Sunday, August 30, 2009

There's no denying the growing popularity of graphic novels. If you haven't taken a chance on one yet, here are a few that are current hits with children in grades 3-6.

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

The life of a writer is many things, but one of those should be FUN!

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

Thought for the day -- "The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is you really want to say." - Mark Twain

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

"TV...if kids are entertained by two letters, just imagine the fun they'll have with twenty-six." Anonymous
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

Every year at the beginning of school, the kindergarten classes go on the hunt. Sometimes they are looking for the Gingerbread Man, or it might be a search for Corduroy's missing button. This year - it's treasure. The children love the hunt, and in the process they explore the school...office, health center, playground, cafeteria and of course, the library.

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

Writing Question for August --Are you a plotter or a plunger?

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

Check out PBS Parents new Show and Tale on Tuesdays at Booklights.

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.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

What makes a good book?
Making the New York Times Bestseller List? Being an Oprah pick?

Go to any bookstore or library and you will find shelves filled with "How to Write" guides to help you craft that perfect story. There are countless blogs devoted to the subject from readers, writers, and editors.

Schools teach the Six Traits+1: Ideas: the main message, Organization: the internal structure, Voice: the personal tone and flavor of the author, Word Choice: vocabulary the writer uses to convey meaning, Sentence Fluency: rhythm and flow of language, Conventions: mechanical correctness and Presentation: how the writing looks on the page.

There are creative writing classes in college and adult learning centers. Not to mention literary group discussions.

Here's another take on the subject from a 9th grade student.

"There should be a little voice in your head
like the storyteller is saying it.
And if there's not, then
you're just lookin' at the words."
LaKeisha (9th grader in San Francisco)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Raining hamburgers...yum!!!

When it comes to childhood food fantasies, what could be better than having your favorite meals just fall from the sky? That's the premise behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, written by Judi Barrett and illustrated by Ron Barrett. This imaginative tale of life in the town of Chewandswallow is the latest children's book to make the transition to the big screen as an animated feature.

Flint Lockwood, played by Bill Hader, dreams of being an inventor, but always seems to miss the mark. Success comes at last when he discovers a way to turn water into food. Like so many fantasies though, this one doesn't quite work out in real life...the machine malfunctions. Weather forecaster, Sam Sparks, played by Anna Faris reports on the story of a lifetime...storms of spaghetti and schools buried in pancakes complete with butter and syrup. When trouble escalates, Sam joins Flint as he strives to stop his out-of-control invention before it's too late.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs has been a read-aloud favorite with children and adults for years and has sold over a million copies. The movie will be in theaters on September 18, 2009.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Teacher's guide.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

As summer draws to a close, it is once again time to visit First Book and cast your vote in the "What Book Got You Hooked?" campaign. This annual event celebrates the books that we remember...books that fostered a love of reading.

Your vote will help determine which state will receive 50,000 new books for children in need. Voting is open through September 30th.

What was your favorite? Was it a series...Nancy Drew...or a trilogy...The Lord of the Rings? An author...Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, Dr. Seuss, Eve Bunting? Perhaps you remember a particular book...The Velveteen Rabbit, Shiloh, Sarah Plain and Tall, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, Island of the Blue Dolphin...there are oh so many.

You can vote daily so visit often and tell your friends. The winning state and the top 50 books will be announced in October.

My vote went for King of the Wind: the story of the Godolphin Arabian by Marguerite Henry. I loved the adventure of Sham, an Arabian Stallion, and Agba, the mute stable boy who cared for Sham all of his life. They were sent from the stables of the Sultan of Morocco as a gift to the King of France. Discarded and abused because of his small size, Sham ended up pulling a cart until his true value was discovered. He triumphed at last to become one of the founding sires of English Thoroughbred race horses. I was a horse-crazy little girl and read all of Henry's work...Misty of Chincoteague, Justin Morgan had a Horse...I always had a favorite book tucked in my school desk to read when my class work was done.

Follow the title/author links I've provided to learn more about the books and authors or find lesson plan links to some of the titles.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I'm hoping that all of you who write children's books made it to the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles. If you didn't get there then the second best thing is to visit the SCBWI Conference blog that is being posted live from the event.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

"Children are made readers on the laps of their parents." - Emilie Buchwald

This is one of my favorite quotes and something I believe. Reading at home with a parent is where a love of reading and the spoken and written word begins. I'm constantly surprised by the number of parents who believe that reading to their child is unnecessary or unwelcome once a child begins to read independently.

On the contrary, this is a time when a parent can continue the reading adventure by selecting books beyond their child's current reading ability. Reading aloud with your child is a great incentive -- children look forward to the time when they can read the book on their own. Hearing stories read aloud builds vocabulary and develops an ear for language. Best of all, it is a special moment with a parent.

First as a parent and now as a writer and school library specialist, literacy for children and adults is a cause near and dear to my heart. I'm always happy to lend my time and energy to school and community events that promote reading and encourage parents to visit their school and public library. With that thought in mind, I'm going to post information on some of the favorite books among my students. I'll include picture books, chapter books, poetry and some non-fiction from time to time.

For more information about reading aloud with children check out: the website of Jim Trelease, author of the best-seller, Read-Aloud Handbook. Teachers, librarians and other literacy professionals should take a look at Rob Reid's Reid's Read Aloud: Selections for children and teens, published by ALA (American Library Association). Reid has collected read-aloud passages from 200 high-interest titles and included a bibliography along with subject and grade-level indexes. By the way, ALA now has a special site for parents: @Your Library.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Life Long Learner -- is that you? It's a topic we hear a lot about in education circles, but it is also very true for writers.

Check out this post:
Something New and Fantastic from the Shoebox by author Greg R. Fishbone. You'll find lots of encouragement here for continuing to develop your craft.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Back to School Special

It's that time of year again and here is a short list of picture books that address the first day of school jitters in a variety of entertaining and reassuring stories.

  • First Day by Nancy Krulik - Carlos doesn't want to leave kindergarten for first grade. Then he learns that Miss Popper's class is going to have a special guest.

  • First Grade Stinks by Mary Ann Rodman - Haley wishes she were still in kindergarten until she discovers the wonders of first grade.

  • How Not to Start Third Grade by Cathy Hapka -The first day of school turns upside down for third-grader Will when his younger brother begins kindergarten.

  • It's My School by Sally Grindley - Tom doesn't feel like sharing his school with his kindergarten sister, Alice.

  • Kindergarten Rocks by Katie Davis - Dexter can't wait to start kindergarten, but Baxter, Dexter's stuffed dog, isn't so sure that school is a good idea.

  • The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn - Chester is reluctant to start kindergarten until his mom teaches him a secret way to take her with him.

  • Off to Kindergarten by Tony Johnston What would you take to your first day of kindergarten? Discover what surprises appear on one young boy's list.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Writing is a bit like falling in love with an idea or a character. First there is the crush, when everything seems rosy and perfect. It you stay with the story long enough, reality begins to take hold. You start to see the flaws and have to ask yourself, "does the story work...is it worth the effort?" You have to decide if you're willing to do what is necessary to make the story a success. Sometimes the answer is, "No."

Like most writers I know, there is a file drawer in my office full of character sketches, half-written, or unpublished stories. Characters end up in a different work. Stories get recycled as something else entirely. You may discover your story works much better as a magazine article. There is a wealth of great children's magazines worth exploring: Highlights, Spider and Ladybug to name a few. Parent's Choice Award Winning Magazines has an extensive list.

Or, perhaps your manuscript is meant to be a longer work. Take for an example a picture book manuscript that I submitted a few years ago. It kept coming back...with positive comments. Editors liked the story - the writing - the language...but. I rewrote and rewrote trying to figure out what was keeping the book from being a success. It finally hit me...the story wasn't a picture book. It was a chapter book. You'll see it one of these days, but for now, I'm going to keep busy with my current writing projects which are focused on picture books.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

August 1st always leads me to think of school and the library I'll be returning to in a few short weeks. The children I see on a daily basis as Library Media Specialist, love their library - every section, every shelf is a favorite for someone among my voracious readers. As a new library in a new school, we are in the process of building a collection and there are always more requests from students, teachers, and parents than can be met. No matter how successful we are in adding materials...no matter how large our collection grows...I hope that eagerness is never lost.

Poetry is big and I'm always happy to find new titles to add. If you are a fan of poetry you might want to check out: The Negro Speaks of Rivers - a picture book based on a poem written by Langston Hughes with watercolor pictures by E.B. Lewis. You can find complete reviews at A Patchwork of Books, Kids Lit, and Poetry for Children.

The poetic Water Dance by Thomas Locker also deserves your attention. Locker works in oils and his books are a beautiful blending of art and science. Some of his other nature inspired books include: Cloud Dance, Mountain Dance, Where the River Begins, and Sky Tree: Seeing Science Through Art.

Worth a visit is Poetry Friday, hosted this week at the Poetry for Children blog written by Sylvia Vardell - author of Poetry Aloud Here, Poetry People, and Children's Literature in Action. You'll find lots of new original poems and links to many of your favorite poets.

The Gingerbread Cowboy Book Trailer