Monthly Archives: July 2009

Wolfsnail Storytime at Jackson Zoo

wolfsnailI will be at the Jackson Zoo on Tuesday, August 4, at 10 a.m. reading Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator. The rain we’ve been having recently makes for perfect snail hunting weather. I spent time outside this  morning helping my boys pick up sticks in our yard — and I saw bunches of garden snails, crickets, pill bugs, and, of course, mosquitoes. In addition to the book, I hope to have a few surprises. I hope you’ll come and see me.

Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature update: I am disappointed that the layout isn’t ready yet. I hope to see it next week. Keep your fingers crossed.

Photoshop Creations

flowers-2-2I created this using Photoshop and one of the photographs I posted yesterday. I like how this one turned out.

flowers-4If you remember yesterday’s post, I showed two photographs of this trailing verbena. I created this image from the blurry photograph.

Trailing Verbena and Crown of Thorns


These flowers are blooming on my back deck. I mounted the Nikon D200 (equipped with the 50 mm lens) on a tripod and set the ISO at 800. The top photo of the trailing verbena was shot at 1/500 of a second at f/2.2. Do you like the blurring of the flower petals? The bottom one was shot at 1/30 of a second at f/8.
The crown of thorns (on the right) was shot at 1/15 of a second at f/8. I bought this plant because I needed a two-petal flower for my upcoming book, Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature (Boyds Mills Press 2010). To my great delight, it is thriving on my deck. I love the contrast of the leaves with the stems and thorns. I love the flowers, too. After I showed her a preview of my book, a friend told me she has had her mother’s crown of thorns for more than 20 years and it continues to thrive.

Marketing While Waiting

Chicago tripIt sometimes feels like it’s all hurry up and wait. Hurry up and wait. Hurry up and wait. Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature is on the art director’s desk. We’re hoping to see a layout by the end of the week. In order to make the anticipation a little more bearable, we’re turning our attention to some of the other stuff we need to do — like new publicity photos. I figure that since we’re photographers we shouldn’t allow our publicity photos to get too out of date. My goal is to update at least once a year — especially in the years we have a book coming out.

Richard portraitWe took these on the screened porch. The day was overcast so the light wasn’t too bright. I decided to wear my glasses this time. Last time I was worried about glare, but we managed to avoid it in this shot. As you can see Richard decided to go with a silly an expressive face.

We’ll be ready with the new portraits when the Boyds Mills Press marketing folks get ready to put together the spring catalog.

Graeme portraitG came out to see what we were up to so we put him on the hot seat, too. I have made faces at my mother’s camera over the years and she always said “you’ll be sorry.” As will he. Of course, he owes the blog a review so maybe he’ll want to negotiate. I could always post it to my facebook page. Hmmm.

Dual Review of WWW: Wake

cousw1smhcOne of the books G picked up at ALA was WWW: Wake. Well, actually, he saw it at ALA and ordered for his Kindle. After he finished it, I read it. I found it interesting. The main story involves Caitlin Decter, a teenage math whiz who has been blind since birth. When she tries an experimental procedure to restore her sight, what she first sees is a visual representation of the world wide web. Alongside Caitlin’s storyline, the book also introduces a group of researchers who are working with a bonobo chimpanzee, a Chinese blogger who is concerned when his government shuts down the internet, and an inanimate intelligence that reaches out to Caitlin through her unusal “websight.” I have to admit the science started to get a little beyond me (Zipf plots, Shannon Entropy, and cellular automata), but it was fun to think about. (Reading the book on an electronic device, it would have been interesting if I could have clicked on one or more of the scientific concepts and/or the websites mentioned in the text.)

It was the kind of book that I wanted to keep reading past my bedtime and that pulled me back in after breaks. At one point, near the end of the story, I was reading in my bed and starting to get sleepy. I was holding the “book” in my left hand and I found myself reaching up with my right hand to turn the page. My hand hit the Kindle. It was one of those strange experiences when my brain went back to its usual behavior when reaching the end of a page — instead of hitting the next page button.

I found it hardest to read the sections about the artificial intelligence that reaches out to Caitlin. I couldn’t understand it so I found myself skimming. Also, I couldn’t believe that I had reached the end of the story when the book ended. When I said to G that I wondered why the other story lines hadn’t been resolved, he told me the book is the first in a trilogy. Ah.

WWW: Wake reminded me a little of Little Brother because it has modern technology as an integral part — a character, even — of the book. G says he’ll add his bit later.

Selection for Book Fairs

credit: Scholastic Website

credit: Scholastic Website

One of the questions I  investigated during my time at the American Library Association conference was: How do the folks at Scholastic choose books for school book fairs? Here’s what I got from the Scholastic exhibitor: sales representatives from publishers make presentations two times a year to Scholastic’s book fair selection committee. When I showed her Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator, she suggested that the committee typically waits to select nonfiction titles when they become available in paperback. They want to sell them at $4.99. I am going to check with my contact in the marketing department at Boyds Mills Press to see if anyone has pitched Wolfsnail for the book fairs. I also wonder when/if Wolfsnail will be available in paperback.

Diane Z. Shore, a colleague in the Southern Breeze region of SCBWI, has had two titles picked up in Scholastic Book Fairs — This is the Dream and This is the Feast. Both books were published by Harper Collins. These are terrific nonfiction picture books. According to Diane, the selection made a huge difference in sales. Are there others of you who have experience with a book being picked up by a book fair? Did you do anything as an author (besides write the best book you could)?

Wolfsnail Makes Theatrical Debut

Chicago tripWe’re home and settled in enough to post about the rest of our trip to Chicago. After wrapping up at the ALA, we drove to Evanston, the town of my birth and my college years. I gave a talk/workshop for students in the journalism division of Northwestern University‘s National High School Institute. (I attended this program myself in 1983 and worked on the staff in 1985, 1986, and 1987.) Longtime director and friend, Roger Boye, sat in on the session. I had a lot of fun talking about how I have applied the skills I learned in journalism school to the business of writing and taking photographs for nonfiction children’s books and magazines.

In the hours before the workshop, my family walked around campus. The boys loved the lakefill. They were also impressed by the student center and the library. We stopped in to see the back shop of the Daily Northwestern, where I worked in paste-up during my college days, and I was delighted to see Stacia Campbell, the publisher. I marveled at the new Mac’s, remembering that I had worked at angled paste-up tables. I was able to show the boys the old tables — now relegated to the side room where we kept our coats and junk.

We ate lunch the next day with a good college friend, Andy White, who is a founding ensemble member of Lookingglass Theatre. We had tickets to his current show, The Arabian Nights. During lunch, D asked: “You are in this show. Why should we believe you when you say it is good?” (Luckily, Andy has his own 11 and 9 year olds) He told D it was an excellent question and that he looked forward to seeing us after the show so he could ask D (and N and G) what they thought.

Chicago trip-6Well, the show was fantastic. Andy (pictured left after the show) played several characters (Abu al-Hasan, Pastrycook, and others). At one point, he and one of his fellow cast members improvised a scene in which each claims a bag found in the market place. A judge asks each one to detail the contents of the bag. Andy began his list with several small items (the bag was small), but then went on and on and on – until he said it contained a wolfsnail. He detailed the wolfsnail’s special characteristics. We (and most of the audience) were rolling. It was a wonderful theatrical debut for Wolfsnail. Thanks, Andy!

We stayed with friends from my early days in Evanston. We rolled into town with a dented front hood and smashed bumper from a minor fender bender. Our friends were able to recommend a great mechanic who made time for out-of-towners on a busy day and pounded us into good enough shape to drive the 800 miles home.

Chicago tripD and I spent time at the beach on Lake Michigan (the beach of my childhood). The water was stone cold, which matched up really well with my early memories. We had a dessert party with my god parents and others who formed a tight circle with my parents in the late 60s and early 70s. We drove by the house I lived in when I was small (and verified that the triangular window my Dad wrestled mightily to put in when he finished the attic remained).

All in all, a wonderful trip.

Geisel Ceremony

_SCC0376I thoroughly enjoyed the Geisel Ceremony. Mo Willems made a truly funny speech. My boys particularly appreciated the line: “Screw you!” He suggested it as his preferred comeback to the dog in ‘Go Dog, Go” who keeps saying “I do not like that hat.”

Chicago trip-3Richard and I received nice plaques with our certificates mounted on them. My friend Hester Bass (author of the forthcoming title The Secret World of Walter Anderson) led the “whoops” section. By happenstance, we ended up sitting not in the section reserved for honorees but among the various selection committee members. This made it easy for me to thank the Geisel committee members for noticing Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator.

It was fun to hear Kadir Nelson talk about his first meeting with Hank Aaron, who would write the forward for his multiple-award-winning book, We Are the Ship. Nelson was accepting the Siebert Medal.

We went back to the exhibit floor to sign books for an hour. The boys, meanwhile, worked on restaurant selection. We ate a late lunch at Giordano’s and then Richard and the boys took off for the suburbs. I went back to sign for another hour.

Visitors to the booth continued to express interest in Growing Patterns. I gave out a bunch of business cards to librarians who expressed an interest in my website‘s supplemental material for Wolfsnail — especially the teachers’ guide and slideshow.

First Day at ALA

Chicago trip-2Richard, the boys, and I arrived at McCormick Place in Chicago slightly ahead of schedule this afternoon. We split the 12-hour drive from Jackson in half, stopping over Saturday night with friends in Carbondale, IL. Now that I am comfortably settled onto my college roommate’s couch, I am ready to write about our first impression of the ALA’s exhibit hall.

Huge! Overwhelming! Great books (and authors) at every turn — after finding the Boyds Mills booth, I went immediately to Candlewick‘s to see Hester Bass‘s book: The Secret World of Walter Anderson. Even though I saw the galleys and thought it looked wonderful, the real book is a work of art. Get this one as soon as you can.

We saw fancy new furniture, display cases, and game systems. We saw a vending machine dispensing books much the way snacks and candy bars are dispensed. N and I stopped at Out of the Box Publishing and played a few fun games: Ninja vs. Ninja and Backseat Drawing.

We stopped at Hyperion’s booth to have two books signed by Lita Judge: Pennies for Elephants and One Thousand Tracings. I highly recommend these books. Her illustrations are wonderful and the stories very interesting. She certainly knows how to take historical events and make them into engaging picture books.

N and I also stopped in at the Wizards of the Coast Publishing booth. The boys were convinced that the ALA would not have books like the ones they like: read fantasy, science fiction, game tie-in novels, etc. Boy, were they wrong. N walked into the WCP booth and pointed at the not-yet-released title by RA Salvatore and a very nice staffer handed him a free copy of a book Salvatore wrote with his son called The Stowaway.

Richard and I signed for an hour at the Boyds Mills booth and it was a ton of fun. Anastasia Suen walked by and I called her over to say that I had learned a good deal from her book Picture Writing. We talked some about Growing Patterns; she leafed through my draft copy and asked that I send a review copy next spring. Absolutely!

I also met the first librarian to review Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator. Amy Schardein is a librarian in northern Kentucky (where my mother’s family hails from). I thanked Amy for her review last year and I showed her Growing Patterns. It is so nice to meet people in person who have embraced Wolfsnail and used it in their libraries.

I’ll add pictures when I can — probably from the exhibit floor.

Sarita and Alex (roomie and baby)

Sarita and Alex (roomie and baby)

Going to ALA, Missing HS Reunion

ALA_Chicago_09_LogoRichard and I will be at the American Library Association conference in Chicago next week, receiving a certificate for a 2009 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award for Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator. We will arrive Sunday for a signing from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Boyds Mills Press booth (#1917). We have two signings on Monday after the award ceremony: from noon to 1 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. On Tuesday, I will be signing on my own from 9 a.m. until 10 a.m. Please stop by and say, “hello.” This will be our first national conference and we are looking forward to learning a lot.

wolfgeisel51+NdxYKyKL._SL500_AA240_Wolfsnail was reviewed on Lori Calabrese Writes! for Nonfiction Monday. In part, Lori writes “This is a wonderful book to teach young readers about predators.” I appreciate the kind words. I understand from my editor that Growing Patterns is in layout. The anticipation is killing me. I really, really want to see it!

Francene VisitThe only downside to being invited to Chicago is that I’ll miss my high school reunion. I enjoy seeing the people I went to high school with and, since many are scattered across the country, the chances are few. Our class has gotten together about 5 times since we graduated in 1984 and I’ve made most of the parties. I hate to miss this one. To my great joy, however, I got to see my closest high school buddy today. She flew in from northern climes and I picked her up from the airport. Her mom came by a few hours later to claim her and take her further down the road, but we had time to tour the garden and she gave me wardrobe advice for next week. francene graduationIt felt like old times to be considering clothing and, gasp, accessories. Her kids are slightly older than mine (19 & 16) so I got to hear about what to expect as mine get further into the world of high school — driving and prom and cell phones, oh my.  When her mom came to pick her up, she had two grandchildren with her; Franny’s sister’s children. This was the sister who was a baby when we were in junior high. It could make a person feel old. I am hoping my classmates take lots of pictures and share them on facebook.