Sunday, October 25, 2009

Halloween Favorites!

Halloween gives us all a chance to dress up and be something else. Picture books create a world of their own full of imagery whisking us away to a different place. Picture books and Halloween seem to just go together. There are some great Halloween books that I love, and read every year. Here's the books I've been reading, over and over again, all month.

John Pig's Halloween written by Jan L. Waldron, illustrated by David McPhail is about poor little John Pig being too scared to go out to trick-or-treat with the rest of the piggies, so, he stays home. He expects a sad and lonely night, until a witch shows up at the door and shows John how to really party on Halloween. She sets him straight right quick. She doesn't want candy! John, the witch, and her cat, whip up some monstrously good food just in time for a crowd of monsters to arrive and party down. The story is written in rhyme and has such sweet illustrations. I love that real monsters don't eat candy, and the book has provided me with one of my favorite quotes, "You need savory snacks that real monsters can eat." I love it!

Bella Legrossi is messy. Boris Kleanitoff is extremely tidy. They don't make for good neighbors. They don't even like each other... until they dance. This is a great story about giving people a chance, even though they are different than ourselves. As we all know, opposites attract.

I so wish I had clothes like Boris and Bella wear so my husband and I could be them every year. I've always wanted green hair, and I am quite like Bella, so I could be messy all day and have an excuse! Boris and Bella is written by Carolyn Crimi and illustrated by Gris Grimly.

A Creepy Countdown is simply lovely. It's a fun little counting book, with a funny twist. Pus, it's a counting book that I can actually get my little guy to read with me. He has the best learning radar I've ever experienced. If there is any teaching whatsoever involved in a book, he's out. A Creepy Countdown isn't teach-y. Charlotte Huck has written the story so that it's just fun that happens to have numbers in it. It's the black ink on scratchboard illustrations done by Jos. A. Smith that I adore. They're just beautiful. The art in this book has inspired a story or two that I've written.

In Big Pumpkin, witch has grown a pumpkin so big she can't even get it off the vine. She seems to want the pumpkin all to herself because when others offer to help she's a bit resistant, witchy even. She tells them all,"It's big and it's mine but it's stuck on the vine." But, she wants pumpkin pie so bad, she reluctantly lets some others help. Funny how the smallest guy has the best idea. It's all about teamwork! Warning: me and my little guy played "It's big and it's mine but it's stuck on the vine," at the pumpkin patch. He pulled the pumpkin, I pulled him, he bopped me in the jaw, I saw stars. Luckily it works out alot better in the book. They even get pumpkin pie. Hey! I didn't get any pumpkin pie! Not fair. Big Pumpkin is written by Erica Silverman and illustrated by S.D. Schindler.

This is Simon Lester Henry Strauss, he's not afraid of this haunted house, and he's funny! There's loads of spooky stuff in this book, but Simon Lester Henry Strauss isn't afraid of any of it. He's so darn brave, which makes the ending all the more hilarious. My little guy laughs every time. This may be the book that inspired him to eat a spider, actually, but hey, he was fine. Everyone should try eating a spider once I suppose. Everyone... except me. I'm Not Afraid of This Haunted House is written by Laurie Friedman and illustrated by Teresa Murfin.

Snitched! This 800-year-old man's pumpkin has been snitched! Who would do such a thing to such an old man? There's some snarky characters in this book, The Vanishing Pumpkin, written by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Tomie dePaola. It's pretty darn funny. I love the rapscallion. I love the sassy old man. I love pumpkin pie--this is my third book on the list that has pumpkin pie in it. Think I can talk the kids into eating pumpkin pie instead of candy this Halloween? No, didn't think so.

Hic! Skeleton has the hic! hiccups. There's only one hic! thing that can hic! scare his hiccups away. Can you hic! guess what it is? Hic! Skeleton Hiccups is written by Margery Cuyler and illustrated by S.D. Schindler.

My little guy absolutely loves this book by Dave Horowitz, about the poor, Ugly Pumpkin. It's sad when the others treat the ugly pumpkin mean and we do feel very sorry for him, especially when he cries, "I am the Ugly Pumpkin!" in huge letters that cover the entire page. But, oh my gosh! The Ugly Pumpkin discovers he's something else, and takes us on into Thanksgiving.

What are your Halloween favorites? I'm always looking for more stories to add to my favorite reading list!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Unread - Interview with Ame Dyckman

<----See this chick in the photo here? That's Ame Dyckman. Isn't she adorable! Well, not only is she as cute as can be, Ame Dyckman is a picture book lover and writer, plus she blogs about peanut butter. Ame is knee deep in PB and is here to tell us about her writing, of course, but also a little about her agent. She's my first Unread interviewee who's represented. All right, all right, everyone stop drooling. Ame has been snatched up by Scott Treimel at S©ott Treimel NY. I know you want an agent too, but I told you people, stop drooling! You're going to ruin your computer! We'd better hurry up and get on to the interview.

Ame, when did you start writing and why in the world would you want to do such a thing?

I started 2 1/2 years ago. But for ages before that, a squeaky little voice in my head constantly pestered, “Ame! Go write children’s books! Ame! Go write children’s books!” I finally gave in so it would just shut up.

What is your writing schedule like?

I usually write in the mornings after MonkeyKid gets on the school bus and Mad Scientist Husband Guy leaves for the lab, and it’s just me and the menagerie (two mutant cats, two hermit crabs, a handicapped fish, and a part-time squirrel.) When I really must finish something without distractions, I pack up for “my” cubicle at the library. But I jot all day long, everywhere, on anything jot-able.

MONKEYKID: Mommy, why are there words on your jeans?”

ME: It’s the latest Mommy-fashion.

MONKEYKID: Can I do it?

ME: No.

What kinds of stories do you like to write?

Short and quirky picture books where the protagonists are different or have a different, innocent way of looking at the world. (With a little weirdness sprinkled on top.) And I love boy-energy stories!

So, how many manuscripts have you written and what have you done with them?

I have several terrible manuscripts keeping each other company in a padlocked trunk buried somewhere on my property. Super Agent Scott (Scott Treimel, S©ott Treimel NY) has submitted two of my good manuscripts, Boy and Bot and The Runaway Goldfish, to editors.

What are you working on now?

I’m just finishing two “sequel” Boy and Bot stories (tales of a boy who befriends a robot) for a marvelous editor who liked the original. And I’m doing revisions on a brand-new PB manuscript, Dragon Cake, which opens with a little boy hoarding meat in his closet.

What do you think is the hardest part about writing? What’s the easiest?

The hardest part has been convincing my 9-to-5 neighbors that I’m not just sitting around in my jammies. (The easiest part is that while I’m writing, I get to sit around in my jammies!)

Seriously, the hardest part is always being “on” to act on a shining idea whenever it smacks you in the head, before it dims away to “Now, what was that thought I had earlier?” The easiest part? Anything I do now is “research,” so I can get away with doing a lot of goofy stuff!

HUSBAND GUY: Ame, why is there a wading pool full of cereal in the front yard?

ME: It’s research.

HUSBAND GUY: Uh, okay. When’s dinner?

ME: Now. Grab a spoon. I’ll meet you in the yard.

You have a fabulous agent, I know it was talent, but how did you get so lucky?

I owe it all to NJ SCBWI. (New Jersey chapter, Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.) Over the past year or so, I took Boy and Bot to various NJ SCBWI events (First Page Sessions, Mentoring Workshops, etc.). The suggestions I received were pure gold. The agent pitching tips I received were pure gold. The camaraderie and support I received were (you guessed it) pure gold. At the NJ SCBWI Annual Conference last June, I pitched the revised Boy and Bot to Scott, and he liked it! So… (climbs nearby mountain, grabs megaphone): “JOIN YOUR LOCAL SCBWI CHAPTER! IT WORKS!”

How has your writing life changed since you got an agent?

It’s fantastically improved! Scott has made my work a gazillion times better than before. (Five seconds into our first brainstorming session, he had a genius suggestion. He’s still having them.) Plus, he knows just about everyone in the business, he’s worked with just about everyone in the business, and I’m saving a fortune because I’m no longer buying fancy paperclips and eye-catching stamps. (Y’all know what I’m talking about. You know you do.) Bonus: he’s a great excuse for getting out of housework.

ME: Scott called! He wants revisions ASAP. Can you do the dishes?

(Sometimes, when I say this, Scott actually called.)

How far would you go to get your book published?

I’d wrestle a shark. Or Christopher Walken. (I’m equally afraid of them both.) I might even wrestle Christopher Walken while he’s riding a shark. (Shaking a little now.)

You have a great peanut butter-centric blog. Why peanut butter? (And what’s your favorite kind? I only eat Adams!)

Peanut butter is the quintessential kid food. (I mean, food that kids eat. Not food made out of kids. That would be gross.) It just goes with picture books. (Sometimes, in them. Sorry, librarians!) Voila! “PB Planet: Picture Books with a Side of Peanut Butter.”

My favorite kind? Reduced Fat Jif Creamy. (I think they replace the removed fat with sugar. It’s my vroom! fuel.) And, I like the kind inside mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but everybody gets annoyed when I gut them.

HUSBAND GUY: Who sucked the insides out of this candy?

ME: I dunno.

MONKEYKID: Daddy, she’s hiding the straw behind her back!

Oh. I just Googled Adams PB. Organic. All-Natural. Very healthy. Lo, I am shamed!

If you could live in any book which one would it be and why?

Where the Wild Things Are. I’d love to live in a world where I could wild-rumpus all day long, and I’d never have to shave my legs.

So, what have we all learned today? That we desperately need agents so we can get out of housework, pants make a good paper replacement, and it is possible to suck peanut butter through a straw. Good stuff to know! You can visit Ame anytime over in her world a.k.a PB Planet. You can also follow her on twitter where she's bound to make you laugh. I would bet a barrel of peanut butter that Ame's picture books are going to be fun to read. Hopefully we'll find out soon!

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I had never really thought about it before--my book, Bedtime Monster, being influenced by another book. As I was listening to a talk about Where the Wild Things Are on NPR I remembered how I'd read Sendak's classic over and over as a kid. I loved that book. I never thought it was scary. People have said it's a scary book, that the monsters are based on Maurice Sendak's family. I just never saw the book that way. I didn't know the monsters were based on real people. I just thought it was an exciting book with lovely drawings.

Maybe Where the Wild Things Are did influence Bedtime Monster. Bedtime Monster is about a boy who has a huge tantrum. It's so monstrous, in fact, that he turns into a monster, tail and all. And dad has a monstrous secret himself. In Bedtime Monster I was showing that everyone has a little bit of monster in themselves, and it's okay. We can get angry and still be good people. I'm sure monsters have been used many time throughout literature to represent human acts and emotions. I'm not saying that Bedtime Monster is scary, just that it's a given fact that people can act monstrously, and running away to a fun place for a while has a certain appeal.

The bigger question? Did Where the Wild Things Are influence my life? Max dresses up--becomes someone else--and runs away to an exciting new land. I changed from a child to a grown up, basically became a new person, and ran off a on mountain adventure. I have yet to return from it. I believe that when I do go back home, dinner will still be hot.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ghosts in the House!

I've found a new Halloween favorite to put on my annual Halloween reading list--my favorite annual reading list, but really, it's a good book for any time of year. Ghosts in the House! by Kazuno Kohara is just about as cute as can be. A little girl and her cat move into a house, there is only one problem, you guessed it--there are ghosts in the house! Luckily this little girl isn't your average little girl, she's a witch. She has no problem rounding up ghosts. She even hopes for more. Did you know how how useful ghosts are after you wash them and hang them up to dry? They're amazing. You can make curtains, tablecloths, and blankets, and they have these sweet little faces on them.

Kazuna Kohara's art in this book is fantastic. The black on orange illustrations are perfect, and the ghosts float right over the top of everthing. You can see through them, just like you should. They are ghosts after all.

Ghosts in the House! written and illustrated by Kazuno Kohara, is published by Roaring Brook Press. (Sorry I couldn't get the cover photo any bigger. I'm graphically challenged.)

Friday, October 9, 2009

On My Way Home

I've been driving the kids back and forth to school. Every day. It's not that far as miles go, but my road makes the trip long... and interesting. I took some pictures so you could have a peek into a piece of my life. It's likely a bit different than your drive to the store.

This is a huge drop off. See how high we are above the trees? Only one lane. Very exciting.

I love this valley. It's on the shortcut. Only one little used lane.

And some more shortcut photos. It's pretty.

Nice ruts, huh?

Back on the "good" road.

That's it, it all kind of looks the same I suppose, but there's lots of great little nooks and crannies. I try to pay attention and not get lulled into the everyday driving routine. Plus I've gotta be on the lookout for cows and rocks and the like. If I'm lucky I see something really cool like a rattlesnake or a bear or a bobcat. It's definitely not your average drive.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

STAR OF THE SHOW - Della Ross Ferreri talks about her new book!

I love to feature writers and make them the star of my blog. How fitting it is that today I have Della Ross Ferreri, author of the new book, STAR OF THE SHOW. Della is the author of two beginning readers and her picture book, HOW WILL I EVER SLEEP IN THIS BED? was popular enough that Sterling Publishing reprinted it in board book format. Della has frolicked over today to talk about her brand new book and, of course, writing.

Congratulations on your book release, Della! What is STAR OF THE SHOW about?

STAR OF THE SHOW tells the story of a bossy big sister, Francine, and her tag-along brother, Max. When Max has the idea of putting on a circus, Francine immediately appoints herself the star of the show, and designates Max the assistant. Max gets fed up with Francine always getting the best part. This time, he wants the spotlight, too. But can Francine give up center stage? Through argument, compromise and imaginative play, they finally come together to present a wildly successful circus! It’s a fun story of sibling rivalry that kids can relate to, and, from what I hear, parents and teachers appreciate how the characters they end up working things out. I’ve received great feedback on the ending!

What inspired you to write this story?

My kids are the inspiration for most of my writing. My oldest daughter went through a bossy phase and took it out on her little sister. Whether it was dancing, playing school, or putting on a show, daughter #1 always took the lead role. In STAR OF THE SHOW, I exaggerated this personality trait. My character Francine is waaaaay more obnoxious than my daughter ever was. lol

What do your kids think about being the inspiration for this book?

They think it’s funny! They have fun remembering their playtimes together!

Which of the characters in STAR OF THE SHOW are you like, Francine or Max?

Hmmm, I guess I’m a little of both. Sometimes I take charge and run the show, but other times I don’t mind sitting back and letting someone else be in the spotlight.

What was your road to publication like for STAR OF THE SHOW?

In one word – LONG. We’re talking two to three years of submitting and revising. If you want the full story, here you go. The original version of STAR OF THE SHOW started out as an assignment for the Institute of Children's Literature. I sent it around and it went through a couple revision requests w/an editor, but ultimately was passed on. The story became stronger, though, so I am grateful for the editor’s time. Thank you, Shari. Then I shared the revision w/my Sterling editor and she thought it was funny and brought it to acquisitions. But Sterling already had a circus themed book (Tightrope Poppy) and a book with a similarly bossy, selfish character (Mine, Mine, Mine.) They also offered some helpful revision suggestions that I followed. Thank you, Heather, and folks at Sterling!

Then, STAR got critiqued at the Rutgers one-on-one conference and that helped tremendously, too. One problem that needed work was that Francine didn’t have a strong reason/motivation to change her mind and let Max participate in the show. I took my mentor’s advice and had Max get so fed up that he walks out, leaving Francine to struggle and feel the pain of failing to be able to put on a circus by herself. Thank you for that, Alexandra!

Then, after rounds of tightening and suggestions from my critique groups, (Thank you, Sparks and Pearls and my local ‘Soup Group!’) I came across somewhere on Verla Kay’s Blueboard, a mention of the Children’s Book Council list of publishers. That’s where I discovered Shenanigan Books. I submitted STAR OF THE SHOW in September 2007, and got a ‘we’re interested’ email a couple months later. Once the illustrator was finalized, I was offered a contract. Fast forward two years, and here we are, fall 2009 and Ta da! STAR OF THE SHOW is out! Thank you, Shenanigan Books!

Do you have a submission strategy?

Yes, I’m very persistent! I leave no stone unturned, and I’m willing to rewrite and reformat if a piece isn’t working in its present form. STAR OF THE SHOW went through dozens of rewrites. One of my other books, HEY! YOU’RE EATING MY HOMEWORK started out as a 900-word picture book, and I whittled it down to a 300 –word beginning reader that was eventually accepted at Bebop Books. My other book, HOW WILL I EVER SLEEP IN THIS BED? started out as a short poem that grew into a story with beginning, middle, end and a conflict for the main character to solve. It grew from three stanzas into a full-fledged picture book. So you see, I believe it’s important to be open-minded to the possibilities of what direction to take your stories.

What are you working on now? What are your plans for the future as far as your writing career goes?

I’m working on a sequel to STAR OF THE SHOW. I also have a few manuscripts making the rounds. One rhyming story is under consideration at a major house, so fingers crossed on that! I’ve had a couple deals fall through over the past couple years so it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. Since I’m back to teaching, and keeping busy juggling my kids’ sports schedules and activities, sometimes it’s hard to squeeze in the writing.

You have been a part of Verla Kay’s online children’s writer’s community for a while now. How has being part of an online writer’s community helped you?

I love the Blueboard! It offers camaraderie and support, and I’ve made some wonderful connections and friends. Verla is the most generous and caring person of all. She even helped critique STAR OF THE SHOW in its earlier stage. Thank you, Verla!

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read a ton of books in the genre you wish to write. Join a critique group. Be patient. Let your stories simmer before sending them out. Be open to taking your stories in different directions.

What is it about writing picture books that appeals to you?

I love to think visually and picture the scenes as I write. Plus, picture book readers are at such a great age. I love their fresh view of the world and their developing sense of logic. I’m probably a 6 year old at heart!

This is the question I love to ask everyone. If you could live in any book, which one would it be, and why?

Two of my little guy’s favorite night time books lately are KISS GOOD NIGHT and YOU CAN DO IT, SAM by Amy Hest, illustrated by Anita Jeram. In the midst of all the nuttiness of teaching, writing, and juggling my family’s sports and activities, I would love to take a break and settle into the simple, cozy life portrayed in these gorgeously illustrated picture books.

What are you doing to support the publication of STAR OF THE SHOW?

I’m trying to get the word out as much as possible. I have a series of events lined up for this fall…story times, writing classes, and other bookstore and library events. The photograph I sent along was taken at Millbrook Community Day. My friend, Jackie, aka BeeBee the Clown, came out to entertain the kids and help promote my book. She took an ordinary event and truly made it extraordinary! Thank you, BeeBee! I sold a bunch of books that day, sponsored by my wonderful local independent book store, Merritt Books. Next stop is Barnes and Noble in Poughkeepsie for Educator Appreciation Day on October 10, and then a Charity Event on October 23 at the Putnam Hospital Center. Folks can check out my website for the dates and locations of events in NY:

STAR OF THE SHOW is illustrated by Tony Weinstock and published by Shenanigan Books.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Learning About Books

One of the perks of being a librarian is that I get to go to some great trainings. Last week I was lucky enough to see Jonathan Hunt. He's a book reviewer for Horn Book Magazine and a blogger for School Library Journal as well as being a librarian and teacher. He's also served on award committees such as the Newberry and the Printz. So was I excited? Oh, just a little.

Jonathan Hunt is an amazing book talker. He came to tell us about books we may want to share with library patrons. Jonathan projected dozens and dozens (four hours worth) of book jackets up on the screen and proceeded to tell us what each one was about and why he loved it--including the parts he maybe didn't love, but still thought the book was worthwhile for one reason or another. He went over story plots, arcs, and characters--all from memory. He always pointed out how many starred reviews a book had, which I found interesting. The love he radiated for books was infectious although I must admit, he was playing to a pretty easy crowd.

The training was actually called "Best Young Adult Books with Jonathan Hunt" so you can imagine how giddy I, the picture book writer, got when he started talking picture books. Not only did he talk about some new favorites, he read them to us too! He got lots of laughs and cheers. I always love seeing a group of adults being read picture books.

One thing he did point out is that there are a lot of poetry picture books this year. Jonathan's reading of Bubble Trouble written by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Polly Dunbar was my favorite read of his. He called it a must have story time read with perfect meter. I must agree, and the illustrations are adorable too. But, you may need to practice this one a few times before attempting it before a crowd!

I have so many notes and learned about oodles of interesting books. My 'to read' list is a hulking pyramid now compared to the teetering tower it was before. I have Jonathan's Best Books of the Decade list, genre lists, best resources, strategies, and technologies lists. So many great resources for me as a librarian and a writer. Thanks Jonathan!