Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why didn't I write this book?

I just read Ella Kazoo Will Not Brush Her Hair by Lee Fox and illustrated by Jennifer Plecas. It's tons of fun and the rhymes work.
Ella Kazoo will not brush her hair.
She hides in the cupboard and under the stair.
She roars at her mum
Like a big growly bear,
she whines and she moans
and she howls in despair,
but Ella Kazoo will not brush her hair.
Ella's hair gets longer and wilder as the book goes on. As a girl's will! I thought it was a good read.

What I can't figure out is why I didn't write this book. Cause I had my own Ella.


Who now cares for her hair beautifully. Happy 16th, Abbie.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rules for writing

It isn't specifically about writing for children, but this article from The Guardian that asks lots of authors for their Ten Rules of Writing Fiction has a lot of helpful, amusing and sometimes baffling advice.

Unfortunately for those of us who are writers looking for ways to improve, the most common advice seemed to be that we have to write. I was hoping there was a pill or something.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Kirkus and a Rodney Dangerfield moment

In the "you never know" category... the owner of an NBA team and shopping mall developer has purchased Kirkus Reviews. Described as an inveterate reader, Herb Simon said "my love of books makes me want to be part of the solution for the book publishing industry.” Good for him.

And in another random thought for which there is no reasonable segue, I've been thinking about the lack of attention in the awards arena for writers of picture books. While illustrators and authors of books for older children get one day to bask (not to mention tremendous boosts in sales) when the ALA awards are announced each year, writers of picture books are ignored.

The Charlotte Zolotow Award is given to the best picture book text each year and that award has brought attention to some wonderful authors .... but they don't get asked to appear on the morning news shows, now do they? I don't want to sound like Rodney Dangerfield here, but really. (This year's winner was What Can You Do With a Paleta? by by Carmen Tafolla. Last year's, How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham, was edited by my editor at Candlewick, Joan Powers. I bet if you don't work in children's publishing you hadn't heard of these award winners. They and other books noted by the Cooperative Children's Book Center should be widely read!)

Both Kirkus and the CCBC do important work in helping readers, librarians and parents find good books. They both gave MM good reviews, so naturally that inclines me to like them. A star or notable designation would have translated to love, but like the man said, I don't get no respect.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

More monkeys in the fridge

I ran into a former colleague this week whose young daughter likes monkeys and has a copy of Maggie's Monkeys. Apparently Audrey keeps her pink stuffed monkey in her toy refrigerator.


(An explanation of the photo is here.)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Only One Year

I know I've given a good bit of space on this blog to books by my friends, but can I help it if I have such talented friends?

I missed the debut date of Andrea Cheng's latest book, Only One Year, but wanted to be sure to add my congratulations and encourage anyone who hasn't yet encountered this book or Andrea to check it out:
Sharon can hardly believe the news. Di Di, her two-year-old brother, is being taken to China to spend a year with their grandparents. Why can’t he go to day care or be watched by a babysitter when Mama goes back to work? Sharon wonders. But her parents say it is better for relatives to take care of little children.

After Di Di first leaves, Sharon and her younger sister, Mary, pore over the photographs their grandma sends, trying to keep their little brother fresh in their minds. As the year passes, the girls become involved with school, friends, and hobbies. They think of Di Di less often. Then one day he is home again, and it feels as if a stranger has entered their lives. The children struggle to sort out their mixed emotions but soon discover that the bonds among siblings hold strong.

This reassuring story is a gentle tribute to the enduring love of family, even when it is tested by a difficult choice.
Andrea's voice is one of the most confident and musical I've ever encountered. In this story, as always, she takes a gentle hand to the emotional life of a family. Horn Book said, "Cheng’s tender story reminds us that there are many ways to raise children." I certainly agree.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Books are for kids, silly rabbit

You gotta love The Onion.

Not that I have any problem with adults loving children's books. But they have a point.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The story behind the story: Kyle's Island

I'm pleased to welcome guest blogger Sally Derby, a well-established picture book author whose first middle grade novel, Kyle's Island, was released this week. Many of us who know and love Sally celebrated the release Tuesday at our wonderful local children's bookstore, the Blue Marble.

Here's a synopsis of the book from the publisher:
For as far back as Kyle can remember, he spent summers at Gram's cottage on the lake--fishing all day, and hanging out with the whole family. But this year is different. His father has moved out, his grandmother has died, and his mother is selling the cottage because they can't afford the upkeep.

Sally Derby takes readers to a small lake in 1970s Michigan, where thirteen-year-old Kyle comes to understand that loss isn't forever, and that people are more complicated than they seem.
 You can read an excerpt here. Now, here's Sally...

It’s exciting to be a guest blogger on Linda’s site, which I invariably find informative, insightful and entertaining. (I really wanted a third “i” there, but entertaining was the word that kept knocking, so I finally let it in.)

Tuesday night, in the afterglow of a satisfying book launch for Kyle’s Island, I lay in bed, too wound up to sleep, and thought about the book’s long road to publication. Earlier in the evening, I’d been asked a very common question — how long had it taken to et the story published — and, to be perfectly truthful, I think I fudged the answers. I’m just not a numbers person. What I should have answered was “A long time.”

But guilt (and the certainty that someone else would ask the same question at my next presentation) propelled me out of my warm, comfortable bed, past my sleeping husband, dog, and five cats, into my study to search my files for the answer. After about forty-five minutes of pulling out folders, rereading old letters, and throwing away miscellaneous papers (“Why am I saving a 1999 grocery receipt?”), I was able to crawl back into bed chilled but satisfied. My first rejection for Kyle came in 1997, and fifteen more rejections followed until Judy O’Malley at Charlesbridge accepted it in 2006.

So nine years and sixteen rejections, but how many revisions? As least twice that many, some based on comments in those rejections, some resulting from comments of Linda and others in my writing group, some from my own dissatisfaction with the manuscript. And if I had to start submitting it anew, I am sure I would find more changes to make. I don’t know a writer who is ever completely satisfied with what he or she has written.

Incidentally, picture books are no different. The changes that you make in them may not involve as many words, but they are no less significant. I can debate for days on whether to write “the sugar bowl” or “a sugar bowl” in a particular sentence. Which should it be here, “invited” or “had invited.” It makes a difference.

How could such minor word choices make a difference? In my writing I am trying to create a world in which someone else can immerse himself. Any jarring note, any little inconsistency that jolts the reader out of that world in order to think about the actual text is a flaw I want to correct.

To avoid the most obvious pitfalls, I start with what I know best. For an easy example, I set Kyle’s Island on a small lake I know as well as anyplace else on earth. Even though I haven’t been back there for years, love has preserved for me a whole mental album of lake memories. After I had Kyle placed firmly at the lake, I decided to set the time period in the 1970’s, because those were the years when my sons and daughter were growing up — without cell phones, without video games, without Facebook. I was much more comfortable putting a fishing pole in Kyle’s hand than giving him a cell phone so he could text his friends all the way from Cincinnati to Michigan.

Most importantly, I had to know Kyle himself. To do that, I had to let him find his own way through the difficulties I put in his way. As he did, I realized that sometimes Kyle was me, sometimes he was my oldest son, sometimes he was one of the other boys. Writing the book became a visit to a place and time I loved in the company of people I love. I didn’t want that visit to end. I hope when you read the book you will feel the same way.

PS: Sally's wonderful author photo was taken by my partner, Howard.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Well, this book certainly deserves to be banned

The dictionary? Really?

A California elementary school removed the Merriam-Webster's 10th edition from library and classroom shelves because it has "objectionable" phrases. Saner heads prevailed eventually and the dictionaries were put back, but the idea that anyone associated with education would take such an action is disturbing.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Kyle's Island

Congratulations to my friend and writing group comrade Sally Derby on today's release of her first middle-grade novel, Kyle's Island. Sally has a long list of fabulous picture books to her credit (No Mush Today, Hannah's Bookmobile Christmas, My Steps), but this is the first longer work she's published.

I had the great pleasure of reading this in manuscript when Sally first began developing it, and I know how long and hard she's worked for this day. Sally is one of the most tenacious writers I know. This story is shaped by her love for a very special summer home, giving it a wonderful sense of place.

Here's a description from Booklist:
When Kyle and his family return to their beloved lake cottage in Michigan, his mother drops the bomb that this will be their last summer there. Newly divorced, she feels forced to sell the property to make ends meet. A veteran fisherman at age 13, and very much tuned into lake life and nature's simple pleasures, Kyle rages at the prospect and boils inwardly at his father for causing the family's upheaval. Stung by loss, and out of sorts with this unwelcome transition in his life, Kyle trudges through the days of what was supposed to be a great summer. He also makes a quest out of exploring an unihabited island in the lake. When he connects with a somewhat mysterious neighbor and takes him on fishing excursions, Kyle learns more about the island and begins to feel empathy for other people's stories. A sensitive coming-of-age tale that does not tie up ends too neatly.
 Sally has agreed to be a guest blogger and tell us more about this book's journey soon. Stay tuned!