Monday, May 31, 2010

Read about the History of Memorial Day ,

which she wrote as a response to In Flanders Field.

Read In Flanders Field, here.

Enjoy the day and remember!

Here is the answer to Friday's Famous First: "Ever since she could remember, Momo had wanted a dog." From Newbery Honor Book, Daughter of the Mountains, written by Louise S. Rankin and illustrated by Kurt Wiese.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted this week at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Summer is still officially some weeks away, but the arrival of Memorial Day always seems to signal the beginning of summer fun, regardless of the calendar. In search of a bit of summer poetry, I came across this gem of a book: Mr. Ferlinghetti's Poem.

David Frampton illustrates and provides a narrative introduction to Ferlinghetti's poem "Fortune." Lawrence Ferlinghetti remembers a summer day in the Brooklyn of his youth when the firefighters turned on their hoses for the children. Frampton illustrates the work with beautifully colored woodcuts that capture the delight of children buoyed up on imaginative geysers.

Friday's Famous First: "Ever since she could remember, Momo had wanted a dog."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It's Writers Wednesday -- Let's talk about the dreaded rejection letter.

No writer, whether you've published one book or dozens, escapes the experience. It's true that you may not receive the sad news in print. Many publishers have adopted the policy of not responding at all unless they are interested in your project. Never-the-less once the deadline they allow themselves comes and goes in silence, the hopeful may assume the worst and the rejection is every bit as genuine as if it arrived on letterhead.

As a reminder we're all in this boat together, take a look at the course Dan Gutman navigated on his way to the publication of Honus and Me (which was not only a publishing success and the beginning of a popular series, but was also made into a TV movie). Be sure to read all the way to the end of the post. You'll find some great food for thought.

Writing isn't for the faint of heart. One of my rejection letters, which I treasure and share with audiences at workshops and presentations, reminded me that the publishing house that was passing on The Gingerbread Cowboy received 20,000 submissions a year and only published 20 books.

My story had a one in one thousand chance. Those odds are a good thing to keep in mind in this business of ups and downs. A few rejections later and my editor at HarperCollins was on the phone asking if I was interested in having them take on the project. The rest is history.

Now for a light-hearted look at the subject, check out this great parody by Kris Kahrs of a rejection letter to Herman Melville from his British publisher regarding Moby Dick at Pen and Ink.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Do You Have a Book to Sell? Part 4

Will your book make the cut when I whittle down my book purchase list to the Must-Haves? Today, I'll focus on the fiction portion of the collection: Easy readers, beginning chapter books, and fiction. Here are the goals I must meet as library media specialist:

  1. Engage all the students as readers. I need books of varying levels -- titles to attract reluctant readers, high-interest, low-level books for my struggling readers, and challenging literature for my advanced readers.
  2. Develop appreciation for literature. Provide students with exemplary writing by collecting both the classic children's books and the best new material by debut authors.
  3. Support the curriculum: I want copies of the books that are excerpted in the language arts anthology or read by the teacher for class discussion. I'll also provide State Reading Award nominee books to read and discuss with the students in library as preparation for voting later in the school year.

When it comes to item three, those selections have already been made for me. So I will focus here on one and two for which the search process is the same.

My first choice when it comes to making selections is to read the book. I spend a lot of time browsing through bookstores and school book fairs. Does that picture book hold my interest to the last page? How will it sound read aloud? Does the first line, paragraph, or page of a chapter book hook me? Does the blurb on the cover intrigue me? I'd love to read everything that sounds promising, but I can't.

In order to sort through the hundreds of new books that are published every year, I read the reviews.

The Synopsis: Does the story sound engaging? How similar is the theme or premise to other books I have in the collection? This determination can work for or against a book. If it is something that the students are still eagerly pulling off the shelf, then another fairy book, sports mystery, vampire tale, or ? will provide additional reading options. On the other hand, if interest has waned then I don't need more of the same.

The Assessment: What does the review have to say about the writing - plotting, pacing, characterization, word choice, etc? How well does the book attain its stated goals and work for its intended audience? I'll look for key words and phrases.

  • Pros: clarity, wit, fresh twist, rewarding choice, natural for book talks, adept pacing, well-drawn or memorable characters, genuine emotion, lively humor, original concept, honest, universal -- to name a few.
  • Cons: flat, lecturing, intrusive narrator, heavy-handed, above its target audience, stretches credulity, tries to tell the story in rhyme, but doesn't succeed, stereotypical, forced, insipid, predictable.

If you are hoping for your book to make the cut then consider which of these remarks describe your writing. Library books generally have a much longer shelf life than books that are purchased for home use. The titles that make it to the collection must have enduring quality and themes that will remain relevant over time. I hope your book is one of them.

Here is the answer to Friday's Famous First: "Now, Bix Rivers has disappeared, and who do you think is going to tell his story but me?" From Newbery Honor Book The Moves Make the Man by Bruce Brooks.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted this week by Laurasalas Writing the World for Kids

My offering is a collection of bilingual poetry, "Poems to Dream Together/Poemas Para Sonar Juntos," written by three-time Pura Belpre Author Award Honor poet and educator Francisco X. Alarcon, illustrated by Paula Barragan.

Friday's Famous First: Can you name the title and author for this first line?
"Now, Bix Rivers has disappeared, and who do you think is going to tell his story but me?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It's Writers Wednesday -- Want to be published? Then find your inner editor.

Yes, your agent or publisher will still make changes...fresh eyes always find improvements you've missed. But the days when editors or agents took on writers because they had some talent or a story with potential and then mentored them to success are long gone. Most editors are so busy with the business of books that they do their manuscript reading at home on their own time. They don't have the luxury of shepherding a book from rough draft to finished work. Your story needs to be polished like a jewel the first time it comes across an editor's desk.

It's all about revision. Editing is a learned skill. Yes, there are people who seem to have a natural ability to cut through all the verbiage, but anyone can improve their technique.

If you can successfully edit other people's work, but have trouble critiquing your own, it's probably because you're too close to your story. Put your work away and don't even look at it for a couple of weeks, a month or even two. Do something else...learn to query, research publishers, write something completely different. Make a quilt, plant a garden. Take up tap dancing. Give yourself some space so you can be objective.

Perhaps the problem is uncertainty about what makes a story marketable. The answer? many award winning books as you can find: Caldecott, Newbery, California Young Reader Medal, etc. Select books that target your intended audience, and are similar in style or genre to your own. You don't have to like them fact you probably won't, but what you need to figure out is why the book was successful. It can also be helpful to read a book then study its reviews. Consider both the approbation and criticism and determine how it applies to the book you read. Then ask yourself if any of those comments relate to your work. Dozens of books are reviewed on line everyday by kidlit bloggers. Many can be found through links on this site.

Try critiquing random books from the bookstore or library. It's always easier to evaluate other people's work that your own.

If this sounds like homework -- it is! I often spend more time rethinking, revising and rewriting than creating new material.

Best of all, get into a workshop, writing class or critique group. The feedback is priceless and the support from fellow writers keeps you going as you struggle with manuscript revision. Learning to edit is an essential part of the writing process. Mistakes are how we one gets it right the first time.

I was part of a writers workshop for many years. I always came away from a meeting promising myself that I wouldn't repeat the mistakes that I found in other people's work or that had been pointed out in mine. For the most part, I kept my promise, but the next critique would give me another lesson because there was always something new to learn and every story will teach you something.

Revision is the key. But don't just take my word for it.

"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 your really want to say." - Mark Twain

Monday, May 17, 2010

Here is the answer to Friday's Famous First: "I sashay my bow across the violin strings the way a mosquito skims a summer pond," is from the Coretta Scott King Award Honor Book, The Bat Boy and His Violin, written by Gavin Curtis and illustrated by E.B. Lewis.

Baseball Fan, Parent, Lover of Picture Books...If you haven't read this book, please do.

Writing a book that has historical underpinnings is often tricky. Incorporating enough factual reality to provide the reader with a true sense of time and place without sounding like a history lecture or losing the story in detail is a delicate balancing act. Add to that, the themes of being true to oneself and recognizing the individuality in your children and you have the potential to become preachy.

Gavin Curtis' writing is more than equal to the challenge and he shares the sensitive relationship between team-manager Dad and Bat boy child without taking a single false step. This book works on every level...providing a glimpse into life in the Negro Leagues told through a father and son perspective that is a delight to read.

The beautiful water color paintings by award-winning illustrator, E.B. Lewis add depth to each aspect of the story.


Do you have a book to sell Part 4 will appear next Monday.

Friday, May 14, 2010

This week's Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted by Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup

How could I not respond with a book about food poetry? Here's "Carrots to Cupcakes: reading, writing, and reciting poems about food," written by Susan M. Freese and illustrated by Jan Westberg. This colorful book is designed to introduce young readers in grades K-3 to the fun of reading poetry. In addition to verse by well-known poets, there is a section with poetry by children. The book also provides tidbits, terms, activities and a glossary.

Friday's Famous First: Can you name the title and author of this first line? "I sashay my bow across the violin strings the way a mosquito skims a summer pond."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

It's Writer's Wednesday

I'm taking the day off to work on a novel I'm trying to finish. But I haven't forgotten you. There is a wonderful article about writing for children and teenagers that you can read on the blog by Cynthia Leitich Smith.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Do You Have a Book to Sell? Part 3

After last Monday's search for award winners and nominees, I have a potential list of books for addition to the library collection. Now I have some additional sources of book ideas to consider...
Recommendations: From booksellers, the students who are the audience for the books I purchase, and I certainly won't forget the numerous reviews from the kidlit bloggers.

Book fairs are always a great place to explore. Many schools host at least one book fair per year that is put on by national and/or regional companies such as Scholastic, local companies such as Mrs. Nelson's, or by neighborhood bookstores. Each of these booksellers will make a point of having the newest and most popular titles available for purchase and as a librarian, I can utilize this opportunity to see what's new in the marketplace.

I'll browse the book fair shelves with my collection in mind and make a point of talking with students to inquire why they are making particular selections.

In addition to once a year events like book fairs, I can collect ideas anytime by visiting the kidlitosphere bloggers who offer a wealth of possibilities to consider. I have a long list of sites that I visit regularly for suggestions and I'm constantly finding new blogs via my favorites.

By the time I'm done, I'll have dozens of titles, authors and genres to consider.

Next Week: How do I whittle down my options to the Must-Haves?

Here is the answer to Friday's Famous First: "Brothers is the baddest," from Coretta Scott King Award winning book, Miracle's Boys by Jacqueline Woodson.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Poetry Friday Roundup is hosted today by Diane Mayr at Random Noodling.

For your consideration, I offer: Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the trees of Kenya, written by Donna Jo Napoli and illustrated by Kadir Nelson -- Simon & Shuster Books for Young Readers, 2010. 2004 Nobel Peace prize winner, Wangari Maathai, known as Mama Miti (Mother of Trees), is the subject of this poetic picture book. Styled like a folktale, Maathai, a Kenyan environmental activist, advises the village women who come to her for help to plant trees...for food, for firewood, to protect livestock or clean the groundwater. Different trees for different needs, but each offered with the same Kikuyu expression: "Thayu nyumba-Peace, my people." Brilliant illustrations awash with the colors of a Kenyan landscape combine oils with the prints found in traditional African textiles.

This book would be an excellent introduction to the "Green Belt Movement" and could be coupled with "Wangari's Trees of Peace" by Jeanette Winter and "Planting the Trees of Kenya" by Claire Nivola for additional information on Wangari Maathai and the growth of the tree planting mission.

Friday's Famous First: Can you name the title and author for this first line? "Brothers is the baddest."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

It's Writer's Wednesday...What's your story about?

Can you answer that question in 25 words or less? 50 words or less? Three Sentences? Can you give me a sense of your main character(s), the major plot points and a satisfying resolution? Can you convey the voice? Make me care?

That's the goal when you send a query letter or pitch your work to an editor or agent. Are you prepared? As writers we often bemoan the lack of opportunities...certain our cherished work would be eagerly snapped up if we just had the chance to present our carefully-crafted story. But when that crucial moment arrives...we choke or don't know when to stop.

There are a couple of posts well worth reading this week on the query/pitch process. The first, written by Jaycee Kaycee and titled "Way to Nail the Conference Pitch," appeared today as a guest post at Adventures in Children's Publishing. The end of the post has a link to another post at Alignment: Left for more information about Jaycee's preparation and pitching tips.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Do You Have a Book to Sell? Part 2

Last week I touched on the two most serious considerations when purchasing school library books: money and shelf space.

Today, let's just suppose that here I am...a librarian with money to spend. It might be $500.00. Maybe it's $1,000.00...oh lucky me! In any case, the process is the same -- sorting through the myriad titles that are available and making my selections.

I'm going to need some help and a simple way to begin is to look at award winners and nominees. There are numerous national book awards and lists: Newbery Medal, Caldecott Medal, Charlotte Zolotow Award, Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, Notable Children's Book List, Parent's Choice, Coretta Scott King Award, and the Cybils to name only a few.

And I certainly will want to take a look at the state awards. In California it's the California Young Reader Medal. In Arizona there's the Grand Canyon Reader's Award and so on. These
awards are particularly valuable because of the way in which the winners are selected. Generally, the books are nominated by parents, teachers, librarians and students from across the state. The list is usually narrowed down to 3-5 and then the students read and vote for their favorite books. I don't always agree with the results, but I can be sure that all the nominees are worth careful consideration.

By the time I've looked at all these possibilities, I probably already have a pretty healthy list of books, but I'm not done yet. Next week I'll talk about additional great resources for finding children's books.

Here is the answer to Friday's Famous First: "On the banks of the river Nagara, where the long-necked cormorants fish at night, there once lived a poor widow and her son." The Boy of the Three-Year Nap, Caldecott Honor book written by Dianne Snyder, illustrated by Allen Say.

The Gingerbread Cowboy Book Trailer