Book Reviews

Book Review – The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown

“Here and now, we say to Barnett and Jacoby: We SEE what you’ve done. You’ve paid tribute to a woman who changed picture books. Forever.”  —Kirkus Reviews

Margaret Wise Brown by Consuelo Kanaga 

The important thing about The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett and Sarah Jacoby is that it’s a book. It is one of the most interesting and unusual picture books I have read. If you pick it up expecting to read about Margaret Wise Brown’s life in chronological order, prepare to be surprised. If you pick it up expecting to read a fully formed snippet of one aspect of Margaret Wise Brown’s life, prepare to be surprised. If you expect this to be a book just about Margaret Wise Brown, prepare to be surprised.

This book is in chronological order – sort of. We are told the date of Margaret’s birth, what she did as a child, a bit about her as an adult, what she did as an author and how her life ended, all in order. In between, there are tangents and side stories. You never know quite what you’re going to get on the next page: perhaps it’s Margaret Wise Brown swimming naked in cold water or having a tea party with Ursula Nordstrom on the steps of the New York Public Library. Or perhaps it’s something that doesn’t seem to be about Margaret Wise Brown at all.

It has a pick-and-mix feel; it can be opened at almost any page and the event savored, much like Margaret Wise Brown’s own books. Nothing is what it seems. From the first page the reader is set up to be told a list of important things about Margaret Wise Brown, but turn the page and there is more about books in general than there is about Margaret Wise Brown. Turn the page again and there is more about writers in general than Margaret Wise Brown. There is a quick summary of Margaret Wise Brown’s childhood focusing on her pets and particularly her rabbits, short précis of three of her books, a bit about her dog Crispin’s Crispian and other short snapshots of her life. There are three double-page spreads devoted to the librarian Anne Carroll Moore and another three devoted to Margaret’s interactions with Anne and the New York Public Library in general, including her tea party on the steps with Ursula Nordstrom.

A surprising thing about this book (or perhaps it is an important thing) is that it is about more than Margaret Wise Brown. It’s about books and writers and challenges. It’s about taking risks and being free to explore storytelling in unusual and unexpected ways, just as Margaret Wise Brown did. This book pushes picture book boundaries. Perhaps you can only do this if you’re Mac Barnett but I hope not.

Barnett and Jacoby, I also see what you have done. And the important thing about The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown is that it’s a book.

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Pitch It to Me

~ THE PITCH IT TO ME CHALLENGE ~

Welcome back for the fourth PITCH IT TO ME CHALLENGE! For those of you who missed the last challenge, our special guest pitcher, debut author Erin LeClerc, captured the most votes to take top honors. A big round of thanks to Erin and author Marcia Berneger for participating in the challenge, and to all who dropped by to participate.

For this round, Shirin Shamsi, author of the middle-grade novel, LAILA AND THE SANDS OF TIME (June 2019, Clear Fork Publishing), has sent in a pitch for her picture book manuscript, BASEBALL-A-SAURUS. How clever of her to blend such wonderful hooks – baseball and dinosaurs – into one story!

As if having a book about baseball isn’t exciting enough for a pitching challenge, let’s add on top of that a fabulous guest-star pitcher, Linsday Leslie, who has two – yes two! – picture books out this year with Page Street Kids. Her debut, THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS, came out in February, while NOVA THE STAR EATER just recently hit the shelves in May. Lindsay has a third on the way, DUSK EXPLORERS, which is due out next year. So you can see, Lindsay is pretty much setting the picture book world on fire right now!

Make sure to take a look at the extra information included below about each of these amazing authors.

Now on to the challenge. Take a look at the three pitches in the voting box. They are in no particular order so you’ll never know whose is whose (the author’s, mine, or our special guest pitcher). Vote for your favorite, and if you are so inclined, leave a comment, too. We love hearing from readers/voters!

You have until July 4, 2019, to cast your vote. Please vote only once, but feel free to tell your friends about us and get them in on the action.

 

ABOUT SHIRIN:

Shirin has lived on three continents and sees herself as a global citizen.  She loves to share stories from her heritage to inspire understanding and appreciation for all cultures and diversity. As a current member of SCBWI and 12×12, Shirin has taken many courses to improve her craft. For her, writing is like breathing.

Connect with Shirin at: 

Website: shirinshamsi.com Twitter: @ShirinsBooks Instagram: Shirinshamsi1

Find Shirin’s book at:     Amazon  /   Clear Fork Publishing

ABOUT LINDSAY:

A diary keeper, a journal writer, a journalism major, a public relations executive—Lindsay Leslie has always operated in a world of written words. When she became a mom and began to tell her kids bedtime stories, Lindsay connected the dots to children’s literature. She likes to bring her unique outlook on life, quirky humor, and play with words to the page in picture books. Lindsay is the author of THIS BOOK IS SPINELESS and NOVA THE STAR EATER (Page Street Kids). Her third picture book, DUSK EXPLORERS (Page Street Kids), will launch in the spring of 2020. Lindsay lives with her husband, two young boys, and two fur-beasts in Austin.

Connect with Lindsay at:  lindsayleslie.com@lleslie

Find Lindsay’s Books at:

https://lindsayleslie.com/books/this-book-is-spineless/

https://lindsayleslie.com/books/nova-the-star-eater/

CONCLUDING REMARKS: 

Yep, my lawyer-speak is still alive and well. Let’s wrap this up, shall we?

I want to thank Shirin Shamsi and Lindsay Leslie for participating in this WONDERful word challenge. They are two talented authors who I hope you have enjoyed getting to know more about here. Thank you for stopping by (and voting)! Until next time . . .

Finding Creativity, Uncategorized

Finding Inspiration in Hidden Talents with Erin Le Clerc

We have a super creative author up on the Wonder of Words blog today, Erin Le Clerc, author of the picture book, I’VE GOT A COW CALLED MAUREEN. What a title, right? As soon as my kids saw it, they were clamoring to read it.

WowELC7
Mermaid Girl & Dinosaur Boy practicing their yodeling skills in a tree, of course, just like Maureen!

Thanks so much for being here, Erin. I love the book’s positive message of finding something you’re good at and letting it shine. My kids LOVE the yodeling. What inspired your unique story?

Erin: It’s my pleasure–thank you so much for hosting me! I love that your kids are yodeling.

I’ve Got A Cow Called Maureen is based on the true story of how my Nana Maureen began her journey to becoming Australia’s Champion Swiss Yodeler in the 1940s! WowELC5

A few years ago, I was participating in a picture book writing course with Children’s Book Academy and I was struggling to come up with an idea for a book. I adore my Nana, so when my mum suggested I write about her, I tucked the idea away for further consideration. A few weeks later, she told me that every time my Nana went into her country town, and her mother introduced her to a local farmer, they’d always exclaim “Why, I’ve got a cow called Maureen!” It drove Nana crazy, but it made me laugh, and I knew I’d found an “in” that would let me tell my Nana’s story with a dash of humour!

Candice: Children’s Book Academy is amazing. (Here’s a link for those curious.) And yes, that ‘in’, or hook, is what gives a story life. I love that this is based on your Nana. What a wonderful gift to her and your family. What is your favorite part of the creative process?

Erin: I have two favourites!

I always feel that the first flush of an idea or story inspiration – the part that finds you racing to get everything down on paper – feels a bit like flying! I find this the easiest part of writing, and I love when an idea, title, or some form of concept appears as if by magic.

When it comes to the “hard slog” part of writing, I’m one of those weirdos who ADORES editing. I love tightening sentences, and making sure my stories feel lyrical, colourful, emotional, or truthful. Michelangelo said “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it”. I feel the same about story ideas and first drafts, and the process of polishing them into a manuscript!

Candice: Fabulous quote. That first flush of inspiration is my favorite. I call it the Divine Spark because you’re right, it does feel like magic. Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? How do they cross into your writing?

Erin: I do! In addition to writing, I love to crochet, I sing in a choir, I enjoy beading, hand-wowELC6quilting, sewing, and all manner of crafts. I love to decorate my home (it’s like Aladdin’s cave of wonders!), and I’m learning how to draw/paint, which really is an exercise in letting go of my inner critic and perfectionist!!

Candice: Do you have any tips you’d like to share with the Wonder of Words readers about finding creativity?

Erin: I am learning that creativity is something you need to create space for. Sometimes we are “struck with inspiration,” but more regularly, it’s when you sit down and give focused time to a creative project that your brain really starts firing! I also believe in the concept of “Artist Dates” where you go for a walk, go on a fun outing, do something that lifts your spirits, visit a gallery/museum, or even see a movie. When we push ourselves too hard, our body and brain don’t much like it. Rest is an essential part of creativity!

Candice: I’m guessing you’re a fan of Julia Cameron’s “The Artist Way”. I am too. Creativity usually inspires more creativity. Are you working on other book projects that you could give us hints about?

Erin: I have three manuscripts that I am currently submitting to agents. They’re all “gently psychological” stories – about mindfulness, feeling grumpy, and setting body boundaries – but with a whimsical twist! I’m also writing a fantasy adventure middle grade novel that I’m really excited to get out into the world!

Candice: I adore whimsical twists. Middle grade has a special place in my heart so I’m eager to find out more about that. Good luck with your agent hunt. Thanks so much for being here, Erin, and for sharing your creative tips and inspiration!

Erin LeClerc Bio PhotoI knew she’d be the perfect author to feature for the creativity post based on her back-of-the-book bio: Erin Le Clerc grew up with seven siblings, three ghosts, two eccentric parents, and a multitude of farm animals in a crumbling abandoned hospital in the suburbs. This vastly informed her imagination! She’s tremendously proud of her Australian “bush heritage”, which she inherited from her Nana Maureen. She spends her “9 to 5” working as a psychologist, and her “5 to 9” writing adventurous tales.

Here’s how to find her book: by ordering through your local independent bookstore, or on Amazon

And here’s how to find and follow Erin:

Website: www.erinleclerc.com.au

Twitter: https://twitter.com/erinleclerc
Insta: https://www.instagram.com/erinleclercauthor/ & https://www.instagram.com/theresilientcreative (the latter is inspiration and encouragement for fellow writers and creatives!)
Facebook: www.facebook.com/erinleclercauthor
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18863103.Erin_Le_Clerc

Writing prompt: Ask older family members about their childhood to see if it sparks any inspiration. Leave a comment before the 15th, and I’ll randomly pick someone to win a picture book critique from me.
A to Z

May the 4th be with you!

  Sadly, after I had chosen and written my post for today, I heard the news of the passing of Peter Mayhew, the actor who portrayed the lovable Chewbacca (Chewie) in the Star Wars Saga.  I know Star Wars fans worldwide join me in a tearful good-bye to the much loved character and the man who played him.

Today is Star Wars Day! My favorite pun is “May the Fourth be with You!” a greeting Star Wars Fans use to address their comrades on May 4th. (The original line in Star Wars is “May the Force be With You!”).
Puns are a form of word play which take advantage of words, or similar sounding words, with multiple meanings, often to create a humorous situation or joke. Puns can sometimes be created unintentionally, in which case the saying ‘no pun intended’ is used.

I was surprised and delighted to learn that many times a pun is a form of homophones, homonyms, or heteronyms. What’s that you say? I could easily confuse myself, (and you, dear reader), with all the information on the subject sitting out there on the information super highway. Suffice to say, for this post, I am taking all my research from a fairly reliable source, that being the on-line version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/.

HOMONYMS (as defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary) are “one of two or more words spelled and pronounced alike but different in meaning (such as the noun quail and the verb quail)” A few examples would include:
Book: Something to read or the act of making a reservation
Bat: An animal or something you use to hit a ball in baseball/softball
Lie: To recline or tell a falsehood
Pen: Where animals may be kept or something to write with
Bark: The outside layer of a tree or the sound a dog makes

HOMOPHONES (as defined by the dictionary) “one of two or more words pronounced alike but different in meaning or derivation or spelling (such as the words to, too, and two).” Some examples are:

Chute; shoot Parachute; shoot a gun
Feat; feet A deed notable of courage; body part
Stationary; stationery Unchanging in condition; materials used for writing (paper)
Knead, kneed, need What you do when making bread; using knee to kick someone; obligation
Overseas, oversees beyond the ocean; watches over a project or group

Hopefully, you aren’t confused yet because here comes my favorite part of the world of homonyms and homophones!
HETERONYMS (sometimes called homographs) “are words that are spelled the same but pronounced different and have a different meaning.” A familiar example would be SOW. As a noun it can refer to “an adult female swine”. As a verb, it could mean “to plant seed for growth especially by scattering”. Examples include:
Tear: to rip Tear: fluid in eye
Dove: Dove:
Wind: to coil up Wind: the blowing air
Wound: to injure Wound: coiled up
Bow: front of a ship Bow: tool to shoot arrows
Combine: put together Combine: piece of farm equipment

Can you think of any others?

Delighted with this topic, I decided to come up with a story using as many homophones as I can (and it still make sense of course!).  Here is my opening sentence:

At peace with her decision, Danielle settled in to eat the last piece of cake.

What do you think? Want to try your own story? Check out this website that lists homophones from A to Z. Yes! X, Y, and Z have homophones! https://www.homophone.com/.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope you enjoyed todays post. Leave positive feedback and don’t forget to follow us!  May the Force be with You! Happy Star Wars Day! Live long and prosper for all my fellow Trekkers!

 

 

Best in Show

April Is National Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month Everyone!

There is no better way to honor this month and continue our journey of showing versus telling than through the eyes of wonderful poets. Here to share her personal experiences and expertise is Amy Losak. I am so excited to feature her unique and special publishing journey.

 

 

H IS FOR HAIKU

I’ve learned that with picture books, the best creative approach is to “show” more than “tell,” and to leave enough “white space” for the illustrator to complete the story.

In many ways, it’s the same with haiku poetry.

Haiku is the briefest form of poetry, yet arguably the most expansive. It’s delightfully challenging to write, and it takes study, practice, and revision. A lot has to be “packed” into few words, to allow the reader to enter the poem as creative collaborators, and “complete” it. Each word matters.

Sydell Rosenberg’s haiku for children do just this. I view them as stories in miniature –“word-pictures” – so young readers can fill in the ideas and images presented in the words with their own imaginations. And Sawsan Chalabi, the illustrator for H IS FOR HAIKU, also had plenty of room to “play” with these piquant poetic texts. Take note of her approach, which complements the words with visual wit, energy, and joy!

Take this award-winning haiku for example (it was first published in 1968, I believe!):

So pale – it hardly sat

    on the outstretched branch

      of the winter night.

Over the years, “So pale” has become one of my favorites. It’s tranquil and mysterious – maybe even majestic. This haiku conjures not just a picture of almost other-worldly repose, but a feeling, I hope, of serenity.

What is “it,” exactly? Ah ha – that’s the whole point. Sawsan’s sweet illustration depicts a friendly-faced moon, which is perfect. But “it” could be anything the reader wants to place on that “outstretched” (arm-like?) branch. Could “it” be an owl or another bird – or a squirrel? A cat? Snow? Raindrops? A child? “It” could be any or all these things – and more. There are no limits. There are no wrong answers!

Another old haiku I’ve loved for a long time is:

Adventures over

     the cat sits in the fur ring

        of his tail, and dreams.

This poem captures a moment in time and place. What has happened earlier to tucker out this sleeping kitty? What “adventures” did he have? Was he gallivanting around outdoors? Or was he inside, observing life through a window from a comfy couch cushion (like our amber-eyed, new young cat, Winnie)? Is he dreaming about his busy day’s antics? What will he do when he awakes? Will his adventures continue? What will they be like?

And is he content? He must be, tucked within the safety of his tail. Indeed, note that “fur ring” rhymes with “purring” – this is a deliberate word choice.

There’s a complete story in this poetic “snapshot” … and it’s one in which readers can have fun figuring out what comes before – and also after. They can make this small moment big!

Syd was a charter member of the Haiku Society of America in 1968 in New York City, and also a teacher. I think she determined pretty early in her haiku writing career that some of her poems would appeal to kids. The language she used is simple but striking (a hallmark of haiku). Her poems are designed to build small worlds for kids to revel in, and they build vocabulary, as well.

My journey to publish mom’s old manuscript (some of which I edited) has been a long and nonlinear one, marked by delays, deviations (some delightful, but others painful), and distractions. She died suddenly in 1996. Her writings had been well-anthologized, and she had a number of accomplishments to be proud of. But her dream to publish a kids’ book – despite several submission attempts – went unfulfilled.

But once I got my act in gear, around 2015, the path to publication was relatively quick! I signed with Penny Candy Books in the latter half of 2016, and H IS FOR HAIKU was released on April 10, 2018 (National Poetry Month).

Along the way, I started to better understand Syd’s restless, and at the same time mindful, approach to life and its daily, sometimes unpredictable, small adventures. When my mom was alive, sadly, I took a lot of her mindset for granted. But I and her loved ones always knew how much her literary life meant to her.

I now write and publish my own short poems – mom’s legacy (and other poets, as well), has conferred this gift. This makes me happy, of course, but it’s the process that is most important. I consider myself an eternal beginner. I always seem to be in a rush, and I’m continually distracted. I am still learning to slow down and linger over little slices of life, so I can enjoy and celebrate them. Each “life-slice” is evanescent and unique. Too quickly, it’s gone forever. There can be magic in those moments, if only we take the time and discipline to notice.

This is the lesson I’ve learned from my mom, and I hope it shines through in H IS FOR HAIKU.

pastel pond …

    the iris of her eyes

       staring back at me

If you would like to get in touch with Amy:

FB: https://www.facebook.com/amy.losak

Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amy-losak-836b686

 

By Amy Losak; Publication Credits: Read, Learn and be Happy blog, April 17, 2017; They Gave Us Life: Celebrating Mothers, Fathers & Others in Haiku, anthology edited by Robert Epstein, 2017

Uncategorized

Book Review – The Diamond and the Boy by Hannah Holt

Welcome back to the book review section of The Wonder of Words. For those who don’t know me, I trained as a chemical engineer before I started writing. I also have a science-obsessed daughter who had us read The Natural History Museum Book of Dinosaurs to her when she was four, and who was receiving adult books on astronomy, science and nature for her birthdays from an early age. My favourite of her birthday books is The Elements by Theodore Gray. It is visually spectacular and the text is very readable, challenging and, at times, funny. The page on carbon is fascinating.

Which brings me to the non-fiction picture book, The Diamond and the Boy by Hannah Holt (who, incidentally, is also an engineer). The Diamond and the Boy is a remarkable book about graphite (aka carbon), diamond (aka carbon) and Tracy Hall (the man who created the first diamond-making machine). The book is popular in review circles and Hannah has also discussed her process on a number of blogs, so I will try to bring something new to the discussion.

Creating non-fiction picture books that engage the child is no easy task. There are facts you can’t fudge for the sake of a story and in the past, those facts have been presented in a relatively dry manner – facts must be boring, right? Thanks to the wonderful selection of non-fiction children’s books on the market this has changed and we are seeing books that stay true to the facts and also present an engaging text for children. I could have chosen any number of remarkable non-fiction books to review, so why The Diamond and the Boy?

The Diamond and the Boy appeals to the engineer and the parent in me. It’s a book that humanises science. It’s a book I wish I’d had for my science obsessed daughter so I didn’t have to wade through dry facts each night. The lyricism creates evocative reading. The parallel narratives set up a metaphor for Tracy Hall being as tough as diamonds without being clichéd. But it also shows that you don’t have to be tough to succeed. It demonstrates key attributes parents would like for their children: curiosity, determination, patience, perseverance and resilience.

The Diamond and the Boy is also a book about grandparents. Tracy Hall is Hannah’s grandfather. This isn’t apparent in the main text, however, the back matter on Tracy’s life shows the relationship they had and the relationship Hannah wanted. In fact, all the back matter in this book is excellent reading. Hannah doesn’t shy away from the issue of blood diamonds and she presents the history of diamonds and Tracy Hall’s legacy in a timeline.

The incorporation of science, engineering, biography, history and human relationships and traits in one short picture book is a marvel. To present it in a way that feels authentic and natural is what makes this book remarkable.

Pitch It to Me

~ THE PITCH IT TO ME CHALLENGE ~

Hello again! Welcome to the third PITCH IT TO ME CHALLENGE! For those of you who missed the second challenge, our special guest pitcher, editor Alayne Kay Christian of Blue Whale Press, captured the most votes to take top honors. It was a close competition, and I want to thank everyone who dropped by to participate.

For this round, Marcia Berneger, author of BUSTER THE LITTLE GARBAGE TRUCK, has sent in a pitch for her picture book manuscript, TASHA AND THE NEW YEAR TREE. What a great story, let me tell you! Or rather, let me pitch it to you, along with fabulous author, Erin LeClerc, whose debut picture book, I’VE GOT A COW CALLED MAUREEN, came out earlier this month. These two ladies are super-talented so prepare to be wowed by their pitching prowess. You can learn more about each of them below.

Here’s a recap of how it works ~ Take a look at the three pitches in the voting box. They are in no particular order so you’ll never know whose is whose (the author’s, mine, or our special guest pitcher). Vote for your favorite, and if you are so inclined, leave a comment, too. We love hearing from readers/voters!

You have until April 1, 2019, to cast your vote. No joke! Please vote only once, but feel free to tell your friends about us and get them in on the action.

ABOUT MARCIA:

Marcia is a retired teacher who lives with her husband and three crazy dogs. She enjoys helping in a classroom and reading with children at libraries, bookstores, and fundraisers. She wrote her picture book, Buster the Little Garbage Truck, to help children overcome their fears. She also has a new chapter book coming in September called A Dreidel in Time: A New Spin on an Old Tale

You can connect with Marcia through the following:

Website: www.marciaberneger.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/marcia.berneger

ABOUT ERIN:

Erin grew up with seven siblings, three ghosts, two eccentric parents, and a multitude of farm animals in a crumbling abandoned hospital in the suburbs. This vastly informed her imagination! She spends her “9 to 5” as a psychologist, and her “5 to 9” writing adventurous tales. Her debut picture book was released by Clear Fork Publishing in March 2019!

You can connect with Erin at:

Website: www.erinleclerc.com.au.

Twitter: www.twitter.com/erinleclerc

Insta: www.instagram.com/erinleclercauthor

Facebook: www.facebook.com/erinleclercauthor

Find I’VE GOT A COW CALLED MAUREEN for purchase at:

USA: Clear Fork Publishing or Amazon

AU:  Amazon

UK:  Amazon

Concluding Remarks:

I think it was Candice who teased me after the first Pitch it To Me Challenge for having a section called “Concluding Remarks,” noting that I just can’t shake the attorney off even if I stopped practicing over two years ago. She would be right (she usually is!), but I kind of like it so it stays. It’s also a great space to thank our lovely authors for joining me in the challenge. Hooray for Marcia Berneger and Erin Le Clerc for lending their WONDERFUL words for you to enjoy and vote on. And thank you all for stopping by. Until next time . . .