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PiBoIdMoJournal2We’re halfway through November. For some writers, you are feverishly striving to complete your 50,000 words in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writers’ Month). I have to say, while I need a swift kick in the butt to get writing as much as anyone from time to time, 50,000 words in one month is more of a kick than I’d ever want.

I much prefer PiBoIdMo, the picture book writer’s alternative for November – Picture Book Idea Month – created by Tara Lazar and in which we are challenged to come up with an idea a day for a picture book. (Though really, this could just as easily apply to ideas for novels, short stories, songs, etc.)  I find that the one idea per day happens most of the time, but sometimes the creative juices seem to produce two ideas today, brain too work-slogged for an idea tomorrow, two PB ideas the day following and so on. I just do my best to have a minimum of 30 ideas by the end of the month.

If you are doing PiBoIdMo, I suspect, like me, come Nov. 30 you find some of your ideas are laughably useless, some have a certain amount of potential, and some are actually quite promising. Where do you get your ideas from? Personal experiences past and present can inspire ideas, as well as family, friends, and pets, but also what’s going on in the world – news of all kinds, music, stuff you read. Sometimes, even an old story we’ve already written gives birth to a brand new – and better – idea.

Here’s the best idea – have fun doing it. And if this is the first you’ve heard of PiBoIdMo, join in and challenge yourself!

 

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Well, we see how much time has passed since that last post … so this will be a bit brief, as time, even to blog, is sometimes hard to find. Among the things I particularly enjoyed about this June Conference were several workshops which enriched my life as a children’s book writer and illustrator and added to my knowledge of craft, inspiration and TUESDAY-DWeisner2curiosity.

A workshop with the children’s book illustrator and author David Wiesner was terrific. He gave the opening keynote, but I also took a workshop with him titled “Reference Is Your Friend.” He’s a brilliant, phenomenally talented and very humble person, and listening to his process as he designs and works out his world-renowned books was fascinating. His recommendation for all the attendees if we would take away one thing? Draw from life.

A workshop by Donna Galanti on world-building was another favorite because  no matter what type of novel we write, whether fantasy or one taking place in our town, we need to create a world for readers. Donna really broke it down, and also provided the rare handout so we could be listening to her presentation without our heads down scribbling notes frantically. She came up with so many useful points that I will refer to as I’m delving into my own novel.

There were more excellent ones, and one or two that were not so fabulous, but we only know by opening ourselves to the presentations and finding out what there is for us to learn. I’d also signed up for two one-on-one critiques for my WIP novel and another for a WIP picture book. One of these was outstanding and gave me some very good direction.

By the end of the first day of the conference, I didn’t see a soul who wasn’t looking a little wiped out, just from running from class to class and then to individual critiques and roundtables. Of course, I could go on. And on. But I’m going to stop here, with a suggestion for all of you who might be reading this and who are interested in writing and/or illustrating children’s books and not already a member of SCBWI.

Join. Join a whole bunch of other talented, dedicated people who want to reach out to children with amazing ideas and stories and visions. Join an organization whose sole existence is to provide everything you’d want to know and more about how to become a writer or illustrator for children. Become familiar with your local branch of SCBWI and see what they have to offer. In New Jersey, we have the annual June Conference, but also some smaller events during the year. You can learn more here on the SCBWI site and check out the chapter nearest you while you’re there.

Maybe I’ll see you at the conference!

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“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings.”

― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Statue-ChildReading

With the annual New Jersey Society of Children’s Books Writers and illustrators (NJ SCBWI) June Conference on the horizon one has to think – there is something so amazing about so many individuals all streaming into one location from all over the country for a single purpose – to share, to learn and to grow in the one thing that unites us all – children’s books. We meet old friends and make some new, share and see amazing illustration, and have the opportunity to sit in workshops and at lunch tables, not just with our peers, but with editors and agents from some of the finest publishing companies and agencies in the U.S. Cheers to us all!

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One of the (many) wonders of books is that they sometimes arrive at just the right time. Perhaps it’s not exactly a magical book but it’s the one that’s juuuust right for where we are and what we need to read right now.

MagicalBookFinal2

For example, a dear friend of mine came upon a book not long ago and was just over the moon about it. She got me so excited that I went immediately to my local library and borrowed it. I began to read. I was not excited or over the moon as I’d hoped; in fact, I was occasionally disenchanted by the author’s style, which was quite different from what I’d read of hers previously but seemed to me to be trying a little too hard to be hip and cool. I continued reading, sometimes really enjoying it, and while I felt it got better towards the end, it never made me jump up and down.

So I returned the book to the library, and talked about the book with my wonderful librarian, who is also familiar with the author, and she said she’d give it a try. Her response was that she liked it. Not crazy about it, but what had bothered me did not bother her, and she would read some more. And there you have it. Kind of like Goldilocks and the three bears, I thought.

For one of us it just wasn’t the right fit; for another it was enjoyable, but not fabulous; but for the original reader it was exactly the right size and the perfect book for her right now. And that’s what makes books so wonderful. Certain books come into our hands, into our lives, and they are exactly what we want – and/or need – to read at that moment in time. I’ve certainly encountered books like that – haven’t you? The story, or the information, is so meaningful right then that it just couldn’t be any better.

Sometimes it takes a while for that book to appear in our hands, but we always know it when it arrives. For those of us who write, or at least for me, it is my dream to write that book for children that will be exactly what they want – or need – at that moment in time. Even if it’s only one child, I’ll be happy.

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Ada-TitlePage2Welcome and thanks for stopping by. Visiting today is debut author and friend, Laurie Wallmark. Accompanying her – at least in spirit – is the brilliant young scientist, Ada Byron Lovelace.

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine is a picture-book biography of the world’s first computer programmer. Ada was born two hundred years ago, long before the invention of the modern electronic computer. At a time when girls and women had few options outside the home, Ada followed her dreams and studied mathematics. This book, by Laurie Wallmark and April Chu, tells the story of a remarkable woman and her work. Kirkus Reviews describes the book as a “splendidly inspiring introduction to an unjustly overlooked woman.” [starred review]

Laurie’s blog tour hosts had some options in our presentations, so I offered some interview questions that will hopefully show us a different side of Ada. I’ve also included some of the book’s stunning artwork by April Chu.

Still A Dreamer: Having read as much as you have about Ada, what do you imagine Ada would make of social media? If alive today, would she tweet? Have a blog? Be on Facebook? How would she use them?

Laurie: Ada would most definitely use social media as a method of communication with her fellow scientists and mathematicians. She often attended evening salons at Charles Babbage’s house to connect and exchange information. Social media would have allowed her to do this more easily and frequently. Through Facebook and Twitter, she could hear about the many marvels of the Industrial Revolution without waiting for them to be published in scientific journals. With a blog, she could share her many scientific theories and receive feedback from her peers.

Ada-HorseCarriage_Page4-2

SAD: Although Ada might have laughed at the term, she was a visionary. There have been so many technological discoveries since her own, what advances/inventions might Ada make use of were she alive today? How would she have used them to advance her own knowledge?

L: The greatest technological boon to Ada’s studies would be, without doubt, the Internet. As discussed above, social media could provide her with a wealth of information. More than that, websites of organizations like the Royal Society (the UK national academy of science) and individuals like the polymath Mary Somerville would be invaluable. Even seemingly minor inventions, like e-readers, would be useful since Ada was so often ill and confined to bed. With an e-reader, she could easily keep up with her studies.

SAD: Lord Byron the poet was Ada’s father, but had little to do with her upbringing, correct? At any point, to your knowledge, did either acknowledge/praise the wonderful accomplishments of the other?

L: Ada’s mother separated her from Lord Byron when Ada was only one month old. She was never allowed to see or interact with her father after that. Lord Byron, though, lovingly wrote of Ada in his poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:

Is thy face like thy mother’s, my fair child!
Ada! sole daughter of my house and heart?
When last I saw thy young blue eyes they smiled,
And then we parted—not as now we part—
But with a hope—*

He died when Ada was only nine years old.

Ada-Sailboat-Page8-2

SAD: The $54,000 question – How can Ada’s work, which began as a child, reach girls today, (other than buying your book, of course), and inspire them?

L: Several organizations have used Ada’s name as a rallying point for their cause. The Ada Initiative (recently shut down) supported women in open-source technology and culture. One of their major achievements was to formulate a code of conduct signed by most major tech companies for appropriate behavior at technical conferences,. And of course there’s Ada Lovelace Day, a celebration of the achievements of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). On this day, people throughout the world blog about girls and women involved in technical activities. In 2015, October 13 is Ada Lovelace Day. Not coincidentally, this is also the release date of Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine.

Join Laurie as she travels from blog to blog to introduce her debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. All stops are listed at: http://lauriewallmark.com/blogtour.php.

Laurie writes exclusively for children of all ages and has a lifetime love of, and involvement in, math and science as well. Learn more about Laurie at her
Website –  http://www.lauriewallmark.com,
on Facebook –  https://www.facebook.com/lauriewallmarkauthor
on Twitter – https://twitter.com/lauriewallmark

Better yet, come meet Laurie in person at her book launch on Sunday, Oct. 25th from 1 to 4 p.m. at The Book Garden in Frenchtown, NJ!

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JeannesNewFlipFlops2

Why, you may ask, are you looking at a pair of feet in (… well, a pretty cute set of) flip-flops?

Here’s why. For the same reason you’re about to look at a yummy summer salad sitting on an antique kitchen chair complete with original milk paint, (which by the way, doesn’t hold up all that well to everyday wear and tear.)

Salad2

It’s an offering. A little tide-you-over. I’ve been somewhat absent from my blog, but I do think of you, and I do miss the delight of writing more frequent posts, as well as stopping by your blogs. (Just because I don’t follow you or comment doesn’t mean I don’t stop in for a quick peek.)

The last few weeks have included some exciting things – a visit to the Grounds for Sculpture to see the Seward Johnson retrospective before the borrowed pieces return to their permanent spots all over the world on July 1. So much to see, and such genius! I’ll be posting more on that soon. Meanwhile, here’s a little teaser of what’s to come.

SewardJohnson-HotDogMan2

Johnson is known for his sculptures of people in everyday life and his 3-dimensional interpretations of famous paintings. Throughout the grounds one finds groupings of people as well as individuals, such as this hot dog vendor along one of the walkways.

And then there was the NJ SCBWI June Conference where we all ate, drank and slept children’s books for nearly two days straight. It’s intense, exciting, rewarding, and based on everyone’s collapse on Monday, a major rush! The workshops, meeting and dining with agents and editors, connecting and re-connecting with fellow writers and illustrators is quite the whirlwind of an experience, and has us all coming home with a renewed sense of purpose, our dreams fired up, and ready to further our goals and experiences in children’s books.

Intermezzo: a French Bulldog illustration of mine, for summer. (p.s. This is available as part of a boxed set of Frenchie notecards.)

Frenchie-IceCreamSodaSig

And then of course, there’s work. LOTS of work. Not to complain; paying one’s bills is a good thing, but between it all, well, my blog bore the brunt of it. As have my poor LightBetweenOeans-MLStedman2porches which remain bereft of a single flower this year. (I’ll spare you the empty porch photos.) And then there are the everyday demands of just plain life. Busy!

And of course I’ve been reading. I am always reading, no matter what. Great book – just finished – I highly recommend it.

Soon I will share with you some truly amazing treats from the Seward Johnson exhibit.

So stay tuned … I do believe I’m back!

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TheTigerRising-KDiCamillo2What first draws you to physically pick up a new book? The title? Perhaps. But what makes you think that it may be truly wonderful? Chances are it’s the cover. And when it’s a children’s book?  The artist’s cover illustration is what will make you long to see more.

As an artist/illustrator myself, I am always thrilled to come across new and fabulous illustrators whose work I’ve never seen. This has happened twice recently and I was so impressed with these two artists’ work, I thought I’d share with you.

The first artist is Chris Sheban and I searched him out because I was so taken with the cover art on the Kate DiCamillo book I’m reading – The Tiger Rising. Turns out, Chris has also illustrated another favorite middle grade novel of mine, same author, Because of Winn-Dixie. Take a look at Chris’ portfolio – he’s amazing.

InAVillageByTheSea-AChu2The second artist is April Chu. She came to my attention because she is the illustrator of the soon-to-be-published Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine, the debut children’s book written by author and dear friend, Laurie Wallmark. What inspired me about April Chu are the illustrations of her most recently published book, In a Village by the Sea. It takes a lot of talent to portray the ocean as beautifully as she has, not to mention everything else in her illustrations. Take a peek at April Chu’s portfolio. Her work is truly outstanding.

Just as reading, as well as watching plays, movies, and yes, even TV, adds to our depth as writers, looking at other artists’ work adds to our richness as illustrators.

EdmundDulac-PrincessPea2I’m going to add one more artist who has been a longtime favorite of mine. I can’t add a link to his portfolio because he is no longer alive, but his work glows with a richness and vibrancy that I have loved since I first set eyes on it many years ago. He is Edmund Dulac, born in 1882, passed away 1953.  You can get background on him here, if interested, but will see more of his images here, where prints of his work are for sale. Pictured here is a 1911 illustration of Dulac’s for The Princess and the Pea.

It’s a good day to be inspired!

 

 

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This may be for the reader or the writer in you, but if you’re in driving distance of either of these events, I suspect you may be interested in both!

BooksToBeRead-2First, what’s happening the weekend of May 2nd and 3rd? The event that I have no business going to but will be heading to anyway – the Hunterdon County Library’s Annual Book Sale! It will be held again at the South County Park Fairgrounds in Lambertville, just off Rt. 179, (for you locals), and as always, Saturday features hardbound books at $2, paperback, $1 and Sunday, they’re half that. Something new – Monday, May 4th from 9 to 12, they’re having a $5 bag sale! Last year I believe they had something like 60,000 books, so collect your totes and mark your calendars. For complete information, go to the Library Sale website.

BoyReadingIf you’re a children’s book writer and/or illustrator, published or aspiring, think about attending the New Jersey SCBWI big June Conference Saturday and Sunday, June 13th and 14th, in Princeton, NJ. The conference is two days packed with workshops taught by great names in the children’s book field, critiques from editors, agents, authors, illustrators or your peers, special intensives, socializing with agents and editors over meals, great camaraderie among all those who love children’s books, and more. This, however, requires registration and a conference fee, plus there’s a deadline to register – early bird by April 19th, otherwise by May 15th. You also receive a discount as an SCBWI member. Find more details here, and click on the link to register for more in-depth information. (You are not automatically committed to registering by going to the registration site.) You’ll enjoy wonderful food all weekend long, (I’m looking forward to it already), and you can stay overnight at the Crowne Plaza/Holiday Inn Express Conference Center.

I’ll be going to both events – hope to see you there – I’ll be the one with that book-ish glow!

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PiBoIdMoJournal2Are you a picture book writer? Aspiring or published, you will enjoy this challenge!

The idea was developed a few years ago by children’s book author, Tara Lazar, in response to the popularity of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writers’ Month. Participating in NaNoWriMo meant that you committed to writing 50,000 words in the month of November. That was great for those who write novels, but what about those of us who were writing for the youngest readers … picture books?

Tara developed the idea of PiBoIdMo, Picture Book Idea Month, (which has developed quite a bit since it’s introduction, and now includes visiting bloggers on children’s writing and more), where your challenge is to write down one idea for a picture book each day in the month of November. Needless to say, you can jot down more if your creativity is jumping, but one is the challenge. At the end of November, you’ll have 30 ideas to pick and choose from and can develop your best into stories.

Whether you do this alone or participate in the event online, or with your writing buddies or friends, it’s a fun challenge and gets your juices flowing. I have my own little PiBoIdMo notebook, and will be starting my challenge this Saturday. Join me?

 

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parttimeindianOne of the big topics in children’s books today is diversity, and although there are far more accomplished people addressing this subject than I, children’s publishing is where my energy is focused. For me, it also ties in to writing what we know. (See my first post on this topic.) So while there are many ways of supporting diversity in children’s books, from book purchasing to publishers themselves, I am just looking at writing.

What does diversity in this context mean? As I understand it, it’s a need for the stories we write and publish to include or be from the perspective of people of diverse races, cultures and backgrounds. When I was growing up, the subjects of all the children’s books I read were white, (unless we went into fairytales where Aladdin was darker skinned and exotic, but that was different.) The kids who were the main characters — think Dick and Jane — were only white. Those few stories where black people were featured were of a derogatory nature and a sad comment of the times. Hispanic or Asian individuals were non-existent. Indians were part of Thanksgiving stories, but otherwise, also absent.

Holes-LSacher2How much has changed in the world of children’s books? Again, I am hardly an expert, but our books have not changed nearly as much as the changes in population of the people around us. What is true is that we as authors do need to be aware that the world is way bigger than the little enclaves where we live or where we grew up.

In my humble experience, I have found that Americans, on the whole, tend to be a rather insular people,with a focus that is primarily on our own culture. While exceptions are found in sports and music and a few select other fields, a lot of people don’t seem in touch with the breadth and diversity of the world beyond their own boundaries. A broader experience of the world would bring a lot more to a writer’s plate than what we see just at home. Representation of other races and cultures in children’s books is dragging way behind the actual reality of diversity in everyday life.

ManiacMagee-JSpinelli2How does this affect how we personally write? And how do we write what we know in this context? There’s a lot of opinion on that. Needless to say, I can most comfortably write about my own experience in the world, and this comes from a Western European background of diverse nationalities. If I write what I know, it will be primarily from this perspective, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t include, in both my writing and illustrating, characters of the many races and cultures I have come to know along the way in my life and/or others that exist. But does that also mean that I can’t write from the perspective of a race or culture for whom I feel a deep kinship? That I don’t, or can’t, know enough?

Dogsong-GPaulsen2I was fortunate to have been raised in an area with easy access to New York City so that many of our family outings were in the city where we were surrounded by diversity. When I went to college in NYC, my exposure was expanded as my school was known for drawing talent from all over the world. For this amazing experience I am very grateful. I know that I can bring this, my ongoing living and working experiences, as well as my travels to my writing, but when it comes down to writing what I know? I will still always know my own culture the best. My question continues to be, where is the line drawn? Could I pull off, for example, the true voice of a black girl? Raised in the South? For that matter, as another example, could I even pull off the voice of a rich or entitled girl regardless of race? I don’t believe those are my stories to write, but to the degree that such individuals may be in my stories, in our stories,  it becomes our challenge to do research — among our fellow humans as well as in books – to make sure we are authentic in creating our characters.

Ultimately, I think we, whoever we are and whatever background we come from, do need to include characters of diverse backgrounds in our work when we have the opportunity for this very important reason. Children, from their earliest reading, need to see that the books they read aren’t simply their own reflection. Children of color, different cultural backgrounds, different socio-economic backgrounds, sexual orientation, etc. need to see themselves on the page as well, to have their existence validated and honored. We all may AskThePassengers-A.S.King2be called on to stretch a bit beyond writing what we know, but what loss could there possibly be?

We have the opportunity of expanding writing what we know to become richer as artists and human beings and to raise the consciousness and world view of eager young readers, and … to share a little reality.

Pictured on this page are a few MG and YA books I have read in the recent past which are either written by someone of a different culture/race or are inclusive of characters of diverse backgrounds/orientations. Finding picture books of the same is, unfortunately, a much greater challenge.

Here are a few interesting articles on this subject:

Lynn Joseph on Diversity in Writing
the Children’s Book Council on Diversity
Diversity in Children’s Books – Huffington Post
Where are the People of Color in Children’s Books? NY Times
Diversity Book Lists by GoodReads.
Diversity in Canadian Children’s Book Publishing -Publishers Weekly

 

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CharlottesWeb2This Sunday, September 21, marked the beginning of Banned Books Week which celebrates the freedom to read. An annual event organized by the American Library Association, (the same people that award the Caldecott and Newbery Medals) , Banned Books Week is sponsored by a number of organizations who are against censorship. The website presents a wealth of information on books that are and have been banned, by whom and why, plus activities for teachers to discuss the important issues of censorship, banned books and the books themselves with their students. Additional information on Banned Books Week can be found on the ALA’s own site. On this site you can also find the 10 most frequently challenged books by year. In 2001, the most frequently challenged book was Harry Potter with John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men right behind.

The most common reasons for censorship are drugs, nudity, violence, offensive language, sexually explicit, anti-family, homosexuality, racism, religious viewpoint, suicide and unsuited to age group but there are a few others.

A fascinating article on BuzzFeed is about fifteen children’s classics that have been banned, where and why. This includes James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Granted some of these were banned  quite some time ago, and some by local municipalities, but some were banned as recently as 2010.

I don’t know about you, but I find this all fascinating. Censorship is no small issue, and the facts about who censors which books and why is an insight into the fabric of this country – what we, as a people, are afraid of, offended by and threatened by to such a degree that we can’t allow our children to read about it. As best I can tell, it’s usually the truth.

 

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A fellow writer and book-loving friend of mine just sent me this link, and as I have a moment, I want to share it that more people will get to see it. Please share.

We have all read books that were in some way life-changing. In this YouTube video series named “Call Me Ishmael,” a fellow, (named Ishmael), transcribes and shares a voicemail of one person each day telling about a book they love. In this day’s video you will hear the call made by a young man named Ethan whose mother was a crack addict and the books that quite literally saved his life. Not to be missed.

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