Perfect Picture Book Friday – Diva Delores And The Opera House Mouse PLUS 5 Fun Facts From The Author AND A Giveaway!

Hurray!  It’s Perfect Picture Book Friday, and boy do I have a treat for you today!

It’s Diva Delores’s debut!

diva-1.jpeg

Isn’t she gorgeous?! 🙂

You’re going to get to see this beautiful book AND hear from the author AND the publisher is generously doing a giveaway, so one lucky commenter from the US or Canada will be chosen at random to receive a copy of the book!

Let’s jump right in, shall we?

First, a look at the book!

IMG_5301

Title: Diva Delores And The Opera House Mouse

Written By: Laura Sassi

Illustrated By: Rebecca Gerlings

Sterling Children’s Books, March 2018, nonfiction

Suitable For Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: friendship, manners, opera

Opening: “Fernando loved chocolate
and cheese on dry toast,
and popcorn and gumdrops,
but what he liked most . . .

was feasting on Mozart,
Puccini, and Strauss,
and lending a paw
at the Old Opera House.

Brief Synopsis: Fernando the mouse loves everything about opera.  He wants to help Delores with her debut, but the diva thinks she deserves bigger and better help!  It takes a few opening night jitters to get Delores to truly appreciate her helpful little friend.

Links To Resources: Teacher Approved: Seven Things Kids Can Learn From Diva Delores; Opera Facts For Kids; discuss what it means to be a “diva” and dress up one of your stuffed animals as a diva!  (AND, you can use the 5 Fun Facts from the author below as bonus material to go along with the book! 🙂 )

Why I Like This Book:  The fun of this book is in the setting – an opera house – and the main characters – who both love opera!  Although the story is really about friendship, manners, and appreciation, the fact that it takes place in an opera house and involves operatic performance makes it educational as well as original and fun.  (Picture books writers – this is how you make a theme like friendship original, fresh and fun by putting your own twist on it!  Add this to your mentor text list 🙂 )  The story is told in fabulously-written rhyme which makes for a fun read-aloud, and artist Rebecca Gerlings does a gorgeous job of capturing both the feel of an opera house and the personalities and expressions of our heroes 🙂

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do 🙂

As an added bonus, I thought it would be fun to learn a little about the story behind the story and Laura’s writing process/path to publication with this book, so I asked her to share five fun facts about writing this delightful, creative, and original story.

Here’s what she had to say:

FIVE FUN FACTS ABOUT WRITING DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE

FACT #1 The journey from spark to publication took seven years.

I got the original idea for my story while participating in Tara Lazar’s wonderful STORYSTORM challenge, or Picture Book Idea Month as it was called back in 2011.  I then worked on the story off and on for five years. I played with plot, rhyme, character development – everything but setting, really – until finally it was ready to sub in 2016. It was acquired by Sterling Children’s Books that spring and took another two years to be published, which is typical for picture books.

FACT #2  Diva Delores wasn’t always a seal.

Originally, I imagined everyone at the opera house, including Diva Delores, as human, except of course, for Fernando the mouse. The team at Sterling , however, felt that mixing humans with a talking mouse might be problematic so early on we decided that all the characters in the opera house world would be animals. Early ideas for Delores included a hippo and an ostrich. Ultimately, illustrator Rebecca Gerlings used her wonderful talent and imagination to create the delightful seal Delores who we now know and LOVE!

FACT #3 I chose an opera house setting, because an opera, IMHO, is a lot like a picture book.

Both tell a full story in very few words with magnificent characters. Because there are so few words each word/note must work charmingly to move the story forward. Finally, both are gorgeously illustrated – one with stunning sets and props and the other with delightful painted spreads.

FACT # 4 I didn’t attend my first opera until I was in college.

I attended university about 90 minutes from Manhattan and my freshman year signed up for a special bus-excursion field trip to the Met to see TURANDOT!  I loved everything about the evening.  It was a magical introduction to opera, which I hope my book is too.

FACT #5 According to my kids, I am hard to be around when I am working on a rhyming manuscript.

This is because I click and tap to the beat as I write. I also, apparently, talk to myself in rhyme as I am writing. Worse yet, I sometimes even do this in public places, like if I’m out walking the dog or if I’m working at a coffee shop. This is mortifying to my children, but it works for me. And isn’t part of a mother’s job to embarrass her children?

Thanks for having me, Susanna!

Thank YOU so much for joining us, Laura, and for sharing all that interesting back story!  I am the first to admit that, although I love music, I know absolutely nothing about opera, so I love the whole concept!  (Also, Delores and Fernando are darling 🙂 )

Diva 2
BIO:  Laura Sassi has a passion for telling humorous stories in prose and rhyme. She is the author of GOODNIGHT, ARK (Zonderkidz, 2014)and GOODNIGHT, MANGER (Zonderkidz, 2015), DIVA DELORES AND THE OPERA HOUSE MOUSE (Sterling, 2018) and LOVE IS KIND (Zonderkidz, 2018) She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and a black Cockapoo named Sophie.

Links:
blog:http://laurasassitales.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LauraSassiTales
Twitter: twitter.com/laurasassitales
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/laurasassitales/

To join Laura on the rest of Delores’s Blog Tour, please stop off and visit these other fabulous blogs:

Diva 3

For the complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books.

PPBF folks, please add your titles and post-specific links (and any other info you feel like filling out 🙂 ) to the form below so we can all come see what fabulous picture books you’ve chosen to share this week!

Don’t forget, Sterling has offered to do a giveaway. They will send one book to one lucky winner in the US or Canada. It will not be signed because they are sending but it will be fresh off the press!  Just leave a comment below by Tuesday March 20 at 5 PM Eastern to get yourself in the running for the random drawing!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!!! 🙂

 

Perfect Picture Book Friday – A Morning With Grandpa PLUS A Giveaway!!!

I am beyond thrilled to be sharing today’s Perfect Picture Book!

First off, it’s a lovely book that celebrates both the loving relationship between a grandfather and his granddaughter and the importance of mindfulness and the mind/body connection.

Second, it was written by my friend, author and illustrator Sylvia Liu,and is her debut picture book as an author, and it is always wonderful when a Perfect Picture Book has been written by a friend!

Third, it comes with special treats! 🙂

Treat #1 is that Sylvia is joining us today to personally provide the “Resource” section of the post.   She is going to explain in detail how  you can expand on her picture book at home and in the classroom!

Treat #2 is that she is giving away a copy of her book to one lucky winner!

So let’s begin by meeting her!  Hi, Sylvia!

Sylvia Liu pic © K Woodard Photography

Sylvia Liu, author of Morning With Grandpa, also a talented illustrator, and also the co-creator of the not-to-be-missed website Kidlit411 (Photo Credit – Copyright K. Woodard Photography)

Sylvia Liu is an environmental lawyer turned children’s author and illustrator. A MORNING WITH GRANDPA is her debut picture book as an author. She is inspired by oceans, aliens, cephalopods, and more. She lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with her husband and their two daughters. Visit her online at enjoyingplanetearth.com.

And now, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to her Perfect Picture Book: A Morning With Grandpa!

MorningWithGrandpa_cover

Title:  A Morning With Grandpa

Written By: Sylvia Liu

Illustrated By: Christina Forshay

Lee & Low Books, April 2016, Fiction

Suitable For Ages: 5-8

Themes/Topics: relationships (grandparent/grandchild), mindfulness, tai chi, yoga

Opening: “Mei Mei watched Grandpa dance slowly among the flowers in the garden.  He moved like a giant bird stalking through a marsh.  His arms swayed like reeds in the wind.

‘What are you doing, Gong Gong?’ asked Mei Mei.

‘I am practicing tai chi,” said gong Gong.  “This form is called White Crane Spreading Its Wings.’

Brief Synopsis: (from the publisher) Mei Mei learns tai chi from Gong Gong and teaches him yoga. While their styles are different, they enjoy their time together.

Links To Resources:  Today’s resources are detailed below in a special note from author Sylvia Liu.

The Benefits of Tai Chi and Yoga for Kids By Sylvia Liu

As stressed out and busy adults, we know the value of taking a moment out of our hectic days to calm our minds, meditate, or just breathe. Mindfulness relaxes, de-stresses, builds immunity, and promotes mental and physical health.

Tai chi and yoga are mind-body practices from Asia (tai chi originated in China and yoga in India) that promote health through body movement, breathing, and mindfulness. Meditation and qi gong are others.

When I wrote A MORNING WITH GRANDPA, my goal was to share a fun grandparent and grandchild story involving tai chi or qi gong to introduce children to these lesser known practices. I have since learned that children benefit from these practices in so many ways:

  1. Learning mental stillness helps counteract the sensory overload that comes from 24/7 entertainment, excessive screen time, and over scheduled lives.
  1. Tai chi and yoga instill discipline, concentration, and body awareness.
  1. Tai chi and yoga provide physical exercise and challenges in a non competitive way. Yoga increases strength, flexibility, and coordination.
  1. Both tai chi and yoga are rooted in natural forms and poses. Practicing these disciplines help children connect with nature.
  1. The calming, concentration, discipline, and self-confidence that develop with these practices can reduce symptoms of ADHD.
  1. Purposeful movement and concentration help put children in a learning state of mind.

Teachers and parents, when you read A MORNING WITH GRANDPA with your students and children, here are a few activities you can try that are fun and provide stress relief (for you and the kids):

Belly Breathing

Have you ever noticed a baby breathing? Their bellies go up and down, naturally breathing in a way that provides the most oxygen to their bodies.

Breathing to your diaphragm or belly is an integral part of these practices. For this exercise, sit comfortably. Breathe through your nose and slowly fill up with air, directing the air to your belly. Your belly should expand slightly. As you breathe out, empty your lungs first and then your belly. Do a slow count while breathing in (maybe to 3 at first, but later you can count to 5 or more) and breathe out to the same count.

Touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth as you do this breathing exercise.

Relaxation Breathing

 I learned this from yoga: if you exhale for a longer time than you inhale, your body will automatically relax. This is because it causes your vagus nerve to send a signal to your brain to turn up your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls rest, relaxation, and digestion. (If you take a quick, short breath, you generate the opposite response, signaling your sympathetic system to pumps up your heart rate and get your adrenaline going for a “fight or flight” response).

Inhale to a count of two, hold for a count of one, and then exhale gently counting to four, and hold for a count of one.

Try the Poses

Look up tai chi or yoga poses on YouTube or check out the back matter in the book and give some a try.

Thanks, Susanna, for letting me stop by your site as part of the blog tour for A MORNING WITH GRANDPA!

(Thank YOU so much for joining us, Sylvia, and for offering the giveaway!!! 🙂 )

Further Reading:

The Benefits of Yoga for Kids

Say Yes to Yoga for Kids with Attention Deficit

Studies on Tai Chi Show Many Benefits for Children

A Simple Breathing Exercise to Calm the Mind & Body

Why I Like This Book:  In today’s busy world where so much of our time is spent indoors staring at screens, a book that celebrates physical movement, mindfulness, and being outdoors in nature is so welcome!  And what a wonderful and inspiring role model for young readers!  I think many kids will be up on their feet trying out the tai chi forms and yoga poses demonstrated by Gong Gong and Mei Mei 🙂  I like that both adult and child have something to offer the other, something to teach and something to learn, and that they take each other seriously and are willing to try each other’s activities.  I also think it’s wonderful that Gong Gong accepts that Mei Mei is trying, even though her exuberance might not be quite the way tai chi is usually performed, and doesn’t chide or discourage her, and that she in turn treats him with the same respect when his older body has a hard time with poses that she is strong and flexible enough to manage easily.  The descriptions of the forms are written in lovely, evocative language.  The art is also lovely, making the garden look bright and appealing and making the forms and poses look like fun 🙂  This book won the New Voices Award and it’s no mystery why – it’s a delightful book that I hope you’ll enjoy as much as I do!

For the complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books.

Now for the GIVEAWAY!!!  One lucky person will win a copy of A Morning With Grandpa!  Just leave us a comment below by Tuesday May 3 at 5 PM EDT telling us about your favorite exercise (no that was not intended to be an oxymoron 🙂 ) and/or way to relax!  Names will be tossed in the Randomizer and a random name will be selected at random and announced randomly on Wednesday or Friday 🙂

PPBF folks, please add your titles and post-specific links (and any other info you feel like filling out 🙂 ) to the form below so we can all come see your delightful picks for this week!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!!!

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Goodnight, Ark PLUS A Giveaway!!!

Dzoo dzoo-doo dzoo dzoo dzoo dzooooo!!!

(That’s me playing my kazoo in celebration.  You didn’t know I was a kazoo virtuoso, did you?  Just another of my many talents.  I am also a whiz at removing toothpaste “mints” from the sink :))

Welcome back to another year of Perfect Picture Book Fridays!

I am so looking forward to all the new picture books we’re going to share!

Parents, teachers, readers, and writers take note!  There will be something for everyone to enjoy and learn from 🙂

I am thrilled to be presenting a wonderful book for the 2014-2015 PPBF kick-off, written by none other than your friend and mine, Laura Sassi.  Since this is part of her blog tour, we are fortunate to have her here with us today, sharing her thoughts on the illustrations and how parents and teachers can engage their kids through them.  She and her publisher, Zonderkidz, are also generously offering a giveaway, so one lucky reader will win a copy of this delightful book! (U.S. residents only – street address, no P.O. box – publisher’s stipulation.)  Laura’s thoughts and the giveaway will appear below the book listing.

Title: Goodnight, Ark
Written By: Laura Sassi
Illustrated By: Jane Chapman
Zonderkidz, August 2014, Fiction

Suitable For Ages: 4-8 (according to publisher, but I think ages 2-3 would enjoy it too :))

Themes/Topics: animals, bedtime, fear (of thunderstorms), language fun (rhyme, onomatopoeia)

Opening: “Beds are ready.
Food is stored.
Noah hollers,
“All aboard!”
Guests rush forward.
Furry, scaled,
woolly, feathered,
swishy-tailed.”

Brief Synopsis: Two by two, the animals board Noah’s ark.  They’re supposed to settle down and go to sleep… but the heavy rain, thunder and lightning frighten them, so two by two they climb in bed with Noah!  How much can one bed take? And will anybody get any sleep?

Links To Resources: talk about onomatopoetic words – what onomatopoetic words can kids think up?  Words for eating sounds? Engine noises? Musical sounds?; Noah’s Ark coloring page #1Noah’s Ark coloring page #2; talk about the bible story of Noah’s ark – how is it like GOODNIGHT, ARK and how is it different?; talk about fears – is anyone afraid of storms?  What other things are frightening?  What can you do to feel safe and secure when you’re frightened?; the animals are described as “furry, scaled, woolly, feathered, swishy-tailed” – what animals can you think of that are furry? scaled? etc.; please see Laura’s thoughts below on ways to use the illustrations; here’s the link to book trailer (in case it doesn’t load properly here :)) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRsc-pKmKwM


Why I Like This Book: This is a delightful story – an entertaining, clever, child-friendly twist on the original Noah’s ark.  The text is the perfect length for young attention spans.  The rhyme is filled with fun onomatopoetic words that kids will enjoy joining in with.  The art is bright, colorful and engaging, filled with small details that will keep young listeners busy.  But possibly my favorite thing is the skunks who have a whole story of their own going on in the illustrations.  Start looking for them in the 4th spread and watch what happens 🙂

For the complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books.
The Importance of Illustration – Thoughts From Laura Sassi
(A lesson for writers, and an opportunity for parents, teachers, and kids :))
Author Laura Sassi
Visit her Blog
Like her on FB
Follow her on Twitter
One of the basic rules of picture book writing is that writers need to let the illustrations tell part of the story. I understood this in principle, but it wasn’t until I saw Jane Chapman’s delightful illustrations for GOODNIGHT, ARK that it really hit home. I mean, WOW! Her illustrations truly show that principle in action and are a great reminder for me, that as a writer, I should curb any lingering tendency to over-describe or over-prescribe my texts and let the illustrators do their jobs.  
Here, then, are some great examples of how Jane used illustration to add humor and even extra plot details to GOODNIGHT, ARK. You’ll have to look carefully, for they are subtly sprinkled throughout her rich and colorful spreads:
1.Extra Animals: In addition to the key players, Jane adds extra animal guests.  I found nine extra pairs. Can you?
2. Extra (funny!)provisions: The text makes no mention of specific provisions, leaving lots of room for Jane to add humorous extras like the canned cat food that rolls across the floor on the tippiest page in the story.  It took me several reads to notice them! What other funny provisions do you see?
3. Underwear!: Every child I’ve read my story to has howled at Jane’s humorous inclusion of polka-dotted boxers quietly hanging on the line to dry.  We’ve also chuckled over the toothbrush. Both nice touches, I would never have thought of. What other humorous extras can you find?
4. Extra Plot Layer:  I don’t want to give away the most exciting part, but a certain pair of creatures is instrumental in restoring balance on the ark. In her illustrations, Jane brings out the personality of this pair in a darling way, even hinting through their gestures that they planned the whole stinky thing.  I LOVE that extra layering! 
Thanks, Laura!  To see the other stops on Laura’s blog tour (6 completed, 4 upcoming) please click HERE for the links.



And now for the giveaway!  All you have to do to be entered is leave a comment telling us something funny about bedtime: a favorite trick for getting kids to bed? an unusual bedtime routine? something kids won’t sleep without? some clever way kids try to get out of bedtime?  Anything fun and bedtime-related.  Bonus point if it includes an animal in some way 🙂

My example (which does not include animals except as occasional topics of discussion) is that when my son was little, he was never ready for sleep when he got in bed.  Instead, he had what he called his “thinking time” which inevitably (Every. Night!) involved him getting up numerous times and coming to ask me such can’t-wait questions as, “How much is infinity?”, “Where does wind come from?”, “How many teeth does a tyrannosaurus rex have?”, and “Why is it called the Milky Way?”  To which I would respond knowledgeably, “Uh…….” 🙂

Please leave your comment by Sunday September 14 at 5 PM EDT.  A winner will be chosen at random and announced next week.  One note: the publisher stipulates that the winner must reside in the U.S. and have a street address, not a PO box, so please let us know if you’re commenting just for fun and are not eligible.

PPBF bloggers please be sure to leave your post-specific link in the list below so we can all come visit you!  Hurray!  Can’t wait!!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Perfect Picture Book Friday – Cock-a-Doodle Oops! PLUS A Giveaway!!!

Thank goodness it’s Friday!

I’ve been waiting for MONTHS to share this book with you (because I was lucky enough to get an advance copy), and it’s finally officially out, so I can finally post it for Perfect Picture Book Friday!

Not only that, but I have a signed copy to give away to one lucky commenter!  All you have to do is bake me cookies er tell me and Lori which farm animal you are and why in the comments 🙂

I, for example, would be the horse because I am beautiful and graceful and I can run like the wind…

*snort*

Yeah, I didn’t think anyone would buy that 🙂  I can’t even sell it to myself 🙂  But I do really love horses – that should count for something!

If it’s too hard to think of yourself as a farm animal on Friday morning at the end of a long week, you can just tell us who you’d like the book for.  That will be less sporting and some people might judge you for wimping out, but not me!  Nosirreebob!  I will not think any less of you if you don’t have the gumption to declare to the world that you belong in the donkey shed!

Title: Cock-a-Doodle Oops!
Written By: Lori Degman
Illustrated By: Deborah Zemke
Creston Books, May 2014, Fiction

Suitable For Ages: 3-8

Themes/Topics: friendship, helping others, jobs, animals (farm)

Opening: “Farmer McPeeper was such a deep sleeper;
not even an earthquake could shake him.
A poke or a pinch wouldn’t budge him an inch,
’cause only his rooster could wake him.”

Brief Synopsis: Poor Rooster!  He’s tired of getting up so early every morning!  What he needs is a vacation.  Leaving the other animals in charge, Rooster heads for the beach.  Animal after animal tries their best, but no one can wake Farmer McPeeper.  Rooster’s return is greeted with relief, but he’s caught a cold.  How will they ever get the sleepy Farmer up now?

Links To Resources: Teacher’s Guide to Cock-A-Doodle Oops,  Farm animal coloring pages, classroom activities to learn about volunteers, emergency animal rescue, what do I want to be when I grow up, workers and the work they do.  Talk about jobs kids are familiar with and what kind of skills are necessary to do those jobs, or what personality traits would be helpful.  Talk about friendship and what kinds of things friends might do for each other.  Enjoy the YouTube video where Marissa Moss reads the story aloud HERE.

Why I Like This Book:  This book is fun from start to finish!  The rhyme is expertly written, catchy, and fun to read aloud.  The attempts of the various animals to wake the sleeping farmer are hilarious, and kids will enjoy calling out the different crows – cock-a-doodle moo, cock-a-doodle baa, etc.  The illustrations are bright and colorful and a perfect match for the story.  When Rooster returns from his vacation with a cold, the animals have to come up with an inventive solution to get the farmer out of bed.  When at last the farmer is up, he delivers a surprise ending that is clever and funny… but I can’t say what it is here because that would be telling 🙂  Just mosey on out and get yourself a copy.  You won’t be sorry.  It’s delightful 🙂

For the complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books.

Lori and I were going to do a little interview or something to go along with this post, but it appears we didn’t quite get our act together in time.  I don’t know how that happened.  I am the epitome of organization.  Ask anyone.  And please ignore the rapidly increasing length of my nose 🙂

So anyway, at the very least, here’s Lori 🙂

Lori Degman is a teacher of Deaf/Hard of Hearing students by day and a writer of picture books by night, weekend and school holiday. She lives in a northern suburb of Chicago with her husband and two dogs. Her debut picture book, 1 Zany Zoo was the winner of the Cheerios New Author Contest and a mini version was distributed inside 2.2 million boxes of Cheerios. The hardcover was published by Simon & Schuster in 2010. Ms. Degman’s second picture book, Cock-a-Doodle Oops! was released by Creston Books on May 13th.

You can also see a wonderful interview with her over at Laura Sassi’s HERE, another review of Cock-A-Doodle Oops at Sue Morris’s HERE, and another terrific interview at Carrie Brown’s HERE.

Now then, my little chickens, get thee to the comments and tell us which farm animal you are and why (or just tell us who you’d like the book for), and one lucky commenter will get a signed copy of this fabulous book!

OR…

Ooh!  How ’bout this?

If you REALLY want to impress us, you can write your own crowing line!  Examples from Lori’s book are:
Her cock-a-doodle-cluck didn’t have any pluck
His cock-a-doodle-bleeeeat just couldn’t compete
Her cock-a-doodle-whoooooooo just didn’t ring true
What kind of rhyming crow can you think up for the farmyard animal of your choice??? 🙂

Please leave your comment by Sunday May 18 at 5 PM EDT and then random.org will choose the winner and I will announce it on Monday.

PPBF bloggers, please leave your post-specific link in the list below so we can all come visit you and see what treasures you have to share this week!

Have a lovely weekend, everyone!!! 🙂

Some Alligator Fun And A Contest Rule and Prize Update!!

Happy Monday, Everyone!
**Warning!**
I have made up a poem!
(Yes, I realize I’m playing it fast and loose with the term “poem” :))
(And yes, I have a reason for this gross departure from sanity.  I didn’t just go off the deep end :))
Anyone whose sensibilities may be injured by my attempt at poetry should leave immediately!
Those of you who are brave enough to stay, prepare yourselves.
You may need some cake to fortify you.
Alligator cake by Courtney
Are you ready?
Here we go:
Boy’s Best Friend
Daddy said, “A boy like you
Should really have a dog.
A parrot, an iguana, or a happy, hoppy frog.”
I answered, “Thank you, Daddy, but on this my heart is set.
I want an alligator for my one and only pet!”
Thank you.  Thank you very much 🙂
Now.  About that reason.  The lovely and talented Catherine Johnson, author of Weirdo Zoo (buy your copy HERE), has a new book out!
It’s called The Everglades (hence the alligator themed “poem”) and she describes it as a collection of poetry for children who are old enough not to mind the odd arm hanging out of an alligator’s mouth 🙂  Seriously.  How can you resist that? 🙂  She says, “Half the poems are serene, and half are snorty.”  And she drew the illustrations herself!!  Such talent!!
She is celebrating on her blog HERE and running a giveaway, so scuttle on over as fast as your little alligator legs allow and join in the fun!
Should you happen not to be lucky enough to win a copy, you may buy one HERE!
Now, before you all go marching off to your magnificent Mondays, I’d like to clarify a couple things about the March Madness Writing Contest.
You will recall the contest guidelines:
The ContestWrite a children’s story, in poetry or prosemaximum 400 words, that is a fractured fairy tale.  Feel free to add a theme of spring, or mix in one of the spring holidays if you like – St. Patrick’s Day, April Fools Day, Easter or Passover, Arbor Day, Earth Day…  Have fun with it !  The madder* the better! 🙂
*as in wild and wacky, not angry 🙂
I want to clarify three things (because a few people have asked.)
1.  You do not have to include spring – that is optional.
2. The story can be a picture book or a short story – whatever you like.
3. If it’s a picture book, you may NOT include art notes, because we get into a weird area of whether that’s fair in terms of word count and added description etc.  So if you write a picture book that’s wonderful, but make sure art notes aren’t necessary to understand it.
The other thing I want to add is a full description of the prizes!!!  (So you’ll all be very motivated to think up stories! :))
 – 1st Prize is a read and critique by Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary!!! (Unless for some reason you don’t want a read and critique by an agent, in which case you may swap for any of the other prizes)
 – 2nd Prize is a picture book manuscript critique (for rhyming mss only) by Lori Degman, author of 1 ZANY ZOO and the forthcoming COCK-A-DOODLE-OOPS! OR a picture book manuscript critique (for non-rhyming mss only) by Cori Doerrfeld, author/illustrator of LITTLE BUNNY FOO FOO and PENNY LOVES PINK as well as illustrator of many others.
 – 3rd Prize is personalized signed copies of THE THREE NINJA PIGS and GOLDI ROCKS & THE THREE BEARS by Corey Rosen Schwartz PLUS a $25 Amazon Gift Card
 – 4th and 5th Prizes are your choice of any two of the following picture books PLUS a $20 Amazon Gift Card:
     – THE THREE LITTLE WOLVES AND THE BIG BAD PIG by Eugene Trivizas
     – CINDY ELLEN: A WILD WESTERN CINDERELLA by Susan Lowell
     – LITTLE RED WRITING by Joan Holub
     – THE THREE LITTLE PIGS AND THE SOMEWHAT BAD WOLF by Mark Teague
     – THE PRINCESS AND THE PEAS by Caryl Hart
     – THE WOLF’S STORY: WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD by Toby Forward
     – GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE DINOSAURS by Mo Willems

And don’t forget, all you illustrators out there, we’re going to have an illustrator contest immediately following the writing contest!  (Details coming soon… :))

Now then!  I hope that fills you with inspiration and fuels the muse!
Have a marvelous Monday, everyone!! 🙂

Meet Marie Harris – Author of The Girl Who Heard Colors PLUS A Giveaway!!!

Happy Monday, Folks!

Before I forget, let me quickly mention that I’m visiting my friend Debby Lytton’s MG writer blog today and I would love it if anyone wanted to go visit.  She is a very talented author and her book JANE IN BLOOM is not to be missed!  SO good!  The link is HERE.

Now then.  To stave off the Olympic withdrawal that I know you’re all feeling, I have such a treat for you today!  First we get to talk with accomplished author Marie Harris, and afterwards one lucky person will have a chance to win a signed copy of her newest picture book, THE GIRL WHO HEARD COLORS!

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

First, allow me to introduce Marie:

Marie Harris, author and poet

Marie Harris was NH Poet Laureate from 1999-2004 when she wrote her first children’s book:
G is for GRANITE: A New Hampshire Alphabet (Sleeping Bear Press). She lives in the woods with her photographer husband, Charter Weeks, and together they run a marketing business.  She loves birding, sailing, and swimming in the Isinglass River.

Marie is also the author of PRIMARY NUMBERS: A New Hampshire Numbers Book (Sleeping Bear Press) as well as several books of poetry for older readers: RAW HONEY (Alice James Books), INTERSTATE (Slow Loris Press), and WEASEL IN THE TURKEY PEN (Hanging Loose Press).  Her website is www.marieharris.com

SH: Welcome, Marie!  Thank you so very much for joining us today.  I recently had the pleasure of reading THE GIRL WHO HEARD COLORS (Nancy Paulsen Books, an imprint of Penguin Books, 2013).  The book addresses an unusual subject: synesthesia.  I wondered what inspired you to write a picture book about it?

MH:  When I went in search of a new story to write, I “consulted” my own picture book—G is for GRANITE: A NH Alphabet Book—for ideas. I was looking for a New Hampshire woman who had not gotten the attention she deserved…at least not lately. I looked at the list on the “H” page (featuring Sarah Josepha Hale, the first editor of a women’s magazine in America) and discovered I’d mentioned in passing Amy Beach, America’s first female composer. So I set about learning everything I could about her. This turned out to be surprisingly easy, since the Beach archives are housed at the University of New Hampshire, a few miles from my home, and there are many recent recordings of her wonderful music. I fell in love! And I set about writing a novel for young readers with Amy as a character.

My agent sent out the first chapters and I was contacted by Nancy Paulsen at Penguin who, though not interested in the novel, was charmed that Amy had a wonderful “special sense” called synesthesia. (Her parents seemed to take their daughter’s sound-color sense in stride, much as they did her gift of perfect pitch.) She felt that this subject would make a fine picture book. I agreed, but asked if I could change the protagonist to a contemporary little girl and give her a few difficulties that Amy Beach didn’t have. And that’s how I came to write THE GIRL WHO HEARD COLORS.

SH:  Can you tell us a little bit about synesthesia?

MH:  Synesthesia is quite a special gift to possess. Nonetheless, it does qualify as something that makes a person “different,” and that’s sometimes uncomfortable. My little girl, Jillian (named after the first synesthete I met when she was in 4th grade), discovers that telling people that she “hears colors” causes her playmates to make fun of her and grownups to worry. However, she also discovers that talking about her special extra sense can result in a happy outcome.

As I visit classrooms as writer-in-residence or visiting writer, I have been astounded at the number of children who have an immediate answer to my casual question: ”What color is seven?” (Of course most kids look at me as if I’m a bit odd.) And once we agree that the student does, in fact, experience the “mixing” of senses (seeing letters and numbers in color, experiencing colors, and even tastes, with sounds) she can usually describe her gift in great detail. And she’s usually pleasantly surprised at how interested her classmates are at this surprising bit of information.

I’ve become fascinated with the phenomenon, and so ask individuals (adults) and kids (usually in classrooms) a simple question or two that prompts a synesthete to reveal her/his gift. Someting to the effect of: What color is eight? or What do you see when you hear rock music?  or  Does anyone taste something when they hear a sound?  And here are some responses…
(from my ten-year-old pen pal in England)  One of my teacher’s voices tastes like raspberries and tea; but another’s voice tastes like spoiled cheesecake.
(from the ‘real’ Jillian)  Classical music is blue. Country music is olive green, and I hate country music and I hate olive green!
(from an 8th grader)  All my letters are in color. When I read, each sentence becomes a single color, then the paragraph does too, then the whole book ends up being a certain color. When I’m reading and my mind wanders, all the letters turn to black. When I start paying attention again, the colored letters reappear.
(from a 5th grader) Your voice is deep green with bubbles and sparkles.
(from an older woman who came to a library presentation) The other day, as I was slicing beautiful green and yellow and red bell peppers, I said to my husband: Can you hear those colors? He looked at me strangely. I think I’ll stop saying those things out loud!

SH:  Do you do school visits?  What do they involve?

MH:  Because I work with students from K-12, I tailor my presentations accordingly.

With the very youngest kids, I read my book (s) leaving lots of time for the fantastic free-association offerings & questions that the words and pictures evoke. I try to give the teachers a few “ways into” the text and ideas as to how to pursue some of the ideas presented in the story.
Once students are reading and writing and talking more or less fluently, my visits take several shapes. I talk about how I came to writing. I tell stories about how the book(s) morphed from my notebooks to print, with lots of digressions and stories about the illustrators, the mistakes I made, the surprises I encountered, the things I learned.
With high school students, I work with their teachers to complement whatever projects they’re involved in.
Often (depending on what the school wants and the time frames) I create writing projects with students at all levels.
What I try never to get enmeshed in are presentations to large groups in auditoriums. I explain to principals (who, understandably, want every kid in their school to be “exposed” to the visiting artist) that I’m not a puppet show or a string band. I feel I’m at my best (as are the kids) when we’re working with me in relatively small groups with lots of opportunities for conversation.
All that said, I’m flexible and will work with every school to create a program that best fits their needs.
(Teachers, or parents who are active in their PTAs, Marie is available for school visits and you can contact her via her website or by email at marie[at]marieharris[dot]com.  Though she has yet to do a Skype visit, she is open to the possibility!)

SH:  What do you hope to accomplish with this wonderful book?

MH:  Jillian has one of a range of types of synesthesia. I hope that her story prompts parents and teachers to learn more about the phenomenon and to celebrate this and all the fascinating differences among their children.

SH:  Thank you so much for coming to chat with us today, Marie.  It’s been such a pleasure!

Marie was kind enough to offer a signed copy of THE GIRL WHO HEEARD COLORS as a giveaway.  All you have to do to qualify is leave a comment below.  We would love to hear about any experience you’ve had with synesthesia, either because you have it yourself, know someone who does, or have met someone with this unusual perception along your life travels.  If you have no experience with synesthesia, you can tell us about any other unusual perception traits you’ve encountered, or just tell us who you’d like the book for (and yourself is a perfectly good answer :))  Please leave your comment by Thursday February 27 at 5 PM EST.  A winner will be chosen by random.org and announced after Perfect Picture Books on Friday (where I will be sharing THE GIRL WHO HEARD COLORS :))

I have no experience with synesthesia, but I do have experience with unusual vision.  I have bilateral “wandering” eyes (which means both eyes can stop focusing and “wander”, though 9 times out of 10 it’s the left one that does because it’s significantly weaker) in addition to rotary nystagmus (rapid, uncontrollable spinning of the eye) with the result that I am rarely able to focus both eyes at the same time and have very poor depth perception.  Ask anyone in my family – they will tell you how often I overflow cups thinking there’s more room before the top, and fall up or down stairs because I misjudge the distance.  But don’t worry – I might look a little funny, but I’ve learned to compensate pretty well most of the time and am able to drive a car and jump horses 🙂  What’s a little spilled coffee between friends? 🙂

So, please share your stories and/or who you’d like to win the book for!  And if you have any questions for Marie, ask away.  She will be traveling this week, but I’m sure we can prevail upon her to answer any burning questions when she returns 🙂

As an added bonus, Marie is also visiting Tina Cho and Laura Sassi today, with advice for writers at Tina’s and her “unlikely” story of how she became a children’s writer at Laura’s, so please hop over and see what she has to say on their blogs!  Tina also has a giveaway of the book!

Have a marvelous Monday everyone!!!  And please visit Debby’s blog if you have a minute – she would love to meet you all!

Perfect Picture Book Friday – The Little Dog In The Middle Of The Road PLUS An Author Interview & Giveaway!!!

Whoopee!  It’s Perfect Picture Book Friday!

I had a couple holiday books I was thinking of sharing… but then I couldn’t decide which one to pick because this will likely be the only PPBF in December (unless you all clamor for PPBF on Dec. 20… if you want to do PPBF on Dec. 20 clamor loudly in the comments!)

And then I had the good fortune to read this book, and it was so sweet I had to share it because you will likely all want to go out and buy it as a holiday gift for someone in your circle of family and friends!  (That is a hint :))  (This is a LINK :))  So instead of a book about the holidays you’re getting a book you can give for the holidays 🙂

For extra special fun today, below the PPBF post we have a little Q&A with the author, Sharon Stanley, and a giveaway!!! so somebody will WIN a signed copy – lucky dog 🙂 – and a cute handmade toy!)

But first, here’s the book!

Title: The Little Dog In The Middle Of The Road
Written By: Sharon P. Stanley
Illustrated By: Deidre Carr
Silver Tongue Press, November 3, 2013, Fiction

Suitable For Ages: 4-8

Themes/Topics: animals, emotion (sadness, feeling abandoned, determination, joy), love, pets, problem solving

Opening: “Once there was a little dog that lived in a pleasant house with a pleasant person on a pleasant street.
“I will be taking a trip,” said the little dog’s person one morning, “and you will stay here while I’m gone.  Mrs. Thistleberry will come and give you your supper.  You must not leave the yard.  When I return, I will bring you a juicy bone.”
And so it was.

Brief Synopsis:  Little Dog’s person is going away, so Little Dog is left in the care of Mrs. Thistleberry who neither likes nor understands him.  Longing for his person, he disobeys instructions and sets out to find her.

Links To Resources: check out these fun things kids can do to help shelter pets and give some of them a try ASPCA; 10 Ways Kids Can Help Animal Shelters; dog coloring pages; talk with your child or class about how to take good care of pets; draw a picture of a happy dog or a sad dog or an angry dog – tell or write a story about why the dog feels that way; if you have a dog (or want to donate to a shelter) bake dog biscuits recipe here!

Why I Like This Book: Well, you all know I love dogs 🙂 so I was an easy mark, but this story is so sweet even a non-dog-lover will enjoy it.  Little Dog is quirky and cute and brave and determined.  The story is beautifully written to evoke Little Dog’s emotions – young readers will feel his sadness over missing his person, his determination to find her, his worry that he’ll never see her again, and (spoiler alert!) his joy when they are reunited.  The art is just right for the story and includes the delightful detail of an ant pushing an olive for kids to find on every page (which Sharon will explain below in the interview.)  And it is based on a true story!  For anyone who has ever been left with a babysitter they don’t like, or who has ever worried about whether someone they love will return, this is a warm, reassuring story.

For the complete list of books with resources, please visit Perfect Picture Books.

And now, for a little treat, please meet Sharon Stanley!

Sharon P. Stanley


SLH: Thank you so much for joining us today, Sharon!  Can you tell us a little about yourself?


SPS: I’m Sharon P Stanley and I write picture books.  I live with 5 chickens, 4 dogs, 3 cats, 2 sons, and one husband (and a partridge in a pear tree) and a couple hundred cows at White Oak Farm, a working farm in rural Virginia.  It’s a crop circle of craziness that affords me a never-ending supply of writing material.  Although I had always toyed with writing, I got serious after my youngest graduated high school two years ago.  The Little Dog in the Middle of the Road is my first published picture book in print.

(You can visit Sharon at her website: http://sharonpstanley.weebly.com and “like” her on FB HERE.)
SLH: What was the inspiration for Little Dog?

SPS: My niece found a tiny little black dog sitting calmly in the middle of the road one afternoon.  Worried, she carried him home and placed him in the garage leaving a small crack in the door.  The next morning when she left for work, there was the little dog once again sitting calmly in the middle of the road.  She was able to find his owner, but I couldn’t get that picture out of my mind…it seemed strange for such a little dog to just sit trustingly and calmly in the middle of a busy road, almost as if he knew if he sat there, his person would somehow find him.  I had to fill in a few blanks, but the story wrote itself.

The real Olive

Coincidently, I was looking for a puppy and right after that, bought Olive who looks very much like Little Dog in my story.  When Deidre Carr the illustrator heard this, she added the little ant with the “olive” as a little secret tribute to my own little dog.  Very clever!  I’m finding little ones seem to love looking for the little olive in the book as they read it.
SLH:  Tell us about your road to publication!

SPS:  When I decided to work towards having my book published, I joined SCBWI and an online writing group.  I found an editor to review my story and made lots of tweaks and changes over a period of time.  When I felt I had something worth reading, I researched and submitted to several small publishers and one agent.  I was rejected by the pubs, but the agent was very helpful.  We wrote back and forth several times and though she was not interested in the book, she gave me great feedback, and complimented my “voice,” which she thought was a bit unique.  I can’t begin to say just how much this helped me.  I wasn’t at all sure I had a voice as I don’t have a writing background or education.  She gave me confidence to continue submitting.  I heard through a writing group there was a small new publisher interested in children’s books, so I submitted.   Needless to say I was thrilled when they sent a contract!  It’s been a wonderful learning experience.

She’s serious about the cows, folks 🙂


SLH: What’s next for you?

SPS: I am so excited to have contracts with another small publisher, Guardian Angel Publishing, for more picture books.  I seem to gravitate toward animal stories (!) and also have a book of children’s haiku coming out.  I hope to write and write and write till the cows come home.   Right now, Little Dog and I are having a ball promoting his book.
SLH: Do you have any Words of Wisdom for other writers?

SPS: Ha!  I’m not a good one to offer advice to anyone as I seem to do things a bit differently from “real writers.”   When I get an idea, I write.  Otherwise, it seems flat to me.  I have found that the books I have found homes for, took on a life of their own.  It’s as if they knew what they needed to be, and I tried not to get in the way.  For instance, I had a story idea about a donkey, but when the book was finished it was about a rabbit…not a donkey in site.   I don’t even know where it came from, suddenly there was just this little rabbit asking to have her story told.  I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to write.  I think you have to find your voice in whatever way works best for you.   When I started writing I set goals and then assigned methods to each goal so I had a real plan.  I followed it closely and it worked for me.
I knew I wanted to find a small publisher.   I like small.  I think it’s really important to be true to what feels right to you.  For some, that’s finding an agent, submitting to a large publisher, or taking classes. For others, it’s attending conferences, self-publishing or joining a critique group. 
Working with an editor before submitting is extremely helpful to me.  I read several writing blogs and find that more experienced writers are happy to share ideas and advice.  I read everything out loud, over and over, and  I always have notebook with me in case I get an idea.
Lastly, I suggest anyone considering publication read Mem Fox’s hints for writers on her website, and take each and every suggestion to heart.  I have her site bookmarked for that very reason.
An Idea:
One thing Little Dog and I are really excited about is partnering with a local nursery school for their Book Night.  We will be signing books, playing games, and enjoying doggie crafts and snacks in January, and we decided to invite each child to bring a can/bag of dog food for a local dog rescue group in our town.  B.A.R.K. will be there to receive our donations and hopefully our local newspaper will cover the story.  I’ll also donate a portion of book sale proceeds to the nursery school, so it should be a win, win, win situation!    

Thanks so much Susanna for the opportunity to share Little Dog’s publication journey with everyone (including Phyllis!) here on your blog.  There really is “something for everyone in the world of children’s books!”

Thank YOU so much for taking the time to join us, Sharon!

For those of you who might be interested, you can purchase Sharon’s book HERE.  And here’s the book trailer 🙂

And now, we have a lovely gift!  Sharon has generously donated a signed copy of her book for a giveaway as well as a little handmade toy of Little Dog!

All you have to do to be entered to win is leave a comment below!  We would love it if you have any dog stories to share… but realize not everyone has dogs… 🙂  so feel free to substitute the pet of your choice, or just tell us who you’d like the book for (and it’s fine if you say yourself :))

PPBF bloggers, please leave your post-specific link in the list below so we can all come visit you!

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone! 🙂

Meet Mike Allegra! – Author of Sarah Gives Thanks PLUS A Giveaway!!!

Happy Monday, Everyone, and welcome to another fun-filled week!

Seeing as I’m here, I’m sure you’ve all surmised that I survived the Young Writers’ Workshop yesterday.  Just goes to show that apparently you CAN teach an old dog new tricks 🙂  The first graders and I had a pretty good time learning how to make up characters… including a giant flying egg salad sandwich who goes by the name of Bob 🙂

Today I have a treat for you!

An interview with Mike Allegra himself!

And a giveaway of his fantastic book, SARAH GIVES THANKS!  (Which, if you’re not familiar with, you can read a great PPBF review from Stacy Jensen HERE!)

Oh.

You thought I meant a treat treat?  Okay fine.  How ’bout waffles in honor of Mike, who has a fabulous feature called Waffles With Writers!  Let’s pick something healthful and nutritious to start our week off right….

A little chocolate ice cream never did a waffle any harm 🙂  YUM!

And speaking of waffles (probably with our mouths full of them) that is a perfect segue into our interview with Mike, who kindly answered all my questions except the ones that would have landed him in Witness Protection.

SH:  Thanks so much for joining us this morning, Mike!  Let’s start with what I would really have to call the most crucial question on today’s agenda: What is your favorite way to eat waffles?

MA:  That is a crucial question, Susanna. I thank you for asking it.

My answer is: It depends. If the waffles are frozen, I like to use them as the bread for a toasty peanut butter and raspberry jelly sandwich. This turns out to be an excellent breakfast on days when I’m too sleepy to operate anything more complicated than a toaster. (Such a meal isn’t complete, by the way, unless it is accompanied by two ginormous mugfuls of Sumatra coffee.)

If I have more time on my hands to make the batter and pull out the waffle iron, my tastes change. All I need is a little pat of butter and some pure maple syrup and I’m good to go. It’s Heaven on a plate.

SH:  What was the inspiration for your book, SARAH GIVES THANKS?

MA:  I didn’t get inspired until later in the process. In the beginning, I was leaping at an opportunity. Over the years I had managed to cultivate a chatty relationship with an editor at Albert Whitman and Company. The editor had yet to give me a contract, but she liked my writing enough to give me the occasional lead. So one day she called me up and said, “We’re on the lookout for a Thanksgiving story. Do you have a Thanksgiving story?”

“Yes, I do!” I announced, eager to get my foot in the door. “Give me a couple of weeks to revise it and I’ll send it to you!”

Well, that was a little fib. I didn’t have a Thanksgiving story. So I had to come up with something fast to turn my little lie into a belated truth.

That was when I stumbled upon the story about how Sarah Hale led a 36-year grassroots effort to turn Thanksgiving into a national holiday. I immediately fell in love with Sarah’s story and researched as much as I could in the couple of weeks I had allotted for myself. I banged out a manuscript and sent it off. The draft wasn’t great, but it was good enough to make my earlier lie seem sort of plausible.

Thank goodness the editor liked it enough to ask for a rewrite. I was delighted; I now had time to conduct proper research!

SH:  A nonfiction picture book such as this one must have required quite a lot of research.  Can you describe your research process bearing in mind that some of us attended college in the last millennium and are extremely rusty and/or never learned proper research techniques?  

MA:  I did do a lot of research on Sarah. The first thing I did was buy books about her, including an excellent (out of print) book from the 1930s titled The Lady of Godey’s by Ruth Finely. The bulk of my research, however, was done at The Library Company, an archive in Philadelphia that had an incredible collection of Sarah’s writings. I found tons of information there that ended up in my story – information that no other author had used before.

The more I learned about Sarah, the more geeked out I became. Sarah Hale is one impressive person. Not only did she lead the campaign to turn Thanksgiving into a national holiday, but she also was the first female magazine editor in America. She was one of the first female novelists in America – and the veryfirst to condemn slavery in a novel. (Take that, Harriet Beecher Stowe!) She was a tireless advocate for women’s education. She led huge fundraising drives to turn Bunker Hill and Mount Vernon into national landmarks. She even wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb!” And she was influential – sort of the Oprah of her day. When she said something, America listened.

SH:  What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow? Do you have research or topic selection tips for nonfiction PB writers just getting started?

MA: Use the internet, but never trust it. If you look something up on Wikipedia, for example, be sure focus your efforts on the article’s sources. Then find those sources and read them yourself. Always check your facts. Then double check them. I discovered errors in just about Sarah Hale book out there – which, I must admit, made me feel rather smug and superior.

As for your first question, it depends on whether it is an African or European swallow. 

SH:  Was SARAH accepted by the first house you sent her to?  Tell us about your path to publication…

MA:  SARAH was accepted by Albert Whitman, which was the first and only house I sent it to. But the path to publication didn’t seem all that certain. After I submitted my revised draft, the publishing house didn’t communicate with me for a number of months. Things move slowly in publishing – but this felt too slow. I sensed there was a problem.

Eventually I contacted my editor who, rather candidly explained that Albert Whitman was having reservations about publishing SARAH GIVE THANKS. The editors had just discovered that Laurie Halse Anderson had already written a picture book about Sarah Hale titled THANK YOU, SARAH! The book was 10 years old, but it was still in print and still selling rather well. Albert Whitman seemed reluctant to go head-to-head with a more established author and a bigger publishing house. Even though the Albert Whitman editors had not read THANK YOU, SARAH!, they feared my book was too similar to Anderson’s to get a toehold in the marketplace.

Well, I can’t remember the last time I felt so frustrated. I worked so hard on this story. I wanted it to happen soooo badly.

So I went out and bought Anderson’s book; read it about a million times; made notes; and sent out a long, impassioned email to my editor detailing the many, many ways in which the two books were different. (And they were very different.) I then announced that Sarah Hale was awesome enough to deservetwo books (the presumptuous subtext being that Sarah Hale was awesome enough to deserve my book).

I was professional and respectful, but I let it all hang out there. This was my desperate, Sarah Hail Mary Pass.

Long story short, my editor seemed impressed by the email and took my talking points into the next AW&Co. editorial meeting. Shortly thereafter, they gave me a contract.

I then danced a jig.

SH:  In an attempt to encourage your 3 yr. old son to read, you wrote him notes sealed in envelopes with his name and address and a hand drawn stamp.  Phyllis believes (strongly!) that she is stamp-worthy and this interview will not be allowed to continue until she gets one.  (She is very stubborn, so please humor her!)

MA:  Well, we can’t have that! Whatever Phyllis wants Phyllis gets.
Isn’t this awesome???!!!  I have had it in my hot little hands for weeks
and have just been dying to show it off!  And now finally I can 🙂
Don’t you love it?  Admit you love it!  Mike is such a talented artist!
SH:  Are you agented?  (Why or why not?)

MA:  I am not agented. The reason is because I haven’t yet found an agent interested in representing me. But I will keep plugging away. Such is the writer’s life, eh?

SH:  What kinds of things have you done for marketing/publicity? Which have worked well for you?  Which would you recommend the rest of us not attempt ever if we wish to retain our financial viability and/or sanity and/or self-respect?

MA:  When SARAH GIVES THANKS came out last year, I agreed to do anything and everything anyone asked of me. Some things worked a lot better than others.

The bookstore and library appearances were sparsely attended. I didn’t mind that much because I like hanging with bookstore managers and librarians, but those appearances didn’t do much for sales.

I prefer school appearances. I love to feed off of that marvelous gerbil-in-an-exercise-wheel energy that only a classroom full of kids can provide. And, if the event is put together by the PTO, the school will often pre-sell my book and pay me for my time. So it’s a win-win.

But I really attribute my book’s brisk sales to blog interviews. They got the word out in a big, big way. In other words, I’m very, very grateful for this opportunity, Susanna.
(Aw shucks, Mike, you’re very, very welcome!)

SH:  You are the founder of H.A.C.K.S. (Humans Against Celebrity Kid Stories!)  Can you tell us a little about what led you to create this important organization and what you hope to accomplish with it?

MA:  I thank you for posing this important question. (You are just full of important questions today!)

The world needs HACKS, Susanna, because most celebrity-written books are across-the-board poopy. There are exceptions, of course; Jamie Lee Curtis, for one, keeps me from speaking in absolutes. In most other cases, however, poopy works just fine.

Unfortunately, unoriginal, didactic, awkwardly-rhymed nonsense sells very, very well once you put a celebrity’s name on the cover. A lot of book buyers see this name and think, “Ooh! I like this person!” And in the basket it goes.

This buying reflex creates a couple of problems, I think. First, it exposes kids to lousy, unimaginative writing. That, in my view, should be a crime—or at least a misdemeanor.

Second, bad writing by celebrity non-writers encourages non-celebrity non-writers to announce, “Hey, I can do that, too! I’m gonna write a book just like my favorite children’s book author, Madonna!” And so bad writing begets more bad writing.

My little movement is a way to say to the world, “Hey, let’s make this publishing thing a meritocracy. Let’s promote the good stuff written by unknowns. Let the kids out there see what a really good story looks like.”


I also created HACKS because I thought it would be good for a few laughs. So far so good!

(Those of you who are interested in learning more, or perhaps joining H.A.C.K.S, hop on over here:  http://mikeallegra.com/h-a-c-k-s-faqs/ and/or http://mikeallegra.com/join-h-a-c-k-s/)

SH:  Can you tell us anything about your current WIPs?  What’s next for Mike Allegra?

MA:  I’m writing a YA book about zombies, which is about as far away from SARAH GIVES THANKS as one can possibly go. I have no idea if I’ll be able to sell such a book anywhere – the whole zombie thing has just about played itself out – but I’m having fun. And, as The Cat in the Hat once said, “It’s fun to have fun.”

And when I’m not writing, I’m sending out PB manuscripts with my fingers crossed.


And a few for fun:

Plotter or pantser? 

Both. A blogger – whose name I unfortunately forget – coined the term “planster.” That about sums it up for me. 

Laptop or desktop?

Desktop.

Mac or PC?

Mac.

Day or night worker?

I prefer afternoons, but whenever I can carve out time, I’ll write.

Coffee or tea?

Coffee – but not while I’m writing. When I write I stick to water.

I’ve tried drinking hard cider while writing and the results were interesting. Not good, but interesting.

Snack or not?

Not. I can’t write with a snack nearby. It’s too distracting.

Salty or sweet?

Sweet. Donuts, white chocolate, and ice cream are preferred.

Quiet or music?

Quiet.

Cat or dog?

Goat.

Currently reading?

Travels with Charley. And, once again, I am reminded why Steinbeck is my favorite author.

Golly, that was fun!  Isn’t Mike fun?  I hope you all enjoyed that as much as I did!  Thank you so much, Mike, for joining us here today!

If y’all have any questions for Mike, I’m pretty sure he can be prevailed upon to answer them in the comments so fire away! 🙂

Those of you who don’t already know Mike can find him on the web in the following places:

And now, as promised, we have a copy of SARAH GIVES THANKS to give away!  All you have to do is leave us a comment by Wednesday or so and we will randomly select a winner.  What we’d really like to hear is your most entertaining Thanksgiving story.  But if that’s too much work on a Monday morning, you can just tell us something you’re thankful for.

I will get the ball rolling by saying that when I was 6 we got 14 inches of snow on Thanksgiving which was pretty much fun.  Some kids might have built a snowman, or made snow angels.  But not us.  What better way to enjoy the gift of snow, we said to each other, than to go tobogganing down our very steep driveway?  It might have been okay but for a small error in judgment… We forgot to account for the sharp curve…  Alas, our combined weight wasn’t enough to turn the toboggan so we shot off the driveway, over a stone wall, through a dormant (but still prickly) blackberry bush and straight into a very sturdy oak tree.  There was only a little blood (all of it mine) and no trips to the Emergency Room were required so it was all good.  But we were not fast learners, so after dinner we tried it again… 🙂  As for what I’m thankful for, I’m thankful that all of you come to visit and read and comment and put up with my ridiculous stories about crashing toboggans and my addiction to chocolate 🙂

Have a marvelous Monday, everyone! 🙂

Would You Read It #105 – The Superhero Rejects (MG) PLUS The August Pitch Pick!

Good Wednesday, Everyone!

First off, I have to apologize for not posting the winner of Friday’s book giveaway on Monday as I promised.  Monday’s post was all about Erik and his new book, and I didn’t want to steal any of his thunder. (Also, that post was WAY long enough already and I was afraid you might doze off and not fully appreciate the news :))

So, that being explained, I would like to announce the winner NOW.  Are you ready?

The winner (as randomly chosen by random.org) of Iza Trapani’s brand new, hot-off-the-presses, beautiful, fabulous Little Miss Muffet which shall be personally signed by Iza is:

Sue Heavenrich!!!!!

Congratulations, Sue!!!  Please email me so we can organize Iza signing and mailing you the book!  And thanks to everyone for reading about Iza’s wonderful book, bravely sharing your fears, writing some pretty amazing Muffet verses, and just generally joining in the fun!

Now, before we go any further, I realize many of you are fainting from lack of proper nutrition, so let’s get right to Something Chocolate, shall we?  There’s a nip in the air this morning, so I’m in the mood for a lovely mug of hot chocolate.  How does that sound?

Mmmmm!!!  Delish!  In case you were wondering, yes, there are mini marshmallows under the whipped cream 🙂

Now that you’re feeling fortified, let’s give someone a chance to have their pitch read by editor Erin Molta!  It’s time for the August Pitch Pick!

Our 4 wonderful pitches are:

#1 Darshana
Karina The Dancer (PB ages 4-8)

Free-spirited Karina wants to be a dancing star like her older sister. So she signs up for Indian classical dance, but her colorful attire, hip-shaking moves, and improvisations land her in hot water with Guruji, the teacher. Karina learns that to be a star, you just follow your heart, and do what you love.

#2 Lisa
The Golden Egg (PB ages 5-8)

The golden egg that doesn’t hatch creates quite a stir among the feathered friends on the farm. The Eggsperts are called and the Whisperers weigh in. In the end, Mother Hen must decide whether to follow their advice or listen to her heart.

#3 Carrie
The Cartwheel Queen (PB ages 3-6)

Overjoyed with her new-found ability to do a cartwheel, Queen Carina assumes the throne over her backyard kingdom of Cartwheelandia. Cheers and cartwheels explode through the crowd, but stop short with Carina’s heart-broken little brother. Carina makes it her mission to turn her brother’s “I can’t” into the confidence of a Cartwheel King.

#4 Alicia
The Savage Queen (YA)

Roma Whitewood is charged with treason for trying to protect the only family he has ever known as they are murdered before his eyes at the hands of the King’s Royal Army. The country Roma has always called his own, betrays him as his punishment is to be stripped of his citizenship and sent to work in the treacherous labor camps, where he meets Lyra and she opens his eyes to the truths of the world that he had been overlooking his whole life. All of the stories his mother told him as child, that he never even dared to believe, all begin to come true and Roma must face the ultimate decision: be oppressed or join the Uprising with Lyra. There’s more to Lyra than she’s telling him, but Roma can only put his trust in the hands of the girl who had been by his side every moment in the camps. She was going to escape, or die trying, and Roma was going with her, no matter the outcome.

Please choose the one you think is best and most deserving of a read by Erin and cast your vote in the poll below by Sunday September 22 at 5 PM EDT.

Thank you!!!

Today’s pitch comes to us from Wendi.  Wendi Silvano quit teaching in 1994, when her 3rd child was born. She has been writing for children ever since. She writes picture books, emergent and early readers, early chapter books and educational materials. Two of her picture books have won the Children’s Choice Award. She lives in Grand Junction, Colorado. You can visit her website at www.wendisilvano.com. This pitch is for her first MG book.

Working Title: The Superhero Rejects
Age/Genre: Early MG
The Pitch:  Morphus is ashamed that he doesn’t have a normal, exciting superhero skill. All he can do is morph into lame objects like paperclips, rubber bands and light bulbs. And it’s particularly embarrassing when you are the brother of one of the most infamous graduates of ZITS (The Zapdor Institute for the Training of Superheroes). He and the other Superhero Rejects are relegated to practice their pathetic skills in the old gym in the basement when the villainous Scorpius attacks the school and puts everyone into a hypnotic trance… everyone that is, except the Superhero Rejects. Can they save the school and prove they are “real” superheroes too?


So what do you think?  Would You Read It?  YES, MAYBE or NO?

If your answer is YES, please feel free to tell us what you particularly liked and why the pitch piqued your interest.  If your answer is MAYBE or NO, please feel free to tell us what you think could be better in the spirit of helping Wendi improve her pitch.  Helpful examples of possible alternate wordings are welcome.  (However, I must ask that comments be constructive and respectful.  I reserve the right not to publish comments that are mean because that is not what this is about.)
Please send YOUR pitches for the coming weeks!  For rules and where to submit, click on this link Would You Read It or on the Would You Read It tab in the bar above.  There are openings in November so polish up your pitches and send yours for your chance to be read by editor Erin Molta!

Wendi is looking forward to your thoughts on her pitch!  I am looking forward to sharing a very fun book with you on Friday for Perfect Picture Books and also announcing the winner of Erik’s very first published book, The Adventures Of Tomato And Pea, Book 1: A Bad Idea!  If you haven’t had a chance to read his interview and enter to win, there’s still time!  Hop on over HERE.

Have a wonderful Wednesday, everyone!  May the muse be with you 🙂

Meet Erik Weibel – Author of The Adventures Of Tomato And Pea WITH A Giveaway!

Happy Monday, Everyone!

Boy do I have a terrific way to start off your week!

An interview, a giveaway of a personalized signed book!, and a chance to ask questions of the newest author on the block!

Today, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to Erik, writer of the blog ThisKidReviewsBooks.  At age 11 he has just published his first chapter book for middle grade readers, and I have to tell you, I have read work by adults that is not as good as what this young man has written!  He’s in the middle of an extensive blog tour.  I will post the complete list at the bottom, so if you’re interested in reading reviews of the book or entering other giveaways for it, you may follow the links.

But I have the privilege of interviewing Erik so we can get to know him a little and have a glimpse into the mind that created The Adventures Of Tomato And Pea Book 1: A Bad Idea, so fasten your seat belts everyone! 🙂

(Susanna in black, Erik in blue)

      So, Erik, tell us a little about yourself…
I’m 11 ¾ -years-old and in 6th grade. I started reading comic books when I was very young (my mom said around 4). I love books and reading! I write a blog where I review books (ThisKidReviewsBooks.com) and I write a monthly book column for the Upper Bucks Free Press. I have a black belt in Taekwon-Do. I also study Okinawan Karate and Jiu-Jitsu. In my spare time I like to fish and build with Legos. I’d like to be an inventor and a published author when I grow up.
Meet Erik, published author!
When did you decide to become a writer?
I don’t think I ever actually decided to be a writer, it is just something I like to do.  I always liked making up stories. I have notebooks filled with ideas and stories that I made up ever since I could write.
Can you share any of your earlier work?

Well, I’ve always loved superheroes (I STILL love superheroes, but that’s beside the point). Ever since I can remember, I came up with my own superhero characters. I had over 500 superheroes in my head and I wrote about 20 (or so) of them. I constantly was telling my superhero stories to my parents and they got me a journal notebook and convinced me to write the stories down. After I filled the first journal with stories and drawings, they got me another one, and I just kept writing. Here is the opening of a story about one of the first superheroes I made up. I wrote it when I was five. Sorry that there are a ton of typos (but I was five). 🙂
Mountain team beginning
Episode 1     
When Mountain Man was a boy he was called Mountain boy because he liked mountains. He lived with his family on a mountain. He liked to go fishing up in the mountains and swimming up in the mountains. Then one day there was a
TORNADO!
It was a gray tornado but it was made of power not wind. It sucked up …              MOUNTAIN BOY! He changed. Then he was a grown up. He called himself…
MOUNTAIN MAN!  
Inside the tornado he saw his, future of his team. He found out what his powers were. They were, turn into a rock, make mountains, and speed, but still he wasn`t happy, he needed friends. 
This is Erik’s illustration of “Fireball” who was the villain in the Mountain Man story!
I am actually still working on this story but I changed the main character from Mountain Man to a guy named Techno and made a bunch of changes (Mountain Man is still in there, just under a different name and is a minor character with a big temper).
I wrote my first “picture book” in 2nd grade. It’s a collection of folktales from different countries. I interviewed a bunch of people from different countries at my mom’s work (and I got to miss a day of school to do it!). I asked them questions about their home country and what their favorite folk tale from their country was. I made it in Microsoft PowerPoint. My second grade teacher let me do it as an outside project because I wanted to learn how to use PowerPoint. My school liked it so much they posted it on their website. J
Cover of Erik’s 2nd grade book
The part about Norway 🙂
I’m actually using the folktale idea right now to try to make it into an actual picture book. I am also working on the next Tomato and Pea adventure. It will take off from where Book 1 ended.
Has anyone been particularly helpful to you in your writing journey?
I want to thank everyone who helped me in some way, whether they know it or not. My blog followers help with all of their encouragement and constructive criticism. My teachers for helping me be a better writer. My Aunt, for being one of my proof-readers! My Dad, for reading tons of drafts of my book and telling me what he thinks. I thank my Mom, who helps me stay organized and tells me when something I write doesn’t sound right. I won a critique from Julie Hedlund and she pointed out (in a very good way) where my characters were weak. Her comments really helped me make the book better. Author Michelle Isenhoff was very helpful and encouraging too. Mrs. Isenhoff, helped me edit the book. She gave me great lessons on grammar and writing conversation. She also really supported me when I didn’t think I could do another re-write. The whole Kid Lit community has been very nice and helpful to me. Whenever I had a question, someone was always there to answer it! Thank you all!
Your book, The Adventures of Tomato and Pea Book 1: A Bad Idea, features “super crime stopper, Tomato and his sidekick, Pea”.  How did your heroes come to be named after vegetables?  Are tomatoes and peas your favorites?  If you had to describe yourself as a vegetable, which one would you be?
My Uncle Dave (Dave Costella) made me two stuffed toys and told me their names were Tomato and Pea. He named the toys after the color of the material he made them from. Dave challenged me to write a story about the stuffed toys so I did!
Here they are!  The Superheroes, Tomato and Pea!
I like tomatoes and peas, but now, I don’t feel right eating them. That would be cannibalistic.
I think I’m a tall thin asparagus. An asparagus is not usually the first vegetable you think of, but when you do, you think, “Yes, I really like asparagus!”
Your villain is named Wintergreen.  What diabolical qualities of wintergreen prompted this name choice?
After I made my first Tomato and Pea story up (it was only like 500 words long), I showed it to Dave. He liked it and made me more characters including the villain Wintergreen. Dave thought it was funny to name Wintergreen, because he’s actually blue. I thought it was great because the other characters could point that fact out and annoy him. J Wintergreen is pretty cranky because he looks a lot like his arch-enemy Tomato and his color is all wrong.
I’m pretty sure this is what Erik looks like when he’s writing the scenes
with the evil villain, Wintergreen! 🙂
Do you share characteristics with any of your book characters?  If so, which character would you say is the most like you and why?
I think the character I most relate to, is Poppy Cornelius Lobster. I am full of random facts (that usually come at the wrong time). I made Tomato into the hero I would like to be; brave, athletic, and awesome. I am good with computers and figuring out how electronic stuff works so that’s where I got the idea that Pea is good with electronics. Skew loves to cook because I love to cook.  I also want to take over the world just like Wintergreen.
What was the easiest part of writing your book?
The funny parts. I would get “on a roll” when I wrote a funny scene. The words just came out.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Edeting Editeng Editeing Editing.
Also, when I decided to make my story into a stand-alone book that didn’t need any pictures. I had to add many details without overdoing it and boring the reader. It was hard to write down what I was picturing in my head.
Which is your favorite scene/moment in the story?
My favorite is after the bunch crash-lands on EAR-TH and they are looking for somewhere to take shelter. Here it is –
“We are in some sort of book depository,” Tomato observed.
“It’s called a library,” Poppy replied.
“Is this one of those facts that you just know?” Tomato asked.
  Poppy pointed up. “No. The sign says it up there, see? ‘Public Library, Free Wi-Fi.’”
“Oh. Well, this could be very useful,” Tomato said.
The library was humongous. Huge shelves stacked with books with strange titles lined the walls.  “Look, over there,” Tomato whispered pointing to a very large desk. “That female creature must be the commander of this book depository. The minions at their work terminals must be doing something top secret because the commander keeps SHUSHING them and won’t allow them to communicate with each other. I think we should set up camp here. It is very quiet. Most of the giants in this building are too interested in their research to notice us,” Tomato observed.
(See?  I told you he wrote well! :))
To help our readers figure out if they would enjoy your book, are there any books that you could say, if you liked that book, you’ll love The Adventures of Tomato and Pea?
I think that if you like silly books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants, Big Nate, Clueless McGee, etc., you’d (hopefully) like Tomato and Pea. I tried to write it at a chapter book level so young kids can have a fun adventure if they read it. 

Well, I know I want to read it!  (Oh wait.  I have read it… :))

If any of you have questions for Erik, he will be checking in to the blog (after school!) and will be happy to answer them, so fire away!

Thank you so much for joining us today, Erik!  It’s been great learning a little something about you and your book!  And I am thrilled to announce that we have one copy of the book to give away, which Erik will personalize and sign for the winner!

Now, I know you’re all going to enter the giveaway, but alas, only one person can win.  For those who don’t win, you can buy your copy of The Adventures Of Tomato And Pea Book 1: A Bad Idea at the following online booksellers (and I recommend you do it now… if you end up winning you can always give your extra copy to someone as a gift :)):

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon Canada

Create Space

In order to enter the giveaway, all you HAVE to do is leave a comment on this post.  But if you WANT to join in the spirit of fun, Erik and I would LOVE it if you would tell us what vegetable you are most like and why 🙂

I’ll go first (well, second, because Erik already told us he was asparagus :))

I am a potato.  I am small and a little rounder then is absolutely necessary.  I am pretty gosh-darn white (that Dutch Friesian heritage :)).  And I’m pretty down to earth.  I don’t think you can get much more down to earth than a potato 🙂

Okay!  Your turn!  Please enter your comment by Wednesday September 18 at 11:59 PM EDT.  The winner will be announced on Perfect Picture Book Friday!

And if you’d like to read reviews of Erik’s book and explore what he has to share on the other stops of his blog tour, some of which took place last week and some of which are still upcoming, you may follow the links below:

September 8 Erik’s blog  – cover reveal and announce blog tour
September 9 Michelle Isenhoff’s blog  – Book review
September 10 KidLit Reviews  – Book review
September 11 Mother Daughter Book Reviews  – Book review
The Story Reading Ape  – Guest post by Erik
September 12 Catherine Johnson’s Blog  – Book review
September 13 Julie Grasso’s Blog  – Book review
By Word of Beth  – Book review and giveaway
September 14 Diane Tulloch’s blog  – Book review
September 15 Picture Books Help Kids Soar – Book review
September 16 Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog  – Interview – Q&A with Commenters and giveaway
September 17 Reading with Rhythm  – Book Review
September 18 Julie Rowan-Zoch’s blog – Interview
September 19 Dr. Niamh Clune’s blog – Book Review in rhyme
September 20 S.W. Lothian’s blog  – Book review

Thank you all so much for visiting with me and Erik today!  We can’t wait to see what kind of garden develops in the comments and who will be the lucky winner of Erik’s book!

(And remember, if you have questions for Erik you can ask!)