Dear Book Lovers, Welcome! I am delighted that you have found The Through the Looking Glass blog. For over twenty years I reviewed children's literature titles for my online journal, which came out six times a year. Every book review written for that publication can be found on the Through the Looking Glass website (the link is below). I am now moving in a different direction, though the columns that I write are still book-centric. Instead of writing reviews, I'm offering you columns on topics that have been inspired by wonderful books that I have read. I tell you about the books in question, and describe how they have have impacted me. This may sound peculiar to some of you, but the books that I tend to choose are ones that resonate with me on some level. Therefore, when I read the last page and close the covers, I am not quite the same person that I was when first I started reading the book. The shift in my perspective might be miniscule, but it is still there. The books I am looking are both about adult and children's titles. Some of the children's titles will appeal to adults, while others will not. Some of the adult titles will appeal to younger readers, particularly those who are eager to expand their horizons.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Year the Swallows Came Earl Blog Book Tour - Day Three

For this final day in this blog book tour for The Year the Swallows Came Early I would like to do three things. First of all I want to tell you that the author of this book has generously offered two signed copies of her book which she will send to two of you lucky readers. Drop me a line if you want to be in the drawing for these giveaways. Please give me your name and address in your email.

Next I want to give you a little information about Kathryn:

When Kathryn was thirteen years old, her mother sent her to New York City over the summer to visit her grandmother, who was a science fiction author. After seeing how her grandmother could make the characters in her books into whomever she wanted, Kathryn decided that she, too, wanted to become a writer someday. Years later, after teaching elementary school, and taking many classes, she now writes full time and lives with her husband, two sons, and her dog, Holly, in Monarch Beach, California.

Kathryn was born in New York City, but grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona. She holds a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Chapman University. Her favorite thing to do is walk her dog, Holly, who, she says is so smart, she can practically empty the dishwasher. She also likes organizing absolutely anything, including messy garages, closets, and even cluttered junk drawers. If she could, she would eat the same thing for lunch everyday, which would be a ham, Swiss cheese, and tomato Panini, a green apple, and a chocolate soufflé.

You can find out more about Kathryn on her splendid website.

And finally, I want to talk about food. Yes, food. Food plays an important role in this book. More than anything Groovy wants to become a chef, and she begins to see that people often have an affinity for certain foods. They also turn to certain foods when they are upset, happy, or angry. I thought it might be interesting to find out from you what kinds of foods you like to eat when you are happy or sad.

I'll get the ball rolling by telling you what I like to eat at the high and low moments in my life. When I am happy I eat large amounts of fruit. I crave fruit salads and fruit tarts. I like to cook outdoors and enjoy the world around me. When I am blue or upset, I don my cozy clothes and hanker for homemade macaroni and cheese, chicken soup, and baked pasta dishes. I want warm scones and a cup of tea.

I'd like to add that am also very partial to stawberries dipped in chocolate, which is one of the things that Groovy makes in this story. You will find her recipe at the back of the book.

Please visit the other sites participating in this blog.

A Christian Worldview of Fiction, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Buzz, Hyperbole, KidzBookBuzz.com, Looking Glass Reviews, Maw Books Blog, Never Jam Today, Novel Teen, Reading is My Superpower

Thank you for this splendid book Kathryn. I look forward to the next one.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Year the swallows came early blog book tour - Day Two

Good morning everyone. Today I will be interviewing Kathryn Fitmaurice, the author of The year the swallows came early. This gracious lady has a wonderful story about how this book came about.

Marya: Where did the idea for this story come from?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: First I’d like to thank you very much for interviewing me. I’ve read your blog for awhile now, so this is very exciting for me. The idea for the story came to me the year my youngest son was assigned his fourth grade Mission Project. Many students in the state of California complete an extensive Mission Project in fourth grade, in addition to learning about California’s history. Of course, we went to the San Juan Capistrano Mission the day the swallows returned, which is March 19. I knew then I wanted to write about the swallows because they always come back. No matter what else happens, there they are, year after year, like a promise.

Marya: You have put some of your own life experiences into this story. What does it feel like to see moments from your life on a printed page?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: This is very exciting, and I think many other writers also put their own experiences into their stories. But when my grandmother passed away, and left her entire collection of unfinished manuscripts to me, I was overwhelmed with joy and inspiration at the thought of having them. It was what pushed me to finally write my own novel after so many years. I suppose that’s why I included it in the story. It was such a force for me, and I wanted my main character to have that same special gift that would keep her going when she felt the obstacles of life that were in the path of where she wanted to go.

Marya: Do you see a lot of yourself in Groovy, your main character?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: The main character is a combination of two students I had when I last taught, and myself. Like my main character, I connect food to events and people. I make the same menus and dishes over and over because the food reminds me of certain things. For example, we always make crème brulee on Christmas. Using the kitchen torch is a lot of fun. Scrambled eggs are the first thing I’ll cook if there is some kind of small crisis, and so on. And then, also, I’m a little like Groovy in that I knew what I wanted to be someday when I got older.

Marya: The arrival of the swallows is an important moment in the story. What did you want it to signify?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: The swallows symbolize the love of one’s family and the security of knowing that no matter what happens between those we are related to, that there is always a bond between us. Even though we may have been hurt, or disappointed, many of us still come back eventually, and hopefully, try to make things right.

Marya: I understand that you are now writing a second book. Is the process different now from when you were writing the first book?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I think the process of writing a new story is both the same and different. It’s the same because as a writer, you’re still trying to hear the main character’s story and get it right. But it’s different because you’re writing in a new voice, and sometimes, at least for me, it’s hard to perfect that new voice.

Marya: You have been a teacher for many years. Have your experiences in this job helped you to write this story?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Well I wish I could’ve taught longer than I did. But I remember the week The Tale of Despereaux came out. Three of my third graders were reading it during silent reading time. I remember sitting with them and talking about what made the story so great. Sometimes I wish I could go back and ask them questions I didn’t think of, now that I’m actually really writing. I do know this, though; kids will read what they connect to.

Marya: Do you have ideas for other books that you hope to write? Do you think you might use some of the story ideas that you came up with when you were a teenager?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I do have other ideas, and I’m looking forward to writing those soon. When I was a teenager, I wrote mostly poetry, but one short story I wrote might work for a full length novel. I think teens today are such better writers than I was at that age. They are learning so much more about grammar and developing their own individual style. They are assigned a lot more reading than I was, which also helps them to become better writers. I’m amazed at the clarity and pulled-togetherness of the essays and stories I read of my son’s high school friends.

Marya: You mention on your website that you love to organize things. Are you organized when you are writing?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: I’m pretty organized when I’m writing, but I don’t write from an outline. Instead, I have paragraphs or scenes jotted on a sheet of paper, places I know I want the story to go to, and then I fill in the parts in between. The story usually changes from my original vision. It has a way of almost writing itself. I’ll suddenly see places and events that I think should happen, that I hadn’t thought about in the beginning. Those are the best surprises, the ones I hadn’t planned on.

Marya: What was your favorite book when you were Groovy’s age?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: My favorite book was one of my grandmother’s, entitled Chrysalis of Death. It was a science fiction book for adults. I read it a few times, and just recently again But I also liked the Little House on the Prairie books. I have every one of them, and used them in my classroom for literature studies.

Marya The Year the Swallows Came Early has been very well received. What is your reaction to its success?

Kathryn Fitzmaurice: Thank you for thinking that. Nothing could make me happier to think someone is reading the book, and likes it. I only wish I could give it to my grandmother, and ask her what she thought of it. And did she think my opening paragraph was enough of a hook, and were my characters developed enough. You know, things she would’ve pondered over for hours with me. I can see her in her chair, her typewriter in front of her, her serious look on her face. “Now, Kathy, “she’d say, “let’s talk about your character’s arc a little.”

Marya: Thank you so much Kathryn, for this warm and enlightening inteview. I have learned a lot about you, and have been given yet another interesting peek into the life of a writer.

Please visit the other sites participating in this blog book tour.

A Christian Worldview of Fiction, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Buzz, Hyperbole, KidzBookBuzz.com, Looking Glass Reviews, Maw Books Blog, Never Jam Today, Novel Teen, Reading is My Superpower

Join me tomorrow for a treat and for a discussion about food.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Year the Swallows Came Early Blog Book Tour - Day One

Every so often a book comes along that leaves a lasting impression on me. The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice is just such a book. This is a book that I would - even though I have a ton of books to read for my work - read again. I love the characters and the setting. I like the way the author explores human emotions and reactions, and I like the fact that the story is true to what happens in real life: endings tend to be a combination of good things and some less than perfect things. Here is my review of the book:

The Year the Swallows Came Early
Kathryn Fitzmaurice
Ages 9 to 12
HarperCollins, 2009, 978-0-06-162497-1
Groovy Robinson’s father has been arrested and taken to jail. This is bad enough in itself, but when she finds out that her mother was the one who had him arrested Groovy is shocked. Groovy has no idea why her mother did this, and she feels as if her life has been turned upside down.
Groovy loves to think about and to cook food. In her opinion one can match food to situations and to people. Groovy loves cooking so much in fact, that she hopes to go to culinary school when she gets older. Groovy’s great-grandmother Eleanor left Groovy some money, which Groovy hopes to use to pay for her schooling. She is therefore, devastated when she learns that the reason why her father is in jail is because he took her inheritance out of the bank and gambled it away.
Groovy cannot understand why her father would have done such a thing, but she tries not to be too angry with him. She starts working on raising money herself by making chocolate covered strawberries. One thing Groovy notices is that her friend Frankie refuses to forgive his mother who abandoned him some years ago. Groovy does not want to be like Frankie because she can see how damaging his anger is. Despite her good intentions however, when Groovy’s father’s true betrayal is revealed, Groovy’s anger takes over, and she is in real danger of turning into a bitter person, just like Frankie is.
This powerful and meaningful book explores the nature of forgiveness, the meaning of true friendship, and the love of family. The author beautifully weaves her message into the rich and warming story. Sprinkled with vivid and incredibly genuine characters, this story will delight readers with its unique style and its compelling narrative.

Please take a look at the other sites that are participating in this blog book tour.
A Christian Worldview of Fiction, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Buzz, Hyperbole, KidzBookBuzz.com, Looking Glass Reviews, Maw Books Blog, Never Jam Today, Novel Teen, Reading is My Superpower

Join me tomorrow for an interview with Kathryn.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

When I was growing up I loved comic books of all kinds. I was living on a tiny island in the Mediterranean at the time, and I eagerly devoured Snoopy books, Mickey Mouse magazines, Beano Annuals, and others. Then there was Tintin, followed by the Asterix books, which I read in English or Greek or French - depending on who gave me the book.

Now comic books are harder to find. Instead there are graphic novels. Of course this genre has been around for years, but it only recently started to make an appearance in the children's book world in the west. I am an eager follower of Babymouse and other titles of this kind, and look forward to reading and reviewing a lot more graphic novel titles in the future.

I have something to share with those of you enjoy books in this genre - and who dabble in this art form. There is a fantastic website called Get Graphic. On this site teachers can find out how to incorporate graphic novels into their teaching, and young people can participate in contests. There is a blog, reviews, and much more. Take a look and enjoy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Cybils Winners!

For months now I have been eagerly waiting for the titles that were nominated for the Cybils Awards to be read and discussed by the judges. Now the final winners of the Cybils awards have been announced. The titles chosen are the following:

Easy Readers: I love my new toy by Mo Willems

Fantasy and Sci-Fi (Middle Grade): The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Fantasy and Sci-Fi (Young Adult): Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Picture Book (Fiction): How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham

Picture Book (Non-Fiction): Nic Bishop Frogs by Nic Bishop

Graphic Novel (Elementary/Middle Grade) - Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale

Graphic Novel (Young Adult) - Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki

Fiction (Middle Grade): The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

Fiction (Young Adult): The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

Middle Grade/Young Adult Non-Fiction: The Year we disappeared: A Father-Doughter Memoir by Cylin Busby

Poetry: Honeybee by Naomi Shihab Nye
What a fantastic collection of titles. To find out more about these books and to read some reviews go to the Cybils Webpage. I will endeavor to read and review as many of these books as I can over the next few months.

Friday, February 13, 2009

An interview with Greg Steinbruner, audio book narrator

Recently, I listened to the audiobook The Magic Thief, and I recognized the voice of the narrator, Greg Steinbruner. Greg also narrated Larklight and the Larklight sequel, Starcross. I so enjoyed his narrative that I talked to the people at Recorded Books and got an interview with him. This is my first interview with an audiobook narrator and I hope you enjoy it.

1. Like many other audiobook narrators you are an actor. Can you tell us a little about your acting career?
I came to NY from Washington DC in 1989 to study at NYU's Tisch School receiving training at both the Circle in the Square Program, and NYU's in house Classical Studio. My particular obsession, I guess you would say, has always been the kind of very humanistic actor driven theatre that you find mostly coming out of well funded companies from abroad. I was heavily influenced by Theatre Artists like Peter Brooke, and the physical theatre companies of Europe, like Theatre De Complicite as well as British companies like Cheek By Jowl. I didn't find much of work going on here, though I had some success working professionally as a young actor in a couple of American classical companies. To pay the bills I started to engineer and direct audio books at Recorded Books. Eventually, through a good friend at NYU I collaborated with Moises Kaufman on the original production of Gross Indecency: the three trials of Oscar Wilde, and we all found ourselves celebrated momentarily. Theatre is a fickle master however, and the unemployment line beckoned soon after that show closed. Inspired by that experience though I started writing, directing, and producing my own plays here in NY. I still take the stage when time allows and opportunity knocks, audition for commercials, that kind of thing. I try to write a new play every year, and direct every once and a while.

2. How did you get into the field of narrating audiobooks?
I started working in the studio I believe in 1994 or 1995 as an engineer. Having directed, edited, proofed, re-cut, re-mastered, CD cut, and in all other ways absorbed the process for almost 6 years I stepped away and took a much needed break from audio books in 2001. After that, it was quite a long siege to get studio director Claudia Howard to let me audition. She is a huge supporter of all of my endeavors, but she rightly is very careful to not let too many of the engineers through the door of the booth, without being sure that they have earned it (many of the engineers are aspiring actors.) The competition for these narrating jobs is very stiff, given the incredible depth of the NY acting talent pool. I had to get away from the studio for a while and earn a few more good reviews on stage before I started bugging her to let me read something. Larklight was the first thing she found for me and boy was it worth the wait. She wanted me for it after I auditioned, but the series had author approval on the narrator, so we sent a demo off to England with fingers crossed, and managed to pass muster. All those years of working on the production side taught me a huge amount about what the Recorded Books style demands. I was just incredibly fortunate. I spent six years working with all the great voices of unabridged audio. Like Conn to Nevery!!! It really helped me survive the first project. The learning curve is steep, and Larklight with all of it's incredibly distinctive characters was an incredibly challenging piece on which to cut my teeth.

3. Although you are an American, you have cultivated a very convincing English accent for your reading of The Magic Thief and the Larklight books. How did you achieve this?
Well, first, I am of fairly recent Irish/english descent, and there is a lot of vestigial music of that in my extended family, though they are barely aware of that. Second, I really love doing goofy dialects, and my biggest hero as a kid acting wise was Peter Sellers in the Pink Pather movies. I think of myself as working in that tradition, and of his early BBC radio work. Third, in the year and half I did Gross Indecency off broadway I played eighteen different british and irish characters eight shows a week. It's a work in progress, of course, and I'm always looking to get better. I do have some detractors for the dialect naturally, but I stand behind my work, because my nephew loves all my audio books and thinks I'm incredibly silly, and that's actually what matters most to me.

4. How are audiobooks created?
In the case of Recorded Books, painstakingly. The Recorded Books studio has an incredible research division. The narrators prepare the book, by reading and doing some basic work on character, in many cases with oversight and input from the Studio Director and researchers. Research looks up various arcane things that could trip the reader up in terms of proper pronunciation. Then the narrator and the book's director hit the studio and make it happen. It's actually pretty technical, and not easy. The goal is to come out of the sessions with a version of the book that is accurate, clean, well paced, and well performed. That can take many times as many hours in the studio as will end up in the final product. From there it goes through a lot of tender love and care to make sure that it is well presented on the media, either CD or tape, or now MP3. And that is all before it get sent to the main HQ in Maryland, where they make the CD's, tapes, packaging and do all the business stuff of marketing and selling.

5. Have you met the authors of the books that you have narrated, and if so what was it like?
I never have. I would love to, of course!

6. Has your experience as a narrator helped you in your career as an actor?
Definitely in the sense that is has kept my performing skills working, even in times when I'm not doing a lot of other kinds of acting. It is also an incredibly difficult thing to do well, and all that time in front of the mic really teaches you a lot about maintaining focus and sustaining a particular choice. So far narrating hasn't made me famous, I would say, but that was never exactly what I was after in any case. I really just love doing it. I have good friends who work at the studio, and it is an incredible collection of the best stage talent Claudia has assembled there. It feels like a creative home, and that is a very very tough thing to find in the performing arts right now.

7. Do you read children's literature for its own sake now that you are working in the field?
I have the same problem that I have always had since I was a child, which is that if I get my head in a book, I have a hard time getting out! I'm spending a lot of my time right now building my coaching practice, which isn't leaving me much time for reading strangely enough. Having said that, books were my life as a kid, so much so that I have made a career out of telling stories in one way or another.

8. Your recordings reach a very large audience, though of course you don't get to see them enjoying the stories the way you do when you are on stage. I imagine this must be very satisfying. What does it make you feel?
It is very different in that sense, and I have really, really appreciated hearing from the one or two people who have dropped me a line to say that they are enjoying the books. But yes, it is truly wonderful feeling, especially because the books I've been asked to read are all so special. I have a huge reverence for the worlds these writers create. They are real to me in the way they are real to children. Reading the books aloud makes me feel very connected to that very pure spirit of imagination that kids have and that adults so often lose. It is a great privilege to have that opportunity.

9. In addition to acting and narrating, you also have a blog where you provide tips to people so that they can learn how to be a more effective public speaker. Does this work compliment the other things that you do?
I was teaching acting, and finally figured out that I would have more students if I brought what I know about performance to the regular old world of business. So I have combined a pretty cutting edge performance methodology from my time studying and making physical theatre, experimental theatre and classical theatre, to communication best practices. It compliments the other things I do in many many ways. First of all it pays my bills and lets me live in NY and continue to be creative. But it also teaches me over and over again that human being have a deep need to communicate, and an incredible facility for it, but for whatever reason, we almost are never trained to make the most of our talents. I really enjoy making a difference in people lives that way.

Thank you Greg for this terrific interview. I learned a lot about you and about the world of audiobook creation.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Birthday Anniversaries - Darwin and Lincoln

Two hundred years ago tomorrow both Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born. In honor of these two extraordinary men I reviewed quite a few books about them during the month of February. You can see these reviews on the Abraham Lincoln feature and the Charles Darwin feature on the Through the Looking Glass Book Review website. I thought that the following books were particularly notable:

Charles and Emma: The Darwins' Leap of Faith - A splendid non-fiction title that explores how Charles and Emma Darwin were able to overcome their differences and form a solid marriage bond that lasted many years.

Abraham Lincoln Comes Home - A very moving picture book that describes what it was like to see Lincoln's funeral train go by.

Lincoln Shot: A President's Life Remembered - A fabulous large format non-fiction picture book that is presented in the form of a mid 1800's newspaper.
and, though this is not a new book:

The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin - A non-fiction picture book biography that shows readers what Charles Darwin's dreams were and what he was like as a man.
Many people all around the world are celebrating these birthdays in unique ways. Enjoy remembering the lives of these two men who gave so much to do what they thought was right.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Last month I read a lot of books about Abraham Lincoln so that I could update my Abraham Lincoln feature on the Through the Looking Glass Book Review website. One of the books I read was by author Harry Mazer, and it is called My brother Abe. The story is told by Abraham Lincoln's sister, Sally, and it beautifully captures the hardship and difficulties that Abraham Lincoln's family faced.

I was so moved by the book that I decided to interview the author:

1. I just read your book My Brother Abe and I enjoyed it enormously. Where did the idea for this book come from? THERE ARE VERY FEW STORIES ABOUT ABE LINCOLN’S EARLIEST YEARS, BUT I REALIZED THERE WERE NONE ABOUT SARAH LINCOLN, HIS OLDER SISTER.

2. Abraham Lincoln’s sister Sally tells the story, often in the vernacular of the times. How did you create this voice for Sally? RESEARCH INTO SPEECH PATTERNS OF THE WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAIN PEOPLE, CERTAINLY, BUT BASICALLY IMAGINATION.

3. As I understand it there isn’t that much information available about Abraham Lincoln’s early years. Where did you find the material that you used to write this book? I FOUND MUCH OF MY MATERIAL IN HARRIET ARNOW’S THE FLOWERING OF NEW ENGLAND, WHICH IS A KIND OF BASIC TEXT ABOUT THAT WORLD.

4. Writing a book is always hard work. What did you enjoy about writing this particular title? I ENJOYED CREATING THE CHARACTER OF SARAH LINCOLN, WHO WAS A BLANK SLATE.

5. This is very different from your other books in some ways. What do you think makes this book stand out? IN TELLING SALLY’S STORY, I FOUND A WAY TO TELL ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S STORY.

6. Do you find that you put a lot of yourself into your books? I FIND MYSELF IN ALL MY BOOKS.

7. Is there a particular time in history that you would like to write about? I’VE WRITTEN ABOUT CONTEMPORAY SUBJECTS AND HISTORIC SUBJECTS AND HAVE FOUND THEM ALL ABSORBING.

8. Your daughter has also become a successful writer. What is it like to see your child follow in your footsteps? IT FILLS ME WITH PRIDE.

9. You have written several books with your wife? Was it hard to make the shift from writing alone to writing as part of a team? NO. I ENJOYED EVERY BIT OF IT. EVEN WHEN WE FOUGHT, I ENJOYED IT.

10. I know it is awfully hard to choose, but which book did you especially like when you were a young person? MY FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME IS ROBINSON CRUSOE, A SURVIVAL STORY, WHICH IS MY ABIDING SUBJECT.

Thank you so much Harry Mazer for participating in this interview.

Friday, February 6, 2009

An Interview with Capstone Press about their Graphic Library series

One of my favorite non-fiction series' for young readers is the Graphic Library collection, which is published by Capstone Press. The books are presented in a graphic novel format, and they tell the stories of people from history, important historical events, and they explore science and social studies. I have reviewed many of the biographical and historical titles, and decided to ask the publishers about this useful and entertaining series.

Here are the responses that John Rahm, the Senior Product Planning Editor at Capstone Press, had to my questions:

Where did the idea for this series come from?
The popularity of graphic novels was exploding, but they were, and really still are, predominantly fiction. We looked at the trend and thought what a great way to do nonfiction. Kids are reading and loving graphic novels, so why not use that to teach them something.

Quite a few young readers find non-fiction hard to get into and/or boring. These books are particularly good for readers of this kind. Was that your intention?
Absolutely. At Capstone we are committed to reaching struggling and reluctant readers. Not only are these books engaging and fun for readers, but the format is a great vehicle for delivering nonfiction content.

How do you choose which subjects to include in the series?
Many factors go into determining the topics, from meeting with librarians and educators to current pop culture trends. However, there are three major considerations that go into choosing topics: What kids study in school, what kids want to read about, and what makes compelling, exciting books.

How do you decide who should write and illustrate the books?
We work with a large group of experienced and talented author and illustrators. For authors, we look for expertise on the topic as well as the ability to create accessible, engaging narratives. For illustrators, we look for an art style that fits the topic and approach.

How are the books created? Are they written first and then illustrated or do the author and illustrator work in tandem?
Typically, authors and editors create a script and storyboard for each book. Then the storyboard is sent to the illustrator to be drawn.

Do you think more and more houses are going to start publishing this kind of non-fiction book?
Certainly, since we started our line in 2005, many more publishers have jumped on board. Graphic nonfiction is such a great way to bring nonfiction to kids that I expect the trend to continue for a long time.

Do you have any plans to do other kinds of graphic novel style books?
We are always looking to broaden our Graphic Library line. We began with graphic novels depicting historical events and biographies. Next we moved to teaching science with Max Axiom, Super Scientist, and then social studies concepts with Cartoon Nation. In the future we will continue to apply this format to other areas of nonfiction.

Do teachers use these books as teaching tools in their classrooms?
Yes. The format is a great way to bring concepts to life and students love the idea of reading a comic book during class!

If you have a reluctant reader in your home or class these books will be a useful addition to your library.

Thank you John for the interview and a thank you too to Jennifer Glidden for setting it up.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cybils Finalists

I have some more awards news for you. I know there have been a lot of announcements of late, but these are the Cybils, and since the Cybils are awarded by bloggers like yours truly I think an announcement is in order. So, please take a look at the finalists for the awards. The final choices will be

announced on Valentine's Day. To find out more information about the Cybils click here. On this page you will also find the lists of the finalists. They include:

* Housley and Catina and the quiet time by James Howe (Easy Reader Category) - Loved this book.

* Airman by Eoin Colfer (Fantasy and Science Fiction Category) - A thrilling read.

* The Magic Thief by Sarah Phineas (Elementary and Middle Grade) - A very promising first book in a new series.

* Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon and Dean Dale (Graphic Novel Category) - A fantastic example of the genre.

* We Are the Ship: The Story of the Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson (Non-Fiction Category) - A powerful and informative book.

* Chester’s Back by Melanie Watts (Fiction Picture Book Category) - A hilarious read.

* A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet (Non-Fiction Picture Book Category) - A beautifully presented book.

I hope you enjoy looking at the finalists. They would all make great additions to a library.

Monday, February 2, 2009

A Chat with Cheryl Harness Part

Today I will be having the third and final chat with author illustrator Cheryl Harness.

Marya: Welcome back to TTLG Cheryl. Today I would like to talk to you about
the book creation process.

Cheryl: Hello right backatcha. I'd love to talk about how I do my books.

Marya: For those of you who don't know, Cheryl illustrates other people's
books and she also creates books that she has both written and illustrated. I thought I would begin by asking you how things work when you are going to write and illustrate a book yourself. For example, for Young Teddy Roosevelt, did you come up with the idea for this book yourself or did a publisher approach you about the idea?

Cheryl: There was a story on television some years back about a book containing TR's letters to his children - did you know that he illustrated them? He did, with funny little line drawings. Anyway, hearing of that book filled me with instant enthusiasm for a TR book. After all, I grew up reading those Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, the first of the series set in the very picturesque time of TR's presidency [1901-1909]. As I read more about the man himself - I mean, I knew the basics, but finding out more about Teddy, his overcoming of chronic ill health, tragic early deaths of those he most loved, etc., etc., ETC. I just HAD to do a book about him.

Marya: I see. And what did you do once the idea was in place? Did you write
it first and then illustrate it or did you do the written work and the artwork at the same time?

Cheryl: Writing's the foundation; it always comes first. The first thing that I always do is go to my encyclopedia, a fine place to get a brief but solid introduction to the life & times. Then I'll begin looking at what has been done for older readers. For instance, when I worked on my Thomas Jefferson [Nat'l Geo., 2004], I read Natalie Bober's wonderful book, Thomas Jefferson, Man on a Mountain.[S. & Sch. 1988]. Based upon these, I write an outline and send this off to the editor. Now when I was first starting out, in the late 1980s, I sent a carefully, completely done story, literally cut and pasted into a 'dummy,' illustrated w/ very tight pencil drawings, photocopied, colored w/ colored pencils and pasted into place w/ the text. THEN I slipped each page into an acetate sleeve, all these pages held w/ a plastic binder, you know? usually used, back then anyway, for a term paper. THEN I gift-wrapped the whole shebang w/ white tissue paper, kissed it for luck, & mailed it. By golly, every single time I send art and/or writing off to an editor to this day, I still kiss the envelope for luck before sending it away.

Marya: What form is the book in when you send it to the publisher. and what
happens to it next?

Cheryl: The outline might well be little more than a page breakdown and/or a storyboard. For example, here's what I put together for a possible book about the wonderful/horrible individual who was our 7th President, Andrew Jackson:

p. 1 paste
pp. 2/3 endpapers
pp. 4/5 title page
pp. 6/7 It’s winter 1767. Many a mile and a stormy sea away from their native Ireland, Mr. and Mrs.
Jackson were pioneering in the wild Carolina country. They were building a new life for themselves and especially for their boys, little Hugh and Robert, and for the new baby, soon to be born. Life was hard, but the future looked bright.
Then Mr. Jackson got hurt. With all his might he’d been struggling to lift a huge log when he hurt himself so badly that he died of his injuries. A few weeks later, redheaded Betty Jackson gave birth to her third son. All the long years of his adventurous life he’d wear the name of the father he never knew: Andrew Jackson.
pp. 8/9 serves as a messenger in Rev War in which his 2 older brothers die, taken prisoner, wounded
by a furious sword-slashing British officer, & orphaned by age 14 (Betty & Robert died of smallpox)
pp. 10/11 wild Andy, known as "the most roaring, rollicking, game-cocking, horse-racing, card- playing, mischievous fellow that ever lived in Salisbury" [NC] becomes a lawyer! / off to Nashville [western NC]
pp. 12/13 Rachel [m. 1791, again in ‘94]/ the Hermitage/ Andy the politician [involved in Tennessee statehood convention]
pp. 14/15 1796-97 - AJ: U.S. Congressman, Senator, judge: Tenn. Supreme Court (1798-1804)
pp. 16/17 1804-13 AJ: merchant, planter, race horse breeder/War of 1812 AJ: the general. "Old Hickory" leads 2,500 militiamen 800 mile-march > Natchez, Miss…. Bloody Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Creek War Mar. 1814 [several duels, challenges in this period as well as a gunfight w/ Thos. Hart Benton!]
pp. 18/19 Battle of New Orleans/ Jean Lafitte & the pirates Jan. 1815
pp. 20/21 Florida campaign against the Seminole/ nasty presidential election No. 1 in 1824
pp. 22/23 nasty election No. 2 "rise of the common man"/ death of Rachel, just before Christmas, 1828 (buried at the Hermitage in her gown for the Inaugural Ball)
pp. 24/25 wild inauguration: big cheese in town
pp. 26/27 Jackson White House/ 1st term of "King Andrew the First" [issues: nullification, Bank of U.S., internal improvements. Peggy Eaton]
pp. 28/29 Black Hawk War/ Indian removal/T. of Tears.
pp. 30/31 2nd term: war on the Seminoles, Texan independence
pp. 32/33 last years 1837-death: 8 June 1845
pp. 34/35 Epilogue: the world of and/or chronology of President Andrew Jackson MAP States [2 new ones: Arkansas & Michigan] & territories….. inventions : 1st steam locomotives, daguerreotypes, & such
pp. 36/37 backmatter
pp. 38/39 endpapers
p. 40 paste

Then I cross my fingers! It's a bit like entering a contest, sending a story idea to a publisher. For the publisher, remember, it's a bit of a gamble

Marya: Goodness that is a lot of work. Right, so you have sent the publisher the mockup. Let say they love it and want to go forward. What happens now?

Cheryl: Now what happens is that I make a list of all of the illustrations TBD [To Be Done] in my calendar book then I march down that list like Gen. Sherman through Georgia. Very systematic. I lay in a supply of recorded books from the library and rule the first board, meaning I draw with a ruler and a pencil the size of the open book. This is called a spread: 2 pages, gutter line down the middle. I draw my border with an extra 1/2" or so beyond the actual 'trim size' of the book. This extra margin is called the 'bleed': the color can 'bleed' off the edge. Icky sounding, I know. Then I tape the rough, tracing paper dwg [drawing] to the watercolor paper or illustration board -I've mostly used the latter over the years. heavy, cold-pressed illus. board. Hot-pressed paper is real slick-feeling: crummy for watercolor, which is what I use, that + some. colored pencil. Underneath the rough dwg I slip a piece of graphite paper which allows me to trace & transfer the dwg onto the good stuff. I refine and complete the dwg w/pencil then I paint it. It takes me about a week for a big, complicated double-page spread. And I paint at the size you see in the books. For my picture book biographies published by the Nat'l Geo,. for example, ea. of those paintings were approx. 12" x 18"

Marya: How many times do you typically go back and forth with a story? How does the editor tell you what he or she wants you to change? Do you have a face to face talk about the project?

Cheryl: Generally, I'd say that the editor and I have perhaps a dozen email exchanges regarding the text and she'll send me the marked-up manuscript. I'll do all of the fixes and we may well discuss one or two things that I don't feel need fixing! But for that I must have a sensible reason. This is all most congenial. We'll at least one long telephone conversation as we go through the ms. line by line. Now, when I did my novel, Just For You To Know, a few years back, it was a much more complex project, requiring three revisions. It was a happy process. I know that the editor & I are of the same mind: we both want a good book. With my picture books, this revision process takes a few days. Time is of the essence! It's the illustration that is the most time-consuming. For my Washington Irving book the paintings took approximately three months.

Marya: How long does all this take?

Cheryl: My novel was finally published (in 2006) almost two years after it was accepted, June 18, 2004, a very happy day, by the way. Upon completing a picture book [approx. 6 to 8 months), 6 months to a year pass before the book is published. The paintings must be prepared to be scanned and printed. the pages must be folded and gathered and bound.

Marya: What happens when the book is all ready? What role do you play now?

Cheryl: I talk with young readers about my books, sign books whenever I can, and attend young author conferences, lit fests, and I've visited many a classroom over the years. I love this part of my job. It isn't meant as merely promoting my books. I come intending to tell younger writers what I've found out about the step-by-step of creating a book and to encourage them to ENGAGE. Why leave the creative process to the professionals? WHY should they have all the fun? Find your perfect work, the best use of your time and your talent while you're here on the planet. You know what Marvin Gaye said: "As long as you're alive, you might as well live!"

Marya: Thank you Cheryl. We have learned a great deal from you. Good luck with all your future books.

Cheryl: It's been a pleasure Marya. Talk to you soon.
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