other titles which include:  You're Doing That in the Talent Show?!, You're Wearing That to School?!, Wild Child, and Pigs in the Mud in the Middle of the Rud.

Bella’s Fall Coat is charming look at one of childhood’s dilemmas -- the desire to have the joys of our youth remain unchanged. This is a perfect time for this heart-warming story that celebrates the marvels of fall and invites us to experience this special time of year through the eyes of an adorable little girl.

The language is as crisp and bright as a fall morning. The illustrations by Susan Gal are rich with autumn’s colors and fill the pages with warmth and movement.

Sure to become a read-aloud favorite.

You describe yourself as a "teaching author." What's your favorite school visit anecdote?
Two, one heart-warming, one funny. After doing a whole-school assembly, I was presenting writing workshops to smaller groups in an amphitheater with a hallway along one side. I was between groups and one boy kept walking back and forth in the hall, so I finally asked if I could help him. He shyly tripped over his words as he answered, “I just, well, I needed you to know that I don’t, well, I don’t like to read. But when I heard you today, I decided I’m going to give reading another chance.” My heart burst.  As for the funny one, I was at a school that had pods and the only bathrooms were for students. So I used it and when I came out of my stall and was washing my hands alongside a girl, she kept looking at me, and finally said, “I’ve just gotta ask. Can I have a piece of your hair for a souvenir?” I laughed and offered her an autograph instead—after we left the bathroom!

How does your career as a writer influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
It just all feels like “my life”—all mixed together. As a writer, it seems I’m always working (like answering these interview questions at 11:00 pm) and at my desk at all hours. But even when I read, I’m “working” by watching how other authors do their craft. When I’m out and about running errands or getting away with family, I’m an idea detective or character detective or dialogue detective. Sometimes it might be nice to turn off the author switch, but then again I’m not sure I could or should since I love what I do and it’s such a big part of who I am. I can’t turn off my woman switch or my Mainer switch or my wife or mother switches—so it makes sense I can’t turn off my writer switch.

What do you do when you are not writing or visiting schools?
Reading, going for walks, playing with plants, kayaking, snowshoeing, and I have my first grandbaby. He’s one year old and the joy of my heart so I’m playing on the floor and reading board books and rocking him and talk, talk, talking to him as his Memsy (grandmother) who also happened to be a speech therapist for her first career.

Briefly, what's your book about?   
Bella’s Fall Coat is a love story—love between a grandmother and granddaughter, love for favorite things, love for a season, love for the here-and-now.

What led you to write the book? 
As a Mainer and one whose birthday is in October, I have always loved, loved, loved fall. It’s like Mother Earth is throwing leaf confetti on us. The colors are gorgeous, the air is invigorating, the foods are nurturing. I feel most alive in fall. One of my very first picture books was Wild Child, a mother-child fall story dedicated to my daughter when she was little and our “wild child.”  Fast forward 18 years and now I have Bella’s Fall Coat, a grandmother-grandchild book dedicated to my first grandchild. I love the patterns and happenstances of life.

What would you like readers to take from it? 

Joy! I hope they find joy in the glorious illustrations by Susan Gal. Susan’s art is so alive and vibrant and spontaneous just like the main character Bella. I hope readers are so inspired by the book that they will PUT IT DOWN—truly, and go play in the fall leaves, pick apples, make a leaf collage, make an apple pie, celebrate fall!

What are your current/future projects?
This year, 2016, has been a book bonanza year for me with four new books. Besides Bella’s Fall Coat, I also have You’re Doing THAT in the Talent Show?!  with best friends Penelope the hippo and Tiny the mouse performing in the school talent show together. And another picture book is Baby Bear’s NOT Hibernating that tells about a baby black bear who doesn’t want to go to bed (hibernate) and tries to stay awake all winter long, plus there are black bears facts in the back of the book. I’ve also had my first middle grade novel published this year—Maxi’s Secrets (or, What You Can Learn from a Dog) which is about “fitting in” and tells the story of a giant deaf dog and her very small boy. Also, I’m starting work on another middle grade novel and am trying out several new picture book ideas.

The Process
What motivates you?
JOY! I read Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up which is about decluttering your life and asking the simple question, “Does this bring me joy?” If the answer is ‘no,” then let it go. If the answer is “yes,” then it’s a keeper. But I ask this “joy” question not just about the objects in my life, but about how I spend my time, who I spend time with, writing projects I commit to, all aspects of my life. It’s a simple question that has made a profound difference in my life. I turned 60 and I want the time I have left on this earth to be filled with joy.

What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?
My writing process is messy and so is my desk and my routine. One of my strengths as an author is being creative. And creativity is not a straight-line journey. So I scribble on paper for a picture book with arrows going every which way as I think of idea after idea for a book. I have sticky notes all over my desk with ideas. But I also read-aloud when I write—sentence after sentence—and my ear tells me what works and what doesn’t (I may not know how to fix it, but at least, I know it needs to change.) I wish I were more organized, but I’m learning to embrace my messy, creative self.

With thirty picture books published, have you found there are certain themes or ideas you prefer?
Yes—Maine, nature, family, and school.

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
Jane Yolen—she’s had over 300 books published. She shows up to do the hard work of writing day after day plus she’s written poetry, picture books, fantasy, history and more, oh my! Eve Bunting also shows up to do the hard work day after day, year after year. And William Steig—I love Doctor Desoto and so admire Steig who received Caldecott and Newbery recognitions. To be the best in art and in words is truly awe-inspiring. All three of these put their passion down on paper!

Advice for Writers
What have you found to be the most important elements of good writing when creating your picture books?
I’m still learning that less is more. I always write too long and have to cut about a third of what I write. It’s not just about trying to be less wordy, but also learning to trust the illustrations to tell the story and to trust readers to “get” the story. Also as a reader and as a writer, I crave voice. I think “voice” is the hardest thing to teach and to learn—it’s just somehow there . . . or not. I know it when I see it, but there’s no formula for writing with voice. I think voice comes from trusting yourself, deep inside, and that can be hard.

Please talk about revising and/or suggestions about revising for upcoming writers. 
Read your writing aloud. Or better yet, have someone else read your picture book manuscript aloud to you and listen for the places that sound “off.” You don’t have to worry about knowing how to fix the “off” places—first, you have to find them. Also, take your time. I have such a hard time following this advice myself. I get excited about doing a revision and getting it back to my agent or editor; but when I rush, my revisions are more surface revisions, not deeper revisions that the story deserves and that come with mulling and stepping away from the story for a time.

What's one additional piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to readers and writers? 
Write what you read. What kind of books do you most enjoy reading? Mysteries? Fantasy? Poetry? Nonfiction? Whatever kind of books you most enjoy reading, that’s the kind of writing you’re likely to be best at.

Anything else you'd like readers to know about you and/or your book? 
In Bella’s Fall Coat, Bella talks about her favorites and wanting things to last forever. I hope readers young and old think about and talk about their favorites and what they wish would last forever. Our favorites and forever things say lots about who we are and bring us JOY!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Nonfiction Monday

BIOENGINEERING: Discover How Nature Inspires Human Designs by Christine Burilla-Kirch, PhD is an invitation for young readers to explore the ways in which nature has inspired human innovation. Bioengineering is introduced with a timeline and a brief history of the subject.

The variety of fields presented includes communication, energy, transportation, construction, and farming. The chapter Communication and Sound Waves provides a discussion of related topics such as echolocation in bats and its eventual application in ultrasound imaging. The comprehensive text is accessible and interspersed with charts, graphs, sidebars to introduce and explain important terms, and 25 projects for hands-on exploration. A resources section provides opportunities for additional exploration. The book also includes a glossary and index.

You'll want to add this to your STEM library for children 7-10.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Writers Wednesday


Today's featured writer, Dagny McKinley, shares her love of nature through both her writing and photography. She is passionate about spending quality time outside with her special four-legged friend. Those interests found expression in this book from her new Adventures series: THE ADVENTURES OF A GIRL & HER DOG: In The Mountains. This series will find fans who appreciate her joyful and entertaining style and the subtle message about the rejuvenating power of nature. 

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I think I have always known I wanted to be a writer. As a child there was a feeling I had when I wrote a story that could only be described as contentment. As an adult I was so insecure about my writing that I wouldn’t tell people I was a writer. I didn’t think I was worthy of that title. I had a teacher and mentor who introduced me to people as a writer. From her I gained confidence in myself and my path in life.

What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing?
I have learned that I have the ability to bring joy to others through my writing as long as it is authentic and genuine. I have also realized that the words I write affect others, sometimes in positive ways and, depending on the topic I’m working on, sometimes in painful ways. As a writer, I don’t think we should censure what we write, but perhaps be aware of the effect our writing can have on people.

How does your career as a writer influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
I would like to say that writing creates balance between my times hiking with my dog, but I tend to be an all or nothing type person and when I’m writing I often feel I have to be fully immersed in my work so other parts of my life suffer. But on a positive note having the courage to pursue writing has also given me the courage to pursue other artistic ventures such as photography, teaching and oral storytelling.

What other books have you written and published?
‘The Springs of Steamboat: healing waters, sparkling soda and mysterious caves.’
‘Wild Hearts: Dog Sledding the Rockies.’
‘Lessons My Mother Taught Me: the good, the bad and the questionable.’
‘The Adventures of a Girl & Her Dog: in the snow’ (the first in the series)

Briefly, what's your book about?   
‘The Adventures of a Girl & Her Dog: in the mountains’ is a celebration of nature, an invitation to go out and explore with your best friend and truly be yourself.

What led you to write the book? 
I wrote ‘The Adventures of a Girl & Her Dog: in the mountains’ when I was in a difficult place in life. I was single, didn’t have a job and was living with my sister until I could find work. I had my dog with me and the hikes we took each day brought me so much happiness I wanted to share that feeling with other people. I wanted girls to know that they have a home in nature, that nature is a safe place to explore and learn about yourself without the judgments of family and friends.

What would you like readers to take from it? 
 That going on adventures with your dog every day will bring more rewards that you can imagine and will help you see the world through new eyes, if you allow yourself to be present with your dog. If you are afraid of going hiking alone, sit in the backyard and play with your dog or go to a safe place (if parks near you are safe) where you can breathe fresh air and feel the elements and let your dog be a dog while you get to be exactly who you are meant to be.

What are your current/future projects?
I’m working on the next three books in the series ‘The Adventures of a Girl & Her Dog,’ which include ‘in the canyons,’ ‘by the ocean,’ and ‘on the plains.’

I’m also working on a history of Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School & Camp, the longest continually running performing arts camp in the country.

Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Currently my ideas stem from things that bring me joy. I look for themes that deal with nature, adventure, dreaming and possibilities.

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
There are only two books that I have read more than once in my adult life, ‘Ask the Dust’ by John Fante because the emotional tension between the characters and the poetry of the writing still haunt me and ‘Stones of Summer,’ by Dow Mossman. Mossman’s descriptions of landscape and emotion are so striking I want to consume that book again and again.

What are the most important elements of good writing for you?
Having passion for your subject and being able to describe the world in a way no one else has done before.

What's your biggest challenge in writing a book?
Having the courage to sit down and actually write. I have such anxiety that I will prove myself to be a failure that I have a hard time making myself sit and write on a regular basis. Yet when I do, I feel completely at peace.

What's one piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to readers and writers?
If you believe in yourself and you believe in your writing, don’t give up no matter how many rejections you get. Today there are so many submissions that agents are fielding that you may end up with hundreds of ‘no’s’ before you get a ‘yes.’ Just keep believing and trying and you will succeed.

If you self-publish and find there are areas of publicity or marketing that you aren’t good at, hire someone to take care of those. As an author you shouldn’t be expected to be good at every part of the process that comes after the writing is done. Identify your strengths and weaknesses and don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

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

My hope is that if people have a dog they remember that dogs have very few needs, which are fairly basic: they need food, water, exercise, shelter, and love. If we can remember to give our dogs each of those every day, and teach our children to do the same the world will be a better place! From my dog I have learned unconditional love and watching my dog enjoy the world the way she does makes me smile each and every day.

Monday, September 5, 2016


Here is the first review for my newly released picture book, JUST LIKE GULLIVER.

Move over, Punxsutawney Phil and make way for Gulliver! Did you know that February 2nd brings the most-watched weather forecast of the year? And it’s the only one led by a rodent. The legend goes that on this morning, if a groundhog can see its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If it can’t see its shadow, spring is on the way. Here’s a new and charming book by acclaimed author Janet Squires. Just Like Gulliver is the perfect blend of young Gulliver discovering his shadow and Groundhog Day history. It’s an enjoyable read with engaging illustrations for preschool and elementary age children. There’s a bonus at the end of the story with facts about groundhogs and how Groundhog's Day came to be.
          By Rancho Tranquilo on Amazon September 2, 2016

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Writers Wednesday

Michelangelo is a familiar name in the world of renaissance painting and sculpture, but did you know he was also a poet, architect and engineer? Simonetta Carr couples her experience as an elementary school teacher with her background in Italian art to bring this extraordinary man to young readers in her new book, Michelangelo for Kids. Here is a thoughtfully written, readily accessible, and beautifully illustrated immersion in the life of this extraordinary artist whose talents influenced the history of Western art .

How did your background in varied cultures, and Italian art in particular, together you’re your experience as a teacher, influence your choice of Michelangelo and impact the content of your book?

I was having an email exchange with Lisa Reardon, senior editor at Chicago Review Press, when she mentioned they had been looking for someone to write about Michelangelo. It just seemed like a perfect fit.
            I was born and raised in Italy, a country that is often described as “an open-air museum,” and grew up with a natural love for both art and history. I also attended the School of Applied Arts at the Sforza Castle in Milan, where I learned to appreciate different techniques and styles. All this was obviously a tremendous help in writing this book.
            Equally important was my background as primary school teacher, both in public schools and our home-school. Besides, my knowledge of Italian allowed me to read the primary sources for this book in their original language. Last but not least, I had already written several biographies set around the time of the Protestant and Catholic Reformations, and had done extensive research on this subject.

How does your career as a writer influence other areas of your life and vice versa?
It’s not really a career – not yet at least. I have always loved writing. My mother was an excellent writer who taught junior-high Italian. She wrote several books and filled me with a passion for literature since a very young age. She spent much time teaching me how to write. She kept encouraging me to write a book but I didn’t think I had enough to say. I wrote articles for newspapers and magazines and, after I married an American and improved my knowledge of the English language, I translated books from English into Italian.
            In the meantime, I had eight children, so writing took a secondary place in my life. It was something I enjoyed, and – in my opinion – cultivating a personal passion is important even for busy mothers. I communicated my passion for reading, writing, and researching to my children, and they taught me how to simplify my language and hold their attention.
            Once I started to write books, my life as a mother has directed my choices of subject, format and style. My first book was actually a family effort. It was born as an attempt to fill a vacuum – producing books I wished I could find on the market – and my children have been my best critics and advisers.
            Now my kids are all grown up, but I still try to spend much time with children and enlist many of them as editors and consultants.

What do you do when you are not writing?
Writing still occupies a small portion of my life. Financially speaking, I haven’t been able to turn it into a career. Even if most of my children live on their own, I still have a large house to clean and meals to cook for my husband and the kids that are still at home. Plus, with two kids still in college, one in high school, and very uncertain retirement prospects, I like to carry a small share of the financial burden by devoting much time to teaching Italian and translating. I am hoping to spend most of my time writing one day soon. I have a wonderful friend who has been able to do just that (Nancy Sanders), and has produced great resources to help other writers to do so.

Briefly, what's your book about 
It’s a biography of Michelangelo Buonarroti, who has been universally recognized as one of the greatest artists of all time. The book includes an overview of the times in which he lived and how they affected his works. 

What would you like readers to take from it?
I hope my readers will gain a greater appreciation for Michelangelo and art in general. I hope they will discover Michelangelo as a man, friend, father, son, and uncle as well as a sculptor, painter, architect, and poet. And I hope they will be as inspired as I was to see his attention to details, his commitment to excellence, and his faithfulness to chip away at blocks of marble, day after day, in spite of obstacles and disappointments. 

What other books have you written and published?
I have started a series of books called Christian Biographies for Young Readers, published by Reformation Heritage Books. As I said, this series was inspired by a need I and other parents had noticed. For children who are born in Christian families, well researched and accurate books on the history of Christian thought are important tools to help them reflect on what they believe and why. Their value, however, is not limited to followers of one religion. Christianity occupies much of our history and these books have been successfully used by teachers as part of their history curriculum.
            Presently, the series includes eight volumes: Augustine, Athanasius, Anselm of Canterbury, John Calvin, Lady Jane Grey, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and Marie Durand. The next title, to be published in October, will be Martin Luther. Three of these books have been finalists for the San Diego Book Awards. Anselm of Canterbury has won first prize as best biography at the 2014 San Diego Book Awards, and first prize at the 2014 Athanatos Christian Writing Contest.
            Besides this series, I have written a short biography of RenĂ©e of France, published by Evangelical Press, and a piece of historical fiction for young adults, The Weight of a Flame: The Passion of Olympia Morata, published by P&R.
What are your current/future projects?
For Chicago Review Press, I am writing a book entitled Cleopatra and Ancient Egypt for Kids. For my series of biographies, I am writing on John Newton.

The life and work of Michelangelo is such a large topic. How did you go about making it accessible for young audiences?
I think the most important thing was getting a sense of this great man and capturing all the excitement of his life story. Watching documentaries and lectures given by enthusiastic scholars helped. I had to be passionate about this subject to communicate the same passion to the children. After that, structuring the book became easier because I knew what needed to be emphasized and what could afford a simple mention.

What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine?
I like to write in the morning while my mind is fresh. If I am not out teaching, I write some more in the evening when I need to sit down anyhow. Since I love writing, I see it as a reward after finishing my other tasks.
            My process is methodical. I devote different days to different projects so I don’t have to clutter my author’s backburner. For each biography, after researching the subject and structuring the book, I calculate how much I need to write each month to meet my deadline and then start writing one chapter one at a time.

What book(s)/author(s) have influenced your writing and how?
I love reading biographies and stand in awe at the talent and expertise of most contemporary biographers. For my research, I mostly read biographies aimed at an adult audience, but the principles of good writing are the same. It’s hard to name authors because the list would be endless. When I wrote about Michelangelo, I learned (or tried to learn), in different ways, from William Wallace, A. Victor Coonin, John Spike, and Antonio Forcellino. William Wallace is absolutely a giant, both in his knowledge of Michelangelo and in his ability to inspire and engage the reader.
As for children’s biographies, I have learned much from James Cross Giblin (who hasn’t?). For my series for young readers, I was inspired by Mike Venezia and have learned a lot from him on communicating effectively with kids and on condensing information without sacrificing historical context and art or music appreciation. I still read some of his books before my final review of my biographies for young readers. It helps me to see how far I have strayed from a simple and concise language.

What did you find to be the most important elements of good writing when approaching a project such as Michelangelo for Kids?
I already mentioned passion – finding exciting elements of a person’s life I want to run to tell the kids. As I said, my kids are grown up but I still grab them from time to time. If not, I pester my husband, who listens patiently.
            Structure and organization are also very important, especially for some projects. For example, right now I am writing Cleopatra and Ancient Egypt. Ancient Egypt is a 3,000-year old civilization! Also, Cleopatra’s life was inseparably tangled with the history of Rome – particularly the end of the republic and the beginning of the empire. In this case, organization is essential. I have to be very careful to find a balance between Cleopatra’s exciting life story, her historical context, and an overview of the colossal ancient nation she ruled.
            Another very important element of good writing is describing the character’s emotions, preferably letting them speak through their own words. With Michelangelo, that was quite easy because we have a large number of his letters and poems. We don’t have anything from Cleopatra’s pen and very little from her people around her, so that will definitely be more of a challenge.

What's one essential piece of advice about writing or publishing you'd like to pass on to readers and writers
I am not sure if I am the right person to give advice. When I wrote my first book, I saw a need for it, sent a proposal to all the children’s publishers I could find, and then waited. I was not particularly worried about it. If everyone had said no, I wouldn’t have been crushed. Since I really believed in the importance of this type of books, if everyone had said no I might have tried a different approach. Eventually, however, a publisher said yes, and it was definitely the right one because the book (and the series that ensued) turned out much better than I had ever imagined. I don’t know if this approach works for everyone.

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

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Nonfiction Monday

Caterpillar to Butterfly by Camilla de la Bedoyere introduces this subject by answering with the question “What is a butterfly?” followed by a look at basic butterfly anatomy. From there, the text provides an over view of the life cycle and an expanded exploration of Monarch development from egg to caterpillar to pupa then to adult. A general look at Monarch migration is also included.

True to the series concept, the text is readily accessible for children and accented with illustrations featuring crisp, up-close photographs, and clearly labeled diagrams. Notes for parents and teachers provide related activities for further exploration. A glossary and index complete the 24 page paperback book.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Writers Wednesday

Trouble In Bugland” a fun, YA fantasy take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes – with a twist!

William Kotzwinkle offers up an imaginative collection of five mysteries: The Case of the Missing Butterfly, The Case of the Frightened Scholar, The Case of the Caterpillar’s Head, The Case of the Headless Monster, and The Case of the Emperor’s Crown.
Inspector Mantis and his colleague Doctor Hopper are on the job seeking out clues, searching for motives, and making surprising deductions as they pursue villains and stop crime in Bugland.

The Gingerbread Cowboy Book Trailer