Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Marketing Gamble

A few of us were talking at Saturday's NESCBWI Salon about how putting together some materials to give to independent booksellers and driving around to visit them is risky and not just because many of us are writers because we aren't outgoing enough to be salespeople.

Independent booksellers are hugely important. Many of us see our books in independent bookstores far more frequently then we see them in the chains. But any marketing effort--and visiting booksellers is just one of them--is gambling with time because the time you use to market is time you could have been using to write the next book. Under the best of circumstances, it's very difficult to tell if you're getting much of a response to an individual marketing effort, so you always wonder--what is the best use of Wednesday?

Then on top of that, there's the nothing sells books business we keep hearing, which tends to make me feel that I might as well just go hiking on Wednesday.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Oh, I So Needed That

What I Did:

Yesterday I attended a New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators event in Massachusetts. It was a three-hour "salon" for published writers and illustrators on the topic of working with booksellers. Three very enthusiastic, professional booksellers discussed making connections with booksellers, bookstore events, and maintaining relationships with booksellers. At the end of the presentation, I was feeling really depressed (a couple of other people I spoke to seemed to be, too) because going up to strange booksellers in their stores for a cold chat, as they all advised, is probably not one of my best skills. But then I ate lunch and felt much better, so maybe it was just low blood sugar.

Who I Saw:

Toni Buzzeo, a children's author and librarian who is active in the NESCBWI. Several years ago, I attended a workshop she conducted on author presentations in schools.

Mary Newell DePalma, who I met nearly a year ago. I had dinner with her, in fact. She was one of the artists for Robert's Snow for Cancer's Cure last year.

Melissa Stewart and I had sort of met at an earlier NESCBWI event. I asked her yesterday if she had been published at that time, and she very modestly just said, "Yes." I'll say she's been published. The books' section of her website has to be divided into categories she's published so many.

Who I Met:

Loree Griffin Burns. I sat right next to her. I said, "Gee, your name sounds so familiar." Here's why.

Terry Golson, a food writer whose first children's book, Tillie Lays an Egg, comes out next year from Scholastic. Terry had an unbound galley with her. I didn't get a chance to read the text, but the illustrations are a hoot. They're photographs of chickens posed in tableaux. Terry collected the retro items in the pictures and trained the chickens to pose among them. She has a hen cam with an international following. She says there are troops in Iraq following her hens.

Alison Morris, the children's buyer at Wellesley Booksmith and the Shelftalker. Yes, people! I met another blogger!

Carol Chittenden from Eight Cousins Bookstore. I often see her name on the Association of Booksellers for Children listserv.

I believe a good time was had by all.

Friday, September 26, 2008

One Thing Led To Another

Okay, so the Sherman Alexie poem led me to About failbetter.com, which led me to Margo Rabb, who is a contributing editor there, which led me to her blog, which led me to read that...She was at Bread Loaf this summer! See the meadow at the top of this post? I was there the summer a plane had to lane there!

You know how she says she was first there when she was 22? I was there when I was nineteen, twenty, and twenty-one. At the time I was there, I, too, had fantasies about going back as a published writer.

Not anymore, though.

For years, I had real dreams, the kind you have when you're unconscious, about Bread Loaf and about going back. But, as I've probably mentioned here before, they never involved going back as a writer. In my dreams, I always wanted to get back into the network of rooms that made up the kitchen.

But we never, ever, let anyone in there who wasn't staff. The people I'd most want to be with, wouldn't have me now.

I'm speaking metaphorically, of course. The people I knew there are all off somewhere else, middle-aged or dead.

Hey, Isn't It Poetry Friday?

A poem by Sherman Alexie. Notice that he has a new book of poetry coming out next year.

By way of Blog of a Bookslut.

Trying Another Field Trip

You may recall that back in July I went to a sci fi conference and left after three hours because that was all the intellectual stimulation I could take. Within days of coming home, days, I'd signed up for another event. Tomorrow's the big day.

The beauty of this thing tomorrow is that it only lasts three hours. Which, you will recall from having read the preceding paragraph, may be all I can take of being with other people.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Our Anne Of Green Gables Land?

Could Forks, Washington end up being America's Prince Edward Island, which is all Anne of Green Gables all the time? And I mean all the time. Seriously. I kid you not. You can't make this stuff up. I can't, anyway.

This is what the folks in Forks need to do: Create Twilight potholders, magnets, souvenir playing cards, dolls (both expensive collectibles and hot fashion-types), pencils, placemats. They need to arrange for a whole array of snack foods with Twilight packaging--popcorn, chips, gummy candies, soda, come to mind immediately. They can sell dried game--venison jerky, for instance--because that's what the Cullens eat. Though, of course, they don't eat it dried.

There's a baby in the last book! They can do Twilight bibs and diaper covers!!! Twilight board books!

Seriously, I think it's nice that this town is able to get what sounds like some much needed

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Some Nonprofessional Reading

I still haven't finished the most recent issue of The Horn Book. But instead of working on it last night while I was on the exercise bicyle, I picked my way through a series of articles related to the mind in the September 22nd issue of Newsweek. One of them made me worry that some readers might perceive the main character in the book I'm devoting my life to writing as very, very ill. In fact, the article supported the statement from the one professional who has read the manuscript that went something to the effect, "Why aren't her parents seeking help for her?"

So today, I went back to work on Chapter 1 (which was already in its eighth draft) to try to deal with that little matter. I got Olivia a little help. Not that she needs it. Everyone around her just thinks she does.

If I'd read The Horn Book last night, maybe I would have finished chapter four today. Would that have been a good thing?

Anything that floats through my mind while I'm working on a project could end up in it.

Another Newsweek article mentioned flow, which I've talked about here in the past. The article described flow as "concentrated attention and the absence of self-consciousness."

What is "self-consciousness?" All the games loaded on your computer? The CNN website? On-line articles about Todd Palin and the clothes worn at the Emmy Awards ceremony?

I believe I was in a flow state for about forty-five seconds this afternoon. Maybe a minute and a half. Hooray!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Little Professional Reading

I haven't finished reading the September/October issue of The Horn Book yet--I'm not even close to getting to the reviews--but I did find An Interview with Pat Scales interesting. Scales is President of ALA's Association for Library Service to Children and has a long history in library science. In addition to discussing programs she's conducted in school libraries, she talks about Accelerated Reader and the impact she thinks it's having on reading.

Monday, September 22, 2008

It's Hard To Be Anything But Humble: Part II In What Will Undoubtedly Become A Series

I was visiting an older relative this past weekend. We were talking about the book I expect to be writing the rest of my life. I think she was feeling sorry for me and was trying to think of some way to offer encouragement, because she said to me, "Gail, have you ever thought about writing comedy?"

I sat there for a moment, and then I said, "I think that's what I'm known as--a humorist."

She said, "Oh. Really? I thought you'd be good at that."

More on the subject of humor: Laughter in the Dark in The New York Times Sunday Book Review.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

And You Thought Things Were Bad On Wall Street

If you have some extra time and are feeling masochistic, you might enjoy reading The End by Boris Kachka in New York Magazine. You won't find a lot of what Kachka has to say big news if you've been reading other publishing articles for the last four or five years. He's just pulled everything together in one spot. He has a lot of people information, though. He is, after all, writing for New York Magazine, and New York City is where a lot of the publishers are.

Some bits that caught my eye:

1. Nothing sells books anymore. Kachka says, "Traditional marketing is useless" and quotes an agent (a "powerful" one, too!) as stating, "Media doesn’t matter, reviews don’t matter, blurbs don’t matter." I have been seeing this kind of thing in articles over the past year or so. Peter Miller from Bloomsbury told Kachka that book trailers are "all the rage right now, but I would love to see an example of one video that really did generate a lot of sales." I wonder about that, myself, especially since a lot of book trailers are pretty awful.

2. Borders "is on death watch." I knew the chain was having trouble, but I wasn't aware things were that bad. (Hmmm. Am I evil to speculate about the kind of going- out-of-business sale it could have?) This is bad news for sales because Borders is still big, and it can still promote and sell a lot of specific titles. Plus, if it goes under, that cuts down still more on the number of bookselling outlets.

When I heard last summer that Borders was suffering and looking for a buyer, I wondered if the loss of that chain might mean a mini-resurgence in independent bookstores. After all, the big chains destroyed the indies. If the big chains (or at least one of them) disappear, won't that leave a vacuum that indies can fill?

I know. I'm not factoring in Amazon.

3. Kachka calls "co-op"--publishers paying for book placement in big bookstores--payola. (I'm just repeating what I read.) But evidently it's not frowned upon with books the way it is with music. Though, since we've already all agreed that nothing sells books, anyway, I don't know that co-op does much good. I guess I don't have to feel badly that no one has plunked down money for my books to be stacked at the front of a store because no one would buy them, anyway. (Though, to be honest, I think The Hero of Ticonderoga may have been placed in a nice cardboard case of some kind with some other books for a while. I don't know how that came about. I didn't ask any questions.)

4. If I understand the whole publishing situation that Kachka (and others before him) have described, a big, massive bestseller can carry a publishing company. For a while. That's why they're willing to pay enormous advances, advances that are too big for some of us to comprehend, for books both by established and new authors that they think have the potential to sell big. (Does anyone else think this sounds a lot like gambling?) But sometimes publishers are wrong.

Publishers losing money is bad. Very, very bad.

5. Kachka suggests that the book industry may have to change dramatically, moving away from relying on bestsellers, for instance. Book publishing may look very different in the future.

Personally, I can tolerate change. The wait to get there might drive me crazy, though.

The link to New York Magazine came from Blog of a Bookslut.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Where Are We, Anyway?

I've said here before that I don't hear a lot about a "sense of place" in children's books. I don't necessarily notice it much in my reading of children's and YA literature, either. But two books I read recently had it in spades.

By sense of place I don't mean that readers necessarily recognize the book's setting because they've been there and really do recognize descriptions of places they've seen for themselves. After all, a book has the potential to be read by thousands of people, and it's not likely that they'll all have been to the scene of the action. To me, a strong sense of place makes me feel as if I'm in a place, even if I've never been there in real life.

The Postcard by Tony Abbott definitely made me feel Florida while I was reading it. Of course, by "feeling Florida" I mean feeling what I think Florida feels like, since I've only been there twice and only seen much of the state once. The light, the heat, the "old Florida" locations not only seemed real to me, but attractive. While I was reading The Postcard, I felt I should consider a trip to the sunshine state, a trip that didn't need to include Orlando.

Maureen Johnson makes the New York City setting of Suite Scarlett seem very real and very attractive. And, again, I have no great knowledge of New York. I have to admit, when I take the train into NYC and start seeing those long, unending streets from my window, I immediately think, Dear merciful Creator! I am entering the Kingdom of Darkness! Please provide me with a guide (cab driver) through the shadows and preserve me until I see the light of New Haven again sometime between three and six this afternoon! But Johnson's characters move about what sounds like a real city in total comfort to a rubish reader like myself.

The kind of you-are-there feeling I'm talking about isn't easy to do. It's not uncommon to read books that use a famous place as a sort of quick and dirty backdrop for the story's action. You also see books in which authors have to stop whatever they're doing to describe a museum or a palace. It's not every writer who really can make readers feel a setting instead of just mechanically see it or, perhaps, ignore it altogether.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Now I'm Doing It, Too

I've seen Maureen Johnson's name bandied about on the Internet a number of times, sometimes in a gushy, adoring way that, if you are a somewhat bitchy person, like myself, can become really grating. However, all that aside, Johnson's most recent book, Suite Scarlett, really is very good.

Scarlett Martin is one of four children whose family has run a New York City hotel for generations. The Hopewell, however, has fallen on hard times. It has so few guests that Scarlett's parents have had to let all the help go. How can the Martin children help with the family business and still live their own lives? This question is of primary significance to Scarlett's older brother, who hopes for a career as an actor.

Then the hotel gets a new, long-term guest with lots of money, lots of theater connections, and lots of demands. And she really clicks with Scarlett. Though the clicking might be said to be primarily on her part.

Suite Scarlett could probably be described as a combination of mainstream fiction and screwball comedy. It's not laugh-out-loud, roll-on-the-floor funny, but it's light while at the same time having an honest-to-God story and well-defined characters.

I was reading--and enjoying--Suite Scarlett, when a love interest appeared for our heroine. Too bad, I thought. Boyfriends usually ruin a good story. But this potential boyfriend has a specific part in the plot. It's a small part, to be sure, but without him things couldn't happen as they do. He definitely isn't just there to throw in some love interest.

Scarlett has a younger sister who is a cancer survivor and a serious pain in the butt. Great character, I thought. But...why? Well, Marlene has a small but pivotal role to play in making this story work, too.

This book works like a very well made machine. It's an enjoyable read that is more than a guilty pleasure.

Johnson is also the author of Devilish, which I described as providing a sense of place. I'll have more to say about sense of place in another post.

The Consolation Of Nature And Literature

I took yesterday off to go biking. (I had to work three or four hours last weekend to make up for it because I took last Wednesday off to go hiking and Labor Day turned into a four-day event here, and you can't write the same book eight times without doing anything at all.) Well, this lovely bike trail went right by--and I mean right by--a sewage treatment plant. I happened to be traveling with my computer guy, who stopped, looked over his shoulder at me, and said, "Can you hear the fountain of poop?" In all likelihood, it wasn't a real fountain of poop, but some other kind of aeration thingie, but it did make a noise.

There were several structures at this site, one or two of which must not have had roofs. They appeared to be accessible from above because Computer Guy gleefully pointed out the circular life preservers stored along a metal fence at the top of one of the buildings. "They're there in case somebody falls in!" he exclaimed, sounding delighted at the prospect.

Soon after that we stopped for lunch.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Both Encouraging And Mysterious

I often feel a sense of desperation among writers who are trying to give their newly published books the best possible marketing push. The How-To Information that's spun-out all over the place insists we need to promote, promote, promote, but it never mentions that bookstore contacts may refuse to call back, that regional publishers may bump your interview down to a local publication because "He said that if he covered every author who contacted him, he'd be publishing a book review," or that at many literary festivals the hand full of bestselling authors in attendance get ninety percent of the crowd while everyone else could have stayed home and cleaned or taken a nap.

So these posts at Pub Rants and author Ally Carter's blog on how Carter's book, I'd Tell You That I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You made the New York Times bestseller list two years after it was published were encouraging, even though they can only offer theories about how it happened.

Note in particular Pub Rants' point about the book receiving "few to almost no reviews." The book's "success was not review-driven."

Also note Carter's point that the book didn't hit the list because of self promotion. "All this time I was home...writing."

Panelists And Judges For Newest Cybils Category

I've already talked about how happy I am with the new Easy Readers category for this year's Cybils. The Cybils folk have announced the organizer for said category and the panelists and judges.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Personal History--Not Mine

Just yesterday I was talking about The Postcard, in which a young boy discovers some clues to his late grandmother's life while cleaning out her home after her death. Today I read that Agatha Christie's grandson recently found tapes of her voice while cleaning out one of her former homes well after her death, which was back in 1975. Christie made the recordings in the 1960s while preparing material for her autobiography.

People learn new things about grandmas all the time.

A Print Review For Three Robbers

The September/October issue of The Horn Book Magazine includes a favorable review of A Girl, a Boy, and Three Robbers. The reviewer describes it as "a story that is at times silly and outrageous but that never goes over the top."

In this context, silly and outrageous are good. We were pleased.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Maybe You Can Be Too Ambitious

The Postcard by Tony Abbott includes a couple of elements I find very interesting. Jason, our main character, ends up searching for his dead grandmother's history. I'm definitely into the whole personal past thing. Jason stumbles upon excerpts of a '40s and '50s era noir mystery that may or may not include an account of events in his grandmother's life. I like a little noir every now and then, so I was attracted to that.

I didn't feel that all the elements in this book were well connected, though. Abbott is the author of Firegirl, a book that stayed focused on one situation and delved into the intense suffering of the characters dealing with it. The Postcard covers too many situations. Mom and Dad's marriage is in trouble. Dad has personal problems that may relate to his childhood and his own mother. The search for Jason's grandmother didn't need any of that. It was interesting enough all by itself. It did, though, become extremely complicated given that a lot of it is told through the chapters of a mystery novel that may be totally fabricated or may not. Jason ends up jumping through hoops following clues that I know I would have totally missed. We find out that there was a mind at work behind the mystery, though I was never certain why he didn't just come forward.

In an interview regarding The Postcard at cynsations, Tony Abbott called the book a "magical realist noir crime comedy mystery." I wonder if that's just too much to try to do in one book.

The Postcard did make me want to go to Florida, though.

I Just Received My Second Google Alert

It was for yesterday's Original Content post regarding receiving only one Google Alert for someone else's obituary.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

It's Hard To Be Anything But Humble

A few of my blogger buddies were talking about Google Alerts at one of my listservs. Google Alerts will give you an e-mail update of whatever topic you ask it to. So you can have it notify you if your book or blog is mentioned somewhere or if you, yourself, get a mention. You can keep track of anything you want. The woman down the street you don't like. Your kids. You name it. It's so convenient!

Well, I decided I'd have Google alert me whenever my own name was mentioned. I figured that would be enough to let me know if any of my books were being talked about.

That was maybe five days ago. I've received one alert because someone named Gauthier died in New Jersey, and his obit ended up on-line.

Actually, I think we have a distant relative in New Jersey--a descendant of one of my great-uncles. Gee, I hope that guy wasn't a family member.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Errors In High Places

I've been hearing a lot of talk the last six months about the number of copyediting errors that are turning up in published books. Some folks (myself included) believe we're seeing an increase in the number of errors that are appearing in books from well-regarded publishers.

Kirus Reviews recently carried an essay at its website called Reader Beware in which the author, Vicky Lewis, writes about "one of the best young-adult books of the year", which was denied a starred review because of the excessive number of copyediting errors that ended up in the published edition.

This essay was a hot topic at one of my listservs last week and came up at a second one more recently. I find the whole issue more interesting given that people within the kidlitosphere had already been talking about copyediting problems.

The loss of a starred review may not mean a whole lot if this book truly is one of the best young adult books of the year, as Lewis contends. Presumably it will get plenty of attention, anyway. For mid-level authors like myself, the loss of a starred review can be a very big deal. My own publisher purchases advertising for books that receive two starred reviews, or, at least, that has been my experience. So a modest book that had a chance for two starred reviews and lost one would miss out on support from the publisher and additional sales.

Don't take this as criticism of Kirkus. If anything, I think this is an indication of how bad the editing situation has become.

You should, of course, ignore any copyediting errors in the preceding post.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Kenneth Oppel's New Contribution To Steampunk

I just heard today that Kenneth Oppel has written another sequel to Airborn. Since I thought the first sequel, Skybreaker, was even better than the original book, I have great hopes for Starclimber.

Oppel's books about a young balloonist in an alternative past fall into the steampunk subgenre. Recently, I've been reading that steampunk fiction has influenced real world style.

I also wasn't aware that when I was watching The Wild, Wild West when I was a kid, I was watching an early example of steampunk. Gee, and my dad just thought it was a weird western.

Starclimber is out in Canada, but won't be available in the U.S. until February of next year.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A Charming Comfort Book

When I read books I think are poorly done, I worry that I'm doing the same thing in my writing. When I read a very well-written book, I worry that I can't come close to doing anything as good.

As much as I enjoyed The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall, I felt bad all the time I was reading it because the one thing The Penderwicks on Gardam Street has going for it is that it is extremely well-written.

The Penderwick family originally appeared in The Penderwicks, which could be described as a retro vacation book. They're back in On Gardam Street in what could be called a retro family life book. The Penderwick girls are four lovely sisters who have a wonderful father and marvelous neighbors. They are concerned because their widowed dad is starting to date. Unable to face changing their lives by bringing in a stepmother, they set him up with women he's sure to hate. In the meantime, all four girls fall in love with the lovely and highly intelligent widow next door.

Sounds sweeter than yuck, doesn't it? It's not. There's a dry wit at work in this book, and the author creates a secure world where traditional child problems are overcome. The characters are well-defined. Though the story feels as if it's a throwback to the forties or fifties, it is firmly rooted in the present with its girl soccer players, academic women, and divorced and widowed parents. It's as if Birdsall took classic (or stereotypical, depending on your point of view) child characters and gave them a new life in the twenty-first century. You've got your older sister taking on the role of mother for her siblings. You've got the girl scientist and the girl writer and the girl preschooler. You've got the boy athletes next door. You've got the father who knows best--and knows Latin, too.

Birdsall writes in the third person and she doesn't use a point-of-view character, which really distinguishes her writing. She moves from one sister's interior world to another without having to tip readers off to what she's doing with breaks in the text or slapping a name down on the page so we know who's observing things now. That isn't done much these days, particularly in children's fiction.

I do wonder if children will be as taken with these books as I am. I asked at one of my listservs and was told by some librarians that while the Pendericks' stories are not wildly popular with kids, they have a following.

I have to also say that there was a painful aspect to reading On Gardam Street, too. The oldest Penderwick girl is twelve years old. This adult reader knows that soon stuff is going to happen. All the time I was reading, I couldn't help thinking of all the heartbreak that's occurred in the families of teenagers on my own street. The Penderwick books are really about moments, lovely moments, that in real life don't last forever.

In fact, in real life we'd be expecting to see something that could end up in a book called The Penderwicks in Hell.

Monday, September 08, 2008

That's What I Need--A Faux Curse Word

Maybe I can do for Jeezum Crow what Glen A. Larson did for frak.

This Works For Me, Too

A big discussion has been going on for a few days at one of my listservs about the proposal in the U.K. to start banding books with age levels. I brought age banding up to a family member who's an education major doing her student teaching this fall in a fifth grade classroom. She told me about children determining the appropriateness of books for themselves using the Five Finger Test.

Basically, children read a page of a book and hold up a finger everytime they hit a word they don't know. If they have five fingers up by the time they reach the end of the page, they can assume the book is too difficult for them just then and try something else. The idea is to keep child readers from becoming frustrated and, potentially, turned off from reading altogether.

I think the Five Finger Test could work for me, too. Certainly if there are five words on a page that I don't know, the book is no doubt too frustrating for me. The difference between child readers and myself is that child readers have the hope that at some time in the future their reading level will be high enough that they can go back to the book they found too difficult and read it successfully. I'm not so sure that's going to happen for me.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Lucky Number Eight!

So that book that I worked on all last year and went back to in July, slogging my way slowly through a new draft of the first four and a half chapters--Well, I got someone to read Chapters One and Two because I wasn't feeling the excitement. I would read books I didn't like and wonder, Am I doing what this author did? Am I taking too long to get to things? Am I stopping dead in my tracks in order to describe something? (What you might call the Da Vinci Distraction, because it was always happening in The Da Vinci Code.) Am I creating information dumps? Am I spending too much time talking about what the main character is thinking? Am I using the word think too much? Is there another word for think?

Anyway, my reader was in absolute despair, because he didn't like my manuscript. It didn't sound like me. It was all just Olivia's weird problems.

I had to reassure him that he was actually being helpful. Some of the things we talked about were things I was already wondering about, myself. I really didn't feel despair, but rather reassurance that I should make a dramatic change, as in starting the book in a different place.

I also wasn't focusing enough on what I wanted the book to be. I was just wallowing in the main character's angst, which did nothing but make her undefined and miserable.

So on to Draft Eight! I don't care if I work on this thing for the rest of my life!

Has Everyone Already Read It?

I've been reading about The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins since early this year. Someone mentioned it recently in the comments to one of my posts, and it's been talked about the last couple of days at one of my listservs.

The book doesn't come out until a little later this month, but I've read so much for so long from so many people who have already read it that I have to wonder if there's anyone left who hasn't read it? Besides me, of course.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

An Alphabet Book For A Niche Market

We at Chez Gauthier are into Rail Trails because we don't bike up no hills. (Though, personally, I don't believe the perfectly flat railroad bed has yet been created. There is always an incline.) In case any of you with little ones are also rail trail fans, take a look at Rail Trail Alphabet Adventures!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A Possible Read-aloud Title?

A few years ago while killing some time during the lunch periods at a school where I was appearing, I listened to the librarian do a read-aloud event with a kindergarten class. She used some kind of instructive picture book about nature because, well, this was school and at school it's appropriate to be instructive.

I think Bee-wigged by Cece Bell could easily find a home with librarians looking for read-aloud titles. Bee-wigged is the story of a misunderstood bee who, while wearing a wig, is mistaken for a child. All his good qualities make him a big hit at school until his secret comes out. Then a talking guinea pig offers up a lesson in acceptance.

This is a story with an overt lesson for adults and a sense of the ridiculous for kids. A bee at school! A talking guinea pig! A talking guinea pig who...Well, I'm not one to give an entire story away.

Bee-wigged's really strong point is its artwork. Jerry Bee is a simple, striking image that I suspect would lend itself to art projects for preschool story hour. (Hmmm. Maybe some story hour art projects at the author's website would be a neat idea.) The text is kept to a minimum, giving the pictures pride of place on each page. Visually it seems like a good choice to hold up in front of a group of children sitting on a rug listening to a story.

By the way, Bee-wigged will be published in November.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Not So Crazy About Teams And Spies

I took a well-reviewed book back to the library today, having given up after reading maybe a quarter of it. I've come to the conclusion that I really don't care for books that involve a team doing spy work. (Or probably a team doing anything else.) I can't take the long, drawn out process of bringing the team together. I also think spy stories in which kids become some kind of secret agent for adults defy logic. Over the last couple of decades, our culture has been very, very big on teaching the young that strange adults who want you to do something dangerous and secretive--or just secretive, for that matter--are probably up to no good and to be avoided. So isn't the average kid reader going to wonder what's wrong with children who drop everything to become spies for some weird adult they've never seen before?

I've been thinking about this today, and I've decided that perhaps the best way to write a kids' spy book is to avoid using adults at all. Somehow, kids have to be the initiators of the action. Or you could set the story in an alternative world where kids aren't supposed to be protected they way they're supposed to be in ours.

Monday, September 01, 2008

A Great Time Of Year

My first book was published towards the end of spring. Maybe April or May. My local librarian informed me that libraries that run on a July 1st to June 30th fiscal year, like ours, are frequently not buying then because they're fresh out of bucks. As you can imagine, I found that to be bad news. (She also told me that she subscribed to a cheaper version of Kirkus Review that didn't include reviews of children's books. Bad news again, because I received quite a good review from that publication for Aliens.)

Anyway, last month our library's new bookshelves in the YA and kid section were running over with juicy new titles because...new fiscal year! They went out and did some shopping.