105 Ways to Give a Book

BEA Today

So, I’m going to BookExpo America in about eight hours. I should be in bed, but I’m too wired. I’m trying to remember all of the things that I’m sure I’m forgetting. Even though I’ve spent a lot of the day getting ready, I feel completely unprepared. For instance, I’m still not sure if the jeans I packed are the good jeans. Should I even be packing jeans? Are dress pants more appropriate? Ack!

Over at Booklights, I talked about some of the authors and illustrators I plan to see at the various signings. I’ll miss Mo (oh, will I ever miss him), but I am aiming for Scott Westerfeld, Katherine Paterson, Jon Scieszka, Rosemary Wells, Suzanne Collins, David Lubar, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Peter McCarty, Sharon Draper, Linda Park, Maureen Johnson, Jon Agee, Peter Reynolds, Barry Lyga, Holly Black, Bruce Lansky, and Jerry Pinkney. Actually, I have even more folks highlighted on my schedule, but we’ll see how it goes.

Now, I’m not listing all those names to make you jealous, but to give you an idea of the possibilities for signed book prizes for the 48 Hour Book Challenge. If you’re jealous, than that’s just a side benefit. Kidding!

I’m also scheduled for a slot at the blogger signing at Booth 4077. I’ll be there at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday signing... something, I guess. For more information on the first official blogger signing, check out this article and the complete schedule. If you’re at BEA, come by and say hello. Or if I come by and say hello, pretend to care. Everyone else not at BEA, wish me luck and good ARCs.

Guest Reviewer(s): Wolverine: Worst Day Ever

FatherReader and KidReader here...

I’m not “KidReader” anymore. It’s TeenReader now.


I said, I’m TeenReader.

Wolverine: Worst Day EverYeah, I heard you, I just... oh, never mind. Anyway, we both just read Barry Lyga’s new book, Wolverine: Worst Day Ever, and thought we’d offer up a joint review. Pam’s idea was that —

Just get on with it, Dad.

Oh, all right. Anyway, we’re both coming at it from different perspectives. I grew up with the Wolverine comics of the ’80s. So I’ve got a lot of preconceptions, based mostly on the Chris Claremont version of the character. (And to a lesser degree, the Bryan Singer/Hugh Jackman movie version.) So one of my concerns going in was whether this book would reinforce my own thoughts about the character or contradict them. Like a lot of comic readers, I like to pick and choose my own favorite tales and ignore those I don’t especially care for. For example, I’m a big fan of the Wolverine and Kitty Pryde and Wolverine miniseries, but never really cared for the Origin storyline. And — though the book does have lots of little nods to X-Men continuity — by not focusing too intently on Wolverine himself, the book allows the reader to apply his or her own interpretation.

Man, Mom warned me you were wordy. For me, I really only know the character from the movies. But I think the book explained things well enough for me to follow along. We learn what we have to about his history — and some of that is important to the story — but we don’t need every little detail. Which is good, since we don’t really care about it all.

So what did you think of the style of the book?

I think it was mostly geared toward kids from nine to twelve, but I still think there was a lot in there for me to enjoy.

But you’re just —

Nope. TeenReader, remember?

Oh, yeah, I keep forgetting. So what did you think about Wolverine not being the main character in the story?

Well, I don’t think a lot of teen girls are going to be all that upset about not having enough Wolverine. (That’s more of a teen boy thing.) But I like how the main character is a kid in Professor Xavier’s school instead, since it gives us a perspective on how other people see Wolverine. It’s also good because we have plenty of other characters we can focus on without feeling overloaded.

I’ve always thought that was one of the problems with the X-Men — it can be tough to follow so many characters at once. But this book focuses on the main character, Eric, and lets the other characters really support his story. What do you think about how the book handled the regular X-Men characters?

I like how they were teachers instead of big heroes. In the movies, we only see bits of them acting as teachers, but here, we see that it’s pretty much a full-time job. Professor X is the principal, and Storm can’t take an eraser to the head.

So speaking as a kid —


Speaking as a teen, and without giving too much away about his particular situation, did you feel that you could empathize with Eric’s plight?

Well, I’m not a loser like he is.

Um... okay. (Sorry, I just had a horrible flashback to my own high school years.) But did you feel like you could identify with his situation?

Well, the blog format helped. It gave a real reason for him to share his opinions, and spaced out events well. It seemed better than just a straight novel or a regular “diary.” And it did make it feel a little more current.

So blogs aren’t just for old people?

No. Well, not yet. Approaching that, maybe.

So — again, without giving too much away — do you think Eric’s superpower reflected his own insecurities? If we look at the X-Men stories as a metaphor for teen isolation, does Worst Day Ever express that well?

So exactly how am I supposed to answer that without giving away his superpower?

Do your best.

And really, “teen isolation”?

Work with me.

So you’re saying that the X-Men’s powers are supposed to be a metaphor for teens feeling like nobody understands what they’re going through? That their abilities are a reflection of their own personal issues?

That’s the basic idea. You can extend the metaphor to other contemporary issues, like Bryan Singer did with the movies, where he used mutant powers as an analogy for —

Yeah, I get it. Looking at it that way, yeah, the book does a good job of doing that.

Any final thoughts?

Can I say something about Wolverine singing?

Sure. So why was that significant?

It wasn’t. It was just funny.

Funny because of Hugh Jackman’s history as a —

Don’t overexplain it, Dad.

MotherReader here to let you know that Barry Lyga will be signing Wolverine: Worst Day Ever at Book Expo America this Saturday at 2:00. Also, he’s given a copy as a prize for the 48 Hour Book Challenge!

I’ll miss his signing time, because I’ll be going to the Book Bloggers discussion, but I’ll make sure to see him at BEA because he’s awesome. I actually have my own signing time at a bloggers’ booth — 4077 — on Sunday at 11:00. I’m not sure that anyone will come by to meet MotherReader or talk about KidLitosphere Central, but fortunately I’m sharing the time with other kidlitter Sheila Ruth from Wands and Worlds and the Cybils, so we’ll have fun catching up. We'd love for some folks to visit, so stop by and say hello.

Free Book Winner

The winner of the book Abigail Spells from the Anna Alter blog tour is...

Boni Ashburn!

Follow the rest of Anna’s blog tour for more chances to win!

Two Weeks of Featured Prizes

For the next two weeks I’ll be talking about the books and other prizes that will be given away during the 48 Hour Book Challenge. Right now I have almost one hundred comments on that post, but not all of them are sign-ups. It’s certainly not too late to put your name in, and it would be very cool to get to a hundred participants. Just sayin’.

Yesterday, I featured an interview with Anna Alter about her book Abigail Spells, and she is offering both a book now (enter for a random drawing in the comments) and later (as part of a winning 48HBC Prize Package.)

Today, I’m featuring a blogger at Saints and Spinners who has found a new artistic calling along with her storytelling. She is making these adorable dolls, and has contributed a Galadriel Fuchsia doll for the winner of the 48HBC. But you don’t have to read until you drop to get one, because you can visit Alkelda’s Etsy Store to buy your favorite or place an order. Along with the flower dolls, there are little caped nature children and more complex dolls. So sweet!

Abigail Spells Blog Tour

Today, Anna Alter kicks off the blog tour for Abigail Spells against the backdrop of National Spelling Week. And to celebrate, she’s giving away free copies of the book! See the end of this post for details on how to win a book with just one word.

In this sweet picture book, Abigail loves to spell any word she hears. Of course, she’ll be a natural for the spelling contest at school. Or will she? I really enjoyed the book, which is a story of friendship and obstacles. That said, I couldn’t be Abigail’s friend, because when people spell things to me, I can’t understand them. If another mom would spell something over the heads of our children, I wouldn’t know if we were talking about a couple that split up over an affair or airfare.

Now, I’ve been watching the artistic process of Abigail Spells from the very beginning through the posts at Blue Rose Girls. I saw the first jacket sketches and followed along as the jacket art developed and finalized. I never thought about how many steps were involved in the artwork of a picture book. I’ve included the illustrations here so you can see for yourself, though follow the links above for the complete description of the process.

Abigail SpellsWhen did you start writing and illustrating?

I’ve been making up stories and drawing illustrations to go with them as long as I can remember. I come from a very creative family, so my childhood was full of art-making and good books. Basically I always knew I wanted to be an artist. When it was time to go to college I applied to art school, and was lucky enough to find my way to the Rhode Island School of Design. There I was able to immerse myself in the study of illustration and begin to put together a portfolio.

When I got out of school I knew that making children’s books was what I wanted to do, but sadly didn’t have a clue how to get there. Once again I got lucky and found a job at Houghton Mifflin Company, assisting the Art Director in the children’s book department. Working on other people’s books was a great education and really helped me understand how the whole process of getting published works. I got to see the art samples sent in by illustrators (this is how I reconnected with former classmates and fellow Blue Rose Girls Grace Lin and Linda Wingerter — they submitted their cards to Houghton), and witness the whole editorial, design, and production process in action.

My career as an author/illustrator began in 1999, when I finally got up the courage to begin submitting my book ideas to publishers and got my first contracts. It was a dream come true. Sometimes I still can’t believe it ever really happened!

Abigail SpellsWho inspires you personally and/or professionally?

I am inspired a lot by experiences and memories from childhood, the kids I taught when I was a preschool teacher, and the work of other artists I admire. Whenever I get stumped and need some inspiration, I pick up a favorite childhood book or look at some artwork I love to get excited about creating again. If I need to draw on a memory, I conjure a strong childhood emotion I want to express. I focus on it until I can start to wrap a story around it. I want to make books that move people, that make them feel more connected to each other, and that offer a new way to look at the world. The best way for me to do that is to delve into experiences I feel strongly about and to seek out other people’s work that do the same thing.

Abigail SpellsWhere do you do your best thinking?

While I’m drawing. If I sit in front of my computer and try to come up with an idea I am sure to sit forever. If I sketch and draw and let my mind wander new ideas inevitably pop up and grab my attention.

How are your own experiences reflected in Abigail Spells?

While I am not nearly the speller that Abigail is, I do relate to her in another way — as a kid I was terrified of standing in front of an audience. When I created Abigail, I wanted to make a character that reflected my childhood experience of stage fright and the disappointment that followed. I think it’s a feeling a lot of kids can relate to. Everyone has had a great disappointment at one time or another, and I think it is an important thing to put into context.

Abigail SpellsWhy did you need to write this book?

I wanted to make a book that, as I mentioned above, gives kids a place to put their feelings of stage fright or disappointment into perspective, and reinforces the idea that winning isn’t everything. Far more kids lose contests like spelling bees than win them, and I think kids need to know how to interpret those kind of experiences, how to learn from them. Abigail Spells is a book about spelling, but it is also a book about friendship and overcoming obstacles.

What’s next for you?

I am working on a new book right now, called Disappearing Desmond. Like Abigail, it’s a book that reflects my experiences as a shy kid. Desmond doesn’t like to be noticed, so he spends most of his time finding elaborate ways to hide and blend into the background. His story is about how he overcomes his shyness, makes a friend, and learns how great it can be to feel noticed.

Abigail SpellsTo win a copy of the book Abigail Spells, comment in today’s post with one word that gives you spelling grief. For me, it’s familar familiar. I’ll pick a commenter (or two) at random to send a free book. For more on Anna and her book, visit her website or her new blog, Painting Bunnies, or the book site at Abigail Spells. The blog tour continues:

How American Idol Is Like the Newbery Medal

The last few days the media has been buzzing with the news that American Idol got it wrong in picking Kris Allen over Adam Lambert. Many have gone so far to say that the voters deliberately ditched a contestant who is probably gay. Other sites have lamented that the singing competition didn’t award the best singer and that America must be off its rocker to pass up the flamboyant, super-talented vocalist Adam for the subdued, guitar/piano-playing singer Kris.

But I have a perspective from an unlikely source: The Newbery Medal.

What I’ve learned from the Newbery is that edgy is a long shot. It might make the honors list, but won’t take home the gold. The Newbery is so dry as a contest that sometimes we have to make up controversy to relieve the boredom. Thus we get Scrotum-gate of 2007.

There are basically two reasons that the Newbery and American Idol will not go for edgy. The first is in the structure of the organizations. The Newbery Medal “honors the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” It’s that distinguished that throws it all off. Because while the mission statement may be using the definition “made conspicuous by excellence,” it’s hard to separate the word from the other definition, “having an air of distinction, dignity, or eminence.” Excellence. Dignity. Tough to fit edgy in there.

American Idol is murkier in that its goal is to find the next American Idol. So to see what that means we have to look to the show and how it defines itself. AI doesn’t say it’s against rock or hip-hop or bluegrass. But through the series of competitions they make the choices pop songs. They bring out Tony Bennett to mentor the contestants. They write the cheesiest ballad for the last two standing. It becomes clear that they are looking for a pop star, preferredly one that addresses the key teen demographic. When the judges remind listeners — often — that “this is a singing competition,” we start to forget that it is an American Idol-branded singing competition. If we are talking vocal powers, then why did we rule out all those opera singers in those early, brutal rounds?

The second reason the Newbery and American Idol can’t go edgy is that both decisions are left up to a group. In American Idol’s case, a very large group offering almost 100,000,000 votes in the finale. In groups, the unique often get love-it-or-hate-it attention, leaving more subdued offerings to make it through as being acceptable to everyone.

Now, the good thing that both the Newbery Medal and American Idol have in common is that the winner doesn’t really matter. I mean, it does — but it doesn’t. The Newbery Honor books get silver medals and the authors get that extra boost for their careers. The American Idol finalists get record contracts from producers who have been waiting to pick them off, and the show has given them a starting fan base. Once you get down to the last four or five, no one really loses. In fact, one might say that the trickiest place to be is as the American Idol winner, now stuck in the American Idol contract and obligations for a long time.

This year both the Newbery Medal and American Idol got it right. The gold sticker went to The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, allowing us to stick out our collective librarian tongues at the media impression that the Newbery couldn’t pick a popular book. So there. American Idol got mild-mannered and multi-talented Kris, who will fit nicely into the American Idol mold and perhaps even benefit from its control. Adam Lambert can leave his American Idol shackles behind and be the artist and person he wants to be, while bringing along a huge fan base from the show. In both cases, we moved further along the path to acceptance of different, unexpected, edgy.

In any case, we can all get along and find our common ground... in bashing the Miss America Pageant.

Booklights, Blog Blast, and Crossover

Over at Booklights I’m reviewing the Cybils winners for Fiction Picture Books, Nonfiction Picture Books, and Easy Readers. Stop by and lend your own comments to support these marvelous titles. (Don’t know what they are? All the more reason to head to Booklights!)

Today’s Summer Blog Blast Tour continues with:
Kelly’s back! She’s got a new blog with a wonderful concept. Crossover: Books That Know No Boundaries will cover titles that go from adult to teen or teen to adult, with occasional forays into middle-grade books that make the smooth move. It looks like she may be slowly closing down Big A, little a for this new venture, but I think that the new blog fills a real gap in the KidLitosphere. Of course, just having Kelly back fills a gap in the KidLitosphere community — and in my heart. (Awwwww!)

Summer Blog Blast Tour: Barbara O’Connor

My biggest pet peeve in books about small towns or country folk is the tendency for authors to make everyone quirky. The old man who collects shoelaces. The bald hairdresser with fourteen ferrets. The postman who only sings opera. Maybe it annoys me so much because I grew up in a small town, and strange people would have been a welcome relief from the sameness of everything.

So one thing I love about Barbara O’Connor’s writing is that she creates characters with personality and depth, but doesn’t lean on the quirkiness crutch. She often focuses on the kids and adults living on the edge, struggling with poverty, isolation, or family. But the struggles never become a one-note chord, instead deepening the humanity of the writing. The other thing I love about her books is that she doesn’t take the easy out with her endings. The girl doesn’t win the contest. The boy does lose his grandmother. There’s no magic that makes everything perfect, but there is satisfaction in the realism.

Her last book, Greetings from Nowhere, is collecting honors across the United States — as well it should. It’s a brilliant book where the lives of four very different people intersect and change when they all stay at the same motel in the Smokey Mountains. Her newest book comes out in September. It’s set in the small southern town of Fayette, South Carolina, where Popeye finds everything boring. From the jacket flap:
But things start to look up when the Jewells’ Holiday Rambler makes a wrong turn and gets stuck in the mud, trapping Elvis and his five rowdy siblings in Fayette for who knows how long. Popeye has never met anyone like Elvis Jewell. He’s so good at swearing he makes Uncle Dooley look like a harp-strumming angel, and he says “So what?” like he really means it. Then an adventure comes floating down the creek — a small adventure, just the right size for a kid like Popeye — and it all seems too good to be true.
The Small Adventure of Popeye and ElvisHow does your newest book, The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis, reflect your own life experiences?

There are several key story elements that mesh with my own life. The story revolves around two boys playing in a creek. When I was a child, I loved playing in a creek near my home. I would spend hours catching crawfish and minnows and building dams.

Another important part of the story is a motor home (it becomes stuck in the dirt road in front of the main character’s house). There is a funky RV/trailer park near my home that I walk through often because it is on the ocean and has an amazing view. I love looking at all the trailers and seeing the hubbub of activity there in the summers. I love imagining what it would be like to live in one, particularly a family with a lot of rowdy kids — so I took that imagining and put it in a book.

But the best “life experience” that is reflected in the book is a little boat made out of a Yoo-hoo chocolate drink carton. When the story was first simmering in my head, I only had a very hazy idea of two boys playing in a creek. At the time, I envisioned that they were making little boats and sending them down the creek. Then I realized it would be much more interesting if they found boats floating down the creek. But I envisioned the boats as being made out of bark or something. Then I read a blog post by fellow writer Tamra Wight (The Three Grumpies) in which she posted a picture of a fabulous little boat that her son had made out of a Yoo-hoo carton. Eureka! That was it! So I emailed her to ask her if I could steal that great idea and she (and her son) said yes. (He even taught me how to make the boats — starting out with “First I put the straw in and drank it.”)

Why did you need to write this particular book?

I do a lot of school visits. During the last couple of years in particular, I’ve been much more aware of real kids reading real books. I guess that sounds kind of crazy — but I think sometimes when we sit at home in our adult bubble worlds, we forget about the fact that our books are (hopefully) read by real-life children. I also think it’s easy to lose your focus and think more about how adults are going to respond to your work: reviewers, librarians, teachers, parents, etc. (which is understandable, since those are the folks who are the first “entrance” into the world for us — the ones who review the books, buy the books and promote them to children).

So I’ve been feeling more and more like I want to write books with lots of kid appeal, which I think The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis has. I also wanted to write a book that would appeal to boys as well as girls.

When did you start writing?

I started dabbling in writing for children almost thirty years ago. (Yikes!) I was living in Los Angeles and took a class in writing for children at UCLA. Then I attended the national SCBWI conference out there — as a total newbie. I really got the bug and pursued it more seriously, starting with a magazine story, then a terrible novel, then a slightly better but still rejected novel, then biographies (which is where I got my start in children’s publishing).

Who inspires you personally or professionally?

I won the publishing lottery when I sold my first novel (and now, all of my novels) to Frances Foster, my editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. She is a brilliant editor and inspires me on so many levels. She totally gets and respects the creative process. She’s able to help me see my own vision of my work and knows how to ask questions that make me think about my work on deeper levels. She doesn’t let me get away with “surface” stuff — and she encourages me to write freely and not censor myself. In his book Minders of Make-Believe, Leonard Marcus describes Frances as “quietly effective.” I think that’s a perfect description.

My agent, Barbara Markowitz, also inspires me by having total, 100% faith in me. We all need someone who believes in us — and Barbara is that person for me. I adore her for that (and it saves me so much money on therapy).

And last, I am utterly, totally inspired by Cynthia Rylant. I credit her book Missing May with lighting the proverbial light bulb for me with regard to finding my own voice and writing style. I sent her a copy of Me and Rupert Goody years ago, along with a letter telling her how much she inspired me. She wrote me the loveliest note back, which I cherish.

Which part of being an author do you enjoy the most?

I love being able to work at home. I love crawling into the heads of made-up people. I love finding just the right words and putting them together so that they sound lovely or funny or harsh or sad or whatever emotion I’m trying to create. And I absolutely adore children.

How do you balance the demands of the writing life with the demands for online presence and book promotion?

Oh, boy, that’s a good one. Sometimes I wonder if I do balance those things. I do find that the weight shifts, which I guess is natural. I confess to the fact that I don’t really enjoy the promotional side of the business and am not particularly good at it. I confess to sometimes being frustrated by having to do all the other things involved with the business instead of writing — and then having no time to write. But I also know that I have to accept that promotion is a necessary part of a successful writing career.

I still believe, however, that for me, the best thing I can do for my career is to put most of my time into writing my next book. So I do limit how much time I devote to some of the more time-consuming promotion that takes me away from my writing.

The good news is that online promoting is right up my alley. I call it “pajama marketing.” I can stay home in my jammies and get news about my book out into the world! I’ve made so many great connections through online venues, particularly blogging. I can also fit it in with my writing schedule. The downside, as most of us know, is that that big online world can be a huge time suck — one link leads to another, leads to another, leads to another. So I have to muster up more discipline in that regard and set aside focused, uninterrupted, internet-off, writing time.

What’s next for you?

I have another middle grade novel coming out with FSG in the spring of 2010, called The Short, Sad Life of Tooley Graham. I’m excited about this one because I think it, like The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis, has lots of kid appeal and boy appeal. And it was really fun to write.

As a writer, which tools would you say you rely on most to define your own writing style?

Character, for sure. For me, nothing happens until the characters are clearly defined in my head. Often, characters come before any storyline is in place at all. I love characters who are unique (without relying on the stereotypical “quirky”), while still being realistic and human. I like for my characters to behave the way we all do — i.e., making mistakes once in a while. I like to give them lots of heart, showing a range of human emotions, such as sadness, jealousy, joy, anger, etc. I also work hard to make them each distinct from one another. That was my biggest challenge when writing the multiple-viewpoint story of Greetings from Nowhere — giving each of those four characters a unique personality and identity.

Setting comes next. I grew up in the South, so that is not only the setting I know best, but it’s the setting I love the most. Setting also helps define character. I rely heavily on my ear for Southern dialogue and dialect and try to toss in lots of Southern details, like magnolias and boiled peanuts and sweet tea (without overdoing it, hopefully). As a child, I spent a lot of time in the Smoky Mountains, which is my heart’s home, for sure. I set my second novel there (Me and Rupert Goody). Then I went back there in Greetings from Nowhere, a book in which the setting (the Sleepy Time Motel) becomes almost like a secondary character. The mountains were such an important part of that story... I can’t imagine it being set anywhere else.

The last tool I’d say that I enjoy drawing on to define my work is that I like to leave the bow that wraps the package very loosely tied. In other words, I like to end my stories realistically (i.e., what probably would have happened instead of what the reader might want to happen) and sometimes a bit open-ended (i.e., the reader can bring his or her own imagination to the ending and think about where the story goes from there). I think this comes mainly from strong identity with my characters, so that I let them take me where their story is heading rather than me, the writer, manipulating the story, if that makes sense. (Sounds a little cosmic, I know...)

I often have students in schools ask me, “What happened to so-and-so after the story ended?” I love that question — because then I can come back to them and say, “What do YOU think happened to so-and-so after the story ended?” The never-ending story. Ha!

Thanks to Barbara for stopping by MotherReader. The rest of the Summer Blog Blast Tour continues with...

Second Day of Summer Blog Blast Tour

Ah, I feel like a person again. It takes me a whole day to recover from one of those camping trips. I realized today that it’s not just the lost sleep, but that it takes time to shake off the stress off being in charge. Being a supremely unorganized person, the lead-up to these Girl Scout Encampments is torture. Packing for me, my two daughters, and the troop — remembering the forms, maps, special activities, and supplies — is exhausting. Once we’re there, I have a great time and I’m laid back about whatever happens. Someone falls in the river? Huge spider inside the tent? Inadvertently inviting a large and somewhat odd troop to join our campfire? Hey, teens can change clothes, spiders can be swept out, and prankster girls who decide to scream “Vampire!” at a passing troop learn their lesson when that troop thinks that they yelled “Campfire!” and comes to join them. We all had a good time in spite of the rain, but it was good to see flush toilets again. Really good.

Now, I didn’t get back to the Summer Blog Blast Tour yesterday, so today I’ve got both schedules. Looks like I’ve got a lot of interview reading to do today.

Monday’s SBBT Schedule:
Today’s SBBT Schedule:
Tomorrow I’ll have my interview with Barbara O’Connor. At least one of my questions was close to that Chris Farley sketch: “You know how you write these amazing books about small towns without giving the characters all these bizarre traits and you make your endings so real and satisfying at the same time? That’s awesome.”

Summer Blog Blast Tour Kicks Off

I have to do a ridiculously abridged post because I need to be at work shortly, and yet cannot shirk my posting responsibility entirely. So...

From my Facebook update, I can let you know that I survived the camping trip. No rain the first evening and night. One thunderstorm the second afternoon, then rain the second evening and overnight. So, I’m seeing the rain gauge as half full.

From the Summer Blog Blast Tour, I can tell you that it starts today with many great author at many great blogs that I don’t have the time to list and code for you. In the meantime, I’ll point you to the master of ceremonies, Chasing Ray with the full schedule.

From the 48 Hour Book Challenge, sign-ups are going great and will continue up to the last minute... because “Last Minute” is my middle name. (Which makes filling out official forms a real bitch.)

And last minute is exactly how I’m leaving for work now.

Poetry Friday: “The Rain”

Today I’m taking my Girl Scout troop camping. The trip has been arranged for months. And it looks like rain. I had thought that we were in the clear because the extended forecast had looked promising. Plus after the solid week of rain we just had, I couldn’t imagine that there was any moisture left in the sky. Perhaps that less-than-scientific analysis wasn’t much to go on, but I had to have hope.

So for Poetry Friday I wanted a poem about the rain and my feelings, but I couldn’t find a poem called “F****** Rain.” In fact, it turns out that poems about stormy weather either focus on the glory of nature or the gloominess of life. Given the two options, I’m going for the glory.
The Rain
by William Henry Davies

I hear leaves drinking rain;
I hear rich leaves on top
Giving the poor beneath
Drop after drop;
’Tis a sweet noise to hear
These green leaves drinking near.

And when the Sun comes out,
After this Rain shall stop,
A wondrous Light will fill
Each dark, round drop;
I hope the Sun shines bright;
’Twill be a lovely sight.
Yes indeed, if the Sun shines bright, it will be a lovely sight. Wish me luck — and dry weather. Kelly Polark has the Poetry Friday roundup.

Booklights Post and General Complaining

Today I have a Thursday Three post over at Booklights with some of my new — or newish — favorite picture books about cats. Take a look, add a book.

Fuse#8 finished the countdown of the Top Picture Books with no big surprises, but amazing commentary. Props to her for this extraordinary undertaking. I am in awe. She’s also setting up the Kid Lit Drink Night for Friday, May 29th, to accommodate folks coming to Book Expo America. Hey, that’s me! I’ll be there and hope to see some of you.

With book news done, you may want to leave now for Booklights or Fuse#8, because I’m about to complain about my day for no other reason than that I can.

So I wake up to hammering and realize that I’ll be enjoying that lovely sound all day because the church behind our house is getting extensive roof repairs. That’s going to help the headache I’ve already got going. Before I get out of bed, I can already feel the rain in the air. I’m most grateful, because with all of the rain we’ve had lately, there are still parts of our lawn not covered with mushrooms.

As I leave the bedroom, I see a series of trails familiar to pet owners. Because sometimes those cute little furry friends of ours have trouble getting... um, stuff off their precious bottoms, and to them carpet is like pet Charmin.

The kitchen is a mess, which is mostly my fault for completely ignoring it last night after getting home from work where I was shelving books because we didn’t have any pages. My dull headache seems to indicate strong barometric pressure changes, which is confirmed when I see that the weekend weather forecast is pictured with rain clouds. So the three days that I’ll be camping with the Girl Scouts are looking kind of dreary. Can’t wait for that fire building challenge!

Now, here I am at noon, typing on TextEdit because I can’t get Blogger to load. And that’s after I’ve struggled with the computer all morning to Do Things Faster. I still have two dozen things to get ready for the camping trip, which now includes buying quality rain gear and Advil.

Oh, and carpet cleaner. I’m going to need that now.

Here’s hoping for a better afternoon, because it’s too early to start drinking.

Fourth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge Prize Update

48 Hour Book ChallengeThe sign-ups for the 48 Hour Book Challenge are going splendidly, but we can always have more. I thought knowing some of the prizes in the mix might tip the balance for those still deciding if they want to spend the weekend of June 5th reading and blogging. (Who wouldn’t?) So the person who spends the most time reading and blogging will win an trophy in the form of a Jefferson Cup donated by Reading Is Fundamental. The winner will also receive an original sketch from...

Jeff Kinney! Yes, that Jeff Kinney.

I know. I’m excited too. His people confirmed it. I don’t have people... but I do have some great contributors to the prize bonanza for the 48 Hour Book Challenge. The grand prize winner will also receive an assortment of signed books, jewelry, T-shirts from Threadless, and more. I’ll also be able to award second and third place prize packages, too. And there will be some prize winners drawn at random from among all the participants to win personalized, signed books.

The prize books so far include, Trading Faces, by Julia DeVillers and Jennifer Roy; Abigail Spells, by Anna Alter; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin; Cold Hands, Warm Heart, by Jill Wolfson; Magickeepers: The Eternal Hourglass, by Erica Kirov; The Summer I Turned Pretty, by Jenny Han, and The Art of Reading, by RIF.

I’m planning on going to Book Expo America — just worked out the plans today — so I’ll pick up some other books there for sure. If you have a book or something else that you’d like to donate, please email me at motherreader AT gmail DOT com.

There are three changes to the challenge this year. The first I have already mentioned, and that is connecting your personal readathon to a Greater Good. I plan to donate $1 per hour to the fund for Bridget Zinn and welcome others to sponsor me. You can contribute to this cause as well, or to something else that moves you. You can base it on sponsors, comments, or something else entirely. You can also choose not to participate in this aspect of the 48 Hour Book Challenge, but I heard from lots of people last year who wanted this option and I like the concept.

The other two changes are new. Because we are bringing in more adult book bloggers, I’m taking out the prize that is specifically for the most books read and replacing it with offering second and third prizes for the most hours spent reading and blogging. It probably doesn’t make a difference anyway, because the people with the most time have always had the most books. However, I want people to be able to read longer adult books without worrying about the title tally.

I’m also allowing blog-reading hours to be included in the total hours. Let’s say, a half an hour of blog reading for every five hours of reading/reviewing. This change is to allow participants in the challenge to spend more time seeing what other people are reading, and to allow us to cheer each other on.

Thanks to all of the authors and bloggers who have donated prizes. I couldn’t do this without you. (Remember, email me at motherreader AT gmail DOT com if you have something you’d like to donate.) Also thanks go out to all the bloggers who have been getting the 48HBC out there on their blogs and Twitter feeds. I can tell from Statcounter that lots of people have been coming from other sites just to sign up. This is such a great community and knowing that is what keeps me going when those Bloggin’ Blues strike.

ABC Storytime: S is for...

I was all excited that I had an S storytime in my files, but as I looked it over, I found that it was very specific to February, with snowflakes and groundhogs’ shadows. Well, shucks. I’ll give you some favorites, and as always, I welcome your storytime suggestions.

The Letter S

Book: Some Smug Slug, by Pamela Duncan Edwards

Rhyme: “Squirrels”
Wisky, frisky, hippity, hop
Up he climbs to the tree top.
Whirly, twirly, round and round
Down he scampers to the ground.
Where’s his supper? In a shell
Snappy, cracky, out it fell.
Book: Scaredy Squirrel or Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend, by Melanie Watt

Book: Silly Sally, by Audrey Wood

Song: “Shake My Sillies Out”
I’m going to shake, shake, shake my sillies out.
Shake, shake, shake my sillies out.
Shake, shake, shake my sillies out.
And wiggle my waggles away.

I’m going to clap, clap, clap my crazies out.
Clap, clap, clap my crazies out.
Clap, clap, clap my crazies out.
And wiggle my waggles away.
Book: Russell the Sheep, by Rob Scotton

Song: “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep”
Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.

One for the master,
One for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane.
Book: Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie, by Norton Juster

“Please Forward” Online

Chain Mail InternationalLast night’s movie screening of “Please Forward” was fantastic! The audience loved the film, laughing in all the right places and giving us a ton of applause. We were last on the schedule, which was an honor in and of itself. A lot of the cast and crew come out with their friends and family to see the movie. I was late getting there because I was ironing on the transfers for the T-shirts, but it did mean that we could all wear them when the screening finished. Bill got the most comments on the film, especially since he addressed the audience with the other directors, but everyone who was wearing the T-shirt heard something great. We ran out of time to make flyers directing people to the Chain Mail International company website, where you can see a preview of the film and read the (fake) corporate history. I guess that venture will be just for us and our online friends.

Anyway, the important news today is that now the whole movie is up at Tohubohu Productions. Both of my kids have roles, and I’m in it as an employee at the company party. And as I’ve mentioned, the script was written by our own Robin Brande. Take the eight minutes to watch it and remember that we wrote, filmed, edited, and scored it in one weekend. Booyah!

Movie Time!

I’m so excited about our movie screening tonight for “Please Forward.” We have a lot of the cast and crew turning out to cheer and socialize. We even have T-shirts! The shirt design is the corporate logo of Chain Mail International, the business featured in the film. Bill even made the company website, where you can see a preview of the film and read the corporate history. The whole movie will go up this evening or tomorrow either there or at Tohubohu Productions. Both of my kids have roles, and I’m in it as an employee at the company party. Can you find me?
Chain Mail International

Dropping the Ball

Yes, this is my week of Dropping the Ball. Here are some highlights:

Okay, I forgot to mention this important thing during my interview yesterday. As part of the Chicken Butt! Blog Tour, Erica is giving away copies of the book. To be part of the prize drawings, visit any of the blogs on the tour and then comment at Erica’s blog, Chicken Feed. (While you’re there, don’t miss the cute book trailer.) At the end of the blog tour, Erica will draw some names of lucky winners. Head over with a comment and tell her MotherReader sent you.

As Fuse#8 has been counting down the Top Picture Books, I keep thinking, “I’ve got to mention that again.” But apparently thinking it does not spontaneously generate a blog post about it. Who knew? So, Fusie is working her way through the top ten now and I’m all a-tingle. I didn’t submit my official top ten guesses, because I’ve been way off base so far, but I’m crossing my fingers that Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! is number one. Could happen.

I’ve got my announcement for the 48 Hour Book Challenge up there, and haven’t been able to thank the many folks who have been passing on the information on their blogs and on Twitter. I really do appreciate it. Now, ahem — SIGN UP, PEOPLE! Thank you.

Huge, huge ball-dropping over the film weekend for “Please Forward.” Though I thought we had cleaned up after our office building shoot, it wasn’t enough, and we received a stern wag of the finger. I do know that I tried hard to put things back in order, but I also can see mistakes I made in my assumptions of what the building cleaning crew would touch up. Since I was the producer on this film, it was ultimately my responsibility and I feel awful. Sigh.

On a positive note, I have a new post over at Booklights with my favorite funny chapter books. Take a look and comment on some of your own funny favorites. I’m wondering if putting Junie B. Jones on the list is going to spark some controversy from the Parents Against Junie B. We’ll see. Actually, even with Booklights I dropped the ball and forgot to include Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Jeff Kinney is going to kill me.

On top of this, I haven’t figured out my Book Expo America plans, my 48 HBC prizes, my daughter’s birthday party (when her birthday was three weeks ago), or the logistics of my Girl Scout camping trip next weekend. I don’t know how people manage to keep track of everything and do it well. Is there some kind of salve I can buy? You know, like HeadOn! (Apply directly to the forehead.)

Chicken Butt! Blog Tour

Chicken Butt!Everyone knows that you can give a preschooler the giggles with one simple word: Butt. Now Erica Perl has tapped that toddler tendency with a funny picture book sure to be a hit at homes and libraries, Chicken Butt! She’s been touring the blogs and stopped by to answer a few questions.

Chicken Butt is a title that’s sure to get some attention. What were your thoughts in putting the “B” word — I mean the other “B” word — front and center?

There was a time when we went back and forth on it. I think we actively considered calling the book “YOU KNOW WHAT?” and keeping the “b” word inside the cover. But that just seemed to defeat the purpose, which was to have 3–6 year olds spotting it, sight-reading the title (or having it read to them) and dissolving into giggles. Ultimately, we decided that since “butt” is a favorite word for kids (and many adults), why not put The Word front and center. The title also helps purchasers know what they are getting… if they’re not comfortable with the “b” word, good to know what’s in store with this book from the get-go.

There isn’t a lot of text to shape the ideas for the illustrations, so how did you work with Henry Cole to share your vision of the book?

I wrote the entire book in dialog between two voices, but it did not occur to me that the illustrations might depict people. I knew there’d be a chicken and I figured the voices would be offstage. However, since they were clearly the voices of a mischievous child and a long-suffering parent, I was pleased that Henry chose to depict them (and did such a great job… the eyebrows alone are priceless). I also loved the idea of chicken-as-alter-ego… when Dad sends his son to Time Out, the chicken ends up sitting and pouting, while the boy is already up and trying out his next joke.

Chicken Butt!If you’ve taken the book out for some readings, what have been the kids’ reactions to Chicken Butt?

It has been a huge crowd-pleaser. I usually invite kids to help me read it, en masse, which they looooove. I’ve been particularly pleased by the warm reaction from librarians and teachers, who see it as a fun read-aloud with rhymes and interaction rather than a “get-’em-all-riled-up” situation.

Why did you want to write this book?

I really wanted to depict what I call “the familiar face-off between a child’s exuberance and a parent’s exhaustion.” In other words, I try very hard to be a fun and engaging parent, but there are times when I hit my limit. My kids have an amazing capacity to keep goofing long after I’ve attempted to shut them down… which is a very common scenario, I think, but one you rarely see in books. I also wanted to do what I try to do in all my books: write stories that will appeal to kids and parents.

[Lightning round through the other “Ws.”]

When did you start writing?

As soon as I could grip a crayon, I guess. I’m a life-long writer. I’ve done a lot of other things along the way, but I can’t seem to stop writing.

Where do you do your best thinking?

While running when I forget my iPod!

Who inspires you personally and/or professionally?

Personally — my aunt, Emily Perl Kingsley, who writes for Sesame Street, is a disability rights advocate, and is the most openhearted person you’ll ever meet. Professionally (in addition to Aunt Em, whose Sesame Street work is sublime), I’m in awe of Dav Pilkey, Beverly Cleary, Paul Zindel, Mini Grey and many, many others. Authors who can write humor and get the details so right have me bowled over.

How do you balance your writing and family life?

I don’t answer the phone during family dinner and I don’t get nearly as much sleep as I like. That may not be balance, but when it comes close, I’m happy.

What’s next for you?

My next book is my first YA novel, Vintage Veronica, which is coming out in Spring 2010 from Knopf. I also have Dotty, a new picture book illustrated by Julia Denos, coming out in 2010 from Abrams. I’m really excited about both of them, even though neither book has a chicken.

Visit the rest of the Chicken Butt! Blog Tour:

5/4 — Maw Books Blog; 5/5 — Tales from the Rushmore Kid; 5/6 — here; 5/7 — A Pen and a Nest; 5/8 — Hen Blog; 5/11 — Fuse#8; 5/12 — Write for a Reader; and 5/13 — Chicken Spaghetti.

The Fourth Annual 48 Hour Book Challenge

48 Hour Book ChallengeIt’s that time of year. I’m setting the date for the 48 Hour Book Challenge — that special contest that allows you to read and blog guilt-free for as long as you can stand it! I’m avoiding ALA and Father’s Day weekends and going with June 5–7, 2009, with the check-in day on Monday, June 8th.

Here are the basic guidelines:
  1. The weekend is June 5–7, 2009. Read and blog for any 48-hour period within the Friday-to-Monday-morning window. Start no sooner than 7:00 a.m. on Friday the fifth and end no later than 7:00 a.m. Monday. So, go from 7:00 p.m. Friday to 7:00 p.m. on Sunday... or maybe 7:00 a.m. Saturday to 7:00 a.m. Monday works better for you. But the 48 hours do need to be in a row. Edited to add: But during that 48-hour period you may still have gaps of time in which you can’t read, and that’s fine. In the middle of the three different challenge weekends I’ve had to go to work, attend a ballet recital, and drive for a Girl Scout event. You can certainly work around the other events in your weekend.

  2. The books should be about fifth-grade level and up. Adult books are fine, especially if any adult book bloggers want to play. If you are generally a picture book blogger, consider this a good time to get caught up on all those wonderful books you’ve been hearing about. Two graphic novels can be included in the reading. I’m not trying to discriminate, I’m just trying to make sure that the number of books and page counts mean the same thing to everyone.

  3. It’s your call as to how much you want to put into it. If you want to skip sleep and showers to do this, go for it. If you want to be a bit more laid back, fine. But you have to put something into it or it’s not a challenge.

  4. The length of the reviews are not an issue. You can write a sentence, paragraph, or a full-length review. The time spend reviewing counts in your total time.

  5. On your blog, state when you are starting the challenge with a specific entry on that day. This makes it easier to track the participants. Write your final summary on Monday, and for one day, we’ll all be on the same page, so to speak.

  6. Your final summary needs to clearly include the number of books read, the approximate hours you spent reading/reviewing, and any other comments you want to make on the experience. It needs to be posted no later than noon on Monday, June 8th.

  7. Sign up in today’s comments. You’re more than welcome to post the challenge on your site. Point them to today’s post to sign up. On Friday, June 5, I’ll have a starting-line post where you can sign in to say you’re officially starting the challenge.
I’ll be looking for donations for prizes for most books read, most hours spent, and most pages read (if it isn’t the same winner as most books read). I will also pick out some “door prizes” randomly from among the participants. Past prizes have included original sketches from Mo Willems and Matthew Holm, signed and sketched books from Adam Rex, loads of signed books, t-shirts from Threadless, artistic blank journals, jewelry, gift cards, and more. Good stuff. If you’d like to contribute to the prizes this year, shoot me an email at motherreader AT gmail DOT com. Edited to add: There's a change to the way prizes are awarded. There will be first, second, and third place winners based on the time spend reading and blogging. Number of books will not be a factor as it discourages bloggers from reading adult books as well as Young Adult books. Specific prizes and rule recap will go up on Thursday, June 4th.

Last year I heard comments from participants about tying the contest into to a Greater Good. I like the idea, and have been thinking about how to do that — especially with the online and silent auction for Bridget Zinn taking place this month. Here’s my thought, and feel free to make suggestions for refining it. If they would like to contribute to a cause — Bridget Zinn’s or another — 48 Hour Book Challenge Participants can choose a dollar amount to donate per hour or per book. They can also take sponsors from friends and bloggers (and blogger friends). I’m thinking that the donations would be on the honor system, where all parties — the 48HBC readers and the donating supporters — send money directly to the fund. Thoughts?

I’ll post the rules again as we get closer, to incorporate suggestions or to answer questions that have come up. So how many books do you think you could read if you devoted a weekend to the task? Ready to find out? Sign up now!!!

“Please Forward”

Please ForwardIt’s fair to say that the idea for Tohubohu’s newest short film, “Please Forward,” came to me in a dream. Seriously.

In the days before the 48 Hour Film Project, Bill and Robin were joking about chain emails and then thinking how that concept would be interesting for the movie. But with our genre and required elements still not established, they didn’t want to go too far down that road. (In the 48 Hour Film Project, you pick your genre out of a hat and there is a required prop, character, and line of dialogue.) However, that night as I slept, I took that germ of a concept, mixed it with The Office, and a parody video, “Flutter.” I dreamed about a mockumentary about a business that starts all of those obnoxious chain emails. When I told Bill in the morning, he laughed, but not knowing what we’d have to use when we wrote our film, it didn’t make sense to work up the idea. We thought about writing it up afterward for our own film.

When Bill went to the kick-off party and drew the Holiday Film genre, the idea came back into play: What if we went with the mockumentary, but it was at the office Christmas party? On Friday night, Bill and Robin started off the brainstorming and script writing while I finished up the Drama Club performance with my fourth grader (she did an amazing job as a chicken). Back at home, Robin wrote up the script as Bill and I made suggestions, selected our cast, and made phone calls. I ran around the house finding Christmas decorations.

Saturday morning, we headed into Bill’s old office building, where he had gotten permission to film. It was a great set-up for us, offering lots of spaces for scenes, but also lots of room to wait around. Even with only one day to film, there’s a lot of waiting around in the movies. Both of the girls came to be in the Research & Development scenes, and also to help with the clapper board, set decoration, and general gofer jobs. I took calls from our cast and crew, made sure everyone was where they needed to be, picked internal locations, decorated and took down sets, made sure everyone had plenty of food (very important), arranged the order of filming for scenes, walked the actors through some parts, and made sure all the paperwork was in order. Bill just directed the movie. Slacker.

We had a great time during the day, with a pretty relaxed feel considering our tight schedule. The actors gave us some stellar performances. Really top notch. I may be biased, but my favorite scene is with my fourth grader, where the marketing woman is trying to get some ideas about the next generation of chain email users, but is having trouble working with a kid. I also love my seventh grader as a typical teen, texting instead of thinking about the marketer’s questions. The party scene was the most fun to film, and I do make an appearance there as an employee.

We wrapped up at 10:00 p.m. and Bill went into the office to work with the preliminary edit. In the wee hours of the morning he came back to the house for a few hours of sleep, and then went back to edit the film and add sound effects, music, and credits. Oh, and play with sound levels and color correction and technical film kind of stuff. I saw a rough cut at 2:00 and loved it. I reminded him to temper his technical perfectionism and get the film turned in early — no last-minute run for the doors at 7:00.

He did turn the film in with time to spare. Robin has seen it and really liked it. Bill went off with a couple of other directors for a mini-showing at someone’s house and got great feedback and lots of laughs. I can’t wait to show it to you... but it will have to wait until after our screening at the AFI Silver Theatre, Friday at 7:00 p.m.

The 48 Hour Film Project takes place in cities all over the country, so if you’re interested you might check the upcoming dates. While we work with a set team, many other groups need to fill positions in the weeks and days leading up to the competition. On the website, you can indicate your interest in joining a team, and there are often meet-and-greet events to help fill positions. It can be exhausting, but it’s a blast.

Poetry Friday: "How to Read a Poem Aloud"

I wanted to post this poem yesterday as part of Poem in My Pocket Day, but I made the mistake of asking for permission one hour before I wanted to post it. I know, not cool. Since April responded to my email so pleasantly, and didn't scold me for my bad behavior, I'll share the whole poem today. Originally part of GottaBook's 30 Poets/30 Days, here's a poem about poetry.
by April Halprin Wayland

First, read the title of the poem

and the poet’s name.

Be clear.

Now completely


Let each line


Then read it

one more time.

When the poem

ends, sigh.

Think about the poet at her desk,
late at night, picking up her pen to write…

and why.

© 2009 April Halprin Wayland. All rights reserved.
Simple, yet elegant and informative. You can hear more from April over at the new blog TeachingAuthors. More poetry is hosted today at Allegro for Poetry Friday.

This has been some month of Poetry. Unfortunately, I don't have time this moment to list the many bloggers who put poetry front and center this month, but it was wonderful to see so many poems, interviews, and reviews. I can only express my awe and amazement for Gotta Book and Miss Rumphius for their Poems and Interviews of the Stars of Children's Poetry. And actually my appreciation too, because you let me slack off a bit this month.

But next week, I'm making May the month of Us. We'll have the official sign-ups for the 48 Hour Book Challenge (June 5-7th ), the Summer Blog Blast Tour organized by Chasing Ray, the online auction for Bridget Zinn, the Top Ten Picture Books from Fuse#8, some meet-up plans for Book Expo America, and registration for the KidLitosphere Conference. Oh, and more. Always more. So stay tuned.

For me, I've got to get offline and get to work. Then it's a crazy weekend of writing, filming, editing, and scoring a short film. Yes, Tohubohu Productions is back in the 48 Hour Film Project, this year with Young Adult writer Robin Brande. Can't wait!