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picture book

Our FIRST Pirates of the Day!

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Our FIRST Pirates of the Day!

Yo, ho, ho, mateys! These two wee mutineers are our FIRST pirates of the day!  I love their matching head scarves! They're just like Ned's! And are those carrot swords? Arrrn't they cute? Thank you to Bekah for the darling photo!

Join our pirate crew & be Pirate of the Day! You'll be entered to win a copy of Pirate's Lullaby: Mutiny at Bedtime


For more information click, here. Winner announced September 19th, International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

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Every Picture Tells A Story: The Writing in Pictures Exhibit at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido

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Every Picture Tells A Story: The Writing in Pictures Exhibit at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido

"Children are made readers on the laps of their parents."  - Emilie Buchwald

My mother was a voracious reader. Every week, we would go to the public library in downtown Mansfield to check out a new stack of books.  Mom always let me wander through the stacks in the children's section. I'd sit on the floor and pull book after book off the shelves. When it was time to leave, she'd always have to cajole me to the checkout. We always left with a huge stack of books. Sometimes, though, I had to leave books behind because we had exceeded the checkout limit.

I'm eternally grateful to my mother for instilling in me her love of reading. It's a gift that I've tried to pass on to my own children as well.

Even though my children are proficient readers in their own right, we still read together at bedtime. Sometimes, we'll read a novel but more often than not, we read picture books.

On Friday, July 10, my family and I attended the Writing with Pictures Exhibit at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. Curated by art director, designer and instructor, Joy Chu, Writing with Pictures is a multi-media exhibit that tells the story behind the creation of the picture book: why we love them, and their widening audience and role in the 21st century. This exhibition features original published artwork from local illustrators, and from artists working with local writers.

I am incredibly honored that my forthcoming picture book, Pirate's Lullaby: Mutiny at Bedtime, illustrated by the amazingly talented, Tim Bowers, is part of the exhibition. But the exhibit was particularly meaningful to me as a mom, a reader and a writer.

 

Even before I had children, I would sit in the children's section of the bookstore and read picture books. When my husband and I were dating, I even gifted him a couple. Now, that we have children, we fill our house with books. And my children love pouring over the Scholastic catalog just as much as I did at their age. 

Many of the books in the Writing in Pictures Exhibition are family favorites - Weeds Find A Way is one of Claire's favorites while Luke enjoys Train Man, Bird & Squirrel and The Fartist.

At the exhibit, my children also discovered new books that they want to read. We've already requested Mummy Cat from our local library, for example. And both kids enjoyed identifying the celebrities in the non-fiction books illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt.

As a reader, I enjoyed seeing some of my favorite picture book art up close. There's something magical about the progression from rough sketch to final art. And being able to see the detail of the art and the brushstrokes up close?  Magical!

As a writer, I appreciated getting a glimpse into the minds and hearts of some of the most talented people on this planet.

Whether you are an aspiring picture book writer who hopes to catch a glimpse into the process of creating a picture book, an art lover, or a reader looking for your next great read, you'll enjoy every minute of the Writing with Pictures Exhibition at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido. Open Thursday through Sunday, from July 11 until September 13, 2015.

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Pirates at the Fair!

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Pirates at the Fair!

Ahoy mateys!  Pirate's Lullaby releases on August 25, 2015 but you can get a sneak peek on June 28th.  I'll be reading at 4:30 p.m. at the Creative Youth Exhibit at the San Diego County Fair.  Come and walk the plank! Make a pirate map and get a (temporary) tattoo! 



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Agent's Day Talk

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Agent's Day Talk

Last weekend, I was invited to SCBWI's Agent’s Day in Orange County to share the story behind my debut picture book, PIRATE’S LULLABY: MUTINY AT BEDTIME (Doubleday, August 25, 2015), illustrated by Tim Bowers. I entitled my talk, How I Became a Pirate and Landed a Book Deal, for several reasons. Obviously, the book has a pirate theme, but the story behind my story involves....

...a whole lot of water

Flood, May 2012

Flood, May 2012

...a case of Bell’s Palsy

"Let's be pirate princesses," said my daughter.

"Let's be pirate princesses," said my daughter.

...a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work.

At the conference, I encouraged my fellow writers to embrace the pirate’s life. I wasn’t suggesting that we all head for the open seas; instead, I wanted everyone to think and act like a pirate.

"Be yourself. Unless you can be a pirate. Then always be a pirate."

"Be yourself. Unless you can be a pirate. Then always be a pirate."

You see, pirates weren’t afraid of the unknown. If they were, they never would have sailed beyond the next horizon. The work was hard, the dangers many, the rewards few - yet the men (and women) who became pirates did so because they loved the adventure. They took pleasure in the journey and were spurred on by the promise of reward.

Being a pirate, though, was hard work. The bulk of one’s day involved doing general maintenance on the ship - patching sails, splicing worn ropes, swabbing the deck – tasks that needed to be done to ensure their vessel was seaworthy.  Quarters were cramped, food was scarce and you put your life at risky daily. And for what?  The mere possibility of reward and the odds were stacked against you.

Being a writer is a lot like being a pirate. Like pirates, writers need to put aside their fear of the unknown. They must work hard at their craft, weather rejection and compete for the much treasured opportunity of having a book published. Are the odds any better for writers? No, but like all pirates know, the journey is worth the effort.

So, me hearties, Be brave. Be bold. Be yourself. But be a pirate too. Take the risk. Conquer your fear. Set out for the unknown. You never know what treasure the future might hold. And oh, the adventures you can have along the way!

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Dreams Find A Way

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Dreams Find A Way

Were you one of those kids who always knew what you wanted to be when you grew up?  Not me!  I entertained a lot of possibilities – nurse, business woman, pharmacist – but I ended up becoming a teacher.  I don’t think that I ever wanted to teach per se, but teaching allowed me the opportunity to be close to books.

 I have my mother to thank for my love of books. She was an avid reader and we went to the library every week. Until I was six and able to write my name, I had to check out books on her library card. This meant there was a limit on the number of books I could check out. What a wonderful day it was when I finally got my own card!  I no longer had to share but could take out the maximum number allowed. 

A few months ago, Newbery Award winning author, Richard Peck, spoke at our SCBWI-San Diego meeting. 

“No one but a reader wants to become a writer,” said Peck.

I’m sure that he shared other tidbits about writing, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t remember anything else. I was dumbstruck by what he said. I felt that he was speaking about me. Maybe being a writer is something that I’ve always secretly wanted. I certainly love books and admire authors. But I don’t think writing was every presented as a career opportunity.  Now that my first children’s picture book, A PIRATE’S LULLABY: MUTINY AT BEDTIME, will be published by Doubleday (Spring 2015), I guess it is!  

Last Friday, my family and I had the chance to meet two local authors at their garden-themed book event at Yellow Book Road. Cindy Jenson-Eliott and Edith Hope Fine, read their books, Weeds Find a Way and Water, Weed and Wait to an enthusiastic crowd of children and parents.

Cindy’s book celebrates the unexpected beauty of weeds while Edith’s book pays homage to school gardens as a community building activity.

My daughter with Cindy Jenson-Elliott

It was a joy to watch Cindy and Edith read. My children and I also enjoyed the gardening activities that they planned. My daughter brought home a seed packet and dried fennel to replant.  I wrote a haiku poem.

Wind-sewn seeds aloft!

Sunbeams chase away the rain.

Beauty in the dirt.

On the car ride home, my family and I talked about what fun we had at the event.

My five year old daughter enjoyed meeting “Miss Cindy” and “Miss Edith”. 

“I want to be a "draw-er" (illustrator) when I grow up,” she said.

“Like Miss Salina?” I asked. (She met Salina Yoon at her book event at Barnes and Noble a few months ago)

“Yes,” she said. “And I want to write the words, too.  Like Miss Cindy and Miss Edith.” 

I knew that I was fortunate to be part of a writing community. SCBWI is filled with creative and enthusiastic men and women and the camaraderie is like nothing I’ve experienced before. But after last Friday’s event, it struck me that I should be grateful to my writing friends for something else - for being such wonderful role models for my daughter.  I want her to know that she can grow up to be anything she wants to be…including a draw-er (illustrator) and writer. It’s something that I didn’t know when I was a child. 

So thanks Salina, Cindy and Edith for planting the seed of a dream. I can’t wait to see how my daughter blooms and grows.

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Sleepytime Me by Edith Hope Fine

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Sleepytime Me by Edith Hope Fine

Bedtime. Just about every parenting book advises parents to establish a regular bedtime routine. Ours has been pretty much the same since our children were born - bath time, books, then bedtime. Recently, I noticed the dynamic changing a bit. My children still take a nightly bath and we still read books, but now that both of the kids can read, they want to read to us instead!  My five year old daughter still snuggles up on my lap, but my soon-to-be eight year old son no longer fits (although he occasionally tries). I think we must look something like this!

A scene from Elf (2003) featuring Will Ferrell and Bob Newhart

A scene from Elf (2003) featuring Will Ferrell and Bob Newhart

Although things have changed, bedtime is still a special part of our day.  My friend and colleague, Edith Hope Fine, has captured the joy, wonder, and beauty of bedtime in her latest book, Sleepytime Me (Random House, May 2014). I asked Edith to stop by to tell us about herself and her latest book.

Cover of Sleepytime Me

Cover of Sleepytime Me

What made you want to write for children?

I've been "reading" since I was maybe four and alphabet savvy. To my father's horror, I carefully spelled out, "N-O-R-T-H-E-R-N  T-I-S-S-U-E" and proclaimed, "Toilet paper!" I read voraciously as a kid and remember one bad night when I was at the end of my bed reading Nancy Drew in a patch of light from the hallway. Someone turned the light off. I think it took me half an hour to get brave enough to crawl up the bed and under the covers for safety. Tapping childhood memories and feelings, plus years of teaching and reading books aloud to my students and my own darlings, all led me to writing for children.

What inspired you to write Sleepytime Me?

There's nothing in the world like holding a baby or grand baby and reading aloud. I'd nailed a title, Yawn Around Town, and a rhythmic refrain, "Yawn around, yawn around the sleepytime town," back in the early 90's. I'd yawn while writing, a good sign for parents in a bedtime story, that's for sure. And we all know yawns are catching. (I yawned just now thinking about it--of course I'm an owl and it's close to midnight.) Sleepytime Me (oh-HO, I hadn't nailed the title) comes out from Random House this May. Yikes. Two decades. I gasped when I saw Christopher Denise's gorgeous illustrations. You can see samples at his website and on his blog. I'll be doing a "come in your p.j.s reading" at Yellow Book Road here in San Diego in May. Wear your fuzzy slippers.

My favorite image from Sleepytime Me from Christopher Denise's website

My favorite image from Sleepytime Me from Christopher Denise's website

Tell me about the revision process. Sleepytime Me has changed radically since its inception, no?

I love revision. Well, the end of revision. Yes, I tried a bunch of different ideas, from community helpers yawning to a yawn that showed on the page. What??!! None felt right. None worked. After starting with a manuscript of 1000+ words, I ended up with poetry and 132 words. Talk about paring.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

I taught writing for children with Judith Josephson through SDSU Extension for almost 20 years. There's so much to learn. I run the published members' group of our San Diego SCBWI (Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators) and somehow people find my name and ask me to meet them for coffee so I can tell them how to publish their book. The truth is that a person really wanting to write for children is doing her homework--reading in the field, talking with librarians, scouring bookstore bookshelves, joining SCBWI, entering writing contests, taking classes, and attending conferences. My best advice is don't just think about writing for kids. Start. Write. Write right now. Today. 

What can we expect next from you?

Besides the monthly Grammar Patrol column for eFrog Press, I have two big projects on my plate right now (besides the teetery stack of 20 different half-baked manuscripts waiting for me to turn up the oven). I'm writing an eBook for tyro-novice-rookie folks who ache to write for children--the things that took me two years to figure out, they can learn in two minutes. Jump, Froggies! will be out this spring through eFrog Press. 

The other is a student workbook to accompany my Cryptomania! Teleporting into Greek and Latin with the CryptoKids. As you know, I'm happy with my nose in a dictionary, thesaurus, or etymological dictionary, so the workbook has 100 extra roots in addition to the 200 basic Greek and Latin roots covered in the book. I pulled from my years of teaching to conjure up pages from which kids in grades 3–6 can learn cool roots that they'll use the rest of their lives--through high school and college and beyond. A huge undertaking, the pages have now been copy edited and are with the graphic designer and artist Kim Doner, who illustrated the book, for the spot art. Look at this adorable preview sketch of Alphy, the Microcyanosaurus in Greco-Roman garb! What a hoot.

Alphy, the Microcyanosaurus

Alphy, the Microcyanosaurus

Thank you, Edith!

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I Dare You Not To Yawn - Perfect Picture Book Friday

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I Dare You Not To Yawn - Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title:  I Dare You Not To Yawn

Author and Illustrator:  Written by Helene Boudreau, Illustrated by Serge Bloch

Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2013.

Genre:  Picture Book

Ages: 3-8

Themes:  bedtime, procrastination, yawning

Opening/Synopsis:  “Quick! Close your mouth! Especially if your eyes feel droopy, your shoulders feel sloopy, and your mouth feels like it wants to stretch open wide to let out a great big yawny yaaaaaaaawn – hey, you were supposed (to) hold it in!  Oh, dear. You know what happens next, don’t you?

Cover I Dare You Not to Yawn.jpg

Boudreau and Bloch’s I Dare You Not To Yawn is a delightfully subversive bedtime book. Written like a quasi-how-to manual on bedtime avoidance, our young narrator, warns us that “yawns are sneaky”. According to him, it’s best to avoid snuggly things, cozy pajamas, bedtime stories and sleepy time songs, – or you’ll wind up in bed, wondering just how you got there. After exhausting (pun intended) a rather long list of possibilities, the little boy inevitably succumbs to sleep – yawns are sneaky that way! Boudreau’s light and playful tone is complemented perfectly by Bloch’s loose and expressive artwork. I dare you not to love this book!

Why I like this book:  I Dare You Not To Yawn is one of the funniest bedtime books I’ve ever read. My kids loved it too. There are lots of opportunities to “ham it up” but, be forewarned, the giggles and the yawns are contagious!

Activities and Resources (click on question to link to answer):  

What’s the medical explanation for contagious yawning?

Is there scientific proof that yawns are contagious?

Did you know that animals yawn too?

Need a good read for nap time?  Check out other Perfect Picture Book Friday reviews on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog

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Weeds Find A Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliot

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Weeds Find A Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliot

One day, a few years ago, my daughter handed me a bouquet of freshly picked dandelions from our front yard.

“Flowers for you, Mama,” she said.

I was delighted by her heartfelt gift. What mother wouldn’t have been? But when she insisted we go inside to find a vase, I tried my best to dissuade her.

 “But they’re weeds,” I told her.

“But they’re pretty,” she said.

I am thankful for that moment with my daughter.  At the tender age of just two and a half she was able to see the beauty in what most people (including myself) consider a pesky weed. 

My friend and colleague, Cindy Jenson-Elliot, has the same way of looking at the wonders of the natural world. Her first picture book, Weeds Find A Way (Beach Lane Press), will be published next month.

I asked Cindy to stop by and tell us about herself and her forthcoming book.

Weeds Find A Way Cover.jpg

What made you want to write for children?

Like most writers, I was a bit of a book worm as a child. From ages 9 - 14, I lived in a small town in the desert. In the summer, when the temperature hovered at 120 degrees, and there was NOTHING to do, I would get a stack of books from the library, and lay on the top bunk of the bed I shared with my sister, and go through book after book. I could visit all the places I longed to go -- mainly back in time and any place that looked green. Books still take me other places in that same way, and I rely on them emotionally. So, I guess that's a round-about way of saying I write books for children because I needed books as a child. The right book at the right time can heal your heart. My hope is that my books will help heal the world a little bit by helping children connect with the beauty and wonder of nature.

What inspired you to write Weeds Find A Way?

I was inspired to write Weeds Find a Way during my first year as Garden Teacher at Explorer Elementary Charter School. We had a garden full of weeds that spring, and it struck me what a wonderful natural resource they were. I figured I would pull a book out of the library and teach students about the wonders of weeds -- how they adapt and thrive everywhere. The problem was, although our school has a fabulous school library with all kinds of garden books, we had no books on weeds. And further research revealed that there were no books on weeds for children. So, it was up to me to form the Weed Fan Club and shout their praises.

How does one make a non-fiction topic (such as weeds) exciting and engaging for young readers?

Any topic can be inspiring and engaging when the right person gets hold of it. The only way I know of to make nonfiction topics exciting is to be inspired by the topic myself. The good news is that I can usually find something inspiring in any topic, once I look into it deeply enough. I really love being able to take something I am interested in and thoroughly explore it. Then the question becomes, how do you frame or present that topic in an exciting way? I look through other books that I admire and see how other authors have presented a topic. Did they write lyrically or did they write a narrative -- or both? How did they organize their information? I try out different styles for the same topic. I may rewrite a manuscript 30 or 40 times before it is ready to send out to a publisher. And then, it may be rejected over and over again. I take whatever feedback I get from editors, my critique group, friends, mentors, teachers, and use their ideas to revise, revise, revise. Sometimes I get stuck. Then I put a manuscript aside for a while -- sometimes for years -- until I can see it with new eyes. That's a wonderful thing -- how time gives us new eyes to see our work. Even then, I may think a topic is really cool, but other people don't. 

What can we expect next from you?

I'm interested in so many different things, I am writing about five different manuscripts at the moment -- all on different topics in natural history. In 2015 or 2016, Beach Lane Books will publish a second garden-based picture book called "Dig In." And I recently sold a manuscript to Henry Holt, Christy Ottaviano Books -- a picture book biography of a well-known nature artist. I have so many books I want to write -- after I'm done with the books I am currently working on -- that I can see myself staying busy my entire life, exploring the natural world through words!

Thank you, Cindy!

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