Book Review Wednesday: She Loved Baseball

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The picture book biography is a great way to get kids interested in history. (Previous reviews of PB Biographies here and here.) A good PB biography author needs a hook– a place for a young reader to access the story. This entry point is often hard to find. Audrey Vernick found a great hook, a sister’s desire to play baseball with her brothers, in SHE LOVED BASEBALL: THE EFFA MANLEY STORY.

Effa’s principal discourages her from playing with her own brothers because their skin is dark and hers is light. This scene sets the reader up for the story of Effa’s tenacious resistance to the segregation and bigotry of 1930’s and 1940’s and her love of baseball.

Effa Manley became one of the great business women in the Negro League. She cared for her players in the Newark Eagles and was eventually respected by other owners in the league. Especially interesting to me was the fact that Negro League owners were not always paid for their contracted ball players when the players were finally accepted/hired by white teams. Effa changed that with a press campaign. Later, her letter writing campaign in the 1970’s to the National Baseball Hall of Fame started the induction of Negro League players. She was posthumously honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame for her civil rights work and her work with the Negro Leagues.

Audrey Vernick’s text is well-suited to the picture book format. It is perfect for older elementary students researching on their own or for an adult read-aloud. The text and images are well-matched by illustrator Don Tate. Tate’s gestural figures and expressive faces pull in the reader into the historical period and the narrative.

Neither women’s history (March) or black history (February) need to be relegated to their  honorary months. SHE LOVED BASEBALL can be enjoyed year round.

Member Monday: All in the family

I know, I know. It isn’t Monday. I also know that I didn’t post on Friday. I was rerouted by a wonderful visit from my Mom and Dad, then my sister-in-law, her husband, and her two kiddos (under two years old) showed up. Needless to say, there was no peace or quiet but there was tons of fun. The 20 month old fell in love with our yellow lab. First word out of his mouth each morning? “LUCY!”

With all that was going on: parades, beach, playing outside, weeding gardens, going to baseball games, grocery shopping, laundry… no internet happened at all. No blogging, no email responses, no twitter and absolutely nothing wrong with that. It was great to get a break from the computer. The world in front of us and all around us is the one we must inhabit. Still, as a writer, the worlds I build in my WIP’s often seem as real, and as important as those flesh and blood settings in which I reside. A part of me needs the solitary activities of writing and drawing.

This makes me think about the upcoming summer months. Writing definitely has its rhythms. I write more in the October to December, and January to April season then most of the rest of the year, but I’d like to work all year long. I pulled my kiddos aside last night at dinner to discuss the fact that Mom still wants to work even when they are out of school. Did they have suggestions about how we would manage that? The conversation quickly refocused on them and whether or not they were old enough for jobs in town so I never got my answer. I’m curious, how do those of you with tweens and young teens make time to write in the summer?

At home today, waves of thunder and lightning crash outside my window. In the quiet space in between, the rain beats on the shingles, and birds twitter and chirp. My house is dark and calm and silent. Dog is snuggled on the rug. I am revising.

Book Review Wednesday: Duck Sock Hop

There’s nothing I like better than getting a new book in the mail. Yesterday, I found this…

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Dial Books For Young Readers (2012)
By: Jane Kohuth
Illu: Jane Porter

I loved it so much I had to write about it right away.

Jane Kohuth engages readers and listeners alike on a variety of levels. First we get the  rhythmic text about ducks who like to wear socks and dance, with playful, spot-on, finger- snapping, toe-tapping rhyme. On second look, the parent reader can point out a variety of concepts: shapes, colors, opposites (right/left, high/low) numbers “three ducks boogie, one duck rocks. Two ducks stop and trade their socks.”

The wonderful thing about this book is that it is a perfect example of how a picture books can include a plot arc with a conflict. (This is something that I often have to mention in editorial situations.) After the ducks boogie and rock, they dance holes in their socks. Kohuth gives enough fun-loving time at the beginning of the story for the readers to fall in love with, and really care for the ducks, so we really feel sad when the dancing is interrupted. The change of mood also adds much needed change-up to the rhyme and rhythm. The adult-reader gets a chance to involve the child listener, “What are the ducks going to do?” The solution– Band-Aids and snacks, make ducks infinitely relatable to the toddler set.

Debut illustrator Jane Porter places the brightly colored ducks on fields of white. In the following video she describes her process. She draws using india ink and often uses a stick as her drawing tool.  Readers of DUCK SOCK HOP can feel the dance-y movement in the gestural quality of her drawing. Next, she layers on color and texture digital. In this book, the duck feathers and the sock details both have a wonderful print feel.

Jane Porter Interview

If your kiddo liked…

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They’ll love DUCK SOCK HOP!

Member Monday: 5 + 1 Tips on Conference Proposals (the inside scoop)

I spent most of yesterday either driving to, being in, or driving from an NESCBWI RA/Advisory Board meeting. The driving I really hate, but the people I get to work with on the Advisory Board are wonderful.

We spent a great deal of time processing the evaluations from the most recent annual spring NESCBWI conference. Yes, we really do look at all of the comments so thanks to everyone who filled out an evaluation. Your workshop feedback helps us choose the Encore! schedule. You comments on how to improve the conference are implemented by the next conference director. This year, that person is Joyce Johnson. All conference communication should go to nescbwi13 at gmail dot com.

As an RA, the first question that I start to field about next year’s conference is, “When will you put out a call for proposals?” I can tell you that the announcement will be out sometime this week, and I’ll certainly post the info link that Joyce publishes.  If you are interested in presenting, now is a good time to get your ducks in a row. Below I’ve listed some tips to help you hone your workshop proposal idea.

  1. NESCBWI caters to many different constituents: writers, illustrators, industry professionals, beginners, intermediates, and PAL published. You will not be able to meet everyone’s needs. Don’t try. Be specific about your audience. If you say your workshop is for the most advanced members, be sure to be sophisticated, dig deep, and expect a high level of prior knowledge. We are eager to involve PAL members and would love some expert workshop presenters for this crowd.
  2. Also consider the time you will need. Too much time and you’ll be fumbling for enough info to fill the slot, praying that someone has a question for you. Not enough time and you’ll deliver your information so fast that no one will glean the benefits of your knowledge.
  3. Your MFA is awesome, and your graduation lecture/critical thesis was great but that doesn’t make it an SCBWI lecture. People want workshops that give craft-based how-to’s that inspire them to go home and get to work. MFA work is often very theoretical. See if there is a way that you can make your expertise more practical. If not, come up with another idea.
  4. If NESCBWI is going to pay you to come to teach at the conference, they want to get their money’s worth. If you have more than one AMAZING idea, or if you have an idea for something so popular that the conference committee would want to run it twice, that’s a benefit. In this same vein, panels are expensive. If you can do it yourself, and do it well, submit alone.
  5. Consider craft issues that you and your fellow writers/illustrators have faced and surmounted. (Humor in picture books, the omniscient narrator, multiple narrators, ripped from the headlines plots, diverse characters, showing emotion, rhythm in prose) How did you do it? How did others do it? Gather that info, analyze it, and present it in a direct and succinct way with clear examples, humor, time for questions, work time and …
  6. Never forget chocolate for the attendees.

Book Review Wednesday: At the bookfair.

Well friends, Creative Chaos finally broke the 100 views mark on Monday’s post, The Children’s Book Industry, a gendered affair.  Feel free to keep commenting there about your thoughts and ideas regarding the issue. It is obviously on the minds of many and also obvious that while valuing ourselves and our work is important, we can only go so far when limited by societal structures, budgetary constraints, and national policy that doesn’t support women, children, and families. Vote your interests.

TODAY… The Bookfair!

This week the Scholastic Bookfair visited my child’s elementary school and I volunteered. Yes, I know– therefore taking four hours away from my writing. However, I was able to watch kids and books and that is an eye-opening experience.

What they wanted:
It is true that many of them had five dollars or less and were gung ho to skip the books all together for a chance to purchase a pencil with the animal toppers that bug out their eyes when you squeeze. (huge hit) Diaries with locks for boys and girls also got a lot of touch time.

The money limit meant that they had to skip new releases. The big winners were mass market titles such as tie-in books Star Wars and anything lego was big with guys. Selina Gomez and iCarly, and Bad Kitty with girls. Ellen Miles has a series called Puppy Place that 2nd and 3rd grade girls tended to gravitate towards. The covers are super cute as was the book Little Pink Puppy about a piglet raised by a dachshund.

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The Titanic was represented at the Fair but I didn’t see a lot of kids gravitate towards it.

I did get asked for the Hunger Games more than a handful of times but since this was an elementary fair it wasn’t present. Sort of surprised since Allie Condie’s, Matched series, Legend, and the Patterson Witch & Wizard books were all on hand. 

Overall, the kids were asking for adventure, and animals. Can’t be more succinct than that.

My favorites from the fair:

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From Indiebound: Caroline lives on Meadowview Street. But where’s the meadow? Where’s the view? There’s nothing growing in her front yard except grass. Then she spots a flower and a butterfly and a bird and Caroline realizes that with her help, maybe Meadowview Street can have a meadow after all.

My take: On Meadowview Street, by Henry Cole, is a quiet picture book about the beauty around us when we appreciate nature and don’t try to control it. This PB was a bargain at $2.50 at the fair.

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From Indiebound: Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

My Take: The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate (yes the Animorphs author) is told from the point of view of Ivan, a silver back gorilla. This makes for a visually interesting book with short sentences and paragraphs. Readable and well-designed.

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From Indiebound: A reality-bending adventure from a Newbery Honor-winning author. Siblings India, Finn, and Mouse are stunned when their mom tells them they are flying that night–without her–to their Uncle Red’s home in Colorado. But things take an even more dramatic turn when their plane lands in a very unusual place. A mysterious driver meets them at the airport; when he drops them off at their “destination,” each kid suddenly has a clock with a different amount of time left. If the time runs out, they have to become permanent citizens in a place they don’t recognize or understand. Only if they work together can they call the driver back to help get them where they really belong. Suspenseful, funny, dramatic, and thought-provoking, this is a book that will stay with you long after you read the incredible ending.

My Take: Gennifer Choldenko brought us AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS and its sequel AL CAPONE SHINES MY SHOES. My boys and I were riveted by her storytelling in those books. NO PASSENGERS BEYOND THIS POINT was on the Spring 2011 Indiebound NEXT list.

Enjoy your reading!

Member Monday: The Children’s Book Industry, A gendered affair

A disclaimer is always at the bottom of this blog but before today’s post I just want to make sure it’s seen:

Disclaimer: As always: Any opinions expressed here are entirely my own and not the views of the SCBWI. FMI

Phew. Done.

Yesterday, as you probably know, was Mother’s Day here in America. Google made a super-cute, animated logo that jumped to the Wikipedia explanation of the founding of Mother’s Day by Anna Jarvis in 1908. Earlier though, in 1870 at the end of the bloody Civil War, Julia Ward Howe called for a Mother’s Day in honor of Peace. She, who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic, also wrote the Mother’s Day Proclamation. In the spirit of activism and women– today’s post.

What does Mother’s Day have to do with the Children’s Book Industry? Well, I’d bet money that a lot more than 50% of my (small) readership is women. How do I know? Go to any SCBWI conference and check out the bathrooms. We always switch one men’s room to a woman’s room in order to handle the demand. It’s not only the writers either. A large number of the editors and other industry professionals are women too– strong, intelligent, wonderful women.

In the illustration department the numbers start to sway. More men tend to be illustrators we know. Of the 12 illustrators in the “Bookmakers Dozen” only three are women. 

Now think about the people you see keynoting at national SCBWI conferences. The folks we know have really made it. Often men. I have nothing against these strong, intelligent, wonderful, men and I have to say that the tide IS changing. At the last few big conferences I attended, the podium seemed much more balanced. Nevertheless, one might ask… no, I ask… Why is it that we have an industry that is primarily female but whose big money makers are mainly male.

I’ve talked to a lot of people about this and have stitched together some thoughts on the issue. Below are four mistakes that women often make and men often don’t. (Let me mention that I do all of these things, all the time.)

1. Women often give away, that for which they should be compensated.
Think of your calendar, or list of things to do. How many times have you scheduled volunteer activities? Certainly there is nothing wrong with that, but all of those duties (often in service to our children) take away from time that you might do the work.  Further, how many times do you go into classrooms, or libraries to do readings or writing workshops for free? How much do you give away your Children’s Writing/Illustrating/or Publishing expertise?

Tip: Some pro bono work helps us get quotes and recommendations for our blogs, and helps us market ourselves, but have some sort of rule about how many or what kind of visit you will do for free and when those are done, say no to free visits.

2. Women often settle for compensation that is below the market value.
Our work and our knowledge is worth something. What is it worth? That is harder to determine. Some of us are published in magazines, some have books, some have awards. The Graphic Artist Guild has a Pricing and Ethical Guidelines publication that pools payment info and organizes it according to job and region so that illustrators/graphic artist have a better idea about the going rate and therefore know what to charge. Alexis O’Neill has this PDF entitled “What do I charge?” at her School Visit site. I think it would be interesting to have a survey of all SCBWI members about their visit and conference fees and to publish the results. Even if we knew what to charge though, women often settle for less. If you don’t believe me take a look at this book, or this book, or this article, or this one, or this one.

Tip: Do some research and ask people you respect how much they charge. I know, it’s scary. Ask anyway. Try to zero in on your worth and stick to it when a school starts telling you they don’t have any money. Research outside funding sources or grants that they could apply for in order to pay you your stated price. Ultimately, you are trying to sell books. Could they schedule a book signing event for the school where they contract with a local indie bookseller?  In terms of book contracts– get an agent. It used to be that those in the Children’s Industry didn’t need one. Those days are gone. Most publishing houses are closed to unagented manuscripts and the extra money you will get with an agent who knows editors and their contracts is significant.

3. Women often over-schedule outside events which leaves less time to do the work.
Anytime you are not writing, illustrating, sketching, revising, reading critically, you are not doing the work. Ultimately, your teaching or your school and conference visits depend on your publishing calendar. New books, mean new visits.

Tip: Be deliberate when scheduling visits. Budget out your year. Say to yourself, I want to make this much money from visits this year. I’ll need to do this many visits to make that happen. Try breaking your year into school visit season and writing season. You probably know your own work rhythms. Are you unproductive in January and February? Schedule all your travel and visits then.

4. Women have a lot they are responsible for and this keeps us from doing the work.
Many of us have a ton of domestic responsibilities. We drive children, do laundry, take care of our parents, and on, and on, and on. Ultimately, we will not get the book contracts if we don’t do the work. We can wait for another more favorable time (which may never come) or we can “write in the cracks,” a term I’m borrowing from Eileen Spinelli. Further, at-home loneliness often drives people (read: me) to social networking sites where we convince ourselves that we are building an online platform for the magical day when our book is purchased.

Tip: Value yourself and your work enough to get a babysitter, then run away and write or draw. If you have a spouse, negotiate time on your own and schedule it in the family calendar. Take a pen and notebook and write on the road. If your kid is in baseball practice, stay in the car and write or sketch. You don’t need a laptop and you especially don’t need the internet. If you are not published and that is your goal, I challenge you to find one hour each day when you are “building your online platform,” to do the work.

In closing– Value your time. Value your knowledge. Do the work. 

Five on Friday

1. A moment of wild rumpus for Maurice Sendak.

2. June 3, 2012, 7 pm, at University of New England, Portland campus, Taylor Mali, poet, performer and poetry slam winner will be reading. His poem “What Teachers Make,” went viral on YouTube a while ago and with the release of the poem in book form, it’s sure to start turning up again. Send it to your favorite teacher for Teacher Appreciation Week (May 7-11). Proceeds from the show go to help the Cobscook Community Learning Center. Also reading are Gary Lawless and Elizabeth Peavey. You can get ticket here.

3. This past weekend the family who lives on the Darthia Farm hosted the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance writer’s retreat providing a safe place for the participants to learn more about their craft. On Monday morning the farm buildings, hay, and livestock were destroyed in a tragic fire. The effort to rebuild this  iconic Downeast Maine organic farmstead please click here.

4. The good news: Four months of deployment done. The bad news: This week has been particularly difficult with the rain. I couldn’t manage to find any motivation– not for exercise, not for revision. I’d say I need a swift kick in the pants but what I really need is a shake. It feels as if there is a cloud all around me that’s hard to push through. The good news: Instead I dove head first into historical fiction by Phillipa GregoryTwenty more pages of THE LADY OF THE RIVERS, then I’m coming up for air and revisions. The bad news: It turns out to be the first of a series and I might have to read the next one.

5. The good news: I’m starting to entertain thoughts about our trip to Florence and Tuscany to meet up with my husband.

Book Review Wednesday: Middle Grade Book Talk

Still I Read
by Anna J. Boll (with apologies to Ms. Angelou)

Baseballs slump on backstops
games unable to proceed
Worms drown on the blacktop
but still I read.

Yes, it seems that the only thing that I can find motivation for these rainy, rainy days is reading. If you  are looking for new books to place on the top of your TBR (too-be-read) pile, look no further than today’s Middle Grade Books. These brand new releases are sure to be a hit with savvy middle grade readers. First on the list is the ONE FOR THE MURPHY’S. (Happy Book Birthday, Linda Mullaly Hunt!)

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Linda’s summary:

In the wake of heart-breaking betrayal, Carley Connors is thrust into foster care and left on the steps of the Murphys, a happy, bustling family.

Carley has thick walls and isn’t rattled easily, but this is a world she just doesn’t understand. A world that frightens her. So, she resists this side of life she’d believed did not exist with dinners around a table and a “zip your jacket, here’s your lunch” kind of mom.

However, with the help of her Broadway-obsessed and unpredictable friend, Toni, the Murphys do the impossible in showing Carley what it feels like to belong somewhere. But, when her mother wants her back, will she lose the only family that she has ever known?

My take:

Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s debut novel explores the conflicted feelings of Carley Connor as she leaves a dangerous home situation to join the foster care system and live with the Murphy family. Vaguely reminiscent of The Great Gilly Hopkins, Lynda Mullaly Hunt creates a story all her own with honest emotion and believable dialogue. Carley’s relationship with Foster Mom Julie Murphy is heartening and evolves beautifully.

For a sneak peak of the first chapter take a look on Linda’s website. (Growing book lovers tip: read this aloud to your middle grade students/kids. Who can resist a book after hearing the first chapter.)

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SEE YOU AT HARRY’S also launched this week (Happy Book Birthday, Jo!). When I asked her agent about this book before the launch he said, “Bring your tissue box.” Jo Knowles (LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL, JUMPING OFF SWINGS) recently won the SCBWI Crystal Kite for her novel PEARL. Jo is a wonderful and giving writer. If you are a writer, don’t miss her blog with Monday Morning Warm ups.

From the Candlewick site:

Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. It seems as though everyone in her family has better things to do than pay attention to her: Mom (when she’s not meditating) helps Dad run the family restaurant; Sarah is taking a gap year after high school; and Holden pretends that Mom and Dad and everyone else doesn’t know he’s gay, even as he fends off bullies at school. Then there’s Charlie: three years old, a “surprise” baby, the center of everyone’s world. He’s devoted to Fern, but he’s annoying, too, always getting his way, always dirty, always commanding attention. If it wasn’t for Ran, Fern’s calm and positive best friend, there’d be nowhere to turn. Ran’s mantra, “All will be well,” is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe it’s true. But then tragedy strikes- and Fern feels not only more alone than ever, but also responsible for the accident that has wrenched her family apart. All will not be well. Or at least all will never be the same.

My take:

With SEE YOU AT HARRY’S, Jo Knowles has given us a book that rings with emotional truth. In another author’s hands, the themes of family, self-discovery, and grief could feel heavy-handed or didactic. This reader never felt manipulated. In contrast, Knowles reveals a pathway into a very real family of six, each character beautifully whole and fabulously flawed. The plot was surprising and full of tension.

So there you have it. Book Review Wednesday (on Thursday) and plenty to read. Remember to support you local indie bookstore!

Member Monday: Read, read, read!

When the rain fell all last week, I holed up on the couch and read. When the sun came out, I dug the folding chair out of the garage, set it up in the sunshine and read. At the end of the day I felt a little guilty. There I was making dinner and I had limited writing or revising minutes to boast. In fact, I’d hardly done anything but read.

While I was in my MFA program, I didn’t feel guilty about reading. I was comfortable saying to my kids, “Mommy’s working.” I loved going to the library and coming home with a stack of books then reading them one after another or sometimes two at a time.

I know that reading is indeed part of my job. I need to know what books are on the market, and what books kids love. More important, I need to read critically. When I read, I’m constantly asking myself why. Why did the author make this word choice? How is the author going to weave these subplots together? When will this detail be relevant again and if it isn’t, why is it in the book at all? I question why a story doesn’t work and why it does. Good writers read.

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Because I am such a critical reader, it is harder to find books that are pure escape but I love searching for them. Today, I pushed away my guilt, took my Goodreads App to the library, and took out a small pile of books.

Sure, I’m still revising but if you see me with my nose in a book, please do not disturb… I’m working.