Monday, October 28, 2013

October Carnival of Children's Literature Roundup

Lots of blogs are celebrating Halloween with spooky book posts. And today, as host of the October Carnival of Children's Literature roundup, I'll share some of the month's highlights. In keeping with the spirit of the month, these bloggers offer some fun tricks and plenty of treats.

This is my first time hosting Kidlitosphere's Carnival of Children's Literature, and I loved being able to check out what other bloggers are posting about in the broader conversation around kids books, early literacy, and creativity. I hope you enjoy this peek into recent topics of discussion.

Jodie over at the early literacy blog Growing Book by Book shares Halloween titles that will have you singing, chanting and dancing, including W. Nikola-Lisa's lively Shake Dem Halloween Bones.

Jeanette at SpeakWell, ReadWell features a book to set the Halloween mood: Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown. She says the book "charmed my students into creating their own eerie eatables. A few Common Core Standards crept into the mix for some lively learning."

Kerry at Picture Books & Pirouettes posted about the new rhyming picture book Halloween Hustle by debut author Charlotte Gunnufson and illustrator Kevan J. Atteberry. A great Halloween pick!

Iron Guy Carl over at Boys Rule Boys Read! may not have been trying to celebrate Halloween but we think he's in the right spirit with his review of the three Fangbone graphic novels, which he says, "Boys would really enjoy, especially the 'reluctant readers.' "

KidLitCon is for YOU

Jen at The Cybils Blog reminds bloggers to consider attending this year's KidLitCon on Nov. 8 and 9 in Austin. "The Cybils organizers are big fans of KidLitCon, an annual conference of children's book bloggers, and we posted about this year's event to help spread the word to more bloggers." Check it out for registration information and more.

Charlotte at Charlotte's Library will be attending. And she says, "I'll be leading a discussion at KidLitCon of issues and questions and concerns shared by Middle Grade Bloggers, and I've put together a list of what some of these topics might be, hoping to get input from other Middle Grade bloggers before the con."

Early Literacy

Darshana at Flowering Minds posts about Miss Maple’s Seeds, written and illustrated by Eliza Wheeler. She calls it "a magical, timeless book that will enchant kids and tug on the heartstrings of the adult."

Marty of The Great Chapter Book, Middle Grade Confusion writes about the differences between chapter books and middle-grade, which "are becoming blurred or even invisible, much to the detriment of kids and the chapter book category."

Sarah at ModernBrickaBrack shares about the writing of Alfie the Squirrel and the Tale of the Missing Grass and what she learned about online book publishing.

And Jen over at Jen Robinson's Book Page posts about actions she plans to take "to increase my daughter's love of reading, in response to my own read of the latest edition of The Read-Aloud Handbook." 


Alison over at interviewed Jane Kohuth about her new early reader picture book, Anne Frank's Chestnut Tree. "She shares some of the challenges of writing about war and oppression for young children and how Anne Frank's legacy can inspire activism."

Lindsey of A is for Aging blogs on positive images of aging in kidlit, and she says of Don Tate's It Jes' Happened, "This picture book highlights creativity in late life by showcasing the life of self-taught artist Bill Traylor."

Alex  at Randomly Reading tackles the slippery subject of seals with See What a Seal Can Do by Chris Butterworth, illustrated by Kate Nelms. "See what they do when they dive underwater to look for something to eat. They have a surprisingly busy life under the sea."

Interviews & Illustration & Such

Zoe who blogs at Playingbythebook asks, "Who doesn't love Richard Scarry? But what can he tell us about how society and language has changed over 50 years?"

LH Johnson of the blog Did you ever stop to think and forget to start again? says, "I had a bit of a thought and wondered whether it was possible to read your way around the UK in children's and YA books. Turns out you kind of can! (And I'm working on the missing counties!)"

Amitha over at Monkey Poop features a Q&A with Kathryn Lasky, about her latest book, The Extra.

Carmela of TeachingAuthors shares that her post "includes a "Fib" poem in memory of my writing friend and former student, Laura Crawford." 


Margo over at The Fourth Musketeer shares about Hetty Feather, "one of those feisty, charismatic girl characters you won't soon forget. Read about British author Jacqueline Wilson's delightful historical fiction series set in Victorian England."

Katie of Secrets & Sharing Soda posts about Bo at Ballard Creek, "a light-hearted and adventurous historical fiction book that can appeal to a wide range of ages. Filled with memorable characters and exciting events from Bo's day to day life, it will appeal to fans of Little House on the Prairie and stories by Carolyn Haywood and Beverly Cleary." 

Brenda at Proseandkahn sings the praises of The Candy Smash by Jacqueline Davies. She says, "Not since Love That Cat has an author depicted a child's discovery of poetry so perfectly."

Erica over at What Do We Do All Day? shares some of their favorite diverse books to share with babies and toddlers.

Catherine  of Story Snug writes, "We love the cheesy names of the cute mice in Mouseton Abbey. This story would appeal to fans of Downton Abbey."

Reshama of Stacking Books post that Mordecai Gerstein "draws you into the story of the Very First Drawing. Who made the first drawing he asks? Was it an adult or a kid? When did he make it? How did he make it? What triggered him to make the very first drawing?

Anastasia at Booktalking says, "I'm so happy that my cheerleader series is on the shelves now!" 

Susan of The Book Chook declares, "Nick Bland knows how to create memorable children's picture books – the kinds of books kids beg for over and over, the kinds of books that grow little bookworms." 

Gail over at Original Content shares a brief roundup "of women graphic artists who were discussed as part of a panel on women in children's publishing." 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Helen Docherty's 'Snatchabook' a Whodunit for the Wee Ones

Helen Docherty's name might not be a familiar one to American households, but it will be. A native of Britain, her debut picture book hit shelves on October 1 here in the United States and is being published simultaneously in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy – a total of 16 countries in all. With gorgeous illustrations by Helen's husband, Thomas Docherty (Ruby Nettleship, The Snorgh and the Sailor), a charming premise, and lively rhyme, it deserves the wide audience.

Titled The Snatchabook, it is the adorable story of bedtime in Burrow Down, where all the children's books are disappearing. When one little girl decides to stay awake and catch the book thief, she discovers it's a cute little critter called the Snatchabook. His complaint is a simple one; he just wants someone to tuck him in at night with a story.

“I know it’s wrong, but can’t you see—
I’ve got no one to read to me!”

With a nod to both Dr. Seuss and Julia Donaldson's The Gruffalo, The Snatchabook is what Publisher's Weekly calls "a winner in this heartwarming tribute to the essential role of bedtime reading in the lives of families."

Question: When I first picked up The Snatchabook, I thought "instant classic." This idea is adorable and makes writers like me smack their foreheads and say, "Genius! Why didn't I think of it?" Where did you get the idea for The Snatchabook? What was your creative process like?

Helen Docherty: I came up with the idea at the end of a really long, hard day of trying to think up new ideas for stories, but not really getting anywhere. The words "book thief" suddenly popped into my head and with them the idea of a mysterious thief who steals books in the night. I started to jot down potential names for this creature: a book cruncher? A book snatcher? Then I realised that if I inverted these to create a Snatchabook, I could potentially rhyme this with other words; and also, a Snatchabook sounded less menacing, somehow.

I knew that I wanted to set up a kind of whodunit with a brave heroine (Eliza) and a surprise twist. After that, the story started to form itself pretty quickly on the page – within a few hours, I had written half of the very first draft, and I knew how I wanted the story to end. Of course, it took several more days to complete a finished draft that I was happy with, and then many more re-edits and tweaks followed.

Q: Writing in rhyme is no easy feat, and new authors are often discouraged to attempt it. But when reading Snatchabook aloud with a young audience, the rhyming is part of the story's incredible charm. How challenging was it to get the rhyme right? Did you look to Seuss and The Gruffalo for inspiration?

HD: The Snatchabook was actually the first rhyming picture book text I had ever written (although as a child, I loved to write in verse). Having two young children, however, I was – and still am – immersed in the world of rhyming story books. Julia Donaldson and Dr Seuss are both huge favourites of ours, and masters of the genre. The 1970s classic The Giant Jam Sandwich (by John Vernon Lord, verses by Janet Burroway) was another source of inspiration. Strangely enough, after attempting to write several stories in prose, I found writing in verse quite liberating in some ways. Having said that, sometimes it can be a very frustrating experience when you know what you want to say but can’t find the rhyme to fit! I tend to write long lists of rhyming words and try out all kinds of combinations until I can make it work.

Q: The illustrations are adorable. And while most authors get little to no say in how the artist interprets her story, you happen to live with your book's artist. How was that process? Collaborative? Or do you work independently?

HD: It was fantastic! Fortunately for me, Tom liked the story a lot and got really excited about the illustrations. It was a very collaborative process right from the start; we spent a lot of time discussing how the characters should look (especially the Snatchabook), and how to create the right atmosphere for Burrow Down. Having said that, once Tom got going on the illustrations, I didn’t spend my whole time peering over his shoulder. He added several visual elements of his own invention (for example, the Snatchabook perched unhappily on a branch, all alone, on the second spread) that greatly enhance the story. It was so much fun for me to watch it all come to life, and to be part of that process. I feel very lucky indeed!

Q: The Snatchabook is having a simultaneous launch in the United Kingdom and the United States. Are you finding the buzz around it to be similar in both places? Or is one different from the other?

HD: I think children’s books get taken a lot more seriously in the U.S., as a whole. Although we have incredibly supportive publishers in both countries, the buzz in the United States has been much greater so far, with reviews appearing on many blogs, booksellers’ and librarians’ websites and in the press. A lot of this is thanks to the amazingly hard-working and pro-active team at Sourcebooks, but I think it is also because children’s picture books have a higher status in the U.S. than here in the U.K.

I’m not quite sure why that is, considering the wealth of home-grown talent (Julia Donaldson, to name but one)! Anyway, it’s lovely to know that The Snatchabook is already being enjoyed by so many people in the U.S., and hopefully in many other countries too (it is being published in 16 countries altogether so far). I should add that the buzz here in the Mumbles (our neighbourhood in Swansea) has been fantastic – we are lucky enough to have the support of a fabulous independent book shop, Cover to Cover, whose owner has organised two local launches for us and promoted the book very successfully in her shop.

Q: What will we see next from you? Are you working on projects on your own or with your husband?

HD: We have a new book together coming out this time next year, hopefully, called Abracazebra. It’s another rhyming picture book, written by me and illustrated by Tom – he’s working on the final illustrations right now, in fact. It’s the story of a zebra who arrives in town with her traveling magic show, and a jealous goat who feels that she’s stolen his pitch. I also have another picture book text under contract with Faber, but I’m not sure who the illustrator will be yet (not Tom this time!). It’s called Do You Remember? and it’s a very simple story about a young girl’s earliest achievements.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Spooky Fun With Ammi-Joan Paquette's 'Ghost in the House'

Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year for picture books. And among the most adorable titles I came across this year is Ghost in the House by Ammi-Joan Paquette (Candlewick Press, July 2013) and illustrated by Adam Record. It's a cozy little rhyming book that features a sweet ghost in a spooky old house. What's lurking around each corner? It could be something frightening, but instead our little ghost finds another friend at every turn. That is until the end, when the gang of ghouls discovers the scariest thing around: a little boy!

Paquette is having a good year, with the publication of two novels, Paradox (Random House Books for Young Readers, June 2013) and Rules for Ghosting (Walker/Bloomsbury, July 2013), and two picture books, Petey and Pru and the Hullabaloo (Clarion Books, October 2013) and Ghost in the House.

Ghost makes the list for School Library Journal's great books for Halloween: "Bouncing rhymes, bold artwork, and endearingly depicted ghouls make this counting book a read-aloud must." And Horn Book Magazine praised Paquette's tale, saying "The bouncy rhyme in this cumulative story is engaging, and the scariness level is just right for the very young."

Question: While little ones can enjoy Ghost in the House any time of year, it makes an especially good read at Halloween. Where did you get the idea for the story? Did you like to read spooky tales when you were a young reader?

Ammi-Joan Paquette: Oh, I was a big fan of spooky stories when I was young! And goofy, bouncy rhyme is something that I really enjoy playing with (and let’s be honest—reading, too). This particular book has an interesting history: An editor came very close to acquiring another manuscript of mine—a different spooky story. For various reasons, though, she wasn’t clicking with that piece all the way. So she asked, “Do you have any other spooky rhyming picture books you could send me?” I did not; but I quickly set about creating some! I launched a brainstorming session fleshing out five different ideas. Three of these I pursued into manuscript drafts. One of these became Ghost in the House.

Q: This has been a big year for you as a writer, with not just one, not just two, but THREE books out! And a fourth hitting shelves this month. That's a grand slam! What made the stars align so well for you in 2013?

AJP: I know, this year has been pretty hectic, to say the least! That’s the thing about publishing—it’s always going to keep you guessing. My four manuscripts sold to four different publishers, over a period of time from July 2010 to January 2012. Yet somehow they were all released within a three-month stretch. (And the first three came out within two weeks of each other!) There’s just no predicting how things will turn out. Which I guess makes the writing life even more exciting, yes?

Q: Writing for a very young audience is challenging for a host of reasons. How did you manage to strike the right balance between thrills and not-so-scary fun in Ghost in the House?

AJP: Gosh, that’s a good question! In this particular case, the story itself came to me pretty effortlessly. The actual polishing and rhythm flow and all of that took longer to figure out. But this story overall really feels like a gift (maybe the universe’s reward for the ill-fated spooky manuscript I mentioned above; which I toiled over for years only to then have it torpedoed by an adorable blue ghost! J).

Q: You write both picture books as well as middle-grade novels. Do you prefer one genre over the other, such as the read-aloud pleasure of picture books vs. connecting with independent readers? Can you do more in one form than the other?

AJP: I really love both of the genres equally; I feel like they exercise different sides of my creative brain, and I love adapting to the restrictions and the rewards of each one. With picture books, I adore playing with language, and the challenge of packing a full story arc, character growth, and meaningful subtext into 500 words or less. And then I also love digging deeper into character and story and building worlds that spring to life in the longer form of a novel. I guess I’m glad that I don’t have to choose just one form, because I don’t know if I could!

Q: What is your creative process like – do you have multiple projects going at one time? Will we see more books from you next year? 

AJP: Oh, yes! I am a big-time multi-tasker. In fact, I really think that the pause between projects is a big part of my own creative process. When I’m stuck on a problem—whether it’s a novel plot hole, or a stubborn rhyme—stepping away and doing something else has a way of freeing up my subconscious mind to nag away at the problem organically. More often than not, by the time I return to my original manuscript the solution has magically appeared at the tips of my fingers. Not everybody’s process, I know, but it works for me!  And as far as what’s to come? I don’t have anything new scheduled just at this moment… but good things are brewing. Stay tuned!