Monday, November 20, 2006

Tips for writers

I attended a local SCBWI meeting last week and heard Tanya Dean from Darby Creek Publishing speak (who pointed out that one of their books Cryptids has been nominated for a Cybil Award). She had some interesting advice for writers that I thought I would pass along.

First the DON'Ts:
  • Don't innundate an editor with calls and letters and emails once you've submitted something. Wait patiently then followup gently with an email or postcard. She said she likes it when an author follows up with a letter and includes a postcard with postage paid that has boxes that she can check off to let them know where she is with their manuscript i.e. I'm not interested, this manuscript is still in consideration, I did not receive this manuscript please send it.
  • Don't tell an editor, "This still needs work, but that's what you are for." You better be sending your very best work and consider hiring a freelance editor before submitting if you need help with spelling, grammar, etc.
  • In a picture book every word better matter.
  • When you're writing a query don't be a robot, be a person and let your personality shine through.
  • Don't be afraid to cut before you send a manuscript to an editor.
  • Don't depend on secondary sources, talk to experts and view the primary sources yourself.

Now the DO's:

  • Create a loveable, memorable character.
  • If you're getting specific feedback from an editor keep sumitting your future work as your writing improves.
  • Remember non-fiction shelf life is longer than most fiction.
  • Know what's going on in schools and how your writing might support current curriculum
  • Find a fresh way to approach your topic.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Fairest - by Gail Carson Levine

Fans of Ella Enchanted will be so happy to learn that Gail Carson Levine has published her own version of Snow White and it has numerous connections to Ella Enchanted. Ella’s best friend was Areida, a girl from the kingdom of Ayortha. Fairest takes place in Ayortha and the main character is Aza, a 15 year-old girl who was adopted by Areida’s family after she was abandoned at the inn they run when Aza was only one month old.

Aza has always assumed that she was abandoned because she is so ugly and out of place in a kingdom that highly values beauty. She is larger and wider than everyone else and her pale skin and black hair seem strange among the other Ayorthaians. She spends her time helping at the inn trying to avoid the guests who can’t help but gawp at her, but Aza is not without her charms. The Ayorthaians also value singing voices and she was born singing arias instead of crying. One day while cleaning a room she discovers she has the ability to throw her voice in a magical way which she calls illusing.

One of the inn’s frequent guests is a duchess who becomes fond of Aza because Aza cares for her pet. When her traveling companion becomes ill she chooses Aza to attend the King’s wedding with her. Aza is terrified at the prospect, but upon arriving at the castle she meets the Queen-to-be and after she discovers Aza’s illusing powers, they become quick friends. At first when the queen asks Aza to be her Lady-in-waiting, she doesn’t suspect ulterior motives, but they soon become clear and Aza is stuck working for the Fairest of them All.

I found this book a little heavier than Ella Enchanted; maybe because there’s so much negative focus on Aza’s appearance or maybe because there isn’t as much humor in it. I love figuring out the elements of Snow White that the author decided to keep and the connection to Ella Enchanted (another gift from the fairy Lucinda is causing trouble in this novel too). I really enjoyed Gail Carson Levine’s unusual twists that make Fairest so much more than just a Snow White story.

I was a little bothered with how passive Aza was, but I guess that’s just the nature of Snow White. I’d still highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good fairytale.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Alvina posted this list of the 100 best children's books from the National Education Association's page (from 1999, I think). The challenge is to mark the selections you have read in bold. If you liked it, add a star (*) in front of the title, if you didn't, give it a minus (-). Then, put the total number of books you've read in the subject line.

*Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
*The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
*Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
*The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
*Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
-Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
*The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
*Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
The Mitten by Jan Brett
*Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
*Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
*The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
*Where the Sidewalk Ends: the Poems and Drawing of Shel Silverstein by Shel Silverstein
*Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
*Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
*Oh, The Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss
*Strega Nona by Tomie De Paola
*Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
*Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? by Bill Martin, Jr.
*Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
*The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
*A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
*How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
*The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka
*Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by John Archambault
*Little House on the Prarie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
*The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne (I've read some, but not all)
*The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner (I was totally addicted to this series in third and fourth grade)
*Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
*Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
*Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
*Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
*The BFG by Roald Dahl
*The Giver by Lois Lowry
*If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
*James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
*Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
*Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
*The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
*The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner (this was a school assignment and I don't remember a thing about it other than the fact that I had to read it)
*Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
-Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O'Brien (I was terrified by the cartoon)
*Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
-The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
*Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
*The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
*Corduroy by Don Freeman
*Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
*Math Curse by Jon Scieszka
*Matilda by Roald Dahl
Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls
*Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
*Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
*The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White
*Are You My Mother? by Philip D. Eastman
The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis (only the first, so I'm not sure that I can count it)
*Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
*One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss
*The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
*The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
*The Napping House by Audrey Wood
*Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
*The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
*Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
* The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
-Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (You've already heard the explanation so please don't hate me!)
*Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss
Basil of Baker Street, by Eve Titus
*The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
*The Cay by Theodore Taylor (another school assignment I couldn't tell you about)
*Curious George by Hans Augusto Rey
*Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
*Arthur series by Marc Tolon Brown
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
*Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
*Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
*The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
*Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
*Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
*Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
*A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
*Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater
My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
Stuart Little by E. B. White
*Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
*The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
*The Art Lesson by Tomie De Paola
*Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
*Clifford, the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwel
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
*Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
*The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
*The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch

You can see how Fuse #8 did here

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Book Sale Time

Someone recently asked me when the next Scholastic warehouse sale is scheduled in the area so here's the info:

Lewis Center
Read Street, 459 Orange Point Drive, Suite A, Lewis Center, OH 43035 (800) 557-7323
Thurs, 12/7/2006 - Fri, 12/22/2006

Dec. 7th 10 AM - 7 PM
Dec. 8th and 9th 9 AM - 5 PM
Dec. 11th - 14th 10 AM - 7 PM
Dec. 15th - 22nd 9 AM - 5 PM
Closed Sun.

For those you you who haven't been to a sale, the Scholastic Warehouse Sales are a great place to build up your book collection because everything is at least 50% off the Scholastic price. As usual, this sale is really designed to reward teachers and volunteers for their help selling books, but in the past they didn't seem to mind that I'm not a teacher. They do count homeschoolers as educators so some of you that teach pre-school at home probably qualify that way. You can go to their site for more information or to register early. When you register online they usually give you a coupon too.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Rules - by Cynthia Lord

Rules by Cynthia Lord is one of those books that I didn’t want to pick up because I thought it was going to be totally driven by its message. Instead it was one of those books that I read late into the night that left me unable to sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Rules is about 12 year-old Catherine who writes rules for her autistic younger brother, David, to help him behave. She reasons that David doesn’t understand things they way most people do, he has to have people explain everything to him, thus the rules are necessary to help him learn things other people would naturally know such as, it’s fine to hug mom, but not ok to hug the clerk at the store.

Catherine is full of anticipation when she learns a girl her age will be moving in next door. She’s determined that they’ll become best friends, but a little worried that David will get in the way. Meanwhile she begins to make another new friend, Jason, as she waits for David during his occupational therapy sessions. Jason is paraplegic and can’t speak so he uses a book of words that he points to in order to communicate.

See, it sounds like a book trying to drill its message into your brain doesn’t it? But it doesn’t come off that way at all. The author carefully balances Catherine’s desire to be normal and her frustration with David with her love for David and the need every twelve-year-old has to be accepted. By the end of the book she learns the difference between rules and excuses.

As much as I enjoyed reading about Catherine’s relationship with her brother and her friends, it was her relationship with her parents that really got to me. Most preteens will be able to really relate to Catherine’s intense need for her parents attention when her parents are focused on other important things. Catherine could have easily come off as mean or selfish during certain points of the book, but Cynthia Lord does a wonderful job letting the reader understand her actions in order to balance things out, and I really appreciated that Catherine was a realistic kid, not a saint. I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that Cynthia is the mother to children, one of which is autistic, because I found myself often wondering how she could be so insightful about the familial relationships in this book.

-And for those of you that have read this book, I didn’t things Arnold Lobel’s Frog & Toad could be nearer and dearer to my heart, but after reading Rules it is.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Betsy Lewin

If you're in Columbus on Wednesday, November 8th and you happen to have some freetime, Betsy Lewin will be speaking at Cover To Cover and autographing books from 4:30 - 6:00. It's the perfect opportunity to get your copies of Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type or Dooby Dooby Moo signed.

December - Children's Poetry

We’ll be focusing on poetry for the month of December. Amy Hall will be hosting and she has selected The Random House Book of Poetry for Children for our reading. She also requests that you each choose a favorite poem (not necessarily from the The Random House Book of Poetry for Children) and bring the poem and a little bit of info about the author to share with us next month. Have fun browsing the poetry section at the library!

Wolves - by Emily Gravett

You might think I have a demented sense of humor for saying this, but Wolves is one of my favorite picture books of the year! Wolves begins with a rabbit going to the library to check out a book about wolves.

As rabbit begins to read the book and is drawn into it, the illustrations of the pages that rabbit is viewing in the book get larger and the reader's apprehension over what's going to happen grows until it looks like this (which sort of reminds me of how the illustrations in Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are grow as the story progresses and Max becomes wild).

The text on this page says, "Wolves eat mainly meat. They hunt large prey such as deer, bison and moose. They also enjoy smaller mammals, like beavers, voles and . . . "

You guessed it, "rabbits." I love this illustration because it's not too scary, but it clearly communicates what happened to rabbit.

At this point I know some of you are thinking, "What? This is a children's picture book?" and that is probably why the author included this note on the next page, "The author would like to point out that no rabbits were eaten during the making of this book. It it a work of fiction. And so, for more sensitive readers, here is an alternative ending." After which, we see this illustration with an explanation that this wolf was a vegetarian who shared lunch with rabbit and they became best friends.

Of course, readers who closely examine the next spread will not buy the alternative ending as it shows rabbit's doormat cover with mail that includes a notice for rabbit's overdue copy of Wolves.

I think most kids will find this book very funny. I thought it was rather clever, but the element of the book that I fell in love with was its design. The text of the book doesn't stand alone, it's the pictures that develop it further, as they should in every good picture book. And they make such wonderful use of white space (or cream space in this case) which is rare in the overstimulating picture books we often see these days. The book designer paid attention to every possible detail, even the publication information was formatted to look like a part of rabbit's story. The critical praise on the back cover is all made up to tie in with the story and rabbit puns abound, for example, "'A rip-roaring tail.' - The Hareold"

It's too bad that the author/illustrator is British because I think this book would have been a big contender for the Caldecott Medal, which tends to reward books that challenge the normal format of picture books and have engaging illustrations.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Fall Book Review

For those of you in Columbus, I just heard that Cover to Cover Children's Bookstore's fall book review is coming up. This is one of my favorite events of the year because they staff always has such honest and insightful things to say about the new books out there. Plus it's a great way to start your Christmas shopping because the attendees get an extra discount plus a bag of goodies.

They have two sessions so hopefully you can make one of them.

Tuesday, November 14th from 6:30 - 8:00 p.m.

Thursday November 16th from 6:30 - 8:00 p.m.