Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough was a Junior Library Guild selection. The only YA biography of the founding father, it covers his life from his ignoble birth to his tragic end, and is the perfect read for fans and people who want to understand more about the issues and personalities of the Revolutionary Era.
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Lisa L. Owensis pleased to report that her 100th children’s title launched last month. Attack on Pearl Harbor is part of Lerner’s new Heroes of World War II series. It’s geared toward ages 8–12 and features exciting narrative accounts of heroism by military personnel fighting in the war and civilians living in its wake. Lisa enjoyed writing this book and is looking forward to an August 2018 publication of her three additional series titles.
In other news, School Library Journal recently reviewed Lisa’s August 2017 biographies about world explorers, A Journey with Hernán Cortésand A Journey with Sieur de La Salle, saying, “The writing is simple and direct, though rich with detail. Potentially problematic topics, such as the treatment of Indigenous people by invaders, are handled sensitively and honestly. . .These are first-rate research materials presented with much care for reluctant readers.”
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Dori Hillestad Butler is thrilled to announce that her King & Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats was awarded a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award.
Also, the fourth book in the series, King & Kayla and the Case of the Lost Tooth is now available. Kirkus says, “Each page includes illustrations that are often humorous and highlight the affection between King and Kayla… This funny, endearing addition to the series will delight early readers, especially dog lovers.”
Dori will be launching King & Kayla and the Case of the Lost Tooth at Brick and Mortar book store in Redmond at 7:00pm, Friday, March 2. March 2 is also Dr. Seuss’s birthday! Seems appropriate given the Geisel honor award for the first book in the series, but the launch was planned before the award was announced. Dori will also be launching her 7th Buddy Files book, TheCase of the P-O-U-N-D Pet, which was illustrated by OAV member, Dana Sullivan. If you’re in the area, please stop by Brick & Mortar on March 2 and help Dori celebrate!
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Sunday, February 11, was Dana Sullivan’s birthday and launchday for his latest picture book, My Red Velvet Cape!
SeattleOpolis’s newest bookstore, Brick and Mortar Books in Redmond, WA, hosted the launch and the place was packed!
Dana enlisted the help of his award-winning Red Velvet Cape Players to act out the book, followed by a kids-only trivia contest (brilliant kids!), a drawing demo, and some tough questions by the audience (Q: “What do you do about mistakes in your art?” A: “Celebrate them!”). There were Super Selfies with Mateo and Alonzo and yes, there was Red Velvet CAKE! Dana wants to make it clear that although his name is on the cover, a book is truly a team effort, with family, critique groups, agents, editors, publishing teams, friends, teachers, librarians, booksellers, and cake bakers ALL contributing to make it SUPER!!! A Red Velvet Thank You to all of you!
If I were a Great Plains farmer who’d endured a genuine dry spell like the metaphorical one I’ve experienced over the past seven years, I’d be short on wheat, deep in debt, and unwashed. I’d be staring at the sky and into the mirror, wary of locusts and meteorites and plagues. Fortunately, none of that applies to me. Fortunately, I live in a figurative world. And right now, I’m just grateful that that metaphorical drought has almost ended.
I’ve hung in there—and reached (finally!) the end of my own personal water shortage—for lots of reasons: resolve, persistence, stubbornness, pride, the need to exercise my imagination, an addiction to writing, thick-skinned-ness, self-confidence, serendipity, and maybe last but certainly not least, luck. The result: This summer my new YA novel, tentatively titled FAST BACKWARD, will be published by Koehler Books.
I’m excited. Although I’d previously published ten successful books with traditional publishing houses, there were times during that knocking-my-head-against-a-wall period when I wondered if it would happen again. But those attributes or flaws or whatever you might call them (noted above) kept me going. I never considered quitting. I cranked out stories and revised others I’d been working on for years. I now have at least half a dozen that I believe are publishable, and I still hope to get them in front of publishers, and ultimately, readers. They’re YA and middle grade, realistic and fantasy and sci-fi, prose and poetry, contemporary and historical. I might even have a picture book or two in the mix.
I’m particularly proud of FAST BACKWARD, a story I’ve been working on for three years or more. It’s World War II–era, so it required a good deal of research (contrary to some folks’ opinions, I wasn’t around to observe the events as they unfolded), including a fact-finding trip to New Mexico. It also required a lot of thought and what-if-ing and organizing and revision and more revision and more research and a self-enforced ritual of routinely planting my rear end in a chair to get the words I wanted down and in the proper order.
Whenever I get a request to do an online (or in-person) author visit to a school or classroom, it’s because a teacher or her (or his) students (or both) have read one of my books and want to dig deeper into it. They want to get the story behind the story. Where did you get the idea? Why did you make the story end this way? Will there be a sequel? Where did you get the characters’ names? Do you have a favorite character? How long did it take you to write it?
And then the old standbys: What’s your favorite book you wrote? Do you ever put yourself in a story? Have you met any famous (interpretation: real) authors? What is (fill in the name) doing now? (This is one of my favorites because it tells me that for this young reader, that fictitious character has come alive.) Then there’s the kid who believes she or he has come up with a subtle approach to finding out how old I am. It goes something like this: “You told us SOMEONE WAS WATCHING was published in 1993 and that it took you four years to write it and get it published, so how old were you when you started writing it?”
But kids don’t want to know only about me and my books they’ve already read. They want to know what I’m working on now, and what’s it about, and when it will be published. During my “dry spell,” I could tell them what I was working on and what the various stories were about. They’d get excited. They’d ask when that book about the alien creature, or the murder mystery, or the girl who’d gone missing, or the girl with powers, or the other girl with powers, was going to be published. “When can I buy it?” they’d say. “When will it be in our school library?” And I had to tell them I didn’t know. I had to tell them I was trying hard to make it happen, but much of the decision-making process was out of my hands.
Now I’m thrilled to be able to tell them I’ve got a book coming out in six months or less, and even to a kid that doesn’t seem like forever. I can tell them it’s got time travel in it, and war, and atomic bombs, and prejudice, and empathy, and two smart and brave and generous kids who take it on themselves to try to save the world.
I’m looking forward to working through the rest of the editing back-and-forth, and seeing the cover, and launching the book out into the world. And getting questions—fresh ones—from young readers.
Thirty years ago I saw my very first published piece of writing in print. It was an article for an educational magazine with nursery rhyme-based creative writing ideas for kids.
After that first success, I wrote many other magazine articles over a period of a year or two, none of which sold. Eventually I decided to abandon magazine writing and pursue what I really wanted to write — namely children’s books. When I announced this decision to my ever-supportive husband, he said, “Why not? Your articles are being rejected, you might as well write a book.” Believe it not, I am still married to the guy.
Fast forward to today and no one is probably more surprised than I am (except maybe my husband) to find that my list of published books for children has grown to over seventy. Admittedly, more than half of those are books I’ve written in the last eight years with my incredibly talented and hardworking coauthor, Joan Holub, but that’s a topic for another time.
Though there’s always an element of luck involved in selling a book (or a series of books!), I’d like to think I’ve learned some things during the past thirty years that are worth passing on. So here goes…
Advice for New Writers: Five Tips
1. Take the first baby step. Begin by doing ONE thing.
My first one thing was taking a class in writing for children. The structured assignments with feedback from an instructor, plus basic information on how to submit my work, were all extremely helpful, giving me a good scaffold to build on.
2. Keep on taking baby steps.
Why baby steps? Because trying to do too much at once or looking too far ahead can lead to frustration, or worse, make you want to quit before you even get started. Take it one sentence, one paragraph, one chapter, one story, or one writing assignment at a time.
Writing one article a month was another of my small steps when I was first beginning to write. So was the decision to write a book, page by page and chapter by chapter, and then one more book, and another, and another.
3. Surround yourself with resources and connect with other children’s writers.
Read and analyze books that are like the ones you hope to write. Read books about writing. Become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and attend local chapter meetings in your state. Attend a writers’ conference. Join a critique group.
I’ve done all of the above. Besides learning a lot in the process, I’ve become friends with some really wonderful fellow children’s book writers. Joan Holub and I first met at a local SCBWI conference as a matter of fact!
4. Don’t give up.
I’ve cried or raged over some rejections, especially early on in my career. But over the years I’ve learned to develop a thicker skin. As Issac Asimov wrote: “A rejection of a story is not a rejection of the writer. It is no crime to be rejected or even a sin. Editors do not hate a writer when they reject a manuscript and do not therefore plot the writer’s destruction.” Comforting to know, right?
5. Celebrate small victories.
Each baby step is a victory of sorts. Even your first form rejection. Because it means you got up the courage send something out. When you graduate to personal rejections, where editors actually comment on a story while still rejecting it, that’s a victory too. Editors generally won’t take time to write a personal note unless a writer shows promise.
Setting up a regular writing schedule and sticking to it is also a victory. So is completing that first story or article. Celebrate those moments. (In all honesty, I should follow my own advice here more often. Life should be a series of little celebrations, don’t you think?)
Recently, I was interviewed by a blogger who asked me this unusual question: If someone made a movie of your life, would it be a drama, a comedy, action film, science fiction, or other genre of film?
I answered, “a slow-moving documentary, maybe?” Because even though I’ve been writing for thirty years, I am still taking baby steps. With each new book I break down the actions I need to take to finish that book, from gathering ideas to making an outline to writing the first draft, and so on. I chart my daily writing goals (like drafting four to five pages a day, for example) on a calendar, and monitor my progress.
If the above makes me seem a bit like the tortoise in the Aesop’s fable, well, that’s okay with me. I’m a firm believer in “slow and steady wins the race.” Baby steps not only keep me on track with my writing (and in a way that doesn’t overwhelm), they also help me to live a balanced life with time for other activities I value, like reading for pleasure, visiting with family and friends, walking, yoga, and travel.
What baby step will you take today?
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment to enter for your chance to win a FREE paperback copy of Goddess Girls: Medea the Enchantress by Suzanne Williams and Joan Holub! Suzanne will hold a drawing and announce the lucky winner January 30.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor displays true awesomeness in this response to being included in Joan Holub‘s board book This Little Trailblazer: A Girl Power Primer.
Also new from Joan and Suzanne Williams in December: Goddess Girls: Medea the Enchantress for ages 8–12.
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Dori Jones Yang had a busy fall season with 25 book talks at schools, bookstores, museums, and teacher workshops, introducing her new book, The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball. The book won three awards: the Freeman Award for children’s books about Asia (winner, high school), USA Best Book Award (winner, children’s fiction), and Moonbeam Award (gold, historical/multicultural). A happy season!
This month, our Online Author Visits crew is reflecting on the books we’ve launched this year and feeling thankful for our young readers, our blog followers, and the gracious hosts who invite us to visit their classrooms, libraries, and other venues.
Visual Literacy: The ability to interpret, negotiate, and make meaning from information presented in the form of an image, extending the meaning of literacy, which commonly signifies interpretation of a written or printed text.
Once upon a time, as a newly certified K–12 art teacher (c. 1995) who in three years of job searching and subbing only ever found a single full-time art teaching application opportunity, I ultimately turned my artistic interests to picture books. I haven’t really looked back, except to say that I always look forward to my teaching opportunities.
I get invited to literacy nights (and days) at schools, and as a picture book writer, I really do relish the opportunity to explore reading and writing with kids in the classroom. As an illustrator and wannabe art teacher however, I’m always even more excited to draw! And to me, visual literacy goes hand in hand with a more traditional idea of reading/writing literacy — and perhaps it sometimes even leads the way.
Kids “read” pictures, and words emerge to match.
Beyond books even, we are surrounded by visual media — and this media generally doesn’t ask you to do a lot of work. It’s passive consumption. Becoming visually literate demands that you analyze these images and try to figure out what you are being asked to learn or read in the process. And kids should know that they can be active participants — both as consumers and creators. It’s powerful stuff disguised as drawing 🙂
Kids post, they text, they create video etc. And the tools of visual literacy — the choices that one makes about even the simplest things like line or color or composition — all work in tandem to inform the viewer/reader of what you are asking them to see — or what words you want them to conjure to accompany the pictures. And even these most basic tenants of image making help you tell a story. And they also help you read it. Sometimes it’s subtle and sometimes it’s not, but visual literacy is integral to better communication, and making a picture or a picture book is such a great place to introduce this topic to a student audience.
Character, setting, plot, emotion, cliffhangers, hooks, foreshadowing … ALL of these things can be visual or given emphasis by visual cues. Literate art makes for literate readers.
And so, all of that being said, for the last few years I’ve been doing a LOT of drawing workshops where kids create characters and scenes with an intentional visual impact. Using lines and details to draw attention to certain things in their artwork; using angles or compositions to help a reader follow their picture in a certain logical order; deciding on just the right expression or gesture to represent an emotion; these are fundamental things to communicating an idea or telling a story — and it’s also drawing, and it’s work — but it’s so much fun!
And of course it’s always incredible when you hear from a school about visual projects inspired by your books – even when you haven’t had a chance to visit! Great teaching starts with digging just beneath the surface and giving kids an idea of the process that they can put to work in their own fantastic artwork and storytelling 🙂
And finally, for an appropriately visual teaser to keep you on your toes for my next book, here is a sketch from Shelley Gil’s IF I WERE A BEAR (Sasquatch, Little Bigfoot, Spring 2018) to be released simultaneously with IF I WERE A BIRD.
These are both board books in the wake of our February 2017 collaboration on IF I WERE A WHALE.
And it’s one day too late for this, but “HAPPY HALLOWEEN!”
Erik Brooks is the author/illustrator of 24+ books for children and their most excellent parents and teachers. Look for his newest picture book, IF I WERE A BEAR!, in Spring 2018.
Erik writes, draws, coaches, and visits schools and libraries from his home in Winthrop, WA. It’s a little off the beaten path, so online visits are the perfect thing — and screen sharing means drawing lesson work as well! To learn more about booking visits with Erik, head to the school visits page of his website at www.erikbrooks.com.
Patrick Jennings‘s new book, Naughty Claudine’s Christmas, illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman, will be published by Random House on October 24. Claudine doesn’t approve of Santa’s methods — surveillance, judgment, breaking and entering — so she decides to ward him off with naughtiness.
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Martha Brockenbrough will be speaking at NCTE in November with Laurie Halse Anderson. Please say hello if you’re there!
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Dana Sullivan is happy to report that he completed and sent ALL of his final art for My Red Velvet Capeto Sleeping Bear Press. He’s also ecstatic that MRVC will launch on HIS BIRTHDAY, February 11, 2018!!!
Mateo and Alonzo are quite pleased to be cover boys.
Dana can’t wait to wear his red velvet cape at his launch in February (on HIS BIRTHDAY!).
Dana’s messy drawing table fits nicely into his messy studio.
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Dori Hillestad Butler reports that her middle grade novels Do You Know the Monkey Man and Yes, I Know the Monkey Man are getting new covers!
Do You Know the Monkey Manwas originally published in 2003, so Dori also revised and updated the text to go with the new cover. She intends to revise and update Yes, I Know the Monkey Manas well. Both will publish in 2018.
Dori is also publishing a 7th book in her popular Buddy Files series. The multi-talented Dana Sullivan provided art.
In other news, Dori was thrilled to learn that her King & Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treatsand King & Kayla and the Case of the Secret Code both appear on the 2017 Cybils award nominations list in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category. And her Haunted Library appears on the 3rd-grade Source Books list for the Scripps Spelling Bee.
Finally, if you happen to be at AASL in Phoenix this year, Dori is on the Reading on My Own! Beginning Reader Series panel Saturday, November 11, at 10:40 am. Look for her there or visit the Publisher Spotlight (Booth 101) Friday, November 10, from 2:30 until 3:30.
Laurie was also thrilled to see that Two Truths And a Lie: It’s Alive! is nominated for a Cybils award in the Elementary/Middle Grade Nonfiction category! Laurie has been a Cybils judge several times in the past, so this is a very special treat.