Friday, July 30, 2010
My offering is the Caldecott Honor Book Song of the Waterboatman and Other Pond Poems, written by Joyce Sidman and beautifully illustrated using woodcuts by Beckie Prange. This is a wonderful mix of poetic forms with science facts presented in prose sidebars with a glossary at the end. Sidman's eleven poems cover the four seasons in the life of a pond and it's creatures from spring peepers to a painted turtle's hibernation.
Friday's Famous First: Can you identify the title and author of this first line? "Long ago the Lord of the Sun sent the spark of life to earth."
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
One of the most important things we can do for ourselves as authors is to develop a strong support system of fellow writers who can offer us helpful critiques.
We write in a vacuum and nothing can help elevate the quality of our work like fresh eyes on our manuscripts. I'm very fortunate to have a best friend who is an amazing writer so we are able to share and support each other on our writing journey. Not everyone is so lucky.
There is help out there, but it can take some work to find it. My first recommendation would be join SCBWI - the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators. SCBWI has regional chapters that offer a variety of educational and networking opportunities such as writer's days, critiquenics, workshops, etc. This can be a great place to connect with people who share your particular interests.
Local colleges and adult education classes through your city also offer writing classes. These classes are helpful in developing your work, but offer another advantage. Many of the instructors also lead or are familiar with private critique groups in their area.
Of course, you can always consider beginning a local critique group or joining an online group.
Finding the right fit doesn't always happen on the first try. You may have to visit a group more than once to get a sense of the group dynamic or visit more than one group before you find the place where you belong.
Here are some questions you'll need to answer:
- Does the group read the type of work that you write? Yes, good writing is good writing, but there are specifics related to picture books, MG, YA and the genres (mystery, sci-fi, etc.) that you and the other writers will need to know to maximize the experience. A general writing group can be fine in the beginning, but at some point it will be helpful to have at least one other person in the group who is familiar with your particular kind of work.
- Is there an established routine? Does the group spend a few minutes sharing news and then get down to the business of reading manuscripts or do the members devote most of the meeting to conversations about what they are going to write some day?
- Are there rules for critiquing? The comments can be hard to hear, but they should be kind, well-intentioned and offered with clearly stated suggestions for improvement not vague remarks such as, "You need more character development." Members should recognize that their reaction to and assessment of a manuscript is a subjective one. The goal of each critique should be to help the author find their voice, not rewrite the work in the style or voice of the other members.
- Are there rules for the person whose work is being critiqued? It's human nature to defend your work. However, if you are busy forming an answer or explanation for the comments being offered, then the chances are you aren't listening as carefully as you could. Members of the group should be encouraged to listen, to take notes, to consider the comments over time and then to decide for themselves which remarks they will act on.
- Is the group dynamic well-balanced, warm, and welcoming? Does everyone receive fairly equal time to be read and to make comments or does one person's writing or opinions dominate the session. Do the members genuinely like each other and get along? Even if you are leaving the meeting with pages of notes for correction and improvement, do you feel good about the experience? Are you already looking forward to coming back?
Monday, July 26, 2010
My offering is an Alphabet book of a different sort: Caldecott Honor Book, Alphabet City, illustrated by Stephen Johnson. Although this isn't an alphabet book to hand your preschooler, it certainly is worthy of attention.
Alphabet City will require some adult interpretation when it comes to finding some of the more challenging letters that are hidden within the pages of this stunning book. Johnson has discovered the alphabet in an urban setting and presented the letters in paintings that are almost photographic in their realism. The challenge offered by Johnson is to learn to really observe one's environment and see it in new ways. This would be a great addition not only to an alphabet collection, but to an art book collection as well.
Here is the answer to Friday's Famous First: "The afternoon Hillary first saw the elf village, she couldn't believe her eyes." is from the Newbery Honor book Afternoon of the Elves by Janet Taylor Lisle.
Friday, July 23, 2010
My offering is Absolutely Wild written by Dennis Webster and illustrated by his daughter, Kim Webster Cunningham. This collection of 16 poems celebrating a variety of wild animals will appeal to fans of Ogden Nash or Edward Lear. The illustrations - hand-colored linoleum prints - provide the perfect complement to the text.
Friday's Famous First: Can you identify the title and author of this first line? "The afternoon Hillary first saw the elf village, she couldn't believe her eyes."
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
One piece of advice that I offer to every writer I mentor or see in a workshop is "Read what you want to write." Picture books, MG, YA, Thriller, Romance, Mystery...whatever the genre it will help you develop your ear for language.
Find stories with similar themes, structures, characters or plots. Take the book apart and figure out what works and why or if the book fell short of your expectations...figure out why it didn't work.
This can be a difficult task if you are new to the craft of writing and struggling with theme, structure, character and plot in your own work. There is some great help available in the form of book reviews.
Read the book, then read the reviews. Find detailed analysis from book bloggers -- you'll find an extensive list at KitLitosphere Central or subscribe to some of the major reviewers: Booklist, Kirkus, Publisher's Weekly, or School Library Journal to name a few.
Reviews will help you understand a book's strengths and weaknesses. These qualities are the same ones editors and agents will be looking for when they read your work so you want to identify your strengths and correct any weakness in your manuscript. Reviews can give you a check list of sorts.
For more on the subject of reading as a writer, be sure and drop by Through The Tollbooth and read the 5-part series from last year that begins here.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Believe it or not, one of the busiest sections of my library collection is the one with the cookbooks. I'm always looking for new additions as I never seem to have enough. Here is a new favorite among my youthful cooks: The Spatulatta Cookbook: recipes for kids, by kids from the James Beard award-winning Spatulatta Website by Isabella and Olivia Gerasole.
Isabella and Olivia won the James Beard award for their cooking website: Spatulatta. I selected The Spatulatta Cookbook even though it has a spiral binding which I know won't have a long shelf life with so many eager hands turning the pages. That negative was balanced by the colorful photographs and sensible one-step-at-a-time directions. Young cooks will find recipes that are fun and healthful. The book discusses basic techniques, tools and measurements and includes a glossary as well.
Here is the answer to Friday's Famous First: "In Heaven there are 1,637 steps from my house to the Western Union." is from the Coretta Scott King Author Award Winner, Heaven by Angela Johnson.
Friday, July 16, 2010
My offering is a favorite read aloud: Mouse Mess, written and illustrated by Linnea Riley. It is often the first book I read with first graders. They love the colorful pictures of the mouse doing everyday activities using kitchen utensils -- raking 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 last line of the story using the rhyming words for their clues.
Friday's Famous First: Can you identify the title and author for this first line? "In Heaven there are 1,637 steps from my house to the Western Union."
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
I'm taking the day off from blogging to work on my book...my deadline is fast approaching.
In the meantime let me recommend that you take a look at 20 Tips for Writing Children's Books.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Summer is such a perfect time for exploring -- long days, warm nights.
Perfect for enjoying bats...yes, you read that correctly. If you are lucky enough to live in bat territory, take some time to watch these amazing mammals at work. The bats that inhabit my corner of the country are insect eaters who perform aerial ballet as they swoop in and out of the darkness capturing moths drawn to barn lights and street lights. And no, they don't get caught in your hair. They're way too talented to make that sort of mistake!
To read more about these fascinating animals check out some of these titles at your local library or bookstore:
- The Bat by James V. Bradley is part of the Nature Walk series. Colorful photographs, black and white drawings, maps, and plenty of detail create a book that is an excellent resource. Written at a fifth grade level, 3rd - 6th grade readers will find the book interesting and very accessible.
- Big Brown Bat , by author and illustrator Rick Chrustowski, will be equally appealing for younger readers, K-3, as it tells the story of a bat pup's first year of life. It is informative and beautifully illustrated in watercolors that capture the bats in action.
Here is the answer to Fridays Famous First: "Our land is alive, Esperanza," said Papa, taking her small hand as they walked through the gentle slopes of the vineyard." is from the Pura Belpre Award winner, Esperanza Rising written by Pam Munoz Ryan.
Friday, July 9, 2010
My offerings is a book written by poet, Allan Wolf, and illustrated by Tuesday Mourning, titled Immersed in Verse: an informative, slightly irreverent and totally tremendous guide to living the poet's life. This book works equally well as an introduction to poetry writing for the novice or as an inspiration for young poets grades 5-8. Wolf discusses the how and why of his own poetry as well as providing examples of work from Shakespeare to modern masters of verse. The book also includes a glossary, bibliography, and an index of the poets who are cited.
Friday's Famous First: Can you identify the title and author of this first line?
"Our land is alive, Esperanza." said Papa, taking her small hand as they walked through the gentle slopes of the vineyard.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Here's a potpourri of interesting posts:
Monday, July 5, 2010
Even when you're just hanging out in the backyard, there are interesting critters to be found. If your children are avid insect collectors, you might want to check out Bug Zoo: How to Capture, Keep, and Care for Creepy Crawlies, written by naturalist, Nick Baker. You'll find a review today at A Year of Reading.
Many a future scientist began collecting, bugs, leaves, rocks, etc. Despite the progress made in science instruction in school, there are still a great many students who are intimidated by the subject. You'll find an interesting post about student perceptions regarding scientists at Oz and Ends.
Mark your calendars, all you kid lit bloggers: Kidlitosphere 2010 Conference is Saturday, October 23rd. at Open Book - Minneapolis, MN. The conference is hosted this year by Andrew Karre (Carolrhoda), Ben Barnhart (Milkweed Editions) and Brian Farrey (Flux). If you blog about children or YA books, this will be the place for you.
Here is the answer to Friday's Famous First: "Officer Buckle knew more safety tips than anyone else in Napville," is from the Caldecott Medal Book - Officer Buckle and Gloria, written and illustrated by Peggy Rathmann.
Friday, July 2, 2010
- Today's Poetry Friday offering is "Dogku," written by Andrew Clements and illustrated by Tim Bowers. This story of Mooch, a stray, is told entirely in haiku. The illustrations are lively and the fun-filled story is a tail-wagging good time.