The Benefits of Critique

Last weekend I drove 2-1/2 hours to participate in a Agent/Editor Day with my New England SCBWI chapter. The day was focused on middle grade and young adult manuscripts, and we had the opportunity to share the first chapter of our novel with 2 different agents or editors. We received feedback from two agents/editors, as well as the other participants.

I had participated in SCBWI conferences before, but this was my first Agent/Editor Day. I shared the first chapter of the novel I am currently working on, called Modern Girls. I was nervous going into the day, a range of thoughts swirling through my head from “What if they hate it?” to “I hope they like the characters as much as I do.”

I was pleasantly surprised, and thoroughly enjoyed the insight of the two editors, Monica Perez from Charlesbridge and Stephanie Kasheta from Merit Press. They each asked different questions and challenged me in different areas. I felt buoyed by the positive reinforcement on my character development, learned what areas hold more opportunity for exploration, and what questions I still need to ask myself about my characters and their relationships. In addition, I enjoyed listening to all of the other stories shared – fantasy, science fiction, adventure, mystery, and animal stories. Such creativity all in one room!

I do know the power of critique- it’s one of the reasons I joined a critique group many years ago and still benefit from their wisdom (besides the best part – they are wonderful women and writers!). My critique group keeps me focused, encourages me to keep going through the hard work of writing and revising, and are partners with me on my journey to become a better writer. Joanna and Anne are invaluable to me, and I hope I am able to provide them with an ounce of the honest and beneficial feedback they give me every month.

What I learned last weekend was that we must always be searching for how to write more concisely, look at our characters a different way, and better express those ideas in our heads. We must steel ourselves to truly hear the feedback, digest it, and decide how (or not) to incorporate it into our work.

My critique partner Joanna introduced us to Lisa Crohn’s Story Genius, and I applied what I learned from it to completely rewrite the first chapter of my novel. It is that rewrite that I took to my critique group, and that rewrite that I took to the Agent/Editor Day. Being open to the feedback, whether it be from trusted critique partners, craft books, or industry strangers, will hopefully help me to write my best novel yet.

It’s Fall Already!

The last few weeks (and months, if I’m honest) have just whipped by. I enjoy returning to the structure of the school year, but then I remember how busy our weeks get when they are filled with extra curricular activities, school events, birthday parties, and family time.

So here I am on the edge of November, realizing I have not posted in weeks. Better late than never??

Here in the Northeast, we are fully into Fall. The leaves are beautiful shades of red, yellow, and orange. There is a crispness in the air. Halloween costumes are almost ready, and plans are underway for my son’s 10th birthday in November. My mother just asked for the kids’ wish lists for Christmas. This is the time of year where I need to remind myself to enjoy the beauty, coziness, and child-like joy before it is all lost in the realities of daily life.

Are you ready for fall? Perhaps you need a fall book to get you in the mood. Check out one of our previous posts on our favorite fall books:

We just took our favorite fall book out of the library this week – Dinosaurs’ Halloween by Liza Donnelly. It cracks us up every time, and I am totally bummed that it is out of print. Looks like Amazon has a Kindle version – I may need to download it before we completely wear out our library copy.

Best wishes for your own lovely fall day soon! I am currently working on revising the beginning of one of my middle grade novels in preparation for a workshop in a few weeks. Wish me luck!

 

Author Profile: Andrea Beaty

Today, we are taking a deeper dive into the world of author Andrea Beaty. Andrea writes board books, picture books, and middle grade novels and you may know her from some of her most famous books, Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect. She partnered with illustrator David Roberts on those two books, as well as a new book coming out (tomorrow!) called Ada Twist, Scientist.

Andrea’s books all feature characters with their own dreams, passions, and ideas. They see opportunities in the world around them, and it is fun to watch them express themselves. In several of her books, she uses rhyming prose with a dash of whimsy in order to make the flow work while playing with the details (my kids and I love that Madame Chapeau goes to Chez Snooty-Patoot every year for her birthday). In the other books where rhyming is not used, the prose still flows and is a joy to read out loud. My son said that When Giants Come to Play was like a poem.

Our favorite Andrea Beaty books are:
Rose Revere, EngineerHappy Birthday Madame Chapeau Iggy Peck, ArchitectWhen Giants Come to Play
Rosie Revere, Engineer is a part of our home library, and it is on frequent rotation. I enjoy the models Ms. Beaty’s story children provide for developing young minds – that even though you may be misunderstood or challenged in your ideas, you should stay true to who you are and be perserverant in your goals.

We had just finished reading Roald Dahl’s The BFG in our house when we read When Giants Come to Play, and it was a nice counterpoint to some of the hideous giants featured in The BFG.

Some other books from this author that I have not yet read: Dorko the Magnificient, Hide and Sheep, Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies, and Secrets of the Cicada Summer. We’ll be adding them to our library queue soon!

What is your favorite Andrea Beaty book? Please share in the comments!

Author Profile: Salina Yoon

We love, love, love author/illustrator Salina Yoon in our house. She writes engaging and visually charming stories for young children, primarily in board and picture books. Her books are all sweet, while the illustrations are simple and cute.

Her books range from interactive board books for toddlers (Kaleidoscope and Pinwheel) to picture books for the 3-8 year old range. She has several character book series starring Penguin (from Penguin and Pinecone and other stories) and Bear (from Found and other stories).

We discovered Ms. Yoon’s books through my daughter’s preschool teacher. Miss Lisa loves penguins, and she read several of the Penguin books to the students. We secretly think Miss Lisa feels a close connection to Penguin (they are both sweet and love to knit!). We began taking out Salina Yoon books from the library on our own and have enjoyed them all, including:

Found is our favorite, and we bought it for our home library so we would stop wearing out the library copy. Read my previous review here. In preparing this list, I found that Bear’s Big Day came out in June. We’ll be on the lookout for it!

What is your favorite Salina Yoon book? Please share in the comments!

Review: Last Stop on Market Street

Last Stop on Market StreetLast Stop on Market Street

Written by Matt De La Peña

Illustrated by: Christian Robinson

JP Putnam Sons for Young Readers; 2015, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 5-9

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Urban Living, Perspective, Gratitude

How We Discovered This BookLast Stop on Market Street won the 2016 Newbery Medal, and was a Caldecott Honor Book and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book. With all the talk about this book, we had to check it out.

Summary: Young CJ and his Nana take the bus from church across their city. CJ has many questions, and his Nana provides him with insightful and creative answers. Their conversation continues until they reach their final destination, which provides even more context for their blessings.

What I Liked: I haven’t read many books like this – focused truly on urban living and seeing the beauty in everything around you. The author captures CJ and his Nana’s personalities clearly through carefully chosen dialogue and specific speech patterns. I can almost hear their voices.

What Did My Kids Think? They liked the story, and the author manages to make CJ endearing rather than whiny. My children have never lived in a city, so it was interesting for them to imagine someone else’s life where they don’t own a car and they interact with a wide cross-section of people.

Resources:

 

Take a field trip into your nearest city. Make it a point (or even a scavenger hunt) to find all the things that are different from where you live. Now look for the things that are the same.

The Classroom Bookshelf site has activities related to this book for kids of varying age groups, focused on imagery, special people in your life, beauty, and sharing stories.

Identify ways that you can interact more deeply with your community. Join a book group, volunteer at a soup kitchen, or even just strike up a conversation with someone at the park.

Review: Lizard from the Park/ Max’s Review

Lizard from the Park Lizard from the Park

Written and Illustrated by: Mark Pett

Simon and Shuster Books for Young Readers, 2015, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Imagination, Friendship

How We Discovered This Book: This is another great find from the new books bin at our library. My daughter was immediately interested based on the cover art.

Summary: Leonard takes a shortcut through the park and finds a dinosaur egg. It hatches, and together they go to many places across the city. But then the dinosaur gets too big for Leonard’s apartment.

What I Liked: The illustrations are rendered in charcoal and then colored on the computer. They are simple but expressive, which gives the look a Calvin and Hobbes-type vibe. The story is fanciful, but not ridiculous – the right words along with regular expressions on the boy’s face make you believe it could really be happening. By the end you believe it has all happened. Or has it?

What Did My Kids Think? They liked going along with Leonard’s imagination, and that the story takes an unexpected turn at the end. They liked the cute illustrations, and the fact that the dinosaur stays cute even as he gets bigger and bigger. Both enjoyed reading this book over and over.

Resources:

Make a paper dinosaur and take him/her places. Take pictures to chronicle your adventures.

Do you go the same way to school, the park, or other favorite place? Try a different route next time, and see what you might discover.

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Hello from Max! Max enjoyed this book too – see what he has to say.

Email subscribers: Please click over to this post on the website to see Max’s complete video.

Schools Out! Summer Reading Challenge

School has been out for a few weeks now, and we are fully embracing all parts of summer: lots of swimming, bike riding, tree climbing, camping, and reading. My kids will read anywhere – on the couch, in a nice shady spot on the grass, or even up a tree!

While my son is an avid reader and my daughter is an excited emerging reader, I want to make sure their summer is full of adventures, creative stories, and high quality children’s literature. So I am giving them each a summer reading challenge. They each received a list of 20 books tailored to their ability, grade level, and favorite author/genres. If they read 10 books from their lists by the end of the summer, they get a toy or book.

So what’s on their lists?

Aidan

  1. Harry Potter – Order of the Phoenix, JK Rowling
  2. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
  3. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg
  4. The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart
  5. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Chris Grabstein
  6. Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things, Cynthia Vogt
  7. An Army of Frogs, Trevor Pryce
  8. The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo
  9. Homer Price, Robert McCloskey
  10. Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Patterson
  11. Book of Scavenger, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman
  12. Dragon Rider, Cornelia Funke
  13. The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop, Kate Saunders
  14. The Zoo at the Edge of the World, Eric Kahn Gale
  15. The BFG, Roald Dahl
  16. A Long Way from Chicago, Richard Peck
  17. The Island of Dr. Libris, Chris Grabstein
  18. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
  19. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne
  20. I Am Malala (Young Readers Edition), Malala Yousafzai

Elizabeth

  1. I Am a Rock, Jean Marzollo
  2. Hop on Pop, Dr. Seuss
  3. Cat the Cat Who is That? Mo Willems
  4. See Me Run, Paul Meisel
  5. Mitten, Lois M. Shaefer
  6. When I Get Bigger, Mercer Mayer
  7. Swimmy, Leo Lionni
  8. The Thank You Book (Elephant and Piggie), Mo Willems
  9. Can I Play Too? (Elephant and Piggie), Mo Willems
  10. Let’s Go For a Drive (Elephant and Piggie), Mo Willems
  11. I Will Take a Nap (Elephant and Piggie), Mo Willems
  12. Are You Ready to Play Outside? (Elephant and Piggie), Mo Willems
  13. A Big Guy Took My Ball (Elephant and Piggie), Mo Willems
  14. The Magic Rabbit, Annette LeBlanc Cate
  15. The Worst Helper Ever, Richard Scarry
  16. Pete the Cat: Pete at the Beach, James Dean
  17. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, Doreen Cronin
  18. Llama, Llama Time to Share, Anna Dewdney
  19. Oliver, Sid Hoff
  20. Finding Nemo: Best Dad in the Sea

Lots of fun things to read, and much for me to enjoy reading aloud and along with the kids.

What children’s books do you consider essential summer reading? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Review: Trombone Shorty

Trombone Shorty
Trombone Shorty

Written by Troy Andrews

Illustrated by Bryan Collier

Harry N. Abrams Books for Young Readers; 2015, Hardcover

Target Audience: Ages 5-9

Genre: Non-Fiction

Theme: Having a dream, Persistence, Overcoming obstacles

How We Discovered This Book: I requested several books from our library from this year’s ALA Awards list. This is a Caldecott Honor Book and the winner of the Coretta Scott King Award.

Summary: A young boy growing up in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans doesn’t have money to buy an instrument, but he loved music. He and his friends made instruments out of whatever they could find. One day, he found an old trombone, and taught himself to play. He became known as “Trombone Shorty” because the trombone was twice his size. He played throughout his neighborhood, with his own kid band, and one day was pulled from the crowd at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival to play with Bo Diddley.

What I Liked: I’m on record as not being a big fan of non-fiction books, but this kind of interesting storytelling and visual imagery is winning me over. This is a true story, written by Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews himself. It is inspirational, demonstrates the hard work he put into his craft, and all of the influences on him including his town and his mother. The illustrations are creative – a combination of paintings and photographs. The illustrator uses an interesting method of overlaying faded sections to draw attention to the main focus of each panel – usually Trombone Shorty.

What Did My Kids Think? They enjoyed his story, and wanted me to read all the way through the author’s notes. We even went on YouTube to hear some of his music (see below).

Resources:

 

Make your own instruments at home!

Watch Trombone Shorty in action with his band, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue.

Learn more about the Trombone Shorty Foundation, and its work to promote music to the next generation, especially those in New Orleans.

Happy Memorial Day and Goal Check-in

We pause in our outdoor celebrations and 3-day weekend fun to honor those who died serving our country. We thank them for their sacrifice and for keeping us safe. 


Back in January, I set an approach for achieving my 2016 goals. I planned to build on my blessings, and add some patience and hope. I gave myself the room to meet my goals, each in their own time.

So how’s it been going? There is much in my life that requires patience – relationships, plans, and the long list of things I want to accomplish. Some days I am more patient than others. And some days I do a better job of working towards my goals.

As I look back on the last 5 months, I have:

  • Finished the first draft of my latest middle grade novel
  • Began a new day job
  • Celebrated my daughter’s 6th birthday with her first slumber party
  • Helped my son discover the 4th and 5th Harry Potter books
  • Built my son a loft bed
  • Cleaned a carburetor 
  • Read 3 novels and probably over a hundred picture books
  • Stood strong through significant personal challenges

The next five months will likely be a combination of challenges and triumphs. I can’t guarantee how it will all turn out, but I can try to remain patient and hopeful. And keep my promise to myself that this will be good year, no matter what.

Review: Chalk and Cheese

Chalk and Cheese CoverChalk and Cheese

Written and Illustrated by Tim Warnes

Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing; 2008, Hardcover

Target Audience: 3-8

Genre: Fiction

Theme: Friendship, Respecting Differences

How We Discovered This Book: My daughter found this book in our library’s new books bin. It was published a few years ago, but we’re glad to discover it now!

Summary: In researching the odd name of this book (I could understand the name Cheese for a mouse, but I was stumped with why a dog was named Chalk), I learned that “Chalk and Cheese” is based on an obscure British saying – as in, “They are completely different. As different as chalk and cheese.” This book takes the concept and tells a story about a British country mouse and an American dog. They are friends and pen pals, and one day Cheese comes to New York City to visit Chalk. They each look at the world differently, so we get to see two different perspectives on what they see and experience.

What I Liked: I enjoyed the illustrations and the narrative – spare text with simple illustrations. There are visual jokes and gems to find throughout. The message of embracing each other’s difference was nicely delivered without being heavy-handed.

What Did My Kids Think? Most kids like animals in their books, and my kids are no exception. They followed right along with Chalk and Cheese’s New York City adventure. They enjoyed when Cheese didn’t understand something – just like kids sometimes – and Chalk patiently explained it to him (or even better – showed him).

Resources:

 

Brainstorm things that are very different (story characters in other books, inanimate objects, family members), and give them an adventure. What would they do? Where would they go?

Illustrate your own adventure story set in the place you live. Are there secret places for hiding? Are there things a visitor to your town MUST see? No worries if you don’t consider yourself a strong illustrator – stick figures will do. Adding some color and an interesting perspective make all the difference.

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Max is back from Spring Break with his review of Chalk and Cheese. Check out his video to see what he thought!

Email subscribers: Please click over to this post on the website to see Max’s complete video.