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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.

Wolfsnail Roundup

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I got a call this week from my local independent bookstore, Lemuria, saying Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator had been added to a local school’s summer reading list. The bookstore needed four more signed copies. Another local school, Madison Station Elementary School, has Wolfsnail on its list of finalists for the 2009-10 Mockingbird Award. Wolfsnail is also on the summer reading list for Washington Episcopal School in Bethesda, MD, and Parish Episcopal School in Austin, TX.

It also makes an appearance on the Horn Book summer reading list. Wolfsnail earned a mention on Through the Tollbooth, in an entry noting how nonfiction titles are winning notice even in categories not exclusive to nonfiction. To sum up, Nancy Bo Flood asks: “Is nonfiction about content – facts – or story and passion?  I say both are essential. And great visuals – ones that intrigue as well as clarify. Write with passion. Find the story. Tell the facts.” Well said.

Another mention was in the online edition of the Naples (Fla.) News, in the education briefs.

Wild About Nature Calls Wolfsnail “Must Read”

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On their Nonfiction Monday post, the writers at Wild About Nature called Wolfsnail a “must-read for children—who just may be inspired to grab their magnifying glasses and seek out wee wonders in their own back yards.” Read the entire review hereHeidi Bee Roemer, Kim Hutmacher, and Laura Crawford team up to write Wild About Nature. Individually, they write books on nature topics — including What Kinds of Seeds Are These?, Paws, Claws, Hands, and Feet, and In Arctic Waters.

Wolfsnail Mention in Extra Helping

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Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator topped the Remarkable Reads section of this week’s Extra Helping e-newsletter, a publication of the School Library Journal. The lead-in reads: “Who knew so many dangers lurked in the backyard? After teaching kids about these predators, send them outside with magnifying glasses and binoculars to spot a few. Use this opportunity to talk about animal and insect life cycles and survival techniques, and how humans often unintentionally interfere with nature’s plans.” Other books on the list are: Super-Size Bugs written by Andrew Davies with photos by Igor Siwanowicz and Owls by Sandra Markle.

Thanks to Elizabeth Dulemba for spotting this and letting me know.

Wonderful Festival

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I spent a wonderful two days at the Children’s Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi. In addition to the presentations, signings, and speeches at the festival itself, this week was the debut of Storybook Look: Illustrations by Southern Artists. The exhibit was hung at the beautiful Saenger Theater in downtown Hattiesburg and I was joined during Wednesday evening’s reception and signing by two other exhibiting artists: Rick Anderson and Daniel Powers. In addition to local folks from Hattiesburg, the exhibit drew from the festival-goers, a wonderful group of school and public librarians from across the region. Diane Shepherd, owner of Main Street Books, handled book sales and took care of many important details.

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This year I delivered a new presentation, “Seeing is Believing.” I talked about the power of photography and the importance of storytelling in children’s nonfiction. I was delighted to reconnect with librarians I had met for the first time last year and who have embraced my book.

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I heard stories of students finding wolfsnails in their yards at home and protecting them from being killed by gardeners wanting to protect their plants. A college student studying creative writing told of seeing a wolfsnail in New Orleans during a Spring Break work trip — and how fascinated she and her friends were with its lip extensions. In my sessions, I shared a draft copy I’ve made of the new book (Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature) and I got good feedback.

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I always learn from the other writers, illustrators and storytellers. This year’s group included Judy Blume, Ashley Bryan, Diane Williams, and Yuyi Morales. After describing herself as an anxious, shy, and fearful child, Blume said her first favorite book was Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. She admited to having hid it at the back of her toy drawer in the hopes her mother wouldn’t return it to the library. As she wrapped up her speech, Blume said this about writing: “If everything is going well, I can leave everything in my life behind and spend a few hours in that other place…It’s the place where I can be fearless. It’s the place where I can be as brave and as strong as Madeline.”

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Ashley Bryan urged anyone engaged in the process of teaching kids to read to use poetry. Out loud. His speech was peppered with poems by Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni. Holding a book (he said he always holds a book — even though he knows the poems from memory), he did a lot of call-and-response with us to demonstrate the way putting voice to poetry turns it into irresistible language that is connected to the words on a page. Use poetry, he says, and you will grow readers. I was convinced!

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Yuyi Morales had the unenviable position of presenting after Judy Blume’s keynote address and after a two-hour signing (which many festival-goers spent waiting in line(s)), but she was well up to the task. She brought her bag of surprises and led us through her creative journey with her books. Yuyi is a native of Mexico and Spanish is her first language. She does extremely well in English and she sprinkled lots of Spanish into her talk. She ended with a terrific tribute to longtime children’s book ambassador, writer, and teacher Coleen Salley, who died last autumn.

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Yuyi read Salley’s Why Epossumondas Has No Hair on His Tail. It was beautiful and fitting. Unfortunately, I missed out on the Coleen Salley celebration and the final day of the festival because I had a prior engagement back in Jackson. What a wonderful festival! Congratulations to Catharine Bomhold, director, and Karen Rowell, assistant director, and all the others who make this event possible — including Ellen Ruffin, director of the de Grummond collection at USM.

Reading, Reviews, Lists

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My fifth grader (D) finished reading Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain books. He has been trading them back and forth with his friend at school (J). He was excited to find some books he liked that also count for AR points. “What am I going to do now?” he wailed. I said we’d try to find him something else he’d like just as much. “It has to be mythical … have treachery … and fighting.” Hmmm. I found Cry of the Icemark and he was satisfied for the moment. We’ll see whether it takes. This morning while he waited for me to get up he picked up Robyn Hood Black‘s new book, Wolves. “It’s interesting. I like the pop-ups.”

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He and his sixth grade brother (N) also spent some time with Donna Bowman‘s Big Cats. It is in the same series as Wolves, has similar paper engineering, and fun facts. Donna and Robyn are members  of the Southern Breeze region of SCBWI and we’ve been meeting up several times a year at conferences for years now. Each launched her book at the recent SpringMingle’09 in Atlanta. My boys always meet me at the car when I come home from a conference, asking for the books. These are definite winners!

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Wolfsnail earned a spot on the Best Science Books of 2009 as compiled by The Miss Rumphius Effect. It is very nice for my book to be inlcuded on lists like this one. I know teachers and curriculum specialists pull books from such “best” lists to use in their classrooms and curriculum writing. In another review, on Brian Wilhorn’s Help Readers Love Reading blog  says: “Readers will pay close attention to the text, learning about wonderfully gross things like mucus and slime and tentacles. … Young boys might think they can climb up and ride these carnivorous monsters, when in reality adults are only 1.5 – 3 inches long. The end of the hunt is especially cool. The wolfsnail stretches to reach the next leaf, finds its prey, attacks (as a snail would…there’s no pouncing here), and dines. Finally, there’s a close-up of the now empty shell. Wolfsnail was named a Geisel Honor book in 2009. While very different from this year’s Medal winner, Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems, it is equally as deserving and engaging to young readers, but in a completely different way.” Read the whole review, including a conversation with his resident 7-year-old, here.

Wolfsnail Makes the CCBC Choices 2009 List

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I just learned from my publisher that Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator was included in the CCBC Choices 2009 List. It is the annual best-of-the-year list of the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), a library of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I am honored by this inclusion. Boyds Mills Press has three other titles on the list: The Freedom Business by Marilyn Nelson, and Piggy by Mireille Geus and Rits by Mariken Jongman.

Rebecca Hogue Wojahn, another blogger who is also a children’s librarian and writer, put Wolfsnail on her favorites list, too. Thanks.

Muse to Market – SCBWI – Southern Breeze

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SCBWI’s Southern Breeze region wrapped up its SpringMingle’09 with advice from Caitlyn Dloughy, editor of the Simon & Schuster imprint Atheneum. Dloughy urged writers to develop characters with action: “If you find yourself starting with a few paragraphs of physical description of your character, you may not have developed your character enough.” She asked the audience to name memorable characters from children’s books and then say why the characters were memorable: Lily (of the purple plastic purse), Eloise, Max (the wild thing). Each was noted for something they did; not what they looked like. In particular, Dloughy cautioned writers to avoid descriptions such as “twinkling eyes” and “blond hair.” Recommended reading: Dark Dude by Oscar Hijuelos, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, and The Underneath by Kathi Appelt.

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Our keynote speaker, award-winning author Kathleen Duey, explained that writers need to work on three aspects of the writing life: “art, craft, and filthy commerce.” The bottom line, she said, is always “write the BEST book.” She suggested that beginners should attend conferences, join critique groups, and take writing classes. Start submitting only after you know your work is really, really good. Otherwise, you crowd the mailboxes, desks, floors, and closets of editors who are getting busier as the industry downsizes. In order to feed your art, she said: “spread your wings, read poetry, read literary novels for adults.” If you stare at children’s books all the time, that will help your marketing knowledge (filthy commerce), but it won’t help your art.” She cautioned against trying to write to trends; write what you absolutely MUST write — from your heart. Recommended reading: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Note: I will post more about the conference in the coming days. Check back for more from other speakers: Abigail Samoun, Daniel Powers, and Liz Conrad.

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Shelli Johannes-Wells, one of our own Southern Breezers, launched the conference with a great talk on marketing. She made a convincing argument for writers to begin marketing during their “pre-published” years. I couldn’t agree more. She explained branding (including the often overlooked shadow brand.) Her talk was funny and full of good tips. You can find more of the same on her blog called Market My Words.

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Mary Kate Castellani, an associate editor at Walker Books, cautioned writers against trying to write to trends. In her talk titled, “Young Adult Fiction: What Works?” she explained some of the characteristics of YA books: immediacy (everything for teens is happening right now; not much perspective of past or future) and offer some hope. To keep up with what’s being published and finding success in the market, she recommended a newsletter. I thought she said YA Pulse, but the only thing I could find with a similar name is the Check Your Pulse newsletter from Simon & Schuster. Anyone else find the YA Pulse? Recommended reading: Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher; Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson; What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell.

“Two Thumbs Up” for Wolfsnail

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Two librarians who blog about children’s and young adult books at Bookends: A Booklist Blog gave Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator their new two thumbs up. The twin grandsons of one of the librarians posed for the thumbs up. I love seeing young readers who are excited about Wolfsnail. According to Lynn Rutan, “the text of the book is simple yet fascinating and respectful of the young audience, blending perfectly with the astonishing pictures. This is an ideal book for small naturalists, wonderfully suited either for reading with an adult or for solo examination.” Read the entire review here.

Two Kinds of Log Cabins

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Here’s the knitted log cabin blanket I started when I was recuperating from my surgery. The pattern is from Mason Dixon knitting. The yarn felt wonderful to work with and the colors kept me happy. I am sending it to a relative as a late Christmas present. She’s having some tough health problems, too, so I hope it will bring her some comfort. You followers of this blog will know that I also knitted a hat during my recuperation. The two were very different projects. The log cabin blanket involved just plain knitting, knitting, and more knitting. The hat involved knitting in the round, purling, counting stitches, etc. I think I’ll try to keep a log cabin knitting project going most of the time — it’s so simple and keeps my hands busy. Plus, I have lot of little bits of yarn left. My friend, Julie Owen, turned me on to log cabin knitting this summer when she would turn up at the pool with knitting when I turned up with quilting.

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Now for the kind of log cabin I am more familiar with — a quilt. My first log cabin project, when I was a teenager, was a Christmas table cloth. It turned out so well that I made a bunch of them. My grandmothers, my godmother, and our family’s best friends all got Christmas table cloths that year. I had never tried a full-sized log cabin quilt until now. I chose yellow, blue, creams, tans, and browns. At first I had it laid out in diagonal lines, but Richard suggested this layout and I love it.

Update: The Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book stickers I ordered arrived today so I went to Lemuria to leave them enough for their signed stock. Here’s a post on A Year of Reading by a teacher who went by her local bookstore and picked up a copy of Wolfsnail.