Wednesday, December 16, 2009
I hope all of you have been following MK Johnston's series Learning the Basics "Chapter One" at a Time at Writers in Residence. This week's post will be Part 5 "Dialogue."
I'll be taking a short break to enjoy the holidays and return in January.
Here's wishing all of you the best of New Years.
Monday, December 14, 2009
How many times have you seen this Bumper Sticker -- "If you can read this thank a teacher."
It made me consider the flip-side of reading which is writing. What names would be on my Thank You list of teachers, mentors, etc. One of the questions I'm often asked is: "How did you become a writer?" In answer, I share a story from grade school about seeing my first poem published is a school anthology after it was recommended by my teacher. For an interesting look at the role a teacher plays take a look at the December 8th post titled Tofu Quilt and a Couple More Cool Teachers at A Year of Reading. You might have a name to add to the list of Cool Teachers in Children's Literature.
Here are the answers to Friday's Famous Firsts:
Friday, December 11, 2009
Just about anyone who has ever taken a writer's workshop has been told "Show, don't tell." That advice is offered so often because it is worth repeating. M K Johnston provides a comprehensive discussion of that topic in Part Four of Learning the Basics "Chapter One" at a Time in Thursday's post at Writers In Residence.
Here's Friday's Famous First:
1. "There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife."
2. "This story begins within the walls of a castle with the birth of a mouse."
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Picture books that are wordless or nearly wordless provide parents and teachers a wide range of experiences to explore with children. Turning the pages of a wordless book together with a parent is a entertaining way to allow the child to create a story, encourage the use of language and improve perception by studying the pictures for visual clues to the storyline.
Older students will find an opportunity to strengthen their writing skills by developing a narrative, creating characters and imagining dialogue based on the illustrations.
Here are a few titles worth a look: For younger children -
- Un-brella by Scott E. Franson
- Cool Cat by Nonny Hogrogian
- Jack and the Night Visitors by Pat Schories
- The Last Laugh by Jose Aruego
For older readers or to use as story starters:
- The Crocodile Blues by Coleman Polhemus
- Home by Jeannie Baker
- If you Lived here, You'd be Home by Now by Ed Briant
- The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
- Museum Trip by Barbara Lehman
- The Bored Book by David Michael Slater
Here are the answers for Friday's Famous Firsts:1. "From his perch behind the click, Hugo could see everything." The Invention of Hugo Cabret. by Brian Selznick.
2. "My grandfather was a young man when he left his home in Japan and went to see the world." Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say.
Friday, December 4, 2009
And I hope you are keeping up with Learning the Basics "Chapter One" at a Time at Writers in Residence. Part 3 was posted to day and is an interesting discussion of Adjectives and Adverbs.
Here are Friday's Famous Firsts:
1. "From his perch behind the clock, Hugo could see everything."
2. "My grandfather was a young man when he left his home in Japan and went to see the world."
Can you name the title and author of these two Caldecott Award winning books?
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Do you or have you ever had a writing partner? I have collaborated with a friend on several writing projects and I must say it was a marvelous experience. We were friends first and both of us had experience as writers so we were able to blend our experience, writing styles and strengths when we made the decision to work together.
For more on the topic you should visit Writers In Residence to read the excellent interview of Morgan St. James who writes the Silver Sisters Mysteries with her sister Phyllice Bradner.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Here is the answer to Friday's Famous Firsts:
1. "Roy would not have noticed the strange boy if it weren't for Dana Matherson, because Roy ordinarily didn't look out the window of the school bus." Hoot by Carl Hiaasen.
Friday, November 27, 2009
For the new parents on my gift list I've selected two of my favorite stories.
For Mom - Five Minutes' Peace by Jill Murphy. This is the story of a Mom in search of five minutes of alone time that she hopes to find in a relaxing bath and a warm cup of tea. It's not to be of course, because she's soon joined by her three active children who all want to help.
For Dad - Once Upon a time, the end" (asleep in 60 seconds) by Geoffrey Kloske. The title pretty much says it all. This will be a fun preview of what's in store for a first time Dad who will eventually be hearing that familiar bedtime plea - "Please Daddy tell me just one more story."
And now...Friday's Famous Firsts:
1. "Roy would not have noticed the strange boy if it weren't for Dana Matherson, because Roy ordinarily didn't look out the window of the school bus."
Can you name the title and author?
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
On a personal note: Thanks to all of you...readers, writers, editors, teachers and librarians who share a love of children's books. Enjoy your holiday!
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
It's gift buying time again so I'm looking at books to send to my fellow readers and lovers of children's stories. If you are searching for some ideas let me suggest a trip to the CYBILS (Children's and Young Adults Bloggers' Literary Awards) website. Scroll down just a bit to find the 2009 nominations listed by genre.Here are the answers for Friday's Famous Firsts:
1. "When Mary Lennox was sent to Misslethwhaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen." The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
2. "It happened many years ago, before the traders and missionaries first came into the South Seas, while the Polynesians were still great in numbers and fierce of heart." Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Here is my contribution - a Cautionary Tale of sorts:
"Twas the Night of Thanksgiving"
'Twas the night of Thanksgiving, but I just couldn't sleep.
I tried counting backwards, I tried counting sheep.
The leftovers beckoned--the dark meat and white,
but I fought the temptation with all of my might.
Tossing and turning with anticipation,
the thought of a snack became infatuation.
So, I raced to the kitchen, flung open the door
and gazed at the fridge, full of goodies galore.
I gobbled up turkey and buttered potatoes,
pickles and carrots, beans and tomatoes.
I felt myself swelling so plump and so round,
till all of a sudden, I rose off the ground.
I crashed through the ceiling, floating into the sky
With a mouthful of pudding and a handful of pie.
But, I managed to yell as I soared past the trees....
happy eating to all---pass the cranberries, please!
Here are Friday's Famous Firsts: Can you name the title and author of each first line?
1. "When Mary Lennox was sent to Misslethwhaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen."
2. "It happened many years ago, before the traders and missionaries first came into the South seas, while the Polynesians were still great in numbers and fierce of heart."
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
The focus is on developing and polishing those critical first chapters that must hook editors, agents, and of course, your readers. The first installment: Presentation, appeared on Friday, November 13th. Next up will be the topic of Openings which will take a look at ways to make the most of the first paragraph.
If you are looking for ways to improve your manuscript, and who isn't? Check it out!
Monday, November 16, 2009
- All the World Written by Liz Garton Scanlon, Illustrated by Marla Frazee
- The Lion and the Mouse Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
- MOONSHOT: The Flight of Apollo 11 Written and Illustrated by Brian Floca
- The Odd Egg Written and Illustrated by Emily Gravett
- Only a Witch Can Fly Written by Alison McGhee, Illustrated by Taeeun Yoo
- A Penguin Story Written and Illustrated by Antoinette Portis
- The Snow Day Written and Illustrated by Komako Sakai
- Tales From Outer Suburbia Written and Illustrated by Shaun Tan
- White Noise By David A. Carter
- YUMMY: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales Written and Illustrated by Lucy Cousins
1. "Once there was a boy named Nicki who wanted his new mittens made from wool as white as snow." The Mitten - A Ukrainian Folktale adapted and illustrated by Jan Brett
2. "In a warm and sultry forest far, far away, there once lived amother fruit bat and her new baby." Stellaluna - Written and illustrated by Janell Cannon
Friday, November 13, 2009
Here is a rhyming picture book that is a popular read-aloud in library. The children enjoy being able to predict words. I share this book early to introduce children to the way illustrations and text work together.
Thus begins the story of a hungry mouse who eats his way through crackers, jam, pickles and cheese leaving a messy surprise for the unsuspecting family. The vibrant illustrations were created using cut-paper collages.
Here are Friday's Famous Firsts:
1. Once there was a boy named Nicki who wanted his new mittens made from wool as white as snow.
2. In a warm and sultry forest far, far away, there once lived a mother fruit bat and her new baby.
Can you identify the title and author? Answers will be posted on Monday.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Your book is finished and polished to gem-like perfection. Now what? Yes, it's time to write that query letter.
Here are a couple of my earlier posts to help you get started:
- It's Writers Wednesday: the question is - How do I find an agent?
- "How do I get published?" That's the million dollar question!
Yesterday's post at Bookends, LLC - A Literary Agency discusses many of the reasons queries are rejected...a good thing to know if you want to avoid that experience as much as possible.You can continue your research in the process with some great articles found at Jill Corcoran Books in her November 5th post. Jill is an Associate Agent at the Herman Agency, where she represents MG and YA books. She is also a published author so she understands the query from both perspectives and has provided links to several of her query and agent related posts from the past. Each of those posts contain additional links to suggestions and comments by editors and agents so you will find a wealth of material to explore.
Monday, November 9, 2009
- Janell Cannon, author of Stellaluna.
- Sterling North, author of the Newbery Honor Book, Rascal.
- Armstrong Sperry, author of the Newbery Honor Book, Call it Courage.
- Lois Ehlert, you'll recognize her illustrations in Bill Martin's Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.
- Hilary Knight, who illustrated Kay Thompson's Eloise.
November is also Apple Month so here are two fun selections dealing with that tasty treat:
- Applesauce Season by Eden Ross Lipson - A book about Grandma and the rest of the family making applesauce...how much fun can that be? You'll find a delightful surprise in the pages of this fun, read-aloud picture book that comes complete with a yummy recipe.
- One Red Apple by Harriet Ziefert traces the life-cycle of an apple from the freshly-picked fruit through the discarded seed and back again to a full-grown tree. It's the circle of life paralleled in the life of the narrator.
Here are the answers to Friday's Famous Firsts:
1. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis.
2. When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it's never good news." Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Happy Birthday to The Miss Rumphius Effect - three years old this month. A wonderful source of information about children's literature and teaching.
Wild Rose Reader is hosting The Poetry Friday Roundup.
A favorite story told in rhyme for this season is Dav Pilkey's humorous take on the classic "Twas the Night Before Christmas." In this updated story, turkeys and a bus-load of school children conspire to create a unique Thanksgiving. It wouldn't be November without this read-aloud in library. "Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving" by Dav Pilkey.
Acquaint yourself with editor Marilyn Brigham at Marshall Cavendish Children's Books by reading the interview by Terry Pierce at the blog that carries her name: Terry Pierce: Children's Author.
Here are Friday's Famous Firsts:
1. "There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
2. "When the doorbell rings at three in the morning, it's never good news."
Can you identify the title and author for each of these first lines?
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
"I've just finished my first picture book and have a talented artist friend who would like to draw the pictures, but I've heard that many publishing houses prefer to use their own illustrators. Why?"
- Every publishing house has artists with whom they have already developed a working relationship and consequently the editor will be familiar with the artist's style and work habits.
- A book by a first time author can benefit from having a well-known, perhaps even award-winning illustrator attached to the project because the illustrator's reputation is another selling point with reviewers, book distributors and stores.
- The art for a picture book is a big investment in money and time (many months are devoted to the sketching and painting) and the publishing house needs to be assured that the final result will meet their standards.
- Ultimately, the editor is looking to select an illustrator that has just the right vision for the book.
Monday, November 2, 2009
The simple fact is there's no short cut to becoming a good reader. Like any other skill, it takes practice -- the more you read, the better you'll read.
Here are five simple keys to reading success with your children.
- Provide reading materials (books and periodicals) that complement their interests.
- Discuss vocabulary and encourage the use of increasingly sophisticated words in everyday conversations.
- Create a basis for discussions about literature by reading the books your older children enjoy then engage them in conversation about their favorite characters or scenes.
- Tempt reluctant readers with books related to favorite sports, hobbies, or other interest such as movies.
- Model reading by sitting down for a few minutes each day to enjoy your favorite book. A books is perfect while waiting for appointments or picking up children at school. Read aloud some funny or interesting parts of your favorite book.
1. "In the great green room, there was a telephone and a red balloon." Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.
2. "These two very old people are the father and mother of Mr. Bucket." Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.
Congratulations to Jennie Rothschild at Biblio File for correctly identifying both titles and authors.
Friday, October 30, 2009
In the spirit of the holiday, I offer this classic from Harry Behn's book The Little Hill.
Here are Friday's Famous Firsts:
1. "In the great green room, there was a telephone and a red balloon."
2. "These two very old people are the father and mother of Mr. Bucket."
Can you identify the title and author for each work?
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Ernest Hemingway speaks to me in his work and through his comments on the process. Two of his quotes that complement each other are:
- "All good books have one thing in common - they are truer than if they had really happened."
- "When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature."
Both of these quotes speak to honesty in writing.
Monday, October 26, 2009
- Bubba the Cowboy Prince by Helen Ketteman is a Texas take on Cinderella. Bubba is at the mercy of his wicked stepdaddy and his two bossy stepbrothers, Dwayne and Milton. All three boys have eyes for neighboring rancher, Miz Lurleen, but it's Bubba who wins her heart, with a little help from...his fairy godcow.
- Little Red Cowboy Hat by Susan Lowell is, as you might guess, a nod to the classic Little Red Riding Hood. But in this version the damsel in distress has no need for a brawny woodcutter to come to the rescue...Little Red and Grandma saddle up and run the wolf clean out of the country. As the story says, "This time he picked the wrong grandma."
- Of course, I'll have to include The Gingerbread Cowboy. In this Wild West adventure, a rancher's wife tires of baking biscuits and creates a Gingerbread Cowboy who escapes her kitchen for the wilds of the American Southwest. Pursued by the rancher and his wife, a roadrunner, javalinas, long-horn cattle and cowboys, he eludes them all...only to be caught by the traditional trickster, the coyote.
Here are the answers to Friday's Famous Firsts:
Friday, October 23, 2009
It's family history month: Family stories from both modern generations and historical periods can be a wonderful inspiration for stories. You do need to keep in mind that it's not necessary to relate the story just as it occurred. Jot down the bones and use the incident as a starting point. If a story has been handed down over a period of time, ask yourself what has made it an enduring tale.
It's also Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog-month. Interestingly enough, I've noticed an increasing number of books about rescued pets making it to the bookstore shelves. I must admit my interest is far more personal. I've been involved in animal rescue for many years and strongly believe in the "Don't shop, Adopt," motto. For more on this topic visit the ASPCA website.
The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Big A, Little a this week. Check it out.
Here are Friday's Famous Firsts:
1. I'm Emily Elizabeth, and I have a dog.
2. "Did Mama sing everyday?" asked Caleb.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
I've had many questions from readers about finding publishers and/or agents so this week I'm going to refer you to three great posts at Writer Girl, the blog of Colleen Rowan Kosinski. Colleen has a three-part post over as many days that provides both biographical information and preferences as regards genre for the editors and agents.
Check it out. Then do your homework by following up with the editor's or agent's website for the most current submission information.
Make sure your manuscript gets a final polish then give your story wings!!! Best of luck.
Monday, October 19, 2009
- Concept books that deal with the alphabet or numbers can help introduce topics and strengthen a child's skills in preparation for kindergarten. One of my favorite alphabet books is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. Published originally in 1989, there is now a special anniversary edition available. Bill Martin is also the author of Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3.
- Predictable stories allow a child to anticipate the action or identify a repeating phrase. Is your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Guarino is always a lot of fun because it combines the repeating refrain with a series of riddles posed by the baby animals that Lloyd the Llama encounters.
- Cumulative stories create a chain of events that are repeated with each new addition until the end. One of the most familiar is the Caldecott honor book, There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly by Simms Taback. I must admit I'm also a long-time fan of The Napping House by Audrey Wood.
Here are the answers to Friday's Famous Firsts:
1. "Brian Robeson stared out the window of the small plane at the endless green northern wilderness below." Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.
2."All children, except one grow up." Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
Friday, October 16, 2009
- Provide books and/or magazines on a favorite hobby, sport or interest.
- Offer older children the opportunity to read to younger siblings. This can be particularly helpful for children who are struggling as readers because the simpler stories enable them to practice their reading using materials that will allow them to feel successful.
- Connect reading to activities that will stimulate a desire to "read more about it" such as trips to museums, observatories, zoos, car shows, sporting events, etc.
- Remember that not all reading has to take place between the covers of a book. Read and discuss signs, maps, movie guides, newspaper articles, even comic strips.
1. "Brian Robeson stared out the window of the small plane at the endless green northern wilderness below."
2."All children, except one, grow up."
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
A character's backstory can be approached from two perspectives.
From a writer's point of view, backstory is the information the author must have to create a character's voice and motivate the actions, thoughts and decisions made throughout the story. An editor once told me that if someone asked what my character ate for breakfast or watched on TV, I should have an immediate answer regardless of who, what, where or when my character existed. The point the editor was trying to make was that a writer should know their characters on a much deeper level than might appear necessary to the plot. That knowledge will help answer the all important "why." Why did the character do or say what they did at any given moment? Because the author needed them to for that plot point is not the answer you're looking for.
From a reader's point of view, backstory is the information the reader needs in order to believe and accept a character's behavior. That backstory will consist of events and experiences that occurred before the opening page of the book. The challenge for the writer is to determine where and how to convey that information. One of the most common mistakes is to give too much too soon. Another hazard is to fall into a rhythm of providing a bit of backstory just in time to explain the next action...a pattern that will come across as unnatural or contrived. Let the readers become invested in the characters and their struggles then weave the backstory through the book providing just enough to enable the readers to draw their own conclusions about the "why" behind a character's choices.
Monday, October 12, 2009
- "Moonlight: The Halloween Cat" by Cynthia Rylant
- "Pumpkin Eye" by Denise Fleming
- "Scary, Scary Halloween" by Eve Bunting
- "The Hallo-weiner" by Dav Pilkey
- "One Halloween Night" by Mark Teague
- "Happy Halloween" by Rosemary Wells
- "The Biggest Pumpkin Ever" by Steven Kroll
Here are the answers for Friday's Famous Firsts:
1. "The young prince was know here and there (and just about everywhere else) as Prince Brat." The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman - Newbery Medal 1987.
2. "In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines." Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans.
Friday, October 9, 2009
One of the things I almost always do with classes is read excerpts from some of my rejection letters. I think it is important for the children to understand that no writer ever gets it right the first time. I hear from so many students who are disappointed in themselves when they fall short of perfection and other's who don't make an effort because they view success as being out of their reach. If I don't achieve anything else in my visit I hope to change their perception of the process and help them to understand that the real failure is not to try.
Here are Friday's Famous Firsts:
Do you know the title and author for these well-know first lines?
1. "The young prince was known here and there (and just about everywhere else) as Prince Brat."
2. "In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines."
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Before you dive into your next project ask some tough questions beginning with why should a publisher take on your project? "It's a cute story" is not the answer an editor wants to hear. Know your audience. And know what other books in your genre, on your subject are already in the market place. How does your work bring something new to readers? Is it a fresh take on a popular theme? How is your voice distinctive? A great way to educate yourself is to visit your local bookstore and look at what's on the shelf. Check the copyright dates. If the book has been in print for quite a while ask yourself why it has had enduring success. For books that are new, try to figure out what qualities inspired an editor to take a chance.
Stay informed about the business of publishing particularly now when the industry is undergoing substantial change. Here is an article the helps put the business in perspective: 12 Steps to Better Book Publishing by Jonathan Karp - in Publishers Weekly April 20, 2009. Even though this article is focused on adult books, the concerns raised could easily be applied to the children's market.
Monday, October 5, 2009
If you are fan of cooking shows, you'll recognize the author of Paula Deen's cookbook for the lunch-box set. Television's down-home cook, Paula Deen, has organized her recipes by event: sleepover, picnic, bake sale, etc. and provided instruction for eight-year-olds and up.
Web-savvy preteens will enjoy The Spatulatta cookbook: recipes for kids, by kids from the James Beard award-winning Spatulatta Web site. This a companion to Spatulatta.com, the cooking website of two young sisters, Isabella and Olivia Gerasole. The recipes range from easy to complicated and include ingredient lists along with equipment required and a glossary. This would be a great addition to a child's cookbook collection once they've mastered some of the more basic skills.
It is October after all, so I had to include Wormy Apple Croissants and other Halloween recipes by Brekka Hervey Larrew. Here you will find easy to follow recipes for deliciously creepy fare.
Last, but not least, here is Cooking by the Numbers by Cecilia Minden. This is one of several books in the Real World Math series discussing math in everyday situations by this author. This volume looks at how math is utilized in the kitchen when measuring ingredients or making adjustments to recipes. It helps answer a question teachers hear so often, "Why do I need to learn this?"
And now the answers to Friday's Famous Firsts:
1. "Where's Papa going with that ax," said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
2. Tuesday eveing, around eight. Tuesday by David Wiesner
Friday, October 2, 2009
Here are Friday's Famous Firsts:
1. "Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they
were setting the table for breakfast.
2. Tuesday evening, around eight.
Can you identify the title and author who wrote these famous first lines?
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
The answer I hear from editors most often is that the writer has gotten so caught up in the cleverness of their rhymes that they've neglected to tell a good story.
One of the best suggestions I know is to set the rhyme aside and just write the story. Is it well plotted with conflict or a problem that is resolved in a satisfying and/or surprising ending? Are the characters interesting? Is the language appropriate to the story and engaging for the reader? Once you have a well-crafted story you may find that the rhyme is unnecessary. And if you are determined to use rhyme you can do that secure in the knowledge that you've created a solid story.
Another consideration that editors have is word count. Keep in mind that in the process of developing a rhyming text there is often a tendency to become more wordy than is necessary to tell the story. It's another pitfall you want to avoid on the way to completing a story that will enjoy publishing success.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Daddy's Song written by Leslea Newman and published by Henry Holt, has a father strumming his guitar as he sings rather than reads his little girl to sleep. The lyrics to his song are written in rhyming couplets, each full of fun and whimsy that readily lend themselves to reading aloud. The song begins, "If ice cream cones fall from the sky / And cats grow wings and start to fly" and continues on to the end with each imaginative line richly illustrated in a fanciful echoing of the text.
Night Shift Daddy written by Eileen Spinelli and published by Hyperion Books for Children, begins with the traditional bedtime ritual of Daddy tucking his daughter into bed, but then turns the story around. Daddy is heading to his job as a night janitor and returns home the next morning where the father/daughter roles are reversed as he is the one tucked into bed for a well-earned rest. This is another rhyming story, beautifully illustrated in glowing colors.
The title Once Upon a time, the end: (asleep in 60 seconds) written by Geoffrey Kloske and published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, is the only hint you need to understand that here the bedtime ritual is turned upside down. Desperate to get his young son to sleep, a harried father meets his son's pleas for "one more story" with a strategy known by any read-aloud parent...leaving out a few words here and there to speed the story to its conclusion. The father's plan takes on a life of its own as the Three Little Pigs become two, Little Red Riding Hood is reduced to a two-beat poem and other tales are relentlessly shortened in ways that still convey their essence with hysterical accuracy. The increasingly fractured fairy tales are interspersed with not-so-subtle hints from the father "Why did the chicken cross the road? To go to sleep." The illustrations by New Yorker cartoonist Barry Blitt strike just the right tone for this irreverent bedtime romp. A word of caution though -- this story is more likely to produce giggles than sleep.
Here are the answers for last week's Famous Firsts:
1. "Ma, a mouse has to do what a mouse has to do." Ragweed by Avi.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Four days and counting. The opportunity to vote ends on September 30, 2009 at midnight (ET). First Book will publish the results of the vote and the Top 50 list of the books that got us hooked on reading in October.
Here are the new Famous Firsts. Yes, I know it isn't Friday. I was immersed in a new story yesterday and couldn't break the spell.
1. "Ma, a mouse has to do what a mouse has to do."
2. "Everybody knows the story of the Three Little Pigs."
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I'm hearing from a great many new writers who want to bring a stronger ethnic or cultural emphasis to the children's book market. It's wonderful to see the growing presence of culturally diverse characters. As a library media specialist, it is my goal to see every child represented in the collection. As a writer, I need to think carefully about how I'm crafting a book.
A successful story will be both universal and individual. What I mean by that is the theme is universal enough to appeal to readers of both genders and multiple social/cultural backgrounds and at the same time individual enough that each reader will identify personally with the character's trials and triumphs.
Here's a good example: Uncle Peter's Amazing Chinese Wedding by Lenore Look. You might ask how a story that reveals, step by step, the details of a Chinese wedding is universal. Granted that the context of the story is a Chinese wedding, but the theme is about jealousy and the fear the little girl (the protagonist) has of losing her special relationship with her soon-to-be married favorite uncle. As a consequence, the appeal is quite broad. All of my students, boys and girls alike, enjoyed learning something about another culture, but all of them understood on a personal level what the story was really about and could identify with the main character's feelings.
I'm sure all of you can think of similar examples. If you can't, you need to visit your local library or bookstore and catch up on your reading. I'll talk more about child protagonists in my next Writers Wednesday post.
Monday, September 21, 2009
H. G. Wells, born 9/21/1866, is perhaps best remembered for his classic science-fiction stories -- War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and The Island of Dr. Moreau. However, Wells was a prolific writer penning short stories, essays and articles on politics and social issues. Together with Jules Verne, Wells is credited with creating a new genre of fiction that is still inspiring writers and readers today.
Taro Yashima born 9/21/1908, has earned three Caldecott Honor Medals for his books Crow Boy, Umbrella and Seashore Story.
You may not recognize the name Esphyr Slobodkina, born 9/22/1908, but I'm sure you'll remember her delightful book Caps for Sale. The book, first published in 1938, is still in print and has sold more than two million copies.
Wilson Rawls, born 9/24/1913, was inspired by his childhood in the Ozarks to write Where the Red Fern Grows. The story, an enduring favorite in both elementary and middle schools, relates the triumph and tragedy that faces young Billy as he attempts to train his beloved coonhounds Old Dan and Little Ann. The book was first published as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post in 1961. That publication was followed by a book the same year. The book became a movie in 1973 and a second film was released in 2003.
A Caldecott Medal for The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses is just one of the many honors earned by author and illustrator Paul Goble, born 9/27/1933. He turned his childhood interest in Native American culture into numerous Native American themed children's books that include: Buffalo Woman, Star Boy, and Dream Wolf.
Here are the answers to Friday's Famous Firsts --
1. "Mrs. Frisby, the head of a family of field mice, lived in an underground house in the vegetable garden of a framer named Mr. Fitzgibbon." Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brien
2."In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf." The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Thanks to all of you who emailed answers and/or suggestions for future "Famous Firsts."
Friday, September 18, 2009
This Poetry Friday is being hosted by Becky's Book Reviews. Drop in and enjoy!
Friday is "Famous Firsts" here at All About the Books so give these a try. Do you know the title and author of these children's books?
1. "Mrs. Frisby, the head of a family of field mice, lived in an underground house in the vegetable garden of a farmer named Mr. Fitzgibbon."
2. "In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf."
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Finding an agent is a very individual pursuit. First of all, do you need one? Not every publisher requires submissions through an agent, though there's no denying that agented material will usually receive more immediate attention from an editor. Ideally, your agent as a working relationship with various editors and therefore knows which people would be most receptive to your particular story. Finding an agent can take just as long as finding a publisher so the question is where to do you want to invest your time?
Most agents have a particular focus with regard to the material they are willing to represent -- children's book agents will be looking for specific types of stores -- YA, Middle Grade, Picture Book, etc. And withing those story types, they may have individual interests or things they don't care for such as sci-fi, fairytales and so on.
It's important to find out as much as you can about the agent you are planning to query. Most agency websites include bios for the individual agents that will provide this type of information. For resources on this topic see my 9/02/09 post: How Do I Get Published? I discussed researching editors and agents.
One of the great opportunities offered by SCBWI conferences is the chance to hear agents first hand and perhaps even meet them and pitch your work.
It's important to become as informed as possible. Here is a post by an agent that I recommend reading:Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent: What I'm Looking For.
Monday, September 14, 2009
September is Library Card Sign-Up Month so here are five library related books I'd like to share. One of my favorite read-aloud books for my very young students is Book! Book! Book! by Deborah Bruss -- Left alone on the farm after the children go back to school, the animals decide to visit the library to find something to read. The story is simple but engaging as the various animals take turns trying to get library books and there is a surprise ending that always earns giggles!
For older readers, there is the lovely non-fiction book My Librarian is a Camel: how books are brought to children around the world by Margriet Ruurs. Bookmobiles are great, but how do you get books to children in remote parts of the world? Ingeniously is the answer and this book describes some of those methods including by camel, elephant and boat. A nice reminder that books are cherished and readers will find a way. This book always makes my students think twice about telling me that getting a library book is too hard.
Librarians wear several hats; they tell stories, educate, and manage the collection. Here are three picture book titles that take an entertaining look at the way librarians do their job. Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen is the tale of a Lion who wonders into the library and is allowed to stay, but only if he's quiet. He forgets to use his "library voice" but it turns out he had a good reason.
The Library Dragon by Carmen Agra Deedy is a very funny look at one well-meaning librarian's attempt to care for her collection with dire consequences for her patrons.
What makes a perfect librarian? That's the question in Our Librarian Won't Tell Us Anything! by Toni Buzzeo. New student, Robert has been warned about Mrs. Skorupski, but he soon discovers that although she won't hand him every book he asks for, she does something even better.
As Promised here are the title and author answers for last Friday's Famous Firsts:
1. "Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away. "
From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
2. "There is no lake at Camp Green Lake." from Holes by Louis Sachar
3. "The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another..."
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Friday, September 11, 2009
If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world,
I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.
- Maya Angelou -
One of the on going conversations that I have with my students in library is the importance and value of being well read...to step outside the comfort of always reaching for the familiar author, or genre, or subject and explore something different. Our library is young, our school new, but nevertheless, the collection is diverse...and one of the saddest phrases a student can utter is, "I can't find anything to read." What the child usually means is that they can't find another book exactly like all the other ones they've read. I spend a great deal of time looking for ways to tempt my readers into new territory.
A favorite activity is something I call "Famous Firsts." I read the first line of a book to each class and challenge students to tell me the title and author of the work. Sometimes half the hands go up. Sometimes I'm lucky to find one or two students who know the work. Occasionally, I find a book that is totally unknown, in which case I'll read a few pages to tweak their curiosity. I'm no longer surprised by the sudden popularity a book attains from even so brief an introduction.
We're all about children's literature here so why don't you give "famous Firsts" a try?!
Can you name the title and author of each of these books? Resist the urge to Google. I'll list the answers on the next post.
1. Claudia knew that she could never pull off the old-fashioned kind of running away.
2. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.
3. The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another...
I invite you to share the first lines from some of your favorite books.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Question of the day -- How do I get my manuscript really polished and ready for submission?
First of all, be prepared to rewrite until you cannot find a single way to improve your manuscript. In order to get the most out of rewriting, you're going to have to develop some objectivity about your work. One of the best ways is to take a break from your story. Put your manuscript aside and don't look at it for a week or two. Taking a break gives you a new perspective and a little distance will help you be more objective when it comes to revising your manuscript.
This is a good time to get some outside critiques. Find some objective readers who will look at your manuscript and give you feed back. I'm not talking about your children, your second grade class, parents, spouses or siblings unless they have a writer's background. The people who love us often want to be more kind than honest and we want OBJECTIVITY! Remember that critiques are a tool to help assess the work and make it better. They aren't personal. Then revise. Back to the readers, etc. Check SCBWI, your community college, local adult education center, and so on for writing workshops. These are all good sources for getting your work looked at and sometimes instructors have private groups that you might be invited to join.
One of the most helpful steps for me is to READ EVERYTHING OUT LOUD -- picture book, chapter book, it doesn't make a difference. If I find myself stumbling through a passage or subconsciously rephrasing a portion of the text, I know that's an area that needs more work.
Another good strategy to help you assess your writing is to find some successful, recently published books for your intended audience that have something in common with your story: subject, theme, style. Read the books and ask yourself what works? what doesn't? why? It's easier to take someone elses work apart than your own. Then apply what you've learned to your manuscript.
Find books that have been reviewed -- School Library Journal, Kirkus, Booklist, to name a few. Read the reviews. Ask yourself what a reviewer would say about your work. It's a good way to begin to understand what industry professionals are looking for in quality children's books.
One of the best ways to improve your writing is to read, read, read. It will develop your ear for language, improve your sense of pacing and rhythm, and enrich your general story sense.
Putting your manuscript aside doesn't mean stop writing. Work on another story. Research potential publishers or agents. Revision doesn't stop until you cannot think of any way to make your manuscript better. Even after you've begun submitting your manuscript, there will still be opportunities for revision. If your manuscript is declined, look at it as an opportunity for improvement. My work is as polished as I can make it before submission, but if the story comes back, I always see a way to make it better. As soon as I submit one story, I don't wait around for a response. I get to work on another book. Each new manuscript teaches me something and that ongoing process develops new insights I can apply to my story rewrites.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Heroes of the Valley by Jonathan Stroud, published 2009 by Disney/Hyperion Books is the story of young prankster, Halli Sveinsson. When a practical joke goes too far, Halli is forced to set out on an epic quest that is layered over those of his heroic ancestor, Svein. Both adventures are set in a medieval world flavored with a dose of Norse mythology. The narrative moves seamlessly back and forth between Halli's adventures and the legendary Svein's providing a double dose of excitement.
I, Coriander by Sally Gardner, published 2005 by Penguin Books, is an historical fantasy/fairytale set in a seventeenth century London where magic and fairies are mingled with the harsh realities of everyday life. In Cinderella fashion, Coriander is left in the care of her abusive stepmother, but unlike the fairytale Cinderella, Coriander must orchestrate her own rescue. Told in first person by the heroine, Coriander relates her childhood struggle to use the magic powers inherited from her mother to protect herself and the fairy world where her mother was born.
The People of Sparks, sequel to the very successful The City of Ember, by Jeane DuPrau, is a far cry from the historical realm, taking place instead in a post apocalyptic world where resources are scarce and civilization is on the brink of destruction. Lina and Doon, the intrepid protagonists from the first book, lead the survivors of Ember to the town of Sparks where they seek refuge and form an uneasy alliance that is soon endangered by suspicion then sabotage. New characters are introduced and minor characters from The City of Ember emerge to continue the story and bring new tension to the narrative.
To check out reviews by youthful readers visit Scholastic's Kid's Page.
Friday, September 4, 2009
Beginning right now, you can learn how to build a credible platform for yourself and your work by visiting http://writersinresidence.blogspot.com/. The series starts today. That's all you need to know!!
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
The life of a writer has two components. There is the creative writing side and the business side and you have to work equally hard at both. The short answer is get a fabulous idea, write a marketable book, polish it until it is perfect, and find a publisher or agent who wants your work. If only it was that simple.
This is the number one topic anytime I do a workshop. So for all my writer friends out there -- I'm declaring Wednesdays to be Writer's Day on my blog. I encourage everyone to send me questions or make comments as we go and lets develop a dialogue on the topic.
When it comes to finding a publisher or agent for that matter -- you have to do your homework. This is an ongoing part of the business of writing. There are a number of books published every year such as: Writer's Market, Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Agents (about 1000 pages), Writer's and Illustrator's Guide to Children's Book Publishers and Agents, Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market. These books include information about the business, query letters, formatting, resources for writers, websites, etc. all very useful. Visit your bookstore or library and find the one(s) that work for you. Double check any possible choices at the publisher's or agent's website to be certain you have the most current information on submission guidelines. Editors and agents come and go. Houses shift their focus and some only accept submissions during specific times of the year. The SCBWI list serve has a wealth of helpful information as well.
Get the submission guidelines for anyone you are considering. They are often posted on the websites or you can request them by mail. If they say we want submissions in this form or that do it! If they say they don't accept your type of story believe them. Look at what they've published most recently to get a feel for their type of work. Publishers may be looking for books with specific themes or in certain genres, but chances are they aren't looking for another book that is too similar to one they've just published.
Keep in mind that a house may receive 20,000 submissions a year and only publish 10-20 books. The editors I'm speaking to tell me they are being extremely careful about the projects they are taking on...they're looking for the best of the best. Having said that, don't let yourself get discouraged. Remember that you can go into any bookstore and find books you love and other's that don't interest you at all, but they all got published somewhere. A work that doesn't suit one editor may really appeal to someone else.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
First of all there is the adaptation by Russell P. Craig of Neil Gaiman's novel Coraline. Fans of graphic novels will enjoy this eerie tale and its intrepid heroine. If you've already read the novel, you'll find an entirely fresh experience in this version.
Artie King, the hero of Frank Cammuso's Knights of the Lunch Table, discovers that life at Camelot Middle School is more challenging than he'd anticipated. (Do you notice a theme here?) In volume one, subtitled The Dodgeball Chronicles, Artie stumbles into a mysterious dodge ball game and finds himself facing some of the toughest kids in school.
Robot Dreams by Sara Varon is a wordless graphic novel that explores the friendship between a dog and his robot. Every dog should have a friend and in this case it turns out to be a do-it-yourself sort of project when Dog goes searching for friendship by mail-order.
Don Wood's novel, Into the Volcano, is a fast-paced adventure with thrills around every corner as Duffy and his brother Sumo Pugg who set out to explore a sleeping volcano only to find themselves running for their lives when the volcano threatens to erupt.
Children who treat their dinner plate vegetables like the enemy, will appreciate the villainous Brotherhood of the Evil Produce in Magic Pickle. Parents will appreciate the heroic Magic Pickle aka Weapon Kosher and its sidekick, plucky Jojo. Scott Morse's humorous science-fiction take on super heroes and everyday school issues comes complete with a "How to Draw Produce" section.
Friday, August 28, 2009
It certainly was for me yesterday evening when I was invited by Jim and Bobbi Jean Bell to be part of the Official Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony for their new store, OutWest Marketing, on Main Street in Newhall, CA. Located on the Western Walk of Fame, the store was the gathering place of a dynamic group of people including city dignitaries.
The Tumbling Tumbleweeds entertained the crowd with a foot-stomping, hand-clapping show of musical harmony in the tradition of The Sons of the Pioneers. These talented musicians are award winners having earned the Academy of Western Artists Western Music Duo/Group of the year Award and Western Music Association Crescendo Award for Most Promising Talent in 2008.
Julie Ream, niece of Western movie legend Rex Allen, was present sharing her experiences. Julie was honored in 2007 with the Cowboy Keeper Award from the National Day of the Cowboy for her works in "preserving America's Western heritage and Cowboy Culture."
Jamie Lee Nudie, granddaughter of Rodeo Tailor to the Stars, Nudie Cohen, signed her book, Nudie: The Life and times of the Original Rhinestone Cowboy, for her fans. Jamie brought along Nudie's classic 1964 Pontiac Bonneville, decorated with six-shooter pistols, steer horns and a full Indian headdress.
Chuck "The Rifleman" Connors' son, Jeff Connors, was on hand with the 1892 Winchester SRC from the television series.
And of course, the evening wouldn't be complete without horses. Nancy Pitchford brought along her miniature horses, Star and Angel, from Heads Up Therapy on Horseback. Heads Up provides therapeutic riding to disabled children and adults in group or private sessions. I was so impressed by Star's and Angel's manners as they strolled through the store (yes, that's what I said) greeting guests and having their pictures taken.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
You've heard it before...there's writing and then there's rewriting. It took a while for me to discover how my creative process worked and how to make that process work for me. I write "long" and when I reach the revision stage, I'll make serious use of the delete key. Paragraphs and whole pages that I labored over will disappear. Oh, what a waste to discard all those words?
Not at all. They've already done their job by allowing me to discover who my characters are -- figure out why they do the things they do --and learn to hear their individual voices. I needed them, but the story doesn't. I've learned to tell the difference.
Monday, August 24, 2009
What could be more fun than reading?
I spend a lot of time in bookstores...one of my few weaknesses...particularly the children's section. I'm never alone. There are always a few parents gazing at the sea of shelves with a bewildered expression. The librarian in me can't resist asking if they need help and inevitably the response is something like this --
"I have a (six-year-old or third-grader or ??? you get the picture). What would be a good book for him/her?"
Here are a few favorites from the students at my school.
A first-grade favorite is "Froggy Bakes a Cake" by Jonathan London because of all the onomatopoeia and personification. It's also really funny.
Among my second-graders the Caldecott Medal Book "Officer Buckle and Gloria" by Peggy Rathmann is a hit. Officer Buckle is a safety officer who doesn't have much success attracting an audience until he's joined by a police dog named Gloria. Gloria makes the presentations entertaining, but her antics almost end their partnership. Of course, it all works out in the end. The children think the story is hysterical.
Third-graders enjoy "The Bubble Factory" by Tomie dePaola. Twins accompany their Grandfather to a Bubble Factory to see how bubbles are made -- hijinks follow. It's good for giggles.
You may notice a theme here. Kids love to laugh.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
It's always a wonder to see those wide-eyed youngsters as they get their first peek at our library and if I'm lucky, the teachers have allowed some time for me to read a story before the little ones return to their rooms. This year I treated them to one of my favorites -- Mouse Mess by Linnea Riley.
We talked about the dedication page which reads: "To my Dad who loves cornflakes," (I might be paraphrasing, but I think I have that right). Then we look for ways that cornflakes appear in the story. One of my favorite scenes is the mouse using a fork to rake up cornflakes and then jumping into the pile. Those clever kinders can always draw a parallel between that scene and raking leaves. They also have no trouble making a similar comparison between the mouse's brown sugar castles and their efforts at the beach or in the sandbox.
The vibrant colors add another delightful layer to the story and the rhyming text provides just the right clues to enable my audience to predict the last line of the story -- which is always fun.
First Books -- 39 days and counting.
Okay folks! If you haven't clicked over to First Books and voted for "What Book Got You Hooked?" You need to do that -- vote daily and help determine which state will receive 50,000 free books for children in need.
More about Corduroy and its author Don Freeman.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
That is the question asked and answered by author Daniel Kraus, author of The Monster Variations, in the latest post at Cynsations, the blog of Cynthia Leitich Smith. Take a few minutes out of your busy day to read this thoughtful view on an important aspect of the writing process.
How do you get started? How do you get organized? I've found that the answer varies from project to project. Sometimes a scene or sentence leaps onto the page and throws me right into the story. It may not even be the beginning. It could be that moment of conflict where the story turns on itself. Once it was the ending and I had to figure out what got my character to that point.
On different occasions I've needed to outline the story with great care and attention to timelines, character arcs and plot points. In other cases I find myself moving from one form to the other and back again as the story unfolds.
What works for you?
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The question of the day is: What's your favorite picture book and why?
Of course, I couldn't pick just one.
Here is my response: One of the favorite read-alouds in my library is Mouse Mess by Linnea Riley. It is one of the first books I read to the first-graders during their visits. They love the colorful pictures of the mouse doing everyday activities using kitchen utensils - raking up cornflake leaves with a fork, bathing in a teacup. The rhyming text is an added delight. Most of all, the children love being able to predict the ending by using the rhyming words as their clues.