Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Kid Lit Power

And the award goes to:
The Newbery Medal: Jack Gantos for Dead End in Norvelt
The Caldecott Medal: Chris Raschka for the wordlessly wonderful A Ball for Daisy
The Printz Award: John Corey Whaley for Where Things Come Back.

Congratulations to winners and honorees of these and other awards (such as the Alex Awards, Coretta Scott King award, Pura Belpre award). You can view the complete list on the ALA website, or follow interviews with these accomplished authors in the New York Times or Associated Press coverage.

I hadn’t finished my TBR list before the Oscar Nominees dominated the headlines.  Had our book awards been eclipsed by Hollywood in less than 24 hours? Not exactly.

Kid lit is a powerful phenomenon. I happily noted that two Best Picture nominees are based on children’s books: Hugo and War Horse. One is a 2008 Caldecott Medal winner: Hugo, based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick. War Horse, by Michael Morpugo was first published 30 years ago, and this historical fiction novel remains as engaging now as then. 

 No matter the perpetually changing publishing scenarios, children’s books thrive in many formats, and continue to be a great contribution to the world of entertainment and education of children and adults alike. These 2012 Youth Media Award winners and honorees deservedly enjoy a boost in sales and media coverage. Given time, some of these books will be back as movies, plays, or maybe even a Yahoo photo headline.  Good luck and best wishes to them all. 

Which unread title will you read first? (I’m starting with Dead End in Norvelt: funny and quirky so far.) Of those you read, which are your favorites?  And the million dollar question: which one will become a movie? 

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Holy Sh*t Mom, R U There?

About a year ago, my teenage son sent me the above text at 6:30AM on a school day. As you can imagine my heart pretty much stopped. Not that getting a text from my son is odd. At sixteen, text is his first language. I can call him a bazillion times (it's amazing how many of his friends live in "dead zones") and it goes directly to voicemail, text him and voila...I get an instant response. It was the "Holy Sh*t" part that made me nervous, so I called him first. All sorts of scenarios went through my head as the phone rang...and rang...and rang...and of course went to voicemail. So I texted...


And when he didn't respond to that text, I sent the more frantic:


And waited

I don't know if it was the Mom in me, or the writer in me, or a combination of both, but in the seconds before he finally DID contact me the following scenarios went through my head in no particular order:

The bus broke down and he needed me to pick him up (the mother)

He'd seen a lifeless body dangling from a noose and was sharing the news (the writer)

The bus had been involved in an accident, was about to explode and these were the last words he was able to type as he blacked out in a ditch by the side of the road...hopefully in clean underwear. (combo of writer and mother, I think)

His reply after I wrestled with these scenarios?

Geez, don't sh*t a brick.

So what was this Holy Sh*t situation?

He'd forgotten his project and needed me to get it to him before lunch.

Yes, really.

I don't know about you, but for me this is most definitely not a "holy sh*t" type scenario. At best an "oops" or a "crud" but a full blown, capital "Holy Sh*t"...not so much. Then again, I'm not sixteen, gunning for an A with no way to get home before said class.

As I rearranged my schedule to find a way to get the project to him it occurred to me how high these stakes were for my son. No, he wasn't saving the world from a zombie apocalypse but without the project he would get a zero. That zero would be part of his final grade. That final grade would be on his transcript. The transcript he'll be sending to colleges in the fall. Where a "B or C" gives its own impression, no matter if there is an explanation behind it. Well and what sort of explanation is forgetfulness anyway? Suddenly, getting his project to him became important.

As a writer of contemporary YA, I sometimes feel lost in the shuffle of dystopian societies, zombies, angels, androids and aliens. Stories with those elements are just naturally bigger, more exciting because of their uniqueness, but still - there needs to be a universal element in them, something the reader can identify with, right?

Deep in the middle of revisions, I find myself dissecting each scene and trying to up the stakes, but it's a struggle sometimes. How do I take my very normal, contemporary stakes form "crud" to "Holy Sh*t!" ?

So Paper Waiters, how do you go about raising the stakes in your own work? Is it something you actively think about? Or something that arises naturally through plotting?

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Multicultural Characters

As a writer, how do you know if your book accurately portrays the culture of its characters?

This a fitting question as we celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. In our rapidly globalizing world, we are in need of children's books that celebrate the diversity in our communities.

As writer or illustrator, it's important to do your research. The following article from Scholastic.com offers advice from top educators, writers, and illustrators on how to spot literature that transcends stereotypes. It is geared towards teachers, but is a great resource for writers as well. It includes some great book lists!

Some highlights from the article:

"Most of the Jewish children's literature I read as a kid was didactic: It set out to teach lessons, not to entertain. Today Jewish children's literature informs, inspires, amuses, and tackles larger themes, including coming of age and coming to terms with the past. The characters are full characters, growing up in a variety of cultures- and mixed cultures." -Etta Miller

"I try to be true to the culture and take the reader there. I want readers to feel the atmosphere of the setting, to know what it smells like, what the light looks like, the sounds the characters hear-all these senses come into play. Hopefully my illustrations will strike a certain chord, bring back a certain memory, and help you feel the characters are someone you know." -Floyd Cooper

"..look for good storytelling. If the author is not dealing with social issues- that's a good sign. Too often I see books about Mexican-Americans that adopt a patronizing "poor them, they're working too hard" tone." -Gary Soto

I think the best characters are believably rooted in their culture, but we can also relate to them.

A couple of my favorite titles from 2011: Good-bye, Havana! Hola, New York! by Raul Colon and A Mango in the Hand: A Story told through Proverbs by Sebastia Serra.

What are your favorites?

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Award Time!

A week from Monday two early morning phone calls will change many lives. January 23rd is Newbery and Caldecott day.
This award season I’ve enjoyed following the new blog, Calling Caldecott, on the Horn Book website. Check it out here.

I’ve read many of the titles they selected to discuss over the last months. In most of the mock Caldecott events reported on the blog so far, GRANDPA GREEN by Lane Smith has been the winner.

Would this be my choice? Maybe, but there are others.

I have reread the Caldecott's criteria. Whew! Glad I’m not on that committee. I’d have a very hard time selecting a winner.
Stated briefly, the winner should have: excellence of execution, excellence of pictorial interpretation of the text, appropriateness of style, and excellence of presentation in recognition of a child audience.

Okay, so for excellence in illustration perfectly matching sly humor, I’d chose A BALL FOR DAISY, or I WANT MY HAT BACK; for intricate, stunning art based on nature, I’d chose BROTHER SUN, SISTER MOON, or SWIRL BY SWIRL; for illustrations that complement childhood/family emotions, I’d chose LITTLE WHITE RABBIT, or TWEAK,TWEAK; for vivid, glorious illustrations that bring history alive, I'd chose THE GREAT MIGRATION, or DAVE THE POTTER: ARTIST, POET, SLAVE.

I think the most difficult decision for the committee has to do with "presentation in recognition of a child audience." Does GRANDPA GREEN appeal to adults more than children? In terms of child appeal, perhaps GINGERBREAD MAN LOOSE IN SCHOOL should win - or WHERE'S WALRUS?, or BLUE CHICKEN.

And then again some title may be flying under the radar and emerge with the medal.

Do you have a favorite title you think should win?

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Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Power of Waiting

As writers, we spend a lot of time waiting. And it's not our favorite part of being a writer. Not by a long shot.

But sometimes, waiting can be helpful.

Recently, I had one of those times.

Some time ago, I drafted a picture book and sent it to my critique group for feedback.

The group gave me wonderful feedback. (Thanks guys! :o) ) And almost everybody suggested I make a certain change.

After that meeting, I sat down to revise. And I tried to make that change. I really did. But somehow, I just couldn't make it work.

So, I made a minor adjustment that made it a bit better and tried to convince myself that the manuscript was as good as can be.

"Done," I tried to tell myself.

Then came the waiting. I wasn't even aware I was waiting, but time passed. Several months, in fact. Suddenly, I could see my manuscript much more clearly.

Now I could see it. I had to try to make the change my critique group had so wisely suggested. And my mind went to work on solving the problem.

What had seemed impossible several months earlier, suddenly felt doable. I experimented until I came up with a solution that worked.

It may not be perfect. But I do think it is much better. And after a few months of waiting, making the change became possible.

So, what positives (if any) have you found from waiting?

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Who's Coming to Dinner?

I did a lot of cooking over the holidays. I'm a good cook, and I love preparing meals, especially when I know what foods people like and what they don't like. Nothing makes me happier than cooking for an "audience."

That's what so frustrating about writing. I'm not sure who my audience is. I can't get the"dish" just right. It's as if I'm whipping up a splendid broccoli souffle, only to be told, "I don't eat anything green." Or knocking myself out on slow cooked salmon, only to hear "I don't eat anything with eyes." Should I care? I mean, how does a writer know who's coming to dinner?

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Welcome 2012!

"We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves. The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day."

- Edith Lovejoy Pierce

As we ring in a fresh new year with enthusiasm and resolve, it’s interesting to read what writers have said on the subject in the past.

"One resolution I have made, and try always to keep, is this: To rise above the little things." - John Burroughs

"Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man." - Benjamin Franklin

"Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there is never a thunder-storm or blare of trumpets to announce the beginning of a new month or year. Even when a new century begins it is only we mortals who ring bells and fire off pistols." - Thomas Mann

"Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever."
- Mark Twain

"For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning."
- T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding"

Here’s to a creative, adventurous, and successful 2012!

Do you have a favorite New Year's quote?

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