Saturday, April 25, 2020

When You Have To Read Something Over And Over And Over Again

You have not seen me here this past week, because I just spent three-and-a-half days with a two-and-a-half-year-old boy who has a new baby sister coming home soon. I made pumpkin custard, blueberry babycakes, and  two batches of cupcakes, because I made the first one with the two-year-old and may have left out the baking powder. I  did crafts and learned how to find Little Baby Bum and Super Simple Songs on YouTube.

I  also read What the Dinosaurs Did At School by Refe and Susan Tuma before every nap and every bedtime. And maybe once in the middle of the night. The kid couldn't get enough of it. I liked it a great deal, too. Thank goodness.

I was very grateful whenever I read this book, because there was another one our little guy liked a lot that was a long, heart-tugging poem. He thought the cover illustration for that one was of him and his mother. What the Dinosaurs Did At School, on the other hand, is a very clever and amusing story told totally for laughs. The amount of text is great. The narrative drive is good.

I'm not sure what a two-year-old sees in it, though, because I think to get the jokes and really appreciate the whole situation, you may need to have some knowledge of school. I was concerned I was going to have to do a detailed explanation about the section regarding ventilation, for example, but it didn't come to that. I just had to answer the question "What that dinosaur doing?" a lot.

The illustrations are photos of plastic dinosaurs posed as if they are behaving very, very badly. The combination of the reality of the photos and the dinosaurs raising hell may be an irresistible draw for tiny listeners. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

April 14 Seems To Have Been An Active Day In Childlit Publishing

I did an April book publishing post on Monday, April 13.  The next day I saw a big array of announcements about book birthdays that very day. April 14 is my sister's birthday, and thus a notable day in my family. History fans are probably also aware that it is the day Lincoln was shot and the Titanic hit an iceberg. Both events occurred late in the evening, so, technically, Lincoln died and the Titanic sank on the 15th.

Things turned out much better for my sister. So as a late birthday celebration, here is a list of some childlit books that published on her day in 2020.

Darling Darleen, Queen of the Screen Anne Nesbet Candlewick Press. I see that Nesbet is the author of Cloud and Wallfish.

What Lane? Torrey Maldonado Nancy Paulsen Books. Oh, look. I stumbled upon a review of this book by Ms. Yingling.

A Game of Fox and Squirrels Jenn Reese Macmillan Publishers. Ah, Reese also writes short stories and essays.

Outside In  by Deborah Underwood with illustrations by Cindy Derby Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. If I had pulled my act together this month, as I planned to back in January, I would have considered this book for an Environmental Book Club post.

Baby Clown by Kara LaReau with illustrations by Matthew Cordell Penguin Random House. LaReau has the rare author bio that I read all the way through. I could almost hear the narrator of Jane the Virgin going "How did she get the key to the school?" and "Who doesn't?" when she says she has a pathological fear of being hit in the face by a volleyball.

Like Nothing Amazing Ever Happened by Emily Blejwas Penguin Random House. Blejwas is also the author of an adult book called The Story of Alabama in Fourteen Foods, which hits on two of my interests, history and food. 

Aware of any other April 14 childlit books? Feel free to add them in the comments.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Time Management Tuesday: A Time Saver In The Time Of Covid

I've often written here about being careful about giving up time to things like conferences and workshops. They can suck up a day or two, not counting any preparation you have to do, and it's a gamble as to whether or not you're going to get anything for your effort. You might be better off committing that time to writing or reading or taking care of some personal business that will then free up some other time for work.

Last week I had an interesting experience with an on-line workshop that I believe proves my point.

All About Me

The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators is offering a series of digital workshops for its members. The week before last, writer Kate Messner ran a revision workshop. I had the option of signing up to take it live, in real time, so to speak, but for one reason and another didn't. I watched it the next week when I could squeeze it in between, I don't know, my pathetic attempts at making cloth masks and my obsession with working on my grocery order to be delivered to the house.

This was a very good workshop. I've never read anything by Messner, but she's well known and well regarded in the New England SCBWI world. The content, as well as the presentation, of this workshop suggests the buzz is well deserved.

More importantly, though, was how I took this workshop. In addition to taking it in my living room, perhaps in my yoga pants (I can't remember), because this thing was archived, I could go back to repeat things I missed, such as the title of a book she mentioned. I was able to stop it altogether for a while so I could put something in the oven for dinner.

Additionally, I did not have to put in an hour or two of driving to and from a site, which I have sometimes had to do for workshops. I did not have to get up early. I did not have to hunt around the day before to make sure I had something to wear. I did not have to decompress after I got home.

But It's Not Just About Me

A friend from my writers' group attended a day-long NESCBWI event last month that had to be switched to a remote program. She came away with contacts she could make submissions to and, as she pointed out, she saved time and gas money because she didn't have to drive to the southern part of the state to attend this.

The Cons Of Digital Workshops


Yes, I have attended some on-line programming over the years that wasn't terrific. That was even lame. But that's also true of events I've attended in the flesh. I once went to a workshop led by a very famous children's author who clearly hadn't prepared and didn't even know he was scheduled to be there for two hours. I lost the money I paid to see him, but also the time and effort it took to get there and home again. If we'd done that whole thing over the Internet, I would have lost only one of those three things.

"You make connections at real world events, Gail," some of you may tell me. No, I don't. And while it's true there are agents and editors out there who are closed to submissions unless they come from writers they've encountered at conferences, in my experience, they're open to everyone who attended the conference, not just the ones in their workshops. They can still do that with writers who've signed up and paid for virtual workshops. My writers' group friend is a case in point.

I Don't Believe In Predictions

There's no telling what life is going to be like after a few million people have spent six weeks or much, much more at home. It may not be any different at all. But if change does come, it might come because people end up liking some of what they were doing on their own. It remains to be seen how many people like saving time on their professional short-term learning experiences, and if we start seeing more and more workshops and presentations offered on-line.  

Monday, April 13, 2020

Some April Book Releases

A round-up of books that were released or will be released this month. These are titles I've stumbled upon through social media.

April 7, The Elephants' Guide to Hide-and-Seek by Kjersten Hayes with Gladys Jose illustrating.  Sourcebooks is the publisher 
A debut picture book.

April 7, Dive In by Roxie Munro with Holiday House publishing. Munro has written/illustrated more than 40 books for children and has also designed apps.

April 14 Finally, Something Mysterious by Doug Cornett Random House publisher  A debut

I also found The On-Sale Calendar: April 2020 Children's Books published back in October, 2019 at Publishers Weekly. I was blown away by this. Usually when authors or bloggers says something like that, they mean, I was blown away by these wonderful titles! Or I was blown away by the quality of these titles. But this is Gail we're talking about and those kinds of responses are on the warm and fuzzy side for me. When have you heard me do warm and fuzzy?

No, I was blown away, shocked, because the list includes the size of the printing for most of the titles, and they are huge! The smallest number I saw was 10,000. Believe me, the first printings of some children's books are way under that. Then there are a lot of books coming in at 50,000, 75,000, 100,000 and even more. This indicates that last fall, some publishers were feeling very confident.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Easter And Peter Rabbit

Many years ago, when I was doing the Room Mother thing at my sons' school, if you can imagine that, I volunteered to be responsible for the spring party for my younger boy's second grade classroom. Our school wanted to eliminate Easter parties, because observing Easter in a public school was too much like observing a religious holy day. Christmas, it can be argued, is losing its religious connection, but Easter, not so much. Evidently the administrators felt taking away a party was too much to ask of kids and probably their parents. And, thus, the Spring Party was invented.

I went with a Beatrix Potter theme, because her Peter Rabbit stories meant we could still have chocolate eggs and bunnies. But, additionally, there is so much about Potter that can work in a classroom. Someone could do an entire unit on her and include literature, writing, art, nature, women's history, and probably more.

Which brings me to Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit by Linda Elovitz Marshall with illustrations by Ilaria Urbinati, which was published by Little Bee Books this past January. The book deals with Potter as a conservationist, another aspect of the writer that could be covered in a school unit.

Author Jama Kim Rattigan has an impressive and extensive post about Saving the Countryside at her personal blog, Jama's Alphabet Soup. In addition to information about and images from the book, she has Potter collectibles to share and a recipe from Beatrix Potter's Country Cooking by food writer and food historian Sara Paston-Williams.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Environmental Book Club

I meant to fire up my Enviromental Book Club feature last Thursday as part of an April-long Earth Day observance. What with collecting info on April and May book releases, so I can mention them at some point here, and obsessing over making cloth face masks, the beginning of April slipped my mind. And by "obsessing over making cloth face masks," I mean that I'm getting close to slipping into a dark, Tana French world and someone from the Connecticut version of the Dublin Murder Squad is going to be sniffing around here soon.

But until then, I hope to get at least a couple of Environmental Book Club posts up on Thursdays this month. And today I can tell you that The Nature Generation has announced the long list for its Green Earth Book Award. A quick scan immediately brings up an interesting point, which is that there are only two YA titles.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Mattie Ross In "True Grit"

On Monday, J.L. Bell of Oz and Ends (and Boston 1775) posted about True Grit by Charles Portis, who just died in February. If, like John and me, you feel True Grit is a masterpiece, you'll want to read his interesting take on main character Mattie Ross. Check out the comments to his piece for further discussion from the two of  us.

In short, John says he "came to view the character of Mattie Ross through the lens of autism spectrum disorder." I view her through the lens of feminism. Yesterday, I read this appreciation of Charles Portis by Kaleb Horton at Slate.  Horton concludes, "Portis’ novels about losers from Arkansas have aged so well because he understood something about America: We’re a profoundly individualistic country." Now I think Mattie Ross can just be Mattie Ross.

Right now you can get the Kindle edition of True Grit for a $1.99. I just bought it, because True Grit is the rare book that I've read and thought, I'd really like to have this. My goodness, you can get all the Kindle editions of his books for $1.99 each. I just bought Norwood, too, because Kaleb Horton says it's Portis' most "joke-dense."

As part of my observance of Original Content's 18th anniversary year, here's a dip into the archive about my read of True Grit back in 2012: Gritty Reading On My Kindle.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

April 7 Book Release: Remembering Ethan

Remembering Ethan, a  picture book by NESCBWI colleague Leslea Newman, releases today.

Remembering Ethan, illustrated by Tracy Nishimura Bishop and published by Magination Press, deals with a child grieving the loss of an older sibling.

Leslea Newman is the author of sixty-five books (if I've counted correctly), thirty-six of them picture books, and her work has been included in nine anthologies. In addition to Remembering Ethan, two other Newman books are publishing this year, Welcoming Elijah (January) and Song of the Coquis/Cancion de los Coquis.

She is also the author of Hachiko Waits, which I heard her speak about many years ago. Because evidently I just keep almost running into this woman. But that's New England childlit for you.

I apologize for not knowing how to insert symbols into Blogger text, so I can't spell Leslea's first name correctly. Here is a sound file on how to pronounce it.

Monday, April 06, 2020

The Incredible Whiteness of YA

I stumbled upon Psych402, creative nonfiction by Lily Watson in an issue of Longleaf Review. Cannot recall how that happened, but it's an interesting piece about an African American college student's reactions to the YA reading list in one of her courses. It's not so much about the books, more about the discussion of these books that were almost all very white.

I've read three of the books Watson discusses.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Watson couldn't relate to the characters in this book. As a general rule, I don't feel a need to relate to characters in YA books, because I'm older than mud and that's just not going to happen. But I wasn't a major fan of this book, either. My issue was that it was just women's stories for girls. If the characters had been adults instead of teenagers, it would have been just another women's book. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Evidently there is, as Watson puts it in a footnote, a tragic love story about people named Brad and Patrick in this book. I have no recollection of that. Watson makes a very interesting point about how white depression and black depression are perceived.  What struck me about Wallflower was the lack of adults noticing anything that was going on with these characters. I found it unbelievable that "Over the course of an entire school year no parents noticed anything, not even that their brandy was disappearing faster than it should have been? Charlie has a history of mental illness and ends up seeing a psychiatrist and taking medication. He also has caring parents. They had a child that fragile and never noticed that he'd started drinking and doing drugs? They never even smelled cigarettes on him and realized he was smoking?" 

We Were Liars. This book I actually liked. Watson found it devastating, which I definitely understand. She mentions racism in the book, something that others have noted. I think I noticed it while I was reading the book last year, but I was reading it as a thriller mentor text, that's what I was looking for, and that's what I recall. I was fixated on the ending. If I had all the time in the world, I would read this book over again as a result of reading Watson's essay.

Interesting personal tidbit: Lily Watson attended Wesleyan University here in Connecticut. I live about 40 minutes from there. I also live about 40 minutes from the University of Connecticut. I'm not sure if I've ever driven by the Wesleyan campus. I've been to any number of events at UConn, as well as taking a graduate class there. I am definitely a state university woman.

Friday, April 03, 2020

YA Historical Thriller...Ah...Mystery

The Girl is Murder by Kathryn Miller Haines was one of my thriller/mystery reads. Reading it met an objective for one of my 2020 goals. 

The Girl is Murder, published in 2011, reads like the set-up to a series, and a second book about its main character, Iris Anderson, was published in 2012. Iris and her father have hit a bad patch financially. Mom killed herself, and we're not sure what that was about. Pop lost a leg at Pearl Harbor and while the war continues, he is trying to make a go of it as a private detective. Things are not going well with that, and he and Iris have had to board with a nice landlady in a lesser part of town. Iris has also had to leave her private school to attend a public one. She wants to help with the family business. Dad says no. When a hot classmate turns up missing, Iris starts a hunt, anyway.

I didn't find the mystery here that compelling or interesting, particularly since Iris, herself, didn't solve it. And it was kind of anti-climatic.

The historical setting was pretty amazing, though. Haines, who writes adult mysteries as well as the two Iris Anderson volumes for YAs, appears to specialize in the World War II era. Not having been there, myself, I can't say that she's got that period down pat, but she sure creates an impressive world, right down to voice.

I believe that as far as world-building is concerned, historical fiction rivals science fiction. The Girl is Murder proves my point.

When I've been writing here about mysteries and thrillers, I've been using the term interchangeably. Mystery, Thriller, or Suspense: Does the Label Matter? by Stacy Woodson at DIY MFA suggests I shouldn't.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

April 1 Book Release: Hound Won't Go

Hound Won't Go, a rhyming picture book by NESCBWI colleague  Lisa Rogers, releases today.

Hound Won't Go, illustrated by Meg Ishihara and published by Albert Whitman, deals with a 
stubborn dog who won't budge until it starts to rain.

Lisa Rogers is also the author of 16 Words: William Carlos Williams and "The Red Wheelbarrow," which was a Junior Library Guild selection, and magazine profiles focusing on art. Hound Won't Go was inspired by Rogers' experience with her rescue coonhound, and she has a guest post on the subject at the Coonhound & Foxhound Companions blog

Regarding Rogers' first book, 16 Words: William Carlos Williams and "The Red Wheelbarrow": Every time I see something about this book, I think, I've got to read that Red Wheelbarrow poem. Because, you know, it's kind of famous. And then I forget about it. Then I also think, Maybe if I read 16 Words, I could skip reading the poem.