March 2017 Archives

Leave Me Alone!

Perfect Picture Book Friday

LeaveMeAlone.jpegLeave Me Alone! (Roaring Brook Press, 2016) written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol is a fun picture book that goes from normal life to the fantastic and back again.

An old woman just wants to be left alone to do her knitting, but her grandchildren won't leave her and her yarn alone. So she goes to the forest. Then the bears won't leave her alone. So she goes to the mountainside where the goats won't leave her alone. At the top of the mountain she . . .

You'll have to read it yourself to find out what happens. I like the humor, the language, the illustrations. It makes me smile.

The book is Vera's debut picture book and a Caldecott Honor award winner, too. Learn more about Vera on her website where you can see more about her art and writing and even buy prints.

Wolfie the Bunny

Perfect Picture Book Friday

wolfiethebunny.jpegWolfie the Bunny (Little, Brown and Company, 2015) by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Zachariah OHora is a funny twist on the new baby book. It makes me smile whenever I think of it.

When Dot's bunny family finds and abandoned wolf baby on the doorstep, young Dot warns, "HE'S GOING TO EAT US ALL UP!" But her parents don't believe her. Wolfie eats carrots, he sleeps, he drools, until one day . . .

You'll have to read the end of this New York Times bestselling book yourself. :-) Or you can listen to Ame read it here. (And see Zachariah as Wolfie!)

Read about Ame on her website where you can learn more about her and her other books.

Zachariah has 10 books out--two he illustrated by Ame, and four he wrote himself as well as illustrated--read about them here. On this page you can see lots of sample work in his portfolio.

Dont loaf and invite inspiration

Don't loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don't get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it.
Jack London

The Only Road

TheOnlyRoad.jpegThe Only Road (Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016) by Alexandra Diaz is a book I wish I could get everyone to read.

After the murder of his cousin Miguel, twelve-year-old Jaime and his fifteen-year-old cousin Angela either have to join the destructive gangs in their village or leave Guatemala. To keep them safe their families spend everything they have to get the two the United States where Jaime's brother Tomas lives. But once the two are on their way, they are on their own. They face discovery by la migra, gang violence, death by train, hunger, thievery, thirst all in their quest for a safe place to live.

The Only Road is inspired by true events (not the author's) and is a Pura Belpré Honor book!

Alexandra Diaz has this at the head of her website: "Writing: to experience life in someone else's shoes." That's one of the reasons we read and why I'd like others to read this book.

Alexandra is also the author of Good Girls Don't Lie--a YA novel--and other books. On her bio page there are lots of links to interviews, too.

The Wolf's Boy

wolf'sboy.jpegThe Wolf's Boy (Disney-Hyperion, 2016) by Susan Williams Beckhorn is a touching tale of a boy who struggles because he doesn't fit in.

Twelve-year-old Kai has a club foot, so he's not allowed to touch weapons, or hunt. When Kai rescues a motherless wolf club, he's warned that she can't eat the People's food. As the yellow cub grows, the People look on her as a threat. With winter approaching Kai and Uff leave the village. How can a boy who can't even hunt survive on his own?

This book is a Junior Library Guild Selection and a 2017 Notable Children's Book. I love the cover too.

Read about Susan here where you can also see a picture of the stone house that she and her husband built themselves. And read about her other books here. She's also an illustrator.

The Water Princess

Perfect Picture Book Friday

waterprincess.pngI love The Water Princess (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2016) by Susan Verde and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds so much. It's beautiful--it's sad. The book clearly shows how water, something we take for granted in our country, is not so accessible elsewhere. The book is based on the childhood experience of Georgie Badiel in Africa. This experience is not limited to Africa--I've seen it in Haiti, too. What a good story for kids everywhere to experience.

Listen to the opening words: "I am Princess Gie Gie. My Kingdom . . . the African sky, so wide and so close. I can almost touch the sharp edges of the stars."

You can see Susan's books here and read her bio here. Susan's next book My Kicks, illustrated by Katie Kath, comes out in April.

Peter's illustrations make you feel what Gie Gie is experiencing. You may recognize some of the titles where he is both author and illustrator: The Dot, Ish. He's illustrated a lot of books, which you can start seeing here. Meet Peter here.

Who Wants a Tortoise?

Perfect Picture Book Friday

whowants.jpegWho Wants a Tortoise? (Alfred A. Knofp, 2016) by Dave Keane and illustrated by K.G. Campbell is a fun twist on the pet picture book. The little girl wants a puppy, but she gets a tortoise instead. She had plans for a puppy. She had names for a puppy. Tortoises can't play fetch or give kisses. How can you have an adventure with them.

Dave Keane is an author/illustrator. You can read his bio here. It's fun that he and his family have a tortoise.

I love the extra in the endpapers that K.G. Campbell included as well as the expressions on this little girl. He's also an author/illustrator. You can see the variety of his illustration styles just by looking at his book covers.

Novel-sized Problem

boy-984313_1920.jpegIf your story problem can be solved quickly and easily, it's probably a magazine story. But if your main character has multiple things going on (subplots) and is going to have a lot of "doing" or action before the end of the story, then you have a novel-sized problem. Some problems are novel-sized just by their seriousness--death, grave illness, other big losses, abuse, etc.

I can't conceive of a whole children's novel at once, whereas I can a children's short story. I can visualize the problem, the steps the main character will try, and the solution for a short story and be pretty accurate that it will happen that way. For a novel my conception is more fluid. Yes, I have ideas of a problem, but not all the problems my character(s) will experience. I have ideas for solutions, but that's not necessarily what the main character will end up doing. My idea of the final solution may change drastically as I write. I like what Greg Hollingshead says, "The primary difference between the short story and the novel is not length but the larger, more conceptual weight of meaning that the longer narrative must carry on its back from page to page, scene to scene." This takes us back to the problem. Novel problems matter more than short story problems. They affect the character's whole life in some way not just a small piece of it. Problems that are big enough for a novel won't be forgotten by your character next year. A short story problem once solved could be forgotten next week.

I recently read an outline for a children's short story where I told the writer it was more of a novel problem. My first hint was the depth of the problem. My second was the character was making a decision about something and I wasn't going to get to see the result of that decision. Hard to explain without getting into details for that specific story, so let me come up with an example. I've never watched The Bachelor, but what if there was a scene where he said, "I know whom I'm going to marry." He even says the name. But we don't get to see him ask her and see if she says yes. We'd feel cheated. If what NEEDS to be shown won't fit in your short story, think novel. Or maybe you're starting in the wrong place--too soon in the story.

There's satisfaction in writing both. Short stories offer a more immediate sense of accomplishment. Novels can offer a longer lasting sense of accomplishment. T.C. Boyle says, "The joy of the story is that you can respond to the moment and events of the moment. The drawback is that once you've completed a story, you must write another even though you find yourself bereft of talent or ideas. The joy of the novel is that you know what you're going to do tomorrow. The horror of the novel, however, is that you know what you're going to do tomorrow."

So part of determining whether you have a short story or a novel problem is how strongly you feel about the main issue in the story. Is it something you are willing to spend some time on? A few hours, a few days, maybe a week? Or is it something you're willing to devote months, often years? A novel will take the latter.

Let me conclude with this lovely statement from Elizabeth Sims: " a short story you should be trying to get at one or two poignant aspects of being human. In a novel, you can create characters, let them loose, follow them and see what they do. If you feel your story will be more a journey than a statement, you may be leaning toward a novel." (Go here to read her complete article.)

The Secret of a Heart Note

secretheartnote.jpegThe Secret of a Heart Note (Katherine Tegen Books, 2016) by Stacey Lee had me in awe of the author's imagination at creating characters with a unique ability. I love her descriptions of what Mimosa and her mom can smell as aromateurs, for example: "I clamp my lips, but the scent of my anger, like burnt rubber tires, blackens the space around me."

Fifteen-year-old Mimosa has convinced her mom to let her go to public high school versus being homeschooled, but she's having trouble balancing her duties as an aromateur with her seven periods of classes. When a client shows up whom Mim knows personally, its obvious she hasn't read his application, so Mom knows something is up.

What do aromateurs do? Help the lovelorn. "Clients come to us when they've tried everything to woo the target but can't get the fire going, whether due to shyness, insecurity, or even prejudice." Mim and her mom follow the Rulebook created by their ancestors. And the worst rule is "Love witches can't fall in love."

I loved reading the story of how Stacey was inspired to write this book. You can find it on the right hand side of this page.

This is Stacey's third book; now I want to read the others.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

GirlofFireandThorns.jpegThe Girl of Fire and Thorns (Greenwillow Books, 2011) by Rae Carson is a wonderful YA fantasy. I just discovered book one of this trilogy and raced through it.

Sixteen-year-old Elisa has been chosen to be the Godstone bearer. But as the younger princess, the princess who keeps getting bigger and bigger because she eats when she's upset, she doesn't see how she can ever be used. Married off to a neighboring king, at risk from the enemy, Elisa goes on a journey that changes her and her whole world.

Loved this book and am looking forward to reading book two, The Crown of Embers (2012) and following it up with The Bitter Kingdom (2013). Why didn't I hear about this New York Times bestselling trilogy earlier?!

This was Rae Carson's debut novel and was a William C. Morris Award Finalist. The trilogy has been translated into other languages. See covers here. She's also written other stories in the universe, The Girl of Fire and Thorns Stories (Girl of Fire and Thorns Novella). WalkonEarth.jpeg

Like a River Glorious, book one in the Gold Seer Trilogy, came out in September 2015 and is a YALSA 2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults pick. More to add to my TBR pile. ;-)

You can take for granted

You can take for granted that people know more or less what a street, a shop, a beach, a sky, an oak tree look like. Tell them what makes this one different.
Neil Gaiman

Mrs. McBee Leaves Room 3

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Mrs. McBee.jpgMrs. McBee Leaves Room 3 (Peachtree Publishers, 2017) by Gretchen Brandenburg McLellan and Illustrated by Grace Zong is coming out in April and you won't want to miss it. (I'm holding a borrowed ARC* in my hands.)

It's the end of the year and Mrs. McBee has just told her class she won't be returning after summer vacation. The kids are disappointed, but Mrs. McBee wisely prepares the students for their "time together to end." You'll enjoy bossy Jamaika, William who's "not helping," and all the teams preparing the room for the last day.

This sweet book is one teacher's and parents can use to help children with change and good-byes, but I think kids will enjoy the book simply for the enjoyable story of a fun classroom. And the illustrations are absolutely adorable!

Here's Gretchen's author spotlight on her publisher's site. In it, you can read why Gretchen wrote the book. Also visit her website where you can find out about other books Gretchen has coming and about all the school good-byes she's had to make.

See more of Grace's illustrations here. There's also a link to see her other books.

*Advanced Reader Copy

Pug Meets Pig

Perfect Picture Book Friday

Pug meets Pig.jpegPug Meets Pig (Beach Lane Books, 2016) by Sue Lowell Gallion and illustrated by Joyce Wan is one of those deceptively simple picture books that is so satisfying. (Don't you love the cover?)

Pug is happy with everything in his life until Pig comes along. Pig takes over Pug's food, bed, and yard, so Pug can't stay there. But when Pug escapes and Pig is unhappy, Pug has to help.

Cute story and text. Relatable for any child who has had to make room for a new someone.

This is author Sue Lowell Gallion's debut book. Pug & Pig Trick or Treat.jpegA sequel called Pug & Pig Trick or Treat comes out in late July. Sue was interviewed last month on Cynthia Leitich Smith's blog, Cynsations. You might also want to read Sue's post on the birth of a book.

Joyce Wan, who illustrated this book and the sequel, is an author/illustrator with 20 books to her credit. She also does greeting cards. Go to her site here for more information. You can also read about all the new books and a very personal special project that Joyce released last summer here.

Fiction writers are troublemakers

Fiction writers are troublemakers.
Deb Lund

Normal Norman

Perfect Picture Book Friday

normalnormancoverfinal.jpegNormal Norman (Sterling Children's Books, 2016) by Tara Lazar and illustrated by S.britt is a funny book.

A young Junior Scientist is going to narrate a book for the first time. Her assignment is to define the word Normal. She drafts an orangutan named Norman to be her example of Normal. But things don't work out as she has planned.

On her website about page, Tara says,
"Who's Tara?

Street magic performer. Hog-calling champion. Award-winning ice sculptor. These are all things Tara Lazar has never been. Instead, she writes quirky, humorous picture books featuring magical places that everyone will want to visit."

And, of course, you'll want to check out her other picture books and more stuff here.

She's also the founder of Picture Book Idea Month which this year became Storystorm.

I love the landing page of S.britt's website--it looks like a board game. From there you can read about him, see images from the books he's done, check out art he's done for magazines and newspapers, and . . . Oh, just go look yourself--it'll be fun.

Mother Bruce

Perfect Picture Book Friday*

motherbruce.jpegMother Bruce (Disney Hyperion, 2015) by Ryan T. Higgins expresses humor from the get go with the title (Goose crossed out and Bruce written above it).

On the first page we discover, "Bruce was a bear who lived all by himself. He was a grump." And his expression shows that. That are a lot of things he doesn't like. But he does like cooking eggs into "fancy recipes that he found on the internet." When he finds a recipe for "hard-boiled goose eggs drizzles with honey-salmon sauce," Bruce gets the ingredients, and starts to cook, Bruce becomes "the victim of mistaken identity."

I love the humor in this book with Bruce as the unlikely mother of this group of goslings. Whom he can't get rid of!

Mother Bruce has won these awards: 2016 E.B. White Read Aloud Award, 2016 Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor, and a 2016 Kirkus Best Book.

Hotel-Bruce.jpegA new Bruce book came out last October called Hotel Bruce. This is the third book by Ryan and sounds fun too. Read about it here.

You can see Ryan's sense of humor on his about page where he says:
"Ryan T. Higgins is an author/illustrator residing in Southern Maine. He lives with his three dogs, three cats, two geckos, one tortoise, one son, one daughter, and one wife. As a child, he lived on a diet of cartoons, cheese sandwiches, and climbing trees. At the age of four he decided to become a cartoonist and he's been making his own cartoons ever since."

*I've joined with Susannah Leonard Hill on celebrating picture books on Fridays.

Emotions and Feelings




Look at these images. Do I need to put a label on them so you know what the character is feeling? No. Why not? Because these are well-drawn and the emotion is clear. It's shown.

The same goes with writing. We don't need to label characters as annoyed, happy, in love, scared, shocked, etc. We need to show it. (Picture books are often the exception to this rule.)

Let's take Ms. Bunny above. She looks shocked to me. So what happens when a person is shocked (I don't mean the electrical kind)? Eyes go big or widen. A hand might come up to cover an open mouth. Someone might take a step back or sit down suddenly. A face might pale. The person might gasp. If you describe your character experiencing being shocked, you won't have to use the "shocked" label.

I love the image of the annoyed penguin. We know what is annoying him and what he plans to do about it. What do you when something is flying around you and it is annoying? First, perhaps wave the insect off. This is almost a subconscious reaction. But after a few times it impinges on our consciousness and we get annoyed. Now we might be slapping at the bug. Making noises of irritation. Then finally get up to get something to kill it.

Mr. Frog is obviously scared. He's jumped up. His heart is probably pounding (although this is so easy to overuse). He might be sweating. Eyes dilate. Breathing rate could increase. A hand/paw/webbed foot might go to the throat. A body can shake; a hand tremble. If one is like the fainting goats, one might pass out.

So next time you are tempted to write something like "Sam was happy." Instead think about what that looks and feels like. Observe yourself and others and write was happiness does to a person. Show the reader that instead of telling a "label."

If I waited till I

If I waited till I felt like writing, I'd never write at all.
Anne Tyler

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

AllRise.jpegI loved All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook (Katherine Tegen Books, 2016) by Leslie Connor! I'd have chosen it for a Newbery award. It's a heart-wrenching story. I love Perry--I know, I'm gushing.

Perry T. Cook is pretty much a normal eleven-year-old, well, except for the part that he lives in a prison. But he gets to go "outside" to school. And this way he gets to be with his mom every day--she's a resident on Cell Block C. Until the new district attorney discovers this arrangement at the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility and Perry is forced into foster care with the same DA's family.

This story has a host of interesting characters. Did I say I love Perry?

Leslie Connor writes for Middle Grade readers, younger readers, and for teens. You can be entertained on her website while you check out those other books. I recommend reading her "My Life" page. I'm off to check out more of her books...

But meanwhile, really, read this book!

Handbook for Dragon Slayers

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

HandbookDragonslayers.jpegHandbook for Dragon Slayers (HarperCollins Children's Books, 2013) by Merrie Haskell may be a middle grade fantasy, but I think teens will like it too. (My husband did as well.)

Princess Tilda wishes people would "appreciate the sense of my words and not be thinking about the shape of my foot at the same time." She's the lame heir, so when her cousin Ivo comes to take over Alder Brook, she thinks it might be better for her people to have an able-bodied leader. And maybe this would give her the chance to write her own book. But somehow she and her friend Parz and her handmaiden Judith go off to become dragon slayers. Throw in the Wild Hunt, magic horses the color of the three royal metals, an evil lord, and it's quite an adventure.

This book won the 2014 Schneider Family Book Award (Middle Grades).

On Merrie's website FAQ page, there's this question and answer:

What is it about fairy tales that interests you?

How infinite the variations on them can be! I've loved retold fairy tales since Robin McKinley's Beauty (and later, Rose Daughter).

I recommended one of her other books, The Castle Behind the Thorns, here.

Enchantress Sacrifice

Enchantress Sacrifice.jpegEnchantress Sacrifice (Amazon Digital Services LLC, 2016) by Denice Hughes Lewis is a YA fantasy with an interesting premise.

Destined to save her world, Elandra is born aware. She doesn't breathe air, but light. (It sounds odd, but works.) Her mind and body grow fast under the protection of her two guardians. When she has 16 seasons, it's time for Elandra to go out of the caverns and learn about the island. She must also learn how to control her sense of other's feelings, and discover her powers to save everyone from Aru. But there's other danger awaiting her--from her mother's tribe, the Kepyrs, and from her father's tribe, the Ice Lords. Sworn enemies, either tribe will kill her if they see her. Elandra wonders why she has to be the one to sacrifice herself to save everyone. Can't she just be a normal girl?

Told in present tense, the book is fast paced and compelling. A sequel is in the works--I can't wait for it to be done.

An interview with the author

1. Where were you when the idea for this book came to you?
At home. I always seem to have a dozen nebulous ideas for stories roaming around in my head. The idea of a baby being left in a forest and being raised by a monster was one of them. It wasn't until Suzan Noyes, playwright, screenwriter and artist extraordinaire, talked me into going to a writing retreat with her that I decided I needed something to read aloud. I wrote the first few chapters and the ideas kept nudging me to continue.

2. What inspired you to write this story?
I love fantasy--the unique and different. I wanted to write a story for teens who feel isolated and those who struggle with emotions and how to control them. I set it in a more confined world with higher stakes to highlight Elantra's choice between being selfish or sacrificing herself for the greater good.

3. How long did it take you to write this book?
That is a difficult question. Five years on and off. It was not a project at the top of my priority list. I also co-wrote two screenplays, directed three plays, worked on my picture books, attended writing conferences online and off, and added a middle-grade ebook to Amazon during that time. That doesn't count life that always sidetracks writing goals.

4. What challenged or surprised you about writing this story?
It's always interesting to see how a novel evolves and how our creative muses inspire us.
I just started putting words to paper for this book. It was the first piece of writing I
had ever done without an outline or plan other than how I wanted to start it and end it.
Later, I made a basic fifteen point outline described in Blake Snyder's book, Save the Cat. Although he wrote for screenwriters, his methods work well for any kind of writing. I used these points for the direction of the plot elements and the changes necessary for the
evolution and emotional growth of the character.

The most surprising was the change in the Daniel character. In the beginning he was not from the modern world. By changing him, I had the much needed conflict and a more interesting, stronger love interest. It didn't hurt that his desire to return home became the impetus for a sequel.

5. Why did you decide to self-publish?
I was a two-time graduate of the Institute of Writing Children's Literature before the onslaught of the internet. Although I submitted for years, I got the usual rejections. This was a time when I was the mother of two children and life was more important than a career. When they left home, I decided to devote my time to writing and screenwriting. It just seemed logical to self-publish due to the financial benefits and the differences in the time frame for reaching the public. Marketing is the major consideration for all writers, but these days, a writer is often responsible for most of the publicity surrounding his work even if he is published traditionally. All writers who want their works read have to learn marketing, whether or not they want to. Self-motivation and initiative are two other requirements to self-publishing due to the decision-making process. It is also important to me to have control over the physical appearance of the book after spending so many years with my mental image.

6. Who are some of your favorite authors?
As a teenager I liked mystery and only read Nancy Drew books. I grew up loving movies and Disney. They made my imagination soar. I read the classics in school, but it wasn't until I was married that I started reading fantasy. I find my greatest favorites belong to the English writers who write for young people. They have so much more history, geography and myth to draw from. C.S. Lewis, Susan Cooper and J.K. Rowling are some of my favorites. I write full-time and don't read as much as I would like. Marissa Meyer has my awe for her Cinder series. To escape and laugh, I enjoy Janet Evanovich and her mystery-numbered series. There are so many good writers in all genres, that it's a feast for all readers and I do regret not being able to read more. Right now I gauge my reading choices on what my 14-year-old granddaughter is reading since she's in tune with the most popular fantasy writers who are very good.

About DeniceDeniceHL.jpeg

Denice Hughes Lewis is a wife, mother and grandmother who loves kids, animals, movies, theater, nature and especially adventures in unlimited imagination. She's an award-winning ebook author and screenwriter. When she isn't writing, she's walking her Pomeranian dog, taking care of her 31-year-old blind pony and her 150-pound goat. Her other interests include writing plays and music, art and directing for the stage.


ShadowsRMcK.jpegI can't believe I missed reading Shadows (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013) by Robin McKinley. I love how the book opens:

"THE STORY STARTS LIKE SOMETHING OUT OF A fairy tale. I hated my stepfather.
It's usually stepmothers in fairy tales. Well, equal time for step-fathers."

Teenage Maggie lives in Newworld, where they "don't have magicians, evil or otherwise." She lives with her mom, stepdad Val, little brother Ran, and her dog Mongo. She can't tell anyone about why she dislikes Val., whose from Oldworld Afterall, Newworld is about science and one shouldn't be afraid of shadows even if they do have extra legs.

I enjoyed the teen speak of Maggie and her friends, the origami folding, and was made nervous by the shadows and other things I'll let you discover for yourself. It would be one spooky movie! This is my newest favorite book by Robin McKinley.

You can see her other books at her website. My other favorites are Deerskin and Sunshine. deerskin-100.jpeg sunshine2008-100.jpeg

You can also read Robin's blog, Days in the Life*,
* with footnotes