Tag Archive: writing


Poet by Don Tate

Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton by Don Tate

Released September 1, 2015.

George’s family were slaves in North Carolina. Though he loved words, George was not allowed to learn to read. But he listened when the white children did their ABCs and then got himself an old spelling book along with a book from his mother and taught himself how to read. He read everything that he could find, but loved poems most of all. He spent his workdays composing poems in his head, though he didn’t know how to write them down. Soon after, his family was split apart and he was sent to live on another farm. He worked in the fields and was sent to Chapel Hill to sell fruit and vegetables to the students. While there, he started to share his poetry aloud. The students loved his words and helped him by giving him more books to read and paying him to write poems for them. He was also taught to write his poems down and soon had his writing published in newspapers. George could then negotiate with his master to pay him for his time away from the farm where he could write. As George created the best life he could while still living a slave, the country was changing and a war for freedom was about to be fought. It was a war that would free George finally and allow him to continue writing but this time a free man.

Tate captures the life and times of this remarkable man with a tone of wonder at times. What Horton managed to do in his lifetime under slavery is amazing and a sign of the quality of the words he wielded so well. As readers watch Horton grow up and then fight for his freedom in his own way, with words, they will be devastated when he continues to be a slave despite his best efforts. Even the work of others on his behalf could not get him free.

Tate’s illustrations are exceptional. One can see the yearning for education on Horton’s face as he watches the white children learn to read. Tate also makes sure that Horton’s image shines on the page. He is regularly lit from outside lights of candles and the sun, creating a light around him. The illustrations also show North Carolina in the mid-1800s and Chapel Hill in particular. Tate also incorporates some of Horton’s poems into the illustrations, allowing them to flow past visually.

This is a choice nonfiction picture book that shows the strength of one man, his intelligence and the power of his words. Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Peachtree Publishers and Netgalley.

Billys Booger by William Joyce

Billy’s Booger by William Joyce (InfoSoup)

This memoir in picture book format celebrates the creativity of a child destined to become an author. William has trouble at school. He wishes math were as much fun as the comics in the newspaper. He wants to play invented sports in gym instead of the normal ones. Notes are sent home from school. Then along comes a creative writing contest and William is very excited. He works and works on his entry. It’s title is Billy’s Booger and it’s all about a booger in his nose that gets super powers. But when the prizes are given out, Billy doesn’t win any of them, not even honorable mention. He is devastated and starts to act like everyone else. When he’s returning all of the book he used for research for his own book, he hears laughter in the library and heads over to investigate. A group of kids is reading his book and the librarian tells him that out of all of the entries in the contest, his is the most popular! He may not have won the actual prizes, but got something even better.

Joyce tells the story with a wonderful tone. He explains the earlier time when he grew up and children played outside rather than at playdates, when there were only three channels on the TV, and when funnies in the paper were a huge part of your day. It is a memoir about a kid who doesn’t quite fit into the school mold. It’s less about the grownups and how they dealt with him, though that is there in the background and more about him as a child and what he loved to do even then. It’s a testament to following your dream, to doing what you love and what you have always loved.

The illustrations are done in Joyce’s signature style, one that embraces vintage elements but also shines with a modern feel too. My favorite part of the book was the insert with William’s book in it. Happily, the pages are made from construction paper that feels so different in your hand. When I turned the page and saw it I cheered aloud. It is such a change from the finished and lovely illustrations in the rest of the book to move to these rougher drawings and paper. What an important element to embrace.

Fans of Joyce will love this glimpse of him as a child and it may inspire children to try their own hands at writing. Get this funny book out when creative writing projects are coming to help inspire really creative responses. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Rufus the Writer by Elizabeth Bram

Rufus the Writer by Elizabeth Bram, illustrated by Chuck Groenink (InfoSoup)

Released July 14, 2015.

One summer Rufus decides not to have his regular lemonade stand. Instead he will do a story stand! So he gets all set up wtih plenty of paper, pencils, pens and markers. When Millie and her little brother Walter stop at the stand, Rufus agrees to write them a story in exchange for a special shell from the beach. The story is about Walter’s favorite color. Sandy stops by with a box of kittens and even though they are free, Rufus writes a story in exchange for the black kitten, a story about cats. Rufus is reminded that his little sister’s birthday is tomorrow and he knows that a story will be the best present. Sara stops by and asks for a story about buttons, so Rufus agrees in exchange for whatever Sara thinks it should be worth. All of his customers pick up their stories at the same time and sit right down to read and enjoy them.

This smart blend of lemonade stand and creativity makes for a book premise that is very engaging and fun. Particularly pleasant is the lack of focus on money as payment and instead allowing a warm and friendly bartering system in exchange for Rufus’ stories. The values make sense, paid in kittens, shells and flowers. Also great is the way that Rufus’ stories are each designed specifically for that reader, with their favorite color or via the subject matter. The stories are engaging and fun, just brief enough to give a flavor and not slow the main storyline down.

Groenink’s illustrations are done in gouache, acrylics and pencils with Adobe Photoshop. They are warm and bright, showing a friendly neighborhood with plenty of ethnic diversity in Rufus’ customers. They have a playful feel with the trees around Rufus’ stand done in a whimsical way and various woods animals peeking at what is going on. The illustrations in Rufus’ stories are drawn with fine details and show the coloring lines. They have the same quality and feel of the other pictures but also have a distinct style of their own.

A celebration of creativity and writing, this book may inspire children to find their own variations on lemonade stands or even try their hand at writing and illustrating their own stories. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Schwartz & Wade and Edelweiss.

by mouse and frog

By Mouse and Frog by Deborah Freedman

Released April 14, 2015

Mouse wakes up early to start work on the new story she wants to write. It is a quiet story about a mouse who is setting the table. But before she can get any farther in her story, exuberant Frog hops in and starts adding new elements to the story, including cake, a king, and lots of ice cream. Meanwhile Mouse is trying to mop up all of the mess of the spilled tea, melting ice cream, while Frog gets completely out of control and takes over entirely. Finally Mouse has had enough and yells that Frog is not listening at all! They erase the entire mess of Frog’s story and start again with just Mouse’s ideas of morning tea. Frog is forlorn, unable to help until Mouse realizes that there is room in the story for her quiet ideas and Frog’s wild ones.

Freedman shows without any didactic tone that collaboration on stories and art is possible, as long as everyone listens, communicates and compromises. In fact, the end result is a lot more lovely! Showing that wild ideas are not the best way to come up with a story, but that also quiet thoughts have value, is a wonderful show of support for quieter thinkers. At the same time, that wild moment of Frog’s makes the entire book work, showing how out of control and wonderful some ideas can be. It’s a balanced look at creativity and collaboration that is welcoming and inclusive.

As always Freedman’s art is exceptional. Once again she does washes of watercolor that are gorgeously messy and free. The spilled tea and other elements of Frog’s story embrace all of that. Mouse’s story is shown in pencil drawings that are childlike and rough while also being very neat and structured. They show each characters personality clearly. At the end, it is a lovely marriage of the two styles, filled with bright colors and yet neat as a pin.

Creative and great fun to share aloud, this picture book demonstrates how teamwork and collaboration should work. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from ARC received from Viking Books for Young Readers.

poem in your pocket

A Poem in Your Pocket by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

The third in the Mr. Tiffin’s Classroom series, this book focuses on Elinor, a girl who just wants everything to be perfect.  Unfortunately though, poetry and perfection really don’t work together no matter whether you are talking haikus, concrete poems or rhyming stanzas.  A poet is going to be visiting their school and Elinor desperately wants to impress her with her poetry.  But as the time goes by, the pressure builds and Elinor becomes less and less able to write poetry.  When she finally does start writing, she’s not happy with any of the poems she has written.  Can the kind teacher Mr. Tiffin find a way to let Elinor know that it’s OK to make mistakes?  Maybe this is a job for a poet!

This is a wonderful addition to an already strong series.  McNamara “perfectly” captures the trap of perfectionism for students and the pressure that it builds in a person.  Tying it to poetry was inspired, something that doesn’t work with tension or pressure but instead relies on inspiration and creativity.  Elementary students will see themselves in both Elinor and her classmates who are more relaxed about the entire thing.  Watch for the poem that ties to How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? for fans of the series. 

Karas’ illustrations continue in his signature style that is playful and friendly.  His drawings add to the accessibility of the entire book and the series as a whole. 

A winning addition to a popular series, this third book will delight during poetry units and may inspire a more relaxed approach to writing too.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Schwartz & Wade and Edelweiss.

any questions

Any Questions? by Marie-Louise Gay

Where do stories come from?  How are books made?  These questions that authors often get from children are the subject of this picture book from an author who has written and illustrated many picture books.  Together the author and a group of children asking delighted questions create a story right in front of the reader.  They take inspiration from the kind of paper the story is written on, the colors of the page.  They talk about how ideas happen, and how sometimes they are great ideas but don’t become a book or that not all ideas fit into a single story.  Ideas sometimes don’t appear and you have to wait for them, doodling and dreaming of other things until they arrive.  And then something happens, and it starts to become a story!  The children in the book get involved and the story takes a surprising turn.  Luckily story telling is flexible and able to deal with wild purple monsters who come out of the woods.  This is a great look at the creative process and how books are made, written at a level that preschool children will enjoy and understand.

Gay is so open and inviting in this picture book.  She is refreshingly candid about the creative process and all of the bumps and twists along the way.  The invitation to the reader along with the child characters in the book to be part of creating a story is warm and friendly.  All ideas are welcome, some work and other don’t, and that is all embraced as part of creativity. 

Gay’s illustrations continue the cheerfulness of the text.  They combine writing in cursive with story panels and speech bubbles with characters in the book.  It’s all a wonderful mix of styles that gets your creativity flowing.

Expect children to want to write their own stories complete with illustrations after reading this!  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Two by Tullet

Herve Tullet is one of the most innovative picture book authors around today.  I look forward to his books to see what he will come up with.  This year, we have two new books by him.

help we need a title

Help! We Need a Title! by Herve Tullet

This first book is not quite ready to be read yet.  In fact, the characters inside are still getting ready.  There isn’t really a story, though they are looking for one.  And the characters themselves are rough sketches rather than lovely images.  In fact, the entire inside of the book is a mess.  Perhaps if we found an author?  But even that doesn’t help much, especially when the characters are disappointed in the story he creates for them.  Yet in the end, it is a book, with a story, some funny moments, and it even manages to tell readers how a book is created and what its elements are.

Quite clever, once you get past the rough illustrations and embrace them as part of the concept.  Tullet himself appears in the book, his photographed head and shoulders plunked onto a drawn body.  The entire book feel unfinished, but that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to feel.  This is a clever way to introduce young children to authors, writing, and how stories are crafted.

mix it up

Mix It Up! by Herve Tullet

Released September 16, 2014.

Following his clever Press Here, this book invites readers to touch the pages once again.  Except in this book, readers are mixing colors, mashing things together, combining things, and having a marvelous messy time.  Tullet excels at creating books that are immensely participatory despite having no flaps or pop ups.  It’s all in the readers’ imaginations and that’s such a wonderful thing.

I consider this one of the best picture books about color that I have ever seen.  Thanks to the feel of mixing the paints yourself, readers are left with a deeper understanding of color.  They will get to add white to colors and see what happens, and black as well.  They create secondary colors from primary ones and leave their own hands on the page too.  Clever, interactive and wildly imaginative, this is another winner from Tullet.

Both books are appropriate for ages 3-5 and both will be embraced by readers of all ages.

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AFTER THE BOOK DEAL – Guest Post by Jonathan Auxier

The Internet is full of great advice about how to sell a book, but what about after the sale? When my first book came out, I found it was surprisingly hard to find answers to some basic questions. Like most authors, I learned most of the answers through trial and error. And so in anticipation of the launch of my new novel, The Night Gardener, I’ve decided to write down everything I learned so I don’t make the same mistakes twice!

AFTER THE BOOK DEAL is a month-long blog series detailing the twenty things I wish someone had told me before entering the exciting world of children’s publishing. Each weekday from now until MAY 20, I will be posting an article on a different blog.

Jonthan Auxier Headshot - web square

Can You Hear Me Now?: Skype Visits

Today I wanted to talk a little bit about one valuable tool way to connect with readers: Skype visits! Below are a few things I’ve picked up from numerous Skype visits …

Get a “Studio”

This is actually one of my biggest challenges right now. If you plan on doing a lot of Skype visits, you will save a lot of time by having a set space with lights and an appropriate background—that way you don’t have to fiddle around framing the shot beforehand. Unfortunately, since having baby #2, my office has been relocated to our unfinished basement. It’s actually a good place for me to work, but it has a definite “dungeon” vibe. One of my goals after The Night Gardener comes out is to spend a little time putting up some lights, so at least the dungeon looks cheerful!

NightGardener Cover

Use Skype as an Incentive

The first thing I like do with Skype visits is use them as a way to incentivize teachers and librarians. I usually do not charge for visits, but I do require that the entire class has read my book. This has value for two reasons. First, it motivates teachers to actually read my book aloud—assuring greater exposure and (I’m hoping) a bigger fan base for subsequent books. Second, it’s much easier to answer direct/specific questions from students—video is a pretty stilted medium, and it goes better if the kids already feel like they know me through my work.

Encourage Preparation

While kids can be awesomely creative, they are not always fast on their feet. Many times a kid will start asking a question only to forget what they were saying halfway through. In order to cut down on this, I ask teachers to work with kids to develop questions before hand an write them on cards (which they can consult). This has the added bonus on cutting down on repeated questions.

Develop “Bonus Material”

I try to think of my Skype visits like the “deluxe blu-ray” experience for my book. I try to include behind-the-scenes stories to share with kids so that they feel special. For example, when talking Peter Nimble, I read the scene from Treasure Island that first inspired me to write a blind character. I also read aloud a short chapter from Peter Nimble that my editor made me cut out because it was too gruesome—kids love it!

MsM

Make Each Visit Unique

I try to also do something that is unique to that specific class. Often this involves drawing a silly digital portrait of the teacher. Of course, there is such a thing as taking this idea too far. A few weeks ago, I wanted to make a really memorable Skype visit for an awesome, supportive teacher. I ended up playing a “game” with kids where I let them all pick a different ingredient from my fridge to mix into a bowl. Then at the end, I promised to eat it. I’m not going to say I actually puked … but I came pretty darn close! (You can read all about it here.)

That’s it for AFTER THE BOOK DEAL! Tomorrow we’ll be talking about how to craft an effective school program! In the meantime, you can catch up on previous posts (listed below), and please-oh-please!

AFTER THE BOOK DEAL – Stops So Far

WEEK ONE: Before Your Book Comes Out
4/21 – Finding Your Tribe: entering the publishing community

4/22 – Do I Really Need a Headshot?: crafting your public persona

4/23 – I Hate Networking: surviving social media

4/24 – A Night at the Movies: the ins and outs of book trailers

4/25 –  Giveaways! … are they worth it?

WEEK TWO: Your Book Launch
4/28 – Can I have Your Autograph?: 5 things to do before your first signing

4/29 –  Cinderella at the Ball: planning a successful book launch

5/1 – Being Heard in the Crowd: conferences and festivals

5/2 – The Loneliest Writer in the World: surviving no-show events

WEEK THREE: The Business of Being an Author
5/5 – Handling Reviews … the Good and the Bad!

5/6 – Back to the Grindstone: writing your next book

5/7 – The Root of All Evil: some thoughts on money

5/8 – The Green-Eyed Monster: some thoughts on professional jealousy

WEEK FOUR: Ongoing Promotion

5/12 – Death by 1000 Cuts: Keeping busywork at bay

***

JONATHAN AUXIER writes strange stories for strange children. His new novel, The Night Gardener, hits bookstores on May 20—why not come to his book launch party? You can visit him online at www.TheScop.com where he blogs about children’s books old and new.

Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

fangirl

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Cath knows exactly what she is.  She’s a fan of Simon Snow, a magical series of books that rival Harry Potter in popularity.  She’s a twin.  She’s a college freshman.  And she does not want to go out and meet people or party.  She’s much happier in her dorm room writing fan fiction about Simon Snow and his arch nemesis Baz, where she has reworked them as a steamy gay couple.  Cath’s twin also attends the same college, but Wren does not want to be seen much together and is completely into the college party scene.  So Cath spends much of her time alone or with her prickly new roommate, eating protein bars and peanut butter because the dining hall freaks her out.  Soon Cath will be asked to choose between writing fiction and writing Simon Snow fan fiction.  She will need to figure out how to let her Dad live his own life even though he is fragile.  But most of all, she needs to figure out how to live life on her own terms and have it be a life worth living.

Rowell does it again with this second book for teens.  Her writing voice is uniquely hers, so that her books could only be written by her.  She has a wonderful sense of humor that runs through her books, often popping up in the most serious of moments like humor often does in real life.  This book is complicated, about more than one expects from the title.  While it is about fan fiction, it’s also about so much more, including being a young writer, the writing process, siblings, broken families, and even first love.

Her characters are deep and worth spending time with.  Cath is remarkable both in her own issues that she carries with her but also in the way that she survives and flourishes.  Her early days at college echo many of my own fears, though I never succumbed to eating protein bars to survive.  Many high school students will see their own thoughts reflected here too.  It’s universal and makes Cath immediately relatable and lovable.  And I must comment again about how well Rowell writes romance and sex scenes.  Sex is part of life in her novels, something to be applauded, where no young women are made to feel slutty because they are sexually active.  It is beautifully handled.

I can’t wait to see where Rowell takes us next.  She is an author who belongs on lists alongside John Green and Gayle Forman.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

little red writing

Little Red Writing by Joan Holub, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

This is a fresh version of Little Red Riding Hood.  Here Little Red is a pencil and her assignment in school is to write a story, even though it can be quite dangerous.  Her teacher gives her a basket of words to use in case of an emergency, but also warns her to stick to her basic story so that she doesn’t get lost.  Little Red starts writing but soon tries to add more excitement to her story.  Before she knows it, she has bounced right off of the page and into a forest.  It’s a forest full of description, but that’s also something that can bog down a story.  Little Red has to use a word from her basket to get free.  More perils follow with sentences that run on, abandoned punctuation, and a growling voice and twirly tail that lead right to the principal’s office.  It is up to Little Red to both be a hero and finish her story.

Holub has written a very engaging new version of Little Red Riding Hood.  She successfully ties in tips on writing, not allowing them to force her to leave the basic story path.  Her writing is entirely engaging, the format of the story writing works well and she weaves the classic elements of the tale into this one so that it is different but still recognizable. 

Sweet’s illustrations are done in her signature combination of cut paper and drawings.  Her bright colors add much to the liveliness of the book.  She uses the cut paper to good effect throughout, allowing them to set aside important parts of the book as well as using fonts of various styles to really make the book stand out. 

A great pick for writing units, this is one of the best changed-up Red Riding Hoods that I’ve seen.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

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