Dear Book Lovers,
Welcome! I am delighted that you have found The Through the Looking Glass blog. For over twenty years I have reviewed children's literature titles for my online journal, which came out six times a year. Every book I reviewed for that publication can be found on the Through the Looking Glass website (the link is below). I am now focusing on writing reviews and articles, and finding interesting book related news, for this blog. Many of the titles that I will be sharing with you will appeal to adults as well as children. I firmly believe that some of the best writing in the world can be found on the pages of books that were written for young people. I invite you adults to explore these books for yourselves; they will, I am sure, delight and surprise you.
I hope what you will find here will make your journey into the world of children's literature more enjoyable. Please visit the Through the Looking Glass Facebook page as well for even more bookish posts
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.
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 babynames.com. 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!
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.
What made you want to write about this topic? It was at an SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators )fall conference back in 1998, where a panel consisting of a librarian, an editor and an agent all expressed the need for more Thanksgiving books. I really like the Thanksgiving holiday, but wouldn’t say I was gung ho about writing a book about it. A year later, I was checking out books at our local library and one of the books I checked out was titled This Is the Pumpkin, a contemporary story about Halloween, written in a variation of cumulative rhyming verse. I thought that this format could work for a contemporary story about Thanksgiving and started out writing This Is the Turkey. That story was going nowhere, so I thought why not write about the First Thanksgiving using the same cumulative rhyme format, and calling the book THIS IS THE FEAST. FEAST was the first book I sold, back in Nov. of 2000, but because of editor and illustrator changes it has taken eight years to come out! ( I sold three books after FEAST which came out before FEAST was published.)
Did you do a lot of research before you began to write? Yes, definitely! For This Is the Feast, I checked out every book I could find on the First Thanksgiving, both adult and children’s. A couple of the Pilgrims kept diaries so I had primary sources, too! I found the research to be very interesting and exciting, or as I tell the students when I visit schools, “very wowing!” I discovered I really loved non-fiction, and thought about other historical events that might work written in the cumulative rhyme format, and that’s when I came up with THIS IS THE DREAM. That book actually started out as THIS IS THE MARCH, about the 1968 march on Washington D.C., but decided that was too narrow an approach, so I expanded it to the entire Civil Rights Movement. For research I watched videos and read lots of books. Most of the research material for DREAM was primary sources For THIS IS THE GAME, which comes out in 2010, and is about the history of baseball, I watched Ken Burn’s nine-part documentary on baseball and read lots of adult non-fiction books. For THIS IS THE EARTH, (publication date pending) I read lots of newspaper articles as well as books on the environment. The next book I’d like to write is THIS IS THE FLAG.
The rhymes in your book flow beautifully from page to page. How did you achieve this? Thank you! Lots and lots of practice. Like I tell the kids when I visit schools, writing is like playing a musical instrument or playing a sport. The more you practice, the better you get at it. You should read some of my earlier poetry, you would cringe! But I would guess that Cal Ripkin and Derek Jeter didn’t start out hitting home runs when they started playing baseball.
Do you have a fixed writing schedule that you follow? Not anymore. Before I was published I used to get up in the wee hours of the morning (before the cat was awake!) to write. That’s when everything is fresh in my mind. Nowadays, I spend most of my time traveling, visiting schools with my A-Rockin’ and A-Readin’ program. I love to talk to the kids and inspire them to read. Now I only write during the summer.
Some people have the mistaken impression that writing in rhyme is easy. What kinds of problems do you face when you are writing in verse? It may be easy for others but not for me! I think the hardest part about writing a poem is getting the meter or rhythm right. I actually started writing poetry by changing the words to nursery rhymes. When you use an existing rhythm, you have a pattern to follow. Then I bought a rhyming dictionary which helped explain different meters.
So far you have mostly written picture books, early readers, and articles. Is there a genre that you would really like to try some day, and if so why? I love to write for children. I think I’m going to stick with that.
What kinds of books did you like to read when you were a child? I loved Dr. Suess and Amelia Bedelia. I loved the page in Amelia Bedelia where Mrs. Rogers told her to draw the curtains, and Amelia sat write down and drew the curtains. It’s pretty cool that my newest book How to Drive Your Sister Crazy is similar to Amelia Bedelia in that they are both Level 2, I Can Read Books published by HarperCollins.
Here is a little more information about Diane Z. Shore:
After 9½ years, 385 rejections, and a forest of sloppy copies, teacher-turned-author Diane Z. Shore published her first picture book, BUS-A-SAURUS BOP, a rollicking, rhyming read-aloud, and winner of the 2004 Children’s Choice Award. Now a full time author and read-aloud advocate, Diane writes in a variety of genres and her books have been translated into many languages. Her books include LOOK BOTH WAYS, ROSA LOVES TO READ, THIS IS THE DREAM (Civil Rights Movement), THIS IS THE FEAST (Thanksgiving), and the forthcoming THIS IS THE GAME (Baseball), plus her new beginning reader, HOW TO DRIVE YOUR SISTER CRAZY, a HarperCollins I Can Read!™ inspired by and written especially for reluctant readers. Diane travels across the US with her lively “A-Rockin’ and A’Readin’ school presentations inspiring thousands of kids to read! Visit her website at http://www.dianezshore.com/
Children's author and storyteller, Diane Z. Shore says her favorite thing about writing for children is meeting the kids. She writes picture books, early reader chapter books, poetry, short stories, games/puzzle pages, and non-fiction. “Humorous stories and non-fiction are my favorite things to write," says Diane.
Her work has been published in a variety of magazines including Highlights for Children, Cricket, Spider, Ladybug, Humpty Dumpty, Jack & Jill, Turtle, Children's Playmate, Boys' Quest, and various teaching magazines. Her poetry has won national awards and has appeared in several anthologies, including Miles of Smiles, If Kids Ruled the School, and Rolling in the Aisles. Her nonfiction piece "Presidential Dentures" was awarded the 2002 History Feature of the Year Award given by Highlights Magazine. Diane’s award-winning books include This is the Dream, illustrated by James Ransome, This Is the Feast(HarperCollins), illustrated by Megan Lloyd, Bus-A-Saurus Bop, (Bloomsbury) illustrated by David Clark, Look Both Ways (Bloomsbury), illustrated by Teri Weidner, Rosa Loves to Read (Scholastic), illustrated by Larry Day and How To Drive Your Sister Crazy (I Can Read! Level 2, HarperCollins), illustrated by Laura Rankin, inspired by and written for reluctant readers.
Diane lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and two children, Jennifer and Sam. Scampering about the house are Skruffy, a Jack Russell Terrier who holds the record for most bad hair days, and Punkin’, an orange tabby. Diane says her family, including Skruffy and Punkin’, have inspired her writing, but she adds, “The kids I meet at schools inspire me the most!” To find out more about Diane, visit her at her website.
Welcome to day one of the This is the feast book blog. To kick off this tour I would like to begin with my review:
This is the feast Diane Z. Shore Illustrated by Megan Lloyd Picture Book Ages 4 to 7 HarperCollins, 2008, 978-0-06-623794-7 In 1620 a group of men, women, and children left behind the only life they knew to build new lives in America. Their dream was to be able to live in a place where they would not have to fear religious persecution. Their ship, the Mayflower, was tossed by ferocious storms. People were sick and fearful, but their prayers were answered and they reached America. The people on the Mayflower - the pilgrims as they came to be called - had many troubles ahead of them as they tried to survive in America. Many of their number got sick and died. Food was scarce for many months, but then some Native Americans came to the Pilgrims’ village and they taught the newcomers how to grow food in the new land. With the help of the Native Americans the Pilgrims were able to bring in a good harvest in the fall, and their future was more secure. In this attractive picture book Diane Z. Shore tells the familiar story of the first Thanksgiving using beautifully constructed rhymes that flow across the pages. The rhythm of the text is almost musical, and children will soon get caught up in the story of how the Pilgrims survived their first year in the New World. With powerful imagery and an obvious appreciation for the history of her country, Diane Z. Shore tells a compelling tale.
Let's face it. Vampire books are all the rage these days. Some are pretty dark, some are more like romances with fangs and a little (or a lot) of gore. And then there is Sucks to Be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, teen vampire (maybe)!! In this book first timer Kimberley Paul tells the story of a would-be (maybe) vampire who is a pretty normal teenager, except for all the vampire business that is. The story is funny, touching, and a delight to read. After reading and reviewing this title I decided that I just had to 'talk' to the author and find out a little bit more about her and her book.
This is what she had to say when I interviewed her via email:
What made you decide to write a story about vampires? There were a few things, though if someone had told me before I started writing the story that my first published book would be about vampires, I would have laughed at them. I was actually working on some other manuscripts (this was back in 2005), mostly fantasies. Then I read this YA book about vampires (which shall remain nameless) and it had a lot of references back to Dracula (which I’d studied more times than I’d like to count in college and high school). And it got a lot of stuff wrong, which really annoyed me. That started me thinking about vampires in general and how all the stories are all so angst-y and dark and full of blood and slayers and evil vampires, etc., etc. ad nauseum (not that I don’t enjoy some of those stories, mind you). I thought it would be fun to try and do something different. The first line came to me and I kept trying to think of ways I could turn the “normal” vampire story upside down, but still remain true to the fundamental vampire myths that have been passed down for centuries in pretty much every culture. And I wanted a book that anyone could enjoy, even if they don’t normally read vampire stories.
Mina’s character is incredibly true to life. How did you get inside her head so effectively? Aw, thanks! I’ve actually had a few people ask me that and it especially makes me smile when a teen tells me how they feel like Mina is a real teen. My husband would probably say that I’ve got an inner snarky teen or that I’ve just never grown up, both of which are probably true. It was actually so much fun and far too easy to write as Mina.
Have you thought about continuing Mina’s story? I know that I, for one, would love to find out what happens next. I’m working on a sequel now and I’m again trying to not do the “typical” thing, so I think some of the elements of the sequel will surprise people. I’m having a lot of fun with it. Of course, it will depend upon how well the first book does, so everybody who loves Mina, go out and tell your friends to get to know her too! J
Did you do a lot of research into vampires before you started writing this book? Yes, though I’d also learned a lot in college studying Dracula and the like. I actually took a class with James B. Twitchell, who literally wrote the book on vampires. The excerpt from the paper that Mina wrote on Dracula that is in the book actually came in part from something I’d written in college (it obviously wasn’t a very formal research paper!). Once I started writing the book, I researched the vampire myth in many different countries (you’d be surprised by how prevalent it is).
Sucks to be me is not just a great story, there is also a meaningful message there. What do you think that message is? Thank you! I think a lot of people miss that. While most of the reviews have been good, I’ve seen a couple where the reviewer thought that Mina chose what she did because of a boy (!) or they don’t understand why she even debates the decision at all, which completely misses the point, I think. I definitely didn’t write it to be a “message book” but I wanted some good messages to be in there, if you want to find them. There are a few, to me…like being true to yourself and not doing things just because people expect you to…standing up for yourself and your friends and for what you feel is important…that things are better when you communicate…that family and friends matter…and that girls can be strong individuals with minds of their own. That sounds like kind of a lot of messages, doesn’t it? There’s more, really, and I suppose every individual gets whatever out of it that they will. And honestly, sometimes the message is different even to me (depending on my mood), and I wrote it! I’m curious – what do you feel the central message is?
Most books are written in the third person. What made you decide to write this book as if Mina is speaking to the reader in the here and now? At first, it wasn’t a conscious decision. It’s just how it came out. I’d written in first person, past tense before and doing it in first person, present really felt to me like it added a nice immediacy to the story. It’s an interesting way to write, because even in my own journals I would normally write in past tense. I like how it came out, though I do have to watch out for slipping back into past tense at inappropriate times.
Sucks to be me was written for teenagers. Are you at all interested in writing a book or books for younger readers, and if so why? I do have at least one middle grade level manuscript that is partially completed and notes on a few picture books, but YA is definitely my first love. However, since we had a baby this year, I’m finding myself paying a lot more attention to picture books than I ever used to. There are a lot of good ones out there, but also a lot of not-so-good ones, especially in board books.
In addition to writing this book you run a huge book reviewing website. How did you get interested in this work? I was an English major in college and I took as many classes in children’s and adolescent lit as I could (and science fiction). I was working in the corporate world (which I finally got out of for good in 2005) and reviewing allowed me to exercise the other part of my brain and do something I liked versus something that paid the bills. I still enjoy it, but it is hard to find time for now with Max (our little boy) and trying to get the sequel completed. Luckily, I have some great volunteer reviewers who help out at YA Books Central. The site couldn’t exist today without them.
Like you I review A LOT of children’s books and YA titles. Do you ever find that you really need to read something completely different to take a break? Every now and then, but there’s so much available in YA that I don’t often feel that way. You can truly find anything and I mean ANYTHING for YA readers. Romance? Got it. Dystopias? Bingo. Hard core sci-fi steam punk? It’s there. Pretty much anything is out there, if you look for it.
What was your favorite children’s book when you were little? I was a voracious reader, so it is hard to pinpoint just one book. I also went through a lot of reading phases. But, some of my continuing favorites include Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers (which is sooooo not like the Disney version) and Mistress Masham’s Repose by T. H. White and the Madeleine L’Engle books featuring Charles Wallace.
Here is a little bit more about Kimberly:
Kimberly Pauley loves a good book you can sink your teeth into. She majored in English at the University of Florida and took as many classes in adolescent fiction (and science fiction) as she could find. As her alter-ego, the Young Adult Books Goddess of YA Books Central (yabookscentral.com), she has been reading and reviewing books since 1998 and meeting tons of great authors. Sucks to Be Me is her first novel, though she has published various poems and short stories over the years that she will even periodically admit to. She now lives in Illinois outside of Chicago with a husband who loves her even though he hasn’t read a young adult book since he was about twelve and can’t quite comprehend what the whole fuss is about, a brand-new baby boy already completely surrounded by children’s books, and a devious cat who resembles a tub of lard covered in fur.
Now that we have seen the review of Amadi's Snowman and talked with the author, I would like to tell you a little about Katia.
Author Katia Novet Saint-Lot grew up in Paris but spent her summers visiting her mother's family in Spain. She has also lived in the U.K. and the U.S. Her husband's work for UNICEF took them to Nigeria, and their experiences there provided the background for Amadi's story. They now live in India with their two daughters. As a child, Katia loved reading more than anything else. She also dreamed of becoming a writer and longed for travels to faraway places—she's now busy living her dreams with her family.
And now, to complete this tour I would like to offer readers an Amadi's Snowmanbook giveway. I have two signed copies to offer you. If you would like a copy of this title please drop me a line.
Welcome to day two of the Amadi's Snowman book tour. Today I will be interviewing the author, Katia Novet Saint-Lot:
1) What inspired you to write this story? My husband works for UNICEF, and one of their problems, when we lived in Nigeria was the number of boys who drop out of school to earn quick money doing street-business.
2) You have traveled all over the world. Why did you decide to set your story in Nigeria ? As mentioned above, the story seed was planted and grew in Nigeria, and more specifically in the south-eastern part of the country, Igbo land, with its very strong trading tradition. Of course, the beauty of the story is that the theme of the reluctance to read is universal and can be transported anywhere. But Amadi could only be an Igbo boy.
3) Did you have a specific goal in mind when you wrote this book? I don't think it works that way. I mean, I didn't set out to write a story that would explain the importance of reading to children. The problem my husband was facing spoke to me, and I kept thinking about it, and this boy started talking to me, basically, and the story, with Amadi's whole process - from being adamantly opposed to learning to read to actually making the decision that he will learn - evolved from there.
4) Did you base the character of Amadi on anyone in particular? Not a one person, no. Amadi is my creation entirely.
5) I understand that you loved to read when you were young. What kinds of book did you like? Anything I could land my hands on, I think. Although I did love adventure stories : The Three Musketeers and most books by Alexandre Dumas were my favorites. I also loved Enid Blyton's books.
6) What do you think parents and other caregivers can do to help their children grow to love books? Be avid readers themselves. Children who start reading are still at the age where they want to emulate their parents. If Mom and/or Dad spend a lot of time reading, it's got to be the thing to do. And reading a lot to them, also, of course. And respecting books. I always tell my children to treat their books well, as they are among the best friends they'll make in life.
For the next three days I am going to be featuring the book Amadi's Snowman, which was written by Katia Novet Saint-Lot
Let's begin with my review of the book:
Amadi’s Snowman Katia Novet Saint-Lot Illustrated by Dimitrea Tokunbo Picture Book Ages 4 to 8 Tilbury House, 2008, 0-88448-298-7 Amadi is not pleased when his mother tells him that Mrs. Chikodili will be arriving soon to teach him how to read. Amadi is an Igbo man of Nigeria who will be a trader, a “businessman” when he grows up. He does not think that a businessman should have to learn how to read, and so, when the opportunity presents itself, Amadi runs off. Soon Amadi is in the market, a place that he loves. He eats a mango that he is given, and then he sees his friend Chima sitting on the ground next to a book stall. Chima has a book in his lap and he appears to be reading it. When he looks at the book Amadi sees a picture of a strange “animal with a nose that looked like a carrot.” Chima tells Amadi that the creature in the picture is something called a snowman and that it is made of “frozen rainwater.” Amadi is surprised that Chima has been learning to read. Why would his friend want to do such a thing? Chima explains that he wants to “know more.” After all, if Chima had not read the book, then he and Amadi would not know about snow. As they day unfolds Amadi discovers that reading not only allows you to learn new things, but reading might in fact be useful for a businessman. Often children are very sure that they know what is right. They don’t need to learn math because they are not going to use numbers when they grow up. They don’t need to learn history because history has no relevance to life today. In this case Amadi believes that he does not need to read – until he realizes that reading will allow him to learn about all kinds of fascinating things. Through Amadi’s eyes children who think that reading and books are boring will see that reading allows people to discover all kinds of remarkable things about their world. Written from Amadi’s point of view, this picture book has a powerful message to share with children. No only will they be reminded of the value of reading and books, but they will also see that children around the world are very much the same. The voice that the author creates for Amadi is very convincing and, in its own way, eloquent.
Join me tomorrow for an interview with the author of this meaningful picture book.
If you are a teacher or a librarian you might want to enter this sweepstake event. One school and one library will be awarded a fantastic prize - an advanced screening of the new film, The Tale of Despereaux. Four runners up will win a Tale of Despereaux gift basket containing, among other things:
A complete set of eight movie tie-in titles A selection of five award-winning Kate DiCamillo books in hardcover A $50 movie theater gift certificate to see The Tale of Despereaux in theaters One copy of The Tale of Despereaux video game (for PC) One Despereaux plush
And for those of you who are fond of vampire stories take a look at the Blue Bloods Sweepstakes. Children between the ages of 11 and 16 can enter, and all entries must be received by December 31st. The winner will get to have lunch with Melissa de la Cruz, the author of the series, and will receive a $1000 shopping spree.
Now, I have a confession to make. I have not yet read or reviewed any of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books. I know, this is a terrible state of affairs, but I am going to rectify it in the next couple of days by reading the first book in the series. For all of you Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans there is a cartoon contest that you need to know about. Anyone between the ages of 6 and 16 can enter, and the contest is open until January 31st 2009. Plenty of time to create a comic story. And the prizes are scrummy too:
1 Grand Prize Winner Receives: One visit by Jeff Kinney to the winner’s school. One framed “Wimpify Your Family” original comic by Jeff Kinney. One signed copy of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself Book” by Jeff Kinney. 30 Runners Up Receive: A signed copy of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid Do-It-Yourself Book” by Jeff Kinney, to be mailed to the winners.
To find out more about this contest visit the Diary of a Wimpy Kid website and click on the Contest link in the top right hand corner of the page.
I recently reviewed the latest book in the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter series. The Tale of Briar Bank is a delightful read, and anyone who read the Beatrix Potter Tales when they were little will greatly enjoy this collection of stories. Because I enjoy these tales so much I thought I would interview the author, Susan Wittig Albert.
1. How did you get interested in writing about Beatrix Potter for your series, The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter? Under the name Robin Paige, my husband (Bill Albert) and I were writing a mystery series set in the early 1900s, featuring real people. I had always enjoyed Beatrix’s stories, and suggested that we use her as a character. We did, in a book called Death at Gallows Green. I enjoyed finding out about her and thought she’d make a wonderful character in a continuing mystery series. That was in 1994 or 95. It was another five or six years before my writing schedule opened up enough to allow me to propose the series to my editor. She loved the idea and we went forward with it immediately.
2. Did you know in advance that this was going to be a series? Yes. It has always been planned to be an eight-book series. As you probably know, mysteries are written in series, most of them open-ended (like the China Bayles series, which I also write). In this case, I had a definite time period in mind: 1905 (when Beatrix bought Hill Top Farm) through 1913 (when she married Willie Heelis and moved permanently to the village of Sawrey).
3. Have you visited the Lake District where the stories in this series are set? If you have did you like it? Yes, and I loved it! The land itself--much of which was purchased by Beatrix and Willie Heelis and donated to the National Trust--is simply gorgeous. I love the landscape, the climate, the animals, the people, and I wanted to represent them as fully as possible in the books. Most of the places I write about are real--you can see them on the maps in the books and also online, at www.cottagetales.com. Also online are photos of Hill Top Farm, Beatrix’s garden, and the surrounding area.
4. How did you decide to include the animal characters in the stories? The real, honest truth is that Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle spoke up! I was writing a scene in which the animals (Mrs. T-W, Josie and Mopsy Bunny, and Tom Thumb the Mouse) were with Beatrix while she was sleeping. Quite by herself, Mrs. T-W decided to tell her story, so of course I had to let her have her say. I love it when something like that happens unexpectedly when I’m writing. But these animals belong to Miss Potter in a very real sense, of course: that is, they are her literary creations and are covered by copyright (now owned by her publisher). So my publisher had to negotiate their use through a license, giving me the privilege of using Miss Potter’s work in my books.
5. Do you have animals in your life? Quite a few, since we live in the country. We have a cat named Shadow (she’s black with green eyes) and a dog--a heeler, a very bossy little dog named Toro, who thinks it’s his business to make sure that the household is organized efficiently. Out in the meadow, we have two cows, Blossom and Texas (Texas is a longhorn!) and a sheep named Mutton. On the lake are the geese and a flock of ducks. In our woods are deer, armadillos, raccoon, possums, skunks, and coyotes--and a great many birds, including bobwhites and wild turkeys.
6. Have you read a lot of books about Beatrix Potter? Oh, yes. There’s a list at the back of every book, and another (longer) list on the website, at www.cottagetales.com. I love her and want to portray her as she truly was, an imaginative and creative artist, as well as a down-to-earth person who become one of the finest farmers and sheep-raisers in the Lake District.
7. What made you decide to include dragons in the latest book, The Tale of Briar Bank? Thorvaald introduced himself to me and asked if he could join the crew! And of course, you never say no to a dragon--at least, not if you know what’s good for you. Actually, Thorvaald (once he woke up and understood his situation) prefers to live a rather undragon-like life. We’ll see more of him in another book, a little later on.
8. In the Cottage Tales books you really capture what Beatrix Potter was like. We see her doing her best to be a dutiful daughter and to please her difficult parents, and at the same time we see that she is determined to build a life for herself on her farm. When you learned about this conflict what did it make you feel? We all live in our own times, don’t we? As a modern woman, it is easy for me to understand Beatrix’s desire for self-determination, and at the same time, very hard for me to understand why she would dedicate herself so fully to her parents. I have sometimes wanted to shake her very hard and say, “Get on with your life, you silly girl! These Potter parents of yours can take care of themselves.” So I’ve had to try to go inside Beatrix, as deeply as I could, to feel how conflicted she must have been, and to try to understand it, from the inside out. It’s a conflict that becomes even sharper as the books go on, and she wants to spend her life with Willie Heelis, rather than her parents. Resolving it is not easy for her.
9. Have you read all of Beatrix’s wonderful stories? Yes, all of them, every one, from beginning to end, and several times. And I have read them aloud to my children, who loved them just as much as I.
10. I think that Beatrix’s tales are timeless. Would you agree? I do agree--and I think that is an important part of her genius. So many of the stories for children written in her era are “dated”: we recognize them as being from a certain time. But Miss Potter’s stories speak to something in us that is the same whether we were born in 1895 or 1995, or whenever. Perhaps it is Peter’s mischievousness and refusal to play by the rules, or Jemima’s innocent naiveté, or Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle’s charming industry. Whatever it is, we enjoy it now just as much as Miss Potter’s first readers enjoyed it. At least, I think so!
Good morning everyone. Today I am going to be 'talking' to the authors and illustrator who created the wonderful book Willow.Willow is a picture book about a little girl who does not let someone else tell her how to express her creativity. Instead she sees and paints the world in her own way. You can read my review of this book on the Through the Looking Glass Book Review website.
I'll begin with Cyd Moore who has created, among other things, the Stinky Face books.
1) As an artist did this book strike a special cord with you because it is about a little girl who is artistic?
I was actually working on a story about a creative little artist who didn't see the world like every one else. I had a lot of doodles and bits of story ideas, when I received the manuscript for WILLOW from Sleeping Bear. I loved Denise and Rosemarie's story so much that I decided to jump right in. I'm glad I did! I'm very happy with the book.
2) Do you think this book has an important message to impart to children?
Definitely. I know that art is better when you're feeling happy and confident and FREE. Everyone chooses how they move around in the world. You could choose to remain in a tiny comfort zone drawing round green trees like everyone else. You could be angry and sad and lonely. Or, you can be determined to experience a big world every day: draw funny drawings of your neighborhood, read a book about something new, surprise someone with a gift they never expected, and maybe even munch on blue apples one morning and sweet mangoes the next. You'll have a great life and you'll make others happy along the way.
3) How do you create your illustrations? I read the manuscript and doodle small thumbnails of ideas on a large piece of paper. Any idea that looks promising gets a full size sketch after that. When the entire book is sketched, I make a dummy book for the art director and editor to see. When they approve the sketches, I paint with watercolor and use Prismacolor pencils on soft french watercolor paper that is very unforgiving!
4) How long does it take you to create a full page piece of art? If the ideas are coming easily, I can sketch a page per day. My style is very loose, so I paint quickly. If I obsess over a piece, I overwork it. So, I've learned to keep moving—usually, only a day or two per page for final art.
5) Do you decide how the art should be laid out on the pages? Yes. Art directors have been generous over the years giving me a lot of freedom. I am a graphic designer as well as illustrator, so I am always thinking about design when I'm illustrating books. I always lay out the page with sample text in place. Doing this allows me to create spaces within the illustration for the text to flow freely. I personally like books where the text and the art work together as opposed to a more formal layout like the image on top, text in a block underneath.
6) Do you work on a piece for many hours at a time or do you take many breaks and work on several projects simultaneously? Sometimes I'll have smaller jobs like magazine illustrations here and there while I'm working on a book. But I like to work on one story at a time. No matter how much I plan, though, my calendar doesn't always work out this way. After working for several months on a book, I finally send off the big package of artwork to the publisher. It's such a relief...like a new baby. It's finally in the world! The next day, my studio feels so empty. The day after that, I usually start a new project and the cycle begins again!
7) Do you find that your travels to foreign countries affects your creative style at all? It most certainly does. The larger you make your world, the more inspiration you have at your disposal. Travel stretches you, challenges you, informs you, changes you. I believe it's as important as organized education. I really do. Maybe going to veg out on the beach with your head buried in a good trashy novel is not AS informative as touring the temples of India, but I suppose even those lazy uncomplicated vacations can affect you in positive ways.
8) Do you have lots of ideas for books swirling around your head or do ideas just pop up suddenly? Ideas pop up suddenly, and I have probably hundreds of scraps of ideas stuffed inside notebooks. I'm working on several stories of my own, so in the future, maybe I'll be publishing books that I've illustrated and written.
9) Do you listen to music while you work or do you need peace and quiet? It depends on where I am in the process. If I'm working on ideas and sketches, I need absolute quiet. But, if I'm painting the finished artwork, the music will definitely be going. I like many kinds of music, so my iPod play list moves from folk to rock to classical and jazz and even a few Buddhist and Gregorian chants!
10)What kinds of books did you like to read when you were little? I grew up on a farm in Georgia and we didn't have a lot of money to buy books. The library was far away, yet I read thousands of books as a kid. We were so lucky to have the bookmobile lady show up at our front door every week during the summer. My favorite was THE SECRET GARDEN. I also read a lot of mysteries...and Dr. Seuss books—GO DOG GO and HORTON HEARS A WHO! When my boys were little, we loved Roald Dahl books. I still read them now and again, and my kids are in the twenties! His stories are fantastic and silly and adorable. We gave the BFG as birthday presents to their friends—every kid should have the Big Friendly Giant in his library!
Next I will be asking Rosemarie Brennan about her writing:
1) Was the idea for Willow something that you and your sister came up with together or did one of you think it up and then share the idea with the other? On July 22, 2006, while sipping caramel lattes in a coffeehouse, I mentioned to Denise a story idea I had, she said she had a similar idea, and she generously agreed to co-create a book with me. I was experiencing great personal loss at the time, and Denise threw me a life preserver.
The ideas Denise and I discussed on that July afternoon never took off. But the opportunity to collaborate with Denise, who already had her foot well inside the publishing door, was enough to light a fire under me. In the weeks to follow, I conceived of and wrote most of WILLOW. During the process, Denise was an important sounding board. I wrote independently and then telephoned or emailed my words and ideas to Denise. Her enthusiastic and encouraging responses -- "You're onto something!" or "Awesome!!!!!!!" or "You're a genius!" -- helped me believe in WILLOW and keep going.
2) Did you find it hard to work with someone whom you know so well? No partnership is without its challenges. I can be so perfectionistic that nothing is ever good enough. Denise can be bossy. Both of us are a bit too fond of talking and sometimes we have to interrupt each other to get a word in edgewise. But our different personalities and gifts make Denise and me a good team. We're middle children of a big family, and pretty good at bending and give-and-take. We laugh 'til our sides hurt on a regular basis. We know, as Denise's book Grady the Goose illustrates, that we can fly farther together than we can apart.
3) In Willow the little girl has a special almost magical quality in the way that she communes with her art. Did you base her character on someone specific? No, Willow isn't based on anyone I know (although I do have a friend who is an art teacher and who has a daughter named Willow). Willow represents the best in all of us. She doesn't follow the crowd. She trusts her instincts. She is unselfconscious, unafraid, generous, and open-hearted and loving to everyone. She looks at the world through the rose-colored glasses of LOVE. I want to be more like Willow. All too often I slip into my Miss Hawthorn nature.
4) You and your sister give writing workshops around the country. Do you find that you learn a lot from the people you talk to? Absolutely. As we give author presentations and lead writing workshops, the roles of student and teacher blur (as was the case with Miss Hawthorn and Willow). We are teachers and students at the same time. We teach and transform and uplift each other.
5) What do the children in your library think of the book? My local library, Brighton District Library, owns three copies of WILLOW and they are almost always checked out. I take that as a good sign.
And last, but by no means least, here is what Denise had to say:
1. How did you and your sister write this book together? It began as a conversation at a coffee house and grew with many brainstorming sessions. After tweaking it through numerous emails back and forth, Willow was completed with the help and support of an exceptional staff at Sleeping Bear Press.
2. What do your daughters think of Willow? All of my stories/characters are like a new member of the family. Everyone is excited about its arrival but the novelty quickly wears off.
My daughters are always excited to see the final results; the end product. They live with me throughout the process, read every draft, are asked to give their opinion more times than they want to and see the sketches and the galleys, etc. I wish I could tell you they don’t go anywhere without the book, I wish I could tell you they tell all their friends about it, and I wish I could say they can’t wait to see what Willow will do next, but truthfully, I think they’re thrilled when it’s finally over.
Children often ask me of the eight books I’ve written, which is my favorite. I use my parents to explain the answer; I tell them there were eight children in my family and if you asked my parents which was their favorite, they would probably say “We loved them all equally.” I feel the same way about my books. Each one has a special place in my heart and my children appreciate the time and effort it takes to create each one.
3. Was this book harder to write than your previous books? It was actually easier in many ways because I was working with my brilliant and creative sister, Rosemarie! Writing Willow with Rosemarie was a unique experience; an unexpected gift.
4. You must be pleased with the artwork that Cyd Moore created for this book. Does Willow look the way you imagined she would? It is exciting to see what an illustrator will do with your story and how they will they bring it alive. I’ve always been a fan of Cyd’s work so I was thrilled when Sleeping Bear Press told me she would be illustrating Willow.
Rosemarie and I were together when we got our first glimpse of the book and squealed with delight when we saw what Cyd had created! Cyd really “got” Willow and it shows in the details. Check out the end pages!
5. Have you considered writing another book about this wonderful character? Absolutely! It is our hope that Willow will continue to inspire others through her unique and creative outlook on life. If you would like to find out more about this wonderful book, its authors, and its illustrators please visit the Willow website. In addition there are are art projects to try, activites, bios, and more.
I have THREE SIGNED copies of Willow to give away. Drop me a line if you want one!