Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Children's Holiday Picture Books 2005

I had the pleasure last night of attending Kathi Appelt's signing for Merry Christmas, Merry Crow, illustrated by Jon Goodell (Harcourt, 2005) at the Barnes & Noble Westlake (TX) last night.

It's a magical title that reunites the amazing author-illustrator team behind one of my all-time favorite picture books, The Alley Cat's Meow (Harcourt, 2002).

Kathi did a presentation and reading, followed by a question-and-answer session. The event was well attended, and NCSA Crown Award Chair Sandra Morrow mentioned that Kathi's Miss Lady Bird: How A First Lady Changed America, illustrated by Joy Fisher Hein (HarperCollins, 2005) had been named to the forthcoming Crown Award List. Luminaries in the audience included Anne Bustard, author of Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus (Simon & Schuster, 2005).

Cynsational Notes

Other new and recommended holiday books include: When Cows Come Home for Christmas by Dori Chaconas, illustrated by Lynne Chapman (Albert Whitman, 2005); Christmas Mousling, also by Dori, illustrated by Susan Kathleen Hartung (Viking, 2005); and Hanukkah, Schmanukkah by Esme Raji Codell, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (Hyperion, 2005). See also CBC Showcase: Holidays and the Winter Season for more suggestions.

Fall 2006 is the publication date for Santa Knows by Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith, illustrated by Steve Bjorkman (Dutton, 2006). I'll keep you posted as production progresses.

Planet Esme's author pages have been redesigned! Surf over to check it out!

Cynsational News & Links

Love of KU Basketball inspires 'Airball' Book by Terry Rombeck from the Lawrence Journal-World. Feature story on Airball: My Life in Briefs by L.D. Harkrader (Roaring Brook, 2005). Read a recent related author interview on cynsations.

L.D. Harkrader will present a reading from the book, followed by a discussion and book signing from 3 to 5 p.m. Nov. 18, 2005 at Oread Books, level 2 in the Kansas Union at the University of Kansas, Lawrence. A second appearance at Oread Books is scheduled from 3 to 5 p.m. on Dec. 22.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Cynsational News & Links

Cheryl Klein, editor at Arthur A. Levine Books, has arranged that her e-book, The Rules of Engagement: How to Get (and Keep!) a Reader Involved in Your Novel, be made available for free by the organization Children Come First.

The Austin Public Library Foundation is holding a “Read-in” from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 16, 5-7 p.m. at the John Henry Faulk Central Library at 800 Guadalupe. The first hour of the program Austinites will take turns reading for five minutes from a much-loved children’s book. During the second hour, readers will read from any favorite title. Local authors participating so far include Emcee Spike Gillespie, Sarah Bird, Michael Maguire, David Rice and Janice Shefelman.

Reading the World: an annual conference sponsored by The University of San Francisco Department of International and Multicultural Education. The conference features guest speakers, as well as workshops by educators, librarians, authors, illustrators, and scholars. This year, it is scheduled for March 11 and 12, 2006. Keynote speakers are: Alma Flor Ada, Matthew Gollub, Linda Sue Park, Katherine Paterson, Joyce Carol Thomas, Tony Watkins, and Ed Young. Learn more about Reading the World VIII. See also the list of past speakers, which includes me and my husband, author Greg Leitich Smith.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Author Interview: Josephine Nobisso on Show; Don't Tell! Secrets of Writing

Show; Don't Tell! Secrets of Writing by Josephine Nobisso, illustrated by Eva Montanari (Gingerbread House, 2004). An interactive picture book. Gorgeously illustrated. Ages 7-up.

What was your initial inspiration for creating this book?

For eighteen years, I'd been going into schools, speaking at conferences, etc., limiting myself to conducting 100 writing workshops per year. These figures suggest that I travel quite a lot, but the fact is that I have never had to leave my home turf of Long Island to get that many bookings. It was clear that I had come up with some very serviceable and accessible insights on writing that could help so many people. Putting these strategic tips into book form seemed the logical outreach.

Show; Don't Tell! Secrets of Writing explores the intrinsic nature of nouns and their modifiers. The next book will cover another of my workshop topics: verbs, adverbs--and surprisingly, perhaps--prepositions, to give writers more tools for expressing what they intend.

My approach is grammar-based: applying grammar in its most elegant and authentic way in order to become the most creative and individual writer.

I used to think what I have heard many writers say--that writing is somehow magical or miraculous. Well, wrangling story (fiction or non) into a communicable and interesting form is certainly one of the mysteries of human life, but the tools for accomplishing that are neither magic nor miracle, and once internalized, they liberate the writer to speak in his own voice.

What was the timeline from spark to publication, and what were the major events along the way?

I was the child of hard-working immigrant parents who provided me with an education that today would be called "classical." I attended Catholic schools where the nuns taught me the architecture of language. Later in life, when I was working on my fourth novel and wanted to take a blow torch to it, it occurred to me to diagram some sentences to see why I was boring myself. Bingo!

I published many books and short pieces before I was able to isolate and articulate the precepts that became so clear to me on that day. These insights seemed too much to put into an appealing picture book form, but that was the dream I had for them--to become a book that was artistically illustrative, one that connected writing to reading to visual arts.

One Spring evening, my daughter (Maria Nicotra, whom I've affectionately dubbed our "Art Dictator") handed me a portable tape recorder and suggested I take a walk along my favorite dirt lanes. I hadn't been gone ten minutes before I called her with the triumphant news that I had the format figured out. So, how long did it take? A lifetime. Or ten minutes.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, logistical) in bringing it to life?

My workshops progress sequentially. They go from a quick diagnostic, to verbal proofs about the tendencies that weaken our writing, to a modeled experiment that tests my points, to the participants' putting pen to paper, to editing and rewriting. I wanted the book to take readers on that same sequential journey. That challenge was the easy one.

The larger challenge was to take a text that has no characters, no plot, no setting, no nuthin' but a lesson that could be converted into a conversation, and work with the artist to create story elements from just the underlying thrust of the precepts. It took Maria, Eva Montanari, and me over 300 emails back and forth--this is largely how Maria learned Italian, this, and Italian rock songs--to bring it all into shape. Eva did a such a marvelous job of creating a self-referential universe that one doesn't much notice that there is no story.

Then, there were the challenges with sourcing the touch and feel swatches, the scratch and sniff patch, the sound module, etc., but those are the challenges of the publisher and of the printer, and not of the writer.

Cynsational Notes

Awards and Honors for Show; Don't Tell! Secrets of Writing: an International Reading Association-Children's Book Council "Children's Choices Award," a National Parenting Publications "Honors Award," a Learning Magazine "Parents' Choice Award," and it has been named to the American Booksellers' Association's Book Sense "Picks List," and is a ForeWord Magazine "Book of the Year" Finalist.

Cynsational News & Links

"Do I Need an Agent and How Will I Know If I Do?": a chat with Sharene Martin, co-founder of the Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency from the Institute of Children's Literature. See also Wylie-Merrick Literary Agency.

"It's Only Pink on the Outside" by Rosemary Graham from Not-So-Terrible After All. Rosemary talks about pink cover art, feminism, the associations of the "chick lit" label, and acknowledges its market power and limitations. Rosemary is the author of Thou Shalt Not Dump The Skater Dude (And Other Commandments I Have Broken)(Viking, 2005). Read a recent cynsations interview with her on the novel.

See also Author2Author: Megan Crane and E. Lockhart from Beatrice. See recent cynsational interviews with E. Lockhart on The Boyfriend List (15 guys, 11 shrink appointments, 4 ceramic frogs and me, ruby oliver)(Delacorte, 2005) and Fly on the Wall (Delacorte, 2006).

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Star-Lit: A Children's Literary Festival

My husband, author Greg Leitich Smith, and I had the honor of speaking yesterday at Star-Lit: A Children's Literary Festival benefitting the Dallas Bethlehem Center at the Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas.

Other featured authors and/or illustrators were: Newbery winner Christopher Paul Curtis; illustrator Tracy Dockray (originally from Lubbock, now living in NYC); author "Farmer" Ted Dreier; author/illustrator Will Hillenbrand; author Sharon Robinson (daughter of baseball legend Jackie Robinson); author Dee Scallan; author Toni Simmons of Dallas; author Anastasia Suen of Plano; and author G. Clifton Wisler of Plano.

The festivities opened Friday night with a private party for the authors, donors, and volunteers, at the lovely home of one of the donors. Highlights included sparkling company, a Tex-Mex buffet, and a first-rate collection of classic and contemporary children's illustrations. We left with "goodie bags" that were so heavy I had to ask Greg to carry mine.

After a good night's rest at The Adolphus Hotel, the Festival opened with a breakfast with the authors and illustrators, which featured pancakes, eggs, autographing, and a magician.

Greg and I then spoke to three sessions of attendees at the events, autographed even more books, and made sure to purchase at least one book by each of the other speakers.

Because his plane was late getting in Friday night, I only had the opportunity to speak with Chris Curtis briefly, but he graciously purchased signed copies of my Jingle Dancer, illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu (Morrow/HarperCollins, 2000) and Greg's Tofu and T. rex (Little Brown, 2005).

Greg and I would like to send out our special thanks to event planner Jeff S. Morton of Frito-Lay and our gracious author liason Susi Grissom, the librarian at Travis Vanguard and Academy, a magnet school for gifted and talented 4th - 8th grade students in Dallas ISD.

All in all, it was one of my favorite events ever!

Cynsational News & Links

This weekend, I was pleased to learn that Indian Shoes (HarperCollins, 2002) and Rain Is Not My Indian Name (HarperCollins, 2001) both were featured as American Indian Education Program Book Club Titles in the DISD Communicator.
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