Our Favorite Books of Winter/ ALA Awards

Happy winter day! Here in the Northeast US, this winter has been a mix of sun, wind, and more temperate days. We finally got enough snow to play in last week, so we’ve been in the mood for some picture books about winter and snow. Since winter has come around every year since the beginning of time, it makes sense that we enjoy both classic and contemporary snow/winter books.  Here are some of our favorites:

  • The Mitten, Jan Brett
  • Katy and the Big Snow, Virginia Lee Burton
  • Snowmen at Night, Caralyn Buehner
  • The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats
  • Owl Moon, Jane Yolen
  • Snowballs, Lois Ehlert
  • The Snow Cat, Dayal Kaur Khalsa
  • Bear Snores On, Karma Wilson
  • Snowflake Bentley, Jacqueline Briggs Martin
  • Penguin and Pinecone, Salina Yoon
  • Jack Frost, William Joyce

What are your favorite winter picture books? Do you love a book that’s not on this list?

The other great thing about this time of year is the announcement of the American Library Association (ALA) Book and Media Awards. You can find the complete list on their website, but I wanted to highlight a few of the awards here. This was an unusual year for the John Newbery Medal, which frequently goes to a middle grade or young adult novel. This year it went to a picture book, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña. This story about a boy riding the bus with his grandma not only won the 2016 Newbery Medal, it also earned a 2016 Caldecott Honor and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor for Christian Robinson. Congratulations to Matt de la Peña, Christian Robinson, and all the other award winners!

Have you read Last Stop on Market Street? Did you enjoy it? What are your thoughts? Please share in the comments!

Advertisements

Books About Autumn

Fall is now in full color here in the Northeast US, and the leaves are slowly working their way towards peak colors. So many oranges, brown, red, and yellows! It’s amazing that trees know how to do this beautiful show each fall.

So in the spirit of fall, I’m sharing some of our favorite picture books about autumn. Since Halloween is technically a part of autumn, there are few Halloween selections in here.

IMG_3297

Our favorite autumn books that we get out year after year:

  • Fletcher and the Falling Leaves by Julia Rawlinson (check out my previous review here)
  • Dinosaurs’ Halloween by Liza Donnelly
  • Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert (as well as Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf)
  • We Gather Together, Now Please Get Lost! by Diane deGroat
  • Happy Halloween, Curious George! 
  • Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson (review here)
  • Mouse and Mole, A Perfect Halloween by Wong Herbert Yee (see Joanna’s review here)
  • Various Books about Johnny Appleseed

We recently discovered another autumn book to add to our collection that I will review next week, Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller. My daughter also insisted that we included Fancy Nancy: Halloween or Bust by Jane O’Connor.

So grab a few of these books, warm up a mug of apple cider, and settle in under a blanket. Enjoy!

What other autumn favorites do you enjoy? Please share in the comments!

Revisiting the Picture Book Classics

In our house, I like to balance classic children’s picture books with modern and new titles. I prefer variety as a reader, and my children like reading lots of different books in the search for the gem that will become their new favorite.

While I am well aware of the changes in the publishing industry over the last 50+ years, I am struck by which of the classics hold up and are still engaging for a modern reader.

Classic Books

Certainly American society has changed over that time (forgive me for my US-centric perspective on this topic). What competes for children’s attention has changed – the prevalence of video games and bright, assaultive entertainment may make plain illustrations uninteresting. Topics that were once taboo such as death and social concerns are freely discussed now, and some topics acceptable in an earlier generation are sometimes “sanitized” to ensure no political incorrectness or cultural intolerance.

However, I think the challenge for authors and illustrators remains the same – write an engaging, creative, and simple (not simplistic) story that leaves readers wanting to read it again (which is quite the daunting task!).

I was also pleased to find plenty of classics that capture the common experience of childhood, which made them more likely to still appeal to me and my children. As my daughter prepares for kindergarten, our local library has collected a wide range of new and old books for her to read this summer. There are so many books that are new to her, or were really enjoyed by my son when he was her age. We have been taking 15-20 picture books out each week, and it has been an interesting experiment in reader tastes and literature quality.

While we have read some classics that underwhelmed us (Caps for Sale, George and Martha, Millions of Cats), there were many that we love (Are You My Mother?; Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?; Chicka Chicka Boom Boom; Curious George; Little Bear; Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel).

My brother and I had favorite books as a child that we had to have serious discussions about to determine who got which books when we left for college. I got Jumping Beans by Judith Martin, and my brother got Seals on Wheels by Dean Whalley. Jumping Beans has certainly held up literature-wise, with just a little tape to help it physically survive another generation.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the classics, and which ones hold up for you. Please share your thoughts in the comments!

 

The Value of Honest Feedback

I’m a big believer in honesty. Not painful, hurtful honesty, but the idea that being upfront with people (especially friends and family) avoids much drama, misunderstandings, and unnecessary conflict.

However, for honesty to work fully we must be open to feedback. Sure, honest feedback might still sting a little, or initially rub us the wrong way, but if we can ultimately incorporate the information it can be a gift.

Take the writer’s submission process for example. Joanna and I were discussing how we hope for open feedback when we submit our work to agents and editors. Even a little open feedback instead of a standard rejection would help us to know which direction to go. Such as:

“Not really the kind of book I represent.” – Try another agent.

“Strong concept, but the prose needs tightening.” – Now you know where to focus your revisions.

“Good idea, but I wasn’t hooked at the beginning.” – Time to rework the first few chapters.

“I like the characters, but the stakes for them aren’t high enough to keep me interested.” – More work needed on the plot and character development.

Knowing how to proceed in this highly subjective art of writing is invaluable. And why I need my critique group so much. We encourage each other, make suggestions, and give balanced feedback that helps us each be better writers.

So if someone asks you for your honest feedback, consider giving it. It could make all the difference.

Choosing the Right Books for Your Advanced Reader

I have an advanced reader in my house, who devours new books. My son has read and enjoyed many of the classics, such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe; The Indian in the Cupboard; James and the Giant Peach; Charlotte’s Web; and The Borrowers. Aidan likes the newer books too, like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Holes, and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He is eager to discover new series and new books, preferring fantasy and adventure topics.

He is, however, only in 3rd grade. I do not yet want him exposed to the world of middle school, nor do I want him worrying about the kinds of topics kids that age face. I do not want him to be exposed to excessive violence or death.

It is an ongoing challenge that I have in finding new quality books to read, and it is a topic I have discussed frequently with his 3rd grade teacher, Irene Drake. I’m sure many of you parents and teachers have faced the same issue.

So far, my approach has been to dig deep into the lists of “must read” books for his age, and sought recommendations from librarians, teachers, writers, and other parents. I also discovered the Scholastic Book Wizard, which with a little tweaking comes up with a list of appropriate books by Lexile Level or DRA along with age range. However, for Aidan, his reading level with a grade 3-5 filter only comes up with non-fiction books. Those are certainly helpful books for when he is in a non-fiction mood, but not always.

Joanna shared a list that her library prepared for accelerated readers. Some that caught my eye for Aidan were: The Moffat’s, The View from Saturday, The Enchanted Castle, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Whittington, and Extra Credit.

What suggestions do you have for accelerated readers? Please share in the comments.

Interview: Alice Hutchinson of Byrd’s Books/ PiBoIdMo Kickoff

This week, we have the pleasure of welcoming Alice Hutchinson, owner of Byrd’s Books, an independent bookseller in Bethel, CT. Alice has been involved in the world of literature for over 30 years, beginning with roles as buyer and manager for her mother’s New Age bookstore. Alice has held several leadership roles within the Bethel community, and holds a Masters of Arts degree in Teaching with a concentration in Young Adult literature. Byrd’s Books was founded almost 3 years ago, and expanded last year into a larger location. If you are in the Bethel are, you can certainly stop in for a visit, but online ordering is also available.

Byrd's Books Logo

 

KDC: Alice, thanks for taking time to give us your insights into the book industry. Tell us what inspired you to open an independent bookstore?

AH: I believe a bookstore creates community, and it becomes a special place where people can support the arts. In our area, there was a vacuum when Borders closed, which I felt created a hole for the book community. There was an opportunity to fill that void, and I had a theory that people still wanted books along with their e-readers. I initially opened in a small location, and found that my theory was correct. So far, this community appears to want to support a brick-and-mortar bookstore, and we moved into a larger location to expand our ability to provide quality literature and book-related merchandise. People realize that when you buy from a local bookstore versus looking in person and then shopping online, you support a business that will then return more funds and involvement to the community itself. We put an emphasis on Connecticut authors, and actively support them through signings, consignment of self-published work, and other events.

KDC: What trends are you seeing now in both the publishing and consumer buying of children’s books?

AH: At Byrd’s Books, our most popular section is Connecticut authors, second most popular is books for ages 9-12, and third is books for 4-8 years old. Parents are looking for chapter books as well as books in a series that their children can get engaged with in order to improve their reading ability. We don’t carry most of the more populist book series (like those from Disney) – I strive to find series with more literary content like those from Kate DiCamillo. Bookstores are responding to the changes with education and the Common Core requirements, and the best way to do that is to carry great non-fiction including science books, good biographies of interesting people, and stories about people and topics that are fun and compelling. Non-fiction is on the rise, which is a good thing for literature anyway and fun to buy for.

KDC: How do you decide what books to buy for the store?

AH: We read Publisher’s Weekly, and we are very active members of the American Bookseller’s Association. We get advance copies of books from both the Association’s division Indie Bound and from publishers, and we do our best to review many of them to find those that are high quality and would be the right fit for the store. Most catalogs from publishers are on a system called Edelweiss, where reps add markers that allow us to see if books are trending on Goodreads, Publisher’s Weekly, or other sources. We do a lot of special orders for customers, which sometimes helps us discover interesting new books.

KDC: If a 5 year old and a 10 year old asked you for book recommendations, what would you tell them?

AH: I would ask them, “What’s the last book you read that you loved?” I listen carefully to how they talk about the book, and that will give me a jumping off point to find them books with similar topics or tone. At 5 years old, children often want chapter books but secretly are still interested in picture books. It also depends on whether they are reading, or they are being read to. If they are reading to themselves, you want to encourage their sight recognition of the words. At 8 years old, children are right on the edge between the 9-12 and 4-8 categories. If they are exceptional readers, you still may find good content in the 4-8 category because it is so wide. I will often take a strong 8 year old reader over to the Newberry section or introduce them to some classics like Mr. Popper’s Penguins, or From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. These books are fun to read, and are an important part of cultural literacy. Often a parent will tell me what they want their child to be reading and that they are bright, but that does not necessarily translate into reading ability or maturity. Your average 11 year old with above average reading ability will come in and ask for books in the teenage section (like The Hunger Games), when there are plenty of great books at the 9-12 level that provide challenge without getting into the issues with social relationships and violence that a high schooler is better prepared to grapple with. Helping match a person with a special find is one of the great joys of book selling.

KDC: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

AH: As we discussed before, our online ordering capability allows you to get the book you want 24 hours a day. We also have a lot of great events coming up, including a children’s writing workshop in February with Gail Carson Levine, and in late November is an opportunity to support your community bookstore through Small Business Saturday. Like ours, many bookstores will be having authors selling books right within the store on that day.

Thank you Alice for your great perspective on the book selling industry. We appreciate your time.

Make sure to support your local bookstore and if you are looking for a place to order your next book, give Byrd’s Books a try!


From Joanna’s desk:

Attention Picture Book Writers! November is Picture Book Idea Month–or PiBoIdMo, for short.

Tara Lazar, who hosts one of 2013’s Top Ten Blogs for Writers, has organized this fun event for quite a few years. The basic premise is to come up with 30 new ideas for picture books, all within November. You could do one idea a day, or all 30 ideas on the last day of the month–that’s up to you. Each day, there will be a special post of encouragement from various peeps in the kid lit world–I’m especially excited about Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Ammi-Joan Paquette. There are books to win, even critiques from published authors, agents and editors. Katie participated a few years ago; this is my first time.

Registration is open until Nov. 7th. Sign up here.

 

Hard Work, Persistence, and a Little Luck

I double checked the content, took a deep breath, and clicked Submit. The first 50 pages of my middle grade novel and a synopsis went whizzing off to the inbox of an agent.

As you regular readers will know, I am referring to my beloved first novel that I have labored over for the last two years (ugh- has it really been that long?). Through hard work, persistence, lots of herbal tea, and much support from my critique group it is finally ready.

So now what? It is out of my hands and hopefully an agent will fall in love with it. All I can do for the next 4 weeks (their typical response time) is cross my fingers, pray, and hope. Any good thoughts you can send my way would be much appreciated.

Now that I have finally finished the synopsis and submitted the novel, I have no more excuses for putting off writing new stories. Sure, I have another novel to revise but what I really need is a creative jumpstart. My journals are bursting with ideas – perhaps the next book is just waiting to be freed from the pages.

 

It’s a Probability Game

I was catching up on The Late Show with Jimmy Fallon (one of my favorite shows), and his one and only guest for the evening was Bruce Springsteen. I’d never heard The Boss speak, so I was pleased to find he was extremely knowledgeable and articulate.

One of his comments really stuck with me. Jimmy asked him how he continues to come up with such great music, and he answered that you just have to keep writing. He said that 90% of what you write is no good. So if you can turn out 12 good songs every 2 years, you can imagine what you spend the rest of the time doing.

I think his comments really apply to anything in the creative process. It certainly feels like an accurate commentary on writing. You may have heard similar comments from successfully published authors such as Jane Yolen commenting on how many manuscripts they have sitting in a desk, unpublished.

There was something about how he said it (sometimes I can hear the same thing multiple times, but just say it a different way and it may finally click with me). It means that even highly successful artists and creative people fail. Repeatedly. And that for the creative process to succeed, we have to keep going. We have to keep learning, trying, and producing.

So I figure that if I keep writing (which I love, anyway), keep revising, and keep submitting, something will click. My success may not be as breakthrough as Born to Run, but a girl can dream right?

Appreciating the Genres

As a children’s book writer, I have a good appreciation for the genres of our field. I began my journey in children’s book writing with picture books, and currently I am working on three middle grade novels. My critique partner Joanna rocks the young adult segment.

As my son gets older, he still enjoys having picture books read to him but his choices are different when he reads for himself. He is reading chapter books, but I am struck by the broad range of choices in this genre.

Aidan really skipped over the beginning chapter books, like Frog and Toad, or Nate the Great. They didn’t seem to be “meaty” enough for him. He enjoys adventures, especially those in far away locations or times. The Magic Treehouse books are right up his alley. He frequently connects things that he learns about (Ancient Rome for example) with what he read in a Magic Treehouse book. We are lucky to have a family friend that gave us a big collection of Jack and Annie books (thank you Chrissy!).

I read a Facebook post this summer where Moms were discussing chapter books with appropriate content for young kids. One mom suggested Geronimo Stilton. I had never heard of him. Luckily, our library had some of the books, so we tried them out. And Aidan fell in love.

The Geronimo Stilton books are written in first person by a mouse named Geronimo Stilton. He is the editor of the Rodent Gazette, and the books are told in his voice. He is the “author” ala Lemony Snicket. (Spoiler alert: the books are written by Italian author Elisabetta Dami, distributed by Scholastic in the US)

Image 1

The really creative part of the Geronimo Stilton books is how they bridge the transition from picture books to novels. I’m sure many children miss the rich images from picture books when they move to longer books. In the Geronimo Stilton books, there are plenty of illustrations, maps, and pictures. They also illustrate the text. Yes, the text. They use colors, different type faces, even illustration to further illuminate the words. This comes in quite handy for a child who is actively expanding their vocabulary. Combine all this with an exciting adventure story, and you’re on your way!

Image

If you haven’t yet checked out Geronimo I encourage you to give him a try. There are currently 55+ books in the regular series plus 7 graphic novels. He even has his own web page with games and videos, as well as places to draw and write.

What other chapter book gems would you recommend? Please share in the comments!

Congratulations to the Crystal Kite Award Winners

What is the Crystal Kite Award? Isn’t it called the Golden Kite Award? No, I haven’t gone jewel blind (really, I would love any jewels… ) The Golden Kite Award is given by the SCBWI each year to recognize the best in 4 children’s literature categories. The Crystal Kite Award are also given by the SCBWI, but it is the “regional complement” to the Golden Kite Awards. All 70 regions across the globe were put into one of fifteen divisions, and then each division voted for their favorite children’s book by a SCBWI member in their region for that year.

I am in the New England US region, so I eagerly awaited the email notification for each round of voting. There were so many books that I liked on the New England list, and I was especially pleased to see that these great stories were written somewhere in my part of the world.

The winners were recently announced, with Jo Knowles taking the prize for New England with her novel, See You At Harry’s. I had the pleasure of taking a workshop from Jo last October, so I was thrilled for her to get this extra recognition (the book has already received much praise and interest).

In looking at the complete list of world-wide winners, there were other favorites I recognized, and some others that are on my increasingly long To Read List: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (which also received the Newbery Medal this year), Creepy Carrots by Aaron Brown (a Caldecott Honor Book), Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman, and 15 Days Without a Head by Dave Cousins. Admittedly, I am intrigued to read that last one by the title alone.

Have you read any of the other Crystal Kite winners? Any that you would recommend? Please share!

Congratulations to the Crystal Kite Award winners for having their work praised by their peers, a choosy group with very high standards (right?).

My local library reopens Monday after being closed for 6 weeks for a long-awaited renovation. I’m off to see how many of my To Read List books I can jump into this month. Wish me luck!