Thursday, October 6, 2016

Surprising, Refreshing, and So Original

Every so often I come across an article which states that there are only a small handful of storylines in the world. Or a blog that reminds picture book writers to put a fresh spin on an old theme... or forever be unpublished.

While I understand the logic behind these statements, they never fail to depress me. It's as if I should be able to sit down and pull a completely original idea out of the air. But I can't. I also have a hard time plotting a story without falling back on the tried and true. What I love about writing is the magical, unexpected nature of how a story goes from an inkling of an idea to a living entity on the page. If I just relax and let my fingers fly, the end result is always surprising. And that is my way of creating something unique.

I don't know how these authors did it, but I was thrilled to discover three completely original books within the past week. Head over to your library and check them out!

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles
by Michelle Cuevas
illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles takes his job very seriously. But what happens when loneliness and longing wash up on the shore just like messages in a bottle? This spare story with muted illustrations packs an emotional punch.

A Little Book of Sloth
by Lucy Cooke
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2013

Nonfiction has never been so entertaining (or so cute)! Lucy Cooke's prose is witty and conversational. My boys and I found ourselves laughing on every page. Readers learn all about sloths while going on a photo-tour of a sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica. These "Jedi masters of the hug" are awww-inspiring at every turn.

A Child of Books
by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston
Candlewick Press, 2016

This is a celebration of books where letters and text form the ocean waves and the mountains. Story is the path on your journey and imagination is the key. Each page is filled literary gems to discover, relate to, and build on as the reader and the book create a new narrative together.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

School Stories (with Surprises)

It's that time of year again! My boys are having an exciting first week back at school. We prepared for  a new year in the usual ways: school supply shopping, a new outfit, and a visit to the classroom to meet the teacher. But as any picture book loving parent knows, no event preparation or holiday celebration is complete without books on the subject. The ones I am sharing here struck a chord with my boys and I. They got us laughing, thinking, and imagining. Our brains are fired up and ready for a great year!

by Richard Torrey
Sterling Children's Books

Ally loves dinosaurs. In fact, she is a dinosaur! At least in her imagination (shown in crayon, drawn by a child-like hand). But when Ally goes to school, she learns that not everyone is a dinosaur. And that's okay. This is one of the best back-to-school books I've seen that playfully depicts what it is like for a child to navigate the first day of school. (P.S. Walter is one of my favorite minor characters of all time!)

by Trudy Ludwig
illustrated by Patrice Barton
Alfred A. Knopf

There are all kinds of children in a class. Some are sporty, others are loud. Some are social, others are needy. But what about the one who is invisible? On the first page, we learn that "Even Mrs. Carlotti has trouble noticing (Brian) in her classroom." This picture book adeptly focuses a lens on the child who is left out and alone. And what a difference small kindnesses and acknowledgements make. If I were still teaching, I would definitely use this book as a read-aloud during the first week of school. Kids need opportunities to observe difficult situations and discuss the positive actions they can take. There are even questions in the back of the book for this purpose.

by Pamela Zagarenski
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

First, I would like to point out how gorgeous the illustrations are in this book. Each one is vibrant and magical, inviting the reader to imagine the story along with the girl. With the feel of a folktale, the girl is given a magical book by her teacher. She is disappointed when there are only pictures, but a whisper encourages her to write the words herself. In this enchanting story, the voracious reader becomes a writer, discovering that everyone has a story within.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Chapter Books: A Whole New Frontier

Now that the boys are a bit older, they have slightly longer attention spans. I've been taking advantage of this in a big way by adding chapter books to our daily reading. Picture books are still our primary source of literary entertainment, but I'm so excited to add chapter books to our reading adventures! 

Here's our TO READ pile. What are your favorites?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

For the Love of Folding!

My boys have been into paper folding lately. First, it was an obsession with paper airplanes, followed by a blizzard of snowflakes (and white paper snips) when spring had finally arrived. Then my oldest learned how to make fortune tellers. So I wasn't too surprised when they got interested in origami. It was serendipitous when we found this newly minted book at the library. Enjoy!

by Dori Kleber
illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Candlewick Press, 2016

I love these opening lines: "Joey loved things that folded. He collected old road maps. He played the accordion. He slept in a foldaway bed." The author uses one unique trait to introduce the character and set-up the story. The problem comes when origami doesn't come easily to Joey. With a multi-cultural cast of characters, MORE-IGAMI not only celebrates ethnic diversity, but also the varied interests that make us who we are. Readers are gently reminded that anything worth doing well takes lots and lots of "practice and patience". Origami Ladybug instructions are included at the end. Make a bunch and you can have a ladybug race, like my boys :)

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Unexpected

Have you ever come across a book that tickles your funny bone, gives you pause, or teaches you about life in an unexpected way? Four recent library picks did this for me. Check out these gems!

Stories from Bug Garden
By Lisa Moser
Illustrated by Gwen Millward
Candlewick Press, 2016

I love the format of this book. It is the story of an abandoned garden and its quirky inhabitants, told through poems that build on each other, growing the story.

The Ladybug is my favorite. She doesn't want to act like a lady:

"But when no one was looking,
Ladybug ran barefoot,
made mud angels,
and whistled through a blade of grass."

Wabi Sabi
By Mark Reibstein
Illustrated by Ed Young
Little, Brown and Company, 2008

This book also has a unique format, but in a completely different way. Inspired by Japanese writing, this picture book is designed to be read vertically. Each page has three layers: the narrative, a haiku that gets at the heart of the page, and a traditional haiku written in Japanese characters and translated at the end of the book. Ed Young's beautiful illustrations teach the reader as much about Wabi Sabi as the story.

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova
By Laurel Snyder
Illustrated by Julie Morstad
Chronicle Books, 2015

In this gorgeous biography, Snyder uses a sparse, lyrical text to convey the passion that Anna Pavlova had for dance and for sharing her art with the world: The world is a hungry place, and Anna will feed it beauty." Dance - the perfect metaphor for life.

Rhyming Dust Bunnies
By Jan Thomas
Beach Lane Books, 2009

In vibrant colors that pop off the page, Jan Thomas makes you love dust bunnies. Ed, Ned, and Ted delight in rhyme, but Bob is preoccupied by a looming danger. Pull the child in your life onto your lap and prepare to laugh at the ridiculous antics of the Rhyming Dust Bunnies.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year!

2015 was a good writing year. While I didn't get an agent or a book deal, I did succeed by submitting more than ever, keeping to my writing schedule of 45 min./day, 5 days/wk. (since Nov. 2014!), and getting three favorites during Twitter Pitch parties which allowed me to submit requested manuscripts to agents.

Rate Your Story was a fun membership to have this year. It gave me some helpful feedback on manuscripts I felt were submission-ready. Registration is open until Jan. 15. Check it out HERE.

My interests and goals for 2016 continue to include pursuing my dream of having a picture book published, but I would also like to learn more about getting a Book App developed and to think about how to revamp my blog, so stay tuned for updates!

May your 2016 be filled with love, laughter, 
and fabulous picture books!