Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year Everyone! Newbery discussion

Happy New Year! I hope you all have a wonderful and book filled 2009. I know that 2008 has been a hard year for many of you and that you are worried about the future. Hopefully things will start to get better soon, and these trying times will soon be behind us. In the meantime we can read, talk to one another, and celebrate the best of children's literature.

Lately there has been a lot of talk about whether the Newbery Awards are becoming too "complicated and inaccessible" to children and are therefore turning children off reading. I have been thinking about this a lot and though I can understand where this concern is coming from, I don't think this is true. Though I have not always liked the winners, I have never had a problem understanding why they were awarded the medal. You can see a complete list of the winners and honor books here on the ALA website.
I would be interested to know what you think about this. Do you think the Newbery Awards still have merit? Which Newbery Award winners do you like the most? Are there any that you really don't like? I have to confess that I did not really like The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread but I loved Crispin: The Cross of Lead.
All the best and again, Happy New Year.

Monday, December 29, 2008

An Interview with Jesse Kimmel-Freeman

Not long ago I stumbled across a website that an author had put up. This usually would be a very ordinary thing except the author's book has not been published yet. I was intrigued enough that I asked Jesse Kimmel-Freeman for an interview.

You are the first person I know of who has created a website for a book that has yet to be published. Why did you do this?
Well, it's a marketing tacit. I was hoping that if I could get a fan base before my book was published, then a publisher would want it even more. I can't tell you if it worked or not because I've only sent it to one publishing house since I got my site up and running, and I'm waiting to hear anything from them before I continue on my path to get Bella Notte published.

What kind of reception has your website and your book idea received?
Would you be surprised if I told you that I have fans? My site gets hits everyday, and the most surprising thing is that after the USA the next biggest hitter on it is Poland! I've gotten emails from teens to adults, male and female alike, about how they want it published and filled with support. I've even gotten some that are worried that as cool as my book is that it won't get picked up because of Meyer's current popularity. I have people coming to me for advice and everything. So, I'd say that both have been received awesomely!

Where did you get the idea for your book?
I wish I had some great story about how the book came to me, but like I've said before, I don't. It was an organic process that grew. I started Bella Notte almost 2 years ago, and at that point I just had the dream. I tried to map out the story, but I've found out that I'm not too good at staying on track with those. So I made a map of the town, I scheduled my characters' classes, I decided little details that I'd want to put in once I got to the part where they would fit and then I wrote. Unfortunately, I had to take a break while I was pregnant with my son because I was put on strict bed rest and writing on my laptop wasn't very easy- not that my best friend and sister did both offer to write for me. But because of that rest a whole part of the book came into being- it wouldn't be there if I hadn't taken some time away from my characters.

Have you started on the second book in your series yet?
Yes, and let me tell you, it isn't easy. I'm having trouble remembering all the fine details from the first one, and I feel a little like I should be waiting to see if Bella Notte gets picked up.
But it doesn't stop my mind from coming up with more things to write down, and it sure as heck wouldn't stop my characters from making me crazy!

Why do you think vampire stories have become the rage in the last few years?
I think many things have contributed this. But in the YA genre, I'd have to say that Meyer's book Twilight started it all. Her books opened this genre up- she's like the J.K. Rowling of YA vampire books.
Besides her, I think that people need what vampires have to offer in their lives right now, they are the unknown- something that makes them both hard and easy to write about. Adults want some of that in their lives, they want to feel the mystery of what isn't certain and maybe some of the sexiness of vampires. For YA readers, vampires are outcasts, they don't fit and they're awkward- something every teenager knows. Vampires are the type of characters that can shift into what you need them to be at that very moment- it's their nature to survive, and that they are doing with this current lust for them.

Why do you do when you are not writing and trying to sell your book?
I am a mother and a graduate student. When I'm not writing or trying to get Bella Notte out there, I am taking care of my son, Brody, or I am working on my every growing pile of homework. And secretly thinking up more things for Bella Vita and the books to come.

Were you a big reader when you were a teen, and if so what did you
like to read?

I didn't really like reading until I was an older teen. When I did read it was Nora Roberts books and erotica (I don't even know why- I was always giggling through it). When I hit my later teen years I found Harry Potter, but this was when the first three books were in paperback and in a set, so it was awhile after they had come out and that was what got me started. After that, I read everything I could.

Do you have other books ideas in addition to your teen vampire stories?
After I complete the four books for this series, I have some ideas for a demon hunter book (maybe a series as well), but it isn't really shaped at this point. I'm also writing a children's book with an archaeologist as the main character, but I'm not sure on that... it's just an idea.

I have a feeling that Jesse is going to go a long way. To find out more about her book and to read excerpts from her book visit her website.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas Everyone. I hope you have a wonderful couple of days with friends and family

Monday, December 22, 2008

Babymouse - An interview with her creators

Good morning all. I am here to tell you about Babymouse - just in case you have not heard about this delightful and very loveable character. Created by Jennifer L. Holm and her brother Matthew Holm, Babymouse is a graphic novel personality who loves cupcakes, who tries to survive school, and who has terrible luck keeping pets. She is persecuted by Felicia Furrypaws, a cat with a spiteful nature. Babymouse has an imagination as big as all outdoors, and this helps her to get through trying times. Because I love Babymouse I contacted the people at Random House to ask Jennfer and Matthew for an interview. Here is what they had to say

1. Where did the idea for Babymouse come from?

JENNI: When I was growing up (with four brothers!) our house was always full of comic books. (And stinky socks.)

MATT: Hey!

JENNI: But there were never any good comics for girls. Wonder Woman? Betty and Veronica? Little Lulu? Bleah. So I always hoped that, someday, I'd come across a good comic character that girls could identify with.

Then, when I was older and living in New York City, I was having a really rotten day. Late for work, pouring rain, forgot my lunch, etc. When I finally got home, I was standing in the kitchen, and the image of this irritable little mouse with crazy whiskers and a heart on her dress came into my head. So I scribbled it down on a napkin and gave it to Matt the next time I saw him.

And then he lost the napkin.

MATT: Sigh.

2. How did you decide that you wanted your character to be a mouse rather than a cat, dog or some other animal?

MATT: When we were growing up, our dad made Jenni a dollhouse. But instead of little human dolls, we had these little mouse figurines that all the local gift shops carried. They came in all sorts of outfits-lumberjack mouse, magician mouse, doctor mouse, leprechaun mouse, Betsy Ross mouse, and so on. I had some of them, too.

JENNI: I got the dollhouse. Matt got the garage.

3. Why did you decide to give Babymouse such a wonderfully active imagination?

JENNI: What kid doesn't have an imagination like that? I know I certainly did, and just about every kid I meet when I go visit schools does, too.

MATT: And, on a practical level, it allows us to do a lot of fun, crazy scenes.

4. Sometimes the stories in the Babymouse books have a sad element to them. Why did you do this?

JENNI: Frankly, a lot of stuff that happens to you when you're in elementary and middle school stinks. But it's good to know that life goes on afterward. And, maybe, it can even be funny.

5. What is it like to work together with a sibling? Do you get on each other's nerves?

MATT: You wouldn't believe how difficult she is to-OW! Quit hitting me!!

JENNI: Ahem. No, we're both pretty easy-going when it comes to the books. We worked in advertising and publishing for years, so we're used to being edited by other people. Our attitude has always been that, if someone feels strongly that something needs to be changed, it probably means that there's something wrong with the scene.

MATT: Plus, we've always lived like, six hours away from each other. That helps.
6. Obviously you both like comics. What do you think comics and graphic novels offer children besides entertainment?

MATT: Comics can teach kids how to read, the same as any other book. Maybe even better; concepts like "dialogue" and "narration" are broken out into discrete examples inside speech balloons, and the pictures show what the words mean, to help reinforce things.

JENNI: I always like to tell a story about a friend of mine, who was born in Puerto Rico and moved to New York City when he was very young. He spoke English as a second language, and had a lot of trouble learning to read. In his adulthood, he told me, "Superman taught me how to read." Superman comics made it possible for him to learn how to read.

7. Matthew, how do you create your illustrations?

MATT: It's a multi-step process. First, I create quick thumbnail sketches in pencils. These are just snippets from all the scenes of the manuscripts, sometimes from different angles, and so on, as I'm working out how things might look. Then Jenni takes these thumbnails, cuts them out, and pastes them down into rough layouts. From these layouts I draw final sketches with Sharpie markers, complete with all of the panels, speech balloons, etc. Then, I scan the final sketches into the computer and do the final "inks" digitally using Adobe Photoshop and a Wacom drawing tablet.

8. Do you both have plans for many more Babymouse books?

JENNI: You bet! Hopefully, for as long as kids keep reading them. Our next one is called, Babymouse: The Musical, in which Babymouse tries out for a school play. I drew upon a lot of my youthful Andrew Lloyd Weber soundtrack mania to create this one.

9. Do you put any of your own childhood experiences into your Babymouse stories?

JENNI: No, never.

MATT: Um, don't you mean, "All the time?"

JENNI: Oh, right. All the time, in fact. I really did have my own "Felicia Furrypaws" at school. Our family really did have some bad luck with escape-prone hamsters and goldfish. And Matt really did get mugged for his Halloween candy one year.

10. Do you, like Babymouse, have a fondness for cupcakes?

JENNI: (Munch munch)

MATT: Can't talk. Eating.

11. What kinds of books did you like to read when you were young?

MATT: When we were very young, lots of Dr. Seuss. Later, lots of comic strip collections-Peanuts, Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County. When we got to the novel stage, it was mostly fantasy.

JENNI: Lloyd Alexander was my favorite author. I wrote him a fan letter, but, being a dumb kid, didn't think to include my return address. Instead, I wrote in my phone number. Craziest of all-he actually called me and thanked me for writing him!

12. In Babymouse Monster Mash - your newest book - Babymouse gets the better of some very unpleasant kids who go to her school. What were you trying to do with this story - besides giving your readers a reason to cheer that is?

JENNI: We wanted to revisit the slumber party social scenario from the first book. Babymouse sees an opportunity to get in good with Felicia and her gang, and she jumps at it, despite the hard lessons she learned in the earlier books. Why? Because that's what happens in real life! All of us really are naive enough and hopeful enough to believe that, maybe THIS time, that mean girl will really be nice, and we'll really get to be part of the "in" crowd.

And, usually, you wind up like Charlie Brown getting the football pulled away from him.

MATT: Plus, who doesn't love a good zombie gross-out scene?

You can read my reviews of the Babymouse books here. You might also like to take a look at the Babymouse website.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Getting to know Barefoot Books

Every so often I come across a publishing house that does business in a new, innovative, and exciting way. Barefoot Books is one of these houses and, wanting to find out more about this company, I interviewed Nancy Traversy, one of the co-founders of Barefoot Books.

Where did the idea for this company come from?
Barefoot Books was born out of our (co-founders Nancy Traversy and Tessa Strickland’s) shared desire to fill a niche in the market for beautiful books that combined global stories with gorgeous art and beautiful design. Fifteen years later, Barefoot has remained true to our original vision and now have over 300 books in print!

In what ways do you think your company is different from others?
Barefoot is unique as an independent global publisher, not only because of our unwavering commitment to creating books and gifts for children which celebrate imagination, creativity and global awareness, but also because of our community-based approach to bringing this offer to our audience of discerning parents and educators. We work very much in a grassroots way, forming partnerships with like-minded retail partners around the world, selling through our network of independent home sellers in our Barefoot Stallholder Program, and communicating with our audience directly via our interactive website, including our forums and Living Barefoot Blog.

How did you come up with the idea of bare feet and what does the logo mean to you?
The name ‘Barefoot Books’ came to Tessa Strickland, editor-in-chief and co-founder, in a dream back in 1992. The logo was taken from an ink impression of Tessa’s daughter’s feet which, when reduced, make a beautiful image. A child’s bare feet symbolize a connection with the natural world, and conjure up images of a journey to both imaginary and real worlds. You’ll find the feet on the spines of all of our books and also walking through our website and catalogs!

Are your authors and illustrators from around the world?
Yes, our authors and illustrators are from far and wide. We are always looking for new authors, illustrators and stories to share, and because of so many of our stories come from around the globe, we like our storytellers to be global as well!

In the “about Barefoot” section on your website you invite the public to “tell us your ideas and share your stories.” What do you mean by this?
‘Once upon a time, a story made a difference to our lives’. Stories matter throughout our lives, but they are especially important in childhood. They help us to discover what we care about and who we are. Seeing professional storytellers at work, and performing stories themselves, does an enormous amount to help children develop their sense of who they are. At Barefoot Books we all aim to be storytellers in our own right, so we want to hear stories from our audience….stories about how they found us and where they are from. We also want to encourage them to participate in our blog or on our forums. Feedback from our community is very important!

How do you find the authors and illustrators who create your books?
We find our authors and illustrators in a variety of ways; our editors meet wonderfully talented people at international book fairs, or sometimes it will be as simple as seeing a beautiful greeting card in a store and contacting the artist. Of course, we also find plenty of fantastic art and stories in the submissions we receive in the US and UK. We are always on the look out for authors, artists, ideas, or stories that look and sound Barefoot and they can pop up in the most unlikely places!

How do your home-based businesses work?
We have over 1500 Stallholders – Barefoot’s home-selling community – globally, and they all run their businesses in very different ways. Stallholders can market and sell the entire Barefoot Books collection through local community events, at home parties, and on their websites and blogs. They can also fundraise for the cause of their choice. We offer our Stallholders lots of different tools to help make their businesses fun and successful at the same time. Starting a Barefoot Stallholder business is simple and free! Find out more!

How are you “environmentally aware?”
At the heart of our work at Barefoot Books is an understanding of the fragility and the inter-relatedness of the world's ecology. Because we make books, we have to work with paper and ink, with transport and distribution with energy used as fuel. We founded Barefoot Books as working mothers with a particular interest in the kind of world our children will inherit. Of course, "Going Green" is an ongoing process. We continue to work on ways to become more environmentally conscious in both our offices and in our personal lives. To minimize the environmental impact of our activities, we have taken the following measures.
Forestry: We ensure that our printers source the paper on which our books are printed from ancient-forest friendly sources. This means that the paper suppliers are obliged to replant trees that they have harvested, and that they do not damage rainforests or other ancient woodlands.
Shipping: Many of our books are transported across considerable distances. We very rarely use planes as a method of transporting stock. Typically, our books are shipped by boat.
Community Based Approach: The traditional book industry operates on a returnable basis which means that books often move from the publisher to the distributor and then back again. This wastes lots of fuel and cardboard and often results in damaged product which can't be sold. At Barefoot, we have adopted a more grassroots communal approach to marketing our books, avoiding the wasteful practices of the bigger distributors, and working with a broad network of independent retailers and partners, including our rapidly growing community of home-sellers.
Communications: We set out to minimize paper use by communicating as much as possible online and by telephone. We recycle the paper that we use for print communication.
Office Supplies: We buy our office supplies from green manufacturers and our office paper is recycled. We buy our refreshments, including coffee, tea, and milk from a local organic market. We wash and reuse real glasses and mugs instead of paper or plastic.
Recycling: All of our paper and other recyclable office materials are taken to a local recycling center on a weekly basis. We recycle the toner used in our printers and copiers.
Electricity: We use energy efficient light bulbs to light our office.
Travel: We try to reduce Barefoot's carbon footprint by minimizing travel. We take the train or bus as often as possible as an alternative to cars and airplanes.
Employee Involvement: We all work together to ensure that computers, lights and equipment are turned off when not in use.
Do you work with school classes in any way?
We offer parents and teachers the opportunity, through our Stallholder program, to fundraise for their schools, both with events in their communities and also online. Our award-winning books also make great additions to school libraries and classrooms – visit us online to see our complete range of educational ideas and fun activities for kids.

Do you have any big goals for the future?
2008 was a big year for Barefoot Books! We opened a beautiful store and storytelling venue in FAO Schwarz Manhattan this summer, embarked on an innovative partnership with PBS, published our first Young Fiction chapter book called Little Leap Forward, and are also sending lots of Barefoot Books to Africa with the help of our new friends at Books For Africa. We hope to continue to spread the word about Barefoot in new and innovative ways in 2009, capitalizing on new social networking tools and grassroots marketing with our Stallholders. Lastly, and most importantly, one of our main goals in 2009 will be to find more ways to ‘Give Barefoot’ and seek out partnerships with like-minded organizations who are making a difference in the lives or children around the world.

Thank you Nancy for this interesting interview.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Tilbury House Give a Goat Book Tour

I want to share a review with you that I wrote about a splendid book published by Tilbury house. It is called Give a Goat and it takes a look at one way in which children can make a difference in this world.

Give a goat
Jan West Schrock
Illustrated by Aileen Darragh
Picture Book
Ages 6 to 8
Tilbury House Publishers, 2008, 978-0-88448-301-4
It is a rainy day and the children in a fifth grade class are “restless.” So their teacher, Mrs. Rowell, reads them a true story about a little girl in Uganda who was too poor to go to school. Then someone gave the little girl’s family a goat and their fortunes changed dramatically. With the money that they earned from selling the goat’s milk the family was able to pay for the little girl to go to school.
After they hear this story the school children decide that they want to “give a goat” to someone like the little girl in the story. Their teacher warns them that such a project will take hard work and cooperation, but the children do not back down. This is something that they really want to do.
And so the children begin to do some research. They learn that an organization called Heifer International gives people free livestock to help them get back on their feet. The children learn that they are going to need to raise $120 to send a goat to a family in need. Will they be able to raise so much money on their own?
In this simply written and inspirational story the author shows her readers that children can indeed make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. She shows children that with some hard work and plenty of determination they can be a part of the “giving” and “passing on the gift” process.
In a world where there is altogether too much “gimme” and not enough “giving,” this picture book offers children a new way of looking at things.
Readers can visit the Heifer International website to find out how they can be a part of this very worthy cause.

Please visit the Tilbury House website to find more "make a difference" ideas for children.

Monday, December 15, 2008

An Interview with Roland Smith

I just read and reviewed a book by Roland Smith called I, Q. It is the first title in a new series and if you are acquainted with some young people who like thrillers, then you should definitely tell them about this book.

1. Where did the idea for I, Q come from?
I grew up on the periphery of the music business. My brother Mike was a professional musician for over thirty years, and although I don’t play or sing, he took me under his wing and I hung out with his musician friends and in that venue for decades. I’ve always wanted to write about the music business for young people. It can be a brutal art…and like many of my books I like to peel away the glitz and take a look at what lays beneath. Fame and celebrity are not always what they appear to be and both are fleeting. And people who are celebrities work a lot harder than most people know.

I also wanted to write about international terrorism…but I waited, hoping the current mess we are in would go away. Sadly, I don’t think it is going to go away for a very long time. It is something my readers will still be dealing with when they become adults. I’d been researching Islamic terrorism long before 9/11. One of the things I hope to do in the series is to explain where this all came from and how it happened. We are all responsible for it, and the issues are complex. Perhaps in the I,Q series I’ll be able to unravel some of this complexity. We can’t resolve a problem until we understand the problem.

Another reason for writing the series is that I wanted my readers to know that there is a lot more going on than is reported in the news. There is secret war being fought everyday that is not being reported in the media.

2. Did you always know that this book was going to be part of a series?
Yes, but at this point I’m not sure how many books there are going to be. Hopefully several. The first book: Independence Hall, took longer to write than I expected because I had to set up a strong foundation for the other books to follow.

3. Did you have to do a lot of research into the spy world in order to write the book?
Yes…I have been research spies and covert ops for many, many years. Again, I’m very interested in what lies beneath. And I’m still doing research.

4. Were you at all inspired by adult spy books?
I grew up reading thrillers, adventure, and mysteries. Writer’s tend to write the kind of books they like to read.

5. Why do you think we are attracted to books of this kind?
When I was growing there wasn’t much for me to read (today’s YA literature has changed that), so I quickly started reading the books my parents were reading, which were in this genre.

6. I have read and reviewed Elephant Run. What inspired you to write this marvelous book?
First, thank you! It took me ten years to get Elephant Run. I trained elephants here in the states and have worked with them in the wild in Africa and Asia. My first novel was Thunder Cave, which was about African elephants. I want to write a novel about Asian elephants. I also wanted to write about the Pacific theater of WW2. There are many books about the European theater, but very little about what happened in the Pacific for young people. The war on that front started first, lasted longer, was more brutal than the European theater, and was a bigger direct threat to the U.S.

7. What did you think of the working elephants that you saw in Myanmar?
I actually wrote two books about my experience there. Prior to Elephant Run I co-wrote a non-fiction book with Michael Schmidt called “In the Forest with Elephant” and took the photographs for the book. This book is no longer in print, sadly, because it was a beautiful book and story. For me as an elephant lover the trip, despite the very rough conditions in the jungle with elephants, was incredible.

8. Many of your books are about animals either directly or indirectly. Have you always liked animals or was that something that developed because you worked in a zoo for a time?
I fell into the animals at the ripe age of 18. I was majoring in English at Portland State University and go a part-time work/study job at the Portland Zoo (now the Oregon Zoo). I was not raised with animals, and frankly hadn’t thought much about them. But it turned out that I was actually very good with animals. A talent I didn’t know I had until I actually had the job. Of course I became fascinated and worked with animals all over the world for 22 years. But during those years I wrote everyday and eventually got a book published called “Sea Otter Rescue” (which is still in print). My career culminated with helping to get the red wolf back into the wild as the Species Coordinator for the U.S. and helping to get the gray wolves back into the wild in Yellowstone National Park. Helping to get an animal back into the wild was the peak of a long career. By this time I had seven books published and felt it was best to leave the animals behind and return to my original dream of becoming a full-time author.

9. Do you share your life with any animals at the moment?
My wife, Marie, and I have a farm just south of Portland and there are cows, goats, and a horse, but I’m afraid because of my travel schedule these days we don’t have any close animal companions because it would not be fair to our friends.

10. Do you think that you might write a book for children about your zoo experiences? I hope you do!
It’s on the “long” list. I would like to write an autobiography. I have a lot of stories, but I’m not sure it would be for young people. But I bet a lot of them would read and enjoy it.

11.What role do you think zoos have to play in today’s world?
I worked in zoos for over twenty years, but the truth is that I’m uncomfortable with animals in captivity. When I hired a keep (and I hired a lot of them) I always picked people who were a little uncomfortable with zoos as well. They took better care of the animals. 99.9% found in zoos today were actually born in zoos. It’s all they’ve known, and they are not going to be put back into the wild. And they wouldn’t know what to do if they were put back into the wild. Having said that, I believe that if a zoo doesn’t have a very strong educational component connected with the animal they are holding in captivity, then they have no right to keep that animal. I know for a fact that if there hadn’t been zoos the wolf would have gone extinct a long time ago. So, zoos do good work and it gives people a chance to learn about environmental issues and our wild brethren in an urban environment.

12. You have written several alphabet books for Sleeping Bear Press. What do you like about books of this kind?
The picture books with Sleeping Bear are wonderful because they work on two levels for younger and older readers. I am actually the “junior” author on these books. My wife, Marie, writes these books and I help her when I can. This is why her name is first on the cover. She’s a wonderful writer and she is writing several more picture books for Sleeping Bear.
Sleeping Bear Press has given me several copies of this book to share with you. If you would like a copy please drop me a line.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The School Library Journal Holiday Gift Guide

Batteries aren’t required. Plus, these items don’t need to be assembled. And there are never any missing parts. Let’s face it: books make the best holiday gifts. The trick? Picking the right ones for those children or teens on your list.
Luckily for you, the editors of School Library Journal—the world's largest reviewer of books for young readers—are here to help. They’ve come up with 21 titles (selected from among our 2008 Best Books) that are sure to make kids of all ages “ooh” and “ahh.”

So if you’re looking for that perfect picture book for a favorite preschooler or a work about exotic frogs for a budding young naturalist or a good dose of chick-lit or fantasy for a hard-to-please teen, rest easy—you’ve come to the right place.

Picture Book Charmers
From the cover image of a chubby-cheeked tot to pages bursting with sweet-faced babies of all backgrounds, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes (Harcourt) will captivate wee ones. Mem Fox’s rhythmic rhymes and Helen Oxenbury’s endearing illustrations afford opportunities for cuddling and kissing, choral counting, and savoring the delights of a baby’s world (ages 1–3).
In Valeri Gorbachev’s Christopher Counting (Philomel), an exuberant bunny masters a new skill at school and quickly puts it into practice, totting up everything from the fish in his aquarium to bedtime yawns. Kids will relish the lively storytelling, sprightly artwork, and childlike celebration of accomplishment (ages 4–6).

Children adjusting to a new sibling will empathize with a disgruntled youngster who emphatically suggests several unpleasant fates for his unwanted addition—before discovering that being an older brother has its rewards. Balancing genuine emotions with exaggeratedly comical cartoons, Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley’s hilarious picture book, Mail Harry to the Moon! (Little, Brown), is keenly tuned to its audience’s sensibilities (ages 4–7).
Action figure fans will relish Mini Grey’s Traction Man Meets Turbo Dog (Knopf) as the toy-size hero searches for his beloved pet (oh no! the mud-covered Scrubbing Brush has been deep-sixed by a hygiene-obsessed adult) while steadfastly refusing to accept a flashy new robot as a replacement. Imaginative play meets edge-of-your seat adventure in a humorous tale illustrated with luscious artwork (ages 4–8).

More than Just the Facts
Young naturalists will adore Wild Tracks! A Guide to Nature’s Footprints (Sterling), Jim Arnosky’s enthusiastic how-to on finding, identifying, and interpreting the tracks of various North American animals. Critter portraits are paired with family facts, big-as-life footprint sketches, and cool fold-outs (ages 7–12).

Nic Bishop showcases the wonders of Frogs (Scholastic) with lively text and breathtaking photographs. Kids will be mesmerized by action images of these amazing amphibians as a frog turbo-jumps out of the water to grab a caterpillar with it sticky tongue, a horned frog digests its dinner (a mouse tail dangles from its mouth), and a tadpole is captured by a giant water bug (ages 7–10).

Readers who are passionate about all things prehistoric will discover some astonishing new creatures in Timothy J. Bradley’s imaginatively illustrated Paleo Bugs: Survival of the Creepiest (Chronicle), including a seven-foot-long millipede, a familiar-looking though ancient cockroach, and a long-ago beetle that cleaned up Jurassic dung (ages 8–12).

Gifts for Family Sharing
Kadir Nelson’s stunningly illustrated We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball (Hyperion) weaves together entertaining quotes and anecdotes, historical tidbits, and thought-provoking insights to provide a revealing look at America’s favorite pastime. The book’s conversational tone (it’s narrated from the players’ collective point of view) and magnificent larger-than-life portraits make it a wonderful choice for reading aloud (ages 8 up).

With attention focused on January’s presidential inauguration, it’s the perfect time to share Our White House: Looking in, Looking Out (Candlewick), a collection of poems, short stories, essays, presidential speeches and letters, and artwork—all centered around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and its residents. With contributions from 108 well-known children’s book authors and illustrators, this is an extraordinary journey through American history (ages 8–14).

The creator of The New Way Things Work (Houghton, 1998) uses a similar approach to explore and elucidate a new subject: The Way We Work: Getting to Know the Amazing Human Body (Houghton). From cells to the major body systems, David Macaulay demystifies complicated concepts with vivid text, crystal-clear illustrations, and engagingly lighthearted touches to create the ultimate owner’s manual (ages 12 up).

Fabulous Fiction for Middle Graders
In Clementine’s Letter (Hyperion), the irrepressible third grader generates one “astoundishing” idea after another as she tackles her problems with √©lan… but still ends up in trouble. Perfect for newly confident readers, Sara Pennypacker’s humorous text and Marla Frazee’s spry sketches will wow fans of Ramona and Judy Moody (ages 7–9).

Kids who like action-packed puzzlers such as Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer (Scholastic, 2004) or Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society (Little, Brown, 2007) will tear through Siobhan Dowd’s The London Eye Mystery (David Fickling). In this thriller, Ted relies on his unique way of thinking and the help of his older sister to find a cousin who has vanished into thin air (ages 10–13).

Fans of both horror tales and comics will be riveted by P. Craig Russell’s chilling graphic-novel retelling of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline (HarperCollins). Crisp artwork and concise storytelling will keep readers mesmerized and petrified as Coraline discovers an alternate world on the other side of a bricked-up doorway that at first seems appealing… but soon turns terrifying (ages 10–13). The animated movie version of Gaiman’s tale will be released in February 2009.

Two packed-with-adventure novels feature strong female protagonists and highlight coming-of-age experiences. Set in 1939 England, Eva Ibbotson’s The Dragonfly Pool (Dutton) introduces Tally—a courageous and creative 11-year-old who helps the prince of nearby Bergania escape the Nazis—and his overbearing royal relations (ages 10–13). Similar to Gail Carson Levine’s novels (Ella Enchanted, HarperCollins, 1997), Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s latest book mixes realism, magic, and once-upon-a-time flair to tell an enthralling tale. Newly orphaned, Princess Ben (Houghton) is lonely and miserable as the unlikable Queen Sophia tries to whip her into throne-ready shape. However, when Ben discovers an enchanted room in the castle, she soon turns her life around, growing into an individual who can take on dragons, lead her country, and even fall in love (ages 11–16).

For Those Tough-To-Please Teens
Chick-lit aficionados will get a kick out of E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (Hyperion). This true-confessions-style account tells how one girl transforms from a sweet-natured “Bunny Rabbit” to a cocky “near-criminal mastermind” who infiltrates a secret all-male society at her elite boarding school and orchestrates a series of awe-inspiring—and trouble-making—pranks (ages 12 up).

Teens who like their fantasy with a touch of martial arts excitement and X-Men-esque inner turmoil will enjoy Kristin Cashore’s debut novel. Katsa is a Graceling (Harcourt)—an individual born with an acutely developed ability—whose special skill happens to be lethal combat. With the encouragement of new friend/love interest Po, who is also gifted, the young woman rebels against her royal uncle (whose been using her as a heavy) and decides to use her expertise for the greater good. This epic-scale novel is laced with romance, adventure, self-discovery, and fight scenes (ages 14 up).

Fantasy-master Terry Pratchett’s latest book takes place in a parallel Pacific Ocean during pseudo-Victorian times and stars two unforgettable young characters. Mau (the sole survivor of the tsunami that decimated his village) and Daphne (an English castaway with the spunk and swashbuckling independence of Pirates of the Caribbean’sElizabeth Swann) find themselves rebuilding Mau’s island Nation (HarperCollins) as refugees (and enemies) arrive in droves. A thought-provoking and wryly entertaining alternate history adventure (ages 12 to 16).

Several set-in-a-possible-near-future thrillers will keep kids reading into the wee hours and enthusiastically passing books among friends. In Suzanne Collins’s riveting The Hunger Games (Scholastic), teenagers are selected by lottery to represent their districts in a fight-to-the death contest that is broadcast on live television. Reflecting broken-mirror images of today’s ubiquitous reality-TV series, this gripping survival story incorporates romance and adventure and explores issues of humanity (ages 12 up). Mary E. Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Holt) is set in a time marked by mind-boggling—but illegal—biotechnological advances. Seventeen-year-old Jenna, who has just awoken from a yearlong coma after a devastating car accident, slowly regains her lost memories and soon realizes that her parents are keeping a startling secret… one that reaches to the core of who—and what—she is (ages 14 up). Armed with an amazing array of snoopware, Big Brother is watching Marcus, the tech-savvy star of Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (TOR). When Marcus is mistakenly arrested and mistreated by the Department of Homeland Security after a terrorist attack on his hometown of San Francisco, it’s Marcus against the Man in a battle of wills, courage, and techno smarts. Flavored with humor and romance, this spine-tingling read will have teens thinking about personal freedom and the standing up for one’s beliefs (ages 15 up).The mother of three voracious young readers, Joy Fleishhacker is a children's librarian and freelance writer who has many of these titles on her own gift-giving list.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

An Interview about "What Dogs Want for Christmas" with Kandy Radzinski

Just to get you all into a Christmassy mood I have reviewed a splendid dog book called What dogs want for Christmas by Kandy Radzinski. You can see my review of this title on the Through the Looking Glass Book Review website, and here is an interview that I had with the book's author.

Why did you decide to write this book?
I decided to write "What Dogs Want for Christmas," as a companion to "What Cats Want for Christmas." I love painting animals.

You have dogs in your life. Do they get Christmas presents?
At the moment I have two dogs, Kirby a scotty male, and Beanie, a female rescued mut. They don't get presents for Christmas because everyday is Christmas for them, with all the love, attention, and food that they get everyday, anyway.

You have written another Christmas book about cats. Do you have a special fondness for Christmastime? If so why? I love Christmas; I see it as celebrating Jesus' birthday, plus alot of glitz. I also love the colors of Christmas. How do you create your illustrations? I create my illustrations by first just seeing them in my mind, then I do very rough drawings, refine that, and then go to good watercolor paper and paint. Hopefully, it turns out like that mental image that I had in my mind in the beginning. You have done several alphabet books for Sleeping Bear Press. Have you enjoyed doing these books? I have loved doing the alphabet books for Sleeping Bear Press. I really love painting just about everything.

What do you think alphabet books of this kind offer young readers?
These alphabet books offer young readers education, excitment, etc., what any good children's book should offer, some kind of magic.

If you could choose any topic which topic would you like to turn into an alphabet book?
If I could choose any topic to turn into an alphabet book, it would deal with animals. When I was growing up, my parents were very distant, but I always had a dog. They were and are so important to me. I love painting animals and anything with fur. Don't you just want to reach out and touch and cuddle anything that has fur on it?
The publisher of this book has kindly given me several copies of this book to give away to you. Drop me a line if you would like one.
Many thanks Kandy and Sleeping Bear Press.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A is for Abraham and an interview with Richard Michelson

Last month I read and reviewed A is for Abraham: A Jewish Family Alphabet. This special alphabet book looks at many aspects of Jewish life and I was delighted when the author, Richard Michelson, agreed to be interviewd.

Was A is for Abraham your idea or did the publisher suggest that you write it?
Why do you think a book of this kind is important?

I was contacted by the publisher about my interest in doing a Jewish Alphabet book, as part of their larger cultural alphabet series on March 1, 2006. I enthusiastically accepted the challenge. Though culturally Jewish, I did not grow up with a religious education of any kind. But I married a Methodist who felt strongly that children should be raised with a religious foundation. Jennifer converted to Judaism (going into labor while in the mikvah, but that is a different story), and it was her questioning me about Jewish traditions that made me realize how little I knew about my own history. I wanted to write a book that would have been both helpful to me at that time, and later to my children. I think it is important and empowering to teach kids (and adults) the long history and the reasons behind much of what they are learning about their heritage.

Did you write the poems in the book all in one go and then the prose, or did you mix it up?
At first I jotted some quick notes listing every Jewish subject I felt needed to be considered. Jewish Holidays; Famous Jews from the Patriarchs to contemporary Rabbis, artists, entertainers; Diaspora Judaism, Israel Judaism, Foods, Language. Religious beliefs, etc.-- And of course, within each category, the word choices were endless. Chanukah under C or H? Under M for Menorah, D for Dreidels, L for Latkes, G for Gelt, etc. The list got completely unwieldy, and I reached a state of total despair. But I worked for months writing individual verses, often using 3 or 4 words and concepts under each letter. I sent my editor a draft, but each letter seems crowded with info that didn’t necessarily connect to make a greater whole. It felt disorganized. Too much info was crammed into too small of a verse, and that the language was too complicated.

My wonderful editor's response: If someone said to list the 26 most important things to know about Jewish-American history/culture, is this the list you would give? Make sure all the topics for each letter are grouped together in the best way possible.

So I started a long rethinking process, which was much like putting together a puzzle: Grouping foods (kosher, etc.) under one letter; Literary Arts under another; Prayer under another. If one letter changed, I had to shift numerous other letters. It became addictive? I can’t tell you how many nights I fell asleep or woke up trying to fit the puzzle pieces together.Then, of course, I needed the right balance of serious and fun; Religious, cultural, and historical.

Finally I had to make the poetry simple enough for young children, and interesting enough rhythmically and conceptually for parents and older kids. After all the poems were written, the side bars allowed me to expand on the subject. I tried to boil down sophisticated ideas, and explain them as simply as possible within a specific given # of words to fit the book's format. More than two years later, my final draft was submitted.

Do you enjoy speaking to children in schools? If so why?
I am pleased to say that the book is selling well, and has been added to the essential PJ Library booklist; also the Jewish Book Council has sent me on tour to speak with kids at book festivals and schools around the country, where I have a lot of fun interacting with kids. Meeting the kids, and their families is an honor and more importantly, it is fun. The kids and I read together, we laugh, we discuss, and we have a great time. The enthusiasm of children, when they learn something new, or understand something for the first time, or think about something they'd not considered before, is wonderful to witness and be a part of. I get to be the good guy, and then, when they or I get tired and cranky, I get to leave them with their parents and teachers. What's not to like about school visits? Writing for and speaking to kids is a dream job.

Many of your books have a historical element to them. Why do you choose to write books of this kind? Is there a time in history that you are particularly interested in?
I write both fiction and non-fiction; I write for kids and for adults; and it all interests me equally. In fiction and poetry, I get to exercise my imagination, and in non-fiction (though it is also an imaginative undertaking in so far as I try to put myself in the mind of the individuals during their historical moment), I get to learn about what makes us who we are, which of course, helps me understand myself, and others, and where we might be going. I can't conceive of "specializing," and the past interest me as much as the future.

What do you think parents and teachers can do to encourage their children to read more books that are history based?
It is a constant challenge to see the world as if for the first time, or in a new light, and if a parent is truly interested in a subject, their enthusiasm will encourage their children. When my own children were in college, I always suggested that they choose their courses based on the teacher, more so than the subject. A good teacher is even more important for younger kids.

I write the books I write because something captures my attention, and I want to share that feeling or knowledge with others. It is creating a community, which is why Jews pray together in synagogue, or in a minyan. Plus I write because I am in love with words, and their possibilities. What a parent or teacher can do to encourage a love of history, is to choose the right books that make history fascinating; and to read the books themselves, or along with their children. How many times have you heard parents complain that their children aren't reading, or interested in learning, while they themselves are plopped in front of the TV.

What kinds of books did you like to read when you were a child?
Unfortunately, I did not read much as a child. I really fell in love with books, under the guidance of a wonderfully enthusiastic teacher in high school. I did not realize there was a whole world of children's books out there. So when my kids were young. I was reading the classics: Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Vonnegut, Kafka, Singer, and these are the books I would read to my children at night. My daughter tells me now that I used to embarrass her by reading long passages Kafka's Metamorphosis to her and her 2nd grade friends when they came to our house for sleepovers. It wasn’t until my children were older that I discovered children’s literature. I had become social friends with writers/artists like Jane Yolen, Barry Moser, Maurice Sendak, and so I read their books, and I was astonished by the richness of their best work for children. Later, when my children brought friends home with them from college, I would insist on reading them passages from, for instance The Stupids. So I continued to embarrass them. Most readers move from children's books to "adult books," but great books are great regardless of the age they are supposedly geared toward, and the time in life you encounter them.

The publisher of this book, Sleeping Bear Press, has sent me some give away copies of this book. If you would like one drop me a line.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Young people - Have a taste of the Peace Corps experience

In the 1960's Senator John F. Kennedy challenged young people to make a difference in the world. The Peace Corps grew out of his challenge and since then "more than 195,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in 139 host countries to work on issues ranging from AIDS education to information technology and environmental preservation."

To give young people a taste for what it is like to be a Peace Corps volunteer the Peace Corps has set up a Peace Corps Challenge website where children can get a feel for what it is like to volunteer in a village in a foreign country. This online game is both entertaining and highly educational. Players will have to deal with water, health, infrastructure, and education problems. Teachers might like to use this invaluable tool in their classrooms to show their students that it is vital that we all do what we can to help people who are less fortunate than we are. Online classroom materials are available to teachers who want to participate.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Meet Elise Broach, author of Masterpiece

Not long ago I read and reviewed Masterpiece by Elise Broach. It is a terrific book for young readers and you can read my review here. I was so impressed by the book that I decided that I wanted to talk to the author. Here is an interview that I had with her:

1. How did you get the idea for Masterpiece?
I actually started Masterpiece in the 1980s, when I was a graduate student in the history Ph.D. program at Yale, living in an apartment in New Haven. Late at night, I accidentally dropped one of my contact lenses down the bathroom sink. I spent over an hour trying to fish it out, and I kept fantasizing about how great it would be to have some tiny creature capable of going down the drain and retrieving it for me. I finally found the contact, and then, after midnight, sat down at my desk and wrote the first three chapters of the story. I didn't return to it for over twenty years!

2. In Masterpiece one of the main characters is a beetle. Why did you choose this particular animal?
I like beetles. There are so many different kinds. They're small and fairly harmless, you see them everywhere, and they don't have the scary associations of insects that sting or bite. Plus, they're exremely resourceful and hardy, and they can live inside houses without being part of an infestation. Really, a beetle was the perfect insect for the purposes of the story!

3. Do you have an interest in/fondness for art?
I've always been interested in art. When I was little, I loved to draw and paint. In college, I took lots of art history classes. Now, as an adult, one of my favorite things to do is visiting art museums with my family or friends.

4. Is Durer one of your favorite artists, and if not why did you pick his work to be at the center of Masterpiece?
I knew Durer's work from my art history classes, but he wasn't one of my favorite artists until I spent so much time thinking about him while writing Masterpiece. For the plot to work, I needed an artist whose drawings were almost magically detailed and tiny, so delicate they could plausibly have been created by a beetle. Durer was an expert at pen-and-ink drawings, had completed several miniatures, and was renowned for the incredible level of detail in his work. In personality, he was melancholy and had quite a sad life, but was beloved by his friends and very generous to them, so he seemed a good fit for the story that way too.

5. James is a rather lonely little boy. Is his loneliness something you identify with?
I'm not sure I identify with his loneliness as much as sympathize with it. I've known so many people like James, who stand off to the side of things and never quite get the attention they deserve, who are great observers of life but not necessarily full participants in it. James is exactly the kind of child who would notice Marvin, and whose life would be most changed by a friendship with him.

6. On your website you say that you identify with Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. In what way?
Oh, I'm not sure that's very original! Anyone who has read that wonderful book probably most identifies with the character of Elizabeth. I guess apart from superficial things, like the fact that I love to read and am interested in other people's lives, I'd say that, like Elizabeth, I am pretty opinionated and independent, but never take myself too seriously.

7. Which do you prefer, writing a picture book or a novel?
They're very different experiences. A picture book is more immediately satisfying, because I can usually write the first draft in one sitting. It may take months and months of noodling to get it right, but it's very rewarding to finish a story in a few hours: to see the whole thing, complete, on paper. By contrast, a novel is a Herculean labor at some level, at least for me. There's always a point at which I wonder if I can pull it off (usually right in the middle!). But when I finish a novel, and have peopled an entire world and watched it change and deepen over time--and even surprise me--that is tremendously fulfilling.

8. Do you read a lot of children’s literature?
Yes! All the time. I love to read. It used to be my guilty pleasure, but now that I write for a living, I can convince myself it's justified.

9. Where do you write and do you have a schedule for writing?
I usually write in an alcove of my bedroom, in front of a window overlooking the woods. My desk is an old library table, with all of my favorite children's books on the shelf at my knees. But I also write in coffeeshops, libraries, while I'm waiting in the car to pick up my kids from some activity or other. When you have a busy life, you have to fit it in wherever possible. I don't have a schedule for writing, and certainly don't write every day. I tend to work very hard in spurts, and then need a lot of thinking time in between.

10. If you were to write a work of historical fiction which period in history would it be based in?
That is a very interesting question. I think it would be really hard for me to write historical fiction, even though I have a background in history... or maybe BECAUSE I have a background in history. I'd be so concerned about getting every single detail right--what wood were the floors made of then? What did people eat for breakfast and how did it vary by social class?--that I'm afraid it would be crippling to the story. But there are so many periods in history that fascinate me. I love Elizabethan England, which played such a big part in my first novel, Shakespeare's Secret.

To find out more about Elise please visit her website.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The New Issue of Through the Looking Glass Book Review is online

Good morning everyone. I just wanted to let you know that the new issue of Through the Looking Glass Book Review is now online. This month, because of the holiday season, I decided to do something different. Rather than have my ususal Special Feature I reviewed books in the various different genres that I thought would make great gifts for the holidays. There are board books, pop-up books, craft kits, picture books, books for young readers and books for teens - all of which would make a great gift for someone.

Of course there are lots of Christmas titles as well. I always have a bit of a struggle choosing the ones I like best. Then I find myself reviewing late into the night to get them all done in time - because there are so many of them! Though most of the Christmas titles are picture books there are some like Grimble at Christmas and The Dog who thought he was Santa that are for older readers.

In addition there are some wonderful Hanukkah stories to enjoy as well.

As usual I have the monthly Bookish Calendar full of links to interesting books of all kinds. Here you will find books about Ludwig van Beethoven, Rosa Parks, and much more.

For this December issue I chose a deliciously funny teen vampire book as my Editor's Choice of the month. Sucks to be me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire (maybe) by Kimberly Pauley would make a great gift for a teen who has an appreciation for vampire tales. You can see my interview with the author of this entertaining book on the November 13th, 2008 blog entry.

I hope you enjoy this new issue and that you are able to use it to buy lots of splendid books!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Barefoot Books invites you to bring books to Africa

Barefoot Books brings Books to Africa

Multi-cultural children’s book publisher Barefoot Books and non-profit Books For Africa (BFA) are embarking on an innovative partnership to bring Barefoot Books into the hands of children in classrooms and libraries across Africa. Since 1988, BFA has shipped more than 20 million books to 44 African countries and, with growing awareness of their organization and cause, plans to ship millions more in the coming years. To help BFA achieve their goal this holiday season, Barefoot is offering its community the opportunity to purchase an African-themed title online at a dramatically reduced price which will be sent to a child in Africa. Six titles are available, including We All Went on Safari: A Counting Journey Through Tanzania and Mama Panya’s Pancakes: A Village Tale from Kenya.
Additionally, Barefoot is calling on their grassroots network of home-sellers to support BFA’s mission, by selling beautiful African bookmarks for $1 a piece, with proceeds going towards shipping costs for the books.

Barefoot Books CEO Nancy Traversy says, “Barefoot is always looking to find like-minded partners who are making a difference in the lives of children all over the world. We are so excited to be working with Books for Africa and the entire Barefoot community to help bring books to the African children who so need them.”

“The beautiful books provided by Barefoot Books, which feature African themes, will be very exciting for our recipients in Africa to read,” says Books For Africa Executive Director Patrick Plonski. “We really appreciate this partnership with Barefoot Books which will provide high-quality books for us to send to children in Africa, and will also provide funds to help ship these books.”

Barefoot Books is launching the Books for Africa campaign this holiday season and promoting it through 2009.

About Barefoot Books Barefoot Books is an international children's publisher dedicated to creating award-winning, beautiful books which celebrate imagination, diversity and creativity. Our pioneering and innovative business model wholeheartedly embraces today's social networking opportunities and focuses on establishing grassroots, viral communities with a global reach. Our audience is central to our business philosophy as is our willingness to redefine and reinvent the way in which stories and children come together. Find out more at

CONTACT: Jeanne Nicholson,; (617) 995-4640

About Books for Africa
Books For Africa collects, sorts, ships and distributes books to children in Africa. Our goal: to end the book famine in Africa. Books donated by publishers, schools, libraries, individuals and organizations are sorted and packed by volunteers who carefully choose books that are age and subject appropriate. They are shipped in containers paid for by contributions from people like you. They are on once-empty library shelves, in classrooms in rural schools, and in the hands of children who have never held a book before. Each book will be read over and over and over again. When the books arrive, they go to those who need them most: children who are hungry to read, hungry to learn, hungry to explore the world in ways that only books make possible. Find out more at

CONTACT: Patrick Plonski, Executive Director,; phone: 651-291-2713

Monday, December 1, 2008

An Interview with Patrick McDonnell - Author of "South"

I'd like to introduce you to Patrick McDonnell. Patrick is the creator of the comic strip Mutts and his characters, Earl the dog and Mooch the cat have delighted people of all ages all over the world. In addition to drawing the strip, Patrick has created several wonderful books including Art and The Gift of Nothing. His new book, South would make a wonderful gift for almost anyone this holiday season.

Here is an interview that I had with Patrick:

1. Where did the idea for Mutts come from?
I had wanted to be a cartoonist since I was a child. But when I graduated from the School of Visual Arts I started my career as a magazine illustrator. One of my favorite ‘characters’ in my illustrations was a little white dog. That dog and his guardian eventually evolved into Earl and his Ozzie in Mutts. Overall, I’d say that MUTTS is about my love for animals and for the art of cartooning.

2. Did you base the characters of Mooch and Earl on animals you knew?
Earl is based on my first dog Earl. Earl and I spent almost 19 years together. In fact, Earl is the star of WAG!, my next children’s book, which will be coming out in Fall 2009. Mooch’s personality is a combination of all the cats I’ve known throughout my life, and my cat MeeMow is a source of a lot of Mooch material.

3. How did you come up with Mooch’s wonderful way of speaking?
Comics have a long history of characters having funny speech patterns (like Popeye, for example). So when I started MUTTS, I knew that I wanted at least one of my characters to pay homage to that tradition. A friend of a friend would say Yesh on occasion, and I thought it would be funny if Mooch adopted that word. But things got out of hand, and soon Mooch was also saying shmaybe. Before long, Mooch was shhhing all over the place.

4. You use your MUTTS strips and characters to make people aware of the plight of homeless dogs and cats. Have you always cared about this cause?
I have always had a love and deep concern for animals. But doing a daily strip that centers on viewing the world through their eyes made me more aware of how tough they have it in this world. After my becoming a member of the HSUS Board of Directors, I became acutely aware of the issues.

5. Aside from donating money to shelters, adopting a pet from a shelter, and spaying or neutering their pets, what do you think people can do to help homeless animals?
Well, these three things are a great start to ending the problem of homeless pets. Other things we can do are volunteering at the shelter (maybe simply by walking the dogs or playing with the cats), donating blankets or other items such as toys and food, and by telling your friends to not buy a new companion animal from a pet store. 99% of dogs sold in pet stores come from puppy mills.

6. In your children’s books you focus on simple yet incredibly important themes such as friendship. When you start creating a book do you know ahead of time what the theme of the book is going to be, or does the inspiration come to you when you put pencil to paper?
When I write my books I usually have a vague idea for a story in mind. When I put pencil to paper I then try to get out of the way and let the story tell itself. In a way, I feel it’s a form of meditation.

7. When you are drawing are you like your character Art (from your book “Art”) in that your imagination takes over?
ART is definitely autobiographical. Making art is a form of play for me and something I love to do.

8. What were you trying to tell people when you wrote your book “The Gift of Nothing?”
Some of the most important things in our lives are the small, everyday moments when we are simply present. Just being together with family and enjoying the time spent with them. The gift of life is all around us, and this book celebrates that gift.

9. When you started to draw the Mutts strips did you ever think that you would be creating stand-alone books one day?
Like comic strips, children’s books tell a story using words and pictures. As such, I’ve always had a fascination for them, and felt I would someday create a picture book. The daily MUTTS comic strip, however, consumed almost all my time for a long time. When I was able to make some space in my schedule, doing children’s books became a priority. I really enjoy this medium.

10. I believe that your books are suitable to readers of all ages. Was it your intention to create stories that are ageless or did this just happen by chance?
That’s so nice of you to feel that way about my books. Since the MUTTS comic strip is geared for all ages, I guess my children’s books have a similar ‘appeal’. Our sense of childhood wonder never leaves us if we open to that possibility.

You can find out more about Patrick and Mutts on Patrick's website.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I just wanted to take this opportunity to wish you all a

Best wishes,


An interview with Matthew Price - Author and Publisher

I'd like to introduce you to Matthew Price, a children's book author and publisher. Recently his publishing house, Matthew Price Limited, set up an office in the United States and several Matthew Price books are already available. Curious to learn more about Matthew and his work, I interviewed him.

What prompted you to set up a publishing house here in the United States?
Our children had gone through high school in the States and didn't want to come home! What choice? We had to move and move we did with absolutely everything.

Is the publishing world in the United States very different from the one in the U.K.?
Yes and no. The principles are the same, the taste is different in some ways. How do you decide which books to publish? Mostly gut instinct as a father, but also as a former children's book editor, and as a former children book buyer.It is unusual for a publisher to also be a writer.

Do you think that your experiences as a writer make you a better publisher? Yes, in some ways, it's very inconvenient in others! The compulsion to write gets in the way of being an efficient manager. On the other hand, it makes me much more empathetic to what writers and artists go through. The number one complaint from authors is that publishers don't communicate enough with them. As an author myself I view the editorial and publishing process with an authors eye. I am gentle with my editorial comments, and keep the author informed during all phases of production and marketing. That allows us to have wonderful, long term relationships with our authors.

Your company motto is "Education through delight" and you have produced several books for young children that fit this bill. Do you think you will publish books for older children too?
It's possible, but I want to get the younger books established first. This is our area of strength.

What do you think we need to do to make sure the unhappy economy does not have a dire effect on the children's book industry?
Traditionally children's books have not suffered as much as adult books in a recession. None of us is recession-proof but all we can do is try and publish only those books that we believe in wholeheartedly. That is what we should do all the time anyway, so maybe this difficult time will help us to concentrate our minds!

I have read that you "grew up in a bookshop." Where was this, and what was it like?

What I meant by this is that I grew up in the book trade in a bookshop. My first job was in Dillon's University Bookshop in London and I spent five years there, ending up as the children's book buyer. It came to be the basis for all my editorial instincts. As an experience for a publisher, it was invaluable. When I got my first job in a large publisher and we would discuss a book, I would sometimes say: "Well, I couldn't have sold it in the bookshop," and people would glare at me, because in England it was very unusual to go straight from a bookshop into an editorial job and they had not had this experience.

Do you have plans to write another book?
Yes. What will it be? I honestly don't know. I have foresworn writing many times but it always seems to come back and get me.What do you like most about being a publisher? I have to confess, I love the whole business. I love working with authors and artists. I love working with other publishers. I love working with reps, librarians, booksellers, the professionals of the book trade. We have very strong international links and I love to discover people all over the world who love the same things I do. I even love the wheeling and dealing.What do you like most about being a writer? I love to put something new where there was nothing before. I think what I mean by this is that I love to create something original.

Take a look at my review of Matthew's Book, Room for one more.

Monday, November 24, 2008

An interview with Keith Szafranski

Keith Szafranski is the author of a wonderful new series of picture books starring Barrington, a bear who loves to travel and who takes photographs of the things he sees. You can read my review of the first Barrington book, Barrington visits the Emperor on the Through the Looking Glass Book Review website.

This is what Keith had to say about his books and his work:

Where did you get the idea for your Barrington Bear stories?
About 2 1/2 years ago an artist friend of mine suggested I use my photographs to do a children's picture book. She had recently come out with one using her artwork and was doing very well with it selling them at the various
art shows she did around the country. The idea intrigued me but is was almost two years before I came up with an idea that I liked. One day, in April 2007, my wife and I were walking the dog and this idea of having some sort of stuffed critter take my place on all of my travels came to me literally out of nowhere. I really liked the idea and started working out some of the details. Less than a year later the first Travels With Barrington Bear book was released.

Is he your bear and where did his name come from?
Yes, Barrington is my creation. I designed and sewed Barrington and all of his clothes. I really did not want a bear at first because so many people used bears in their stories. But eventually I succumbed and Barrington was 'born.' When it came time to name my bear I went to At first Barrington was going to be a photographer just like me. I wanted his name to go with either 'bear' or 'photographer' so I looked through boys names under 'b', 'f' and 'ph'. I listed about 60 names I liked and then started the process of elimination. I soon decided against having Barrington be a photographer as such and just have him be a bear that liked to take photographs. That eliminated all of the 'f' and 'ph' names and just left the 'b's'. I then started going through the list again, checking online to see if anyone else had used a particular name for a bear. I always passed over 'Barrington' because I really liked it and eventually quit the elimination process and went with Barrington.

How did you incorporate the image of Barrington into your photos so well?
Each of the first two books has only one image where Barrington was actually in the shot as taken. In all of the rest I used Photoshop to place him in the image. This is the most fun aspect of doing these books for me. Like most Photoshop
skills that I possess, adding Barrington to a scene so it looks like he is really there just took practice. I learned as I went along. I do everything pretty much by 'hand'. I know there are faster and perhaps easier ways to incorporate the little bear into the original photos but I don't think they work as well. I even draw Barrington's shadow like the one on the cover of Emperor by hand.

Clearly you went to see the Penguins in the Antarctic. What was it like?
I have been to Antarctica twice. Once was pretty much just for the Emperor penguins. That's the trip the first story is based on. The other time was for several species of penguin as well as seals, albatross and many other birds and animals. It's a gross understatement to say that Antarctica is an amazing place, especially the penguins. The Emperors see very few people during the year and so are quite 'tame'. While we as tourists are not allowed to approach the birds closer than 15 feet, it is okay for the penguins to come closer to us and they often do. I had literally thousands of penguins going about their daily routine of eating, sleeping, preening and taking care of their young within arms length. I hope I can see them again someday.

You have written one more book about Barrington's adventures. Do you have plans for many more?
After I first came up with the idea of Barrington, I quickly wrote down about ten book titles for the series and have since added two or three more that came to mind. I could probably go on ad infinitum with the series but will most likely limit the total to somewhere between twelve to fifteen books. Assuming they sell well enough that is. I have already begun work on book three in the series, Barrington Bear's Yellowstone Adventure.

When you are not writing about Barrington you are a professional photographer. How did you get interested in this field?
Well, to tell you the truth, the traveling actually came first. I always like to travel and see new places, especially the mountains. My wife and I took the kids out west a few times while we were living in Wisconsin. I was usually unhappy
with the photographs that I returned with from these trips. I was using an inexpensive instamatic camera at the time. Then, in 1979, a few months before a vacation to Arizona I decided to buy an inexpensive 35mm camera. It was almost love at first click. I really enjoyed the control I now had over my photographs. I practiced all the time. Four years after picking up the 35mm for the first time my wife and I quit our jobs and moved to Montana so I could pursue a career in wildlife photography.

What are you trying to do with your Barrington Bear books besides giving your readers something to smile and laugh at?
I really want to teach the reader something about the world around them. Not just information about places and animals but also the seemingly unimportant things like how you get from Montana to Antarctica. I want to do this in a fun
way so the kids (no matter what age) will not realize they are actually learning something along the way. I try to make my stories as true to life as possible with a little whimsy thrown in. Most of the things that happen to Barrington on his travels really happened to me. Of course, I didn't get to dance with penguins. There are some advantages to being a bear!

Please visit Keith and Barrington at the Barrington Bear Website.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Interview with Jackie Morris illustrator

I'd like you to meet Jackie Morris, the talented artist who illustrated a beautiful fairy tale called Singing to the sun.

What did you think when you were first sent the text for Singing to the Sun?
I first heard the story of Singing to the Sun at a children’s book festival in Swansea. Viv was doing an evening event and I went along to listen. The story made pictures dance in my head, and after the event Viv asked me if I liked it. When I said yes she replied “Good, because I wrote it with you in mind.’ And from there we began to look for a publisher together. The story was originaly published in a collection of stories and the others in the collection are equally beautiful.

What do you think of the message that it imparts to young, and not so young, readers?
There are so many messages in the book if you want to look for them. For children one message is that maybe love is better than wealth and power, but it is a thing to be freely given. For fathers a reminder that daughters have free will and are fed up of being given away as prizes in stories. For parents the message can be that arguing is frightening for children, for women, that it is always a good idea to keep your wolves close, if you have a wolf, and that cats are smart and music can often have the answer.

The artwork that you created for the story has a magical, ethereal quality. What inspired you to create these pictures in this way?

I love medieval manuscript, textiles, animals and birds. I suppose really the words inspired the images. Each book that I do is different, each a response to a different text

How were the illustrations created?
The illustrations were created with watercolour on hot pressed paper, after 27 years of practice and much blood sweat and tears. Firstly I did small thumbnail drawings and sketches trying to catch the characters, then went on to the finished work, which is larger than the published work. Some pieces flowed easily, others I had to work on a few times. I loved the wolves who are very much a side issue in the text, so I brought them down from the golden mountains to be beside the princesses, ready for when the princes get the answer wrong.

This is not the first fairy-tale that you have illustrated. Do you have a fondness for this genre?
I have a fondness for story. I love listening to storytellers. I love the way a really good story can live in your heart and mind and grow with you and help to make sense of the mad world we live in.

What do you think fairytales give children?
Hope. Understanding. Courage. Insight. Pleasure. Passion.Music. A connection through history to all the people in the world who have ever told the story before, who have ever listened to it. A place in the world and in time.

Did you like to read when you were a child, and if so what did you like to read?
I struggled to read when I was a child and only persisted because I knew that what was hidden in books behind the code of the alphabet was worth knowing, worth breaking through to. What I love to read now is stories that have magic, not necessarily witches and wizards, but that magical power where an author can make you believe, make you care, for a character whose bones are paper, whose blood is he letters on a page. Discoveries this last coupe of years have been Robin Hobb and The Book Thief and Stardust. Two of my favorite books I read as a child were White Fang and The Call of the Wild.

You have created illustrations for many charitable organizations. What do you like about doing this kind of work?
I like to use the work I do for good. I do not want to advertise cars, do illustrations for banks and big business. I always felt very priveleged to be able to work for Amnesty International and Green Peace and Oxfam.

You often use one of your cats as a model for your paintings. What does he think of this?
Max is a private kind of cat who likes to sleep in cupboards. He does not often come to sit on a lap and tends t keep out of the limelight, unlike the ginger brethren who dominate the house. But I think he is secretly quite pleased. He is very handsome and dark like midnight with emerald eyes.

If you could travel anywhere in the world to paint where would you go and why?
I would go to Venice in Spring. The colours of the buildings, the madness of the waterfilled streets, the crumbling decay are all inspiring. I would go to the arctic where the colours play in the sky and on the land and I would wait and watch for polar bears. I would go to Bhutan or Nepal and sit quietly and watch cranes fly over high mountains and hope a snowleopard would be watching me. I would go beneath the sea where great whales sing and see them swim and leap from the water, before it is too late, before there are no more and I would go to a jungle in India and wait for a tiger to burn the emerald forest bright. And for now I will go to my studio and paint some more.

You can find out more about Jackie on her wonderful website. If you are a cat lover do take the time to visit the blog written by her cat companions. Her journal will show you what the life of an illustrator is like.
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