Member Monday: Kites Are Flying!

It’s the first Monday in March but it is certainly not kite flying weather in Maine. We’ve had two late snow falls and while I was eager for snow in December, now I’m ready for spring. There’s nothing like the SCBWI Golden Kite Announcements to give me that warm fuzzy feeling inside.

A huge congratulations to the winners: Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray; Candace Fleming, Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart; Kate Messner, Over and Under the Snow; and (fellow Mainer) Melissa Sweet, Balloons Over Broadway.

“But that is not all,” said the Cat in the Hat…

Last Wednesday, the voting on the Crystal Kite nominations closed and this week– uour finalists were announced! To vote: SCBWI Members should sign in, go to their member home area, and follow the “what’s going on in my region,” link. Next click on the Crystal Kite tab on the far right. Votes are based purely on personal opinion and no campaigning of any kind is permitted. Votes close on March 16th.

Congratulations to the regional finalists for New England:

At The Sea Floor Cafe
Leslie Bulion
Peachtree Publishers

Red Sled
Lita Judge
Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster)

Jo Knowles
Henry Holt Books for Young Readers

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature
Beth Krommes
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Wink the Ninja Who Wanted to Nap
Julie Phillipps
Viking Children’s Books (Penguin Young Readers Group)

Island’s End
Padma Venkatraman
Penguin Group

Celebrating all these great books for kids lifts my spirits– a little like flying a kite on a warm spring day.

Book Review Wednesday: Sleds and Balloons

Happy Book Birthday to Red Sled, by Lita Judge and Balloons Over Broadway, by Melissa Sweet. Both of these wonderful, kind, talented and generous women have been featured here at Creative Chaos before and I’m pleased to welcome them back.
If you loved our early snowstorm, Red Sled, will take you into the cool blues of winter with loose and lovely watercolors.
Starred From Kirkus: “Judge’s latest may be virtually wordless, but it packs a powerful visual punch that will stick with readers long after the final page is turned…Though rendered simply, Judge’s pencil-and-watercolor animals are gloriously full of life and infectious joy. Readers will be hard-pressed to finish this without letting their own joy show through. Pure genius.”

I attended Lita’s book cover workshop at the NESCBWI Spring Conference. In addition to giving all of the participants generous feedback on their work, she also shared the journey to the cover of Red Sled. It was not easy folks. There is a mystery in this almost wordless picture book and it was difficult to show what the book was about without revealing the ending.
Enjoy the trailer of the book here or there:

For those of you who are counting down the days to Thanksgiving, pick up Melissa Sweet’s, Balloons Over Broadway. This is a picture book biography of Tony Sarg, who was responsible for many of the helium balloons we enjoy in the Macy’s Day parade.
Starred From Kirkus: “This clever marriage of information and illustration soars high.”
Starred From School Library Journal: “Sweet tells this slice of American history well, conveying both Sarg's enthusiasm and joy in his work as well as the drama and excitement of the parade. Rich in detail, the gouache, collage, and mixed-media illustrations are a stand-out, capturing the charm of the period and the awe-inspiring balloons. This one should float off the shelves.”
And here is a fun illustrated interview with Melissa about the book!

Have a great picture book week.

Book Review Wednesday: Picture Book Biographies 2

This is the second installment of a book review and discussion of picture book biographies. The first one is here, if you’d like to read it or I can just catch you up. Because PB biographies are so short, it is my opinion there needs to be a focus on language, and story over biographical information. Last week I talked about the hook and through line in the Joseph Albers book An Eye for Color, as well as the wonderful language in Susannah Reich’s José! Born to Dance. Today I’m going to discuss voice, and how illustrations can be used to create character.

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We start with Lita Judge’s, Yellowstone Moran: Painting the American West. In the interest of full disclosure, I need to say that Lita is a dear friend but don’t let your knowledge of that fact minimize the sincerity of my praise.

An author writing a picture book biography has to, as any picture book author, leave space for the illustrator to add to the story telling. Lita is an author/illustrator so the evolution of her pictures and text happen in a more streamlined and dynamic way. Throughout the revisions, new art might change the text, new text might change the art.

In this book, the art is a key part of the characterization of Tom “Yellowstone” Moran. Moran was an artist who set up his easel in the wilds of the American West. Lita is also a plein air painter. Plein air painters paint outside catching the light and colors of the landscape moment by moment. Lita brings this skill to the book. Sweeping canyon and mountain panoramas are interspersed with framed inset spot illustrations. What does this have to do with PB biographies?

Lita’s paintings create character. Not only by what they portray but also by how she portrays the landscape. The reader understands the humility, dedication, and sense of mission in Tom Moran by the way the natural world is depicted. The text confirms this. The reader learns how Tom took a chance by leaving Philadelphia and coming out to join a scientific party with only a letter of recommendation. How he presses on through the pain of riding a horse for the first time, camping in difficult conditions, and forging new trails. Each of the inset illustration is a window into a more intimate aspect of Moran’s character. They let the reader glimpse his sketchbook, as well as quiet or difficult moments for the title character.

At the end of the book, the reader gets to see the actual 1872, Thomas Moran oil painting of the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone.  The grandeur of the landscape literally dwarfs humankind, as Moran has included tiny figures in the foreground.

Many author’s notes in PB biographies give more facts and dates that the author couldn’t fit into the text. Lita’s author/illustrator notes relay more of her research process and personal connection to the story.

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Jonah Winter is the author of many PB biographies and is so prolific that if you have an idea for a manuscript, you should check his list of titles first. His 2008 releases include books about Barack Obama, Roberto Clemente, and Muhammad Ali. In 2009, Sonia Sotomayor and the book I’m going to talk about today, You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?!

The voice of Winter’s narrator for this book is chummy and knowledgeable. He quotes players and gives the reader a VIP view from the dugout. While the narrator is never identified, he seems like the crusty old guy you happen to sit next to in the cheap seats one day, the guy who keeps score of the hits, runs, and plays. Once you buy him a hot dog, he starts to tell you about how it was back in the day when he used to play as a Dodger.

The voice is so easy to listen to, the crusty old player is such a good storyteller, that the child listener/reader doesn’t even realize how long the guy has been talking. For those writers who obsess over word count, remember that first an foremost it is the author’s job to tell a good story. Winter packs the book with information from Koufax’s beginnings as an athletic teenager, to his Dodger debut, to how he sat out the World Series game that conflicted with Yom Kippur, to his surprise retirement. More information, in the form of baseball stats, peppers the pages of the book and give the info-loving kid plenty to read and memorize. A glossary of baseball terms finishes the book. The important thing here is that the voice Winter creates allows the reader to focus on story and take away those facts that seep in naturally.

If my voice sounds a little academic this week, it is because a lot of the text from the two blogs will be in my critical essay about Picture Book Biographies. Here’s a quick list of the books I’ve talked about and a few others that you may want to check out.

Bryant, Jennifer. A river of words : the story of William Carlos Williams. Grand Rapids  Mich.: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2008. Print.

Judge, Lita. Yellowstone Moran : painting the American West. New York  N.Y.: Viking, 2009. Print.

Reich, Susanna. Jose! Born to Dance: The Story of Jose Limon (Tomas Rivera Mexican-American Children’s Book Award. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2005. Print.

Wing, Natasha. An eye for color : the story of Josef Albers. 1st ed. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2009. Print.

Winter, Jonah. Barack. Katherine Tegen Books, 2008. Print.

—. Dizzy. 1st ed. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2006. Print.

—. Frida. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2002. Print.

—. Muhammad Ali: Champion of the World. Schwartz & Wade, 2008. Print.

—. Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Atheneum, 2008. Print.

—. Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx / La juez que crecio en el Bronx. Bilingual. Atheneum, 2009. Print.

—. You never heard of Sandy Koufax?! 1st ed. New York  N.Y.: Schwartz & Wade Books, 2009. Print.

Book Review Wednesday: Pennies for Elephants

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Judge, Lita. Pennies for Elephants. Hyperion. New York, 2009.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should tell you that Lita Judge is a dear friend who I met when she was just starting in the world of children’s book illustration. In the following years, she illustrated covers, and picture books written by others. Most recently she has had a string of amazing, award winning picture books published (see awards listed here) that she both wrote and illustrated. Lita comes from a background of fine art which is crystal clear from her command of color and composition. She also comes from a science background and knows how to research a subject. Pennies for Elephants, shows-off Lita’s command of research and painting technique.

Pennies for Elephants is based on the true story of the children of Boston in 1914 who purchased three elephants for the Franklin Park Zoo. The story follows Dorothy and her brother Henry who earn and save pennies, nickels, and dimes to help make the purchase of the elephants a reality.

One of the most interesting editorial and design decisions for the book is the use of newspaper clippings to update the reader on the fundraising developments and provide information about the sale of the three elephants. These bits of newspaper are masterfully painted gray scale reproductions of the Boston Post by the author. This is where Lita’s research really shines. The newspaper clippings throughout the book and on the endpapers contain wonderful old ads (Children’s 49¢ rompers at 29¢, The Grant Car $495) that pull us right into Boston at the turn of the century.

The reader is immersed in setting and mood through the vibrant full color watercolors of Dorothy, Henry and their neighbors as they navigate Boston and the purchase of the elephants. I know that as reference for the people, Lita had a costume party for local kids in her New Hampshire community. The cityscapes reveal Lita’s research of clothing, style, automobiles and transportation, economics, and architecture.

The prose, told from Dorothy’s point of view is well written and engaging. While the text in the news clippings adds to the content, I found that while reading the book aloud, the clippings sometimes hindered the flow of the story.

The book recently received the 2009 New Hampshire Literary Awards as an Outstanding Work of Children’s Literature. Pennies for Elephants, like Lita’s One Thousand Tracings, and the newly released Yellowstone Moran, is a wonderful example of a literary nonfiction for children. Teachers and parents should make sure to visit the Pennies for Elephants webpage with young readers for wonderful activities, a book trailer with a Scott Joplin soundtrack, and old photographs from the era.

Thank you for such wonderful book, Lita!