July 26, 2015

Mid-Year Check-in slightly late

flowersHi Everyone,

Hope your summer or winter is grand. Hope your reading and/or writing is going splendid. I have been focusing more on my own writing and hence have had to cut back on doing book reviews. It is a struggle since there are so many wonderful books I want to tell you about, but have limited time. I do have a slew of books ready to talk about in the coming months.

Here is what I have been up to these past seven months.

  1. Completed a three-month PB mentorship with the amazing author Kathi Appelt. If you ever get a chance to study with her do it! Thank you WNDB for the opportunity.
  2. Attended two SCBWI conferences where I got to soak up on craft and network with agents/editors.
  3. Queried agents with my picture books, now just sitting back (constantly checking email) for a response.
  4. Re-joined my in-person critique group. So now I have three fabulous critique groups.
  5. Started volunteering with the head librarian at my kids’ school. It’s been a lot of fun. I love, love booktalking and giving recommendations. So much fun finding that next awesome book.
  6. Finally setup by iPhone to listen to audiobooks from Audible and the local library. Absolutely loving it! I listen while driving to work, folding the laundry, and exercising on the elliptical. Now I stand a better chance of ‘reading’ more novels.
  7. Number six was important and driven by my next goal which is to write a historical fiction novel. I’m currently reading Mary Kole’s Writing Irresistible Kidlit, which is fantastic!!
  8. Currently participating in Kidlit Summer School – The Plot Thickens. The free-writes are helping me come up with possible scenes for the novel. The class is FREE!!
  9. Participated in RhyPiBoMo but flamed out. Don’t think rhyming is for me, at least not for now.
  10. Attended ALA Summer Conference in San Francisco. Check out my ALA album to see which authors I met.

Would love to hear how your reading and writing has been progressing!

July 7, 2015

Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head

Hope you all are having a relaxing summer. I am enjoying the longer chill days with my family. Today I have a special treat for you. A short review by my 9-year old daughter who flew through this first book in a new middle-grade mystery series. Enjoy!

shrunken_headTitle: Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head
Author: Lauren Oliver & H.C. Chester
Publisher: HarperCollins, September 29, 2015
Pages: 386
Genre: Mystery
Ages: 8-12

Synopsis (from Harper Collins website):

The book is about, among other things: the strongest boy in the world, a talking cockatoo, a faulty mind reader, a beautiful bearded lady and a nervous magician, an old museum, and a shrunken head.

Blessed with extraordinary abilities, orphans Philippa, Sam, and Thomas have grown up happily in Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. But when a fourth child, Max, a knife-thrower, joins the group, it sets off an unforgettable chain of events.

When the museum’s Amazonian shrunken head is stolen, the four are determined to get it back. But their search leads them to a series of murders and an explosive secret about their pasts. This sensational new series combines the unparalleled storytelling gifts of Lauren Oliver with the rich knowledge of the notorious relics collector H. C. Chester.

What you will find in this book:

A rather attractive bearded lady
Several scandalous murders
A deliciously disgusting Amazonian shrunken head
Four extraordinary children with equally extraordinary abilities
A quite loquacious talking bird
What you will NOT find in this book:

An accountant named Seymour
A never-ending line at the post office
Brussels sprouts (shudder)
A lecture on finishing all your homework on time
A sweet, gooey story for nice little girls and boys

 

AK’s Review:

The book was exciting at first but it got kind of scary towards the middle. It is about four kids who try to solve many mysteries all at once. It got scary when a lot of murders happened at one time. It’s also about how four children can work together to save their home. People who like mysteries will love this book. I give the book 5 stars.

 

Find Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head by Lauren Oliver & H.C. Chester at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads
ISBN-10: 0062270818
ISBN-13: 978-0062270818

 

Disclosure: We received a copy of this book from the publisher HarperCollins. This review nevertheless reflects our own and honest opinion about the book.

 

May 1, 2015

Juna’s Jar

junajarTitle: Juna’s Jar

Author: Jane Bahk
Illustrator: Felicia Hoshino
Publisher:  Lee & Low Books
Book Type: Fiction
Ages: 4-8
Themes: Friendship, Childhood Experiences, Multi-Cultural

Excerpt:

“After they finished eating all the kimchi, Juna sometimes got to keep the empty jar.
Juna loved to take the jar and go on adventures with her best friend Hector.”

Synopsis (from Lee & Low website):

Juna and her best friend, Hector, love to go on adventures in the park, collecting things to put in Juna’s empty kimchi jars. But then one day Hector unexpectedly moves away, and Juna is left wondering who will play with her. With the help of her special jar, Juna searches for her friend the world over. What Juna finds is that adventure—and new friends—can be found in the most unexpected places.

Winner of Lee & Low’s New Voices Award, Juna’s Jar is a heartwarming and whimsical celebration of friendship and the power of imagination.

 

Activities:

  • Make kimchi. Recipe for mild, sweet kimchi, good for kids. Spicier kimchi with a video. There are tons more links on the web.
  • Seed Jar Experiment
  • Plant vegetables in a jar project.
  • How to make a Bug Jar.

 

Why I Like This Book:

I chose this book for a number of reasons, it’s a multicultural book without being multicultural, the story focuses on a childhood experience of losing a best friend, power of imagination, and the beautiful watercolor illustrations.

Juna and her best friend, Hector go on adventures. Along these trips Juna takes her trusty kimchi jar for collecting and catching stuff. But when Hector surprisingly moves away, Juna feels a loss. Juna’s brother tries to cheer her up by buying her a fish. That night Juna dreams her first adventure, diving into the ocean in search of Hector. The next day the fish is too big for the jar and has to be moved. Once again the jar is empty, so they grow a bean plant. More adventures follow involving a jungle and a cricket. Eventually Juna’s heart is calmed and knows that Hector is okay wherever he is. After which she is able to start a new chapter on friendship.

Juna is the quintessential child. The story felt REAL in that young kids don’t often know what is going on in their friends’ homes and so it felt totally appropriate that one day her friend was gone. Kids have powerful imaginations as shown by Juna’s adventures in the ocean, jungle, and on the cricket in her dreams. Through her dreams Juna was able to resolve her own problem, this felt very satisfying. The only aspect that may make kids scratch their head is the accelerated growth of the objects in the jar to which there is no explanation or concern by her older brother.

The watercolor art adds a complimentary layer of warmth and softness to the charming text.

junajar1

This is a good book for pre-school thru KG classroom storytime.

This review is part of Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book series. Visit her site to see the other books recommended.

Disclosure: I received my copy of the book from the publisher Lee & Low Books. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion about the book.

JUNA’S JAR. Copyright © 2015. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Lee & Low Books.

April 14, 2015

Interview with Beth Ferry

Beth Ferry

Last week I reviewed a heart-warming friendship story called STICK AND STONE. Today I am exuberant to share with you my interview with debut author Beth Ferry. After reading her brilliantly sparse rhyming book last month I knew I needed to interview her. She is funny, chill, and gracious just as her characters. Do check out her website, l love the quotes.

1) Can you tell us a little about your writing journey? 

When I first joined the SCBWI, it was to remind myself that one day I wanted to be a writer. The SCBWI magazines were important because they let me dip my toes into the vast unknown ocean that was the writing world. I could peer down and see what was going on without taking the plunge myself. I didn’t know any other writers and didn’t even realize there were writing conferences, so I basically just wrote without worrying about being published. I dove into my first conference in 2009 and brought a 900-word rhyming PB about pirates. It wasn’t pretty, but it was the first of many very important learning experiences. In 2011, I challenged myself to write a story under 200 words even though I am much more comfortable treading the over 500-word waters. That challenge resulted in Stick and Stone.

I agree SCBWI rocks! A 900-word rhyming PB, that’s not so bad. Hope you saved it for posterity’s sake. Very cool that Stick and Stone originated out of a challenge to yourself.

 

2) Do you mainly write in rhyme or prose? How do you know which style to pick for a story?

Boy, do I love rhyme. I love to read it and I love to write it, but I don’t often indulge. I tried writing Stick and Stone in prose, but I was getting bogged down and couldn’t stick to the 200-word limit I had set for myself. Once I tried it in rhyme, it came pretty easily. Many times I try to write my story in both forms. It’s time-consuming, but the form that will ultimately work usually asserts itself rather obviously.

 

3) Can you tell us about your writing process? I really enjoyed your post of comparing revision to rock tumbling. On average how long are each of the stages. 

I think the revision process is never-ending. As I’m sure you know, it is very hard to ascertain when the story is completely “done”. There are so many hard parts – coming up with the idea, actually getting it down with a workable arc and then polishing, polishing, polishing. So I definitely spend most of my time – easily weeks and months – revising.

Good to know, my rock tumbler must be on the really slow setting as it takes me months to years to get to polished. FYI – my kids have a rock tumbler and they love it.

 

4) Your posts on poetic devices were superb. Do you have favorite poetic devices that you use in your writing? (part 1 and part 2 posts on poetic devices)

As a matter of fact I do. My favorite happens to be anaphora, which appears in the title of that post you referred to. Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase in the beginning of each sentence. Repetition is common in picture book writing because it allows the child to anticipate and participate. I really like to use it because it’s like a verbal underline and makes reading aloud much more fun.

Anaphora and alliteration seem to be popping up in my writing lately. Thanks for defining anadiplosis. Now I know why the chorus from “Glad You Came” is so catchy.

 

5) What was your inspiration for Stick and Stone? Did it have anything to do with the childhood rhyme sticks and stones?

My inspiration was a song by Train called “Drops of Jupiter”. There is a line in that song that goes, “Can you imagine your best friend sticking up for you even when I know you’re wrong.” That line really struck a chord with me and the idea popped into my head that having a stick “stick up” for a stone would be a fun twist on that childhood rhyme. So that definitely played a part in the idea.

Very cool. I never would’ve guessed a pop song was the start of it all.

 

6) Once you were agented did she ask for any changes to Stick and Stone? Did the editor ask for any changes?

Stick and Stone didn’t really require any major editorial changes, most likely due to its brevity. My agent, Elena Giovinazzo and I tweaked it a bit before it was submitted and then ultimately, I think only one word was changed once I began working with the wonderful Kate O’Sullivan.

 

7) Would you like to tell us a little about your upcoming titles?

landsharkAbsolutely. I’m very excited to announce that Land Shark, illustrated by Ben Mantle, will be released on July 28, 2015 by Chronicle Books. It is the tale of a shark-loving boy who just knows that a shark will make the perfect pet. When his birthday present turns out to be a puppy, the boy and his family discover just how similar puppies and sharks really are. Keeping with the pet theme, Pirate’s Perfect Pet will be released by Candlewick in the Fall of 2016. It is illustrated by Matt Myers and follows a pirate’s journey as he searches for the perfect pet. I’ve seen the sketches and they are fabulous!

These sound awesome! Will definitely be keeping an eye out for them.

 

8) Anything else you would like to share with readers? 

I think as picture book writers, there is always a bit of trepidation when it comes to the art. The art is essential in bringing the story to life and it’s the one area over which we authors have no control. So I need to share the joy I experienced in watching Tom create the characters of Stick and Stone. His art was absolutely spot-on and perfect – all an author could hope for.

****************************

Some rapid fire questions.

Fact that most people don’t know about you?

I only plant pumpkins in my garden.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

Carving pumpkins!

Favorite pick me up snack/drink?

Lemon cookies and hot tea.

What book is on your bedside table?

Without fail, there is always a Diana Gabaldon book waiting to be re-read. This week’s books include All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, All the Light We Cannot See by Michael Dorrer and Bunny Money by Rosemary Wells.

 

Thank you Beth for stopping by today and sharing a bit about yourself. Wishing you many future successes.

April 10, 2015

Stick and Stone – plus Giveaway!

Stick and StoneTitle: Stick and Stone

Author: Beth Ferry
Illustrator: Tom Lichtenheld
Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Book Type: Fiction
Ages: 3-6
Themes: Friendship

Opening Lines:

“Stick. Stone.
Lonely. Alone.
A zero. A one.
Alone is no fun.”

Synopsis (from Amazon website):

When Stick rescues Stone from a prickly situation with a Pinecone, the pair becomes fast friends. But when Stick gets stuck, can Stone return the favor?
Author Beth Ferry makes a memorable debut with a warm, rhyming text that includes a subtle anti-bullying message even the youngest reader will understand. New York Times bestselling illustrator Tom Lichtenheld imbues Stick and Stone with energy, emotion, and personality to spare.

Activities:

  • Activity Kit including circle-time games, printable (friendship bracelets, drawing, maze)
  • Classroom lesson for on anti-bullying using the rhyme “sticks and stones can …”
  • Another anti-bullying lesson plan.

 

Why I Like This Book:

A heartwarming friendship story between a stick and a stone. It is amazing what Ms. Ferry has achieved in only 139 words and in rhyme. It’s a simple story of finding a friend, losing a friend, and finding them again. The story is filled with loads of good things we want our kids to see such as compassion and loyalty, and the joys of friendship. Kids will enjoy seeing how Stick and Stone play together and Stone’s superb way for saving Stick.

As a writer, I like the short one word sentences in the beginning spreads that help convey the isolation each character is feeling. Sort of like two parallel stories that come together. Whereas later when the duo are together the author uses a comma “Stick, Stone”. Subtle but poignant.

Mr. Lichtenheld’s endearing child-like pencil and watercolor illustrations heighten the emotion of the author’s sparse text. I remember pausing and feeling the character’s loneliness the first time I saw this spread.

stickstone_4

 

Here is the scene where the two become friends after Stick sticks up for Stone. I love their silly smiles. I have yet to figure out what makes these characters so child-like but I love it.

stickstone_1

 

Love this art, totally feeling the scariness here.

stickstone_2

 

The three-panel spread (on the left) is brilliant in heightening the emotion. I love the increasing size and jitteriness of the text as Stone calls out for Stick.

stickstone_3

 

This book is perfect for lap-reading at home or for use in preschool storytime.

Checkout my interview with Beth Ferry!

Giveaway:

For a chance to win this book, leave a comment. Deadline to enter is Thursday, April 16th at 9pm PST.

Here is a short trailer of this charming book.

This review is part of Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Book series. Visit her site to see the other books recommended.

STICK AND STONE. Copyright © 2015. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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