Archive for May 2010


May 28, 2010

“Humor is the oxygen of children’s literature.” — Sid Fleischman

In the May/June issue of the “SCBWI Bulletin,” there is a very touching piece remembering author, Sid Fleischman, who passed away in March. I was never lucky enough to meet Sid Fleischman, but I’ve read his books and have used them in my classroom and library. The humor in his books is infectious. The Newbery Award novel, The Whipping Boy, plus Jim Ugly, and the McBroom series are books that keep my students coming back for more.  

It was said Sid Fleischman was dedicated to his work. He placed great value on his writing time, but he also made time to help and advise aspiring writers. I’ve heard other authors speak of him with words of praise. He was a great role model – talented and generous with his time.   

For some reason I see my favorite authors as timeless – just like their books. When one of them passes away, I am not only sad, but sometimes surprised by their age. It’s a reality check on the passage of time.

I’ve been lucky to be a part of a talented community of writers who willingly share their time and expertise. It is my hope that all writers remember the qualities that make superior authors and mentors as exemplified by Sid Fleischman.

One last thought:

Like Sid Fleischman I write humor. I am wondering if my picture book, which sold in 2006, will ever make it into bookstores. If not, I can foresee my eulogy:  She’s still waiting – in another place – to have her picture book published.


President Obama and Me

May 25, 2010

President Obama and I have one thing in common. We both have voles! As soon as I saw that littler critter scurry in front of the presidential podium on the national news, I knew it was a vole.

Much to my dismay, an extended family of voles – mothers, fathers, grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, cousins, and kids – have taken up residence in a condominium complex they built in our rock walls. They take delight in not only enjoying our tasty shrubs but also crossing my path or mysteriously appearing when I am digging in my flower garden. Rodents are not my friends!  

We set traps, sprayed, and pleaded with them to move to the neighbors’ yards – all to no avail. The only thing we succeeded in doing was to cause a mass exodus from the front yard to the backyard. Soon they will be celebrating the birth of a whole new generation of voles who, in turn, will build new homes in our yard.

Maybe I could interest them in books about their relatives. Wong Herbert Yee’s Mouse and Mole series would be a perfect match for the little critters. They’re easy-readers about friendship, and the illustrations are colorful and pleasing to the eye. For that matter, the Mouse and Mole books would be a perfect match for any reader. They are reminiscent of the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel. I bet President Obama would like these books, too. I say if you’re going to sink your teeth into anything, try one of the Mouse and Mole books. Even I like these rodents!

Mouse and Mole, Fine Feathered FriendsA Brand-New Day with Mouse and Mole, Upstairs Mouse, Downstairs Mole, Abracadabra!  Magic with Mouse and Mole, by Wong Herbert Yee (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children)

Coming SoonMouse and Mole, A Winter Wonderland by Wong Herbert Yee (Houghton Mifflin Books for children, November 15, 2010)

Expert Tips on School Visits

May 21, 2010

When you do school visits, you’re an entertainer, a storyteller, and a magician! It’s a time to promote yourself and your books. From the moment you’re on, you want to capture the attention of your audience and keep them spellbound from beginning to end. This is easily said, but not always easily done.

Toni Buzzeo and Cynthia Lord are experts in school visits. Their workshop session at the New England SCBWI Conference was excellent. They covered everything from PowerPoint, to props, to audience management, to equipment, and delivery of presentations.

Here a few of the many tips they shared about school visits.

Younger children have a limited attention span. Make sure the length of your program is age-appropriate. Include audience interaction to keep them engaged. Props enhance your presentation – especially with younger children. If you choose to do a PowerPoint, keep it simple. Use text sparingly and put important information at the top of the screen. Children love to know about you. Pictures of you from your childhood and pictures of your pets are always a bit hit. Take time to set up before your presentation and make sure all of the equipment is working properly before you begin. If something goes wrong, have a back-up plan during the time the equipment is being fixed. When it’s time to start your presentation, make eye contact with your audience. Begin by stating your expectations of the audience. A well-paced presentation will help to keep everyone engaged.

A few more tips from Toni and Cindy. Have a contract for your school visit and put everything you want and need into your contract. Have the principal sign it. Make sure you have time between presentations — at least fifteen minutes. If all goes well, ask for a recommendation. No matter what happens, always keep a sense of humor.

Times Are Changing

May 18, 2010

Times are changing. Authors, hop aboard the technology train before you get left behind!

This past weekend I attended the New England SCBWI Conference. The theme was “Moments of Change.” Online presence and author branding were hot topics. Author websites, blogs, MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter are ways of getting your name known. You don’t have to do it all, but you must do something. Keynote speakers were Cynthia Leitich Smith, Marla Frazee, and Allyn Johnston. It was a fantastic weekend!

First up on Saturday morning was Cynthia Leitich Smith. She has it all. She does it all. She’s the author of picture books, a chapter book, a ‘tween novel, and YA Gothic fantasy books. She has a website. She blogs. She’s on MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. Best of all, her YA novel, Eternal, debuted at #5 on the New York Times Bestseller List. Wow!

Cynthia Leitich Smith is a funny, down-to-earth person. She is also extremely talented. Her presentation was entertaining and filled with words of inspiration. We learned more about Cynthia during an interview conducted by Melissa Stewart on Sunday morning.

From an early age, Cynthia was a reader. She used to bring home stacks of books from the library. She recognized the “poetry and grace” of children’s literature and learned to love it. When Cynthia made the decision to become author, she did all the write things. She took the time to hone her craft. She’s a person that sets goals and achieves goals through work and determination. Her advice to authors is “write fierce and be brave.”

On Saturday afternoon, Marla Frazee, author-illustrator and Caldecott Honor Award honoree, and Allyn Johnston, VP & Publisher of Beach Lane Books. did a wonderful presentation about picture book endings. It was the same presentation they gave at the Iowa SCBWI Conference I attended, but it was well-worth hearing again. These two talented people make one great team!

In their presentation, Marla and Allyn used text and illustrations to demonstrate how to create a perfect ending to a picture book. Allyn said endings should have a strong emotional impact – even if it’s a funny book. Marla said, “Endings should disarm us.”

Both agree pacing of text and illustrations is a vital part of making a book memorable. Allyn added that an author should focus on choosing the right words because a picture book is a read aloud art form. To keep readers coming back, it’s essential to have a deep, emotional chord at the end of a book.

Stay tuned for part two on Friday:  School Visits Starring Cynthia Lord and Toni Buzzeo

Boston Bound

May 14, 2010

I’m Boston bound!

I’m visiting my daughter and attending the New England SCBWI Conference. News and views coming next week.

It’s National Children’s Book Week

May 11, 2010

Books! Books! Books! I love books! I love the feel of them. I love the smell of them. I love the way they sound when they’re read. Not even a scrumptious piece of dark chocolate can take the place of a good book!

 When I was growing up, our family owned a copy of Better Homes and Gardens STORY BOOK. Opening that book was like opening a treasure chest. Inside were stories, poems, finger games, a nonsense alphabet, songs, and fables. There was something for everyone in our family.

I leafed through the book the other day. It’s old and worn, but it still holds magic.

One of the first stories I remember reading with my mother was “The Little Red Hen.” It was a rebus story so I could read along with her.

There was “The House that Jack Built” with pictures by Randolph Caldecott and “Old Mother Hubbard” who owned a very clever dog.

I loved “Little Black Sambo.” I saw no racism in the story as some have claimed. To me it was about a very ingenious little boy who outsmarted some tigers and ended up with a special treat of one-hundred and sixty-nine pancakes!

There were other stories and poems that made me laugh and piqued my imagination. To this day, that book is still one of my all-time favorites. Each time I open it, I am filled with wonderful memories of my childhood and reading.

What are some of your favorites?

Because I Said So

May 7, 2010

“A mother is she who can take the place of all others but whose place no one else can take.” Cardinal Mermillod

I’m convinced the moment a woman has her first child, the phrase, “because I said so,” becomes a permanent part of her vocabulary. Mother, child, and infamous motherisms are forever bound together.

When I was growing up, my mother had a stockpile of phrases that flew out of her mouth when she didn’t approve of something one of us kids said or did. You know the ones I’m talking about.

Look at me when I’m talking to you.

Who taught you that? You didn’t learn that in this house!

Your father is going to hear about this when he gets home!

Are you going out dressed like that?

Over my dead body!  

Close that door! Were you born in a barn?

If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you do it, too?

Money doesn’t grow on trees.

I brought you into this world, and I can take you right back out!

I swore when I became a mother I’d never say the things my mother said, but reality is harsh. I am my mother. Some of those exact sayings explode from my mouth when least expected. My daughter can attest to that. I guess it’s true. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  

There’s one phrase I do remember my mother repeatedly saying, and I hope my daughter remembers me saying it, too. Three simple words that meant the world to me — I Love You!

Do you have any memorable phrases your mother said while you were growing up?

Books to celebrate mothers:  Love You Forever by Robert Munsch (Firefly Books, 2000), Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joose (Chronicle Books, 1991), Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman (Random House Books for Young Reader’s, 1966), Thanks to You:  Wisdom from Mother & Child by Julie Andrews Edwards & Emma Walton Hamilton (HarperCollins, March 2010)

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