Wednesday, January 31, 2007

review copies

If you review picturebooks, let me know if you'd like an F&G (the picturebook equivalent to an advance reading copy) of LISSY'S FRIENDS. My editor at Viking (Hi Tracy!) just offered me up a handful and I'd love to hear what people think (of course if you don't like it, I don't mind if you want to be quiet, either...). Like I said, there's only an handful so let me know ASAP if you'd like one at graceatgracelindotcom (I hope you can figure that address out, if not just leave a comment and we'll figure things out!)


Awards are great, but does it make a great book? Who knows? But I do know there's lots of wonderful books out there naked, without stickers. Here are some of my old favorites that I suspect are lavishing in obscurity:

I am Dodo I loved this book,if only for the goofy, quirky illustrations. It's about the one dodo bird that survived extinction and now hangs out in NYC. No matter how many times I've seen it, the illustration of the dodo bird dancing makes me smile.

Secret Voice of Gina Zhang On the other hand, this book never fails to make me cry. A middle grade novel of a Chinese-American girl with selective mutism who uses Chinese folktales, like the Monkey King, to escape (and in the end communicate). Why is this out of print?

See you Soon Moon
Simple story for those sick of reading Goodnight Moon, or at least want and alternative on other days of the week. It's the illustrations I love in this book--they're like frosting.

Mordant's Wish A heartwarming book about a mole who wishes for a friend and how the wish comes true. With soft illustrations to match this book is truly lovely.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Little package

Last week when I went down to check the mail I got goosebumps.

There was a little package from Illinois, from a farm I contacted in the course of my research for Priscilla and the Hollyhocks (the book I am illustrating right now.) The story is about a girl sold into slavery, who carries hollyhock seeds around with her as a sign of hope and connection to the place where she is from. Its a true story, and eventually the real Priscilla settled in Illinois, where she planted her seeds.

This is what was in the package. They are seeds harvested from the town where Priscilla planted her hollyhocks 150 years ago. Descendants of the flowers she coveted. I can't help but get shivers when I look at them, it makes the story so real in my mind, and gives purpose to my ridiculous 7 day a week painting schedule.

Now when I paint Priscilla, I keep a little dish of the seeds on my desk. They remind me of her courage and poetry.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A weekend retreat

I've just returned from the Kindling Words retreat in beautiful, snowy Vermont. This was my fourth consecutive year attending, and I hope to continue to return every year in the future. The long weekend leaves me tired but happy, rejuvenated, and inspired. This is a retreat like none other, the one retreat I've found where as an editor, I am allowed to participate not as a faculty member, not as a speaker, not as a critiquer, but simply as an attendee. It's where I can gather with fellow children's book professionals--published authors, illustrators, and fellow editors--and talk craft, talk children's books, talk life, and not talk business if I don't prefer to. Over the years, I've made many dear friends, and it's wonderful to see familiar faces and meet new people.

This year's retreat started with the drive up to Vermont with my friend Katie Davis--a fun, five-plus hour drive up with nonstop chatter that helped me kick off the retreat, but also made me realize that I had done absolutely none of the recommended reading for the weekend. But Katie got me caught up with summaries of the books, and told me about two of her good friends who would be attending for the first time, Laura Ruby and Patricia McMahon.

Arriving at the Inn at Essex we immediately ran into the latter as well as Leda Schubert and National Book Award finalist Nancy Werlin. Ran into a group who had just flown in from NY, including editor Harold Underdown and Class of 2K7 member Rebecca Stead who I saw at a kid's lit drinks gathering a few months ago. On to the cocktail hour where I was greeted by Tanya Lee Stone and Marnie Brooks, ran into Susannah Reich and her husband Gary Golio who I signed up for a picture book biography of Bob Dylan last year. Yolanda Leroy (who I interned under at Charlesbridge--along with Harold) was there for the editor strand, and I said hi to my buddy Donna Freitas who I had met for the first time at Kindling Words last year when we bonded on our love of desserts. We've hung out with for many yummy sweets in New York throughout the year, including a trip to Magnolia bakery, and then Max Brenner: Chocolate by the Bald Man a few weeks ago. Co-founder Alison James, Janie Bynum, Elise Broach, Ashley Wolff, Gregory Maguire, Ellen Wittlinger, Janni Lee Simner, Diane Mayr (whose hilarious Run, Turkey Run is finally coming out this Fall with Walker), Anik McGrory... the name-dropping can go on and on and on, and there were about seventy-five attendees, so I'll stop now.

Part of what I love about Kindling Words is that everyone there is published (or at least under contract), and yet although the level of perceived "success" varies--some are just starting their children's book careers, some are more established, some old, some young, mostly women (but more men this year than ever before, including Mark Shulman--who gave me a tip on where to find the best mac and cheese in NY--and speaker Tim Wynne-Jones), the overall environment is friendly and supportive and warm, and everyone learns from one another.

I was fairly "good" this year and made myself wake up at 6:30 am both Friday and Saturday mornings to work out before breakfast, which allowed me to stuff myself silly all weekend without too much guilt. The inn is the home of the Vermont Culinary Institute, so the food was fantastic and I had dessert for both lunch and dinner every day.

Tim's author strand was fascinating, as he talked about "objective correlative" or OC, a term I had never heard of before, although the concept itself wasn't foreign. Basically, he talked about how to avoid the "f-word" (feel) and instead show what a character is feeling using the setting and the objects around her.

Caldecott-Honor winning illustrator Marjorie Priceman led the illustrator strand, and it was a pleasure to see the proof from her upcoming book. I didn't attend the illustrator strand after the first day, because the editors chose to meet for extra sessions instead, but it was great to finally meet her in person. Her book Froggie Went A-Courting had come out with my company right around when I started as an editorial assistant, and we had corresponded here and there about her book. She also now lives down the street from our former associate art director Billy Kelly in PA, and we talked about his music and his beautiful family.

Unfortunately, I ended up taking a nap after dinner and oversleeping, missing most of Virginia Euwer Wolff's keynote speech on point of view, but managed to come in for the last bit and listened in on the lively discussion at the end.

The editor strand was the best-attended it has ever been, with seven editors attending, including Harold, Yolanda, me, co-founder Mary Lee Donovan and speaker Deb Noyes Wayshak from Candlewick, Julie Romeis from Bloomsbury, and Arianne Lewin and Margaret Cardillo from Hyperion. Everyone was excited to have the opportunity to talk to fellow editors at different stages of their career and at differently-run companies. Some of the topics we tackled were salaries (using an anonymous technique that Mary Lee had learned, we discovered that our average salary was $50,500. This includes the salary of an editorial director, an executive editor, two senior editor, two editors, one associate editor, and one assistant editor), author-editor relationships, negotiating with agents, our editorial process, how to balance work and life, how to prevent burnout, what makes a good boss/assistant, and more. The editor strand is the only closed session at the conference, but we did have an editor roundtable that everyone sat in on where we discussed publicly some of these issues.

Saturday night was the traditional candlelight reading where twenty authors read five minutes from a work-in-progress or not-yet-published book. The readings as always were varied and wonderful--humorous picture books, poignant YA novels, historical fiction, chapter books, fantasy, etc. And then it was on to the bonfire where we drank hot chocolate, toasted marshmallows, sang songs, and burned pieces of paper where we wrote something we either wanted to get rid of, or a wish for the year. I wrote down one bad thing and three good things. And when we got too cold, we retired to the hospitality suite for wine, cheese, and conversations ranging from everything from what we thought of the recent ALA award-winners, certain agents, works-in-progress, and even drugs (whether it's okay to mention them in a Middle Grade book, that is).

I look forward to Kindling Words every year. For me, it's about burnout prevention; it keeps me inspired in my job. It was especially exciting this year to find that all of the editors seemed enthusiastic about coming back if their companies allow it. We also discussed having a summer retreat somewhere between Boston and New York, a weekend with just editors. If you're an editor reading this, let me know if you'd be interested in participating. We're thinking Friday night till Sunday, sometime in late July or August, nothing too expensive. And also please consider attending Kindling Words next January--we really want to keep the editor strand growing. There is no pitching of books to the editors, and in general most attendees already have their editors and publishers, so there is no pressure to try to sign people up. It truly is a relaxing atmosphere. And if you're a published author or illustrator, I highly recommend attending KW as well. It's a wonderful retreat and an inspiring experience.

What's With These Packaged Books?

From our guest blogger, SaraOC who works at a book packager:

"Packaged books" seem to stir up controversy whenever they are mentioned, especially fiction books. But as an editor and storyliner of packaged books, I can't help but try to show the sensible, steady and smart sides of the business. I came from a traditional editorial job into my current one, and absolutely brought prejudices about what kind of novels a book packager could make. Over the past two years, however, I have been constantly amazed at the talent and integrity of the people that I work with and the quality and variety (and fabulousness) of the books we publish.

As for how a book actually gets packaged, I can only say how my company does it. Book packaging is done differently by lots of different companies in the US and the UK, and I can't comment on how they do it. I should probably also say that all of this is my opinion and not necessarily that of my company.

How a Book Gets "Packaged" (more or less):

"The germ"
Sometimes the germ comes from the depths of one person's brain, and other times it comes out of a group brainstorm. We also have publishers approach us with germs of their own to develop. Germs can be anything from "something about dolphins" to a series title or even a fully fledged opening premise. Everyone at the company comes up with these ideas, and anyone can take it through the development process.

Sometimes I develop my own germs, and sometimes I develop other people's. We have an amazing creative director who has series ideas as easily as he breathes, and I love working up his germs. Usually, the germ gets written up into a one-page document for the next stage.

New project brainstorming
This is my favorite part of my job. We have a cozy conference room with a floor-to-ceiling library of all our books to keep us company as we discuss directions for the project to go, in general terms or plotting out the first storyline. There's a company policy that no meeting can last longer than an hour (hooray!), but occasionally we do get swept up in an idea and go on longer. What comes out of these meetings might look nothing like the original concept – which can be good but it can be frustrating. But it is such fun when someone blurts out something like, "What if he only has one arm?" and poof! A new character is born. (After further brainstorming, we realized that particular villainous character was only pretending to have one arm.)

All of our projects are built by the team, and we don't accept any outside submissions at all. The company keeps copyright on all the books and concepts because the ideas come from us.

Building a proposal
After one or several brainstorms for the new project, if the idea feels good and "looks like it's a go-er," the idea is developed into a proper proposal with the title of the series, the age range, a character list, a complete synopsis of the first book and short ideas for the continuation of the series. Our storylines are anywhere from 25% - 50% or more of the intended length of the book. The proposal will go through many drafts and edits until everyone involved on the series is happy that it's ready. This can take anywhere from a month or two to (ok I'll admit it) a year (and counting)!

Finding a writer
Once the proposal is ready, we start looking for a writer. We don't actually write the book in house, though occasionally an editor will audition for a series alongside other writers. We have a database to search through of writers who have contacted us. We look for writers who have interests that match the series we've developed and we also contact agents. Once we've got a list of writers to approach, we ask for a two or three chapter sample, to be based on the detailed storyline and brief we provide. For a new project we usually ask 5 – 8 writers for a sample. We don't pay a fee to writers for their samples, but we do give detailed editorial feedback which one sampler dubbed "a mini-writing workshop". We pay an advance and royalty to the writers once they are chosen. We work with unpublished writers looking to break into the industry as well as successful, established authors.

Finding a writer is my second favorite part of my job. It's truly amazing how each set of chapters are completely different and yet all based on the same storyline. Everyone has a unique approach and it's so exciting to read the samples and find the perfect voice for our new series. Once we've chosen the writer, we'll normally ask for one revision on the chapters and then edit it in house to complete the proposal.

Pitching the project
Once ready, the sample chapters along with the proposal document are pitched to various publishers by our fantastic managing director in the US and UK, in the hopes that we'll sell it. Not all of our series sell, but I'm proud to say that most do. Once we get a contract with a publisher, we contract the writer. Depending on how quickly publishers want to launch the series, we might sign up one writer for the whole series, or two or more in order to deliver on time. It's our job to make sure the voice of the series remains consistent.

Writing the manuscript
Usually, we ask the writer to take our synopsis and break it into a chapter breakdown. Then it's the typical first draft, feedback and second draft. Often, we only need two drafts, but sometimes with brand new series, we'll need a third draft (or more!). Then, we do an in house edit and send it off to the publisher for their comments/changes. Our aim is to deliver a ready-to-publish manuscript to the publisher. We don't have anything to do with the covers or the illustrations, though sometimes we're asked for a brief for the illustrators (hair color, clothing, etc.) It's so interesting to see how different art departments at different publishers handle the design. A confession: I do miss working with illustrators and artwork as I could in my old job, but it does make sense for us to be focused entirely on the text.

To be continued…
Our contracts with publishers are usually for more than one book, so that means that work on the different books in a series will overlap. We'll be writing up the synopsis for book 2 while book 1 is being written. Or we'll be reviewing proofs for book 3 while we're reading through the second draft of book 5. Of course, every editor is working on a number of projects (I'm currently working on 6 sold projects and 3 in development) so there's always something going on.

At the end of the process, we have high quality, exciting books that we hope make their way into the hands of young readers. So far, it seems, they do.

Our guest blogger, SaraOC says, "I left my dream job in kids' publishing in New York City to follow my heart to London. Luckily, I landed the boy and another dream job. I'm currently reading Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by the fabulous Wendy Mass and, in my spare time, I'm learning to carve a totem pole from a block of mahogany."

Saturday, January 27, 2007

#1 and Gracious

I met John Grisham yesterday. It happened while I was in Charlottesville for a school visit,

(This is me, Libby, at Anna’s old high school!)

My friend introduced us (mentioning that I was an author). This must happen to him constantly, but he shook hands and asked about my work and when I had received “that first phone call—no one ever forgets that.”

Of course I switched the subject to him and he said his agent had sent his book to over 30 people by the end of the first year; they were about to give up at the end of the second when someone, “not a well known publisher,” finally bought it.

“Did you cry?” I said.

He thought about the question – really thought – and then said no, but that when he did get really “choked up” was when THE FIRM reached number one on the best seller list. He said it had been climbing up – and when his agent called him to say it had reached #1,

“I had to go for a long walk.”

Then he shook my hand and said he hoped that happened to me someday.

He talked to us for maybe two minutes – but in that short time, he managed to be interesting, sincere, and inspiring. He made me feel like an equal and as though the conversation was interesting to him, too. Let’s hope that if any of us become that famous (I’m rooting for all of us!) we will be equally gracious when other writers are introduced.

Friday, January 26, 2007

POETRYFRIDAY: Poems by Dorothy Aldis

Up here in Massachusetts, we haven’t had much in the way of winter weather this winter…that is, until recently. As I begin writing this Poetry Friday post on Wednesday morning, the ground outside my house is covered with a thin layer of snow and the meteorologists are predicting that temperatures will dip down into the “teens” by Friday. So…I have decided to go with the present winter weather flow and give you some seasonal poetry written by Dorothy Aldis (1896-1966).

When I first started teaching—almost forty years ago—it seemed as if poems written by Aldis were included in nearly every general children’s poetry anthology that was available in my school library. Her poems still show up occasionally in anthologies today. One of David McCord’s favorite Aldis poems, Little, is included in Elise Paschen’s POETRY SPEAKS TO CHILDREN, which was published in 2005. (I just picked this book up the other day. It includes a CD with poems read by some of the poets.)

The following poems—Winter, Ice, and Snow—can be found in EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING, which was published by Minton, Balch & Company in 1927. Ice and Snow—renamed On a Snowy Day and with a few changes in wording—can also be found in THE SECRET PLACE AND OTHER POEMS—published by Scholastic Book Services about four decades later.


The Street cars are
Like frosted cakes—
All covered up
With cold snow flakes.

The horses’ hoofs
Scrunch on the street;
Their eyelashes
Are white with sleet.

And everywhere
The people go
With faces TICKLED
By the snow.


When it is the winter time
I run up the street
And make the ice laugh
With my little feet—
“Crickle, crackle, crickle
Crrreeet, crrreeet, crrreeet.”

(How’s that for a little onomatopoeia?)


The fenceposts wear marshmallow hats
On a snowy day;
Bushes in their night gowns
Are kneeling down to pray—
And all the trees have silver skirts
And want to dance away.


Fence posts wear marshmallow hats
On a winter’s day.

Bushes in their nightgowns
Are kneeling down to pray.

And trees spread out their snowy skirts
Before they dance away.

Which version of the third poem do you prefer?

To read more poetry written by Dorothy Aldis visit Mother Goose Caboose—Rhymes & Poetry.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

how to not to draw an alien

ooookay, now I've gone too far. Instead of getting any work done tonight I decided to make a little video from some footage I had (when I was attempting to make a "how to" with the new video cam)

I feel like i"m taking up too much blog space with my blabbering and my MP3s and my this and my that so I might either shut up or delete what I've written in a few hours to compensate. Sorry BR ladies! I can't help myself. I'm out of control. The creativity is flowing in the wrong directions lately.


p.s - I've managed to put the video on this thing but there's no sound. go to for sound!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Great News for Blue Rose Girls!

ALSC has announced its list of Notable Children’s Books for 2007.

written & illustrated by
Meghan McCarthy


written & illustrated by
Grace Lin

are both included on the list for middle readers. Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!

Congratulations, Meghan and Grace!

But that’s not all! Alvina has reason to celebrate, too.
Two books she edited are notables:



Written and illustrated by
Jeff Newman.

Congratulations, Alvina and Jeff!

I’d like to add that I am mighty proud to be a Blue Rose Girl!

Please excuse all the exclamation points. I’m an excited writer today!

blah, blah, blurbs

Last year, I was asked to write a blurb for the upcoming book Kimchi and Calamari, by Rose Kent (which is a really nice book, by the way). I agreed. However, recently after perusing Amazon and looking at the images, I think my quote was not used.

Now, I am NOT upset in any way, shape or form that it wasn’t used. In fact, I am pretty relieved. I had never written a blurb before, so I tried to “sparkle”; and whenever I try to do that my writing comes off really fake. I realize now I should’ve just written an honest line about how nice I thought the book was instead of trying to be some kind of marketing soundbite. Oh well.

I think the reason why I overreached was because I was so flattered to be asked. Famous people give blurbs! It’s their name that helps sell the book, right? But in the case of Kimchi and Calamari, I couldn’t imagine how having my name on the cover would help it, except perhaps as an additional, unnecessary curiosity factor. I imagine the conversation would go something like this:

“Look, this person Grace Lin liked the book.”
“Grace Lin? Who’s that?”
“Um, wasn’t she on one of those reality shows?”
“No, I think she’s an actress on that sci fi show, Battlestar Galactica.”
“Gee, I wonder if this book is about aliens eating human food, then.”
“Maybe, are you gonna get it?”
“Naw, I hate that spaceship stuff.”

But, regardless of my blurb-writing shortcomings and pitfalls, it is the idea of the blurb that I find fascinating. Do these one to two line quotations REALLY make a difference? Do they push a browser over the edge to actually buy the book? Or does the difference come in the judgement of the book? Do these blurbs bias the readers mind, filling them with preconceived notions? Does it elevate the book to a certain stature if Famous Person A endorses it? But book people are smarter than the average George Foreman grill buying public, aren’t they? They don’t need a big name to validate their purchase or opinions. They can choose their own books without a celebrity sanction, I’m sure. Right? Right?

I ask this as I shove my George Foreman grill into the closet.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


I'm always jealous of people with tag lines... not sure why. One of my favorite editorial illustrators, Gary Baseman (, has a great tagline-- "blurring the lines between stupidity and genius." I think that's perfect for his work. I've always wanted my own.

Above is a painting by Baseman.

I have been trying for years to come up with something to describe my PB work... to no avail. But this week I was thinking about what I'm currently striving to achieve (the awards sort of spurred that on). This is it-- nonfiction that's engaging... that reads like fiction... that is FUN. The "fun" part stuck out for me. Then I came up with something so ridiculously simple it's stupid -- NON-FICTION THAT'S FUN. Sometimes in advertising the dumbest little taglines work best. Just look at McDonald’s "I'm lovin' it." It probably took them years to come up with that!

So, I want to know what you all think. If I go with "Nonfiction that's fun" I'll start using it everywhere. I might even redesign my website to properly display it. I want to be known as the nonfiction author who makes books that aren't the norm... whose books aren't a million pages of boring textbook text... whose books might actually get kids to be interested in the world around them and the history behind it.

Nonfiction That's Fun - Thoughts? Opinions? Heck, I could even trademark it!


Guest Blogger this Sunday!

Tune in on Sunday, 1/28 for our very first guest blogger, SaraOC, who will be posting about the mysterious book packaging business.

Monday, January 22, 2007


I didn't even notice that Cindy Lord won an honor for rules! Congrats Cindy!!!

(cindy is part of my crit group and I'm so happy for her)

opinion time

Okay, it doesn't take me long before I just can't help myself.

Newbery--A graphic novel as a winner? Huh? AWESOME! Way to go committee!!!

Caldecott--Why oh why does the same book essentially win over and over again? Wiesner (just like Eric Carle) is essentially making the same book over and over again. Does he need to keep winning for the same thing? Can't the committee come up with something more fresh and original?

I'm going to now call out for a NEW AWARD. It will be an award for something NEW FRESH ORIGINAL DIFFERENT. That's what we need! Stop awarding the same people for the same things.

Meghan (who doesn't care if she's an author and illustrator and shouldn't publicly voice her opinion--she is anyway!)

p.s - these opinions are only those of Meghan's and not the rest of the BRG


Book Honor:
The Road to Paris
COPPER SUN by Draper


winner: TEAM MOON
Wilder: James Marshall
Carnegie: Knufflebunny




I have my opinions but I'll save them for now!!!

Behind the scenes of Firegirl on audio

Back before I started in publishing, I remember listening to an audiobook and briefly considering a career reading audiobooks. I thought it would be the perfect way to combine my college experience and interest in radio with my love of books. Of course, this was just a whim and I never seriously looked into it, and even after getting my job in publishing, I never learned that much about the audiobooks business.

So when Listening Library Publisher Tim Ditlow called me to see if I would be interested in sitting in on the recording of the audiobook for Firegirl by Tony Abbott, I jumped at the chance. So last Wednesday I was scheduled to have lunch with him, Tony, and one of the producers, and then we would go to the studio to listen in.

The experience started off a bit unexpectedly--as I walked down the street towards the restaurant, I saw several fire engines and firefighters gathered in the street, and as I got closer, I noticed that the restaurant was completely empty and dark. I found Tim in front of the restaurant. There was a faint chemical smell in the air. "The restaurant is on fire!" he said. Crazy. We went back to find Tony and the producer Jacob. "Kind of apropos, isn't it?" Jacob said when we told him the news. We found a different restaurant to eat lunch, and then went up to the studio where the recording was in process. They were on page 80. We met another producer who was overseeing the actual recording, who served as the director of the audiobook, and we met the actor who was recording the book, who told Tony appreciatively how much he loved Firegirl and related to the main character Tom, because he had been an overweight kid himself with a crush on the most beautiful girl in school.

It was fascinating to hear the actor interpret the book, and wonderful to hear it brought to life. The producer would stop the actor every few lines and ask him to redo a line here and there if she felt that he wasn't interpreting it in the way it was intended--asking him to take a line slower, to not be so perky, to sound a little more unsure. I hadn't realized that she would be so hands on. At the end of the chapter, she turned to Tony and asked him if she was interpreting the text correctly and he told her yes, that he thought all of her comments were great. He also prepped her on some of the future scenes and how they should be interpreted.

I commented later that the actor and producers and later the person who had to go back and piece together all of the "good lines" would get to know the book as well, or even better than me and Tony. Tim and Jacob told us that that is why they were so selective about the type of books they signed up, that they had better make sure that they loved each one because they'd be hearing it over and over and over--sound familiar? This is the same thing editors think about when signing up a book on our end. Tim and Jacob also told us that the producer and actor may have different interpretations on how to handle the text, and that there was a balance between imposing the producer's interpretation on the actor, and letting the actor's vision shine through, too. That it was a collaborative process.

I loved hearing the text that I had read over and over brought to life, and was heartened to see that a whole new team of people had fallen in love with Firegirl as I had. I'm looking forward to hearing the whole thing when it's done.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Talk talk

Say you’re writing (or rewriting or editing!) a realistic novel, and once they’ve gone home for the evening, two characters – girls around eleven – best friends – have matters to communicate. How do they do it? And what do you, the author, tell readers about the devices they use?

Sometimes I’m tempted to give characters things I don’t have myself, like one of these

but in this case, I’m not going to do that. I don’t want to name a brand, nor do I want to date the book. Who knows what we’ll be communicating with in ten or twenty years? I hope my books will be around longer than that. When we were editng Blow Out the Moon, I suggested putting the letter To Anyone Who Has Read This on my Website instead of at the back of the book. Alvina said no, "I hope people will be reading this book when we're dead and gone." I hope so, too: that book and this new one. That's what I want: to write something that becomes a well-loved classic. (Just a modest little goal!!)

Someone once said that one reason Jane Austen hasn’t dated is the LACK of detail in her books. Of course, I am not saying I am like her, and she’s got a lot more going for her than lack of details about objects, but it is true that she rarely mentions, let alone describes, the kind of details that are such a big deal at one time in history and non-existent in another (like pattens – she wore them but I don’t think they ever show up in her novels).

She probably didn’t mention them because those kinds of details weren’t essential to her story….and maybe my girls’ communication devices aren’t essential to THEIR story, either; but they do have a lot to say (and not just to each other, they need these things to make their plans!). I have given them cool little devices they talk into, and type into….I just don’t know what to call them. Any suggestions? I’m at the plain hard work part of rewriting the book and I need to decide these kinds of things, or just wimp out and say “phone” or “computer” or make up a word.

Or maybe it would be better to just have the girls write or talk to each other and not say how they did it -- not name or describe the devices at all? That's how it is now and maybe that's how it should stay. What do you think?

POETRY FRIDAY: The What and Why of Poetry

I guess any of you who are regular readers of the Blue Rose Girls blog must have figured out by now that I am an avid poetry enthusiast. I love both children's and adult poetry. I believe poetry should live in the lives of children from the moment they are born. I think they should grow up having nursery rhymes and poetry read and recited to them at home and at school.

I often go searching through books to find quotes about the importance of poetry in our lives and poems that speak to the essence of what poetry is. Today, I'd like to share some prose and poems about poetry.

Before I give you two poems that attempt to explain WHAT poetry is, I’d like to provide reasons for WHY we should read poems. First, I quote from Donald Hall’s “To the Student” that appears at the beginning of the second edition of his book TO READ A POEM. Second, I provide a quote from Lee Bennett Hopkins’ introduction to SIDE BY SIDE: POEMS TO READ TOGETHER.

Here is the excerpt from Hall's TO READ A POEM:

When we learn to read poems, we acquire a pleasure and a resource we never lose. Although literary study is impractical in one sense—few people make their living reading poems—in another sense it is almost as practical as breathing. Literature records and embodies centuries of human thought and feeling, preserving for us the minds of people who lived before us, who were like us and unlike us, against whom we can measure our common humanity and our historical difference. When we read our contemporaries, they illuminate the world we share. Whatever we claim for literature in general we must especially claim for poetry, which concentrates the virtues we attribute to drama and fiction. If we learn to read poems first, we will begin the study of literature as literature itself began—with the most concentrated and intense of utterances.

When we read great poetry, something changes in us that stays changed. Poetry remembered becomes material to think with, and no one who has absorbed Shakespeare or Keats is quite the same again. Reading poetry adds tools by which we observe, measure, and judge the people and the properties of our universe—inside and out.

I would say Donald Hall, the current Poet Laureate of the United States, gives us good reasons for reading poetry. Now let's hear from Lee Bennett Hopkins, one of America's most highly esteemed anthologists of poetry for children. He has traveled throughout the United States and spent time sharing poetry with children of all ages.
Here is the excerpt from Hopkins’ SIDE BY SIDE: POEMS TO READ TOGETHER:

Poetry comes naturally to those discovering the magic of language. Pictures develop in young minds, stretching imaginations, evoking fresh visions, generating smiles, reflections and satisfaction.

Poetry should flow freely in the lives of children; it should come to them as naturally as breathing; for nothing—no thing—can ring and rage through their hearts and minds as does this body of literature.

Those are some reasons for WHY we should read and share poetry. Now here are two of my favorite poems that attempt to explain WHAT poetry is:

by Eleanor Farjeon

What is poetry? Who knows?
Not a rose, but the scent of a rose;
Not the sky, but the light in the sky;
Not the fly, but the gleam of the fly;
Not the sea, but the sound of the sea;
Not myself, but what makes me
See, hear, and feel something that prose
Cannot: and what that is, who knows?

by Eve Merriam

You can be immersed in good prose, like swimming
in a lake on a warm summer afternoon.

In poetry
the ice-cold moon
drops down
into the lake,
to surround you,
and then
you fly back home
to the sky.

If you would be interested in reading more poems about poetry, I recommend the following book:

Selected by Bobbye S. Goldstein
Illustrated by Jane Breskin Zalben
Published by Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press (1992)

This is a lovely themed collection of poems about poetry. It contains works by well-known and award-winning poets—including Eve Merriam, Eleanor Farjeon, Karla Kuskin, Lilian Moore, and X. J. Kennedy. Zalben’s unimposing watercolor illustrations complement the poetry. In Judy Freeman’s brief review of the book at Judy Freeman’s 40 Favorite Poetry Books for Children, she writes: “This elegant collection of 20 poems, accompanied by meticulous watercolors, is just what you need to explain the miracles of verse.”

A Few Poetry Links for Poetry Friday

Judy Freeman’s 40 Favorite Poetry Books for Children

Poetry by Eleanor Farjeon at Old Poetry

Three Poems by Eve Merriam at the Academy of American Poets website,

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Congratulations to US!

It's January 17th, so we thought we'd do a belated year in review. It's been a great and successful year for all us Blue Rose Girls:

Meghan's ALIENS ARE COMING was (and still is) a super hit:

•One of SLJ's Best Books of 2006!
•Kirkus Reviews 2006 Editors Choice
•NYPL 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2006
•American Booksellers for Children top pick for 2006
•starred Kirkus Review
•starred SLJ review
•reviewed in the New York Times
•one of the five finalists for a Cybils nonfiction picture book award

Grace's YEAR OF THE DOG also acheived acclaim:

•2006 Booklist Editors' Choice for Middle Readers
• Kirkus Best Early Chapter Books 2006
• 2006 National Parenting Publications Awards (NAPPA) GOLD Winner
• 2006-2007 Texas Bluebonnet Award Masterlist
• 2007 Nene Awards Recommended List (Hawaii's Book Award Chosen by Children Grades 4-6)
• NYPL 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2006
• Starred Booklist Review
• 2007 Cochecho Readers' Award List (sponsored by the Children's Librarians of Dover, New Hampshire)

Anna signed up new projects such as:
• PRISCILLA AND THE HOLLYHOCKS, Charlesbridge, to be released Spring 2008

Libby celebrated the paperback release of BLOW OUT THE MOON
* the winner of the Massachusetts Book Honor 2005
• NYPL 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 2004
• Starred Booklist Review

Linda released her sixth illustrated book, WHAT COULD BE BETTER THAN THIS written by Linda Ashman

Alvina's list of edited books was full of amazing and highly successful gems including: NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH AND A FEW WHITE LIES, CHOWDER, THE SOUND OF COLORS, HIPPO! NO, RHINO, and FIREGIRL. She's got a whole new list that looks just as wonderful, if not more...

And Elaine discovered the joy of blogging, being on the CYBIL nominating committee and a new outlet to share her love of poetry to the world.

All in all, a pretty good year!


My personal blog is back in action!

Since I've been so involved with this, my personal blog has been neglected. Sob. Yes, I know you are all upset too... but don't be! I've posted once again.

What, perhaps, you are wondering does this have to do with THIS blog. Well, not much. Or does it? I was thinking the other day about blogs. They are still new…and growing fast! In the past, publishers sent F&Gs and galleys to magazines, etc., for review. What are they starting to do now? Send proofs to the important bloggers. This is new! And amazing! Now anyone can have a voice and I think it's great. Just look at the Cybils--important stuff folks!

However, there can be some tricky things to think about. Just look at what happened with the Rosie vs. Trump feud--it started with a comment she made on her blog. Blogs can be very personal. After all, they're usually written within the confines of a comfortable setting. My blog writing is my alone time. I feel as though I'm writing to myself sometimes. I forget about the people who read it. This can be good and bad. Sometimes I forget to watch what I say. Maybe we should all be watching what we say. What will our publishers think? Do they like that we talk about our book work? Do they hate it? Would they rather we not say certain things? And what about editors--what do their bosses think? Are they revealing too much?

There's a fine line and sometimes I admit that I cross it. Other people cross it too. But you know what? That's what makes blogs exciting and great! No one would read them if they were too carefully constructed and thought out. No one would read them if there were spin-doctors at work.

That's all I have to say for today. Do you think blogs are getting out of control? Do you like them the way they are? Speak up!


Question of the week: picture book manuscripts

It's been quite a while since we've answered a question of the week (this was our last one), and we're ashamed to say that this question was asked a long long time ago. But better late than never!

If you'd like to send us a question of the week to answer, feel free to put it in the comments section below, or email us at bluerosegirls at gmail dot com.

How do you read, evaluate, and think about picture book manuscripts?

This question may be answered by all of us throughout the week, so keep checking back!

When I review manuscript submissions, I look for beauty in the writing, whether it makes me laugh, moves me, if the characters come alive, and most of all, if it surprises me--if the concept is original. I also consider whether I can envision what the illustrations would look like, if I can see the finished product in my head, if there are good illustrative possibilities. But as our company has cut back a bit on the picture books we publish, originality really is a key. Will this book stand out in the market? Would I pick it up as I scanned the shelves in the bookstore? I also look to see if there's a "hook" in the text--can it be promoted with a holiday or event, such as back to school or Valentine's Day? That's always a plus. It's also partly a gut reaction (a "blink" if you will).

In addition, I do have many illustrators that I work with or would love to work with, and I'm always keeping an eye out for a text that would match their style, so that comes into play, too.

When I am sent a manuscript to consider illustrating, I look for a tone that is similar to some aspect of my illustration approach and style. Something that I think will merge well with my work, a quality that inspires me, makes me itchy to draw. Usually I can tell right away if its something I want to work on. There has to be some aspect of the storytelling (subject, description, style) that relates to my vision as a visual storyteller.

These days I don't do too much illustrating for other authors; I've found writing and illustrating my own work incredibly rewarding and hard to let go of. Usually I only consider illustrating someone else's story if 1)it's a person whom I know is sensitive to my style and is used to my visual voice 2)the story is great something I wish I had written myself 3)it's a story that lends itself well to my particular style 4) I feel a real connection to the words and subject matter. The last is probably the most important.

I look for text that flows well from one page to another…text that maintains my interest…and text that has a good arch. An author/illustrator's MS will look different because an illustrator can (and should) put part of the story in the art. It's hard to come up with something truly original--most stories are bits and pieces from others--but I also want to see originality. For me, doing nonfiction gives me that opportunity. I'm writing about something that really happened! I like to pick out quirky stories that people wouldn't normally think would make for a good kids' story. I am always on the hunt for original, funny, and different ideas. That's what it's all about! When I buy a book I know I love it. I can usually tell after the first quick read. You should know whether you like something instinctually--don't over think it!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Palette paintings

Sometimes when I'm painting I start to get more interested in whats going on in my palette than in my painting. Maybe this is a form of procrastination. Or maybe making narrative art sometimes leaves you yearning for abstraction? Either way I like taking pictures of the little accidental paintings...

Monday, January 15, 2007

A sneak peak at what I'm editing now

Another question from my personal blog that I'll answer here, this one courtesy of Katherine Tillotson.

What books are you editing that you are currently excited about?

Right now I'm working mainly on my Spring 2008 list, and although that list is yet to be finalized, three of the books that I hope to make it on that list that I'm excited about are:

A middle grade novel by Tony Abbott (author of Firegirl): this book is still untitled, although it might be called some combination of The Postcard or Twin Palms. Except for the stellar writing and kidlike dialogue, this book is nothing like Firegirl, but I love it just as much. This one is a mystery, set in Florida, and involves a wacky cast of characters, mysterious phone calls, clues in the form of postcards, and a story-within-the-story. It's an ambitious, compelling novel, and it's different from anything else I've edited. I'm really happy with how it's coming along, and I'm excited for people to read it soon.

Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young. This picture book will either be on the Spring/Summer 2008 list, or on Fall 2008. It's been such an honor and pleasure to be working with Caldecott Medal-winner Ed Young, and I love the concept: wabi-sabi is a Japanese philosophical concept where you find beauty in the ordinary, in nature, in imperfection, such as worn, chipped pottery, a damp pile of fallen leaves and dirt, and, in the case of this book, an ordinary cat with mottled fur. Although the concept is somewhat sophisticated, the story is lyrical, fun, and kid-friendly, and the art is magnificent.

Sergio Makes a Splash by Edel Rodriguez. I had been wanting to work with Edel for almost five years now, ever since I discovered that we worked in the same building, I sent him an email, and he came to show me his portfolio. At the time, I was only familiar with his picture book biography-style of art, and his editorial work, which I loved, but when I received this proposal last year about a little penguin from Argentina named Sergio, I was delighted. The art style was simpler, more graphic, yet just as wonderful, and the office fell in love with the character and personality of little Sergio.

So, stay tuned for news on these three books! But if you can't wait over a year, here's a quick list of some of the titles I have coming out this Winter/Spring. I will probably be writing more about them later, so for now I'll just include a quick description:

Rubber Houses by Ellen Yeomans: A breathtaking novel-in-verse about the devastation a death in the family bring to a teen girl and her parents. This is just out now.

Flush: The scoop on poop throughout the ages by Charise Mericle Harper: An informative, zany follow-up picture book to Imaginative Inventions about everything bathroom-related: who invented the toilet, how astronauts go to bathroom in space, what people throughout history have used as toilet paper, and much, much more! This is coming out in March.

Going Nowhere Faster by Sean Beaudoin: Hilarious Young adult novel about a genius video store clerk who everyone thought would Go Somewhere and Be Something, but guess what--he's going nowhere faster. I call this Clerks meets Good Will Hunting. Coming out in April.

Call Me Hope by Gretchen Olson: Poignant middle grade novel about a young girl dealing with her verbally abusive mother. Coming out in April.

Eggs by Jerry Spinelli: A quirky middle grade novel about an unlikely friendship between two fragile children who are missing something in their lives. Coming out in June.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Care to Share?

As time for the announcement of the winner of the Caldecott Medal will soon be upon us—I started thinking today about the illustrated children’s books that I bought last year. Here are seven of the books I added to my personal collection that I think are among the best-illustrated books of 2006.

Written and illustrated by Barbara McClintock

Written and illustrated by Peter McCarty

Written and illustrated by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Written and illustrated by Lauren Stringer

Written by Helen Recorvits
Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska

Written by Dianna Aston
Illustrated by Sylvia Long

Written by Julie Larios
Illustrated by Julie Paschkis

Would you care to share the titles of the books YOU think have earned a place among the best-illustrated children's books of 2006?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

making literature, making a living

More often then not, when I'm introduced at a book event I'm described as a prolific author/illustrator. While it is usually meant as complimentary (at least I hope so) I always wince a little inside. Just because a person (especially someone in the creative field) creates many works doesn't necessarily mean they are any good.

Of course, I am extremely grateful that I have been able to be so prolific. But the truth is, I have to be. I depend on it. If I don’t produce, I quickly drown--mortgage, health insurance, medical bills, groceries-- everything breaks through the rickety dam of my paying books.

Which is probably why I was so affected by Linda Sue Park’s speech about creating your best work . I didn’t go into children’s books for the money (who does?); and it goes without saying that I want everything that I do and publish to be the absolute best of my ability. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that sometimes my creative juices flow out of desperation for the cold hard cash, that compromises are made to get contracts, and sometimes work is rushed when bills are waiting.

To be able to make a living in children’s books is a gift, but one that is dearly paid for. And is compromising quality one of the unavoidable taxes? That is the question I struggle with when the projects are over and the bills have been paid. Could I have done it better? Should I have done it better? Was it my very best?

The answer is always yes and no. Everything I’ve done probably could’ve been done better. But it was the very best I could do at that time. And while that’s not quite satisfactory, it’s enough to make me try again with another book.

Friday, January 12, 2007

And now, a confession...

Dear Readers,

I will now explain my "vote for the best cover" post and will reveal which cover(s) I did.

How it started--
I made a cover. My publisher made a version of the cover. I didn't care for theirs. I made a few modifications and sent it back. They didn't like it. I did another. They didn't care for that one either.

Here I will interject that this is what making a book is all about--lots of back and forth... lots of compromise. You don't always get what you want!

This time, however, I wanted to get what I wanted. I was SURE I was right. I thought my design was better. My publisher thought theirs was.

This is when I decided to do something bold and new--post the covers on the net and let people vote. The votes came in. The top cover is the one my publisher wants to use. The 2nd one is the image I want most. The 3rd is my 2nd favorite (also created by yours truly).

As of now my publisher will be printing image number one with a few changes. I asked for the bird to be moved more over the type (so that it doesn't look like a huge accident) and that will happen. None of my other requests will most likely occur. Does this make me sad? Sure. But this is what happens. This is what publishing is all about. I must say that all of the interiors are the way I wanted them... so right there, I can't complain. For the most part I got what I wanted. Do I still think I'm right about the cover? You betcha!

Perhaps some of you are wondering why I decided to become the BIGGEST PAIN IN THE BUTT AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR EVER. (I'm sure no editor, designer, publisher likes their author posting images to vote on, on a blog)

Here's why--
1) When everyone at a publishing co. is SO SURE that my design isn't right I start to question my skills as an artist. Thoughts run through my mind--am I losing "the touch"? Am I not in line with the way most people see things visually? Was all my artistic training for nothing?

2) Perhaps, I thought, a vote in favor of mine would change some minds.

3) Perhaps, I thought, a vote against mine would change MY mind.

4) I wanted to learn more about why my publisher wanted cover #1. I honestly couldn't understand it. I still don't... but I'm a little closer and that's a help!

5) I get too close to things. When ALL I DO is work on a book I lose sight of what's important. I start to think that whatever I'm knee-deep in is THE MOST important thing. Perhaps the cover type and color the way it is in #1 isn't going to ruin the book as I'd convinced myself it would.

So there's my confession. I thank you all for taking the time to participate. I hope you learned something! I know I did.


POETRY FRIDAY: Singing and Swinging with Children's Poetry

I was not the type of teacher or school librarian who believed in having students view videos on a regular basis--or even when I was suffering with a severe migraine headache. I always preferred reading the written word to and discussing literature with children--rather than letting them veg out in front of a TV monitor while I busied myself with another task. To be sure, I used a number of the excellent nonfiction videos we had in our school collection when I was teaching units in science and social studies. But why show a video of a picture book or a work of fiction when you can actually read the book itself? There were times, though, when I did show a video of a book after I had read the book to my students. (THE MOUSE AND THE MOTORCYCLE, which is a great video, is an example.)

Written by Judy Sierra
Illustrated by Jose Aruego & Ariane Dewey
Published by Gulliver Books/Harcourt Brace (1998)

I will admit that I found some videos that were every bit as good as the books upon which they were based. Today, I am going to write about one of those videos--and it just happens to be based on one of my favorite books of children’s poetry, Judy Sierra’s ANTARCTIC ANTICS: A BOOK OF PENGUIN POEMS. If you liked the book, you’ll love the video. The 2001 recipient of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children’s Video, it’s about as good as children’s videos get...and it's a delight from start to finish. I give it my highest recommendation--my own two thumbs up! (Note: Paul R. Gagne received the medal for Weston Woods, producer of the video.)

Here is an excerpt of the statement from the Carnegie Medal pages at the ALSC website describing the ANTARCTIC ANTICS video: “…transforms the poetry of the book into ballads of the penguin world. Playful animation and original musical compositions enliven the tone of each poem and endearing penguins have wide appeal and unforgettable personalities, leaving viewers with warm feelings for the coldest place on earth.”

Yes, the poetry from this popular book was put to music! The poems make wonderful song lyrics--and the musical score composed by Scotty Huff and Robert Reynolds is terrific. I purchased a copy of the video to show to the students in the children’s literature course that I teach. Often, several students leave the class session when we view the video singing some of the "penguin" tunes.

The ANTARCTIC ANTICS video was animated by FableVision Studios. (Kudos to FableVision for retaining the artistic style of illustrations created by Jose Aruego and Ariane Dewey for the picture book.) The video was directed by Gary Goldberger and Peter Reynolds. You know Peter Reynolds. He’s the author and illustrator of ISH and THE DOT and illustrator of the popular Judy Moody series written by Meghan McDonald. Peter also happens to be the founder and president of FableVision Studios.

You can view a video clip of ANTARCTIC ANTICS at the Weston Woods/Scholastic website.

About the Book: ANTARCTIC ANTICS is a book of light-hearted rhythmic and rhyming poetry about "the real lives and habits of emperor penguins" and of their time spent on the coldest continent on earth or in the icy waters surrounding it. Some of the poem titles include A Hatchling's Song, Regurgitate, I Am Looking for My Mother, My Father’s Feet, Belly Sliding, and Be My Penguin—a love poem. It also contains three predator riddles about the killer whale, the leopard seal, and the skua bird.

My elementary students loved this book. They enjoyed memorizing and reciting the poems in class and in the library. And after viewing the video, many of them even began singing the poems.

In the introduction to Karla Kuskin's NEAR THE WINDOW TREE, a book of children's poetry, the author writes: "Make poetry accessible to children and they will have a form of self-expression as satisfying as singing or shouting." The poetry in ANTARCTIC ANTICS is definitely accessible to young children...and it's tailor-made for joyful singing.