writing colleagues

Children’s Book Festival Featured Speakers – Part I

The highlight of the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival is typically the speech given by the winner of The University Southern Mississippi Medallion, an award for distinguished service in the field of children’s literature. This year’s award went to T.A. Barron, the author of 30 plus books. You can read a transcript of his speech here.
TA Barron
In addition to his writing, Barron has created a prize to highlight the heroic work undertaken by teenagers. Read more here.
Patty Gauch
During his speech, Mr. Barron recognized his longtime editor, Patricia Lee Gauch. Later in the day, she engaged in an interesting back-and-forth with Roger Sutton, editor of the Horn Book. When Gauch prevailed upon the librarians gathered in the room to keep standards up. He replied: “But it’s you people (editors) who need to stop those (poor quality books), not us!” Gauch is retired, but noted such terrible manuscripts never got by her.

Roger Sutton at his chalk board

Another of my favorite Sutton quotes: “Kids have always fallen in love with terrible books. But they can be led to others.” Led carefully, however. “In my fantasy library, no librarian ever says to me ‘if you like this, let me give you a good book.’ ”
David Diaz

This is David Diaz, a Caldecott-winning illustrator. He gave us a look at his process during one lunch session.

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audience 1
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Later the same day, Diaz spoke at Oddfellows Gallery in Downtown Hattiesburg about Golden Kite Golden Dreams, an exhibit of original art from award-winning children’s book illustrations.

david diaz at gkgd
Ellen Ruffin introducing Diaz
Claudia and Jo
The Southern Breeze region of SCBWI partnered with USM, the Hattiesburg Arts Council, and Oddfellows Gallery to bring the exhibit to Hattiesburg. Claudia Pearson and Jo Kittinger (pictured above) are co-regional advisers for Southern Breeze.
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SCBWI friends

NSTA Annual Conference

I blogged about my school visits in the San Francisco area, but once I moved on to the NSTA conference, I stopped posting updates. There were a few reasons for this: First, I moved into The Palace Hotel and they charged for internet in the rooms (I still don’t understand why budget hotels provide free internet and breakfast and so-called luxury hotels charge through the nose for both). Second, I was working from breakfast to supper and falling asleep after a few clicks of my Kindle.

Boyds Mills Press rented a corner booth in the conference exhibit hall and my editor, Andy Boyles (pictured above helping M. make a Fibonacci Folding Book), and I were responsible for greeting conferees. Andy arranged display copies of all of BMP’s science titles around the walls of the booth. We set up a table in the front of the booth with display copies of Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator and Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. I put out my two mini-quilts (here and here), some private eye loupes, a pinecone, a nautilus shell, a sample Fibonacci Folding Book, and a stack of my postcards. I’ve gone to two other national conferences, the 2009 American Library Association meeting in Chicago and the 2010 International Reading Association convention (also in Chicago). In those cases, I was one of many BMP authors and illustrators who signed books. I was scheduled for an hour on each day. This time, I was signing all day every day. We left the booth only for three presentations (two featured information about 2011 Outstanding Science Trade Books) and a lunch meeting. I met lots of interesting people — some who teach science to kids, others who teach teachers how to teach science to kids, and people who work with organizations that promote science education.

We sold all the copies of Growing Patterns that BMP shipped and could have sold at least a dozen more. It helped that many teachers had seen the feature article about the 2011 Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12 in Science & Children, NSTA’s magazine for elementary school teachers. Andy and I had a great time having lunch with current, former, and future members of the Outstanding Science Trade Book selection committee, including Suzanne Flynn, J. Carrie Launius, Betty Crocker, Steve Rich, Karen Ostlund, Kristin Rearden, and Juliana Texley. We also met Lauren Jonas and Emily Brady, who are on staff at NSTA and help coordinate the NSTA Recommends program and the OSTB list. We learned about the process and met some great people. Most of them seem to be on their second or third career. They started in classrooms teaching kids and then went into either administration or into teaching teachers at the college or post-graduate level.

They had stories about using trade books in classrooms. Juliana told me about the time she took flowers on an airplane so she could use them in a presentation about my book. They didn’t like the dry environment and shriveled beyond use. She had to hit a grocery store for replacements. One plant she bought was a peace lily (featured in the book to illustrate 1). When it was time to go home, she put it in her suitcase. “I threw some clothes away and made room for it,” she said. “It’s still doing fine.”

Right after lunch, I participated in a session featuring the 2011 NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books led by some of the teachers at the luncheon. Other authors with winning books who participated were: Debbie S. Miller, who wrote Survival at 40 Below, and Seymour Simon, who wrote Global Warming.

The final session Andy and I attended was led by Seymour Simon and centered on the changes in children’s book publishing being driven by electronic devices. Simon and his wife, Liz Nealon, who has worked in many creative capacities over the years including with Sesame Street, talked about the growing numbers of children and families who have access to electronic reading devices such as Kindles, iPads, Nooks, iPhones, etc. Simon demonstrated how he has begun publishing some of his out-of-print titles in electronic format. His talk was very inspiring and I left there thinking about how I could get some e-publishing going.

I mentioned it to Richard when I got home and he’s spent a good amount of time this week building an iPhone app for Wolfsnail. How cool is that?!

Magnolia Children’s Choice Awards for 2011

The list of finalists for the 2011 Magnolia Children’s Choice Award is available. If you are a school or public librarian, you can get your students and young readers involved in this program. Read more about the voting here. Voting is open now and continues until April 30th.

1. Alvin Ho:  Allergic to Girls, School & Other Scary Things by Lenore Look

2. Dragonbreath by Ursula Vernon

3. Extra Credit by Andrew Clements

4. Gooney Bird is So Absurd by Lois Lowry

5. Hush Harbor: Praying in Secret by Freddi Williams Evans

6. Knucklehead:  Tall Tales & Almost True Stories of Growing Up Scieszka by Jon Scieszka

7. Masterpiece by Elise Broach

8. Make Way for Dyamonde Daniel by Nikki Grimes

9. Moonshot:  The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca

10. Redwoods by Jason Chin

11. The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass. Read my post about this book here.

12. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

SpringMingle’11: Part 1

I spent the weekend in Atlanta at SpringMingle ’11, a conference by the Southern Breeze region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The highlight of the weekend for me was my chance to “launch” Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. I also enjoyed the other folks’ launches. Our region sure has a lot to be proud of this year.

Some authors and illustrators who launched books this year
photo by Sandy Fry
Lindsey Leavitt

Lindsey Leavitt

Our keynote address Friday night was delivered with good humor and aplomb by Lindsey Leavitt, author of Princess for Hire and Sean Griswold’s Head.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from her talk:

“The only thing in this business that we can completely control is the words.”

“Ask yourself: What is the story I want to tell and why am I the one to tell it?”

“Some things to home in on: emotions & feelings; experiences & memories; unique settings; complete randomness (things that spark your interest for no apparent reason. For ex., fog machines).”

“The primary relationship is between you and the page. The ones who succeed are the ones who keep writing and keep submitting.”

“Find what you do well. Stop trying to do what others are doing. Embrace the books that you are good at.”

Sarah Davies agent

Sarah Davies

On Saturday, Lindsey did a joint session with her agent, Sarah Davies, of Greenhouse Literary Agency.

Sarah began by relating what happened when she read Lindsey’s query letter three years ago: “I sat up. My boots came off the desk. I had this visceral sense that this person knew what she was doing. Her promise was borne out by the pages she sent.”

After they agreed to work together, Sarah sent Lindsey a six-page (“extremely alarming”) document with revision suggestions. Lindsey had to adjust to the revision process. “I thought revision was spell check.”

After revision, Sarah submitted Lindsey’s Princess for Hire to 17 American editors and 14 in the UK. In the end, Lindsey signed a 3-book deal with Hyperion in the US. The UK deal went to Egmont.

Sarah called Lindsey on a Friday afternoon. Lindsey was driving and had her kids in the car. Sarah told Lindsey to pull over. Lindsey: “I kept saying, ‘Shut up!’ ‘I don’t understand what you are saying.’ It was a surreal moment. It was delightful; it was life-changing. I wish I had a tape of it so I could watch it over again.” Sarah could hear everyone crying.

Katie Carella

Katie Carella with her conference angel Stephanie Moody

Katie Carella is an assistant editor for two divisions of Penguin: Grossett and Dunlap and Price Stern Sloan (PSS!). In her talk, she walked us through the development of a “homegrown series” titled Pete and Penny’s Pizza Puzzles. A homegrown series is one that is developed entirely in-house at a publisher. In the case of Pete and Penny’s Pizza Puzzles, the idea came to Katie from a friend. The friend had read an article in the New York Times‘ Home and Garden section featuring an apartment with puzzles and hidden clues.

Katie explained her three step process:

1) Who is my audience and what do they need?

She decided to aim for 6- to 8-year-olds, which meant the stories would need to be high-interest and fast-paced. She decided she wanted to reach boys and girls. She chose mystery.

2) What is the vehicle for my story?

She settled on 64-page chapter book series, which would be illustrated.

3) Is there room for my story in the marketplace?

She did research. A few similar series were Jigsaw Jones and Cam Jansen, but she had identified at least one way her series would be different: it would include puzzles that the character would need to solve. The reader would get the puzzles at the same point in the text.

Once she had the concept for the series nailed down and had gotten approval to move forward, she began the process of finding the right writer and illustrator for the project. She consulted her work-for-hire files. (In order to be considered for work-for-hire, writers should send a resume and a 5-page work sample. Illustrators should send postcards with references to internet-based portfolios. “Work for hire projects aren’t really publicized that much so you have to talk to each other. That’s how you find out about the opportunities,” she said.

She asked a few writers to audition for the series by writing a sample chapter. Carella provided a detailed outline. Illustrators auditioned by doing two sketches, based on a few paragraphs about the main characters.

Aaron Rosenberg won the writing job and David Harrington got the illustration nod. You can read about Case of the Secret Sauce on Penguin’s website.

I’ll continue the wrap-up tomorrow.

Why My iPhone Is Bad For My Photography

I am almost never without my iPhone. When I get the urge to take a picture, I pull it out and snap. This is bad for my photography because I tend to get crappy photographs and they are very low resolution compared to my Nikons.

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lettuce germinating taken with my iPhone

Here’s a good example. I should have taken the one-minute walk back to the house to retrieve a real camera. I could even have put on the macro lens. Then, I would have had a chance of getting these dicots in all their beauty. And, since they are the first seedlings in my garden this year, they deserve a real photograph.
raised beds

These are my raised beds. Richard and the boys built them three years ago. We had a great year the first year and a so-so year the second. I am hoping for another good year. I am using good seeds and starting most of them inside. Last year, we had a big flash flood that washed out the middle bed and took the wind out of my sails.
rain barrell

So far, all the water I’ve used has come from my rain barrel. I expect my water needs will exceed this supply, eventually, but right now it’s nice to be using rainwater.

One caveat on the iPhone photography thing. It has saved my butt a few times when the real camera I had along didn’t work for some reason — usually a dead battery. I had to use it to get photographs of classmates at a recent funeral and the kids’ MathCounts team.

Sarah with blue bottle

in Wisconsin

Guest on Read, Write, Howl
My writer friend Robyn Hood Black did an interview with me that appeared on her blog. She pulled a few obscure facts out of me that tickled some of my other writer friends. This photograph is a clue.

The photograph below is another clue.

I am looking forward to seeing my writer friends this weekend in Atlanta at the SpringMingle’11, the spring conference of the Southern Breeze region of SCBWI.

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In Mississippi at the old store

Guest Post on Cynsations

Today I am a guest on Cynsations, where I write about how I developed educational materials for my books. Come on over. I have a special treat for the next month.

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New Ideas for Teaching With Wolfsnail

ws geisel coverAuthor Melissa Stewart blogged today about a great way to use Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator in classrooms.

Stewart suggested pairing it with The Snail’s Spell by Joanna Ryder. See the whole post here. (I love the idea of the predator and prey game.)

Stewart has a bunch of other Perfect Pairs on her website in the teachers’ resource section.

Please let me know if you have come up with interesting ways of using Wolfsnail or Growing Patterns in your classroom.

Rosa’s Bus by Jo Kittinger

rosa's bus cover imageToday, I am featuring a book by a writing friend, Jo S. Kittinger. Rosa’s Bus was recently released by Boyds Mills Press. I met Jo a few months after I started writing for kids when I attended my first SCBWI conference. Jo was (and still is) the co-regional adviser for the Southern Breeze regional chapter of SCBWI.

I am grateful to Jo for being willing to give me advice along my publishing journey. She and her husband Rick are also accomplished photographers and I always love seeing the beautiful photographs they take of nature. (I miss the photo gallery Jo used to have on her website.)

I took special notice of Jo’s books at the conference bookstore back in 2001 because they were nonfiction, and the subjects were perfect for my sons back then: rocks, dead logs, and birds. In addition to those books, Jo has written easy readers and has a picture book forthcoming from Peachtree Publishers titled The House on Dirty Third Street.

To my mind, Rosa’s Bus is a perfect example of how an author can pitch a well-worn topic in a new way. A quick search of books about Rosa Parks available through yielded 120 results. At our recent SCBWI/Southern Breeze conference, I asked Jo to read from the book and to talk about why she approached a familiar subject in this way.

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Kindle Cover

I am stewing about my work-in-progress. I heard back from one of my trusted readers and the news wasn’t all good. I need to do some hard thinking about this story and how I want to tell it. I’m past figuring out “if” I want to tell it and I’m pretty sure it can be a picture book, but I am going to try a few things before I’m ready to let it go out again. One of the things I need to do is get really analytical about it. I need to dummy it. I need to take it back down to brass tacks. So, what did I do today, you ask? I high-tailed it up to my sewing room.

Kindle Cover SewingI got a Kindle for my birthday. My husband, the giver of this wonderful gift, almost immediately appropriated it for his use.

I decided he needed a cover for my Kindle so I spent a few hours today making one.

I’ve had this piece of patchwork in the sewing room for a long time. I finally found a good use for it.

The strap around it is leftover from a hemming project for my mom. The cardboard inside came from a freebie legal pad cover.

open kindle cover sewingLots of re-purposing going on. Now, I’ll just have to break it to Richard and I’ll be reading some books on my Kindle. I hope he lets me borrow the cover.

I’m glad I went outside to take these photographs because it is a gorgeous day. I noticed a beautiful butterfly in our butterfly garden. It looked for all the world like a Monarch, but I can’t be sure.

Cleopatra Rules! The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen

Vicky Alvear Shecter thumbnailToday I have a brief video of Vicky Alvear Shecter, author of the new book, Cleopatra Rules! The Amazing Life of the Original Teen Queen, published by Boyds Mills Press.

I met Vicky five years ago at an SCBWISouthern Breeze conference in Jackson. Back then, her first book, Alexander the Great Rocks the World (Darby Creek), was still an idea. We agreed over our meal that there was definitely room in the children’s market for a book on Alexander. Her son and my three would be thrilled, we knew.

At our most recent SCBWI-Southern Breeze conference, we sat down outside to talk about Cleopatra Rules! Vicky uses humor to good effect in her work. Her style is welcoming for young readers, who might generally think of ancient history as, uh, boring.

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Vicky has a YA novel in the works, too. Cleopatra’s Moon will be out in 2011 with Arthur A. Levine Books. I can’t wait for that one.

Check out Vicky’s blog, History With a Twist.