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!)

Perfect Picture Book Fridays Are Back! – With A Giveaway! – Little Miss Muffet

Let the joyous news be spread!

Perfect Picture Book Fridays are back!!

And we’re starting off with tons of fun!!!  A great book and a giveaway!

Today, I am thrilled to be sharing this hot-off-the-presses new book from the one and only Iza Trapani!

Title: Little Miss Muffet
Written & Illustrated By: Iza Trapani
Sky Pony Press, September 10, 2013, Fiction

Suitable For Ages: 3-7

Themes/Topics: bravery, positional and directional words

Opening:
Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet
Eating her curds and whey.
Along came a spider
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.

All through the room,
She zipped and she zoomed
And looked for a place to hide.
A mouse came to find her;
It scurried behind her.
The dainty Miss bolted outside.

Brief Synopsis:  Poor Miss Muffet is frightened by a spider.  But as she rushes to find a place to hide, she’s frightened by a mouse!  Running from the mouse she is frightened by a frog!  No matter where she runs, she seems to find something to be afraid of.  What is the poor girl to do?

Just for fun, here’s an interior page:)

copyright Iza Trapani 2013 all rights reserved

Links To Resources:  Iza has created many wonderful resources for this book which I’m sure will be available soon on her website, but for now you can get them my emailing her at iza[at]izatrapani[dot]com and asking for them.  (I had hoped to include them here, but blogger won’t allow uploads of PDFs!  I will refrain from sharing my feelings about blogger since this is a kid-friendly blog :))  The resources include a Miss Muffet Coloring Page, a Miss Muffet Hidden Animals challenge, a Miss Muffet Maze, and a page that allows you to make bookmarks.  The book also includes many positional and directional words which makes it excellent for preschool!  Please enjoy the book trailer HERE.  And Iza writes a wonderful blog which you can visit HERE.

Why I Like This Book: If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Iza’s books, I can’t recommend them highly enough.  Most of them are based on familiar, beloved songs – the kind all children and parents love to sing together – including Twinkle Twinkle Little StarBaa Baa Black SheepRow Row Row Your BoatI’m A Little TeapotJingle Bells,  Itsy Bitsy Spider (celebrating it’s 20th anniversary this year having sold over a million copies!) and many more.  Iza takes the basic verses and spins them into delightful, original stories that are a joy to read (and sing :)) aloud.  Her accompanying art is warm and inviting, a safe-haven for young children, full of comfort, perfect for bedtime or anytime.  Miss Muffet is another brilliant addition to her list and a must-have!

If you’d care to purchase a copy, here is a helpful link: Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Little-Miss-Muffet-Iza-Trapani/dp/1620879867/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1378415299&sr=1-1&keywords=little+miss+muffet

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

Today, since we are celebrating the release of Iza’s book, she has been kind enough to offer a signed copy as a giveaway!!!  One lucky commenter is going to be a winner 🙂  All you have to do to qualify is leave a comment in which you share your choice of the following things:

1. Name something that YOU are very afraid of!
2. Tell us your favorite Iza Trapani title and why you love it!
3. If you’re feeling writerly and inspired, write your own verse of Miss Muffet in which she is afraid of something besides the traditional spider!

You may do one of them or all of them, whatever you like!

Please leave your comment by Sunday September 15 at 5 PM EDT.  At that time, a winner will be selected randomly by random.org.  The winner will be announced Monday along with a very special post!  Which you’ll just have to wonder about.  All weekend 🙂

PPBF bloggers, please add your post-specific link to the list below.  I can’t wait to come and visit you all after our long summer hiatus!

Have a terrific weekend, everyone!

Beating The Odds: Guest Post From Author/Illustrator Alison K. Hertz AND A Giveaway!

Today I’m delighted to share a guest post from author/illustrator Alison Hertz, whose debut picture book FLAP! was released from Magic Dreams Publishing in November!

One quick thing first: seriously, you guys have to remind me when I space things out!  I forgot to mention in Friday’s post that the winners of my blogiversary giveaway, who shall receive a 5 pack of Tracy Campbell’s gorgeous hand-crafted greeting cards, are Rhythm (who is technically a dog, but I’m pretty sure s/he’s got a mom who will enjoy the cards :)) and Laura Anne Miller!!!  Laura, it’s entirely possible I have your address from sending the Perfect Picture Book bookmarks, but Rhythm, I’m going to need yours, so please email me when you get a chance!  (Handy Email Me button in right side bar or you can do it the old-fashioned way and type in susanna[at]susannahill[dot]com.)  Congratulations to the winners, and thank you ALL for being such wonderful involved participants in my blog – you guys are what make it all such fun 🙂

Oh wait!  One more quick thing.  For the first time in WYRI history, we had a tie for the November Pitch Pick!  Kim and Larissa scored the same number of votes!  I can really only send one pitch per month to Erin, so I’m going to have to ask you all to vote again and choose between these two talented writers!

#1 Kim
How The Bull Lost His Feathers – PB – ages 4-8
Long, long ago in a faraway land, bulls actually had feathers.  And they were big, colorful peacock-like feathers at that!  Discover how one very stubborn yet lovable bull lost every one of his feathers– not only for himself, but for all the bulls born in the world after him. This fable-like tale also reveals why the color red will always make a bull’s temper flare!

#2 Larissa
Dim Sum Dog – PB – ages 4-8
With business dwindling, Chang and his family fear they will have to close their dim sum stand. But with the help of a special dim sum-loving dog who entertains customers, they may save the stand after all.

Please vote by noon tomorrow EST (tomorrow being Tuesday Dec. 11) so I can announce the winner on Wednesday!

Okay!  On with the show!

Alison K. Hertz, author/illustrator of FLAP!

Welcome, Alison!  And thank you so much for joining us today!

I’m very happy to be guest posting on Susanna’s blog today. As a writer and an illustrator, I often get asked about how I work. How does an illustrator write stories? How does a writer illustrate stories? How did you create FLAP!? Well, that’s actually kind of complex to answer. The process that I used for FLAP! was quite different from how I write and illustrate stories now. Let me explain.
When I wrote the manuscript for FLAP!, I didn’t plan to illustrate it. In fact, I submitted it to editors and agents describing myself as a writer (not mentioning any art training or design experience at all). Actually, I have two college degrees in art (city planning and toy design) and was a professional toy designer for many years. I designed hundreds of toys that were produced and sold in major retail stores but all of that changed in an instant. On my way to the toy company, to finalize some models for a major toy retailer presentation, I was in a terrible car accident.  My left arm was broken and permanently dislocated (and I’m a lefty). I also had a bunch of other horrible injuries but there’s no need to go into that now. In short, I was told by the doctors and physical therapists that my arm would have basic function but never be near the level of fine motor movement that I had before. I temporarily became a righty, earned a teaching degree, and began teaching middle school art and technology (both art and tech are used together constantly as a toy designer).
Alison’s work space
Fast forward to 14 years later…Shortly after sending out FLAP! for submission, I received a call from a small traditional press in Illinois that explained they were expanding their line and starting an imprint for children’s books. I had sent it to them because their description was pretty general. They loved my story and wanted to publish it. After the contract was signed, they began their search for the right illustrator for my story. At the same time, the economy tanked and budgets tightened. I was told a year later that they could not afford to hire an illustrator for my story and would probably have drop it from their line. I cringed as I explained to the publisher that I had been a toy designer and an art teacher and that I could illustrate the book. I had not been drawing for many years (except to model examples for my students, which was nowhere near the same thing as illustrating a presentation quality piece). I sent her sketches. She loved them and I became the illustrator for FLAP!
Alison drew sketches by hand
I was excited at the opportunity to get published as a writer and an illustrator but scared that my arm couldn’t handle creating 30 finished pieces. It was incredibly difficult to draw for long stretches of time (more than 40 minutes), my wrist and my arm could not handle the extended use of holding a pencil or stylus and the movements required for drawing. I was on a very tight schedule because of the planned publication date and had only 10 weeks to create all of the illustrations from sketch to final. I created the roughs (sketches) by hand. (See above) Once the roughs were approved by the publisher, I scanned the drawings in and taught myself how to use Sketchbook Pro as I created the line drawings. Those drawings went through another approval by the publisher and I was given the okay to create the final, color illustrations.
some interior artwork from FLAP!
When the illustrations for FLAP! were finished, I accepted that I could be an artist again. I had retrained my left arm to draw.
I now use a much different method of writing and illustrating. When I submit manuscripts to editors, I refer to myself a writer and an illustrator and send samples along with a link to my online portfolio. I challenge myself to things like SkADaMo that require me to draw everyday. I will prove the doctors and physical therapists wrong. I believe that someday I will get back the fine motor function of my left arm if I continue to draw everyday and rebuild those muscles. As Watty Piper once wrote, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
FLAP! is available through 
And my website at: www.AlisonHertz.com– (autographed copies available here)
Places to find me:
My website (listed above)
Twitter: @AlisonHertz
In addition to writing and illustrating, I am using my graphic design skills to design bookmarks, postcards, coloring sheets, business cards, etc… for authors and other professionals. Check out AH Designs at: http://www.alisonhertz.com/graphic-design.htmlfor details, samples, and pricing.
Thank you so much for joining us, Alison.  Your story is so inspiring.  I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say I’m glad you pulled through with such flying colors and proved those doctors wrong.  I hope you sent them an autographed copy of FLAP! to serve as inspiration to future patients 🙂  And if you haven’t had a chance to see Alison’s work, hop on over to her blog and check out the sketches she did for SkADaMo – they’re wonderful!  (And as many of you probably know, Alison designed 3 different sets of book marks for me and they’re all terrific – I can highly recommend her work!)
Alison has generously offered to give away a signed copy of FLAP! to one lucky winner!  In the book, twins Max and Katie decide to teach their little sister Lilly to fly.  At the end, Max says, “I have an idea for tomorrow.”  To qualify for a chance to win the book, please write in the comments what bright idea you think Max had – what are those kids are going to get up to tomorrow?  Or, if it’s too early on Monday morning and you’re not sufficiently caffeinated to be creative, you can just say who you’d like the book for 🙂  Of course, what Alison would really love is pictures of people flapping – especially kids – so if you can add such a picture to your comment you will get an extra chance at winning!  Please enter your comment by Wednesday December 12.  Winner will be chosen by random.org.  And it could be a holiday gift for someone 🙂  For a nice review of the book, please go HERE.

Have a wonderful Monday, everyone! 🙂

Perfect Picture Book Friday – First Snow (And Some Other Odds And Ends!)

Well, you guys are in for it today!

After several brief (for me) posts in a row, I’ve used up my ability to be short-winded and I have so much to tell you today I can’t even believe it.  I’ll try to be succinct 🙂

First, my Perfect Picture Book, because I like that to be at the top on Friday.

First Snow
Written & Illustrated By: Kim Lewis
Candlewick Press, 1993, Fiction
Suitable For: ages 4-8

Themes/Topics: kindness, helping others, friends, pets, farm life, beloved toy, loss

Opening: “Wake up, Sara,” whispered Mommy.  “Daddy’s not very well today.  I’m going to feed the sheep on the hill.  Would you and Teddy like to come?

Brief Synopsis: To help Daddy, Mommy and Sara and Sara’s bear, Teddy, go up the hill to feed the sheep.  It’s a long climb, and while they’re up there, the first snow of the year begins to fall.  Hurrying to get home before they can’t find their way, no one notices that Sara’s beloved Teddy has been left behind.

Links To Resources: The Working Sheep Dog (video), Sheep Herding Demonstration (video), Fun Sheep Facts For Kids, Facts About Border Collies Talk about what you could do for someone that would be nice or help them in some way.

Why I Like This Book:  I love that whole story takes place because Sara and her mom are trying to do something nice for Daddy.  As they hike, you can feel the steepness of the hill, the cold air, the first tentative snowflakes followed by the real snow.  For children who may never have been out in the real country, the book gives them a taste of it.  The sense of wanting to get back to their cottage pulls the reader along, but on the whole it’s a fairly quiet book.  The art is gorgeous.  It’s drawn in colored pencil and the little cottage where Sara’s family lives is so warm and inviting, and the vistas of the English hills so lovely it makes you want to step right into the pages of the book.  The sheep are beautiful, the border collies exceptional.  But maybe the thing I love most about the book is the understanding it shows between a child and her pet.  It is not Mommy or Daddy or Sara who recovers Teddy 🙂

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

Next, two things that kind of go together.  When Beth asked to interview me about Perfect Picture Books I was happy to do it to raise awareness of this resource that we all work so hard on (and because Beth is nice and I like her :)) but I never in a million years expected the kind of response we got.  So I wanted to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your wonderful comments.  They meant so much to me.  I really can’t find words to tell you how much… which is bad for a writer!  But it was an unexpected gift for which I am truly grateful, and it just makes me value this wonderful community even more.  I wasn’t kidding when I said I was going to print out that post and stick it on my wall to read on days when I feel low 🙂  So thank you.

In the same vein, Randy over at Author In Training very kindly gave me the Addictive Blog Award.

In addition to linking back to him (and I hope you’ll go visit him if you haven’t because he does great writing prods and is currently writing a YA novel that you get to read a bit of every Friday and just has an all around great blog!) I am supposed to list 10 blogs I am addicted to.  But I can’t list only 10.  Especially after being reminded Wednesday of just how wonderful you all are.  So consider yourselves all recipients, and feel free to take the award badge and post it on your blog!

The next item I wanted to mention is that tomorrow, December 1 (a Saturday so I don’t post) marks my 2nd Blogiversary!!!  I can’t believe it’s been 2 years.  I have had so much fun here, getting to know you all and dragging you into all my hair-brained schemes!  Anything that’s good about this blog is good because of you, so please give yourselves all a big pat on the back and a round of applause!  Some confetti would be nice, too.  And of course, I think we should serve Something Chocolate, even though it’s not Wednesday 🙂  I would also like to give you A PRESENT!  Of course, I’d really like to give you ALL a present, but I don’t have the resources, so two (that’s 2!) lucky random commenters today will receive a packet of 5 assorted hand-drawn greeting cards by our own superbly talented  Tracy Campbell!  Here’s a little sample:

copyright Tracy Campbell 2012 used by permission

copyright Tracy Campbell 2012 used by permission

copyright Tracy Campbell 2012 used by permission

Aren’t they gorgeous?  Please click on the link to her blog and explore and you can see many other cards!

Second to last (see? there’s a light at the end of the tunnel :)), I wanted to let you all know ahead of time about a special PPBF.  At the suggestion of Pat at Children’s Books Heal and Vivian at Positive Parental Participation, on Friday December 14, which is the anniversary of the date in 1954 that the UN General Assembly recommended there should be a Universal Children’s Day, we are going to be doing our part to raise awareness of the plight of children around the globe and to promote the welfare of children in the world by posting books which focus on multicultural/multiracial issues, human rights, and/or children who have helped to change the world in some way.  For example, Pat plans to post the picture book version of The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind.  Beatrice’s Goat and Wangari’s Trees Of Peace are other examples of books in this category (although they’re already on our list.)  Please join us if you’d like to!  But of course, if you’ve already got a book in mind and would like to post a regular PPB that is fine too – all picture books are for children 🙂

FINALLY (here we are! this is the end!) I’m hoping to post the rules for the Holiday Contest on Monday.  Of course, that will depend on whether I make up my mind about what it’s going to be by then 🙂  But here’s hoping 🙂

That’s it!  Go forth!  Run free!  Go see all the wonderful picture books that have been chosen this week!  And have a GREAT weekend! 🙂

(PPBF bloggers, please remember to add your post-specific link below!  And don’t forget, 2 lucky commenters will win beautiful cards, and the winners will be chosen totally by random.org and not at all based on how nice the things you say about me or my blog are :))

Guest Post From Author Amy Dixon! (And A Giveaway!!!)

Happy Monday Everyone!

Boy did I wrestle with this post.

As you know, today is our day for a guest post from Amy Dixon, author of MARATHON MOUSE.  (And did I mention there’s a giveaway?!!)

It was also supposed to be the day I posted the Halloweensie Contest Finalists (of which there are a lot more than 3 because at final count we had 38 entries and 3 finalists was simply not a number I could get down to with so many fantastic stories!!!)

I actually started writing the post thinking I’d put everything in.

But by the time I got to the end of Amy’s part, I knew it wasn’t going to work.  Wonderful as you all are, I felt it was just too much to ask you to go on from Amy’s post to the contest finalists – it was getting VERY long.  So since today is her scheduled day, I hope you will all thoroughly enjoy her post, which is full of inspiring words for writers!  I will post the Halloweensie Contest finalists in a separate post either later on today or tomorrow (which I realize is not a normal posting day for me) – feel free to tell me in the comments which you’d prefer!

So without further ado, heeeeerrrre’s AMY!

Amy Dixon

When I was growing up, some of my favorite books involved one Miss Ramona Quimby. I’m sure I related to her trials as the little sister, and to her attempts to prove herself worthy of admiration and acceptance. I will say though, that Ramona went to much greater lengths to gain such admiration. I never accidentally cracked a raw egg on my head, or wore a Chiquita banana sticker on my face in order to be a part of the latest fad. But I was always delighted by her antics, and always wished, in spite of what seemed like constant embarrassment, that I could be more like her. What perhaps now I would categorize as impulsiveness, I then regarded as bravery. Ramona was brave. I wanted to be brave, too.
It was my affection for Ramona that made the nickname I earned on the soccer field when I was 10 a little more palatable. My sister and I both played on a team called The Golden Touch. I wasn’t a flashy player. I don’t think I ever saved or scored a goal. But our coach would put me in the midfield, point out one of our opponents and say, “Don’t you let her get by you.” I took his charge seriously. I followed that player around on the field like a stray puppy who was once given a scrap and was hoping for more. I would not leave her alone for a second. And so, on the soccer field, I became Amy the Pest.
When I started writing for children six years ago, I had no idea the tenacity that would be required to make things happen in this business. It definitely called for a bit of…pesty-ness.  Not a bombard-agents-and-editors-with-e-mails-and-phone-calls-till-your-name-is-engraved-on-their-list-of-psycho-writers kind of pesty-ness. But a persistent, persevering, resilient kind of pesty-ness. A pesty-ness that revises the same manuscript 27 times until it is just perfect…and then starts from scratch because an editor thinks it would work better in third person.  A pesty-ness that takes in each painful rejection and yet still finds a way to send the story back out again. A pesty-ness that makes us certain those rejections will be fun to share later in a “look how many times my amazing, award-winning story was scoffed at before it sold!” presentation.
And so, 20 years after my days as a half-back for the Golden Touch, Amy the Pest was resurrected. I wrote. I revised. I critiqued. I conferenced. I submitted. I was rejected. I revised some more. I submitted some more. I was rejected some more. I buzzed in the ear of the publishing world, and was swatted away again and again.
But like Ramona and her questions about Steam Shovels and their bathroom habits, I wouldn’t go away. I believed in my work. I had critique partners who believed in my work. And somewhere in there, somewhere in between growing as a writer and learning the business of publishing, I became brave. Brave enough to send out MARATHON MOUSE, even after getting some discouraging editor feedback. (So…all that happens in this book is…he runs? Am I missing something?) Brave enough to get a publisher’s offer on MARATHON MOUSE, and ask the editor for 2 weeks to follow-up with agents before saying yes. Brave enough to now say out loud, “I am a writer.”
Get your copy today! 🙂
So here I am…Amy Dixon, Age 37. Here to encourage you to channel your inner Ramona. Release your pesty-ness.  Learn to be brave. You will grow as a writer, even if, every once in a while, you end up with a little raw egg on your head.


Wasn’t that just terrific?  Thank you so much for those inspiring words, Amy!

I will tell you all that I have read MARATHON MOUSE and will be posting it this Friday as my Perfect Picture Book – it’s fantastic and I highly recommend it and you should all find any excuse you can to buy it! 🙂

In the meantime, one lucky, lucky reader is going to win a signed copy, because Amy is just that wonderful!  All you have to do is leave a comment telling about something you accomplished (like a marathon :))  For example, I could say that once I was Sneezy in our third grade play of Blanche Neige – and if you’ve ever tried to sneeze in French you will know just what an accomplishment that was!  But I realize it’s Monday morning and many of you may not be fully caffeinated yet, so if you can’t remember anything you’ve accomplished at this hour you can just write why you’d like the book 🙂

Stay tuned for the Halloweensie Contest Finalists and don’t forget to let me know if you have a preference for later today or tomorrow.  The post is already written because it used to be half of this one 🙂

Have a lovely Monday 🙂

Meet Natasha Yim – Children’s Author (Plus A Giveaway!!!)

Today I am thrilled to be hosting Natasha Yim on the 4th leg of her blog tour for Sacajawea Of The Shoshone.  Let’s jump right into the interview, shall we?  It’s a little long (I apologize – but there are extra cinnamon sugary cider donuts to help sustain you :))  I think you’ll find it very interesting, and I didn’t want to break it in two because it would have required an extra post on a non-posting day.  Your reward?  (Aside from the extra donuts…)  If you read to the end you can have some fun and there’s a chance you could win a signed copy of Natasha’s brand new book!

…which, BREAKING NEWS!!! was just nominated for the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project (Feminist Books For Youth List)!!! (which I happen to know about because Punxsutawney Phyllis was on that list, so Sacajawea is in good company :))  Congratulations, Natasha! 🙂

Natasha Yim

       SLH: Welcome, Natasha!  Thank you so much for joining us today!  Can you tell us a little about your writing beginnings?
NY: My love of writing began when a 7th grade English teacher gave us an assignment where we had to create our own island and make up names of lakes, mountains, forests, villages etc. and weave a story around it. It was so much fun, I was immediately hooked and I’ve been making up stories ever since. I kept several journals and wrote in them daily. I also kept notebooks where I wrote poems and short stories. My Mom knew of my interest in writing and she was very supportive. She encouraged my creative expression, sometimes reading my stories and offering comments, but mostly just letting me write.
       SLH: What was your first published children’s book?  Tell us about the moment when you got your first offer!
NYOtto’s Rainy Day(Charlesbridge Publishing, 2000). For some reason, Charlesbridge was the only publisher I sent this manuscript to (maybe it was because they wanted exclusive submissions at that time? I can’t remember), but I sent it out and went on to work on other things. The guidelines said they would respond in 3 months. 3 months went by and nothing happened. At the 6 month mark, I received my SASE back. I could feel my heart dropping thinking this was a rejection letter. It wasn’t. The letter said they were really backlogged and hadn’t gotten to my manuscript yet, and to be patient because they will read it—eventually. I remember thinking how nice that was. Usually, you just don’t hear from publishers unless they reject or accept your work. At the 9 month mark, I received a phone call from the editor. I was soooo excited, thinking this was it. This was THE call. It wasn’t. The editor had called to say they were still really backlogged and were catching up on reading manuscripts and that she promised I’d hear from them soon. After my initial disappointment, I thought “Now, that was really nice of them”. Usually, publishers don’t bother to call unless they want your work. Finally, one year after I submitted the manuscript, I got a call from the editor who told me that they wanted to publish my book! My heart leapt into my throat, I was so excited but I had to limit my exuberance because they had called me at work. I did tell my co-workers and allowed myself a few “woo-hoos”. And I did tell my husband who was my boyfriend at the time. My family lived overseas (my parents in Hong Kong and my sister in Australia) so I had to wait until I got home to tell them.
SLH: How did you go about doing the research for Sacajawea Of The Shoshone? Was there anything different or interesting about getting the art for a historical type book?
NY: There weren’t a whole lot of adult books on Sacajawea. Mostly, she gets a mention in books about Lewis and Clark. However, there were quite a few books about her in the juvenile section of the library, so I read about six books on her and browsed about a dozen websites. I found a really good Shoshone website that gave a very comprehensive overview of Sacajawea’s life plus interesting information like the meaning and spelling of her name.  The internet is great for immediate access but you have to be careful about the information on there as there are a lot of misleading information out there, so I did a lot of cross-referencing with books. The publisher and art director are the ones who are responsible for the visual layout of the book including the illustrations.  It’s one of the unique features of the Goosebottom Books books that they use a combination of real-life photographs and illustrations. For photographs, you have to get permission from the appropriate people and get permission to use the pictures, and all that was handled by the publisher. There is also one illustrator for each series so that the books in that series has a uniform look. The Real Princesses series is illustrated by Albert Nguyen, so when Sacajawea was added, he naturally became the illustrator for this book.


SLH: What surprised you the most when you were writing Sacajawea of the Shoshone?

NY: Though Sacajawea has often been mistakenly labeled as the expedition’s “guide” and her name only comes up about 8 times in the Lewis and Clark journals, her presence on the trip was nonetheless invaluable and without her, the expedition could have failed at several points. Not only was she instrumental in providing food for the Corps of Discovery; she gathered edible plants and roots to supplement the game they hunted or in place of game if it was scarce, she patched up and made new moccasins for the men as they were continuously being ripped up by the rough terrain, she saved most of Lewis and Clark’s important instruments and documents when the boat in which she was riding almost capsized, she prevented other native tribes from attacking them because the presence of a woman and a baby indicated that the Corps was not a war party, and as the only Shoshone language speaker, she successfully negotiated for horses that helped the expedition cross the Rocky Mountains. Sacajawea’s contributions have left an indelible stamp on the history of the American West. Today, there are three mountains, two lakes, and twenty-three monuments named after her, yet her tribe, the Shoshone, are still fighting for Federal recognition. That, to me, is not only incredible, it’s outrageous!

SLH: What has been the most challenging thing you have faced as an author/illustrator?
NY: Everything about writing is hard. It’s hard work to make your story as perfect as possible before you send it out. It’s really hard getting the attention of someone who likes your story. If you’re lucky enough to be offered a contract and get your book published, getting it the attention it deserves and the marketing and promotion of it is challenging. But I think for me, the most challenging part was getting over my fear of public speaking and realizing this was something authors had to do. Only this year did I start to agree to assembly-type school visits but having done a few of those, it’s not as bad as I thought it would be, although all the ones I’ve done, I’ve done with another author. It might be a whole other level of anxiety if I have to do assemblies alone.

 SLH: Do you do school visits?  Would you be kind enough to briefly describe your program/presentation?  What is your preferred age range and group size?  Do you have materials available for parents/teachers to go along with your books(s)?

NY: I do do school visits. The kind of program and presentation depends on the age groups, the needs of the teacher, and the book I’m promoting. For example, sometimes the teachers have been working very closely with their students on practicing writing and editing their work so they’ll want me to talk about my writing process. I’ll show them my edited manuscripts with all the mark ups so they can see good writing takes work and practice. If I have it, I’ll show them the original manuscript and then the final accepted one, and read passages as a before and after comparison. For larger audiences like assemblies, I like to use power point presentations because kids tend to be more engaged with visuals. I do a little intro of myself and show pictures of me as a kid, my kids, my pèts, my workspace etc. I can also show slides of the page excerpts I’m reading and the illustrations which are easier to see on a large screen. For individual classrooms, I’ll sometimes conduct writing exercises. For the biographies, I’ll have the kids pair up and “interview” each other then write a biography of their partners from their interview notes. For younger kids, I have coloring pages and sometimes the teacher or librarian and I will come up with related activities. For a recent library event, I presented Cixi, The Dragon Empress and we had a Chinese fan making activity. Every age group can be fun but I love the 4th to 6th graders. Not only are they the age group for the Cixi and Sacajawea books but they’re the most engaged and the most engaging. They always ask such great questions. You can access and download my school visit program at: http://www.natashayim.com/file_download/13/School+visit+program.pdf
       SLH: What advice do you have for authors/illustrators just starting out?
NY: Keep writing and keep trying. Editors and agents have such different tastes. Just because you get rejected by one doesn’ t mean the next one won’t love your work. My upcoming book Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2014) was rejected by several publishers. Author Richard Bach once said, “a professional writer is an amateur who didn’ t quit.”
Natasha’s work space (which, incidentally is a LOT neater than mine :))
        
       SLH: Can you give us any hints about what you’re working on now?
NY: I have a couple of middle grade/YA projects in the works and a picture book manuscript.
       SLH: Do you attend writer’s conferences?  Enter contests?
NY: Yes. I’ m a conference junkie. I  LOVE writing conferences because I always learn so much and I get to network with other writers. I rarely enter contests though just because I don’t really have the time.
SLH: Any marketing tips?  What have you done that has worked well?
NY: This is in line with a recent question I received on my blog from Amanda J. Harrington who asked, “What is your best marketing strategy for building up a following on line?” I promised to provide a link to whoever posted a question on one of my blog tours. So, here it is: www.thewishatree.com. Please hop over and check out Amanda’s site.
My marketing tip is that every writer has to do some of it. How much or how little will depend on your comfort level and how much time you can afford. I have a blog, Facebook , twitter, Pinterest. I do school visits, book festivals, public speaking engagements. But it’s really difficult to gauge how effective each aspect of marketing is because there is no measurable yard stick that tells you if you do a, b & c, you will sell x amount of books. However, what I do know is that people can’t buy your book if they don’t know it exists. To answer Amanda’s question, in terms of building up a following on line, here’s what I’ve learned:
1)   When I first started my blog, I posted things about my writing life, my home life, how I juggled that with writing, any meagre successes I encountered. But here’s the thing: nobody wants to hear or read about you talking about yourself all of the time. My blog began to feel…well…a little self-absorbed. So, I started incorporating things that I think might be of interest or useful to other people, especially writers, such as interesting writing conferences or retreats, writing tips I’ve gleaned from other sites or articles I’ve read. And now I’ve included a Friday Features segment on my blog that is purely devoted to interviews with other authors. It’s been great fun and I’ve learned so much from the authors I’ve interviewed. Come check out interviews with Deborah Halverson, Linda Joy Singleton, and coming up soon, Gennifer Choldenko (www.writerslife2.blogspot.com).
2)   I see this on Facebook groups all the time: “Come read my new blog post.” or “Check out my new blog.” and my question always is “Why?” Generic announcements like this don’t entice me out of my busy schedule to go look at somebody else’s blog or blog post. I have to give credit where credit’s due. Elizabeth Stevens Omlor, the lovely hostess of the fabulous blog, Banana Peelin’: Ups and Downs of Becoming a Children’s Writer (http://bananapeelin.blogspot.com) which features different writers talking about their slips and embarrassing moments on their way to publication, would post upcoming blog posts with teasers such as, “This week we have Cori Doerrfeld, the author/illustrator of one of my family’s favorite reads, LITTLE BUNNY FOO FOO! She reveals her experience managing deadlines after the birth of her first child.” So, if I was a writer with young kids at home and struggling with time management, I might be really interested in what Cori had to say about this.” I think this is a very effective way to attract readers to your blog and I do this now. I’ll find something in a blog post that others might find interesting or useful  and mention it in my announcement. For example, for my interview with author and editor Deborah Halverson, I mentioned that she would share tips on the YA market trends and how she started her popular DearEditor.com blog. I’ve had quite a few visitors over to read her interview. The Banana Peelin’ blog will be blog stop #7 for the Sacajawea of the Shoshone blog tour on Oct. 23. Stop on by for my top secret blog post. Shhh…
3)   Comment on other people’s blogs or Facebook postings etc. Don’t make it all about you. Congratulate others on their successes, ‘like’ the posts you enjoyed, exchange information. The key word in social networking is “social”.
4)   I have a Facebook fan page for Cixi, The Dragon Empress and Sacajawea of the Shoshone. In addition to posting events and book information, I’ll post interesting tidbits about the characters—Cixi’s six inch long fingernails, for example, or a video of the Shoshone Love song on Sacajawea’s page. It makes the pages more fun and interesting.
I don’t know how much of a “following” I have, but my blog has seen an increase of about 4,000 page views since January when I focused on making it more interactive and informative.
        SLH: Where can we find you?
      
        NY: You can connect with me on my:
       Website: www.natashayim.com
                  www.facebook.com/cixithedragonempress
                  www.facebook.com/sacajaweaoftheshoshone
       Twitter: www.twitter.com/natashayim

       You can find my books at:
         
       Your local bookstore
       or purchase it at Amazon
       Signed copies can be purchased from Goosebottom Books
Just for fun quick questions:
Left or right handed? Right
Agented or not? Agented: Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary
Traditionally or self-published? Traditional
Hard copy or digital? Hard copy
Apps or not? Not
Plotter or pantser? A converted Plotter. I used to be a pantser, but now I like having some sort of road map to go by.
Laptop or desktop? Laptop
Mac or PC? Oh definitely Mac
Day or night worker? Day, 5 am. to be exact
Coffee or tea? Coffee in the morning and early afternoon, tea in late afternoon and evening
Snack or not? Throughout the day, unfortunately
Salty or sweet? Mostly salty unless you offer me Lindt’s Dark Chocolate
Quiet or music? Quiet but I’m trying nature sounds to tune me into writing my book rather than doing other things like social media, email or marketing stuff
Cat or dog? I’m a dog person but right now we have two cats
Currently reading? LA Meyer’s Bloody Jack Series, my friend Jody Gehrman’s “Babe in Boyland”
If you’d like to read previous stops on Natasha’s tour, please visit:

Oct. 3 — Frolicking Through Cyberspace Blog,www.http://frolickingthroughcyberspace.blogspot.com, guest post on public speaking
Oct. 8 — The Writer’s Block on Raychelle Writes, http://raychelle-writes.blogspot.com, guest post, “The Journey of a Lifetime”
Natasha, thank you so much for joining us and being so helpful with all your answers!
And now!  The moment you’ve all been waiting for – the chance to win a signed copy of Natasha’s gorgeous and informative book (I have it, so I can attest to how interesting it is and how beautiful the art is!)
You know me.  I like to make things fun 🙂  So here’s what you have to do to earn a chance to win Sacajawea Of The Shoshone:
In the comments, please answer the question “If you were Sacajawea, what would you have written an article/advice column about?”
Here are a few examples to get your minds in gear…  🙂
“Dress Up Your Teepee: Creative Decorating With Buffalo Hide”
“365 Recipes For Corn!”
“5 Subtle Ways To Let Your Traveling Companions Know It’s Time For A Bath!”
You get an entry for every article/advice column suggestion 🙂  (And OK, if you want to be boring serious you can :))
But if you’re not feeling creative at this hour on Monday morning I don’t want to penalize you.  If you can’t think up an entertaining article, you can just say why you’d like to win the book 🙂
I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with!  Comments must be entered by Tuesday October 16 at 11:59 PM EDT.  Winner will be drawn at some point on Wednesday or Thursday when I have 5 seconds free by random.org and announced on Friday along with Perfect Picture Books, which, I’m warning you in advance, will be Sacajawea Of The Shoshone, so don’t anyone else plan on doing it 🙂



Summer Short And Sweets – Week 7 – And The Give Away Winner!

I can’t believe it!  We’re up to week 7 of Short & Sweets already!  That means there’s only one more week to go (and boy is next week going to be awesome!!!) but it also means that summer is drawing to an end.  It has flown by so fast!  And I still haven’t updated the backlog of Perfect Picture Books that I was sure to get done with so much time…. Better get cracking! 🙂

But I’ve been hard at work on some other things…. which maybe I’ll tell you about one of these days… 🙂

badge by Loni Edwards 

For today’s Short & Sweet, we’re taking a field trip!  It can be anywhere you want – and anything that fits into what you’re already doing – no special outings necessary.  Going out with your kids to the beach, the zoo, a museum, the playground, the library?    Going shopping at the grocery store?  Washing the car?  You don’t even need to leave the house – the kitchen or the back porch will be just fine!

Your challenge today is to describe a setting – any setting that tickles your fancy.  In 50-100 words (more or less if you like, that’s just a ball park) make us feel like we’re there.  Take a careful look at your surroundings – whatever they are.  What does it look like? sound like? smell like? feel like? taste like?
BUT – here’s the trick 🙂 – you can’t use the actual word of the place!  So if you’re describing the kitchen, you can’t use the word kitchen.  We have to be able to guess!
For an extra challenge, describe it from a kid’s perspective – try to look at it through the eyes of the average 5 year old – the typical picture book age target.  Places can look a lot different to a five year old than they do to an adult.  Different features stand out, and kids’ react to things differently.
Although we don’t devote a lot of words to setting in picture books because that part of the job is done by the illustrator, it is helpful to you as a writer to envision your setting clearly.  Certain select details will be necessary, depending on your story, and this is good practice in focusing on the details that really matter.  If you write for older readers, setting description is very important to make your reader feel like they’re there – but you can’t ramble on indefinitely.  MG and even YA readers are not going to have a lot of patience for long-winded descriptions.  So this is a chance to practice picking out the part you really need to say!
Here’s my example (which, as per Short & Sweet instructions I am writing in 5 minutes off the top of my head because this day is WAY too packed for me to have any more time than that!)

Weathered wood.  Dutch doors.
It smells like summer, warm and sweet, but with a hint of molasses and clean leather.  Dust motes hang in the haze of late afternoon sunshine slanting through the barred windows.  The brass nameplates on the leather halters wink in the golden light – Jasmine, Pennywhistle, Thumbelina.
Clip-clop-clip-clop.  Snowflake’s unshod hooves thud lightly on the aisle as Ginny leads her in from the pasture.  She lowers her muzzle to her bucket and takes long swallows, then lifts her head, dark eyes soft, drops of water bejeweling her whiskers.
Whuufft!
A few feet away, Blackjack sneezes into his hay.
Ginny runs a hand over Snowflake’s satin shoulder.  She reaches up and straightens the silver forelock between her ears, smoothing it down.  Snowflake rubs her cheek against Ginny’s arm, almost knocking her down.
“Silly girl!”  Ginny laughs, then steps back into the aisle and rolls the heavy door shut.
It is quiet but for the occasional rustle of a hoof drawn through straw, the rhythmic munching of horses nose deep in alfalfa and timothy.
This is Ginny’s favorite place to be.
(Okay.  So mine is 181 words.  I never claimed to be succinct 🙂  And I hope you didn’t have too much trouble figuring out where Ginny is :))

So, are you ready to give it a try?  I can’t wait to read all your setting descriptions and see if I can guess where you are!  And I have no doubt that many of these descriptions will serve as story sparkers for readers, who feel themselves transported to that time and place and are suddenly inspired by a character who pops into their head and onto the scene! 🙂
OH!  And I almost forgot!  The winner of the giveaway from Monday – a hardcover copy of Puffling Patrol by Ted and Betsy Lewin, courtesy of Lee & Low Books – is PAMELA!!!!  Pamela, please email me and let me know your address so I can mail it out 🙂

Have a fantastic weekend everyone!  There will be a birthday party going on at my house – YUM!  MORE CAKE! 🙂

Extra! Extra! Read All About It! Puffling Patrol by Ted and Betsy Lewin (with a giveaway!)

Good Morning, everyone!  I hope you all had excellent weekends!  In case you’re dragging a little at the thought of Monday-after-the-Olympics-are-over, I have a special treat for you 🙂

It just so happens that today is my mom’s birthday!  To celebrate, we shall have cake!  Of course I can’t use pictures from google images anymore, and I don’t have a photo of the actual cake at this writing because I haven’t baked it yet, so you will have to use your imaginations just a little…

(   )
doesn’t this look like a cake?

Please help yourself to as much as you like – it can be any flavor you want 🙂

Not only do I have cake for you, but a few weeks ago, maybe because of Perfect Picture Books, I got an email from Lee & Low Books.  Would I like to review a new book from Ted and Betsy Lewin?  But of course I would!  I’m afraid I’m not as familiar with Ted’s work, although of course I’ve heard of him, but I think we all know Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type illustrated by Betsy! 🙂

So here’s a little peek at their new book, which came out this spring but is of special interest now because of the topic – the rescue of pufflings as they head for the sea each August.

used with kind permission of publisher

Puffling Patrol
Written & Illustrated by: Ted & Betsy Lewin
Published by: Lee & Low Books, March 2012
56 pages
Recommended for: grades 2-4/ages 7-10
Theme/Topic: puffling rescue off the coast of Iceland, nature, caring for wild animals in need, kindness
Opening:  “It is the end of August.  Soon the adult puffins will be gone to spend the winter in the cold northern seas.  The pufflings in the dark burrows will then be on their own.”

In April, hundreds of thousands of puffins flock to the Westman Islands off the coast of Iceland.  They nest in the cliffs, digging burrows into the soil where they lay their eggs, then hatch and raise their chicks, called pufflings.  By August, the babies are ready to leave the burrows and head out to sea, but some of them become confused by the lights of the town and land in the streets instead.  Puffins are too chunky to take off without wind and space, so if the babies land in town they can’t get back to sea by themselves – they need help.  The children of the Puffling Patrol search the streets, finding the frightened babies, placing them in cardboard boxes in their homes overnight, and returning them to the ocean in the morning.

baby puffling
image used by permission of publisher

This story is about Ted and Betsy’s experience visiting the Westman Islands and witnessing the puffling patrol firsthand.

rescued pufflings safe in a cardboard box
image used by permission of publisher

The book is full of interesting information about the birds, their habitat, and the annual patrol that keeps the pufflings safe.  Some of the paintings are whimsical, very reminiscent of the style of Click Clack Moo.  Others are beautiful watercolors showing the wild, rocky terrain and the wide sky, so lovely you can almost feel the wind.  The book is heavy on text, so perhaps not the best choice for very young listeners or those with limited attention spans, but excellent for readers interested in animals and the natural world.  It would be a nice addition to elementary school study of migration, wild birds, animal rescue, or nature, and an interesting read for children interested in these subjects.  In addition to the story, there is a nice introduction which explains where and why the story takes place, and several pages of facts at the end about Atlantic Puffins, the volcano of 1973 which formed part of the island, and puffins today, along with a bibliography, a glossary, and a pronunciation guide.  I think this book would make a lovely addition to any school or home library.

image used by permission of publisher

Lee & Low was kind enough to send me a hardcover review copy, which, now that I’ve reviewed I have permission to give away to one lucky reader!  If you would like it, please leave a comment below saying why you’re interested or who you’d like it for.  Random.org will be responsible for picking a winner Thursday evening (August 16) so please leave your comment before then!

Enjoy your cake 🙂 and tune in Wednesday for Would You Read It – the July pitch pick and Sharron with the 53rd pitch as we swing into year 2!  And now, I’m off to Pennsylvania with a banjo on my knee 🙂

Meet Tiffany Strelitz Haber, Author Of Debut Picture Book The Monster Who Lost His Mean and A Giveway!

I know.  We haven’t done Oh Susanna in ages!  But awesome things keep coming up that I just have to slide in somewhere, one of which is today’s post about a great new picture book.  So… next week?

Today I am delighted to introduce you to Tiffany, but real quick before I do, let me just announce that the winner of Steven Petruccio’s gorgeous picture book Puffer’s Surprise from last week’s author/illustrator interview is Delores (thefeatherednest)!!!  Congratulations, Delores!  I hope you’ll enjoy this beautiful book!

Now then!  Everyone, please meet Tiffany!  I have to tell you, I found this interview so entertaining that I’m afraid you guys will never want to come back and read my boring old posts after it, so you have to promise not to throw me over 🙂

Tiffany Strelitz Haber & Co. 🙂

SLH:  When did you start writing for children?  

TSH:  When I was in third grade, I wrote my first “rhyming picture book”.  I continued writing for many years.  In fact, all throughout highschool, and a bit in college as well.  So obviously, when I was figuring out what I wanted to do for a living, I headed straight for the financial world!  I was never really one for connect the dots.  🙂   Anyway.  Yadda, yadda, yadda, cut to 24 years later (give or take)…chronically unhappy in the career I had been diligently building for over a decade, and feeling like it was ‘now or never’ to make a change, I realized I was barking up the wrong tree entirely.  I wanted to really love what I did for a living.  So I went back to what I had loved for so many years before, and started writing for kids.


SLH:  Do you have an agent, or did you submit on your own?  

TSH:  Agent.  I learned very quickly (by attending a couple of NJSCBWI conferences), that having agent representation opens doors otherwise closed to most authors.  It also allows you the freedom to really focus on writing (and later promoting) as opposed to spending countless hours researching publishing houses and editors, constructing query letters, physically printing, stuffing, stamping and mailing submissions out, following up and…well…you get the point.  


SLH:  Was The Monster Who Lost His Mean your first submitted PB or did you have others before that haven’t sold yet?

TSH:  I actually got extremely lucky.  My agent subbed two PBs of mine simultaneously to a variety of houses.  Several months later…within the same week, we had offers on both.  It was very exciting!  (SLH: OMG!  I think I speak for most of our readers when I say I could sure use a week like that! 🙂

SLH:  Tell us about the moment when you got THE CALL!!!  How did you feel?  What did you do?  Did you celebrate? Call all your friends and relations? 🙂

TSH:  Ok, so I was on a ski trip with a bunch of friends.  We were sharing a house and had been out super late the night before, so everyone was passed out on various couches and beds.  Anyway…for some reason, I found myself wide awake at 5 in the morning so I checked email on my phone.  And there it was.  We had an offer on MONSTER and as I leaped off the couch and looked around for someone to share the news with (read: tackle with uncontrollable zeal), I realized  I was surrounded by zombies.  There wasn’t a single soul within a half mile radius that wasn’t dead to the world and stickin’ to it.  So I kind of just muttered to myself in the corner for a while with a pre-dawn bloody mary.  Party of one, please!


SLH:  Do you have anything else under contract?  

TSH:  I have another rhyming picture book due out in April 2013.  It’s called, Ollie and Claire (Philomel/Penguin) and was illustrated by the amazing Matthew Cordell.

I also have a couple of stories in that critical, “at an editorial meeting” type phase where it could still go either way…but you know you’re close and you’re just kinda….waiting. (read: pacing, email-refreshing, obsessing)

SLH:  And please share where we can find you…


TSH: 
facebook:  www.facebook.com/tshauthor  (BIG facebook gal.  Let’s be friends!)
Twitter: @tiffrhymes
Blog: for tips and tricks on writing in rhyme, come check out  www.themetermaids.blogspot.com
Just for fun quick questions:

Left or right handed?  right
Traditionally or self-published? traditionally
Hard copy or digital? hard
Apps or not?  not that I know of?
Plotter or pantser? plantser?
Laptop or desktop? lap
Mac or PC? Mac
Day or night worker? DAY
Coffee or tea? Coffee (and then suddenly tea for like…a day)
Snack or not? I want to meet the person who says “not”.  And then never talk to them again.
Salty or sweet? Salty.  Althought salty and sweet in the same bite is actual heaven on earth.  #ChocolateCoveredPretzels
Quiet or music? Quiet
Cat or dog? both
Currently reading? Helter Skelter

And now, my lovelies, Tiffany has generously offered a signed copy of her brand new, hot-off-the-presses, WONDERFUL book.  All you have to do is what the Rafflecoptor widget tells you to.  And may I just say that I hope the Rafflecoptor widget is going to show up somewhere – it probably will not show up where I intend it to, so look around, be ingenious and persistent, and hopefully you’ll find it wherever it chooses to appear 🙂

a Rafflecopter giveawaySo yeah – fill that in.  You get extra points for “liking” and “following” and things of that nature.  And just in case the widget doesn’t work, and I am off in the boonies of PA/VA/NC unable to fix it, please also take part in our fun contest in the comments – it’s supposed to show up as mandatory in the Rafflecoptor thingy, but like I said, my faith has limits…. 🙂 so I’m putting it here too:

Everybody knows the ‘M’ in MONSTER stands for Mean.  When one young MONSTER loses his…and becomes THE ONSTER, everything goes awry.  What does the first letter in *your* name stand for?  How would you feel if you lost it?  Answer below for a chance to win a signed copy of THE MONSTER WHO LOST HIS MEAN!

Have fun!  And if you have any questions or comments for Tiffany, fire away.  I’ll try to talk her into checking in from time to time 🙂

Happy Monday, All!

  

Meet Steven Petruccio, Author/Illustrator – And A Giveaway!

I am so excited to be able to kick off this hot summer week in July by introducing you to Steven Petruccio! He is a very talented author/illustrator (and a very nice person! :)) and I think you’ll really enjoy what he has to share.  Not only that, one lucky commenter will win a signed copy of Steven’s book Puffer’s Surprise!  More on that at the end…

Puffer’s Surprise is part of the
Smithsonian Oceanic Collection

So please join me now in welcoming Steven!

SLH:  Steven, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today!  Let’s jump right in, shall we?  When did you first become interested in writing and/or illustrating?

SJP:  I’ve done both for as long as I can remember…bet you never heard that before.  I always drew more than I wrote but ideas were always floating around in my mind for new stories.  I used to read comic books on my stoop in Brooklyn and then go to my room and copy the pictures.
Steven at age 4 – ready to take on anything 🙂
SLH:  Were you encouraged by family/teachers?
SJP:  My dad is really a wonderful artist.  He made his career in advertising as an art director and studio manager.  He used to bring work home with  him to retouch the old-fashioned way, with an airbrush. I remember spending time at his side while he painted away and I was amazed at the results.
A drawing Steven did at about age 5… a natural talent!
SLH:  You are both an author and an illustrator, so which comes first for you, the story or the art?
SJP:  I’m more of an illustrator, that’s the part I really love, so I always see a character first and imagine what he or she might do after that.  I know all about characters whether I create them or not, before I draw or paint them.  I imagine what they’re like outside of the story.  It makes it easier for me to imagine what they are doing or what they might do.
SLH:  Is there an author/illustrator who has been especially inspirational or instrumental in your own development as a writer/illustrator?
SJP:  Well. I learned art from my dad.  I had no art classes in grade school or high school but my dad would show me how to draw things and I’d observe him at work.  My parents made sure I had pencil, ink and paper and all the art books I wanted.   My dad arranged for me to meet Burne Hogarth who wound up writing a letter of recommendation for me to attend The school of Visual Arts in NYC.  I’m a throwback to a time when illustration was not far removed from fine art.  The technical quality of my work is really important to me, the basics, you know…  good composition, creative use of color and value and so on.  N.C. Wyeth is my biggest influence in illustration because of his own story and because of what he was able to do with the printed page.  I maintain a written dialogue with his grandson, Jamie Wyeth, who has mentioned how much he likes my work.  Recently he wrote to tell me that he was working on a huge painting of a shark jawbone and he has my original cover painting for “SHARKS!” hanging right next to it in his studio!
A drawing of Tarzan Steven did at age 14.
He had no art education, so he learned from comic books.
An ink drawing of Tarzan Steven did at age 16.
SLH:  What was your first published children’s book?  Tell us about the moment when you got your first offer!
SJP:  Understand that being an artist was not seen as a practical career choice and I was encouraged to seek advertising work because my older brother, who always drew and painted as well, followed that path.  My goal was to make a living drawing and painting everyday.  As an illustrator just staring out, you take whatever comes along.  I started getting magazine work even before I graduated from SVA and did mostly editorial work for three years.  I was then asked to illustrate some books that another illustrator had backed out on but I had to alter my style a bit to do so.  I needed the money so I took the job.  The first time I really got to use my own ideas was in a Little Golden Book titled “ Dr. Hilda Makes House Calls”.  It was a fun book to do, I got to create my own characters in my own environment and I totally enjoyed it.  Seeing it in print was very satisfying.
SLH:  Where/when/how do you get your ideas?
SJP:  Well, as the illustrator, the story generates the ideas for the characters  and settings.  I always try to put my own twist on things stylistically and compositionally.  As an author my ideas come from my own experience.  I may see a person and they remind me of something or generate a potential character or I may see a place and something there inspires a story…it just happens.  The coloring/activity books I’ve written and illustrated for Dover Publishing ( American Legends and Tall Tales,  History of the White House, History of the Civil Rights Movement in America and Roadside Attractions) were ideas my editors and I developed to make them as interesting and informative as possible.
SLH:  What has been the most challenging thing you have faced as an author/illustrator?
SJP:  If you’re familiar with my natural science illustrations you’ll notice how detailed my illustrations are.  That’s not by accident or pure imagination.  I research every detail for every blade of grass or seaweed that I paint.  For my book, “Exploring Underground Habitats” I had to wait two months for  a scientist  to return from a research trip so I could get accurate reference for a particular cave spider!  Researching is always a challenge but well worth the effort.
SLH:  What has been the most wonderful thing that has happened to you as an author/illustrator?
SJP:  Okay, so I wake up every morning and get to do what I’ve always wanted to do, what I love to do.   Now that’s wonderful!
SLH:  Do you do school visits?  Would you be kind enough to briefly describe your program/presentation?  What is your preferred age range and group size?  Do you have materials available for parents/teachers to go along with your books(s)?
SJP:  I’ve been doing school, library and museum visits for the past twenty years.  Now, understand that I was very shy as I was growing up.  I also sing and play guitar and when I was younger my parents would ask me to play for relatives ,so I would go into another room, close the door and then play and sing.  Needless to say, I overcame that shyness.  When you really know about what you do it’s easy to talk about it and teach others about it.  I went to see some authors and performers who visited my kids’ classes when they were in elementary school and was later asked by their teachers to come and talk to the class about what I do.  I actually liked it!  I saw what kids were interested in, what they wanted to see and hear and what the teachers expected from me.  I also make sure that my programs meet art-in-ed learning standards so it’s not just fun…it’s funducational!  I have a general program which I can alter depending on the age group and two workshops to give practical experience and develop an appreciation of the creative process.  I give teachers follow-up materials so they can continue learning about picture books and illustration.
SLH:  What advice do you have for authors/illustrators just starting out?
SJP:  I’m currently advising three young artists who want to become illustrators.  They approached me and that shows me their passion and desire to be creative.  I do teach at Marist College in the Studio Arts Department as an adjunct one night a week because I want to teach young artists the practical things they need to succeed.  I tell theses young illustrators and art students the ups and downs of the industry.  It’s hard work, long hours, shorter and shorter deadlines, constant marketing, negoiating and continuing to grow as an artist.  I tell them all to be persistent!  Any creative field is difficult, know that starting out, be prepared for rejection…and more rejection, believe in your work and keep producing new work.  Don’t give up!
SLH:  Can you give us any hints about what you’re working on now?
SJP:  Right now I’m working on a new book about American Heroes also, a big educational illustration project and sending out dummies of my own stories as well as developing new stories and dummies.
SLH:  Do you attend writer’s conferences?  Enter contests?
SJP:  I don’t know everything and I love learning new things and hearing the stories of other creative people.  I attend conferences when I’m asked to be on a panel or do a book signing only because I’m usually busy working on a project.  It always seems that conferences that I’d love to attend ,just to see and hear other people, are always around times of deadline crunches or painting projects.  ( I also paint for exhibition regionally and nationally.)  As for contests, most of the books I illustrate are not eligible for competitions because they are part of a series.  I’ve never been one for competitions anyway.  I do enter my fine art work in juried exhibits though, to gain exposure for that part of what I do.
SLH:  What has been your best selling book so far?
SJP:  Ah, sales figures…see, this is a business.  We do have to be mindful of how our “product” is received by the public and sales is the way to do that.  So far, my best selling book has been “ Dolphin’s First Day”, (Soundprints Publishing). It has been in print for years and released in many countries.  The Smithsonian series has really been good for me in terms of sales but I put so much into those books that it’s gratifying to have them appreciated by young readers, parents and critics alike.  Most of my titles for Soundprints are still available.
SLH:  Any marketing tips?  What have you done that has worked well?
SJP:  Well, I have an illustration  agent, Storybook Arts, Inc. and I’ve had an agent for a long time.  We market through our own website and a variety of other sites as well.  I maintain my own site and blog when I can as well as Face book , Twitter , ( although I’m terrible at updating) LinkedIn,  Behanace and SVA Alumni Portfolio.  I try to maintain personal contact with Art Directors and Editors I’ve worked with.  By the way, many people do not have agents, it’s a personal choice depending on how you want to conduct your business.  So don’t let the fact that you don’t have an agent deter you from pursuing your goals.
SLH:  Where can we find you?
SJP:  You can learn about me and see my work at:
…and to see some of my fine art:
SLH:  Reader question:  how important is it to have a story?  Can you just entertain and make people think, or do you have to have a story to make a picture book?
SJP:   Well, really the most important thing is the story.  Whether it’s told in words, pictures  or words and pictures.  If the story is terrible who will want to read the book.  I don’t want to read stories that are uninteresting or not entertaining in some way so I don’t expect my readers to settle for less.  I tend to illustrate stories  that I feel I can bring something to visually.  My own stories have to be interesting to me and not just something I think someone else will find interesting.  I think I’m my worst/best critic.  Stories can be JUST entertaining or JUST thought provoking or… C)  All of the above.
Just for fun quick questions:
Left or right handed?  Righty!
Agented or not?  Illustration agent.
Traditionally or self-published?  Good ol’ fashioned, traditional publishing.
Hard copy or digital?  My book “SHARKS!”  will be available digitally…otherwise I’m a hard copy guy.
Apps or not?  Let’s say…not yet.
Plotter or pantser?  Plot, plot, plot.
Laptop or desktop?  Both…as well as iPod and iPad.  Oh, and remember those things called ‘pen” and “paper“?  I still use them!
Mac or PC?  Both for writing/business.  Mac for art.
Day or night worker?  Whatever the client needs me to be in order to meet a deadline.  I’m an early riser anyway.
Coffee or tea?  Coffee…unless you can find the blueberry tea that Starbucks discontinued.
Snack or not?  Oh yea…you gotta snack!  Make sure you exercise each day though, get up from that desk or chair and move around.
Salty or sweet?  Uh,  is pizza an option?
Quiet or music?  Music…jazz, some classical,  indie rock or golden oldies.  I used to play and sing in a club to afford my art equipment so I covered many genres of music.
Cat or dog?  Used to have a cat…now a fish!
Currently reading?  Biography of Michelangelo ( Kindle ) and re-reading New Art City ( hardcover)
…and now for something completely different ( homage to Monty Python)…
Forging a living out of something you have a gift or talent for is a great thing.  It’s hard to do it alone and I have my wife, KathyAnn, to thank for her support from the very start.  In good times and in bad as they say, she has encouraged everything I do and has been my biggest fan.  Her own artistic background, having worked in NYC as a graphic designer for CBS Television and DC Comics, and sense of design and style have been invaluable to me.  My kids provide support as well while nurturing their own creative side.  My daughter is a wonderful dancer and singer and my son a budding young photographer/videographer and internet entrepreneur.  Surrounding yourself with people who support you, encourage you and inspire you is crucial to your success.  Tolerate those who say you can’t because they can’t and be encouraged by those you see doing what you want to do everyday.   People have been writing and illustrating for ever and ever…why not you?
SJP

(See?  Didn’t I tell you what a nice person he is? :))
Thank you so very much for going us today, Steven, it was a real treat!
And now!  Anyone who would like a chance to win the signed hardcover copy of Puffer’s Surprise, please leave a comment below.  Tell us what you most enjoyed about the interview, or if you have a question for Steven ask away!, or just tell us who you’d like the book for!
Have a wonderful day, everyone, and tune in Wednesday for Would You Read It with Vivian (who I’m pretty sure is pitching a picture book but I can’t seem to find that info at the moment, so it will be a surprise :))