105 Ways to Give a Book

Happy Halloween

I’m so confused today. Should I post a Halloween book review or something for Nonfiction Monday? Or continue my coverage of the Cybils-nominated picture books? Talk about October’s Carnival of Children’s Literature? Decide whether to get in on NaNoWriMo?

It’s all too much, so I’m just going to give you a picture of the pumpkin that TeenReader did, with me helping on the tricky parts with an X-Acto knife. Shout-out to the great stencils at Zombie Pumpkins.

Do you know who it is? Answer with a reference from the movie in the comments. Happy Halloween and watch out for zombies!

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Cybils FPB Nominees: Monsters

If you are heading to the library now for your Halloween books, you are likely out of luck. Those Halloween-themed titles are long gone. But all is not lost if you expand your search to books about monsters:

Creepy Monsters, Sleepy Monsters
by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Kelly Murphy

Candlewick 2011, review from library copy

Creepy Monsters, Sleepy MonstersA simply worded lullaby about monsters everywhere will captivate young readers. The rhyming text is sparse, putting the attention on the perfectly detailed illustrations. And perfect they are, being both a bit creepy and cute at the same time. The soft palette and gentle acrylic paintings make even the multi-eyed monsters adorable. The friendly expressions and familiar settings — like playgrounds, kitchens, and bedrooms — keep it sweetly accessible, even as the monsters chow down on worm sandwiches and burp in bed. As a read-aloud book it’s distracting that the last sound doesn’t rhyme, given the carefully constructed couplets throughout. Given the “Grrrr” it seemed logical to have a monster cat give out a calming “Purrr” at the end instead of the standard sleepy sound, “Zzzzz.” A quibble perhaps, for a nice monster/bedtime book.

Check out an earlier post for more monster picture books to find when the Halloween pickings are low.

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Nonfiction Monday: Halloween Book of Facts and Fun

A quick review of a nonfiction backlist book that is perfect for the season.

The Halloween Book of Facts & Fun
by Wendie Old

Albert Whitman and Co. 2007, review copy from library

The Halloween Book of Facts & FunEvery once in a while I find a book that makes me ask, “Where were you all my child-raising, storytime-planning, classroom-reading years?” What I love about this book is right there in the title — it’s facts and fun. There are instructions for carving a pumpkin and having a Halloween party. There are safety tips and riddles. There are chapters about traditions, witches, jack-o-lanterns, Dracula, and more. There’s even a full-page bibliography if you want to expand your Halloween research. It’s the kind of book that you can pull out each season, whether at home or a classroom or a library, which is why I can’t believe that I wasn’t able to benefit from its perfection for all those years. Starting now, you can plan to dole out a chapter or so a day in the build-up to the Big Event.

Nonfiction Monday is hosted today at Apples with Many Seeds.

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Cybils FPB Nominees: Dots and Squares

Sure you can fill your picture book with all sorts of fancy art, but there are others who take a simpler approach. And it’s hard to get more basic than a dot and a square.

by Patricia Intriago

Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2011, review copy from library

DotGraphically bold, the simple dot is used to illustrate concepts and opposites. Starting with color changes of the stoplight to show stop and go dots, the design becomes conceptual to describe other ideas. The loud dot has a big pie shape cut out to represent an open mouth while the sad dot is shaped like a teardrop. A few photo images make appearances to show hands poking the hard and soft dot, and then a clearly dotted dalmatian and a not-dotted zebra. The text doesn’t always rhyme or follow a rhythm. That, along with the surprising change to photos in the two spreads, marred the book’s consistency for me, though I can see how others would appreciate those touches that leave the reader a bit askew. In all, a decent early concept book, but not one that I can imagine becoming a much-loved title.

Perfect Square
by Michael Hall
Greenwillow Books 2011, review copy from library

Perfect SquareThrough a week, a perfect square goes through transformations, becoming cut, torn, shredded, shattered, snipped, and crumpled. Many squares would get annoyed at this treatment, but this square makes the best of it by turning itself into lovely pictures of flowers and mountains and such. At the end, the various pictures come together into one story in one imagined scene of all the colors of the rainbow. Personally, I would have liked to see the whole scene put together at the end — though I can guess that it wasn’t so easy. Also, I was confused by the idea that it was “a” perfect square. How does one square get pulled apart each day and also change color? I may be over-thinking here, but it did annoy me. But I’m peevish that way.

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Cybils FPB Nominees: Cats

As I negotiate the peace between our old cat and our new cat, I’m probably particularly attuned to the feline nature. Though really, I’m always a sucker for picture books about cats, and these two Cybils-nominated titles set me purring. Figuratively, that is.

Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku
by Lee Wardlaw, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Henry Holt and Co. 2011, review copy from library

Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in HaikuThis isn’t your schoolroom haiku. Or even technically haiku, which focuses on nature and seasons. But here the author notes that we are looking at a series of senryu, a form that focuses on human nature. Or cat nature. In the book we are introduced to a lonely shelter cat, lean and longing, who gets a home and adjusts to his new surroundings with the typical practiced nonchalance and semi-disdain exhibited by the feline. “Hel-looo. I’m waiting/Put down that pesky pencil/and fetch the catnip.” Poems cover fishy breath, scratching furniture, and hairballs along with the cuter aspects of cats. The illustrations keep the focus on the feline, tuning out the backgrounds in soft colors, and capturing the essence of each poem and its subject. The sparse text will make it suitable for reading aloud to preschoolers, but the subtleties of the poetry will take the title well into elementary school with fun for all along the way.

Dear Tabby
by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by David Roberts

Harper Collins 2011, review copy from library

Dear TabbyAn alley cat sets up an advice column for animals, responding to the problems of a parrot, the distress of a dog, and the grumblings of a groundhog — among many other animals. Tabby D. Cat gives good suggestions, some of which could apply in broader, human situations — touching on listening, acceptance, and gratitude. Other than some puns, the advice itself isn’t silly, with the humor conveyed in the situations, the illustrations, and the ultimate resolutions. In the end, the advice offered to one overly pampered cat brings the helpful tabby a new home. Animal lovers of all stripes will appreciate the clever scenarios and engaging pictures. With a fair amount of text and lots to enjoy on every page, this book is a great choice for elementary school kids. Adult readers may also appreciate the actual advice, which ends the books with this letter to a mournful dog: “Well, sometimes happiness is right there beside you. You might even be passing it on your daily walk! But a lot of times you have to make happiness happen. Sniff it out, hunt it down, dig dig dig until you find it.” Good words for all of us!

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Poetry Friday: A Full Moon is Rising

Tomorrow is the last day to nominate books for the Cybils, and no category needs your support more than poetry. I tried, but all of the books that I suggested were already nominated. So someone with some expertise needs to find those missing books and get them on the list, as I am sure that there were more than thirty titles published in children’s and Young Adult poetry last year. Go. Nominate.

A Full Moon is RisingMy personal favorite is A Full Moon is Rising, with poems by Marilyn Singer and illustrations by Julia Cairns. Honestly, I could almost stop at just framing the cover, but then I’d miss the world travel offered by the verse, which takes the reader from the moon over New York City through the sands of Morocco to the seas of the Caribbean out to the reaches of space and back again. The poems nicely capture the different cultures under the moonlight and specific activities honoring its glow, while engaging illustrations perfectly display the diverse world. With supplementary material including a highlighted world map, lunar phases, and descriptions of the areas, the book ventures into the territory of indispensable for personal and classroom use. In tribute to my own New York City love, here’s the first poem:
Broadway Moon

It waits behind skyscrapers,
a brilliant actor in the wings,
ready for its monthly debut.
One the sidewalk, and audience of one
watches and silently applauds
when it grandly appears.
Today’s Poetry Friday is hosted at fomagrams. And don’t forget your Cybils nominating!

A Full Moon is Rising
by Marilyn Singer and illustrated by Julia Cairns
Published by Lee & Low Books, 2011
Copy provided by publisher

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KidLitCon Seattle: Sessions and Stuff IV

Well, this is embarrassing. I thought I’d finished and posted this and have not been paying enough attention to notice that was not the case. Kinda shows how things have been going lately. While I could be critical of myself, I will instead focus on the session I attended on critical reviews. (See what I did there?)

Presented by Kelly Jensen and Julia Riley in the room and Abby Johnson and Janssen Brandshaw through the wonders of technology (Skype, I mean. They weren’t like robots or anything.), the session took on what we’ve only spoken about in whispers: What if the book isn’t good? The team immediately reframed the conversation from “negative” to “critical” reviews, putting the emphasis on analysis of the book. They covered ways to pull out discussion of pacing, characters, dialogue, plotting, language, phrasing, voice, and content. They reminded us of the need to notice and address whether to share specific content or spoilers, and to think of the audience of both the book and the review in making these decisions. The talked about avoiding snark, which is a little sad for me as my best line is from reviewing a glittery picture book and stating that my hands looked like I had bitch-slapped Tinkerbell.

Jen Robinson and Carol Rasco did a great job covering the many ways to get your blog out into the eyeballs of readers. Jen went through subscriber emails, newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, and Feedblitz. She also talked about following lists and keywords on Twitter — like #kidlit and #cybils — to keep in and be part of the conversation. Carol talked about her own rule-breaking experience in her organization blog for Reading Is Fundamental.

The last session of the day was highly energized, both by the topic of diversity and by the moderator, Lee Wind. With incredible authors Brent Hartinger, Sara Ryan, Justina Chen, and Sarah Stevenson. The panel discussion started with the provocative question, “Who has the ‘right’ to write a minority story?” And it stayed with that honest tone throughout, pointing me to resources like Writing the Other and Microagressions.com. It gave me the idea that what is dangerous about a stereotype is that it is a single story that limits, while putting out a multitude of stories expands the experience for the reader. There was much talk about speaking your own truth, and yet also turning to research. Honestly, this is an incredibly hard session to capture as the discussion, the fact that we can have the discussion, was a huge component in itself.

The day ended with a pre-dinner happy hour, where I spent some time with Amber Keyser, writer of AngelPunk. Very interesting lady, and just as game as I was to move the discussion over toward Scott Westerfeld. I mean, literally move over to where he was, as opposed to discussing him (though Els discusses his speech very well at Tor). You don’t have a writer that cool, that interesting in your midst and not try to engage him. (I had made a good attempt at lunch as well, but it’s never enough.) We chatted books, New York City, and celebrity encounters before heading to dinner. I sat with my old crowd, but did chat with Martha Brockenbrough, though not nearly enough. After dinner, it was back to the lounge for more wine and hanging out (though sadly, no more Scott Westerfeld) and yes, one more drink at the KidLitCon Command Center before officially closing out the day and the conference.

Thanks to Colleen and Jackie for all the work that went into putting KidLitCon Seattle together! See you all next year at KidLitCon NYC!

KidLitCon Seattle: Sessions and Stuff III

When I heard that Scott Westerfeld was going to give the keynote for KidLitCon Seattle, I was excited because he’s a big name in YA and an interactive blogger. But I wasn’t personally a fan, thinking that his books were not my style. Then I heard his presentation and was absolutely mesmerized.

He talked about the death of illustrations in books at the hand of the camera. Illustrated panels had been common in books before a new pricing structure for illustrators fell into place, leaving publishers taking the cheaper road to text only, even for children’s books. He talked about the mindset of adults changing to promote these books to kids as chances to use their own imagination to create the pictures. (And I’ve used that line myself, and now it does seem like a line.)

With the Leviathan series, Scott Westerfeld wanted to bring back the idea of illustrations in a book intended for an older audience. He described the process of working with the illustrator to create the world portrayed in the series, even to the times the artist drove aspects of the story by getting ahead of him. He was influenced by fan art of his other books to realize the importance of the illustrations and also to some of what the readers wanted to imagine in the books. In his words, “That which the camera took away was given back to us through the Internet.”

Honestly, after this talk I was a little bit fangirl and made sure that I table-hopped his way during lunch. He was just so interesting. I also bought a copy of Leviathan to have signed to my teen. So just an aside to authors that there are ways to sell your book without SELLING YOUR BOOK.

The next session I attended was The Fantastic New World of Book Apps for Children presented by Mary Ann Scheuer, Betsy Bird, and Paula Wiley. They showed various book apps and explained specifically what made them good — and just as helpful, what made them not good. In evaluating book apps, it’s important to look at what moves the story forward or enhances the experience or the learning. Some apps have received good marks, and yet take the reader out of the story by engaging them to draw pictures on an unrelated screen. For more on evaluating book apps, head to Great Kid Books, the blog of one of the presenters and the organizer for the Cybils new category for book apps.

While I didn’t expect to do more than sit back and get an author’s perspective on marketing, I found myself taking copious notes during Holly and Shiraz Cupala’s presentation. They shared the concepts and strategies behind marketing Tell Me a Secret, including blog tours, trailers, videos, and a two chapter booklet. They shared the application of the four Ps of marketing: Product, Price, Place, and Promotion — which was noted from the other side as Consumer, Cost, Convenience, and Communication. It was an amazing presentation, and I’ll direct you to the Holly Cupala’s website for more information or to book this duo for a presentation near you. Seriously. I will leave you with this tidbit though: Over 75 pecent of children’s books are bought in a store. Just 12 percent of teens shop for books online. Interesting, huh?

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