Monday, April 28, 2008

The Soul of a Non-Fiction Reader

Young Children are not often encouraged to read non-fiction for pleasure. As a rule you will find more fiction stories and picture books stacked high in the class room than non-fiction. However, fiction is not a bad thing. I just think we should give Non-Fiction children readers a boost too. Enjoy the following article from Jessica Pegis.

Over the past few months, it's dawned on me that I'm raising a non-fiction reader. First she came home with a book about child rulers. Then it was a round-up of Greek mythology. Now it's something about how to scare yourself silly.

Lots of maps, time lines, and most critical of all: facts.

Since non-fiction is the only kind of reading I've ever been able to sustain, I have to admit I'm tickled. But I'm even happier about the smart teacher and cagey librarian who recognized the non-fiction gene in my daughter and encouraged her forward. Are you raising a non-fiction type? Here are some ways to tell:

Words, words, words Readers of fiction love the words on the page--what a word looks and sounds like; how one word looks sitting next to another; how an author used an image throughout a book. Non-fiction readers don't care. I repeat: they just don't care. Watch them glaze over when you say the word "motif."

Story schmory Non-fiction readers can't see the point of reading stories because once you've read one, let's face it: you've read them all. They don't get lost in what they're reading--they get lost in what they're thinking or doing.

Which brings us to. . .

Something to think about Non-fiction readers often gravitate to the theoretical and the logical. They like their books to give them the scoop on how stuff works and they need time to ruminate on it all. Or try it out. Or do something with it. Often the fun begins once the book is closed. (Kinesthetic learners, anyone?)

Periodical happiness Non-fiction readers will usually be kept amused with a steady supply of magazines and websites in their areas of interest. This reading material is often challenging but more to the point: the non-fiction reader will see it as relevant.

Mystery Inc. This is one fiction genre that is worth trying out on the non-fiction types. They will enjoy the process of assembling clues and trying to figure out the ending before the author does.

Lately, it seems that everyone (except, perhaps, the Texas State Board of Education) is encouraging kids to choose their own reading material. So if your child is bringing home lots of non-fiction, don't worry. It's all reading and it's all worthwhile.

And if those preferences last a lifetime, that's not only OK--it could turn out to be pretty interesting.

Jessica Pegis is an author and consultant specializing in learning resources kids. She is the mother of 10-year-old Simone, her sternest critic and loudest cheerleader. Sign up today for KidSmart, her FREE e-zine, by going to Tips, games, and other fun (and brainy) stuff to do with kids.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Out of the Dust Bowl: Book Review

Title: Out of the Dust
Author: Karen Hesse
Hardcover: 227 pages
Ages: 9 and older
Publisher: Scholastic Press
First Edition: October 1997

Out of the Dust is a riveting, evocative and mournful story of depression. Karen Hesse’s novel narrows the focus of the catastrophic Dust Bowl in the Southwest during the 1930’s to a single family living in Oklahoma. Through a series of free verse poems the forlorn voice of fourteen-year-old Billie Jo Kelby takes the reader through grim domestic realities and constant dust storms. However Billie Jo still has dreams of a future.

On the Road with Arley

Here’s the way I figure it.
My place in the world is at the piano.
I’m earning a little money playing,
thanks to Arley Wanderdale.
……And every little crowd
is grateful to hear a rag or two played
on the piano
by a long-legged, red-haired girl,

even when the piano has a few keys soured by dust.

The starkness of Billie Jo’s circumstances immerses the reader deep into a first hand account of the Depression. On each page you will find yourself completely absorbed in the daily struggle for survival. Hesse's voice espouses realism on every page and you can almost taste the grit and dust in your own teeth.

Rules of Dining

We shake out our napkins,
spread them on our laps,
and flip over our glasses and plates,
exposing neat circles,
round comments

on what life would be without dust.

This book does not provide background or history on any of the characters or events like straight prose might require. Therefore some middle grade children may have trouble understanding the depth and meaning of some of the verses. However, Hesse’s words are so powerful that you can see and feel the history and in some cases desperation in words like;

“As summer wheat came ripe,
so did I,
born on the kitchen floor. Ma crouched,
barefoot, bare bottomed
over the swept boards
because that is where daddy said it’d be best.”

You meet families migrating to California only to find things are just as bad there. Not enough jobs. The amount of dust that Billie Jo and her family endure on a daily basis is overwhelming and mind boggling. Dust clogs the tractor motor, ruins the wheat crop, creeps into the bed sheets and ruins Billie Jo’s precious piano. It rings true that Billie Joe and her family eats sleeps and drinks dust.

Blankets of Black

We watched as the storm swallowed the light.
The sky turned from blue
to black,
night descended in an instant

and the dust was on us

I was moved emotionally by Hesse’s free standing verse. Each poem is a work of art giving the people of Billie Jo's small Oklahoma town depth and purpose.

Karen Hesse won the 1998 Newbery Award for this elegantly crafted and powerfully effective novel. She is also the Newbery Medal winning author of ten books for children. Among them is The Music of Dolphins, which was named a Best Book of 1996.

Write it down,


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Winners of the 2008 OUT of the BOX Promotion Idea Contest for Writers

TRI Studio LLC in cooperation with Authors’ Coalition announces the winners of The 2008 Out of the Box Promotion Contest for Writers, in an e-book that publishes their winning ideas.

Margot Finke at Margot Finke's Books for Kids blog garnered honorable mention along with other honorable authors Mindy P. Lawrence, Dorothea Buckingham, Nikki Leigh, Karina Fabian and Jessica Kennedy.

The top winners include promotional experts Janet Elaine Smith, Allyn Evans, Phil Harris and Billie Williams.

Ideas range from a Book-of-the-Week Club that partners the publisher and author with an Internet radio program, to an Amazon Tour Group, a Video Tour Group, and an idea that allows readers to watch the progress as an author writes a book.

This valuable e-book is available for a free download from TRI studios and Authors' Coalition AND from me. Click HERE to download.

Also go over to Margot's blog here and read in more detail about Carolyn Howard-Johnson, TRI Studio LLC and The Fiction Flyer, a free ezine for readers and writers of (you got it) Fiction.

Write it down,


Monday, April 21, 2008

Book Review: Strawberry Girl

Title: Strawberry Girl
Author: Lois Lenski
Illustrator: Lois Lenski
Hard Cover: 194 pages
Ages: 8 to 12
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 0-397-30109-X

Strawberry Girl is the first book in my book review series of Newbery Medal winners. Over the coming weeks I will review three additional Newbery Medal winners based on historical fiction and regional stories describing American life during a particular time period.

Lois Lenski was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1946 for Strawberry Girl. This is one of many books Lenski wrote with an emphasis on regional stories allowing young readers to get a taste of how American children lived during the early part of the twentieth century.

Strawberry Girl is an interesting read. At first glance the title and the cover picture of a young girl carrying a fruit basket can mislead the reader to expect a cute little story of a young girl who loves strawberries. Conversely, the story is more about clashes and tribulations between farmers and cattlemen along with how they resolved violent conflict than it is picking strawberries.

Strawberry Girl depicts two families, the Boyer’s and the Slater’s. The Boyer’s move from North Carolina to Florida to raise strawberries, sweet potatoes and harvest oranges. The Slater’s are cattle people and have lived in central Florida for a long time. They do not believe in putting up fences and they let their cattle roam all over the county even if it means destroying their neighbor’s crops. The two families argue through out the entire book. The Slater family thinks the Boyer’s are “uppidity” because of the Boyer’s successful farming enterprises. The Slater’s routine is to sit back and do nothing to improve their way of life.

This way of thinking creates hostile actions and feelings between the two families. Violence and drunkenness escalate through out the story. This book may cross the line with many adults when the neighbors begin to kill each others animals in addition to the school teacher getting beat up by the Slater boys. This incident forced the school to close for weeks. Certainly a little discussion with young children may be desired to explain why these incidents happened.

Additionally, Lenski writes in a Florida backwoods dialect typical of the time period which might be too challenging for third and fourth graders to read. I think this story should be read aloud to get the full effect of what the southern dialogue sounded like. For example, talk like

“Ha, ha! Hain’t no dog! Hit’s a coon.” and “ will git you yet, jest you wait.”

However, I don’t believe this book won the Newbery Award for its depiction of aggression. Times were hard in the early 1900’s and resolution of conflicts back then is not typical of today. Strawberry Girl explains the day to day activities of the Boyer family. A young reader can learn exactly how to grind sugar cane and pull it for fun afterwards. Also the book explains the details of Florida weather in the spring and summer. Additionally it goes into detail on how to raise strawberries in sandy soil. Part of the charm of "Strawberry Girl" is in describing how the old Florida pioneers did it.

Strawberry Girl is a sharply written novel about harsh times. It accurately describes a true to life pioneer adventure.

Write it down,


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Voices from The Newbery Medal Past

In case you haven’t heard the news yet, Laura Amy Schlitzs’ work for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! has been awarded the 2008 Newbery Medal for children’s literature. Click here to read the full article in The Baltimore Sun.

According to Candlewick editor, Mary Lee Donovan, Schlitz’s book Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! was the most exciting submission she has had in her 23-year career. Congratulations to Laura Amy Schlitz!

Take note: It was an editorial assistant who plucked Laura Schlitz’s manuscript from the dreaded slush pile, (which is the first stop for All manuscripts.) This is encouraging, to me at least, because it means hope is alive for every writer who sends a piece of their soul to unknown hands.

Newbery Medal winners are selected for their distinguished contribution to American Literature for children. I have selected four past Newbery Medal winners to read and will be posting book reviews on them in the coming weeks. The subject matter of each book is timeless because they deal with a specific period of time in our history.

Past Newbery winners are: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse (ages 12 to 14, awarded 1998)

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (ages 10 and up, awarded 1973)

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (ages 8 – 12, awarded 1994)

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski (mid-grade, awarded 1946) .

Stay Tuned.


Friday, April 18, 2008

10 Tips for a Successful Critique Group

Surf on over to the National Writing for Children's Center and read my post on how to create a successful critique group.

Click here to read

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Hot Tips for Children's Writers

Do you enjoy writing for a topic or a theme? I found tons of valuable writing tips and information on Liano Mahoney’s website. Surf on over there. In particular I have listed some tidbits to think about that Liano Mahoney listed on her site. Check out the other 9 tidbits by clicking here. There's more: click on this link to a doc file containing an up-to-date theme list for some children’s magazines. Of course you should check out the submission guidelines for any magazine you are interested in.

Perseverance is the ultimate key to publication.

In your quest to getting published, try to remember that children's book publishing is a business. Like all other businesses, it boils down to numbers. Here are some numbers that all children's writers should consider*:

10% = the portion of the American population who believes that they have a "book in them" that they would like to write some day

5,000 = the approximate number of picture books published in a year

1,001 > the number of words that most publishing houses don't expect and don't want in a picture book manuscript

$50,000 = the approximate amount that a publishing house has to invest in the making and distribution of a picture book, including artwork, royalties, printing, marketing, etc.

The number of manuscripts in the average slush pile that are truly publishable: less than 5%

12 = the number of rejections JKRowling received for the first Harry Potter book before it was finally accepted

*DISCLAIMER: Please note that all of these stats have been posted for motivational purposes only. They have not been fact-checked. In other words, consider their implications, but please don't quote them as gospel.

Write it down,


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Book Review - The Magic Kerchief

Author: Kirby Larson
Illustrator: Rosanne Litzinger
Hard Cover: 32 pages
Ages: 4 to 8
Publisher: Holiday House - First edition (September 2000)
ISBN-10: 0823414736
ISBN-13: 978-0823414734

Kirby Larson has written a captivating original folktale with a message everyone can relate to. The story may be set in the past but is all too timely for today. The protagonist, Griselda, the town "grouch", reluctantly offers a stranger a place to stay after she mysteriously appears at Griselda’s door. In fact, Griselda was quite snappy with the visitor and was ready to have her sleep on the floor by the fire but the visitor fell asleep in Griselda’s bed. The next morning, the kind visitor insisted on repaying for Griselda’s kindness with a magical scarf, promising it held great riches.

Crabby Griselda did not believe, but the scarf was nevertheless charming so Griselda tied it on and went to market. The phenomenon that happened at market was truly miraculous. Griselda lost the sting of her tongue when she shopped at the bakery and when she passed by the Lord Mayor. The only words she usually muttered to the Lord Mayor were “Paah, a donkey on two legs is still a donkey.” Instead, wearing the special kerchief, she greeted the Lord Mayor with “My aches and pains vanish when I greet an old friend.” No one was used to Griselda saying nice words. Everyone was surprised. Griselda learned through the kindness of a stranger that to have a friend you must be a friend.

The charming folk-art illustrations are done in soothing pastels and all the characters are rounded like stuffed pillows, which lends to the humorous flavor of Larson’s words. The art dominates each page and depicts an original scene with bright back ground color. This book is worth owning yourself and for gift giving.

About the author: Kirby Larson is the acclaimed author of the 2007 Newberry Honor Book, Hattie Big Sky, a young adult novel she wrote inspired by her great-grandmother, Hattie Inez Brooks Wright, who homesteaded by herself in eastern Montana as a young woman. In addition, Kirby has written three books for children, including the award-winning picture book, The Magic Kerchief. A frequent speaker, Kirby has presented at more than 200 schools, workshops, and seminars.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Everything You Always Wanted to Know...

About writing for children but were afraid to ask can be learned by joining the Children's Writer's Coaching Club (CWCC).

As a club member, you are invited to take part in FOUR 55-minute teleclasses about children’s writing every month, plus you have the opportunity to submit a manuscript for professional critique every week, and you can choose to complete a weekly assignment and have it reviewed as well.

In addition, founder of CWCC, Suzanne Lieurance, presents a weekly 55-minute teleclass with known children's authors. This week on Thursday, April 10th at 3:00 pm Pacific time. Margot Finke will present a special teleclass for CWCC members titled: "Query Letters: How to get them right." It will be recorded and all members of the CWCC will also receive a link to the recording so they can listen to the class at their own convenience if they aren’t able to attend the live session Thursday afternoon.

You're probably thinking this costs hundreds a month. Wrong. For $27 a month you get all of the above. Plus you experience camaraderie of meeting other enthusiastic authors honing their writing skills.
Write it down,

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Get in the Spirit with SCBWI

SCBWI-NORCAL (Northern California) held its Spring Spirit IV in Davis, California April 5. This was my first writers conference and it will not be my last. You know the commercial where the announcer gives a price for a variety of items but one is always priceless? Information garnered at this conference---Priceless.

SCBWI is a strong global voice for professional writers and illustrators.
I highly recommend that all children's writers and illustrators bite the bullet and join this important group. You can find out how to join by clicking HERE

Author of Hattie Big Sky, Kirby Larson opened the event with a heart warming and entertaining presentation.

Victoria Rock, Editor-at-large at Chronicle Books in San Francisco.... Pamela Bobowicz of Delacorte Press (an imprint of Random House Children's Books), New York........and Heidi Kilgras, Editorial Director at Random House Children's Books in New York were able to convey why editors do what they do. They love their jobs and they want the best for their readers.

Always take an extra notebook and maybe a small fold up camping seat to place in front of you to put your laptop or folders on instead of having just your lap available.

Requirements from editors and publishing houses may vary. For example Random House prefers picture books to be about 450 words in length. A key point: "Is it re-readable?" In other words how many times is your little one going to want to "read it again"?

Delacourte Press accepts Middle Grade 8 to 12 and YA Novels 12 and up but does not accept picture books and Chronicle Books will accept all children's genres at this point.

This is just a couple of gems that were thrown out there this weekend.

Write it down,


Wednesday, April 2, 2008

American Diaries: Book Review

Ages: 10 - 12
Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks
ISBN: 0-689-84404-2
Publication: May 2001

American Diaries are books written in a similar fashion as a series except the characters do not repeat. Also, American Diaries books are about 140 pages in length. American Diaries are written through the eyes of a twelve year old within a twenty-four hour period portraying a true historical event or period. The characters are fictional.

For instance I just read Janey G. Blue, Pearl Harbor 1941. Janey is a 12 year old girl who has recently moved from Kansas to Hawaii with her family. Her father is a civil service worker at Hickam Field in Pearl Harbor. Her experiences and impressions of December 7, 1941 take place from Sunday, December 7, 1941 at 7 a.m. to Monday December 8, 1941 at 7 a.m.

Janey loves the trees, fresh fruit and all the people on Oahu but she misses Kansas and her best friend Tilly even more. Besides, all the talk of impending war makes Janey nervous and scared. The evening before December 7, 1941 Janey writes in her diary.

“Last night after the Christmas concert the grown-ups got going about the war again. Holy Golly, I am sick of hearing it. Its bad enough we have to listen to the planes from Hickam Field drill all the time. Some pilots pretend to be invading and the others practice defending the harbor and the airfields and they all pretend to fight. It’s so noisy that Pokey (dog) hides under the bed.”

Kathleen Duey captures helplessness, fear and anxiety many people must have felt that fateful day; December 7, 1941. Kathleen Duey is an award winning author who has written more than 50 books for children, YA and adults. Thirty-three of these books have been historical and adventure fiction. She also novelized the DreamWorks movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.

Write it down,