Monday, December 29, 2008
Forget hippos and fish, it's all about chicks this Christmas. The illustrious Three Silly Chicks have bestowed "Honorary Silly Chick" status on me. Take that Santa Claus! Please follow the yellow brick link for all the juicy details.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Friday, November 28, 2008
Run on over to Just One More Book and check out my review of Sandra Boynton's Blue Hat, Green Hat.
Say"hi" to Andrea and Mark while you're there and check out the loads of other cool children's book reviews in podcast form.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
Monday, November 3, 2008
It's thyme to vote again. For the Farmers of the Constitution, casting shallots was a means of making a more perfect onion. That's why we must turnip at the poles tomorrow. Lettuce not take the right to vote for pomegranate. Whether you're a radishcal or a Republicantaloupe, no matter how you parse it, parsley or parsnip, we're all on par when we vote.
These are chard times, no doubt about it. How well are you garden your rights? You don't need anyone's persimmon to cast a shallot. What are you waiting for, orange you going to vote? Peas...... I yam. I'll seed you at the poles tomorrow. (Remember: no asparaguts, no gloriosa daisies)
For more "Blog the Vote!" posts from the kidlitosphere, check out the following link: http://www.chasingray.com/archives/2008/11/blog_the_vote_2008.html
Sunday, October 12, 2008
I've been hopping around in Aaron Copland's enlightening book, What to Listen for in Music, and I'd like to draw some parallels between musical composition and kidlit composition.
Here's an important note about finding your own voice, even when the voices of the masters hold you under their spell:
"My love of the music of Chopin and Mozart is as strong as that of the next fellow, but it does me little good when I sit down to write my own, because their world is not mine and their musical language [is] not mine."
On the question of whether one needs to be inspired in order to write:
"The composer, therefore, confronted with the question of inspiration, does not say to himself: 'Do I feel inspired?' He says to himself: 'Do I feel like composing today?' And if he feels like composing, he does."
On the concept of innovative writing:
"...musical speech-- if it is truly vital-- is certain to include an experimental and controversial side. And why not? Why is it that the typical music lover of our day is seemingly so reluctant to consider a musical composition as, possibly, a challenging experience?"
And finally, just for fun, this thought (yes, Musicland has its version of James Joyce):
"The dodecaphonic school of Schoenberg is the hardest nut to crack, even for musicians."
So there you have it, from a kindred kidlit spirit, the words of Aaron Copland. He's really not so far from us if you think about it. He did write that wonderfully rhythmic ballet, Billy the Kid; and that was all about a kid, right?
Thursday, October 9, 2008
The image got me thinking about those all too-tempting rules like "stay off the grass", "no swimming," and "no skateboarding" (well, for you skaters, anyway).
As writers, these types of rules can make some of us want to swim in the grass on our skateboards. There's no way we can resist what seems to us like a pleading invitation. Break the rules, break new ground, chart new territory!
What are some of these rules for you?
Here's some that come to mind (from a picture book perspective):
1. Don't write in first-person.
2. Whatever you do, don't write in first-person, present tense.
3. Don't write a wordless picture book.
4. Don't write a story that occurs over multiple days.
5. Don't write in rhyme.
6. Don't write a story with talking animals.
7. Don't write a concept book, even if it has a beginning, middle, and end.
8. Don't write a story in 25 words or less.
9. Don't write a story in which every word begins with the letter "Q."
10. Don't, don't, don't!!!!
Here's a final word to those ruled by rules: I'd rather do, do than be a dodo.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Friday, October 3, 2008
The 7th Annual West Hollywood Book Fair had me with this poster. I love it! At first, I thought the blue fellow was a walrus, goo goo g'joob. I know, I know. But, Candy, where are the tusks? Okay, so maybe I wanted to see a walrus. But I'll settle for the super-cute blue pug, too.
Unfortunately, I lost all of the wonderful pictures I took while there last Sunday. Please don't ask how, it will depress me all over again. Anyway, my son lit up with the spirited reading of Green Eggs and Ham by actors Randy Oglesby and M.C. Gainey.
In an interesting display of the ripple effect, my son has been requesting to read his CD-ROM version of the book throughout the week; and tonight he started reciting lines from the book while helping me cook, as he sampled the sharp cheddar cheese we were grating.
We also enjoyed the creative puppetry of the Rogue Artists Ensemble in their performance of The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone, based on the picture book by Timothy Basil Ering. I love the concept of the puppet as extension of the puppeteer. Where does one end and the other begin?
Lisa Yee was funny as usual on her panel, "Tough Issues, Light Touches: Writing for Teens Without Turning Them Off." This was the only children's literature panel of the day (hint to the organizers: How about at least one more for next year?) And we enjoyed listening to Erica Silverman read her newest book, There Was a Wee Woman...
Finally, my Southern California helio-biblio index theory proved correct once more. Books are hot and so is the weather when L.A. hosts a book fair. Can I hear you say, "90's?"
Friday, September 26, 2008
It's that time of year again. Fall has begun and the scent of band books is in the air. Tomorrow kicks off the 27th Annual Band Books Week, "Celebrating the Freedom to Reed."
All across the country, events will be held to remind the citizens of this great nation not to take the freedom to enjoy woodwind music for granted.
From the American Library Association's website, "BBW celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular..."
So whether you're a Kenny G fan, or you're waiting for the latest download of Turkish folk music on the low G clarinet, all woodwind music is a thing to be cherished; and one's right to select it must be diligently protected.
Sudo Nimm has just advised me of an error in our newsfeed. It's supposed to be Banned Books Week. Gosh, who would want to ban band books? Probably someone who can't reed.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Can the serpent be a metaphor for the creative artist? As a fellow ground-dweller, the serpent is the creature that moves most fluidly on land. Air has the bird and water has the fish. In this sense, the serpent is restricted to the same two-dimensional plane of movement as the creative artist. We are both of the earth.
The defining feature of the serpent is that it lacks legs, but it is also this very feature that enables it to be completely grounded. With more of its body engaged in the act of movement, the serpent, ironically, has a surer "footing" than most animals with legs.
The creative artist, grounded in his/her medium and grounded in humanity, has a surer footing in the experience of life. The imagination of the creative artist moves with the conviction of this sureness.
The serpent's freer sense of movement brings both locomotion and loco motion. Many people are afraid of the slithering serpent, perhaps because their movements cannot be anticipated in the same way as a legged animal's movements. It is a basic manifestation of a fear of the unknown.
As much as the creative artist can move freely in any direction, it does not come without a cost. This is the notion of loco motion again. One has to wonder at times if the "mad artist" is not something more than a cliche.
There can be a lot of loco among our lot, but maybe that's because the freedom of movement can be so overwhelming at times: What, how, and when to produce? And that always terrifying "why." Then, of course, there's the easiest way to dismiss the misunderstood artist-- "crazy."
Perhaps the serpent and the creative artist are spiritually entwined. Maybe we each are one of the serpents of the caduceus, the wand of Hermes; and together, as the serpentine Serpenteam, we can bring peace to the world.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
--A gymnast is tending his flower garden. His coach calls on the phone. The wife answers, "I'm sorry, but he's in the middle of his flora routine."
--Parallelysis: an inability to perform on the parallel bars.
--A gymnast gets in an altercation with a summer Olympics judge over a medal qualification. The resulting headline: Gymnast Loses Mettle During Summerassault.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
If Gumby can do that, then I'd put my money on him being able to do just about anything with books. So, if you could have a conversation with Gumby, like the one Mr. Author is having below, what would you ask him to do with his special book powers?
Friday, August 29, 2008
A year ago, before my son started preschool, I checked out a ton of books from the library that dealt with a child's first first day of school.
As we read through these books together, one in particular stood out-- Nathan Hale's Yellowbelly and Plum Go to School. This was the only book of the lot that my son requested, "Read dat again!"
What happens when Yellowbelly gets separated from his best friend on their first day of school?
Yellowbelly and Plum is a world made of pages, one that is intuitively child-like, but never childish. For my son, the immensely loveable Yellowbelly and his quiet, but devoted friend, Plum, continue their school adventures even after the book is closed. Yes, Yellowbelly is the stuff that imaginary friends are made of.
Nathan Hale's talents as an illustrator are many, not the least of which is his prolific sense of imagination. Yellowbelly and Plum attend a unique school populated by a student body of diverse children and cuddly creatures. These creatures range from dinosaurs, animals, and insects, to plants, robots, and monsters (the super sweet kind).
The center spread features a wonderful Where's Waldo-esque scene that will keep you and your child intricately involved in discovering who's on the schoolyard. The fun grows when you can ask each other questions like: How many dinosaurs do you see? Where is the pink octopus? Where is the boy with a spider design on his t-shirt? (Semi-Spoiler********look on these same pages for characters from other Nathan Hale books.)
Hale's images richly reveal character, develop story, and illuminate the words all within an economy of text. Adding to his illustrative talents, Hale displays pitch-perfect story sense. Every scene contributes to a building momentum that concludes in both a clever and emotionally satisfying way.
The greatest thing about Yellowbelly and Plum Go to School is that it isn't just a "first day of school" book. This title can be read throughout the year as an endearing tale of friendship and the wonder of new experiences.
Newsflash/Extra Happy Ending: After writing this post, I learned that Nathan Hale will be illustrating my first picture book, Animal House. And, yes, I have Yellowbelly and Plum to thank for introducing me to their amazing creator.
Visit Nathan Hale at http://www.spacestationnathan.com/
Monday, August 25, 2008
More specifically, my wordsmith-self has had to make room for and help nuture the nascent storyteller-self, not too unlike an only child adjusting to the birth of a new sibling. Not surprisingly, I am left as the puzzled parent trying to survive the sibling rivalry of my offspring.
The wordsmith in me wants to linger in language and explore all the possibilites without enough concern sometimes for where the story itself is going. I am the sort of writer who many times prefers reading the dictionary to fiction (nary); except, thank goodness, for picture books, which stimulate my eyes and brain.
The funny thing is, I've never completely gotten "storytelling." It has never appealed to me in and of itself. I've always been fascinated by words, the building blocks of stories. Growing up, I probably never completely embraced my identity as a wrtiter because I had always connected storytelling with writing. "Writers write stories," I thought.
Fortunately, I eventually discovered amazing voices from the past who redefined the boundaries of what it meant to be a writer. Thank you, Lewis Carroll, e.e. cummings, James Joyce, and Edward Lear. They blazed an exciting trail of word experimentation that led to astounding discoveries in the use of language.
Nowadays, I still struggle with story, but I can't let go of the how of storytelling. Sometimes, I feel like a mason more in love with the stones themselves than the castles they can build. This does seem strange, but I like to think that my love for the stones tells me what kind of castle to build. Otherwise, I would never know where to begin.
Thank goodness for the talent and skill of my agent and current editor, who have been able to help lead this wordworker through the maze of story and into a better understanding of how to put the wordsmith in service of the storyteller.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Six years in the making, A is for Art is a monumental achievement. To help illustrate the point, I will admit a false assumption my lazy brain made when I first saw the book: "Oh, how cool! He's exhaustingly searched through thousands of pieces of contemporary art to discover connections with the alphabet."
Not quite. It's even more amazing than that. Imagine if a letter had the power to dictate an artist's creation. "X" instructs the artist to use "x-rays and xerographs of xylophones," and, of course, the x-rayed and xerographed xylophone images must themselves form the letter "x."
What is so fresh about Stephen's set of alliterated constraints is that they are not restricted to subjects (nouns) alone. Descriptors (adjectives) and action words (verbs) also inform the creation of his pieces. For example, in "Ice Cream Floats," the "imitation" ice cream cones are "individually illuminated, isolated, immobilized, immersed, inverted, identical, and insoluble."
In his own words, Stephen had been, "exploring the English dictionary, selectively choosing and organizing particular words from each letter of the alphabet and, based solely on the meanings of the words, developing a visual work of art."
Back to my lazy brain. Where I had originally thought that Stephen searched for these alphabet connections in pre-existing art, he, instead, created all of the art pieces after having worked within a set of self-imposed, alphabet-based constraints.
The results reveal startling symmetries, that to a casual observer remain hidden. I use "symmetries" in the broadest sense of the word. Stephen's compositions display a harmony and order that invoke an almost mathematical beauty.
"Golden Sections" is a painting based on the letter "G" that depicts a visual representation of the "golden ratio" (think nautilus shell chambers). The letter "G" can be clearly discerned as we follow the fractal through several recursions.
In its color palette and use of media, "gradations of green, gray, and gold...rendered with gouache, graphite, glitter, granulated gunpowder, and glue," "Golden Sections" creates such a harmonic effect that one better understands Soviet scientist's V. Vernadsky's assertion that "a new element in science is not the revelation of the principle of symmetry, but the revelation of its universal nature."
Finally, I must comment upon Stephen's observation that "the self-imposed limitations and restrictive nature of using only words from each letter of the alphabet to generate an original creation have turned out to be truly liberating."
As someone who works with constraints myself (I'm currently working on a 32-page picture book that tells a story using only words that begin with the letters "qu"), I am in complete agreement with Stephen on the power of constraints to unleash creativity. It's a paradox, but that is probably why it works.
I encourage other writers and artists to play with constraints and then get ready to get the heck out of the way as they witness works create themselves. There is much inspiration on this path to be taken from the Oulipo, the French group of writers and mathematicians who undertook serious work in this direction starting in the 1960's.
Stephen's work is concept art at its most meaningful and accessible, ready to tickle the brains and eyes of children of all ages. His work truly exemplifies the notion of "ideart," in which the concept (idea) and its artistic expression are one and the same.
A Is for Art will provide plenty of eye candy, even literally (one needs only to look at the book's cover); but it will also provide a richness of layered symmetries, like a set of nesting Russian dolls, on each page. I applaud Stephen on his genius creation and the bold support he received from Paula Wiseman and Rubin Pfeffer to help make it happen.
Visit Stephen and his work at www.artandideas.com.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Where are geometry professors incarcerated?
How did the geometry professor describe his totaled vehicle?
-- As a wrecktangle.
What do you call it when three geometry professors go fishing together?
-- A triangle.
How did the geometry professor advance from one-dimensional dancing to two-dimensional dancing?
-- He went from line dancing to square dancing.
Monday, July 7, 2008
Little did I know the main attraction of the ALA Annual Conference-- the book cart drill team finals. Check out this clip:
So, what I want to know is who won the Caldecart Medal? Which group of zany librarians raised the bar above Austin?
Unfortunately, I was in the midst of highly top-secret meetings with industry professionals while the competition took place. Either that, or I accidentally fell asleep in some quiet corner.
(Don't underestimate the sleep-inducing power of sleep deprivation combined with lugging an aardvark's weight in books and taking enough steps around the convention center to equal the number of ants said-aardvark consumes a day.)
Friday, June 20, 2008
"Get this blanket. Orange," my son said. "And cheese, and green apples, and bananas, and milk, and these," he said.
By the way, "these" refers to the mystery food item above the bananas on page 50. I know what they look like to me, but I sure wouldn't want to eat them. Any more appetizing guesses out there?
My son put his budding editorial skills to use when he substituted plain cheese for the sandwiches on page 51.
We'd love to hear of other litereat picnic experiences (How many of you have done Green Eggs and Ham?). Try and think of what book you could dine with next. Don't forget, you can always "snack, snack, eat a snack. Eat a snack with Brown and Black."
Monday, June 16, 2008
If you want to find out what it is, then you're going to have to catch up with Marla on her current book tour for A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever. Sudo Nimm doesn't allow spoilers on this blog.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Are there any Friday the 13th bad luck book stories out there? For a few moments this morning, I entertained the creepy horror of receiving a rejection on this Friday the 12+1. Luckily, I ate enough garlic earlier in the week to suppress any further superstition.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
The scene made me imagine what the two stories, or any two stories, would sound like if read aloud at the same time. Would a third story emerge from the seeming gibberish, in the spaces in between the two stories? Uh-oh, it sounds like I may have another experiment on my hands.
Back to "parallel reading." Sometimes my son selects a bedtime book for me to read. Read that sentence again. That's right. He will choose a book for me to read aloud to myself, and then he selects a book for himself. Can anyone else speak to this interesting reading behavior?
Fun stuff: Note the "sizzling storytime" poster in the background of the above photo. In one of my many literary laboratories, I am working on a helio-biblio index that charts the temperatures for book festivals in the L.A. area. My research has revealed the following so far: books are hot! (based on data collected at the L.A. Times Festival of Books, the West Hollywood Book Fair, and Feria del Libro).
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Here she is in the above photo releasing a gigantic book-eating butterfly into the atmosphere. She also managed to somehow squeeze in two lively performances of her books, Estela's Swap and The Recess Queen.
I must admit that for the past year I've had "push 'em and smoosh'em, lollapaloosh 'em, hammer 'em, slammer 'em, kitz and kajammer 'em" stuck in my head at various times.
This delightful refrain comes from The Recess Queen, and don't tell me I didn't warn you. This book will infect you with its rhythm. I think the CDC is in the process of issuing a global warning.
Now that I've seen Alexis perform it with hand/arm gestures, the rhythm infection has spread from my brain to my limbs. It makes it hard to hold my fork steady when I'm eating.
By the way, look out for that book-eating butterfly. Its caterpillars have such voracious appetites that they have been known to consume entire library budgets. This is especially worrisome in the L.A. region.
More to follow...
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
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