March 27, 2014

Bi-Fri Book Look: The Hat by Tomi Ungerer

So this week I wanted to share one of my favorite childhood books, THE HAT, written and illustrated by the fabulous Tomi Ungerer.

The main protagonist is the hat that you see on the cover. Didn't think it would be that straightforward did you? How can an inanimate object be the protagonist of a story let alone a children's story? Well, basically if your name is Tomi Ungerer, you can do anything.

The story starts off with a hat that "lived happily on a rich man's head. One day, speeding on an open carriage, the hat blew off." So the hat floated along until it landed on a homeless, jobless, and footless veteran, Benito Badoglio. Badoglio soon finds out this hat is magical and that it is also a good deed doer! Double surprise! With the help of the hat, Badoglio saves a man from being clobbered by a falling flowerpot and finds an exotic bird and brings her back to the zoo. (I wish my hats were so magnanimous.) So with the rewards he receives he buys some fancy gentleman's clothes and replaces his peg leg with a shiny silver wheel! (I know, I love it.) So now that he's dapper and speedy he's filled to the brim with confidence and continues saving practically everyone in this entire village. He saves a band of cutthroats and policemen from each other, he saves a baby that is inside a runaway stroller that's on fire, and finally he saves a Contessa riding a carriage with a runaway horse. He was decorated by the Archduke and named the 'Minister of National Emergencies." He fell in love with the Contessa and at the end of the story they ride off on their honeymoon with the hat flying off his head blowing the hat "hither and thither… Heaven knows only where." Such a perfect ending for a fantastically bizarre story.

This book has stayed in my sweet spot since childhood because of how endearing these characters are. I mean, who wouldn't love to read a story about a magical and benevolent hat with his trusty side-kick an earnest, one-wheeled veteran?

You can actually get a used copy on Amazon or hopefully at your local used bookstore, which is what I need to do. Either that or I will steal this copy from my mom's library. (She wouldn't notice, right?)

Anyway, I would love to know what your childhood favorites are. What types of stories did you gravitate towards? Are they the same types of books that you read now. (I definitely love any books that are sprinkled with strange and unusual elements, as you probably could have guessed.)


March 18, 2014

Into Veilwood

Hello fellow friends, nerds, and children's lit fans. I thought I'd share a cover of a middle grade urban fantasy that I'm working on that will be based inside Central Park. And there you have it. Hopefully you are on a tropical island somewhere or drinking the largest marshmallow filled cup of hot chocolate. 

March 14, 2014

Bi-Fri Book Look: I Didn't Do My Homework Because… by Davide Cali and illustrated by Benjamin Chaud

So my hubby recently took me on a date. Being that he is wonderful and knows what makes me happy, instead of buying me chocolate covered crickets, or a dozen venus fly traps, he bought me this book: I Didn't Do My Homework Because… written by Davide Cali and illustrated by Benjamin Chaud (published this year by Chronicle Books).

I love this cheeky book. It starts off with a kid weaving tall tales to convince his teacher why he wasn't able to finish his homework. From dueling uncles to a robot on a rampage, the boy has a slew of fantastically absurd excuses that get wackier by the page. But in the end, our irreverent little storyteller finds out that his teacher has read the same excuses from the same book! (Curses!) Accompanied by beautifully detailed and off the wall illustrations, I could see how it could suck any reluctant reader into reading this story all the way to the end.

I fully recommended for anyone who loves a wonderfully silly book or maybe even for someone looking for an entertaining distraction from their homework.

February 14, 2014

Bi-Fri Book Look: Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio and illustrated by Scott Campbell

So growing up I was your typical skinned-knee tree climber. I loved video games, playing football with my guy friends, and digging up fossils (or just really big holes in the back yard). I was not, however, a fan of mushy stuff like love or romance. And I do actually love my kids and husband. Lots. But not in a sappy, eye watering sort of way. More in the punch your friend in the shoulder kind of way. Let's just say that me and Valentine's were never friends. Unless it came wrapped in chocolate that is.

So, since Valentine's and I are not on good terms, you would think that it'd be hard for me to find a children's book that I would even be willing to read, right? Wrong. Fortunately I did. (Albeit a few years ago.) This book, Zombie in Love, written by the wonderfully versatile Kelly DiPucchio, and illustrated by one of my favorite illustrators Scott Campbell is delightful. It was released in the Fall of 2011 by Atheneum, and I hope it stays in print forever.

It's a cute quirky story starring a mopey zombie named Mortimer who is looking for true love. Mortimer tries all his best romantic moves on the ladies, gifting them with a maggoty box of chocolates, a shiny red (still beating?) heart, even a diamond ring (unfortunately, with decomposing finger still attached) all to no avail. But let's be honest here, it's pretty difficult to find the gal of your dreams when you come off as such a stiff. (Yuk yuk.) So Mortimer puts out a personal add: "If you like taking walks in the graveyard/and falling down in the rain. If you're not into cooking,/if you have half a brain./If you like waking up at midnight,/horror films, and voodoo,/then I'm the guy who you've looked for/and I'm dying to meet you!" 

Zombie in Love is so wonderfully wacky. Kelly's story is so strange and charming and the illustrations by Scott that are hilariously deadpan with marvelous little details (Such as Mortimer's sidekicks being little worms in hats that follow him around and his cute little zombie dog). I adore this book. And conversely, I adore anyone who would adore this book. And... it is always good when books can bring me out of my curmudgeonly shell to celebrate the beloved chocolate festival that is Valentine's Day.

Happy Heart Day everybody!

January 30, 2014

Bi-Fri Book Look - Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by KG Campbell

So on Monday Kate DiCamillo won her second Newbery for Flora & Ulysses. She has written so many books that I absolutely ADORE.  Some the books that really delight me are: The Tale of Despereaux,(her first Newbery), Bink and Gollie,and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.(Between you and me and the blogosphere my husband weeps like a baby whenever he reads Edward Tulane.)


Basically DiCamillo is one of my favorite children's authors. Period. But if you were to ask me if I'd like to read a Middle Grade story of a disgruntled girl with a pet squirrel that was part superhero, part poet, I would say,"Yes Please."

 This is a wacky story, with the most bizarre cast of characters. At times this book was laugh out loud funny, and the scenarios were so outlandish. Flying squirrels, lonely squid portraits... It was so wonderfully strange. But Despite all the oddness, this book really had depth that was a bit unexpected, but so very refreshing.

It was a delight to read this book. I totally zipped through it. I wholeheartedly endorse this book. But you needn't listen to me. Listen to the Newbery ;)

January 17, 2014

Bi-Fri Book Look: "We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song" by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

85 years ago Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15th, and next month is black history month, so what better time to talk about children's books that address the Civil Rights Movement than now? 
 I have been reading Douglas Blackmon's "Slavery by Another Name" which is a thoroughly depressing, yet compelling account (using primary sources) of the history of slaves and their descendants, and the "lease" (or sale) of black convicts, post emancipation, to commercial interests. When I was a child I had always assumed that slavery had ended with the Civil War, which was sadly not the case at all. The more I read about the subject, the more I feel that it is really important that we do our part in educating ourselves and our children about the social injustices and the atrocities that have been committed.

I have a 4 year old and a 3 year old, and I've been wondering how I can talk on their level of understanding, about this sordid part of our American History... and still do it justice. We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song was written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (just released last December), and it is a wonderful book. When I sat down and read the book with my daughter for the first time I totally choked up and had a hard time finishing it.
The book talks about the song We Shall Overcome (that you may identify with the 60's Civil Rights Movement) all the way from it's origins in the time of slavery up to modern day, and how the Civil Rights Movement has evolved. 

This song has become a symbol of the fight for equality, and it is a perfect vehicle to help children understand the slow evolution of the rights that the black communities had to fight for. And Debbie Levy writes in such lyrical way that compliments the poetry of the song and Vanessa Brantley-Newton's whimsical, collage style is absolutely beautiful and lively. The writing and illustration compliment each other wonderfully and are so inspired. I am so glad I have this book in our own personal library. This is definitely the type of book for libraries, school teachers, and it's wonderful book to help parents to sit down and talk about civil rights to their children.

Are there any books that you'd recommend for Black History Month? How do you talk to your children about  civil rights and other heavy subjects? 

January 13, 2014

New Years Resolution: Be Awesome to Each Other.

Or something like that.

So it's the New Year (ish) and I'm trying to realign, readjust, and re inspire myself to accomplish the things that I want/need to accomplish. It must be said that it's been tricky being that we've moved 3 times in the last 3 years. Blech. At least we're unpacked. 

So I decided to create my own OGSM. A whatzit you say? An Objective, Goals, Strategies, and Measures list. How in the world does any freelancing mommy get anything done without one, I would like to ask?

With much chagrin I must admit that I've never really had a mission statement before now. I didn't realize that I had been lacking one. So I think I've pinpointed what I really want to do with my freelancing career, that is I want to "Write, illustrate, and publish inspiring, quirky, and heart warming stories with memorable characters that resonate with children and adults. 

I know, I know, tall order, but it must be said that one of the main reasons that I want to be a teeny tiny fish in the massive ocean of Children's Book Publishing is that some of my fondest memories from my childhood come from the books and movies that I've read and seen as a child and the vicarious adventures and friendships I've had because of them. If I see a beautifully crafted children's movie or read inspired children's literature I get all weepy. Hopefully I can write and illustrate stories like the ones that I clung to as a child. Lofty goal yes, but sort of exhilarating too.

If you are a freelancer, what is your mission statement? If you are a lover of children's literature and cinema, what really got you excited as a child?

Regardless, I hope your holidays were filled to the gills with deliciousness and that your New Years is filled to the brim with sit ups ;)

November 15, 2013

Friends, Romans, Good Ole' Boys... Lend me your patience.

Being the bohemians that we are, we are moving AGAIN. Blerg. My brushes are packed away (Boo!) and life is being temporarily being put on hold. So that means you too blog. Sorry dear friend. And being that "it's the most [busy] time of the year" with all the holiday having and delightful food splurging going on, it may be about a month or so before I return. (Sadsville.)

So I wish you well in your family gathering, calorie consuming month and a half. I meanwhile will be listening audiobooks and podcasts while loading all of our prize possessions into cardboard boxes.

'Till we meet again friends.

October 18, 2013

Bi-Fri Book Look: The Pumpkin Giant by Mary E. Wilkins, Retold by Ellin Greene and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

I LOVE THE FALL. Seriously. Sweaters, hot chocolate, family holidays...  Since I've been feeling so nostalgic, I thought I'd share a treasured book from my early early childhood.

The Pumpkin Giant is a product of the 70s, as you can see the telltale signs of the limited color palette and the sketchbook-like quality. This was usually done to save money and simplify the printing process, but I love the vintage feel. And let's be frank, the more limited your palette is, the more talented an artist you have to be.

What I find interesting is that the protagonists in this story is that the two kids (a princess and a poor boy) are so fat they can't walk on their legs and they have to roll around to get everywhere. Pretty sure that this book is not PC enough to be publishable today. But when do you see a fat person that is a main protagonist in a book or in the movies that isn't either there to laugh at or laugh with? (Think about the movie Frozen that's coming out; two female protagonists, the exact same body frame. Yes they are sisters, but they are also sticks. Just like every other female that is good in children's movies.)

So revisiting this book as my adult self I found that interesting and a bit refreshing.

Also, I have a thing for monsters. Weird monsters. And this fits the bill. (Child-eating pumpkin-headed monsters? I'll take one please.)  I still love the illustrations in an odd way, but the story is peculiar and does a bit of meandering.

I doubt you'd find it in a library, and I wouldn't say it's the most stellar or inspiring children's book, but I loved it. Interestingly enough my 4 year old found it in our personal children's library and she's now a fan too.

What strange or unusual books were you fond of as a kid?

October 4, 2013

How to melt your brain, gain friends, and increase your capacity to be a children's writer and illustrator superhero all in 3 DAYS.

Okay, so it's been two weeks since the SCBWI's midsouth conference. 2 WEEKS!! And I wanted you to let you all know how it went. Awesome. It was awesome. I'm telling you I am an addict to these things. Gain strange, unusual, and talented friends? Yes please. Work on my craft as a writer and illustrator? Forever and ever. Get more tips on how to survive in the Jungle of the children's publishing world? Absolutely.
This conference made my brain so publishing savvy that it grew me a beard!

Here's a few things I learned or relearned at this particular conference (brace yourself):

1. Every page in your dummy picture book needs to have an action in it, whether it's subtle or dramatic.

-Loraine Joyner (Senior Art Director at Peachtree Publishers) 

2. "Never give up. You'll come across something that only you can write."

-Jay Asher (Author of Thirteen Reasons Why)

3. A distinct, authentic, relatable voice is probably the most important element to writing a good children's picture book.

-Lisa Cheng (Editor for Running Press Kids)

4. “This is not the music business, there are not high stakes, we don’t make that much money, and someone already has your idea."

-Micheal Bourett (Agent of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management) in response to a question from the audience asking if we need to worry about others stealing our ideas or stories.

5. “I’ve had your postcard on my bulleton for 1.5 years and have been waiting to hire you."

-An Art Director told Ms. Susan Eaddy (freelance illustrator)

6. It takes chocolate, fastfood, vodka, friends, and an unwanted dog.

-Answers from the artist/writer panelists to the question, "How do you buoy yourself when you are at the bottom of the cycle of despair?"

7. Orient all the pictures in your portfolio the same way.

-Bonnie Bader (Editor & Chief at Grosset & Dunlap) and Loraine Joyner (Senior Art Director At Peachtree Publishers)

8. "A wrong agent is worse than no agent."

-Micheal Bourett (Agent of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management)

9. "Please do not info dump."

-Lisa Cheng (Editor for Running Press Kids) on telling your audience too much when introducing a new character.

10. Be consistent  when you send out your mailers.

-Loraine Joyner (Senior Art Director At Peachtree Publishers) & Lisa Cheng (Editor for Running Press Kids)

11. Read, read , read.

-Jordan Brown (Editor at Walden Pond Press and Balzer + Bray) on what you can do to advance your career

Phew… are you still with me? Well, imagine all that good advice x20. After the conference was over, my head was buzzing about things I needed to do, how to better my craft, which houses better fit my style, and as always I felt the loving support that always happens through my connections at these conferences.

Can't wait for the next one. :)