Book Reviews

Book Review – The Mapmakers’ Race by Eirlys Hunter

Welcome back to the Wonder of Words book review section. Last time I reviewed Once Long Ago and talked about the importance of traditional tales as part of a child’s book collection. This time I am reviewing New Zealand author, Eirlys Hunter’s middle-grade novel, The Mapmakers’ Race.

Sal, Joe, Francie and Humphrey Santander’s father hasn’t returned from his latest expedition. Worn out with worry and with no money left, their mapmaking mother chooses to enter the family in the Mapmakers’ Race. Contestants have 28 days to find and map the best route through the unchartered wilderness from Grand Prospect to New Coalhaven. With a prize pool that will solve almost all of their problems what have the Santanders got to lose? Unfortunately, a lot. When the children’s mother is left behind at a train station en route to the start line, the children are stranded in Grand Prospect not knowing what to do. Finally, they decide to embark on the race by themselves, hoping their mother can catch up.

What ensues is a madcap adventure as the Santander children do their best to make their parents proud in spite of dangerous terrain, terrifying beasts, villainous adults and each other. Every day provides a new challenge for the children and they overcome each one through quick thinking, experimentation and perseverance. While not set in our world, the story is not completely fantastical either: perhaps the best way to describe it is magical realism set in a world similar to our own with just a splash of steampunk. Some of the scenes could be a little scary for younger children but I am a firm believer that in the safety of a book children need to see dangerous and scary scenarios worked through and overcome.

Eirlys Hunter has devised a strong cast of characters and an engaging plot to create a true adventure story where overcoming obstacles to meet the final goal is key. Not only does she write adventure with skill, but in the story’s down moments she also has a beautiful way with words. Here is a taste:

The moon hung so big and bright that he could barely make out any stars until he turned his back to the moon and looked towards the dark horizon where there were tens, then hundreds, then thousands of stars pulsing silently – chips of ice in an infinite, frozen world.

Alongside Hunter’s rollicking text are illustrations by Kirsten Slade whose map drawings add shape to the story.

If you are interested in investigating further, there is the Look Inside feature on Amazon plus an extract in the New Zealand online magazine The Sapling. The Mapmakers’ Race can be purchased at Amazon or the Book Depository. If you are in New Zealand please support your local bookstore or order online at The Children’s Bookshop, Wellington.

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Pitch It to Me

~ The PITCH IT TO ME Challenge ~

Hello, and welcome back for the second “Pitch It to Me” Challenge! The first challenge was a success, with guest pitcher, author Melissa Stoller, taking first place. Thank you to everyone who stopped by to read the pitches, vote, comment, or to support wonderful members of our writing community.

Here’s a recap of how this works. I pick one lucky writer’s picture book pitch for the post. I write another for the same story, and have a guest write a third. YOU get to vote on your favorite. The winner gets bragging rights, and the writer ends up with three pitch ideas, feedback, and a complimentary critique of the story.

This month, Candace Spizzirri pitches AMBER MAE SAVES THE STRAYS. Our guest challenger is … drum roll please … the fabulous author, editor, and publisher, Alayne Kay Christian of Blue Whale Press. You can learn more about each of these ladies and their work below.

You have until January 1, 2019 to vote on your favorite pitch. They are in no particular order. Please only vote once, but feel free to tell your friends about us and get them in on the action.

Let the challenge begin!

About Candace:

Candace holds a degree in child psychology with an emphasis in emotional development. She is an active participant in SCBWI, Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Writing Challenge, Children’s Book Insider, Writing Magic Writing Lab, critique groups, and a graduate of the Children’s Book Academy. Candace writes picture books in both prose and verse, and finds joy in spending time each day writing and honing her craft. You might also find her breaking into dance moves that are not in the least bit embarrassing.

Follow her on Twitter: @CCSpizzirri1

About Alayne and Blue Whale Press:

Alayne Kay Christian is the content and developmental editor for Blue Whale Press and an award-winning children’s book author of the chapter book Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make it Rain and the picture book Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa. She is the creator and instructor of a picture book writing course, Art of Arc. She has been a professional picture book and chapter book critique writer for five years. She has been a critique ninja for Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 picture book challenge forum for three years. Alayne is a graduate of the Institute for Children’s Literature and she has spent the last ten years studying under some of the top names in children’s literature.

You can connect with Alayne through the following:

Alayne’s Website: http://www.alaynekaychristianauthor.com/

Alayne’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/alaynekay.christian

Blue Whale Press Website:    https://www.bluewhalepress.com/

Blue Whale Press Facebook Page:    https://www.facebook.com/BlueWhalePress/

Alayne’s books: Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa and Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make it Rain

Concluding Remarks:

Thank you to Candace and Alayne for participating in the Pitch It to Me challenge. They were simply WONDERFUL to work with. If you would like to be part of a future challenge, please contact me per the instructions found here. I will see you all again for “Pitch It to Me” on March 16, 2019!

 

Finding Creativity, Uncategorized

Marcie Colleen on Sparking Whimsy & Rocketing to the Moon

Hi, y’all! Today on the Wonder of Words blog we have super talented author, Marcie Colleen, answering questions about her latest picture book, PENGUINAUT!, and on sparking creativity.

Welcome, Marcie! Thanks so much for being here. PENGUINAUT! is such a wonderful combination of humor and heart-squishes. My five year-old went grocery shopping with me recently and was BESIDE HIMSELF EXCITED when the buggy ahead of us was full of 2 liter soft drinks. He was sure they were planning on rocketing to the moon!

PenguinautSoftDrinks

Wondering why Mermaid Girl & Dinosaur Boy are reading with fizzy drinks surrounding them? You’ll have to read the book to find out! 🙂

LOL! That’s awesome! Definitely rocketing to the moon.

1. When and where did you get the inspiration for Orville’s story?

Back in December of 2011 a friend of mine posted the following on Facebook:

fbNow, as a writer, I can’t control where my ideas come from. And after reading this, I became so curious about penguins and their lack of necks which would prevent them from looking at the stars. I asked, “what if?” (that is what writers do, we are constantly asking “what if?”). What if a penguin saw the moon for the first time and became so enthralled that he wanted to find a way to get there?

As with all stories, this one went through lots of revisions (39 to be exact!) and lots of re-imaginings. Along the way, I have lost the “falling over and discovering the moon” bit, but the adventurous spirit of Orville lives on in the published book.

2. I love the idea of penguins willing to fall down for a chance to look at the stars! And 39 revisions—that makes me feel better about my own manuscripts. What is your favorite part of the creative process?

My favorite part of the process is when I can call on my pals and get feedback on what I have written. They always help me see the lack and where I can make things stronger. I love that process. Brene Brown talks about how no art is created without midwifery. And my books have required a lot of midwifery. That collaboration is the best part of creation for me.

Penguianut cover low res

3. Yes! I rely heavily on the wonderful Wonder of Words PB critique group as well as my in-person Write Club ladies for MG & YA. I feel I’m a stronger writer after taking your Study Hall over the summer too. Do you have other creative outlets or hobbies? Do they cross into your writing?

 

I have lots of other creative outlets. I like to dabble in music, singing and playing a little ukulele and guitar. I also love to cook. I run every day. I suppose these do cross over into my writing, as they allow me to replenish my inner well. They fire up the imagination, spark whimsy, and encourage experimentation. So, they might not cross into my writing directly, but they certainly do play in.

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 9.56.24 AM
Illustrator Emma Yarlett did a superb job on capturing Orville and his zoo friends

4. Do you have any tips you’d like to share about finding creativity?

 

I very much think of creativity as a muscle. The more you work the muscle, the more you will build. Therefore, take time to infuse your day with play and imagination. As you do that, your creativity feelers will grow and before you know it, you will be finding stories everywhere you look.

5. So true. I love this permission to play and use the imagination! Creativity usually seems to inspire more creativity. Do you have another book project you’re working on that you could give us a hint about?

 

My next picture book comes out in Winter 2020 from Macmillan. It’s called The Bear’s Garden and it will be illustrated by Alison Oliver (Moon, BabyLit series). It’s about an intrepid girl, her beloved stuffed bear, and the garden they create in a forgotten corner of their neighborhood. It is inspired by a real community garden in Brooklyn, New York and it’s so wonderful to see my former neighborhood come to life through Alison’s gorgeous art. It truly will be a love letter to the place both Alison and I have called home.

 

Community gardens are such a wonderful thing I’m happy to see popping up more and more regularly. This story sounds beautiful! Thank you so much for your time, Marcie! And y’all, her Study Halls are GREAT. We highly recommend. Check out her website for more information.

20160113_D800_marciecolleen_headshot_9442_3x4In previous chapters Marcie Colleen has been a teacher, an actress, and a nanny, but now she spends her days writing children’s books! She is the author of THE SUPER HAPPY PARTY BEARS chapter book series with Macmillan/Imprint, as well picture books, LOVE, TRIANGLE, illustrated by Bob Shea (Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins), and PENGUINAUT!, illustrated by Emma Yarlett (Scholastic). She lives with her husband and their mischievous sock monkey in San Diego, California. Visit Marcie at www.thisismarciecolleen.com or follow her on Twitter @MarcieColleen1.

 

For y’all’s creativity prompt inspired by this interview, watch your social media feed to see if a post sparks whimsy in you. Let me know in the comments, and I’ll randomly choose a winner for a picture book manuscript critique by me!

Book Reviews

On Being Thankful

November days are dark, dim, dismal, dreary. They’re also Days of Gratitude when we ponder what we’re thankful for. This November, I’m thankful for words. For much of my life, words have been important in my world. As a dyspraxic kid, I needed words to understand my world. I was an early talker and early reader.

I’m grateful for the words of my childhood – Polish words. My favorite stories were Janusz Korczak’s tales about King Matt the First. I also enjoyed Grimm’s fairy tales and all the children’s classics like Cinderella and Snow White.  We moved to Israel; Hebrew words. I recall reading Joanna Spyri’s Heidi. The first stories I read in English were Kipling’s Jungle Book and Marguerite de Angeli’s The Door in the Wall. As I got older, I enjoyed Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. In high school, it was Tolkien, Michener, Uris, Steinbeck.

The possession that I am most thankful for is my library card. I used the library a lot as a child, and I use it a lot today as an aspiring author. When I was young, my friends existed in books and lived in other worlds – worlds those books transported me to. I could lose myself in a book and forget my loneliness. The little card is my key to other worlds via books, DVDs, and CDs.

Today there are many books that teach children the importance of cultivating gratitude. At my local library, I was drawn to three gratitude books. In Look and be Grateful, Tomie De Paola’s simple words and bright pictures encourages young children to be grateful for each and every day. In Suzy Capozzi’s and Eren Unten’s I am Thankful, a boy learns to think positively even when things don’t go the way he wants. In Grateful Gracie by Jennifer Tissot and Cecilia Washburn, Gracie helps her older, grumpy brother learn the power of gratitude. The book teaches kids that we can remember the good things even when days are gray and life seems hard.

Among the classics are Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree, Dr. Seuss’ Did I ever tell you how lucky you are?, and Stan Berenstain’s The Berenstain Bears Count their Blessings.

These five titles common on almost every list of gratitude books for kids:

The Thankful Book           The Thankful Book by Todd Parr, which celebrates all the little things children can give thanks for.Bear Says Thanks (The Bear Books)

Bear Says Thanks is a story of friendship and gratitude  by By Karma Wilson, Illustrated by Jane Chapman

Grateful: A Song of Giving Thanks is a book and CD that combines words, illustrations and music in a stirring anthem to gratitude.

 

Gratitude Soup by Olivia Rosewood, where Violet the Purple Fairy mixes everything she’s grateful for in an imaginary soup pot.

Thankful by Eileen Spinelli illustrated by Archie Preston encourages kids to be thankful for even the smallest blessings. “The poet is thankful for words that rhyme, the children, for morning story time,” she writes.

Her words resonate in my heart; I’m thankful for words.  

I’m thankful for the gift of words and wordsmithing my dad passed on to me. We lived on different continents, traveled separate pathways. I have no memories, few mementos, and only one gift: Language. Like father, like daughter – both lovers of words. For that, I’m grateful.

I’m thankful for writing partners, writer’s groups, writing teachers and mentors, so many resources to improve my craft.

Words matter. With my writing gift, I hope to encourage, engage, enrich the lives of my readers – as my life has been enriched by the written word. I hope to use my words, my voice, to encourage, to affect positive change in our world, to share peace, love, life, joy, faith, hope.

WORDS: Handle with Care

 As children, we were told to say:

“Sticks and stones may break my bones,

but words can never hurt me.”

Yet words often cause injury and pain…

The scars don’t show,

but the wounds may never heal.

**

Words – or their absence – have power:

They can hurt, or they can heal.

They can bruise, or they can mend.

They can kill – or give new life.

**

Words.

Use them with care.

To encourage, engage, enrich.

It is said:

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Words

can change lives.

You

can change the world

one word at a time.

**

Some say a picture

is worth a thousand words, but…

Pictures lack sound, smell, or taste…

 Words evoke image,

smell, taste, sound, mood, feel.

Words have power.

Words are real.

**

Words tell a story,

convey a message,

convince the skeptic,

stir up mood and feelings.

 My world of words

is worth more

than a thousand pictures.

Uncategorized

Alliteration by Gabrielle Schoeffield

I confess, my fascination with words qualifies as a first-rate fetish.   It’s only natural I should challenge myself to share the wonder of words and writing from A to Z.

Today, I’d like to share what I have found (and love) about alliteration.  Alliteration is in the air, in awe inspiring abundance much like the autumn leaves.

Alliteration, by definition, is “the repetition of usually initial consonant sounds in two or more neighboring words or syllables.” There are so many examples of this in everyday life.  Business’s like Dunkin Donuts, Chuck E. Cheese, Bed, Bath, and Beyond are perfect examples, as are famous people like Jesse Jackson, Kim Kardashian, and Doris Day.   Even Super Heroes get in on the alliteration action (did you see that one?) with their real names.

Captain America real name isBucky Barnes.  The Hulks real name is Bruce Banner. Spider-Man goes by Peter Parker.  Superman’s real name (Clark Kent) has the same sound (although it doesn’t start with the same letter), but his girlfriend Lois Lane does.

Alliteration can also be found in poetry, music and literature.  William Shakespeare clearly had a handle on the topic when he wrote “Good night! Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow.” (Romeo and Juliet).  Edgar Allen Poe opened his poem The Raven with “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary…”  But my favorite poetic alliteration comes from Paul McCartney’s song, Let it Be. Inspired by a dream about his late mother, Paul wrote the song that includes my favorite alliteration, “Whisper words of wisdom, let it be.”

In my research of the topic, I was amazed at the lack of picture books written in the alliterative form.  I did manage to come across books at my local library.

If You Were Alliteration written by Trisha Speed Shaskan, illustrated by Sara Gray, explains by example what alliteration is and then gives an example.  “If you were alliteration, you would be the same sound repeated at the beginning of two or more words in a phrase or a sentence.” Ms. Shaskan used “Ulysses the Unicorn spots a UFO as he makes a U-turn on his unicycle” as her example. The illustrations are colorful and delightful.  Beyond the definition and examples of alliteration, the author has included a game to play, a glossary of terms and where you can go to learn more about alliteration.  You’ll have to check out the book for the instructions for the game!

Walter Was Worried was written by and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger.  Not only is this delightful book written in alliteration, the illustrations include the emotion the characters were feeling “when the sky grew dark”.  You will have to check this one out.

Of the few books I found on alliteration, Betty’s Burgled Bakery, written and illustrated by Travis Nichols is clearly my favorite!  It fits in the “graphic novel” category although it is a picture book.  When Betty arrives at work to find everything missing, she calls the “gumshoo zoo” detective agency to report “A bread bandit burgled my bakery before breakfast!”  To find out how the case is solved, you’ll just have to read the book!

I am lucky to have been blessed with a lifelong love of learning, blessed with friends who fancy writing as much as I do and the opportunity to share my stories with you all.  Thanks for stopping by!

Best in Show

Strategies for Showing Versus Telling

Hi Everyone!

Welcome to our fourth blog post! What an honor it is to be able to interview authors on their strategies for showing readers their stories through the most amazing selection of words. Ever WONDER how they accomplish this? Best In Show blog posts will showcase authors sharing their strategies for captivating the audience through showing, not telling. In addition, I will share some tips for building the love of reading in an era where technology largely competes for a child’s attention. I hope you find the information useful whether you are writing your next book, presentation, or looking for ways to encourage a child in your life to read, read, read!!

Our WONDER OF WORDS guest today is picture and chapter book author, Ariel Bernstein (www.arielbernsteinbooks.com). I had the pleasure and honor of working with and learning from Ariel in a critique group in 2015-2016 and saw her talent for showing versus telling right away. It has been such a joy to watch her career as an author blossom. My students Skyped with her last fall and learned so much.

TS: Hi Ariel, Congratulations on the recent release of your new chapter book series WARREN & DRAGON (Viking Children’s, 2018). Thank you so much for spending some time with me today. Where do your story ideas originate from?

AB: It’s hard to pinpoint exact places where story ideas originate from! Often when an interesting idea pops into my head, or I see something interesting happen in real life, I will write it down. Later on, I’ll try and see if I can turn the idea into an actual story. For example, during one winter I heard a kid say, “I want the cold to go somewhere else.” I thought that could become a funny story of a kid trying to convince winter to go away. I wrote the picture book and although it never sold, I enjoyed the experience of writing it.

TS: When revising manuscripts, how do you identify which areas need more showing and less telling?

AB: Sometimes it’s hard for me to have a good perspective on my own writing. I get feedback from other writers who give me critiques, and if they think I need to show more and tell less, I listen!

TS: Are there specific strategies you use to incorporate more descriptive language?

AS: I try not to use much descriptive language with a picture book as the illustrations will show almost everything. With the chapter book, sometimes during revisions I’ll see that a scene moves too quickly, so to slow it down I will try and add descriptions of people and places.

TS: How do you know when you’ve finally got it just right?

AS: It’s hard to answer this because if you wait a while and look back at a manuscript, there’s always a chance you’ll want to change something! But after listening to feedback from critique partners and revising a number of times, it comes down to instinct that my manuscript is ready to be sent to my agent. And then she might have suggestions for revisions! And if an editor acquires it, there might be even more revising.

TS: Do you have any tips or suggestions for how writers can be more aware of painting that full picture for the reader and listeners?

AS: This isn’t new advice, but it’s the perfect one – read, read, and read some more! Read like a writer – figure out how a book you enjoy draws you in (is it the interesting characters? The setting? The voice?), how it keeps your attention (the chapter endings? The quick pace? An engaging plot?), and how the ending leaves you feeling satisfied (are all loose ends tied up? Is there a twist ending? Does it make you want to re-read the book?). Be aware of these things when writing and revising your own work.

TS: My students love Owl, Monkey, Warren and Dragon. Your characters are relatable to readers of all ages. They remind us what it is like to behave and express emotions and that is a wonderful thing! Thank you for sharing you gift of words with us and we look forward to many more books!

warren and dragon.jpgowl and balloon.jpg

You can find Ariel’s books at:

www.arielbernsteinbooks.com

Facebook: fb.me/ArielBBooks

Twitter: @ArielBBooks

Instagram: @arielbbooks

Tips For Creating Lifelong Readers:

Reading is a whole lot easier when kids learn early in life how much fun it can be. Here are five easy tips as everyone settles into those Back To School routines:

-Read bedtime stories to your kids every night: let them choose the story

-Always ask questions as you go: helps keep kids engaged

-Read and repeat: this helps build confidence

-Read more pages and fewer screens: have more books available than phones

-Visit your local library: this can be such a fun family outing

Thank you for joining us today and enjoy our next post by Gabrielle Copeland Schoeffield on November 3rd!!

Book Reviews

Book Review – Once Long Ago

Once Long Ago, the book I read as a child until it fell apart, is the book I have chosen for my first review.

Once Long Ago: Folk and Fairy Tales of the World, first published in 1962 by Golden Pleasure Books, is a collection of 70 traditional tales from 49 different cultures retold by Roger Lancelyn Green and illustrated by Vojtěch Kubašta.

As well as compiling myths, legends, and fairy tales from around the world, Green was a biographer of children’s writers and a member of the Oxford literary group, the Inklings, along with J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.  In Once Long Ago, Green’s writing retains the fairy tale format of earlier versions while creating a magic that appealed to me as a child, and still does as an adult. My old favourites, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Snow White, are all included and I quickly gained new favourites: the Australian tale, The Bunyip, the Flemish tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and the Norse tale, Why the Sea is Salt.

I have read questions online about how accurate Green may have been in writing stories from cultures other than his own. We have to remember that this book was published in 1962 and to have a volume of such diverse tales from a wide range of cultures is to be commended. I am choosing to believe that Green researched these stories thoroughly and took due care and time when creating his versions of them. The English story, The Three Bears, does support this view since there is no Goldilocks in sight. Instead, the original character, a little old woman, is the antagonist.

Not only is this book a fine example of great storytelling, it is also a work of art. Born in Vienna, Kubašta moved to Prague when he was four. He studied architecture and civil engineering but soon moved into his life-long career as a commercial artist and book designer. He is perhaps most famous for his pop-up books. His illustrations in Once Long Ago are bold, bright and filled with emotion: the image of the old witch on her raft of snakes in the Armenian tale Zoulvisia is impressively evil, the arrogance of the chicken in the Spanish tale The Half-Chick is cleverly depicted, and my favourite image of all, that of the girl in the English tale Coat of Rushes accepting her new silver dress from the fairy, is hauntingly beautiful.

A few years ago, for a significant birthday, I treated myself to my own copy of the book to the tune of $NZ500 ($US330). It may seem odd that I am reviewing a book now classed as “hard to find” and costing a fair penny to buy should you find a copy. What I want to illustrate is the need for children to be exposed to traditional tales, and not just those of their own culture but stories from all around the world. I learnt about people different to me through these tales and I would like to think this created a strong foundation for fairness, acceptance and tolerance. I encourage you to find a modern collection of traditional tales from around the world; one filled with stunning illustrations and magical stories, preferably one where the stories are written and illustrated by people who grew up with them. Since this is such a personal choice I can’t recommend what volume you buy, but I can say that if your children read it until it is faded and frayed then it is a book well-loved and one they will carry with them forever.